Head Bangers, Blackshirts, and Human Rights without God …

There’s a plaque on Dock Street in the East End of London that commemorates “the Battle of Cable Street”:

“The people of East London rallied to Cable Street on the 4th October 1936 and forced back the march of the fascist Oswald Mosley and his Blackshirts through the streets of the East End.  They Shall Not Pass.”

Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists had organised a march through East London dressed in uniforms like Hitler’s Nazis, through the streets of the Jewish community.  You can only imagine the fear that was beginning to creep into Jewish homes in London.

But that day, the British people said, “You shall not pass!”   They stood together and said, “This is wrong.  We will not allow Fascism here.”

More than 300,000 people turned up.  They blocked the roads.  Wives threw rubbish into the streets.  Their husbands stood side by side with their Jewish neighbours.  As the policemen tried to make a way through for “the Blackshirts”, children threw marbles under the horses and burst bags of pepper in front of their noses.  Young and old, rich and poor, the people of Britain united for this cause – they said no to the Fascists because they believed that all human beings are equal and valuable.

The Battle of Cable Street was a special day for our country. It was the day when the ordinary British people stood together and said “No!” to the Fascism that was sweeping across Europe.

Don’t you want to be part of a country that stands up against things like that?  When David Cameron talks about “British Values”, aren’t these the kind of values we mean?

But if we won’t accept the teaching of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, if we reject the God of the Bible, then the very values that we cherish are going to erode away.

I’m writing about this now, because last week Nick Clegg was in a rage about a rumour that some of the Tories want the UK to limit the power of the European Court of Human Rights.  He put it quite colourfully – especially about a group of politicians he works with – “I think the head bangers have now won. They are now saying, in effect, that the Conservative Party are turning their back on a long British tradition of upholding human rights across the world.”


I don’t doubt for a moment that Mr Clegg is passionate about “human rights” of some kind.

But here’s the problem.  Nick Clegg believes there is no God.

And if there’s no God, then you lose your basis for human rights altogether.

The western idea of “human rights” comes from believing that humans are made by a personal creator God, in his image.  If we really are just collections of atoms thrown together by physical forces, then it’s silly to talk about “rights” and “wrongs”.  Genocides just happen, like solar eclipses.  It’s all just arrangements of molecules, movements of matter.

Nicholas Wolterstorff, a philosopher at Yale, is himself a Christian, but he’s shown that when you get rid of the Christian idea of God, you lose your grounds for believing that all human beings have rights.  In his book, Justice: Rights and Wrongs, he asks us, if you take away God, why are human beings more important than, say, trees? The only way to say they are seems to be to find an X – the X factor, if you like – something that humans have that trees don’t have, such as our ability to think, or to feel pain.

But. But, But, But…

Why does that X factor give somebody rights?  It’s just made-up.

And what are you going to do about human beings who, through mental illness or disability or old age, don’t have the X factor?  What are you going to do about other animals that do have the X factor?

And – let’s be controversial, but logical – if human beings are nothing more than products of evolution, what are we going to do when we find out that some ethnic groups have the X factor more than other ethnic groups?  Why should we give all ethnic groups the same rights?

We can’t just say that belief in human rights is something innate, something universal in us all that we know deep down.  Lots of human beings care more about their own tribe than everyone else.

Did the Serbian soldiers feel an innate sense of equality with the Bosnian women they raped and killed?

Do we really think we’re so much better than them, that in the UK such things could never happen?

Wolterstorff goes on to say this, and it’s pretty chilling:

“It is not hard, not hard at all, to come to see some among one’s fellow human beings as having little if any worth.  All one has to do is focus on their flaws.  … It is also not hard, not hard at all, to manipulate someone into seeing some among his fellow human beings as having little if any worth; all you have to do is demean them, make them seem loathsome, by bringing their real or invented flaws into the light of public exposure and calling them lice, cockroaches, animals, scum, filth, dirt.”
(Justice: Rights and Wrongs, 393)

It’s happened before, it’s happening today in parts of the world, and it will go on happening.

What can you say that means definitively that this is wrong?

The Bible tells us that there is a personal, powerful, good, loving, delighted, brilliant, generous God, and he made human beings in his image.  We are all special, every human being has equal value because God makes the rules and he has given us that value, whatever our ethnic group, whatever our faults, whatever our age and mental health.

I think, instinctively we know this is true.

We know that human beings matter more than trees, or stones.

Don’t we?  Don’t we need this to be true?
And it’s a clue for us.
A clue that the God of the Bible is there.

If you have a premise, and it leads you to conclusions that you think are not true, then you change your premise.

The premise, “There is no God”, leaves you to the absurd position that the human rights we so cherish and fight for and live by are just made up and baseless.

If that’s where we end up, then maybe it’s time to change the premise.

Human beings do matter.

Because God is there. And he has decreed it.

Jesus died and is alive again. He’s in charge.

And we need to start listening to him, even when he disagrees with us.

Because the next time a Fascist man organises a Fascist march through the streets of Britain, I don’t want to be the only one standing in his way.