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A Lesson in Human Rights: An Interview with Dr. John Warwick Montgomery

May 13–17, 2013   |   Vol. 115, Programs 61–65
Originally Aired: July 7–11, 2008 | Vol. 83, Programs 16-20

How do Christians approach human rights? And where do these rights come from? On this week’s Home School Heartbeat, noted apologist and lawyer Dr. John Warwick Montgomery explains why it’s so easy to get human rights wrong and the importance of getting them right—for you, for your children, and for the future of religious liberty.

“When people look at human rights, they [have to] understand that you’ve got to have a higher dimension in order to make sense out of this whole business.” —Dr. John Warwick Montgomery

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Human rights is a hot topic these days, but defining them seems to be difficult! Join us this week on Home School Heartbeat, as host Mike Farris discusses this topic with one of society’s foremost Christian human rights experts, Dr. John Warwick Montgomery.

Mike Farris: My guest this week is Dr. John Warwick Montgomery. He’s one of the greatest Christian minds of our lifetime. Dr. Montgomery is an expert on human rights, Christian apologetics, and many other subjects. It’s an honor to have him in the studio and as a professor at Patrick Henry College. Dr. Montgomery, welcome to the program.

Dr. John Warwick Montgomery: Thank you so much.

Mike: With your background in international law and human rights, I’d like you to talk to us about the age we’re living in. Human rights seem to be discussed so much and practiced so little.

Dr. Montgomery: Yes, everyone is in favor of human rights—even the worst dictators. This is very interesting, because for the non-Christian, human rights essentially mean “my own rights” or “the rights of my group or my country,” and not the rights of somebody else. And therefore, when people look at human rights, they don’t understand that you’ve got to have a higher dimension in order to make sense out of this whole business

Mike: I think you’ve pinpointed the heart of the problem, Dr. Montgomery. That higher dimension is the key to understanding the entire concept. We’ll discuss this further next time. Until then, I’m Mike Farris.

Mike Farris: Dr. Montgomery, you mentioned that the higher dimension of human rights befuddles secularists. Why do we have human rights?

Dr. John Warwick Montgomery: Well, in the first place, any genuine human right would have to be inalienable. That is to say, we shouldn’t be able to take such rights away from others, and we shouldn’t even be able to take them away from ourselves. Now, how could we possibly arrive at anything inalienable? The only way to do this would be to go to an inalienable source. The people that you’re talking about don’t have that source, and therefore, they are at sea without a paddle.

Mike: Where do you find a source?

Dr. Montgomery: The source is going to have to be God. He’s the only source of the inalienable, the absolute. And, unless He has revealed himself to us, we wouldn’t know what the contents of those rights actually are. That means it’s going to be necessary to try to find a revelation from God, and that’s exactly where the Holy Scriptures come in.

Mike: Exactly right. I look forward to continuing this discussion next time, Dr. Montgomery. Until then, I’m Mike Farris.

Mike Farris: Dr. Montgomery, you’ve said that our best source of human rights is God himself, as revealed in the Bible. When we start to look at Scripture and try to discover the human rights God has given us, what are the major guideposts?

Dr. John Warwick Montgomery: One starts with the nature of man, the fact that we are self-centered as a result of the Fall, and therefore we seek our own interests. Then, we look at the fact that in spite of this, we’re creatures of God. He has made us, and He regards us as important enough that He was willing to become one of us, in His son Jesus Christ, and die for us. This gives an essential dignity to the human being, even though the human being is self-centered. Any understanding of rights that you find in Scripture will be to protect that image of God and make it very difficult for one person to create grave difficulties for other people.

Mike: Hmm . . . and we know that Jesus said that the second-greatest commandment was to love our neighbors as ourselves. If we just had a right understanding of God and our relationship to Him and to each other, human rights would never be an issue at all. Listeners, join us next time when we find out what the Founders meant by “inalienable rights.” I’m Mike Farris.

Mike Farris: Dr. Montgomery, as we’re discussing human rights this week, I’m reminded of the phrase, “We are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights.” Clearly the Founders held the view you’re advocating—that our human rights come from God himself. What are some of the inalienable rights that governments should be respecting all over the world?

Dr. John Warwick Montgomery: Well, for example, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, the protection of one’s personal property—the kinds of rights which are reflected in the first 10 amendments to the Constitution of the United Sates, the French Declaration of the Rights of Man, the European Convention on Human Rights. All of these are, interestingly enough, within the Western tradition and have been influenced deeply by Christian values—by what comes from Scripture. If you go to other parts of the world, you won’t find anything like this, and the reason is that the Christian impact has not taken place in those parts of the world to the extent that it has in the West.

Mike: Yes, I agree with you entirely. You know, it really is important to remember how much Christianity influenced our way of thinking about our nation and our culture. And a good place to review this is to go back and just read the Declaration of Independence over again. Until then, I’m Mike Farris.

Mike Farris: Dr. Montgomery, today I’d like to switch gears a little bit and talk about religious liberty, since according to what you’ve said, our God-given human rights provide its foundation. Many secularists claim that it was the Enlightenment, or secular reason, that brought us religious liberty. Where do we see religious liberty going in a society where secularism is so dominant? Is religious liberty on the rise, or is it being attacked, and why?

Dr. John Warwick Montgomery: It’s certainly being attacked, and wherever you have a decline in Christian faith, you’re going to have a decline in freedom. It’s as simple as that. And the reason, of course, is that if God isn’t in the picture, then something else is going to replace Him, and the something else will inevitably be the pagan, the unbeliever, and the society and the government that is created by such individuals. And of course, under those circumstances, it’s going to be necessary to force one’s human views on other people. And by doing this, freedom disappears—this is seen again and again in the modern world.

Mike: Thank you for joining us this week on Home School Heartbeat, Dr. Montgomery. I’ve enjoyed our discussion, and I’m sure our listeners have as well. I’m Mike Farris.

Dr. John Warwick Montgomery

John Warwick Montgomery is considered by many to be the foremost living apologist for biblical Christianity. He holds 10 earned degrees, including a Master of Philosophy in Law from the University of Essex, England, a PhD from the University of Chicago, a Doctorate of the University in Protestant Theology from the University of Strasbourg, France, and the higher doctorate in law (LLD) from the University of Cardiff, Wales.

He is the Emeritus Professor of Law and Humanities, University of Bedfordshire, England, Distinguished Research Professor of Apologetics and Christian Thought, Patrick Henry College, Virginia, and Director, International Academy of Apologetics, Evangelism & Human Rights, Strasbourg, France. He is also an ordained Lutheran clergyman, an English barrister, and is admitted to practice as a lawyer before the Supreme Court of the United States and inscrit au Barreau de Paris, France.

He is a U.S. and U.K. citizen, the author of some 50 books in five languages, and is included in Who's Who in America, Who's Who in France, The European Biographical Directory, Who's Who in the World, and Contemporary Authors.

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