I spent Thursday and Friday last week at a conference in Oxford based around Nicholas Wolterstorff's new book Justice: Rights and Wrongs (Princeton University Press, 2008). It was excellent and I got to spend my 40th birthday having a chat with NW about the musings below.
I have not read the book but my understanding is that NW argues that
* justice should be understood in terms of rights.
* some rights are conferred upon humans whilst others - inherent rights - are not.
* Inherent rights inhere in a certain 'worth' of a person.
* Human worth is grounded in the worth-bestowing love of God for humans. This means that even a human that lacks capacities that we value (e.g., a person in a coma, a person with alzheimer's) still has worth because their worth is ultimately grounded (in part) in God's love for them and not in their capacities.
This got me thinking.
Does God love me because I have worth?
Do I have worth because God loves me?
The problem with the first view is that it grounds my worth in certain features about me (perhaps rationality, my capacity to act in certain ways, etc). But if I lack those capacities then I lack worth and, on NW's account, lack rights. This lays some humans open to abuse.
The problem with the second view is that it seems to make God's love arbitrary. In part God sets his love upon humans irrespective of any worth that they possess. It is his love which confers worth upon them. But he could just as easily have set his love upon jellyfish or mushrooms. This seems wrong.
Does God's love confer worth upon us (so NW) or does God love us because he recognizes our worth?
I (tentatively) think (contra NW) that our worth is grounded in certain features about us as humans (NW does grant that some of our worth is grounded in such things).
But does this not fall prey to NW's concern that humans who lack those capacities lack worth and so lack rights? Well, it does in a secular framework but not in a Christian framework. Here is why - God has committed to bring creation to resurrection (obviously in cooperation with creaturely freedom). So whilst there are certain humans who might currently lack the qualities that give them worth God has committed to bring it about that they will, one day, possess such qualities.
So perhaps a human has value (and thus rights) partly because of certain properities that they currently possess and partly because of certain properties that they will, in the grace of God, possess. God's love then is not that which confers worth but that which brings it about that a creature has worth.
But that does not seem quite right either. Surely God glorifies/resurrects humans because he loves us. His love does not follow our having the properties that give us worth. He loves us even though we are not yet what we will be. So he loves the unlovely and we are back with the problem of his love being arbitrary.
Or are we?
Perhaps my worth now is grounded on the property that I possess now of being the kind of creature (i.e., a human) that God has created to share in his glory. I currently possess the potential for glory simply by virtue of being a creature of a certain kind. And I am such a kind of creature now even if I lack many or perhaps all the worth-bestowing properties that a perfect human would have.
So perhaps God creates humans to share in his glory. This capacity and potential confers worth on humans (and thus some basic rights) and makes them appropriate objects of non-arbitrary divine love. God's love does not bestow-worth on humans but recognizes the worth that is there by virtue of creation and its telos. God's love also perfects humans and enables us to realize our potential.
This is a very fuzzy, inarticulate idea that needs a lot of ironing out. But I think that it avoids the problems that NW is seeking to avoid with attempts to ground human worth in properties that we possess.
And yet ... I think it still needs modifying to factor in the graceful, undeserved quality of God's love.
- Robin Parry
- Robin Parry is the husband of but one wife (Carol) and the father of the two most beautiful girls in the universe (Hannah and Jessica). He also has a lovely cat called Monty (who has only three legs). Living in the city of Worcester, UK, he works as an Editor for Wipf and Stock — a US-based theological publisher. Robin was a Sixth Form College teacher for 11 years and has worked in publishing since 2001 (2001–2010 for Paternoster and 2010– for W&S).