In GOD-GIVEN OR GOVERNMENT-GIVEN RIGHTS? — PART 1, we discussed the meaning of inalienable Rights. If Rights are inalienable, that is, one group of men cannot take away the Rights of another away from them, what does that mean in practice? We are all familiar with the fact that one group of men an enslave another group of men. Doesn’t that mean that the first group deprives the second group of its rights? Not exactly. When men enslave others, what they do is deprive their slaves of the ability to fully exercise their Rights. In doing so, they sin, and God, apparently the service of a greater good, often permits the sin. Yet the Bible says to sin is to wrong another.
How Does The Bible Affirm Our Rights Are God-given?
Why does God permit sin? What was the Old Testament was about? Much of it was about the Law. What does the Law exist to do? The Law exists to show us our sinfulness (Romans 7:7-12) and our need for a Savior (Romans 7:13-25).
The people of the Old Testament struggled to manage their sinfulness. Because our Savior has come, we have a different alternative. Yet we often choose to manage sin instead by developing rigid ideologies for either ourselves or for other people. That is the point Everett Piper makes in Sinners on the right and the left. Here is how he ends his column.
Managing sin (mine or yours), while a necessary starting point, can never be the end goal. Isn’t this the lesson of the Pharisees? Anything short of confession, short of forgiveness, short of selfless humility, short of transformation (i.e., short of Christ-likeness) will prove itself to be a morbid fixation on managing the cancer rather than celebrating the cure. (from here)
WHEN DO THE PEOPLE STEAL THEIR OWN FREEDOM? discusses this problem. What Jesus taught — what the Old Testament records — is that we cannot defeat sin by hating sin, managing sin, or fighting sin. We can only free ourselves from the tyranny of sin with love. What kind of love?
Luke 10:27 New King James Version (NKJV)
27 So he answered and said, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’ ”
Is agape love a choice, something we choose or something that chooses us? I don’t know, but agape love seems to be both caught and chosen. When we see selfless love displayed by others, many of us want to be like Jesus.
So are our rights something that just exist, or do we create our rights? Do we create laws by choosing to sin? Are laws something we create or do we just write down laws against things we already know are wrong? Do we already know others have Rights, or do we create Rights? If others have innate Rights, then if not God, what is the source of these Rights?
The Declaration of Independence says we don’t give others their rights. God gives us our Rights. The Bible adds more. When we love our neighbors, we don’t sin against our neighbors by violating their Rights.Instead, we protect our neighbors from the sins of those who sin.
In The values underlying Independence Day, Andrew P. Napolitano discusses the following:
The two central values of the declaration are the origins of human liberty and the legitimacy of popular government.
Whether we agree with Napolitano or not, his article provides a good place get an understanding of the issues and the terminology surrounding natural Rights. Where I differ from Napolitano is in this bit of assertion of conventional wisdom.
Even those who question or reject the existence of the Creator — was Jefferson himself among them? — can embrace natural rights, because they can accept that our exercise of human reason leads us all to make similar claims. These claims — free speech, free association, free exercise or non-exercise of religion, self-defense, privacy, and fairness, to name a few — are rights that we all exercise without giving a second thought to the fact that they are natural and come from within us.
Can those who question or reject the existence of the Creator embrace natural rights? Is the embrace of natural rights simply a logical result of the exercise of human reason? Is it just about the Creator or human reason? I think not. I think we respect the rights of others because we love our neighbors. I think it is easier to love our neighbors if we believe everyone is a child of the God and that God loves each of us. Until we care about someone, no one’s Rights are self evident. When we do love someone, their Rights are indisputable. Then, because we love someone, we begin to reason about their Rights.
In You Have No Rights Without Natural Law, Jim DeMint argues in defense of the concept of natural Rights. His concern is the rejection of natural Rights by the political Left. Consider how he begins.
While musing on the writings of author and philosopher G.K. Chesterton in his personal notebook, a young John F. Kennedy wrote, “Don’t ever take a fence down until you know the reason why it was put up.” Fences hold things in we want to keep close, and protect us from things we want to keep out. But Chesterton and JFK were not making a point about physical fences. They were speaking of the ideas, principles, and institutions that surround the things that make life worth living, and protect us from threats to those things we value and love.
It is not threats to “things” we value and love that good ideas, principles, and institutions protect. It is threats to the “people” we love that good ideas, principles, and institutions protect.
What does the rejection of natural Rights by the political Left look like? The Danger of Claiming That Rights Come From God by David Niose provides as good as an example as any. With unusual clarity, Niose states the usual arguments. Here is an example.
First let’s consider the claim that “our rights come from God.” Since even believers will acknowledge that the very existence of God cannot be proven, this claim leaves us in a most unsettling position: our most precious rights are apparently flowing from an entity whose existence can reasonably be doubted. Even believers acknowledge that faith, as opposed to verifiable evidence, is the basis of their belief. That’s fine for one’s personal religious outlook, but why would we feel that cherished human rights and civil rights are more secure if they arise from a source that may not even exist?
There are good, kind, smart, and wise people who believe in God who will acknowledge that the existence of God cannot be proven. However, this admission is that the existence of God cannot be scientifically proven. Anyone who has studied the Bible knows that the Bible says that a man who denies the existence of God is being a fool. It is just considered impolite to point this out more often than necessary.
Here is Niose most absurd argument.
Even more absurd is the claim that the government can’t take away our rights. Wishful thinking! Of course it can. On the constitutional level the framers even created a mechanism for doing so—it’s called the amendment process. Any constitutional right—free speech, free press, due process, etc.—could be eliminated by constitutional amendment. To be more specific, a vote of two-third of both houses of Congress and three-fourths of the state legislatures can repeal any constitutional right. However unlikely it may seem, all of our “God-given” rights are ultimately vulnerable to governmental action. Only the will of the people that protects them.
When the Bible says it is wrong to sin, that God abhors murder, for example, is the Bible saying that God won’t allow us to sin, won’t allow us to commit murder? Of course not. The Bible offers us wisdom, including the wisdom we should love our neighbor, but that does not mean we will. Sometimes we will vote for the wrong people. Consider Niose’s little list of human rights violations (next paragraph). These human rights violations were all committed by Democrat administrations, of course. Even the Patriot Act was abused by the Obama Administration, not the Republican administration that asked for it. Among other things, the Obama administration appears to have abused its authority by spying on Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
Where did the Founders get their ideas about natural Rights? One of the books our nation’s founders consulted is The Spirit of laws by Charles de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu. Consider this excerpt.
After what has been said, one would imagine that human nature should perpetually rise up against despotism. But notwithstanding the love of liberty, so natural to mankind, notwithstanding their innate detestation of force and violence, most nations are subject to this very government. This is easily accounted for. To form a moderate government, it is necessary to combine the several powers; to regulate, temper, and set them in motion; to give, as it were, ballast to one, in order to enable it to counterpoise the other. This is a masterpiece of legislation; rarely produced by hazard, and seldom attained by prudence. On the contrary, a despotic government offers itself, as it were, at first sight; it is uniform throughout; and as passions only are requisite to establish it, this is what every capacity may reach. (from here)
In FROM WHERE DOES MORAL GOVERNMENT FLOW?, I have a post that discusses this paragraph, but I hope this much is obvious. The founders understood that our Rights come from our Maker. At the same time they understood we are fallen creatures. Hence, we are the greatest threat to each others Rights.
John Locke, because of his SECOND TREATISE OF GOVERNMENT, is probably most famous for arguing a belief in God-given or natural rights. When he wrote the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson obviously consulted Locke.
Does Locke just offer Bible citations as proof of God-given or natural rights? No. Instead, Locke makes his argument by referring to the Bible, God, and the common understanding of most men. Consider how he ended his work.
Sect. 243. To conclude, The power that every individual gave the society, when he entered into it, can never revert to the individuals again, as long as the society lasts, but will always remain in the community; because without this there can be no community, no commonwealth, which is contrary to the original agreement: so also when the society hath placed the legislative in any assembly of men, to continue in them and their successors, with direction and authority for providing such successors, the legislative can never revert to the people whilst that government lasts; because having provided a legislative with power to continue for ever, they have given up their political power to the legislative, and cannot resume it. But if they have set limits to the duration of their legislative, and made this supreme power in any person, or assembly, only temporary; or else, when by the miscarriages of those in authority, it is forfeited; upon the forfeiture, or at the determination of the time set, it reverts to the society, and the people have a right to act as supreme, and continue the legislative in themselves; or erect a new form, or under the old form place it in new hands, as they think good.
What Locke explained is that we institute a government to protect our Rights, Rights that preexisted government, that when a government no longer serves that just end, the people have a right to erect a new government. The clarity with which he stated these beliefs is why Locke was so influential with the Founders.
To Be Continued (see Part 1)