No, “Trans Rights” are not Human Rights
One of the newest slogans of the Left reveals just how disconnected many of them are with ideas that preceded the iPhone. “Trans rights are Human rights!” This popular slogan has gained influence among Transgender activists, with even the President of the United States himself using it to rile up his fan base. But some of the more reflective among us upon hearing that phrase have a few questions. Why exactly are Trans Rights Human Rights? Who decides this? Do we just declare that some things are now inalienable Human Rights and by thinking it hard enough it becomes so?
Unfortunately, in our culture moral justifications and what should be considered a human right is based primarily upon emotivism and whatever issue is pulling the heartstrings of a particular subset of society at a given time. If you were to ask someone who made this claim about Trans rights what exactly makes it a right, you would probably get an emotional answer related to fairness or human intrinsic worth and dignity. But if you were to then asks what makes human beings have intrinsic moral value, it would become clear most of the time that the advocates of these ideas do not have the metaphysical framework needed to justify objective and inalienable human rights in the first place.
Where do Human Rights come from?
The easiest way to ground both intrinsic moral value and Human Rights is through the existence of God who bestows value upon us as creatures made in the Imago Dei (Image of God). In fact, this is how the American forefathers defended the concept of Human Rights in the Declaration of Independence,
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
However, for Transgender activists this line of thinking will not do, since religion and Orthodox Christianity particularly are considered the biggest obstacles standing in the way of “Trans Rights.” But how can objective human rights be established without appealing to a transcendent reality of goodness outside of ourselves? One path that has been used historically to grant Rights apart from God is “Social Contract Theory,” but this route is burdened with problematic implications.
Is Social Contract Theory a viable way to establish Human Rights?
Social Contract theory posits that moral rules, regulations, and even Human Rights are established through either an implicit or explicit agreement among the members of a society to live by these rules. This is reminiscent of a “might makes right” ethical system, but instead of military power being the deciding factor, it is majority opinion. An important first consequence that stems from holding this contractual view is that Rights are no longer objective and unalienable but by nature subjective and capable of being lost due to cultural change of opinion. Instead of Rights being grounded in human moral worth and dignity, without a transcendent good they must be established merely as a social norm for the sake of survival and convenience.
The most unfortunate logical outworking of a contractual view of Rights is that it surrenders moral realism in its abandonment of God. Things like murder and child rape are not really wrong, they are just unpopular in our culture. In another culture that approves of such behavior, they are not only acceptable but good. This view not only leaves no reliable method of measuring one culture’s moral values against another, but it also does not provide a way for settling disputes within a single culture. This reality is playing out in our culture right now with part of the population supporting the idea of Trans Rights and the other part in staunch opposition. Therefore, without a consensus, there is no objective way for the Trans activists to say why their views of morality and Human Rights should be binding on the ones who oppose the idea. They can appeal to emotions about human dignity and worth, but their own worldview cannot ground these ideas in anything other than emotivism. Debating morality becomes a matter of subjective taste much like discussing the merits of one movie or painting over another. There is not a right answer, just differing opinions.
If pushed, the Transgender Activist might be forced to accept the consequences of this view as an unfortunate but pragmatic reality. They will say. “Yep, morals and rights aren’t real or objective, but I want to live in a society that shares my moral outlook.” However, this is a verbal affirmation only. They do not truly believe it; their own day to day actions betray their beliefs. They wake up in the morning, brush their teeth, and head to work believing that their lives have real value. The most hardened moral subjectivist cannot consistently live in accordance with the reality that their worldview presupposes. If their wife dies, they know there is an objective and real loss. If they see a ring of child sex traffickers arrested on the news, they know deep down that child rape is objectively wrong, and not just because of the current arbitrary opinion of the culture.
Is liberal or “progressive” Christianity able to justify the existence of “Trans Rights?”
Someone who wants to avoid the consequences of Social Contract Theory and still hold to the objective realities of human worth and dignity may think that Progressive Christianity is a viable route. For the sake of argument, I will pass over the fact that support of the concept of transgenderism requires one to pick and choose which doctrines of the Christian Scriptures to accept and is overall inconsistent with Christian ethics; I go a little more in depth with those issues here. But even granting the idea that transgenderism is consistent with Christianity does not automatically mean that “Trans Rights” follow. The fact that human beings have intrinsic moral value and worth does not mean that we have “Rights” for whatever we see fit. They must be established through Scripture or reason.
Historically, this has been done through Natural Law and a teleological view of ethics. In this view, the “good” of something is analyzable in terms of what its purpose is. Therefore, a sturdy and comfortable chair is a “good chair” because it fulfills its intended purpose. This line of reasoning can give us a view of Natural Rights that argues that, since humans are rational creatures made by God both for his glory and to fulfill his mandate to be fruitful and multiply, the taking of a human life is “bad” or “evil” both because human life is sacred and because it prevents the human from fulfilling his intended purpose. Therefore, from these grounds it can be inferred that human beings have both an unalienable Right to life and self-defense or preservation. If one were to try to argue from Natural Law that “Trans Rights” exist, they would immediately run into problems as the whole concept of transgenderism is antithetical to a teleological view of Natural ethics.
Humans do not have a “Right” to elective surgery that takes reproductive organs that were intended by God and his natural law for a purpose, and then mutilate them so they can no longer fulfill their natural and intended end. That would be an evil that is done to a natural good. Therefore, the historical view of Natural Rights is not a viable alternative to establish “Trans Rights.”
The idea of “Trans Rights” relies upon the acceptance of Social Contract Theory and the rejection of intrinsic worth given to human beings as made in the Image of God. But what is lost in this trade has consequences. Because in Social Contract Theory Trans Rights do not really exist. No Human Rights do; we are just meaningless results of a cosmic accident whose chemical reactions in our brains result in us comforting each other with the lie that that there is real meaning to be had. We must strive to further societal justice and good over evil even though neither concept truly exists, and the cold universe will not care about our constructs when we are gone.
Ideas have consequences. The more acceptance an idea has, the more powerful the effects of these ideas, for better or worse. Conservative Christians have an obligation to point people to the reality that God exists and because of him, we do have real value that is not dependent on public opinion. And for humanity to truly flourish in God’s world we must submit to his law. And we must encourage governments and authorities who reject God’s law to, “Kiss the son, lest he be angry and you perish in the way…” (Psalm 2:12)