debateIn GOD-GIVEN RIGHTS AS OPPOSED TO “All These Rights”, I promised a post in response to  All These Rights at AMUSING NONSENSE. One reason I postponed the task is that I did not know where to start. How do we convince someone of a truth that should be self-evident?

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.  (from here)

We have become and are still becoming a secularized society. Secularists would have us throw off the supposed unreasonableness and religious nature of Christianity. They would have us justify everything within a secular context, a context that presupposes God is irrelevant to the discussion. Yet most of us still claim to believe in Jesus Christ. Therefore, I wonder. If we were created to glorify God, what makes us think God would create a universe where He is irrelevant?

Because we choose to ignore what our nation’s founders thought self-evident, secularists seem to be winning the argument. So let’s back up. What does ” self-evident” mean in practice? When we begin a proof in mathematics, don’t we start from an axiom or two?

axiom noun

1. a self-evident truth that requires no proof.
2. a universally accepted principle or rule.
3. Logic, Mathematics. a proposition that is assumed without proof for the sake of studying the consequences that follow from it.

Consider that third definition, “a proposition that is assumed without proof for the sake of studying the consequences that follow from it.”

When Americans still considered the fact of their rights were God-given self-evident, government existed primarily to protect their rights.  Was America then a land of fairy tales? Did everyone live happily ever after? No. As people are wont to do, Americans still debated, argued and fought. That included fighting over the definition of rights.  To free the black race — allow blacks the ability to exercise their God-given rights — required a bloody civil war. Therefore, we know the consequences of accepting the self-evident truths offered up in the Declaration of Independence did not solve all our problems. However, it seems we have forgotten — or chosen to ignore — the alternative, of not believing God gives us our rights. So lets consider the matter. If we do not consider our rights God-given, what are the consequences?

If There Is No God

Does the universe follow logical rules? Imagine living several thousand years ago. Most people farmed and produced their own food, and nature cooperated poorly. Sometimes people starved. Occasional droughts alternated with occasional floods.  Mysterious plant diseases and insects reduced every harvest. People died young, sometimes for no apparent reason.

WHY? Desperate for answers, people worshiped idols, hoping that because of their worship their god would give them some control over their lives. Their harvests would not fail, their children would not die, their enemies would die at their hands in combat…..

If there is no God, then no Guiding Hand has determined logical rules with which this universe must comply. God is not Truth. No truth is sacred or absolute. What matters is what we choose to hold most dear to our earthly salvation.

  • Is it sex? Is the opposite sex available for our pleasure?
  • Is it self? Do we have what it takes to get what we want?
  • Is it stuff? Do we have enough wealth to buy what we want?
  • Is it state? Will the government keep its promises to us and give us what we want?

If there is no God, there is no All-Seeing Spectator who judges each of us. We can appropriately define right and wrong in relationship only to our individual/identity group’s point of view. There is only one check on our behavior, another human being who disapproves. Therefore, what we must worry about are prying eyes and listening ears. We must do in secret whatever might shame us in public, or we must eliminate the disapproving.

If there is no God, then the strong and clever determine the “rights” of the weak. That is, might makes right. We obtain our “rights,” our “right” to do what we wish, because we have the power to make it so.

So what would ameliorate our behavior? Why are most men usually willing to respect the rights of others? Is it the fact most people believe in God, or is each one of us the embodiment of reason? Have we logically deduced the problem that arises when we harm the interests of our neighbor? If we don’t respect our neighbors rights, no one will respect our own? Or is it the moral law, that sense of right and wrong that each of us carries in his heart?   Do we recognize in each other a being akin to our self?  Don’t we know how we would feel if someone abused us?

What Are Our God-Given Rights?

Most people at least pay lip service to the concept of Human Rights, but in this era we Americans differ greatly on their origin and nature.  In TWO TREATISES OF GOVERNMENT BOOK II,  John Locke observed:

The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges every one: and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions: for men being all the workmanship of one omnipotent, and infinitely wise maker; all the servants of one sovereign master, sent into the world by his order, and about his business; they are his property, whose workmanship they are, made to last during his, not one another’s pleasure: and being furnished with like faculties, sharing all in one community of nature, there cannot be supposed any such subordination among us, that may authorize us to destroy one another, as if we were made for one another’s uses, as the inferior ranks of creatures are for our’s. Every one, as he is bound to preserve himself, and not to quit his station wilfully, so by the like reason, when his own preservation comes not in competition, ought he, as much as he can, to preserve the rest of mankind, and may not, unless it be to do justice on an offender, take away, or impair the life, or what tends to the preservation of the life, the liberty, health, limb, or goods of another.

From such arguments we obtained that famous statement in the Declaration of Independence, that bold assertion we each have certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Latter, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote these words from a jail in Birmingham, AL.

How does one determine when a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of Saint Thomas Aquinas, an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. (from here)

We should also observe that King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail provides a fascinating example Christian political activism. In his quest to defend the God-given rights of minorities, others, especially those “moderates” sitting on the sidelines should consider what King thought of extremism.

But as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a bit of satisfaction from being considered an extremist. Was not Jesus an extremist in love? “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice — “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the gospel of Jesus Christ — “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist — “Here I stand; I can do none other so help me God.” Was not John Bunyan an extremist — “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.” Was not Abraham Lincoln an extremist — “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” Was not Thomas Jefferson an extremist — “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” So the question is not whether we will be extremist but what kind of extremist will we be. Will we be extremists for hate or will we be extremists for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice — or will we be extremists for the cause of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime — the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth, and goodness, and thereby rose above His environment. So, after all, maybe the South, the nation, and the world are in dire need of creative extremists. (from here)

What are our God-given rights? Why is the question of love so important? Why must we be extremists for love? When we violate the rights of another, God defines that as a sin.

Consider the Ten Commandments. With one exception, the fifth commandment, the commandment that requires us to honor our father and our mother, the commandments list things we must not do.  Yet Jesus summarized the Ten Commandments as something we must must do. We must love God with all our heart, mind and soul, and we must love our neighbor as we do our self (Mark 12:28-34).

How Do We Know Our Rights Are God-Given?

Without sin, we have no need for rights, and without God sin has no meaning.  With that in mind, please consider this excerpt from an old post.

There is a famous statement in the Bible that explains the problem we face when we try to maintain our freedom.

John 8:32

Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

Out of context, this verse may not necessarily be understood.  When we think of freedom, we automatically think of freedom from oppression.  When Jesus used these words, he meant freedom from sin, not freedom from mere oppression.  Jesus explained.

John 8:31-38

To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.  I know you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are ready to kill me, because you have no room for my word.  I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence, and you do what you have heard from your father.”

Because we are heirs to our fleshly wants, we cannot escape from our sinful nature without God’s help.  Jesus offers us that help.  Those who accept Jesus’ help He can in time free from sin.  When enough of us accept Jesus, only then can we live in a society freed from oppression.

Free societies exist only to the extent men accept God’s offer to free men from sin. (from here)

As odd as it may seem, Jesus defined the sinner, the one who would deprive another of their rights, as a slave. When we hate God or our neighbor, we are enslaved to sin.



    1. I think Paine got into arguments over the points you cite in your link. But Paine was partially quoting (and may have been somewhat distorting) others who predated him by a century. The point wasn’t sins of the Jews, necessarily, as many other cultures had monarchies. However, the Bible uses the lesson as a teachable moment in both Samuel (I Kings) and Hosea. I tend to joke that Samuel actually predicted ethanol mandates in his warnings. 😉

  1. Tom, this is a great post, but the historical record also shows that the concept of G-d given rights predates Christianity. Enlightenment scholars unearthed several Prophetic texts (particularly Samuel) to show that monarchy was not only a ruling concept that led to abuse but in fact a flouting of Divine will. I recommend a book called “The Hebrew Republic” that discusses these concepts in more detail.

  2. Reblogged this on altruistico and commented:
    Citizen Tom once again shows his knowledge by applying logic and reasoning. If you have been following this debate between amusing nonsense and Citizen Tom then this post will surely reveal Tom as the victor. Well worthy of viewing and commenting.

  3. Tom, this was a great post. I have to say you out smarted, out witted and out boxed amusing nonsense. Your counter arguments were precise, knowledgeable and held to a high standard of both logic, reasoning and intelligence.
    I’m going to re-blog your post at altruistico. You put a lot of time and effort into this post. It deserves to be shared. Great job, Tom.

    May the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob bless you and yours.

  4. Dear Citizen Tom,

    It seems to me that you are tarring all atheists by claiming that they hold beliefs that I think apply to a vanishingly small percentage of them. I cannot say “none of them,” not in a country that has high single-digit percentages of believers in Elvis alive, 9/11 was a Bush plot, the moon landing was faked, and so on.

    But your assertions in every one of your “If there is no God” paragraphs is simply incorrect, it seems to me. It reads a bit like arguments you’ve seen made or implied elsewhere: “Since they are not loving, tolerant leftist liberals, all conservatives are racists.”

    You’ve reached conclusions based upon your suppositions of what it would mean if “there is no God.” But have you seen atheists assert these beliefs? For example, have you ever seen an atheist assert that “[t]here is only one check on our behavior, another human being who disapproves.” Anyone? Ascribing such a notion to all non-believers is hardly fair, and it certainly is not correct. Do you honestly believe that this is the only check on my behavior, for example?

    Note that you own behavior is NOT checked by the existence of God. It is checked by your belief that a certain code of behavior is appropriate. You’ve adopted this because of your belief in God — though I’d wager you had most of it as a non-believer. But the fact remains that you decide what to do not because of your convictions of appropriate action, independent of the foundation that you developed these on. And you are imperfect, as I am — you know that God does not physically stop you if you choose to do something outside of that code, any more than he stops me when I do something outside of my own moral code. Our codes are not so different, I think.

    I have no desire to attack you, my friend, but I would c ask you to please to check your assumptions when you decide to attack me.

    ===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

    1. Mr. DeHavelle;
      I wonder why most all liberals and atheists feel offended when out witted and outsourced? In Citizen Tom’s presentation (here) I saw no attack towards anyone. Only a logical discourse between two parties to a subject. After all isn’t it logical discourse of which the atheist and secular humanist pride themselves? Yet, when confronted with this same trait the atheist/human secularist coward in offense of such logic and reasoning as presented through Citizen Tom.

      I dare say one can not have it both ways. One can not set at the foot of reason and logic and boast with arrogance human pride in such matter; and, find disfavor in legitimate logic and reason from one of whom you oppose. It defies both reason and logic to do so.

      Citizen Tom used (fully) both reason and logic in his counter-presentation. You know this to be true and it can not be denied.

        1. As a Christian I have no reservations as to the creative powers of God. Mr.Martinka’s photos present only a glimpse of all of creation and it’s beauty. . Whereas Solomon stands as a true representative of the wisdom of God.

          As to the atheist? David seems to back up Solomon when David says: “The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good.” This too is true perspective of logic and reasoning.

          True reason and logic must err on the side of “belief.” It, like beauty, seems held in the eye of the beholder.

          Thank you for your comment and for sharing Mr. Martinka’s post. both are greatly appreciated.

          May the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob bless and keep you.

    2. I doubt this “apology” is exactly the sort of apology you may hope for, but I think it is the best I can do.

      Keith, I like you. I think God exists. I think the belief God does not exist hurts people, including you. So I condemn that belief. I don’t condemn you.

      I don’t condemn you or anyone else for being an Atheist. I also don’t deny your right to believe something I think foolish. Nevertheless, I have an obligation to condemn and debate what I think is a hurtful belief.

      Similarly, some think Christianity is a hurtful belief. Even though I am a Christian, I don’t bother to take it personally. Jesus said some people would reject both Christianity and Christians. So it is. There is this difference, however. As a Christian, I am supposed to reject Atheism. Christianity does not allow me to reject Atheists.

      1. I wasn’t looking for an apology. I was cautioning you to reconsider, and not to apply attitudes to nonbelievers that there is no evidence that they hold, including me. Your language was an assertion of facts, not opinion.

        I was not offended, just disappointed. As an aside, altruistico pronouncing me a coward and implying that I was a liberal did not impress me much. I think that he, too, was operating on insufficient evidence for his assertions.

        ===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

      2. It occurs to me that some of your recent visitors would have intolerantly scorned the man whom you have chosen as an avatar. This is a mistake, I think, but that choice of a very pronounced non-Christian, non-believer in Jesus, and enemy of all things Biblical has long struck me as ironic.

        “Citizen Tom” Paine was a good man, and had a very well developed moral code — but despised the church and religion in general, and made that abundantly evident in his writings at great cost to his own life and legacy. It is clear, and to your credit, that you see past his disbelief to the good that he did. Most of his compatriots at the time could not.

        ===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

        1. When he published “The Age of Reason,” Thomas Paine did so knowing what he wrote would not be well received (see https://citizentom.com/2008/09/10/deism-and-the-founding-fathers/), and its publication did wreck his reputation. When people speak of the ignorant masses, they appear to be quite right. We do have great difficulty overestimating our capacity for foolishness.

          I think we can all come up with a story like this one: https://citizentom.com/2007/07/01/reviling-christian-fundamentalism/.

          Being a Christian does not suddenly make a man perfect. It just helps him to become better than he might have been. We learn by imitating someone better than ourselves. That’s why heroes are so important and why it is so important to choose the right heroes to imitate. What the true Christian does is elect to make Jesus his hero and imitate him. What makes that so challenging is that Jesus showed us how to be something we rebel against, being a servant to others. To a lot a people the wisdom of following Jesus looks like great foolishness.

          Am I happy with what altruistico said? Yes and no. I am honored that he came to my defense. altruistico has an excellent Christian blog. His posts are thoughtful and well reasoned. So I am pleased that he would think enough of what I write to step forward and defend it. On the hand, I wish he had not mistaken what you wrote as a hostile comment instead of an unfavorable review. Just the same, I don’t think he intended to call you a coward. Given the context I think he meant to use the word “cower.”

          Anyway, I also have to take some responsibility for this. I wrote what I wrote with the intention of stirring people up enough to make them stop and think. That it did, but I want people to think, not fight. I wish it were easier to discuss these things.

          1. Understood. You will note that generally I do not disturb nor challenge your writings on religious matters, though as you well know I have opinions on them. What caught my attention here was an evident attempt to “divine the thoughts” (if you’ll forgive the pun) of nonbelievers, and in so doing positing some logic that seemed to me both unsound and unlikely. Of particular weight was the discussion of personal moral codes. I posed some questions to you in my original comment, and perhaps you may deign to address them in a post at some point.

            Thomas Paine not only did not believe in a Jesus as the Son of God, he felt that the Bible was evil and full of lies. (He was also quite hostile to all religious leaders as much as all monarchs.) And yet he had a personal moral code that was extraordinary, and that well fits the definition “noble” it seems to me, when it came to what he was willing to do for and give to his fellow man. He offered up his own life to defend the life of a hated monarch (Louis XVI during the French Revolution), simply because he felt that deposing him was correct but putting him to death was not. He was sentenced and imprisoned, and expected to be killed for his contrary vote.

            Paine was admirable fellow indeed, and a good choice for your own selection here. But … you must then accept, I would think, that his moral code was not just what he thought he could get away with. He was driven by an internal code of his own devising, and one that would withstand comparison to just about anyone, I’d think.

            There are non-believers with well-developed moral codes, and believers (not just within Christianity, but within all of the world’s 8,000 or so religions I expect) whose moral codes are sadly lacking or even actively dangerous. And the reverse is true, of course. I would say that the correlation in the US is likely to better align with a liberty-seeking vs. totalitarian mindset instead of the non-believers versus nominally Christian, for example.

            It is more likely that non-believers are progressive/totalitarian in the US, but it is also more likely that whites are financially successful here than blacks. But similarly, if you control for two-parent versus single-parent households, the average income of blacks from two parent households is actually slightly higher than that of whites two-parent households. That is the important distinction, and the one worth pursuing. Similarly, it is the ideology rather than faith, per se, that is a problem for the moral code failures of so many, it seems to me. Control for that, and I think the more important pattern will emerge.

            Regarding altruistico and other such: It is not a big deal, but it is disappointing to me. I can labor for small governments, individual freedoms, and the preservation of natural rights for decades, as I have, and for long periods in particular fora such as here. And my contributions are well-accepted by my conservative friends. But as soon as it is known that I am a non-believer, the lack of tolerance from certain folks, and then withdrawal of that putative “friendship,” is always saddening to see. And in so doing, these folks drive off or disconnect from many who would be potent allies.

            This pattern has played out in many a forum; it makes my participation more tedious and less rewarding. And with new recent obstacles to deal with, this is more significant to me. That’s not your problem, of course, but it may give you some background on my current thinking here.

            ===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

        2. Frankly, I don’t know how God judges people, but I think the matter more complex than what some people think the Bible teaches.

          Unfortunately, I have to hit the sack. More tomorrow evening.

        3. You mention that you posed some questions that I did not answer.

          I posed some questions to you in my original comment, and perhaps you may deign to address them in a post at some point.

          Deign to address? Am I writing a blog or a book?
          When I wrote https://citizentom.com/2014/11/17/an-apology-for-keith/, I did not try to answer all your questions. I focused on the role our conscience plays in controlling our behavior. At the time, I thought that difficult enough.

          Nonetheless, since you suggested it occurred to me it would be an excellent idea to fish through your comments for topics. Hopefully, I will write some posts you and my other readers both consider responsive to your questions an interesting to read. But I cannot produce such posts in haste. I am out of my depth as it is.

          You commented on my supposed tolerance, and you used Thomas Paine as an example of a good man wrongly discriminated against.

          I would like to think myself a perfectly tolerant soul, but tolerance is related to humility. So I doubt the wisdom of doing so. The moment we decide we are humble, we risk becoming too proud.

          Philippians 2:3 New King James Version (NKJV)

          3 Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.

          Given the immediate context of the verse, I suppose some Christians think that verse means we should each esteem other Christians as better than our self, but the next passage gives Christ as our example. In any event, I was in my 50’s before I saw my foolishness and became a follower of Christ. So I don’t have as much trouble empathizing with skeptics as would a life-long believer. Empathy, not any superior wisdom, forms the basis of my tolerance.

          Paine had a brilliant mind. When he published “The Age of Reason,” he knew the consequences. Nevertheless, America tolerated him; it just vehemently disagreed with him. For obvious reasons, many Americans regarded Paine’s campaign against Christianity as evil.

          Why don’t I think what Paine did evil? He practiced a Christian morality, but he did not know enough to appreciate he source of that morality.

          Because Jesus commanded Christians to spread the Gospel, I think the sin of omission far more consequential than what Paine did. Matthew 28:16-20 calls upon Christians to go forth make disciples of and to baptize all nations. The Bible doesn’t speak kindly of vocal apostates like Thomas Paine, but it does not call upon Christians to silence them. We just eject them from our religious assemblies.

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