President Bush has kicked off a bit of one in the blogosphere by telling Rich Lowry, David Brooks, and some other conservative columnists that “a gift of [the] Almighty to all is freedom.” Ross Douthat has, for example, written an uncharacteristically heated post about how un-conservative and un-Christian that comment allegedly is.
Now it may be unconservative to think that an aggressively liberty-promoting foreign policy follows from the idea that all human beings have a God-given right to be free, and certainly Christians are not obliged to believe that it does so follow. But the proposition that our rights are a gift from God is neither un-conservative nor un-Christian; it is a commonplace observation in the context of American political history.
My own view of the matter is that human beings have rights by virtue of the kind of beings that they are, and they would possess these rights even if, so to speak, God did not exist. But I also believe that human beings are the kind of beings we are as a result of the free and creative act of a loving God who chooses to create man in His image and likeness. (I’m leaving aside, as irrelevant, the means He used.) So in that indirect though important sense, our rights are God-given.
Most of the time, however, when people say that our rights come from God what they are most concerned about affirming is that those rights are not created by human beings. That, it seems to me, is true, or else there are no human rights at all.