As we saw in the previous posting in this series, many people have the idea that human rights come from God or the State as a grant or gift. That is, they believe as an article of faith that first humanity exists, and then is endowed with rights from some source. This accounts (at least in part) for the current movement to replace “exchange” (based on the natural right of justice) with “gift” (based on the infused virtue of charity) as the basis of economic activity, a demand based not on reason, but on faith.
Assuming that the granting of rights is separate from creation itself (and thus not truly an inherent aspect of human nature) bases the existence of rights on God’s Will rather than His Nature self-realized in His intellect — faith rather than reason. This means that if the agency that endowed humanity with rights changes His or its mind for whatever reason, then either the rights no longer mean what they once did, or they no longer exist.
This theory is completely wrong. God did not create humanity and then grant humanity rights. Nor (for non-believers) did humanity somehow first appear and then acquire rights. Jefferson’s phrasing in the Declaration of Independence (and similar language used earlier by George Mason in the Virginia Declaration of Rights) that “all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights” describes a single act, not a two-step process. It is the act of creation by means of which “their Creator” endows “all men” with “unalienable rights.” It is not a case of first one, then the other.
We do not first exist and then receive God’s gifts. Rather, both existence and our natural rights are granted in a single act, and both are thus based on God’s Nature, self-realized in His Intellect. We receive both the rights and the exercise of rights in a single, unified creative act inseparable from existence or being itself. Our natural rights of life, liberty, and property are necessary aspects of existence that allow us to “pursue happiness,” that is, acquire and develop the virtue that conforms us closer to our own nature and that of God in Whose image and likeness we are created.
If we were first created and then given rights as a “gift” — an act of Will instead of Intellect, of faith instead of reason — that God or others (in God’s Name or that of the State or Der Volk, of course) can take away or order us to give away, we would have no true rights at all. Not having rights by nature, we could not be natural persons. Remember — it is possession of rights that define someone or something as a “person.”
The so-called “logic of gift” allegedly based on this sort of coerced “charity” is completely illogical. It attempts to nullify or negate the validity of “exchange” based on the natural virtue of justice and the rights of the natural law inherent in each person (especially freedom of association/contract and private property) and discerned by reason. It replaces “exchange” with “gift” based on the supernatural virtue of faith and the duties imposed on each person as a result of the infusion of the virtue and accepted as an act of will, not intellect.
The shift from “exchange” to “gift” is justified on the fallacious grounds that we cannot “give” until we first “receive” as a discrete and revocable benefice that which we already have the right to take inherent in our nature from the moment of our creation!
If that were not enough contradiction, advocates of this shift ignore the conflict inherent in how we can be said to own anything by right if we are required to divest ourselves of it at the command of someone else, even if that “someone” is God . . . or (more usually) someone who claims to be speaking or acting in God’s Name.
The “logic of gift” therefore demands that God violate the precepts He Himself teaches through Christ’s Vicar on earth or that are discernible by human reason. As Pius XI clearly stated, “[N]o vicarious charity can substitute for justice which is due as an obligation and is wrongfully denied.” (Quadragesimo Anno, § 137.)
The “obligation” mentioned by the pope is not on God, of course. It is a duty imposed on all humanity not to impede unjustly the acquisition of ownership or enjoyment of the fruits thereof by anyone. In contrast, the “logic of gift” requires that the duty to respect the rights of others (a duty under justice) shift from man to God, which God then imposes back on man as some sort of involuntary charity!
Perhaps not surprisingly, abolishing “exchange” in favor of “gift” (a transformation that makes commutative justice meaningless) makes Jesus into either a knave or a fool. He clearly stated, “one jot, or one tittle shall not pass of the law, till all be fulfilled.” (Matt. 5:18) and “Do not think that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets. I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.” (Matt. 5:17). By substituting the principle of distribution based on charity for the principle of distribution and exchange based on justice, those who advocate replacing “exchange” with “gift” do the exact opposite of what Jesus claimed as His mission.
This, too, flatly contradicts explicit papal teaching. As Leo XIII carefully explained, charity cannot be forced if it is to be true charity; except in dire circumstances, we are morally, not legally obligated to distribute our surplus to those in need. We cannot, therefore, replace “exchange” — contract — with “gift” (pseudo charity) as the principle for economic transactions and expect to have a viable system, as the experience of communism and socialism in the 20th century amply demonstrated. As the pope explained,
“[W]hen what necessity demands has been supplied, and one’s standing fairly taken thought for, it becomes a duty to give to the indigent out of what remains over. ‘Of that which remaineth, give alms.’ It is a duty, not of justice (save in extreme cases), but of Christian charity — a duty not enforced by human law.” (Rerum Novarum, § 22.)
Still, the urge to “play God” is very strong among the self-appointed judges of their fellow man. As one of today’s premier Catholic intellectuals asserts, “As creatures, we are first receivers before we are givers.” (Michael Naughton, The Logic of Gift: Rethinking Business as a Community of Persons. Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Marquette University Press, 2012, 30.)
What this means is that if we change the proper order of things and reverse the meanings of justice and charity, we begin to think that God makes a legal instead of moral demand that we give to others. If that is the case, He is first required out of duty to give to us; we, the creatures, are imposing an obligation on God, the Creator! As Fulton Sheen explained this subordination of God to man, “[c]ontemporary thought . . . making religion start with self, makes it the sum of God’s duties to man.” (Emphasis in the original; Sheen, God and Intelligence, op. cit., 317.)
Nor is this the worst error that people draw from the idea that the natural law can somehow be separated from human nature, as we will see in the next posting in this series.