Brief Reply to King of Ireland on the Bible & Rights

My estimable co-blogger King of Ireland has taken issue with my claim (along with Ed Brayton, Gregg Frazer, Robert Kraynak and others) that the Bible nowhere speaks to the concept of unalienable rights, especially an unalienable right to religious and political liberty.

I think the problem between us is one of semantics, that is we need to clarify concepts and premises underlying our claims. There is a certain “literal” interpretation of the Bible which looks at what the text says on its face and cites verses and chapters of scripture as specific prooftexts. The specific/literal approach, one many evangelicals are fond of following. In that sense, the Bible does not speak to unalienable rights, political or religious liberty. I’ve read the parts that supposedly do from cover to cover. It’s an open and shut case. I’m hesitant to argue the issue further with the good King, because he can be, what Gary North has termed a “tar baby” when someone disagrees with him on an issue about which he is passionate.

After reading every single word that he and Gregg Frazer wrote on Romans 13 and rebellion this passage from North’s article comes to mind:

Now, he expects you to refute him. No, he demands that you refute him. Can you refute him to his satisfaction? It would have been easier for the Pope to have persuaded Luther that he had it all wrong.

Now, if one takes a DIFFERENT interpretive approach on the Bible, I suppose you can get the concept of unalienable rights to political liberty and otherwise. It’s where you take a general principle from the text — indeed it then helps to supplement that general principle with natural law as discovered by man’s reason — and then draw specific conclusions therefrom.

In King’s case it’s the general principle that all humans are created in the image of God (Imago Dei) and therefore, possess inherent dignity. Note that general idea says nothing in the specific sense of unalienable rights, a right to worship freely, a right to be free from chattel slavery. But take that principle, throw in a some Aristotelian natural law as discovered by reason as a supplement. Come to your conclusions and then use that as an interpretive premise to overcome all of the many verses and chapters of the Bible which suggest that men in fact do not have a “right” to worship freely and to be free from chattel slavery and viola you have your preferred outcomes.

Me, I’m going to keep on stating the Bible does not teach the concept of unalienable rights, to political or religious liberty. And I think, at the very least, conservative evangelicals should agree with me.

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35 Responses to Brief Reply to King of Ireland on the Bible & Rights

  1. craig says:

    Lyrics from Hymn entitled So Send I You

    So send I you to labour unrewarded
    To serve unpaid, unloved, unsought, unknown
    To bear rebuke, ot suffer scorn and scoffing
    So send I you to toil for Me alone

    So send I you to bind the bruised and broken
    Over wandering souls to work, to weep, to wake
    To bear the burdens of a world a-weary
    So send I you to suffer for My sake

    So send I you to loneliness and longing
    With hart a-hungering for tthe loved and known
    Forsaking kin and kindred, friend and dear one
    So send I you to know My love alone

    So send I you to leave your life’s ambition
    To die to dear desire, self-will resign
    To labour long, and love where men revile you
    So send I you to lsoe you life in Mine

    So send I you to hearts made hard by hatred
    To eyes made blind because they will not see
    To spend, though it be blood to spend and spare not
    So send I you to taste of Calvary

    “As the Father hath sent me, so send I you”
    Difficult, maybe impossible to do even when I trust totally in Christ. This is the calling of the Christian though in the US the Constitution grants the inalienable rights, but what does he do with those rights? Forfeit them and suffer? Rebel. I have yet to figure this one out. But the question here is whether the rights we cherish are in the Bible. Paul, as a Roman citizen at times, made use of his rights which he claimed as a Roman citizen. At the time of Nero and other brutal Ceasar/kings, Peter and Paul called for Christians to honor the king for one’s conscience sake. Jesus recommended turning the cheek, giving up your coat, going the extra mile but he didn’t suggest that one claim one’s rights. Since the Constitution is our “king” which we swear to protect and defend as public servants do anyway, and based on Paul’s example, we can justifiably stand up for our Constitutional rights but we don’t have to. Jesus’ golden rule that others have as much worth as we think we ourselves do. I think that would be the text that indicates we all have rights but he also indicates that our rights can be made subservient to His will for the benefit of His kingdom.

  2. OFT says:

    Israel, under the Law and Monarchy, had rights enumerated in the Bible.

  3. Jon,

    The tar baby thing is a low blow. If you do not want to respond to an argument of merit and substance that reputable scholars like Brian Tierney and Dreisbach subscribe to fine no one says you have to. But ad hom attacks cheapen the discussion.

    As far as my back and forth with Frazer he did change my mind on a few key things so the tar baby crap has no sticking power. Come on dude what did I ever do to you?

  4. Jon,

    Clarified his remarks at our group blog AC where this was posted as well. I think I took what he said in a way it was not intended. All is cool now.

  5. buddyglass says:

    As I read the Bible, it seems relatively clear that nobody is entitled to anything. Not religious liberty, not material comfort, not freedom from persecution. I mean jeez, look at the book of Job. The entire lesson is that God doesn’t owe Job jack squat.

    So if I’m a believer suffering under terrible political oppression and/or poverty, I shouldn’t feel like I have a “right” to something better.

    On the other hand, if, as a believer, I’m asked to describe my ideal government, the new testament books pretty much compel me to recommend a system that is as “hands off” as possible, except insofar as interference is necessary to protect life and property.

  6. craig says:

    That’s an interesting point, buddyg. I wonder if the best govt would be like Pax Romana where persecution strengthens the faithful and the infrastructure facilitates communication.

  7. buddyglass says:

    Well, define “best”. Persecution does tend to bring out the best in Xns, but I can’t imagine wishing and hoping for people to get saddled with suffering.

    My personal definition of “best” would be a government that protects individual liberty as much as possible, and yet recognizes the broken nature of the human beings that comprise markets. I tend to resonate with libertarian thought, but frequently find myself arguing with its more extreme proponents.

  8. Buddy,

    Rights it not about what God owes us. It is what man owes his fellow man in honor of God. i.e. Love God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself. Pretty simple yet hard to do my man. Hard to do.

  9. craig says:

    It isn’t easy to see what the logical flaw in the golden rule as basis for rights but maybe this explains it. Because we are all commanded to love our neighbors does that mean that we have a right to be loved? I don’t think so. I think if that logic was accepted then the neighbor would be the one to decide if he is being loved or not. Besides, as I agree that it is hard to do, I wonder how many actually do love their neighbor as themself. So, how could the laudable but unattainable be a right? Just trying to think it through.

  10. buddyglass says:

    Maybe a matter of semantics. I consider an individual to sin if he fails to treat me in a certain way. In the context of government, if you’re a Kim Jong Il, you’re not doing right by the people you govern. You should be treating them differently. You sin in oppressing them.

    On the other hand, God clearly permits human beings to suffer at the hands of other human beings. So if I’m an oppressed North Korean, I can say pretty unequivocally that my leaders are treating me in a way they ought not. But I shouldn’t say God is treating me in a manner he ought not, since God never promised to structure my life in such a way that it is free of suffering and oppression. In the grand scheme of things I don’t have the “right” to not be oppressed. Or, more generally, the “right” to not suffer the consequences of others’ sin.

    That make any sense?

  11. buddyglass says:

    I think I may be conflating the words “right” and “expectation”.

    God has obligated human beings to treat each other in a certain way. That seems to imply that I have the “right” to be treated that way, because God has decreed that it should be so.

    But, since we live in a fallen world, we also know that nobody will live up to this standard. So we can bank on being mistreated by pretty much everyone, to varying degree. Because all human beings are sinful and governments are comprised of human beings, I should expect to be screwed to some extent by my government, regardless of which government it is.

    When I said, “nobody is entitled to anything,” I was thinking on a more cosmic scale. Whereas human beings are obligated not to oppress me, God is not obligated to provide me with a life free from oppression. See what I mean? I have no standing to demand such a thing from him. Because of the obligation he’s placed on human beings, I can demand certain treatment from my fellow man. However, when he fails to treat me as he ought, and he will fail, I can’t then go back to God and act like this mistreatment represents God having wronged me.

  12. craig says:

    the other confusing thing in this topic is that I think we are talking about governments but its easy to sidetrack to how we treat each other. The FFs seem to strongly oppose strong, tyrannical govts whether its due to religion or absolute power leading to corruption. I think I agree with buddyg that smaller, less intrusive govt with an interest in fairness such as anti monopoly markets and such is safest. But it is an interesting question. If govt and laws are based on our sense of right and wrong but not on the golden rule, what is our basis?

  13. Aquinas rights about the concept you guys are talking about and his idea of rights based on the golden rule is that it is something we extend to our neighbor but not neccesarily selfishly demand ourselves.

    This really comes down to a balance of perspectives here. When you watch seven years in Tibet you see that their refusal to defend themselves did not end in the peace they sought but in war. I think one prominent ruler in Europe or maybe it was a philosopher wrote that Christianity was bad for society because of the lamb principle.

    Now it is equally as bad to go around demanding things from everyone. That violates the golden rule right there. Or the spirit of it that is anyway.

    This says nothing of all the times that God told people to defend themselves in the Old Testament. Either it contradicts itself or it attempts to nuance things to achieve balance.

  14. Should say writes not rights about Aquinas. I have not finished my coffee yet.

    Anyway, we get into some of what you guys are saying here at AC where Jon posted this as well. Easier to link than repeat it all here:

  15. “If govt and laws are based on our sense of right and wrong but not on the golden rule, what is our basis?”

    The hundred million dollar question that no one that wants to throw Chrisianity off the bus seems to be able to coherently answer. Boy they get pissed if you keeping asking it too. All I have seen is fluff masquerading and reasoned argumentation.

  16. “On the other hand, God clearly permits human beings to suffer at the hands of other human beings. So if I’m an oppressed North Korean, I can say pretty unequivocally that my leaders are treating me in a way they ought not. But I shouldn’t say God is treating me in a manner he ought not, since God never promised to structure my life in such a way that it is free of suffering and oppression. In the grand scheme of things I don’t have the “right” to not be oppressed. Or, more generally, the “right” to not suffer the consequences of others’ sin.”

    If the image of God is supposed to be seen in the world, for arguments sake not a truth claim, and man was intended to reflect that image they do we not have an obligation to protect that image in others in honor of God? If he ties that to having love of ourselves and that image it would logically carry over to us. In other words, if we do not see our worth we are not going to see it in others.

    I think DA Ridgely was talking about Rand and the difference between self awareness and just being selfish in a post a while back. Same idea here just from the biblical perspective on it.

  17. From James Hanley in another post:

    “See, here we have a perfect example of what Jon Rowe was talking about in a recent post, the “tarbaby” effect. An truly foolish argument takes no time at all to state (because it has no “thinking time” behind it), but the refutation that bothers to take it seriously is a very time-consuming task. And of course the refutation will be followed by yet another foolish comment that takes no time to make because it also has no thought behind it.”

    This is the problem with Jon using this in regards to my argument that a case for rights can be made from the Bible. It is not a foolish easy argument to make and has thousands of years of serious intellectual precedent. To dismiss it as foolishness is worse than foolishness.

    I accept that Jon was not intending to ruin my good name but I am afraid this nonsense did. It is nonsense that ignores large chunks of Western Theological History and elevates one narrow stream of Christian thought to speak for all of Christianity.

    It absolutely confirms my concerns, and now that I am border line being slandered elevates them, that a bunch of people that absolutely do not understand the Bible or the finer points of Christian Theology should really not be making a value judgements about different views as far as the historical context goes.

    Equating someone saying that honor code violations are as bad a torture with someone arguing ideas that have had merit in Western thought for centuries as both foolish arguments that are a waste of time to respond to is absurd. Though I am fairly sure James was not doing this one could read Jon’s post and then his comment and draw that conclusion.

    The well is poisoned.

  18. craig says:


  19. craig says:

    but since you brought me up, anyone that can’t see a zero on a decent project that has the only flaw of leaving off a pledge when nothing grants the prof that authority to a student balancing family, school and a full time job is not only cruel but disgusting is not qualified to consider the aspects of waterboarding esp. one that hasn’t even been waterboarded, BUT I’m not saying they are equal

  20. I am not really commenting on what you were or were not saying. I was commenting on the impression of what James thought you were saying. That is the part that is relevant to the tar baby thing. If one were arguing they are the same it is foolish and only a fool would reply. I think the Bible calls it pearls to swine.

    I am not really sure what you were trying to say but that is a discussion for that post. I just brought it up here for clarities sake about how reckless words can be taken the wrong way.

    I think your point, and I get this because you said the same thing at AC when I posted on unqualifed obedience is that academics can be just as big a pricks as military people. If I am reading into your point. Honestly, I think James is right that you are hard to follow. Just say what you want to say.

  21. craig says:

    I don’t think that was me at AC. I know what you were saying but you used me as an example, but i’m not hard to follow. There must be some other reason it supposedly so difficult.

  22. craig says:

    but the whole tar baby thing is mox nix

  23. craig says:

    btw, if a Navy member had done something like the zero for no pledge, he would have been pushed overboard after lights out or administered a blanket party (ref: A Few Good Men)

  24. James Hanley says:

    Craig @2:23 p.m.,

    An astoundingly silly argument. I’m increasingly tempted to ban you just to prevent the degradation of the quality of discussion.

  25. craig says:

    you probably should unless you can come up with something more worthwhile

  26. buddyglass says:

    Let me suggest an alternate term instead of tarbaby:

    Trapdoor Argument. (Similar to a Trapdoor Function).

    Seems to fit.

  27. James Hanley says:

    Or you could take the hint and either leave voluntarily or improve the quality of your contributions. Either one would please me more.

  28. craig says:

    you can find your pleasures elsewise

  29. James,

    I am all for discussion and hate to see it stifled but I would just ignore him I have no idea what he is trying to say and will not just come out and say it. I do not always agree with you and think you get a little impatient at times with people but I have to say you have given him numerous chances to clarify or explain what in the world he is getting at and he ain’t gonna do it.

  30. Buddy,

    I do not get the trap door thing. Please explain.

  31. buddyglass says:

    Argument that’s easy to formulate and express, but time-consuming to effectively refute.

    Similar to a function whose value is easy to compute, but whose inverse is extremely (computationally) hard to compute.

  32. Just because it is easy to form and express does not mean it is foolish. I would also say in this case the fact that it would take a lot to refute might be a sign that it cannot be refuted and gives the person that is willing to play the tar-baby card a pass. Jon’s biblical understanding is lacking and this post proves it. It is the problem when your thesis is so closely tied to the thesis of someone else that hangs on premises that you do not fully undertand enough to refute people that retort it.

    The bottom line is that Jon cannot say that taking the imago dei concept and developing a theology of rights violates good methods of interpretation when the people he sites do the same thing with the Trinity, Providence, Original Sin…

    He also says that there are no specifics given that would frown upon slavery and freedom to worship. Love your neighbor as yourself is pretty specific and any Christian that reads that and thinks he can enslave another man is just plain stupid. As far as worship goes I think Jon conflates man’s obligation to God and to his fellow man. In the former, man does not have a “right” to worship freely but obviously God gives him the choice to do so or not. In the latter, man would seem to have an obligation to his fellow man to give him this freedom.

    Now this is if I was Jon I would focus because:

    1. There are places in the Old Testament that requite stoning if someone worships another God that need to be explained. (Most easily so in that they chose the law at the mount rather than relationship with God because they were afraid just like they chose a King instead of relationship with God at the time of Samuel; both times they made bad choices and felt the consequences)

    2. There are parts of Christian history that clearly show that this was not a right. Many of the people one can site that promoted the cause of liberty in the Christian world seem to have stopped at freedom of worship.

    If there was an innovation at the Enlightenment, and I am not sure on this one, it was the freedom of religion.

    This is what an argument that someone that understands the Bible and wants to refute some of the backwardness(though much of what people think the religious right believes about the history is false) of the religious right looks like. The sloppiness above needs to be opposed. Call me what you want.

  33. I forgot to add the story of the Jesus telling the accusers of the Prostitute to throw the first stone. He came to fulifll the law. It always lead to death. That is why it is better to chose life and relationship with God and not law and Kings. That is if one believes the Bible is true which is the POV Jon writes from.

  34. Matty says:


    Sorry to intrude on a fascinating debate but did anyone else find it amusing that in the Garry North link a longish essay about why he doesn’t answer emails about his writing is followed by an about the author bit that starts “Garry North, send him email”?

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