Liberty is an inherently offensive lifestyle. Living in a free society guarantees that each one of us will see our most cherished principles and beliefs questioned and in some cases mocked. That psychic discomfort is the price we pay for basic civic peace. It's worth it. It's a pragmatic principle. Defend everyone else's rights, because if you don't there is no one to defend yours. -- MaxedOutMama

I don't just want gun rights... I want individual liberty, a culture of self-reliance....I want the whole bloody thing. -- Kim du Toit

The most glaring example of the cognitive dissonance on the left is the concept that human beings are inherently good, yet at the same time cannot be trusted with any kind of weapon, unless the magic fairy dust of government authority gets sprinkled upon them.-- Moshe Ben-David

The cult of the left believes that it is engaged in a great apocalyptic battle with corporations and industrialists for the ownership of the unthinking masses. Its acolytes see themselves as the individuals who have been "liberated" to think for themselves. They make choices. You however are just a member of the unthinking masses. You are not really a person, but only respond to the agendas of your corporate overlords. If you eat too much, it's because corporations make you eat. If you kill, it's because corporations encourage you to buy guns. You are not an individual. You are a social problem. -- Sultan Knish

All politics in this country now is just dress rehearsal for civil war. -- Billy Beck

Monday, July 26, 2004

It's Not All Faith

Reader Sarah sent me an email concerning the recent series of posts on the concept of rights. With her permission, I'm posting it here with my commentary:
I read your piece, "History and Moral Philosophy" from Saturday, and also "What is a Right?" You already know that I am an admirer of yours, and I deeply appreciate that you use your time and effort to speak out for individual rights. However, I believe that you are gravely mistaken about the nature of individual rights.

You admit, as so many libertarians* will not, that without God there are no absolute rights -- rights are determined by who has the power. I am not a Christian, but I can see the evidence of history. You can theorize whatever you want about human nature, but what did real people do when confronted with real situations?

[* For lack of a better word, I use this to describe liberty-lovers who do not believe in God.]

The only people who ever fought for individual liberty were Protestant Christians. It was because they believed God was on their side, which gave them the strength and determination to fight their enemies. From our cozy position with freedom already established we tend to forget what a huge step it was to win liberty in the first place.

We ought to ask what happened when people who did not believe in God fought for change. The best example is the revolution against the Czar in Russia. The Russians went from having a Czar to having Stalin. The Russian Revolution was a humanist revolution, since communism is an extreme version of humanism. We had another humanist revolution, which was the French Revolution. It was supposed to be based on reason, but the result was an orgy of depraved violence -- and an emperor to replace a king.

It is only when you have revolutionaries who believe in the Judeo-Christian God that they fight for inalienable rights for themselves and even for people they don't like. Nowhere else in the world could you have had a civil rights movement like we did in the United States, and that's because of the Christian conscience which overcame fear, prejudice, suspicion -- all the normal failings of people. Martin Luther King, Jr. conducted the civil rights movement on purely Christian grounds, and he prevailed. Slavery came to an end in the Western world solely because of the efforts of Protestant Christians. Their God told them that all people were created equal, and so they put enormous pressure on parliament to use England's imperial might to eradicate slavery around the world. It was not long before America followed suit. The industrial revolution, which freed hundreds of millions from poverty and squalor, was started by Protestants. (And Protestants are our best hope to continue this revolution.)

It is an enormous advantage when when you believe you have free will given by God, that free will here on earth is translated to individual liberties, and that they are inalienable. People will fight for those rights, because God is on their side -- and they will fight for others to have those rights, because God says we are all equal.

Christianity is the only system of values and beliefs that has ever overcome human failings and extended individual liberties to everyone. Remove God, and the American Revolution, the Civil War to end slavery, and the fight against communism and fascism, never would have happened. Recall that France* not only crumbled in the face of fascism, but actually cooperated with it. Our most recent champion for freedom was Reagan, who ended the Cold War and crippled communism. He was a devout Christian who believed deeply in freedom.

[* France is nominally Catholic, but at its heart genuinely humanist.]

Is there one single atheist in history who was a champion of individual liberty? Not someone who philosophized about liberty (e.g. Rand), but someone who actually fought and won freedom for people?
Well, Gandhi wasn't an atheist but his opponents were Protestants, which is why he was successful.
The problem with your definition of rights is that when you fight and lose, like in 1930s Germany or totalitarian Russia, what can you do? What reaction would and atheist have had in those circumstances? What if Kerry wins? What would a libertarian draw strength from? What would rally them? If you do not have God, you are really without any basis from which toargue for freedom. The right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is just an opinion, and it is baseless. Without God, you cannot say that one set of morals is superior to another, for that implies that you are comparing them both to an objective standard. Jeffrey Dahmer told his father that he murdered and cannibalized people, because he realized that without God there is no right or wrong. And Dahmer may not have been an evil monster but for the fact that he took the atheist idea to its logical conclusion and acted on it. He personally denied life, liberty,and the pursuit of happiness to a large number of victims. So Where does the standard for right and wrong come from? We either have God, who gives us rights, or nature whose law is survival of the fittest.

Let's do a quick survey around the world:

Russia - a thugocracy; government by gangsters.

Middle East - islamofascism.

China - Confucian communist state based on obedience.

Africa - tribal hell.
South America - dictatorial class warfare (yes, they are nominally Christian, but more realistically they are of the cult of the Virgin Mary-- one step above paganism).
Europe - an Orwellian bureaucracy, which makes up any rules it likes.

Canada - a humanist paradise with no free speech, no gun rights, and no religious freedom.

Without the Christian influence (which is now uprooted in Europe and Canada) this is what you get.

As a person who values freedom, I look around the world and I see the United States as the last bastion of freedom. I know libertarians do, too. But What is its foundation? What keeps us free when all about us are storms of oppression?

I am not a big 'C' christian (I believe in God, but don't worship Jesus or go to church), but I find myself in sympathy and admiration of Protestant Christianity -- it is the foundation on which American liberties are built. Libertarians are conned by humanists in opposing Christians. And when you do oppose them, you are basically taking a sledgehammer to the foundation upon which you stand. You do not have to be Christian to be an ally of Christianity. But if you have a licentious tendency, if licentiousness is the motivating factor in your libertarianism and is the root of your objection to Christianity, then you're a sitting duck for those who will take away your freedom.

Christians are an ally to anyone who values true freedom. Not the freedom to drug yourself or to be socially deviant (the only kind of freedom that interests humanists), but the genuine kind of freedom that is enumerated in the constitutional amendments. Individual liberties are intimately tied up with the idea of God-given free will. Marx understood this when he stated that his goal was to "dethrone God and destroy capitalism." No other value system has ever produced the kind of freedom that we have in America.

Libertarians are the dupes of humanists, who are the most dangerous enemies to freedom. They are dupes any time they feel that Christianity is a threat to them. The worst thing that a Christian will do is say you're going to hell, but humanists will make a hell on earth.

As a proponent of the second amendment, you have to know your enemy. It is not just Dianne Feinstein and Sarah Brady. It is the humanists. In this battle against the humanists, who have overtaken Canada and Europe, there is only one group powerful enough to stand up to the humanists and that is Christians.
There's not a great deal there for me to argue with, though I think Sarah paints "humanists" with a little too broad a brush.

In my world view, "rights" to most people are much like God - entirely dependent on faith. Except, of course, rights are passive and God (in most belief systems) is active. But Sarah makes a valid point: If you don't have some grounding for your belief in your rights, it's much easier to say "screw it" and surrender them when faced with hard choices.

However, note that a belief in God doesn't, by your own admission, lead to freedom. It's Protestantism that does that - a specific religious belief. You say "Christian," but what you mean specifically is "Protestant." The Jews believe in God, but have submitted to slavery and even genocide. The Catholic church preaches what is in my opinion slavery to the church (after all, Protestantism comes from protesting the formerly iron grip of the Catholic church, does it not?)

It's all a belief system. It's a culture. It is possible for "humanists" to have a culture that holds a belief in rights without a belief in a god. In Is the Government Responsible for Your Protection, Part II I quoted Ezra Taft Benson who made Sarah's argument:
It is generally agreed that the most important single function of government is to secure the rights and freedoms of individual citizens. But, what are those right? And what is their source?

There are only two possible sources. Rights are either God-given as part of the Divine Plan, or they are granted by government as part of the political plan. Reason, necessity, tradition and religious convictions all lead me to accept the divine origin of these rights. If we accept the premise that human rights are granted by government, then we must be willing to accept the corollary that they can be denied by government.
I said then that I didn't agree with Benson:
Well, not being a “believer”, I disagree with God being the source of individual rights, but I certainly reject the premise that rights are “granted” by government. As to accepting the corollary that rights can be denied by government – certainly they can – so long as the People allow it.
But I didn't give an alternate origin for those rights.

The origin of rights should be reason. (And this is going to get me a lot of abuse...) The origin of religious faith is fear. Fear of death. Fear of the unknown. That's why religion came first and individual rights loooong afterward. Religion can, as Sarah very accurately points out, support a belief in rights, but it can also crush that belief. The Protestant sects of Christianity are, most definitely, responsible for the spread of the belief in the fundamental rights of individuals, but I believe it's possible to separate the two and make reasoned arguments as to why there ought to be certain individual rights, and not others. (Like training a puppy, the society should teach its children about rights and duties, and then as they get older, about the reason and logic behind them.)

It's important to me for people to grasp why there are rights, so that they cannot be pursuaded that they don't exist. Faith may be stronger than understanding, but I don't think it should be. "Because God said so" isn't sufficient, for me.

It's possible to have functional, irrational societies (see Italy) {and I'll catch hell for that, too} but in conflicts, societies grounded in some faith are generally far stronger than societies that are not. "Humanism" isn't so grounded, but it could be. As Sarah points out, it's generally dominated by the licentious who don't want to hear about duty, but who can expound endlessly on their rights. Christians are big on DUTY, regardless of the specific faith, and thus Sarah is correct that they are, or at least should be, natural allies in the war to preserve our rights. However, the problem comes from the conflict between the morality taught by Christianity, and the considerably more ambiguous morality of the humanists.

It's not so much that we don't see them as allies, it's that neither side really wants to associate with a group that will have such a strong effect on the, shall we say "more pliable" members of the other.

And besides, religion promises an eventual reward. A belief in rights only promises an eternal struggle to hold on to them.

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