It strikes me that all those who talk incessantly of “my rights” are acting pridefully, in the sense that they are making themselves the centre of their own microcosmos at the expense of their neighbours. If we want freedom, however, we must be prepared to pay the price for it.

One way of gauging the popular culture is to survey the array of messages on bumper stickers or emblazoned on people’s clothing that we might come across on our travels. Such was the case a few weeks ago when I spotted two people boarding a plane who evidently held diametrically opposing views on the hot-button issues dividing the nation. The first bore a t-shirt with the faux-rainbow symbol of the Pride movement and the wording “Humankind: Be Both”; the other bore the Gadsden flag, depicting a coiled timber rattlesnake, with the words “don’t tread on me,” and the additional words: “My rights don’t end where your feelings begin.”

Seeing these ideological flags being worn as fashion statements set me thinking. Specifically, it set me thinking about the ironic nature of contemporary politics. The first person was apparently preaching peace in the name of Pride, whereas the second person was apparently threatening aggression in the name of Pride. The faux-rainbow flag signifies a general expression of concepts of personal freedom and individualism. As for the Gadsden flag, it symbolizes, well, concepts of personal freedom and individualism. This would be funny, in a grim sort of way, if it wasn’t so creepy.

Let’s look a little closer at what’s going on. And, more to the point, what’s going on beneath the glossy surface of the rhetoric.

There is something almost obscene lurking beneath the surface of the faux-rainbow t-shirt, and I’m not talking about the person wearing it, whom I have no desire to judge, but about the message it preaches. Its message is as superficially charming as John Lennon’s “All You Need is Love” and as seductively seditious. It speaks of humankind, urging us to be both, whereas its hidden agenda is inhumane and anti-human. The Pride movement, under its faux-rainbow banner, is in league with those who advocate and practice the killing of babies on a monstrous and industrial scale, and it advocates the destruction of the authentically human through the deconstruction of humanity into transhuman formlessness. As for being kind, we should remind ourselves that the very word kind has its roots in the natural family and that its original meaning in Old English was related to kin, and conveyed the sense of that which was rooted in nature or the natural order, or that which had innate character and form, and which designated something distinguished by innate characteristics, such as, for instance, male and female. Once one understands the meaning of the word kind and its etymological kinship with kindred and kinder, and kindness, all of which are inseparable from the natural family and the natural law which upholds it, one senses something almost satanic in the coopting of words like human and kind by those who are seeking to subvert both. And speaking of both, one also sees more than a suggestion of Big Brother’s doublethink in the use of this word on the t-shirt: Humankind: Be Both. The hidden agenda is the hidden gender in the statement itself. Don’t be one kind of human, be both kinds of human. Don’t be male or female, be either or both.

Having seen through the seductively seditious “kindness” of the one t-shirt, what are we to make of the other?

Seeing oneself symbolically as a coiled rattlesnake, as a serpent ready to strike, strikes me as a little problematic, at least from a Christian perspective. Telling your neighbor that you will strike, if he tries to tread on you, might be fair enough from the perspective of the right to self-defence, but it doesn’t necessarily strike one as being very neighbourly. Regardless of such niceties, there is no denying that “don’t tread on me” lacks the subtlety of the competing message on his neighbour’s faux-rainbow t-shirt but that is probably because the latter was written by the Prince of Lies and the Father of Pride, whose seductive subtlety is legendary. Adam, for all his macho pride, is no match for the Devil.

But what of the other statement on the macho-man’s t-shirt? What do we make of the statement that “My rights don’t end where your feelings begin”? This seems fair enough, as far as it goes, but it is a two-edged sword. If rights are based on the natural law, which is itself rooted in the essential dignity and integrity of the human person, and not on man-made law, which is rooted in the whim and ideology of whichever political power happens to be in the ascendant, we can all agree that such law transcends and supersedes the feelings of others towards it. If, however, rights are constructed and deconstructed by those in power, irrespective of the dignity of the human person, we will always find that my rights end wherever the feelings of those in power begin. Take, for instance, the child’s right to life which ends wherever the feelings of the mother of the child begins.

It strikes me that all those who talk incessantly of “my rights” are acting pridefully, in the sense that they are making themselves the centre of their own microcosmos at the expense of their neighbours. This is the problem associated with the libertarian on the so-called right, as it is also the problem of the libertine on the so-called left. They march together (left, right, left, right), trampling on the dignity of the human person in their demands for their rights, irrespective of their responsibilities. They both agree that “my rights don’t end where your feelings begin.”

Perhaps we should remind ourselves and our libertarian and libertine neighbours that freedom isn’t free. If we want freedom, we must be prepared to pay the price for it. That price is love, which is to say that the cost of liberty is the sacrificing of ourselves for others. The only way to lay a firm foundation for freedom is to lay down our own lives for our neighbours. We must begin to speak of responsibilities and not of rights. If we don’t want the strong to crush the weak, we need to restore traditional marriage and the traditional family which is its fruit, and which is only possible if we insist on enshrining the responsibilities of parenthood above the rights of each “partner.” It is only within the traditional family that children are protected from the abuse which is the consequence of the breakdown of marriage.

In my dreams, which are more real than the nightmare in which we find ourselves (because sanity trumps madness on the reality spectrum), people will wear different messages on their t-shirts. The so-called liberal will wear the words of Lord Acton that “power tends to corrupt and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely,” and the so-called conservative will wear the words of Edmund Burke that “liberty itself must be limited in order to be possessed.” The person wearing the faux-rainbow badge of pride needs to know that power, including self-empowerment, corrupts and that absolute self-empowerment corrupts absolutely. The person wearing the “don’t tread on me” badge of pride needs to know that “my rights” are circumscribed by “my responsibilities” and that liberty will only survive if it subjects itself to the limitations demanded by love and the responsibilities that love demands. And the libertarian and the libertine both need to heed the words of Oscar Wilde that anarchy is freedom’s own Judas. Only once these lessons are learned will rights and feelings be reconciled by human kindness.

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The featured image is “Belisarius Begging for Alms” (1781) by Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825), courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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