Claiming our rights

A Christian Science perspective: Protests in Egypt, Libya, Syria, and Tunisia have alerted the world to the dire need to protect human rights.

As a recent Monitor feature reports, the Arab revolution is far from finished. In Egypt, many protesters complain they deposed a tyrant only to see him replaced by military officers slow to achieve promised reforms. In Syria, several thousand protesters have died at the hands of an entrenched regime. In Libya after the death of Muammar Qaddafi, and in Tunisia after recent elections, the challenges include reconciling ethnic groups and competing political parties, establishing representative rule and the institutions of good governance – courts, police, and legislatures, and protecting human rights.

Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of the Monitor and the Christian Science Church, was keenly aware of human rights, a term she mentions a number of times in her writings. She also wrote: “Discerning the rights of man, we cannot fail to foresee the doom of all oppression. Slavery is not the legitimate state of man. God made man free” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 227).

Hers is a hopeful outlook. It applies not only to the Arab revolutions, but to the 27 million people estimated by investigative authors Kevin Bales, Zoe Trodd, and Alex Kent Williamson to be living in slavery: working without pay or for only a pittance, held in bondage by threats to them and their family (“Modern Slavery: The Secret World of 27 Million People,” 2009). And it applies to less dramatic but still challenging conditions: the bondage of sensual beliefs, of sickness, fear, hatred, prejudices, depression – whatever argues against our God-given freedom.

In repressive countries, a genuine reform government can and must end torture and protect the right of expression and peaceful protests. It might seem as if the best way to arrive at such reforms would be by the death of leaders who use repression to squash human rights. But replacing one leader with another, or, as in the case of Egypt, replacing a civilian tyrant with military leaders, may not bring genuine freedom. Mrs. Eddy pointed to a deeper reform: “The death of a false material sense and of sin, not the death of organic matter, is what reveals man and Life, harmonious, real, and eternal” (Science and Health, p. 296).

Protests are not just an Arab happening. Mostly peaceful protests for human rights have occurred in Latin America and parts of Asia, where people have demanded their freedom. Sometimes protests are aimed at economic issues. Recent examples include the mass demonstrations in Greece against budget cuts, and the “Occupy,” or “99 percent,” movement that has expanded from a few dozen protesters on Wall Street to people protesting in scores of cities across the United States.

Perhaps inspired by Theodore Parker, a Unitarian minister and abolitionist in the 1800s who used almost the same words, Martin Luther King Jr. said: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

Gaining justice and freedom is possible, whether it involves struggling against tyranny and for a government that respects human rights, supporting organizations that work to free modern-day slaves; or claiming our God-given right to be free and healthy, refusing to accept ideas or habits that would limit this freedom. Our starting point can be “discerning the rights of man.”

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