The words that we use matter.
When we speak using terms from Torah, our intention is clear. We believe that Torah is the source of our moral values. But once we start using English terms and ideas, we enter a dangerous philosophical minefield. We use words thinking that we’re expressing Torah ideas, but without realizing it, we are employing secular ideas as well.
One prime example is “human rights.” People use this term as if it’s some kind of innate, obvious Truth, yet they fail to explain why it is so. Where oh where do these “human rights” come from and why are “human rights violations” so very terrible? That’s a topic better avoided, especially in polite company.
Moreover, the definition of “human rights,” or just “rights,” changes virtually by the day. One day it’s in to call one thing a right. But then another supposed right comes and supersedes it. No one knows what new supposed right tomorrow will bring, which will turn over society even more.
But it’s almost foolproof. If you want something, anything, in our “rights”-obsessed culture, your best strategy is to call it a right. It doesn’t matter how ridiculous that particular claim of a right may sound, or may have sounded not so long ago. Once you call it a right, most people will feel intimidated. They will not want to be dismissed as insensitive and committing in any way the “sin” of … denying someone a right. And they know very well what the consequences of such disagreement will be. It will be labeled as “hate speech”. Because if you disagree with someone’s claim to be entitled to a certain right, you must, must hate him. You’re a bigoted, mean, selfish monster. You’re … “anti-human”.
But this is playing with our minds. What do people mean when they speak of these rights? When it comes down to it, “human rights” is just code for “morality without faith”. It’s the creed of the new atheist religion, one that they are now using the secular legal system to dogmatically enforce, and with ever-increasing militancy. Just as atheism is axiomatic, so is the concept that morality must be defined in secular terms.
And therefore not only should Orthodox Jews never identify with these values, we must reject them like the plague. Even if we are speaking to someone from a secular background for whom our value system is foreign, we must never use language that implies even a slight endorsement of secular values.
And the same goes for a host of other buzzwords that have become the catch-cries of the holier-than-thou secular moralists: love, peace, tolerance, equality, social justice, rule of law, abuse, racism, multiculturalism, and discrimination.
All these words and ideas, although seemingly noble and true, are meaningless and false. They do not express universal and innate ideas; rather, they express (at least, as used in modern times, in a secular framework) the new secular morality that is so utterly contrary to authentic, G-d-given morality that it is almost diametrically opposed to it. (This is not to say that they don’t each hold some kernel of truth; however, now that G-d has been censored out of the picture, these ideas have degenerated into falsehoods.)
Why are these ideas so empty? Because without Hashem investing humans with inherent value, we are just a bunch of highly developed animals. Do animals have moral compunctions? Should they be expected to think twice before taking the lives of other animals? Of course not; that would be absurd. In fact, if the secularist creation narrative of evolution is taken to its logical conclusion, the principle of “survival of the fittest” implies that on the contrary, killing those who are weaker enables prosperity and progress. (Of course, most atheists today will reject this philosophy, known as social Darwinism, but they will not be able to coherently explain why.)
Of course we should respect and honor all mankind. But not because some Enlightenment philosopher said so. He has no, well, “right” to dictate morality to us. Rather, human beings have value because G-d created mankind in His image (Bereshis 9:6) and therefore all mankind are “precious” (Avos 3:18). Of course murder and stealing are wrong. But they’re wrong because G-d forbade them, not because a “human rights ethics council” decided so.
We must declare proudly: Our morals come from Torah. We believe in the G-d-given sheva Mitzvos, the seven Noahide laws, as our basis for morality, not empty, secular “human rights”.
As a Christian, I oppose the idea of “human rights” which many Christians in the west sadly think ‘comes from Christianity’. It does indeed come from a perverted version of ‘christianity’, called liberalism where scriptural doctrine was twisted by the protestant reformers to justify the evil idea of ‘rights’. The very concept of ‘liberty’, ‘equality’ and ‘rights’ is wicked to the core as it elevates man above God. We have no “rights” or “liberty” but an OBLIGATION and DUTY to serve God.
I have written an article on this subject from a Christian point of view here at:
Hope you check it out.