Saturday, December 17, 2005

Rev. Rankin responds...yet again!

Read his latest. Let me try to keep this brief to avoid going in circles.

Mr. Rankin:

You state that "the content [of the Declaration] is biblical, and the ethical instincts of all the signatories to the Declaration knew this. In the biblical order of creation, Yahweh Elohim gives us life, liberty and stewardship over his creation (which translates into the freedom to keep, spend or trade the property we produce)." Yet, as we've already established, the Founders didn't identify "Yahweh Elohim" as the source of unalienable rights (which concept you acknowledge does not derive from the Bible, but rather John Locke), but rather Nature's God. The term "Nature" as used by the Founders in this context means "discoverable by reason as opposed to revealed by God" (see Forrest McDonald's Novus Ordo Seclorum, p. xi) and as such Nature's God is "God insofar as we can discern his existence through our reason unassisted by faith" (see Thomas West's speech given to the Family Research Council on Locke).

Thus, what was significant about our Founding and its underlying natural law/natural rights theory, is that it held Man's Reason, not Biblical Revelation as the ultimate arbiter of Truth, or to be more precise of those Truths that will rule us publicly, (as opposed to the Truths that rule our private consciences).

See this article on the religious beliefs of our key founders, the founders most responsible for putting forth the ideas upon which we Declared our Independence and constructed our Constitution.

Although they believed that God primarily revealed himself through nature, they believed that some written revelation was legitimate. Finally, while they believed that reason and revelation generally agree with each other, theistic rationalists believed that revelation was designed to complement reason (not vice versa). Reason was the ultimate standard for learning and evaluating truth and for determining legitimate revelation from God.

How well this religious belief system "merged...with the ethics of the Reformational orthodoxy," is up for debate. In my opinion, the poster boy for "reformational orthodoxy" was John Calvin. And Jefferson wrote to Adams, with Adams in seeming agreement, that Calvin's God was a "daemon of malignant spirit. It would be more pardonable to believe in no god at all, than to blaspheme him by the atrocious attributes of Calvin."

And as I've noted before, "Reason" couldn't even confirm for Adams and Jefferson (and likely Franklin and others) that God revealed the Ten Commandments to Moses. Thus, it's doubtful that the "Nature's God" to whom Jefferson et al. referred properly could be described as "Yahweh Elohim" of the inerrant Bible. No doubt many, back in the day, believed Nature's God to be the God of the Bible and Jefferson, et al. did nothing explicitly to dispel that belief (indeed, they needed the support of many orthodox Christians in the revolution).

The solution to this potential doctrinal conflict, therefore, was to be purposefully vague about the attributes of Nature's God when publicly referencing Him. So it seems that you are exactly wrong in your conclusion that "No pagan deity or secular/agnostic/atheistic philosophy or amorphous Enlightenment deity defines rights which transcend human government, that is by definition, those rights which are 'unalienable.'" Nature's God is indeed an "amorphous Enlightenment deity."

Finally, regarding your claim of the "Biblical content" of a God who grants us the right to life, liberty, and property, (indeed, your broader claim that such a theory can derive only from the Bible and its God in Genesis), as Christopher Hitchens writes:

There has never yet been any society, Confucian or Buddhist or Islamic, where the legal codes did not frown upon murder and theft. These offenses were certainly crimes in the Pharaonic Egypt from which the children of Israel had, if the story is to be believed, just escaped.

I should also note that our modern understanding of property is far more Lockean than Biblical.

Also keep in mind that the notion of Truths ascertainable by "Man's Reason" alone, i.e., what man can know as man, which is central to our Founding, derives from Aristotle and Pagan Ancient Greece, and was only incorporated into Christendom by Aquinas.

As regards the issue of a God who grants us "liberty," from a textual reading of the Bible, Yahweh Elohim with all of His "do this, don't do that" commands seems to be as much of an anti-libertarian deity as one could imagine. I support your teachings on the impropriety of theocracy and on "maximum liberty for all people, so long as none of us deliberately harm the life, liberty or property of another." However, for thousands of years the Judeo-Christian tradition did not understand the Bible this way. Certainly the Catholic Church didn't. And neither did Luther, Calvin, or the Christians who founded colonial America, like John Winthrop. All were obsessed using the organs of the state to enforce religious orthodoxy and virtue and writing religious rules, often copying verses and chapters of the Bible wholesale, into the text of the civil law.

It wasn't until later that orthodox dissident Protestants (Roger Williams and the Baptists) and unorthodox liberal Protestants rejected the "Christian Commonwealth" (or "theocracy") model of government.

No comments: