“If there is no God, everything is permissible.” Fyodor Dostoevsky
Let me first say how much I admire the zeal and courage of all the non-Christian human rights activists many of whom have no other relationship with N. Koreans except their shared humanity.
Having said that, let me also assert that I do not believe that the idea of human rights can cohere apart from a belief in God. The concept of ‘human rights’ itself is a secular attempt to derive the benefits sprung from the Judeo-Christian notion of human beings being made in the image of God. But since this humanistic effort ultimately fails, as I will try to show in this essay, I reject as a false dichotomy that The Chosun Journal or anyone else for that matter can promote basic human dignity for North Koreans apart from appealing to a standard established by God.
Recently Milosevich stood up to the judges in the Hague and defiantly lambasted, ‘Who are you to judge me for violating human rights? This is an illegitimate proceeding and I do not accept its authority over me.’ The judges sat there speechless. Of course they did. How else could they respond except for ‘We won the war, you lost. That makes us morally right and you wrong.’ Without a transcendent standard to appeal to, that’s all morality can become, ‘Might makes right.’
But the problem is the mighty are not always right. Take for example the recent revelation that a popular U.S. senator had killed more than a dozen women and children during the Vietnam war. Not only has Sen. Kerry not been prosecuted as a war criminal, the Bronze star he received for this action (albeit the atrocity was concealed at the time the award was given) has yet to be revoked.
But what about appealing to the universal declaration of human rights, or in short, ‘Majority rules’ morality? Well how does one measure the rules of the majority apart from appealing to rules that are not manipulated by politics or bound by the mores of a certain age?
Recently Sudan replaced the US on the UN human rights committee. The human rights community was shocked and felt an earthquake shaking under their foundations. A beacon of light had been taken over by a slave-trading nation. But they should not have been surprised. For man-made declarations are as reliable as the capriciousness of their authors. Charters and the like are always amended, deleted, or simply rewritten depending on who’s in or who’s out or what’s in vogue at the time.
But significantly, this is not the case with the Bible whose Author is purportedly without change and whose pages have not been revised since their original authorship over 3,200 years ago for the Old Testament and over 1,900 years ago for the New Testament. Archaeological proof of the unchanging continuity of the earliest manuscripts compared with the versions we read now attests to this fact and attests to its unhuman-like (divine?) quality.
My question to the human rights activists who are not guided by the God revealed to humanity through the Bible is this: What moral compass guides you if not the eternal one? Your trustworthy hunch? Were not all the major atrocities committed by people who operated by their own sense of right and wrong? Didn’t the defendants at the Nuremburg War Crimes trials offer plea after plea, ‘My conscience is clear’? What makes your instincts more trustworthy than theirs?
If we’ve learned anything from this past bloody century rooted in optimistic philosophies of human nature, it is that man cannot be trusted. Man is selfish, narrow-minded, and apathetic. A few tyrants are not the only ones to blame for history’s horrors. The blood of millions is also on the hands of the billions who have stood by in their self-imposed ignorance and rational self-interest while their neighbors get raped or hacked to pieces or gassed.
Man has been far more content in building memorials than in preventing atrocities. Sin of omission is just as wretched as sin of commission and we are all guilty of it and in need of salvation from it. How many Holocausts, gulags, killing fields, Rwandan massacres, Japanese rape camps, and deported N. Korean refugees do people need until they finally begin to yearn for the redemption of that human nature which makes people stand idly by allowing all of these horrors to occur?
I am not a believer by choice but by necessity. If there were any other way to promote human dignity and respect for one another besides by promoting monotheistic ethics, I quite honestly might accept it. But history has taught me otherwise. The rescuers in the Holocaust with few exceptions were people morally enabled by the Bible to transcend the ‘majority rules’ morality of their time. Read Martin Luther King Jr.’s powerful Letter from a Birmingham Jail, and again one sees the necessity of appealing to a transcendent unchanging moral standard to give one the authority not only to battle a racist society but to confront fallen human nature itself.
Of course this is not to say that there are no good atheists. Some prominent N. Korean human rights activists easily show the contrary. But how do they measure let alone promote moral progress? By relying upon the principle of might makes right? Or a changing declaration? Or a politically manipulated UN? Or fickle popular world opinion? Moral progress by definition requires a universal, unchanging, shiftless, non-contradicting standard which any person can rely on to know if he is headed in the right direction or not. Nothing man-made (or even polytheistically made) could meet these requirements.
The unique gift of the Jews to the world is a book that reveals the coherent principle of moral progress rooted in the idea of one moral transcendent standard set by one Supreme Being that does not change or contradict itself over time, political trends, or mood swings because He does not change or contradict Himself as people or ‘the gods’ have been prone to do.
Only this monotheistic Lawgiver could give the philosophical and emotional support for the moral progress we have already seen in history led by those with the Bible in hand and heart: the end of ritual infanticide, the abolition of slavery in much of the world, the promotion of universal education and gender equality, and the establishment of hospitals, all before they became politically correct, are just a few examples.
No doubt many will cry out, “Inquisition!” or “Crusades!” But again, what standard are you using to judge these as evil? Believers can condemn them as utter hypocrisy in violation of the fundamental law of God, ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself.’ But what authority do atheists appeal to in their condemnation that does not fall into the trappings I’ve outlined above?
Nevertheless I cannot blame people today for their misgivings of my proposal that N. Korea should adopt Christian principles as its moral foundation. All they have to base their opinions on is the secularized Christianity we have today. But even today God has His remnant which has refused to bend the knee to Baal. The hundreds of believers who rescued Jews are good examples. So is Christian Solidarity which had led the fight against slavery in Sudan before it became politically correct. So are several of the Korean missionaries in China now.
You may point to the complicity of the Roman Catholic Church in Nazi Germany or to the silence of several white churches in segregated America, but these are powerful examples for why we need the Church to be more like Christ rather than more like society. I’m a firm believer of the separation of Church and state for this very reason. God forbid we have a secularized church! But the world be damned if the state is not informed, guided, and kept in check by a healthy Church.
Therefore, I reject as a false dichotomy that The Chosun Journal can advocate for the human rights of North Koreans apart from advocating for a coherent standard by which such rights can be affirmed and promoted. If North Korea could enter an age where a majority of their citizens picked up the Bible and followed its decrees, as there was a time in a morally progressive America in which that was the case, the North Korean people will be far more assured of obtaining the basic freedoms that God had intended for them to enjoy than reliance upon any man-centered ideas.
Praise the LORD. Praise the LORD, O my soul.
I will praise the LORD all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save.
When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing.Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God, the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them– the LORD, who remains faithful forever.
He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets prisoners free, the LORD gives sight to the blind,
the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down, the LORD loves the righteous. The LORD watches over the alien and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.
The LORD reigns forever, your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the LORD.