Rights. This week, the right to “free”contraception has been the big news. That discussion assumes the right to have sex any time we want to and with whomever we want. Of course, men have exercised these rights since the beginning of time, and women, till the 20th century, were left to worry about (or not) pregnancy among themselves.
Americans are very keen on rights. We began our nationhood seeking the right to worship freely—as long as that worship was Christian and Protestant. Soon after we set our sights on that elusive “pursuit of happiness,” which quickly developed into the right to make as much money as possible, heedless of harm, and invent lots of new things to buy with it. For a century or more, that right was restricted to white men of a certain class. Granted, a relative few from the lower classes did manage to accumulate enormous wealth.
Then came the 20th Century. Women first began to demand to share rights with men. After World War II the right to wealth expanded to all white people. In the 60s people of color came to the table. Now an entire nation seems to agree to the universal right to obtain, have and do anything and everything–without cost if we can possibly find someone else to pay for it.
I don’t question that rights, if we must have them, should be shared among us all. What I question is whether or not rights are rooted in any kind of reality simply because we declare that they exist. I find no concept of rights in the gospels, virtually none in the entire New Testament, and absolutely none in my own experience of God. All is grace. Our flawed economies inevitably collapse, always because too many insist on too much. On smaller scales it happens all the time…and somehow, in some way grace covers the collapse. Who among us doesn’t have a story about such a transformation?
What if we lay aside our rights and siezed on grace? Even if only people of faith—those of us who claim to believe it—moved toward an economy of grace, gave up our rights and rediscovered love in service? Of course billions of people doing just that, at least to one degree or another, and that commitment to reality is what holds our society together, in spite of the prevailing struggles over rights. All is grace. If that is true, rights are a puny placebo for every ill, real or imagined. In America. In the Middle East. In our workplaces, schools, and places of worship. In our homes. Even in our bedrooms.
All is grace.
Ric — You might enjoy Kathryn Tanner’s book Economy of Grace.