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Gifts and Rights

To treat gifts as entitlements and to complain about not getting more is to be a poor receiver and to wrong the giver.
~ Miroslav Volf, Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace
Christians affirm the belief that all of the world, all of creation, is a gift from God, the Creator. It is not that creation is a gift to us, for us to use or manipulate as we choose, but rather that, as a part of creation, we are all gifts to one another. The earth is a gift to me, and I am a gift to the earth. My neighbour is a gift to me, and I am a gift to my neighbour. Based on this belief, being itself is seen as a gift. Life is a gift.
As a gift, life brings certain responsibilities, or better stated, life understood as a gift generates a particular perspective, a specific lens, through which we view ourselves and the world around us. Seen through this lens, the world around us becomes a sacrament, it points to the hand and purposes of the Giver. Such a perspective requires us to tread a little more softly than we would otherwise, it requires us to consider that those around us may be far more sacred than we have previously realised. Suddenly we discover awe in the most unlikely places. And gratitude becomes that which dictates how we live and act.
It is also this perspective that causes me to be uncomfortable with the language of human rights. This is not to say that those who pursue human rights have bad motives or wrong goals. The motives and goals of those involved in the world of human rights are quite admirable. However, seeing life, and all that comes with it, as a right also functions as a perspective, and a specific lens, through which we view ourselves and the world around us. This views approaches life as something that is owed to us, or rather, something that is owed to me. Thus my life becomes structured around ensuring that I get what is mine. Within this view, the human person becomes the be all and end all of life. The world and people around us are not sacraments of some other Giver, they are not sacred, rather they are individuals who deserve respect — meaning that they should not be harmed and should be left to themselves, just like I should be left to myself. There is little room for awe here, we only discover what is mine, and what is yours. Thus, entitlement replaces gratitude as that which dictates how we live and act. Such a mentality actually fits surprisingly well with a consumer culture, for, as long as I'm not harming others than I can come to believe that I am entitled to more and more (of course, such a mentality, although rather prevalent, is quite naive for almost all Western consumption harms others).
Therefore, if we are to find a way forward that truly recovers the true humanity of ourselves and those around us, and recovers the sacredness of creation, we must ensure that we view life as a gift, not, as a right. Gratitude, not entitlement, should dictate our approach to life.

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