It is a given of modern American thought that everyone has his or her rights. The quest for human rights as well as the preservation of human rights is, understandably and fittingly, something that needs to be protected. But I remember that when I went to college, we were confronted with living away from home for the first time; our professors stressed that this new freedom needs to be a responsible freedom. It is not an absolute; so too are human rights.
With every right comes a responsibility that must be carried out and respected as part of the structure of living. In protecting the inalienable right to life, we then have the responsibilities to create a social, cultural and political climate that ensures that the right to life has adequate protection and a solid chance of thriving.
The attempt to reverse the legal uses of abortion must be accompanied by laws that encourage couples to have children and that help them to care for them in a reasonable and fitting way. To be pro-life and at the same time wanting to shave away financial assistance to indigent mothers and fathers is a contradiction. We must be pro-life and pro-spending to enable couples to want to have children and to have advantages in being parents to the next generation of Americans. Taxation laws that discourage having children are not pro-life. Mothers and fathers who seek to have families, even large families, should be assisted and not handicapped in their ‘pro-life’ orientation.
At the same time, couples that have children must provide for not only the material needs of a child, such as food, shelter, belonging, and education; but even more importantly they have a responsibility to care for their children’s spiritual well-being. The physical lasts but a lifetime, the spiritual is eternal. A child is a great gift, but the responsibility means that parents have a deeper obligation than the purely earthly.
The ethos of comfort that some see as almost an ultimate value must be exposed as an illusion. We often think we have a right to being comfortable and without needs that are unmet. Because of the rare and unprecedented levels of security and comfort that we enjoy in this great nation and in this era of peace, we often think we have a right to this given to us by our Constitution. But the pursuit of happiness is based on struggle and seeking, not on possession and security. We have the freedom, and hence the responsibility, to seek out what is best, knowing that we will often fall short, and accepting the fact that the happiness of others is intrinsic to our own happiness.
We are always seeking this state of ultimate repose, even though it is unattainable in this life. I called it our ‘rump factor’. We are always trying to park our rumps in the proverbial ‘I finally don’t have anything to worry about’ chair. This is the chair that God always takes right from underneath us so that we have to catch ourselves lest we end up on the floor. As Augustine said, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.” So that, in every case, we have a responsibility to move on and continue the search for happiness.
The quest for human rights is a continual search. No human right is an absolute. Rather, they point us inexorably to the responsibilities that we are called upon to shoulder. Our clamoring for rights without responsibilities is a hollow and unreal movement toward an unrealizable goal and is therefore a waste of time.