Post From Dispatches From the Culture Wars on Rights, God, the Bible

Since King of Ireland, my co-blogger at American Creation, and I are discussing the idea of rights/God/the Bible, I thought I’d post parts of post I did when I guest blogged for Ed Brayton’s Dispatches From the Culture Wars.

I think the Acton Institute does a credible job arguing a good scholarly case that religion or Christianity is necessary for human rights.

[…]

I think though, that, based on what the Bible says in its text and the history of the Christian West, groups like the Acton Institute will at best have a half-full argument. The other side will always have a half-empty critique. It’s a “selective” reading of both the Bible and the history of the Christian West that supports notions of God given human rights, liberty and equality. And the most notable expositors of unalienable human rights were men like Thomas Jefferson who, though they believed in a rights granting God rejected every single tenet of orthodox Christianity as Jefferson did in his October 31, 1819 letter to William Short, where he listed by name and rejected the following:

The immaculate conception of Jesus, his deification, the creation of the world by him, his miraculous powers, his resurrection and visible ascension, his corporeal presence in the Eucharist, the Trinity; original sin, atonement, regeneration, election, orders of Hierarchy, &c.

So whatever belief in unalienable rights depends upon, it does not depend upon believing in those things; it is not by virtue of belief in those things that our notions of unalienable human rights derive.

In one of my favorite posts of his, Larry Arnhart explains the “half-empty” critique that skeptics will always be able to raise against traditional Christians who try to argue that the Bible and the orthodox Christian religion are where notions of human rights derive and must rest:

The case of slavery and “universalism” illustrates the problem….[M]any religious traditions have allowed slavery, and the Bible never condemns slavery or calls for its abolition. On the contrary, in the American debate over slavery, Christian defenders of slavery were able to cite specific biblical passages in both the Old Testament and the New Testament supporting slavery. Opponents of slavery had to argue that general doctrines such as the creation of human beings in God’s image implicitly denied the justice of slavery. But they could never cite any specific passage of the Bible for their position. Here’s a clear case of where the moral teaching of the Bible depends on our coming to it with a prior moral understanding that we then read into the Bible.

Moreover, the “universalism” of the Bible is in doubt. I don’t see a universal morality in the Old Testament. Moses ordering the slaughter of the innocent Mideanite women and children, for example, manifests a xenophobia that runs through much of the Old Testament.

Now, of course, the New Testament does seem more inclined to a universal humanitarianism. But the Book of Revelation teaches that at the end of history the saints will destroy the Antichrist and the unbelievers in bloody battle. The bloodiness of this vision has been dramatized throughout the history of Christianity. (See, for example, Tim LaHaye’s popular LEFT BEHIND novels.)

….And, of course, there is a continuing controversy over whether the Christian churches in Europe did enough to oppose Hitler. The German Lutheran Church was inclined to interpret the 13th Chapter of Romans as dictating obedience to the authorities. Martin Luther himself was brutal in his expression of anti-Semitism. How would Holloway explain cases like this? Would he say that the true doctrines of biblical religion always require universal love, and therefore any behavior by a biblical believer that violates universal love is based on a misinterpretation of biblical doctrine?

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8 Responses to Post From Dispatches From the Culture Wars on Rights, God, the Bible

  1. ppnl says:

    Religion, any religion, is almost by definition an illiberal institution that seeks to transform social convention into moral necessity. In the hands of its most reactionary followers religion becomes a horror. In the hands of the less reactionary religion can become a focus for a sense of justice and reason.

    But religion is not necessary for either. You can have either endless horror or justice and reason without religion. Specific religious traditions are more of a record of the path we took than a causal influence on that path.

    I disagree with many atheists who say that religion is evil. Religion is only a symptom of a deeper struggle between aspects of our nature. That struggle will happen with or without any specific religious tradition.

  2. ” But they could never cite any specific passage of the Bible for their position. ”

    Foolishness. Love your neighbor as yourself is only the most famous passage. This guy must be smoking crack to miss that.

  3. I see Mr. Heath was congratulating Mr. Dogmeat for an absolutely foolish comment in the comments section of this post. I guess he is not going to take me up on my challenge to debate the Judeo=Christian origins of the founding? Good for him because the more I read Brian Tierney is shows just how off those two are. Not even close. But they have more fun just tearing apart David Barton than actually interacting with a real scholar like Tierney.

  4. OFT says:

    Unalienable rights do not have to be from Orthodoxy as you say, but they are in the Scriptures. It’s the pot calling the kettle black. Unalienable rights are enumerated in the Scriptures, thus, it is Orthodoxy. It sure isn’t heterodoxy. Where do you think Calvin’s Geneva, or Holland, got their principles from?

    Larry Arnhart:
    “The case of slavery and “universalism” illustrates the problem….[M]any religious traditions have allowed slavery, and the Bible never condemns slavery or calls for its abolition. On the contrary, in the American debate over slavery, Christian defenders of slavery were able to cite specific biblical passages in both the Old Testament and the New Testament supporting slavery. Opponents of slavery had to argue that general doctrines such as the creation of human beings in God’s image implicitly denied the justice of slavery. But they could never cite any specific passage of the Bible for their position.”

    Jon, this guy doesn’t know Orthodox Christianity and what we talk about. Slavery is a straw man argument, a monkey-wrench.

    The entire basis of rights, liberty, property, are found in the early declarations, canon, and common law, by studying the Scriptures.

    The Schoolmen Catholics, Canon and Common Law found these rights only in the Scriptures. I am working on a post that links it all.

  5. I would not say only. Romans 1 and 2 say that general revelation is a source for these things as well. It is written on their hearts.

  6. Ken Maynard says:

    What is the Bibles relationship with human rights? Discuss.
    Conditional or unconditional?
    If conditional, conditional upon what?

    Conditional upon fealty to The Most High?
    If so are the qualities of the Most High immutably fixed, or does his form & elements change at each stage or phase of human development?

    ……………………….

    Firstly I wish to state my own position, I no more believe in unconditional free rights than I believe in unconditional free beer. Thus, I do not subscribe to the enthusiasm expressed by some writers on the recent growth off the ~rights without responsibilities~ society.

    In the Bible, Exodus & Deuteronomy are the first books to inform us about basic rights. They are also books which inform us on a significant increase in our responsibilities. In sum rights are a reward for meeting responsibilities, they are neither free nor universal. Ultimately, the first commandment is central… You shall not worship any other god but YHWH. All Biblical rights are dependent on this first commandment. The American declaration ~all men~ (no matter what their God) has a problem.

    Mostly the Bible posits rights as a reward for reciprocal fealty to the Most High. Yet this most high is specified only in honorifics & generalities, he is never specified in specifics. Attesting this Most High is the highest man can know at any current level of human development. As man develops & adapts to changing conditions the highest he can currently know keeps changing form. Thus the Most High is never specified in specifics which would date him to a fixed period or bind him to any current level of understanding. He remains the Most High God of Israel; always the highest we can know no matter what our current level of development.

    As his own elements keep changing according to our levels of development, our levels of rights are variable also. Man can no more proclaim a bill of fixed rights than he can proclaim a bill of fixed responsibilities. If everything keeps moving & the whole equation is fluid; there can be no such thing in either event. All we can proclaim, & what the Bible does proclaim, is the generic principle that rights are dependent on reciprocal fealty to the Most High, in whatever form said reciprocal fealty takes in our time & period.

    Ken Maynard. e-mail… communichristi@gmail.com NZ… 021 2517 501.

    Link to Home-page… http://www.communichristi.org.nz

  7. Matty says:

    Ken,
    I’m not sure why you’ve revieved this old comments thread or if you are a person rather than a robot but it’s raining and I’m bored so here goes.

    1. I do believe in unconditional free beer, the bad news is it’s special brew.

    2. If rights are conditional, whether on “reciprocal fealty to the most high” or anything else then they are not rights in the same sense Mr Rowe is talking about. The key point is the use unalienable, in other words rights that cannot be taken away for any reason. This is incompatible with those rights being conditional on anything at all, if you can loose a right for not having reciprocal fealty then it was not unalienable since it has just been aliened/alienated (sp?). I have to conclude that you are using the same word for two different concepts.

    3. I actually have some sympathy for the idea that what we recognise as rights depends on our society, though I wouldn’t put it quite as you do. But again these are not rights as the Mr Rowe and arguably Mr Jefferson use the term.

  8. Jon Rowe says:

    Ken,

    What I would argue is, according to YOUR theology, there the Bible does not teach the concept of “RIGHTS” but rather “duties,” and YOUR theology, contrary to being the source of America’s DOI, is in tension with it.

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