By Don Ruhl
In America we have a Bill of Rights, but we need a Bill of Obligations. Rights imply obligations, because rights say I have the obligation to grant you your rights. However, how often do you hear anyone speak of obligations? If I am obligated to grant you your rights, are you obligated to grant my rights? Unless the obligations are stated, people will not recognize or do them.
A column by Cal Thomas in our paper, the Daily Courier, explained that Alexandr Solzhenitsyn said the West needs to understand the greater need of personal obligations over personal rights, from a speech he gave at a Harvard Commencement in 1978. He died in August of 2008.
Wikipedia says of him, that he,
was a Russian novelist, dramatist and historian. Through his writings, he made the world aware of the Gulag, the Soviet Union’s labour camp system, and for these efforts Solzhenitsyn was exiled from the Soviet Union in 1974. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1970. He returned to Russia in 1994.
Cal Thomas wrote of Solzhenitsyn,
Thirty years ago this summer, Solzhenitsyn gave an address at Harvard that was biting in its critique, exemplary in its wisdom and visionary in its predictions for what the future would hold should America and the West remain on their present path. It was a monumental speech that many academics—at Harvard and elsewhere—who had cheered Solzhenitsyn while he resided in the gulag, hated, but I loved. …
Solzhenitsyn said that in the West, the pursuit of happiness through self-gratification and materialism has replaced moral and character development: “The constant desire to have still more things and a still better life and the struggle to obtain them imprints many Western faces with worry and even depression…The majority of people have been granted well-being to an extent their fathers and grandfathers could not even dream about.” And yet, “Today, well-being in the life of Western society has begun to reveal its pernicious mask.”
What about America’s emphasis on individual rights? Solzhenitsyn said the result has been to ignore the welfare of the many: “The defense of individual rights has reached such extremes as to make society as a whole defenseless against certain individuals. It is time, in the West, to defend not so much human rights as human obligations.”
General and President Dwight Eisenhower said, “A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both.”
On the matter of material prosperity, Gregg Easterbrook wrote a book, The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse.
He shows how we have become enamored with self to where we have no idea how well we have it. The self-focus makes us overly concerned about our rights, that is, what everyone owes us rather than what we owe others. It does not even occur to us that we have obligations to anyone.
Yet as your ancestors four generations removed learned more of contemporary life, they would be dazzled. Unlimited food at affordable prices, never the slightest worry about shortage, unlimited variety—strawberries in March!—so much to eat that in the Western nations, overindulgence now plagues not just the well-off but the poor, the poor being more prone to obesity than the population as a whole. Four generations ago, the poor were lean as fence posts, their arms bony and faces gaunt. To our recent ancestors, the idea that today even the poor eat too much might be harder to fathom than a jetliner rising from the runway (p. xiv).
Yet how many of us feel positive about our moment, or even believe that life is getting better? Today Americans tell pollsters that the country is going downhill; that their parents had it better; that they feel unbearably stressed out; that their children face a declining future—and Americans were telling pollsters this even during the unprecedented boom that preceded the tragedy of September 11, 2001 (pp. xv, xvi).
…the citizens of the United States and the European Union, almost all of whom live better than almost all of the men and women of history, entertain considerable discontent.
Far from feeling better about their lives, many are feeling worse.
Someday if Eden is restored, people may complain about the predictable menu of milk and honey and about the friendly lions purring too loudly (p xvi).
What does the Bible says about rights and obligations?
Does the Bible Speak of Rights?
The Bible speaks of rights directly and indirectly. For direct references read: Exodus 21.8; Deuteronomy 12.8 speaks against doing what is right in one’s own eyes. See also Judges 17.6 and 21.25. Ruth 4.6; Second Samuel 15.3; Secnd Samuel 19.28; Second Samuel 19.43; Job 34.6; Psalm 9.4; Psalm 50.16; Jeremiah 5.28; Jeremiah 32.7; John 1.12; First Corinthians 9.4–6; First Corinthians 9.12; Hebrews 13.10; Revelation 22.14.
These are just some of the passages that speak of rights, but you can find many more although the word “right” or “rights” may not appear in the passage.
Does the Bible Speak of Obligations?
Yes, the Bible is heavy on obligations, much more than it is on rights. Where shall we begin and end in listing the obligations the Bible places upon us? Time will fail us to list even a small sampling.
Why Did Our Founding Fathers Not Give Us a Bill of Obligations?
No one can think of everything, and no one can anticipate every need that might come along, especially centuries in advance.
Our forefathers did not appear to be self-centered people, but served a cause greater than self, and that was both God and their new nation. However, since the 1950s or 1960s, we have developed a new way of thinking, believing that God and country exist for the individual rather than the individual existing for God and country.
It may not have occurred to our forefathers how self-centered their forebears would become 200 years later. Can you anticipate how Americans will think in 2208? What if we attempted to put together a document that legislated life for Americans then? How would you construct it to have relevance for today and for then? You can imagine the difficulties in that task, and you can then appreciate the work that they put into creating The United States Constitution during the summer of 1787! They did a very good job.
Think of the change in our culture since then, yet, we still believe they gave us a good document.
Nevertheless, Article V of the United States Constitution makes provisions for Amendments.
J. A. Casazza, who advocates the addition of a Bill of Obligations to our Constitution, has written the following to explain why our forefathers did not add an amendment of obligations,
When our forefathers established this country, they saw the need for a Bill of Rights and added one to our Constitution. They saw no need for a bill of obligations since they were establishing “One Nation Under God,” and the obligations for all were well established.
Because of erroneous court rulings, we have ceased to be “One Nation Under God” but one nation where God has no role. We no longer have sins and lies; we have actions that are “appropriate” and “inappropriate.” Since we can no longer depend on God’s Laws to tell us our obligations, we need to do the next best thing—try to add a “Bill of Obligations” to our Constitution. (http://www.obligationsneeded.com/index.html)
I e-mailed Mr. Casazza. He replied,
I have not been able to get any interest in a Bill of Obligations. My intent was that a brief bill of obligations based on the ten commandments could be proposed to add to our constitution similar to the Bill of Rights that had been written by George Mason.
I had hoped that posting it on a web site would help arouse interest and that others would join in an effort to gain political support but this did not happen. Yours is the only response I have received in 5 years,
This demonstrates our national concern only with our rights, a failure to be concerned with our obligations and the national effort to remove God from our national activities.. I am 85 years old and am deeply concerned about the future of our country and my decendents.
Perhaps a people like you can help.
Thanks for your interest.
A Bill of Obligations
Some, including J. A. Casazza, have suggested the Ten Commandments as an American Bill of Obligations. In an abbreviated or reworded format, the Bill of Obligations could read:
- You shall have no other gods before the God of Israel.
- You shall not make for yourself a carved image—you shall not bow down to them nor serve them.
- You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.
- Remember the Lord’s day, to keep it holy.
- Honor your father and your mother.
- You shall not murder.
- You shall not commit adultery.
- You shall not steal.
- You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
- You shall not covet anything that is your neighbor’s.
Rights come from assumed obligations. What do you think would be a good Bill of Obligations?
- Sermon: Was Jesus a Socialist? (Part 2) (grantspasschurchofchrist.com)