Listen to this blog post which will, at a future date, be added to The Explanation Podcast
People’s, and human rights are major issues today. When it comes to Individual and Collective Rights. where should the balance be? Why?
The question of whose rights come first, personal or community, colors the debate of many subjects. Today, COVID-19 is front and center for wearing masks and social distancing. Electric scooters on sidewalks and loud parties in quiet neighborhoods are genuine issues. Can individuals do whatever they want, exercise their individual rights? Or, for the good of the community, are there collective rights to which individuals should adhere, not to say, submit?
Citizen rights. In the 21st century, we have two primary blocks of nations when we look at this subject. We have a block of nations, in the minority, where individual rights have the upper-hand and the majority of nations where collective rights take the lead.
The Explanation broaches this subject because it relates to How Humans Socialize. The book Audit of Humankind devoted a Section to this subject. In the context of human relationships in an appeased society, we need principles to guide inter-relational associations. We can call it etiquette or ethics, we need valid and applicable guidelines. It is no mystery, The Explanation looks for the guidance code in the Bible and theology. I’ve devoted much space to demonstrate the value of the Bible teaching in Exodus, Deuteronomy and Proverbs for today’s society. YES, we must ADAPT the principles to the 21st century with spiritual wisdom, but they are the basis for harmonious living. And they reveal the relationship between individual and collective rights.
Rights extend into every field of living
One of the fundamental issues is individual freedom vs group freedom. There’s the other side to this subject, responsibility. That means somewhere, somehow, one or both parties needs to restrain its freedom. That’s not an easy equation to establish. How much? Why me and not the other guy? Who decides? How do you apply restraints? Who enforces? These are real questions we face in handling the COVID-19 pandemic. Here’s a partial list of rights that flower in practically every society and country around the world. Many are major issues, affecting millions of people. And we do not have accepted practices of how to handle these situations. Only adding to the confusion society finds itself in.
- Freedom of religion, speech, press
- Right to food, housing, water
- Right to an adequate standard of living, health, social security, disability
- Environmental racism, gay rights, Identity politics, Indigenous, Intersex
- Institutionalized discrimination, minority, racial, special rights
Society’s definition of Rights
But first, we have to define what rights are. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say.
Rights are legal, social, or ethical principles of freedom or entitlement; that is, rights are the fundamental normative rules about what is allowed of people or owed to people according to some legal system, social convention, or ethical theory. Rights are of essential importance in such disciplines as law and ethics, especially theories of justice and deontology.
Rights are often considered fundamental to civilization, for they are regarded as established pillars of society and culture, and the history of social conflicts can be found in the history of each right and its development. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “rights structure the form of governments, the content of laws, and the shape of morality as it is currently perceived”.
Please retain, “rights structure … the content of laws.” In this definition, rights have the upper hand. They come first and they define the law. Laws develop AS people, social conflicts, revolutions recognize rights.
The Explanation‘s ground rule definition of Rights
In order to discuss this tricky and touchy subject, The Explanation must first establish a basis for its presentation. Given the existence of rights, the first and foremost question is: WHO has the RIGHT to establish RIGHTS? We could rephrase that with WHO has the AUTHORITY to decide what rights are? To codify them? To promulgate them? And especially to enforce them?
If you’ve been following The Explanation for any time, you know the answer to all those questions. God, Elohim, Yahveh Elohim. That’s our point of departure. You can contest that, but such contestation is another subject.
Individuals have free will. Each person has the right to exercise that characteristic of their make-up. Our decisions are the basis of our resultant behavior, but we also have the responsibility to exercise free will within the confines of a code of ethics. And that code of ethics is summed up by love your God and your neighbor.
This is where INDIVIDUALISM meets COLLECTIVISM. As an individual we have BOTH rights and responsibilities, which we can call OBLIGATIONS, to God and to our entourage.
Above in the list of ‘rights’ we saw: Freedom of religion, speech, press.
The keyword is freedom. In the West we consider FREEDOM is a RIGHT. In France, where I am, the national motto of the country is Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite. It starts with freedom!
The recent events in France have crystalized and focused worldwide attention on FREEDOM OF PRESS. Revolving around the caricature of Mohammed. One cannot talk about freedom without addressing the question of responsibility to one’s neighbor. They go hand-in-hand. This is where wisdom enters the picture, whether your God-fearing or not. One side is defending its right to freedom, the other its right to how its religion is presented. Terrorism, demonstrations, open conflict are the result of non-agreement of freedom and obligations.
We are discussing rights in the context of PEOPLE, ALL people. We’re broaching practical Bible wisdom for individuals and collectivities worldwide, regardless of their beliefs in a superior power. Did God set in motion rules that apply in these circumstances? He did.
We have discussed these at length in the realm of RELATIONSHIPS and RULERSHIP in Genesis 1. And the first institution God established. A married couple to procreate and bring about a family. The Explanation has already developed the theme of humans made in the image of God. As well as human institutions in the image of God’s institutions.
Family is a collectivity
Many wonder why FAMILY is a worldwide institution. No matter the culture, race, religion or ethics, family is the fundamental configuration of humans living together. That’s a group of INDIVIDUALS living as a COLLECTIVITY.
The relationships between father, mother, children; husband, wife; parents, offspring; brothers and sisters are the foundation for individual and collective living.
This is part of How Humans Socialize because these rights determine how we live as individuals within a community. Which is what we are from the family to a nation to a family of nations.
This is why the individual is to be a beacon for the collectivity. And the collectivity, likewise, to be a beacon for the individual.
When it comes to evil-doers, they too become an example for the collectivity, a negative one. Here’s an example of freedom of speech and obligation of justice.
16 If a false witness rise up against any man to testify against him that which is wrong;
17 Then both the men, between whom the controversy is, shall stand before the Lord, before the priests and the judges, which shall be in those days;
18 And the judges shall make diligent inquisition: and, behold, if the witness be a false witness, and has testified falsely against his brother;
19 Then shall you do to him, as he had thought to have done to his brother: so shall you put the evil away from among you.
20 And those which remain shall hear, and fear, and shall henceforth commit no more any such evil among you.
In the Old Testament, with UNconverted people, God was concerned with the welfare of the ENTIRE COMMUNITY. He did not hesitate to make an example of the individual for the benefit of the community. People can make a choice to speak whatever they want, they have freedom of speech. But with freedom comes responsibility. The responsibility of loving your neighbor. If they do not meet the obligation, then the person must accept the consequences of their acts.
Those which remain. Of course, this was a group of individuals, the community. God considers the importance of the coherence and understanding of the group. Everyone should behave uprightly as a community. The individual has free will, but only within the limits of the rules that apply to the community. Through the illicit acts of an individual, God teaches the community an important lesson about lying. Individuals in a community must know that lying does not pay.
Why God allows people BACK into the Garden of Eden.
The question is, WHO does God let back into the Garden and WHY? Can anybody enter under any circumstances? Adam and Eve were put out because of non-conformity to rules God established. God put in motion those rules for an excellent reason.
So the COMMUNITY can live in harmony. So INDIVIDUALS can know HOW to LIVE in a COMMUNITY. Love God and neighbor.
God’s people are going to be together for all Eternity. We’ve got to ‘get along’ with ALL the other Eternal beings. On a worldly level there have to be rules that all apply to get along with ALL others, each person has their free will, but it must be within the community rules. This following verse sums up that relationship.
And all the people shall hear, and fear, and do no more presumptuously.
Practical Bible wisdom does not dilly dally around with aimless, innocuous sayings. Bible advice is clear and straight-forward. It is for individuals, like those hundreds of thousands of people preparing to go into a new country and establish a newly FUNCTIONING SOCIETY, to live in harmony in a community. It is for ALL the people (the community) to benefit from the freedom by assuming their obligations (hear and fear) and adjusting their behavior in accordance with the code of ethics (do no more presumptuously). Freedom and responsibility go hand-in-hand.
Sound Bible wisdom counsels its observance AND its enforcement by the competent authorities. We should bring a controversy before the priests and the judges (Deut. 19:17). I can hear it, there are no priests. You’re right, as such, but there are pastors, but that’s another story. However, there are judges, unfortunately they do not necessarily match the qualifications indicated by Bible wisdom, that again is another subject The Explanation will elaborate on. All of that said, There is a body to handle controversy and it must assume its role for individuals to live in a community where freedom and obligations give rise to harmony.
Extremes don’t work
“Individual rights are absolute.” “Collective rights are absolute.” Such statements fly in the face of reality. Individuals together make a collectivity and a collectivity is a group of individuals. Both have rights. No rights are exclusive, the rights of one cannot infringe on the rights of the other.
Today, some people, communities, groups have become polarized and can’t see beyond their own rights. Obviously that’s problematic, especially when you can no longer reason with them. This is where fanaticism and absolutism take over.
In the context of How Humans Function, one of the singularities is rising to the challenge. This takes imagination and innovation, which are extremely positive qualities. Collectivism should not put brakes on these characteristics. The inventive mind describes what humans are. Take that opportunity away from them is like removing a part of their brain. In that vein, there is nothing wrong with personal growth, goals and success, to the contrary. However, it must not come by oppressing or cheating others. That’s where collective limits and rights put boundaries on imagination. Some might think it’s unfair to limit imagination. Well, do those also think it’s NOT okay to limit innovation think it IS OK to harm others?
The key is relationships. Relations with God, relations with neighbor. That one word, relations, summarizes the two great commandments. Individuals need to consider their personal identity in relational terms.
I want to be me, but I must fit into the we. Indeed, you have the right to be you, but you also have the obligation to not impede others from being themselves.
A man that has friends must show himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticks closer than a brother.
Here is the reciprocity of the individual within the collective. As the Three Musketeers say, “one for all (a friend must show himself friendly), all for one (has friends, plural).” This is an individual who has integrated a group. In Proverbs, it is a group animated by the principles of God. It’s a unified group, or family, that has and applies the same principles.
Here’s a quote from Agony of Humankind. Societal rights are a serious matter.
For society to function there must be a semblance of order. Should a population live in fear because a rapist or killer is on the prowl? That’s the question of the Rights of Society versus Individual Rights. From a Biblical perspective, societal rights have the priority. It is the responsibility of the individual to conform to the laws of the land. For God’s society and the laws He’s promulgated, He knows what’s best for living in peace and prosperity. Respect for that way of life in that society is a necessity. The individual still has a choice, but they must be ready to pay the consequences for a wrong one.
The individual in a God-respecting society blends into the collective while maintaining their freedom WITH responsibility. They work in tandem.
Looking at a wider angle of this subject. Individuals compose a collective nation. Does God promote the individual over the nation or the nation over the individual? This becomes a vital subject when we talk about human rights, in particular INDIVIDUAL rights. Which has the upper hand? We’ve seen the practical Bible wisdom when it comes to deciding between individual and collective rights. The community respects the freedom of the individual insofar as the individual respects the harmony of the community.
Dig Deeper into The Explanation
Join The Explanation Newsletter to stay informed of updates. and future events. No obligations, total privacy, unsubscribe anytime, if you want.
The Explanation series of seven books. Free to read online or purchase these valuable commentaries on Genesis 1-3 from your favorite book outlet. E-book and paperback formats are available. Use this link to see the details of each book and buy from your favorite store.
Since you read all the way to here… you liked it. Please use the Social Network links just below to share this information from The Explanation, Individual Rights vs Collective Rights. The Bible Balance?