A post at the New York Times philosophy blog “The Stone” reflects on the differences between religious and secular underpinnings of human rights. The author, Anat Biletzki, critiques the argument that human rights are impossible without religion, or, particularly, belief in God. Instead, she asserts that the secular basis for human rights is in fact more faithful to humanity than religious justifications, which she defines as rooted in the authority of a superhuman creator (i.e., God) rather than in the value of the human. She writes:
Take a look at how we work on the ground, so to speak; look at how we do human rights, for example, in Israel-Palestine. When Rabbi Arik Ascherman, the leader of Rabbis for Human Rights in Israel, squats in the mud trying to stop soldiers who have come to set a blockade around a village or fights settlers who have come to uproot olive trees (as he has done so often, in villages like Yanoun and Jamain and Biddu, in the last decade) along with me (from B’Tselem — the Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories), or a group of secular kids from Anarchists Against the Wall, or people from the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions — and he does this on a Friday afternoon, knowing full well that he might be courting religious transgression should the Sabbath arrive — does it matter that his reasons for doing so spring from his faith while the anarchists’ derive from their secular political worldview and B’Tselem’s and ICAHD’s from secular international human rights law?…I think it does. I dare say that religion, even when indirectly in the service of human rights, is not really working for human rights. Although there is recognition of the human as sacred, it is not the concept of rights that propels the religious person. For him, the human status of sacredness draws from divine creation and directive, from man (and woman) having been created in God’s image, and therefore has nothing to do with a human right.