what is a right?

In this post, the Un one, asks what is a right and posits that

Many people believe (or would like to believe) that humans are born with “inalienable rights,” which are rights which can’t be taken away. And yet, very clearly, there are no such rights in any practical and real sense.

If you believe in such rights, where do you think they come from? Who bestows the or how are they bestowed? And most importantly, who or what is ready to guarantee them?

To answer the question what is a right? I refer to Staphanie’s work, the right to have rights, where she writes

When a person holds a right, they are entitled to a specific good or experience. They have a claim to a tangible object or objective: to health care, to shelter, to an attorney, to remain silent.

In short, a right is a claim.

I think rights are inane. States can only guarantee them, but not give us rights. It is not for the state to give rights, but only to offer protection of said rights. Take for example the right to life- states don’t give this right, they only enforce it.

So I disagree somewhat with this

I’m using the word “legislated” to represent a wider concept of a commitment made by a legitimate entity empowered to create rights and with the wherewithal to enforce those rights in case they are abridged.

because these legislative bodies don’t create rights but only provide grounds for their enforcement. The Bill of Rights doesn’t create rights, only recognizes them and vests the state with the responsibility of ensuring individuals can enjoy those rights.

Chapter 4 of the constitution of Kenya, for example has this on fundamental rights and freedoms

(3) The rights and fundamental freedoms in the Bill of Rights —

(a) belong to each individual and are not granted by the State;
(b) do not exclude other rights and fundamental freedoms not in the Bill of Rights, but recognised or conferred by law, except to the extent that they are inconsistent with this Chapter; and
(c) are subject only to the limitations contemplated in this Constitution.

What do you think?

On rights, human or otherwise

I am reading an interesting book, the right to have rights, which is a critique of that statement made by Hannah Arendt in a book and an a journal.

The authors of the present book critique the human rights regime as it exists now especially its inadequacy in guaranteeing the rights as declared in the many instruments that address human rights for example the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Declaration of Independence among others.

The question I find interesting is whether there exists a human nature as such that is subject to rights? And it is in response to this question that I find this quote by Arendt quite telling. She wrote

We are not born equal; we become equal as members of a group on the strength of our decision to guarantee ourselves mutual equal rights.

Seen in this light, therefore, human rights are not a given but are negotiated and makes sense when you look at the varied attempts to by different minority groups everywhere to assert their humanity and rights to be treated as members of the human community.

And in the same light, this quote, below, then is very telling

Perhaps that is what i must learn t accept. to start at ground level. With nothing. Not with nothing but. With nothing. No cards, no weapons, no property, no rights, no dignity. Like a dog. Yes, like a dog.

J.M Coetzee


Limitations on religious rights

Professor Makau Mutua, in a paper of the same title argues that in the human rights corpus, indigenous religions should be protected against the proselytizing religions, that is, Christianity and Islam.

He argues that the two instruments-UN Declaration of Human Rights and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights- need to not only check on government’s encroachment into the private and personal realm but also powerful private institutions in the private realm including established religion.

It is a known fact that these middle Eastern religions spread to the rest of the world either through deceit or force or both combined. In Africa, the two religions sought to and were successful in destroying that which was different leaving the African as neither European nor Arab. He argues they are imperialist in nature, that is, they seek to dominate the whole world.

It his contention, and I agree, that free exercise of religion and belief should find protection within the human rights universe in the context of respect for diversity without giving license to the destruction of other religions and cultures.

It his final submission that the law need to expand to cover indigenous religions. Much may not be done to recover what has been lost but indigenous peoples should be at the forefront in trying to rebuild this information and passing legislation with the aim of protecting indigenous religions and cultures.

Further reading: Limiting religious freedoms

A gentleman’s guide to rape culture

As I was reading this post, I almost said not, am not part of this culture then it dawned on me that in India not so long ago, a minister said sometimes it is right, sometimes it is wrong  and another continued to say that rape can only be said to have been committed if it is reported to the police! How do we treat each other?

How in the name of all that is reasonable should a violation on another’s will be treated with such callousness? How can we claim to be a civilized lot if we treat our fellows, men and women in this manner and especially the women?

Whereas I acknowledge we are animals, members of our species sometimes behave worse than beasts which they are quick to dismiss as unthinking. I have bred cows and I don’t remember anytime one cow tortured another, I have no recollection when a grown up mounted a calf, and unless my memory fails me, there was never an occasion when cows ever gathered themselves to go and attack the next group of cows for holding different belief.

Let the human animal if he has some brain use it.

Five challenges for the atheist

In the conversation between the atheist and theist, there seem to be a communication breakdown of some sort. I would’t want to be in the christian’s shoes, who feels she must be on the defensive, to defend a belief fostered by several years of indoctrination with little or no thought. It is at such times am glad that I became free. Why am I boring you with such verbiage? Some theist blogger feels the time has come to put the atheist on the defensive and has a list of questions/ challenges meant to do just that. When I stated, in the beginning, about one side not doing it’s work, I meant the theist. From where I sit, it appears to me, they do very little, if any, reading and whatever they read must be what bolsters faith but not what challenges it and this will be evident in the post we are going to spend some time on today.

The author’s opening salvo is outlandish and unsubstantiated. He writes

[..]Though it has been persistently marketed to us as a worldview that stands for reason and science, the truth is that the atheistic worldview is riddled with contradictions and outlandish claims.

I hope these claims will be made known to us in a moment.

And because most secular people haven’t studied why atheism is true, an excellent evangelistic strategy for you and your church is to understand these five challenges for atheism.

Isn’t this just awesome! Think about it. You are an atheist and you haven’t studied why it is true. There could be such atheists, that am not denying, but this is not true of the many atheists I have interacted with both online and face to face. Perhaps this author would have cared to name just a few. But lets forget all that. Let us be intrigued by the five challenges to atheism.

He tells his Christians the first matter is to settle definitions, and yours truly agrees. But it is here where he fails. Atheism is lack of belief in god[s] or stated differently a lack of belief in the existence of gods. Nothing more, nothing less. Naturalism is a philosophical position about the world. Therefore in quoting Richard Dawkins et al as having said about their shared viewpoint as:

The view that there is only one realm of existence, the natural world, whose behavior can be studied through reason and empirical investigation. The basic operating principles of the natural world appear to be impersonal and inviolable; microscopic constituents of inanimate matter obeying the laws of physics fit together in complex structures to form intelligent, emotive, conscious human beings

betrays the author’s ignorance of what atheism is. It would not be asking too much that a person looks up the meaning of atheism in a dictionary or a philosophy paper.

The problem statement

The atheist, as defined above, must deal with a logical inconsistency between their commitment to the “impersonal and inviolable” laws of the universe and their inevitable recognition that there exists “intelligent, emotive, conscious human beings.”

Granting that most atheist may ascribe to naturalism, let us see what are the unique five areas where the author thinks he has us at a corner. He identifies the following areas;

  • Consciousness
  • Free will
  • Purpose
  • Reason, including mathematics and science
  • Objective moral facts, including universal human rights and the reality of evil

The problem of consciousness, if we can call it that, has been divided into two: the easy question and the hard question.

The easy problem is

to distinguish conscious from unconscious mental computation, identify its correlates in the brain and explain why it evolved.

and the hard problem

is why it feels like something to have a conscious process going on in one’s head–why there is first-person, subjective experience.

It is however not clear to me how it is a problem for naturalism. The naturalist says that he believes that Nature is capable of producing sentient beings. Providing a supernatural answer every moment we are unable to provide a naturalistic one is a lazy way to explain reality.

The theist says we have freewill because his priest has told him so. The naturalist says, as far as we can tell, we observe for every effect a cause. Man being part of nature doesn’t seem exempt from the cause-effect continuum. How then is this a problem for the naturalist? Where is there a contradiction? I have written in several places that I believe free will is an illusion and as such many of the reasons, if not all, given for punishment should be looked at afresh with a view of changing our justice systems. A person can be an atheist and believe there is free will. This has nothing, or if it has, very little, to the question that atheism answers to.

The next challenge on purpose is framed thus

Can your secular friends consistently live within such a meaningless framework?

and why wouldn’t they? I plead guilty to the charge of nihilism. At the same time, I believe to live, as Camus says in the Rebel is to rebel against this meaninglessness. It is to find meaning in a meaningless existence, in short, to find meaning in an absurd world. Maybe am blinded by my position, but how is this position outlandish and/or contradictory?

Reason, including mathematics and science

The author first quotes C.S Lewis [someone please tell me if I should waste valuable time reading this guy?] on mind

If minds are wholly dependent on brains, and brains on biochemistry, and biochemistry (in the long run) on the meaningless flux of the atoms, I cannot understand how the thought of those minds should have any more significance than the sound of the wind in the trees.[bold mine]

Now, the operative word here is he couldn’t understand, and there is nothing wrong with that. To assert there is a problem because one christian apologist couldn’t understand something is to be ridiculous and to make a joke of our collective efforts in understanding reality and ourselves as part of that reality.

Questions such as

 Further, normative rules govern the reasoning process: 2+2 does not equal elephant. Where do these rules come from? And why do they apply to our brains?

are absurd. The rules, if we can call them that, are things we have extracted from nature by studying her. Every time we have added 2+2 we have got 4. There is no space for the supernatural. To understand nature, one must study her and you can’t do this if every instance you encounter a difficulty, you resort to saying the supernatural did it. No. That has not worked for the entire period the priest was in charge of education and it is not going to work if we allow the priest to sit at the head of education panels. Only those who look to nature, who try to unravel her mysterious can understand her. And these people, my friends include several unnamed people currently living and dead who spent time studying nature.

Objective moral facts, including universal human rights and the reality of evil

We are presented with a problem

In Uganda, Joseph Kony requires his child soldiers to kill escaping child soldiers by biting them to death. Think about it. What horror! Are there any moral facts which we can be right and wrong about, or is this just a difference of opinion? Is same-sex marriage a moral imperative or a completely arbitrary convention, no better and no worse than any other laws?

and then a question

Ask your friend: do you have more evidence that atheism is true or that raping children is wrong? Be sure you ask them to defend their answer with clear and convincing reasons.

As I have said before,, if one needs a god to be moral, this person is a danger to himself and the society in which he is a member. Who in his right frame of mind would not be disgusted and disturbed at the thought of children being asked to kill their agemates by biting them? Seriously tell me, do you need a god to find this thought revolting? Haven’t we developed some level of empathy and sense of good to find such demands abhorrent? Christians shock me, but these follow shocks me the most.

The reasons why atheism is true is has nothing to do with raping children. If that were the measure, then we would simply say Catholicism is true because of pedophilia. It is a case of a weak mind to compare these two things.

The question of what is good or bad, isn’t as easy as the theist thinks he will dispense with by calling on gods. When the theist talks about objective moral values, I would be interested in hearing what he thinks these are and why naturalism cannot arrive at the same conclusion, if at all, such things as objective moral values exist.

From a naturalist point of view, we describe as evil anything that is not amenable to us. The existence or reality of evil is not a problem to the atheist and is in no way contradictory to naturalism. The theist who argues that a benevolent, omnipotent and omniscient god exist has the difficulty of explaining away evil.

On human rights, the atheist and naturalist say we share a common humanity. We shouldn’t be inhumane in our dealings with each other. We should be kind to one another. How naturalism contradicts universal human rights has not been justified just as the above challenges have only been asserted without demonstration.

He at the end asks

So Wait: Why Is Atheism True?

Well, because there are no gods. All the other questions he asked after this question are irrelevant to atheism.

Then he assures his readers

If nothing else, you should have a very interesting conversation! Based on seven years of ministry experience at Harvard, I can assure you that our God can use these five challenges to lead many of our secular friends away from the contradictions of atheism and into the coherence, truth, and love of Jesus.

In response to which I say, those have been 7 wasted years. If in 7 years of fraud, you still cannot tell what atheism is, then what have you been telling those who listen to you. My advice to any theist who intends to use these challenges, is don’t use them. They are not challenges. They will take you nowhere. The same questions could be asked of you and I am in doubt whether you will give an answer beyond god-did-it which would require an explanation. And while at it, the atheist will ask you to describe what you mean by god, what evidence you have of such a thing existing and you will be asked to provide the evidence you have for your Jesus. Am not sure you will like how the conversation will end. Am not saying this as a threat, rather as an encouragement to the theist to think deeply about his faith, then about this questions and what answer or response he can come up with.

In the end, I think, this author has failed in his attempt to provide challenges to naturalism or atheism for that matter.

I end my case :-]

Homophobia on the rise in Africa

Whenever I see a comment like

We have moral values in Africa,don’t enforce western virtues on us, well illustrated in the Holy books,advocate for the once dying because of hunger and diseases rather wasting your time on some irrelevant issues of gay people.

I know I have come into contact with an ignorant sissy. The books he calls [sic] holy are not African and tell stories of Hebrew goat herders. Stories that our ancestors were sold to on the threat of death. Indeed, it is known in many places, the colonialist came immediately after the missionary who himself had come with a gun and bible. Either way the African was fucked. He had to swallow the bible hook, line and sinker and as years go by, we continue to produce ignoramuses who have not thought beyond what their parents, who didn’t know better, told them. What a shame!

Am at the same time at a loss what this particular person means when he says we have moral values in Africa. Does he mean that the moral values, whatever they are, are distinct from what others who make similar claims of possessing moral values hold? And which values are these?

The next respondent who pretends to offer a third way is still as bigoted and stuck in a rut as the rest. He writes

Both Africans and Westerners should reject the false choice suggested by this article: that either a) homosexual behaviour is accepted as normal or b) we violently and irrationally persecute those inclined to homosexuality. There is a third way; it can calmly and rationally be identified as wrong, and calmly and rationally stigmatized, and also violence and hatred can receive the same rejection.

which is in essence not different from saying we ostracize those who are gay among us as if human beings come marked heterosexual or whatever sexual? It is a failure to understand that they who speak loudest against others can’t tell anyone the day they made the choice to be straight. As I have said before, what two consenting adults do in their private bedrooms or on the street is their business and the sooner this sinks into people’s heads, the sooner we will deal with other problems that face our race.

I feel sad every time I read articles full of such bigotry, stupidity and intolerance.

Homophobia on the rise in Africa: rights group