Understanding Liberty

I find that atheists are prone to any number of astounding contradictions in their thinking.  They manage to hold most of these logical inconsistencies with great stubbornness.  The ones that still give me great amusement however, are the folks like those at the Freedom From Religion Foundation.  Their motto, “Protecting the constitutional principle of the separation of state and church” is the first sign of a lack understanding.  There is no constitutional principle of separation of church and state.  Go ahead and look for it.  Do a word search on the Constitution and the word separation never appears.  How then is it held as a constitutional principle you might ask?  Good question indeed and I will enlighten you where the phrase gets its origin.

The idea of this as a constitutional principle comes from a letter that Jefferson wrote to the Danbury baptists in response to their concerns.  In part, they were chiefly concerned with keeping the government out of the church’s affairs:

Our sentiments are uniformly on the side of religious liberty–that religion is at all times and places a matter between God and individuals–that no man ought to suffer in name, person, or effects on account of his religious opinions–that the legitimate power of civil government extends no further than to punish the man who works ill to his neighbors; But, sir, our constitution of government is not specific. Our ancient charter together with the law made coincident therewith, were adopted as the basis of our government, at the time of our revolution; and such had been our laws and usages, and such still are; that religion is considered as the first object of legislation; and therefore what religious privileges we enjoy (as a minor part of the state) we enjoy as favors granted, and not as inalienable rights; and these favors we receive at the expense of such degrading acknowledgements as are inconsistent with the rights of freemen. It is not to be wondered at therefore; if those who seek after power and gain under the pretense of government and religion should reproach their fellow men–should reproach their order magistrate, as a enemy of religion, law, and good order, because he will not, dare not, assume the prerogatives of Jehovah and make laws to govern the kingdom of Christ.

Notice their concern here is that a future leader will arise and restrict religion, law and good order.  The baptists in America had actually promoted the idea of religious liberty under the assumption that people should be free to be wrong if they disagreed with them (this sounds arrogant to be sure, but is perfectly consistent with their theology).  In fact the term, a wall of separation of church and state was an idea from the mind of Roger Williams who envisioned it as a means to protect the church from the government.  It is in this spirit that Jefferson wrote his letter and proclaimed:

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man & his god, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state.  Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.

I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection and blessing of the common Father and creator of man, and tender you for yourselves and your religious association, assurances of my high respect & esteem. (emphasis mine)

Jefferson’s letter has been misused and now is a slogan for a group who wishes to use the force of government to silence the church in essence.  Which runs me back around to my original point regarding the Freedom From Religion Foundation and people of like mind and the logical inconsistency of their thoughts and actions.  Where is it that they think our rights as citizens come from precisely?  According to Jefferson (he of the wall of separation letter), the rights we have come from our Creator:

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. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. (emphasis mine)

So let’s say that you don’t believe there is a Creator; where do your rights come from?  How can you be offended at the loss of your “rights” when they are derived from nowhere?  Any indignation at the loss of “rights” by this group and others is a farce to logic and a joke against rationality.  Let me restate this in plain English and feel free to offer your feedback out there.

If you don’t believe there is a God,

you have no foundation for any

rights whatsoever according to the

Constitution of the United States so

stop whining.

If you don’t believe me, take Thomas Jefferson’s word for it,
“God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God?”

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Categories: Atheists, Christianity, Culture, False Teachers, Freedom, Law, politics, Truth | 9 Comments

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9 thoughts on “Understanding Liberty

  1. Or to step outside of the Christendom box:

    Rights can come from the subjective nature of social interaction as it is shaped over time. For instance, experience may cause society in a given place and time to feel in aggregate that a right to not be murdered without cause is good for keeping down costs and increasing general happiness. Those who would murder may disagree, but since they’re in the minority and don’t have a rational argument to bridge the gap between their opinion and the aggregate of society, this particular right becomes widely recognized.

    This is actually the way we live in the U.S. by and large. Most of our actions as a culture imply subjective group ethics like this.

  2. poppies,

    This is actually the way we live in the U.S. by and large. Most of our actions as a culture imply subjective group ethics like this.

    While this may be true today in some measure, it is not how the country was intended to operate. The freedoms guaranteed by our government are guaranteed precisely because they are understood as originating from God (yes, the Christian God). Apart from His existence, they are meaningless. The relativity that you assert has no foundation and nothing to appeal to except might makes right at its essence or basic majority rules perhaps. This cannot work and isn’t the basis of freedom as our founders understood it. That is why our government was set up as a representative republic isn’t of a democracy.

  3. “Group ethics” scare the hell out of me.

    If there is no God, then people make come to decisions of morality based on their feelings.

    If they feel that one group is less human (the jews for instance in Nazi Germany) than the others, then to kill them is perfectly alright.

    No thanks.

  4. Steve,
    You are right to be concerned about “group ethics.” Right now, all they are doing is allowing people to steal from the “rich” (heavily graduated income tax system) and kill the undesirables (abortions and assisted suicide) among other things.

  5. ruip

    Hey, it’s been a while. I don’t know what your views are on homosexuality, but we should be able to agree that it’s NOT just homosexuality that spreads disease (e.g. AIDS can be inherited, etc.)

    Yet, this blind bigot who claims to be a fellow Christian is putting false information on his roody poo site: http://thevalleytruth.wordpress.com/

    I’ve tried to dissuade him on his stupid article “‘Gay’ vs. Straight”…anybody with a brain, Christian or not, should be able to tell how retarded this guy is.

    Just thought you might want to visit…I’ll tell willohroots too.

  6. ruip,
    Could you kindly explain what this has to do with the post above? If you wish to harass this guy, please don’ t use my site to do it. While you are at it, maybe you should answer his question in the comments at his site. Honestly, from our previous interactions, I thought you were a little more civil than this.

  7. Gary

    I’ve not responded here before, but now seems as good a time as any. First of all, Jeff, hail and well met. It has been too long and too much distance, but we have time to catch up for lost time.

    I fancy myself somewhat graceful at playing devil’s advocate, so please do not mistake my words here for my own opinion, which may lie at either end of this conversational spectrum or somewhere in between. I write as a lover of educated discussion and for educated discussion’s sake I often play the role of devil’s advocate. If I take the scenic route to the point, please try to enjoy the ride. This may read like a history lesson, and in part it is. But, it is required to understand the past in order to understand the present.

    This should not be taken as a personal attack by any reader so please approach what I write with an open mind. Religion and politics are volatile subjects that can be navigated without causing harm.

    Historically speaking, the United States of America is not a very old country. It just passed 233 years this month, in fact. Certainly, it has changed – some ways good, some bad – and matured in the way society thinks. Maturation is often assumed to be a good thing, but it really depends on what it is that is maturing. Indeed, having weeds mature in one’s garden is not good.

    What has to be understood about religion and government is that in theory in the west, there has not been a separation for very long. The idea is barely as old as the US itself. In reality, religion and government in the US, along with the majority of other countries in the world, are no more separated than human beings are from language. This conjoined atmosphere of religion and government has existed for millennia and shouldn’t be expected to change soon.

    As long as religion has existed, it has had one measure or another in ruling or controlling government. Current example include Islam and it’s divisions in the Middle East, and (historically speaking) not so long ago, Christianity throughout Europe. Romans were governed by religion, as were Greeks, as were (and still are in some places) Native American Indians.

    Not too long before the birth of the United States, religion and government had a falling out. Corruption trickled into both arenas and began running rampant. Neither could agree with the other on the way things ought to be done and thus formed the rift. Things got so bad that at one point there were three Popes! (one in Rome, one in Paris, and the other I forget precisely where, but I believe what is today northern Italy.) Christianity began it’s divisions, and here enters Lutherans, Baptists, etc. Catholicism really got the stinky end of the stick as Europe became divided (literally) with Orthodox to the east. Ever since that time, religion and government have been more akin to ‘friends with benefits’ than anything else.

    Prior to reunification of Germany, some Germanic states were receptive and open-minded to exploration of religion, but they were limited in number and anyone who was exiled due to making religious waves in their own state or country usually sought out these friendly Germanic states. (reference again to the development of Lutheran, Baptist, etc. divisions of Christianity.)

    Fast forward a tad and we come to a point in English history where corruption still runs amok in religion and government (still noting that the two were not separate) and dissension begins to stir in the ranks of the English citizenry. Denouncing the struggle between religion and government that had permeated everything decent about society, they left to create what they hoped would be a better society in a New World. Now, the strange bed fellows, religion and government, stop quarreling long enough to recognize neither wants to lose control, but control is slipping through their fingers as boats set sail for Plymouth Rock.

    The founding fathers had fantastic intentions when they started drafting documents; and they had even more fantastic expectations. As a fledgling democratic nation, the US moved away from a religious run state. There would be not God appointed king to a throne for this land. (In almost all European countries prior to this, the Church had to give it’s approval to a new king in order for the King to be able to rule. Some countries began shunning this practice around the time of the rift.)

    Even with these grandiose intentions at the heart of the foundation for the US, it would not take long for religion, government, and even society (let’s not forget about society) to embrace the beginnings of corruption again. From slavery (which in today’s society is considered by most an appalling mark on our young history as a country) to genocide of Native American Indians (see previous parenthetical comment) to the later persecution of another fledgling branch of Christianity that developed in the 1800s. Although that organization thrives today, it is no freer of corruption that any other organized societal body. It certainly hadn’t taken long for religion and government to get back to their previous love hate relationship. (for other examples of massive corruption in religion and government, count the um-teen Crusades)

    Almost home, so hang in there. All of these functions are societal driven. They’re people created. They’re people run. They’re people corrupted. The founding fathers thought rights were bestowed by a Creator because that’s the path they wanted the country to take. But, consider this. The founding fathers were the ones in leadership positions, positions of authority, the writers of the definitions. And they led society as appropriate for the time. The constitution wasn’t perfect and times have changed, and amendments to that constitution were added (as demanded by society).

    Religion and government both gave us rights, but they didn’t. Society defined what the rights were just as society created the organized bodies of government and religion that we have today. Neither religion nor government exist without money, another creation of society.

    This is not to say that there is no God. That is not my stance. The organized bodies of religion that are created in the name of God are creations of man. Every branch of every religion can’t all be right. But they can because branches of religion are creations of society. If a group of people disagrees enough with the rest of the group, those people will leave and create another organization. (Reminds me of how the US started out.)

    From a Christian perspective, God granted man free will and turned him loose on the world. Since Christ, God hasn’t directly intervened (no global floods, no turning cities to salt, no locusts). With that free will, man formed society which in turn made choices about what was acceptable and what wasn’t. And it was societies leaders that defined what the rights were and are now, globally, not just in the US or the west.

    I hope someone has taken something useful from this.

    Cheers.

  8. The founding fathers had fantastic intentions when they started drafting documents; and they had even more fantastic expectations. . .
    Even with these grandiose intentions at the heart of the foundation for the US, it would not take long for religion, government, and even society (let’s not forget about society) to embrace the beginnings of corruption again.

    A cursory reading of the founding fathers makes is pretty obvious that they knew the fragility of the system they were putting in place. Much like Franklin’s famous quote when asked what form of government we had, “a republic if you can keep it.” The Constitution was designed to frustrate the attempts of the government to overcome its limitations and to protect the rights that were seen as God-given.

    Religion and government both gave us rights, but they didn’t. Society defined what the rights were just as society created the organized bodies of government and religion that we have today.

    That first sentence makes no sense really. What were you trying to say. I disagree with the statement on its face and it appears you may disagree as well since you immediately contradicted yourself. Feel free to clarify as needed.

    Every branch of every religion can’t all be right. But they can because branches of religion are creations of society.

    Again you have immediately contradicted yourself. Is this the result of typing while drowsy (which I only ask because I know you typed it after midnight)?

    From a Christian perspective, God granted man free will and turned him loose on the world. Since Christ, God hasn’t directly intervened (no global floods, no turning cities to salt, no locusts). With that free will, man formed society which in turn made choices about what was acceptable and what wasn’t. And it was societies leaders that defined what the rights were and are now, globally, not just in the US or the west.

    Actually, this is not correct. The founding fathers, from Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence and other documents assert that the rights given to men come from the Creator of man and cannot be given or taken away by anyone. The very idea that society “grants rights” in any form is contrary to both Christian thought and the thinking of the founding documents. Note what they did with the 9th and 10th ammendments:

    9th – The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

    10th – The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

    Let me quote an explanation of the reason for this from a recent article by Walter Williams:

    After the 1787 Constitutional Convention, there were intense ratification debates about the proposed Constitution. Both James Madison and Alexander Hamilton expressed grave reservations about Thomas Jefferson’s, George Mason’s and others’ insistence that the Constitution be amended by the Bill of Rights. Those reservations weren’t the result of a lack of concern for liberty. To the contrary, they were concerned about the loss of liberties.

    Alexander Hamilton expressed his reservation in Federalist Paper No. 84, “(B)ills of rights … are not only unnecessary in the proposed Constitution, but would even be dangerous.” Hamilton asks, “For why declare that things shall not be done (by Congress) which there is no power to do? Why, for instance, should it be said that the liberty of the press shall not be restrained, when no power is given (to Congress) by which restrictions may be imposed?” Hamilton’s argument was that Congress can only do what the Constitution specifically gave it authority to do. Powers not granted belong to the people and the states. Another way of examining Hamilton’s concern: Why have an amendment prohibiting Congress from infringing on our right to picnic on our back porch when the Constitution gives Congress no authority to infringe upon that right in the first place?

    Those two final amendments in the Bill of Rights were added in response to the concern that these men and others expressed that the government would get the idea it could grant rights. They basically state that the government gets only the rights given to it by the Constitution and should butt out and shut up in any other area. Sadly, our current incarnation of governance supposedly modeled on this document does anything but that.

  9. Gary

    I’m sure some of the confusion in my previous post was due to fatigue, so with renewed body and a healthy dose of coffee, I will attempt to clarify the mentioned confusing points. I’m really not into playing with HTML tags so if I quote you, it will be in quotes, italicized, and set off as its own paragraph.

    “A cursory reading of the founding fathers makes is pretty obvious that they knew the fragility of the system they were putting in place. Much like Franklin’s famous quote when asked what form of government we had, “a republic if you can keep it.” The Constitution was designed to frustrate the attempts of the government to overcome its limitations and to protect the rights that were seen as God-given.”

    Absolutely, the founding fathers knew it was going to be an uphill struggle. And certainly, the constitution was designed to frustrate the government’s attempts to assert control in areas that it ought not to be. ”. . . rights that were seen as God-given.” This phrase actually helps to clarify what I was attempting to say earlier, but I’ll build the argument in reverse fashion to make it clearer to follow.

    From a Christian perspective, specifically in the west, God gives man free will and with that free will, man creates society, which in turn demands and creates organized bodies (e.g. religion, government, unions, speak easies, coffee houses, etc.) to satisfy individuals of like minds in society in terms of faith, governance, politics, and sense of belonging. The organizations created by society to fulfill its needs have no more power in society than society gives them. Leaders of those organizations speak out in representation of the will of the majority of society or society replaces those leaders.

    Rights were seen as God-given, and thus proclaimed as such in the early documents, because that was the majority view of the society of the US at that time, over 200 years ago. Today’s societal view in the US is strikingly different. Had anyone suggested removing prayer from schools, removing “In God We Trust” from our currency and courtrooms, and removing “under God” from the pledge even 30 years ago when you and I we about to enter kindergarten, that person would have been looked upon as if they had grown a second head.

    As society changes, so must the organizations it creates (e.g. amendments, supreme court inferences of those amendments confirming the right to privacy, the right to potty, etc.). The founding fathers came from a society that was so richly laden with religious pressure that disbelief in a supreme being was considered heretic and carried dire consequences. Society had been that way for a very long time so religion was instilled deeply. I don’t deny the founding father’s faith, belief, or convictions. They stood up for what they believed and started a country with a group of like minded individuals who grouped together to form a new society and as a representational body, defined what the organized bodies of that new society could and could not do.

    “Religion and government both gave us rights, but they didn’t.”

    I agree, that could have been written better, but I will clarify. The contradiction was intentional and to be able to understand the contradiction, one must be able to view this specific area of discussion from two different perspectives. Religion and government both gave us certain rights because the creators of those organized bodies (society) said they could. Since religion and government can’t be separated without toppling the delicate balance that exists between the two, they are both involved in granting rights. However, as individual entities without society, religion and government are powerless; they lack the power given them by society to grant certain rights.

    This isn’t to say that either of those two bodies is unnecessary, because they both serve to fulfill very important roles in a healthy society. Religion serves to offer individuals of like minds opportunities to share and express their opinions while being accepted by their peers. It also offers a sense of hope and belonging, and to an extent, diffuses some of the responsibility (and stress) that humans feel during crisis situations. So to sum up that clarification, religion and government can grant certain rights, but only insomuch as society has given those institutions the power to do it. Civilization is like a coin; one side represents society and its power while the other side represents society’s creations and the power granted to them. Regardless of the outcome of the flip of that coin, power belongs to the society.

    “Every branch of every religion can’t all be right. But they can because branches of religion are creations of society.”

    Again, perhaps this could have been written better, but the contradiction was intentional. From a religious perspective (religion in general) every branch of every religion can’t be right because of the fundamental differences in religion, in religion’s divisions, and in the subdivisions of those divisions. When the end goal of a religion is ultimate achievement (e.g. going to Heaven, receiving 72 virgins, becoming one with the universe, whatever that specific religion states) all other attempts to reach that ultimate achievement must fail because there is but one correct path to attain that achievement. For example, from an Islamic perspective, Christians are up a creek because they’re not worshiping the correct God. Another example, this time on a subdivision level, Catholicism thinks Methodists are going to be in for a rude awakening because they’re doing it wrong. This happens on a fundamental level, even though (for the most part) individual churches share fellowship, brotherhood, and comradeship. If the Episcopal Church down the road from you got wiped out by a tornado or something, it wouldn’t take long for your Baptist congregation to come together in their aid. And I know you’d do it because that’s the kind of person I remember you being.

    Now, from a societal perspective to the above statement, every branch of every religion can be right because each branch fulfills a specific need to a specific group of individuals in a society. In your area, some of your congregation may attend because yours in the closest church available to them, but I would think the vast majority attend your services because Baptist, or more specifically your, services are more in line with their personal beliefs regarding religion and interpretation of scripture and doctrine. In this instance, the Baptist (your) branch of Christianity is right because it is serving the needs of a specific subset of society. In the instance from the previous paragraph, the Baptist (your) branch of Christianity is right because of the fundamental beliefs of the organization.

    I include “your” throughout in those examples to emphasize even the differences within the divisions of Christianity. Every Baptist (or Catholic, or Methodist, or Lutheran) is not the same. Your particular spin on scripture and doctrine may be similar to other pastors of other Baptist churches, but they won’t be identical.

    “Actually, this is not correct. The founding fathers, from Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence and other documents assert that the rights given to men come from the Creator of man and cannot be given or taken away by anyone. The very idea that society “grants rights” in any form is contrary to both Christian thought and the thinking of the founding documents. Note what they did with the 9th and 10th ammendments:”

    True, Jefferson did make that general statement in the Declaration. That, however, does not change the fact that if a person violates a societal law and that person is caught, the government (created and empowered by society) will revoke the rights of that individual, whether it be life (execution), liberty (incarceration), or the pursuit of happiness (choose a punishment). If an individual makes such a denouncement of a God or a religion that can not be recanted, that religion (created and empowered by society) will effectively excommunicate that individual, denying that individual’s right to worship there. Yes, Jefferson said that; and he said it because that what the society of the United States wanted him to say at the time. If it wasn’t Jefferson, society would have chosen someone else that would have represented the will of the people. I hesitate to say that if the United States were recreated today that the founding documents would be worded the same way. There is a tremendous discrepancy between the societal thought of Jefferson’s time and today.

    I am confused, however, as to how the idea that society grants rights is contrary to Christian thought. Even according to the Christian view, God granted man free will long before Christianity (or religion, for that matter) even came about. In the beginning, there was God and there was Adam. There was no third party intermediary known as religion. Why? Because there wasn’t a societal need for one. Man had free will to choose whatever he or she wanted to do. As civilization grew and societies formed, need for religion was expressed and societies created fulfillment for that need . . . by choice. Any sociologist or social psychologist, regardless of faith, will tell you that society is the empowering body of the world. Additionally, the idea that society grants rights may be contradictory to what’s written in the papers of the founding documents, but the documents say what society (at the time) elected its leaders to write.

    In regards to Hamilton’s concerns, he was acting as a member of society that happened to be in a position of leadership. His concerns were spot on and incredibly accurate because he thought forbidding the government from doing something it wasn’t expressly given the power to do in the first place was redundant. That particular view, that government will not overstep it’s bound and there is no need to create amendments to prevent such occurrences, is Utopianistic. I can’t blame him for wanting so strongly for the government to work the way it was written and designed. Low and behold, I have yet to see Utopia.

    Case in point, the right to privacy wasn’t written into the constitution, nor was it expressly addressed in the amendments. It had to become an issue important enough for society to demand action before the Supreme Court (created and empowered by society) made an inference that the right to privacy was guaranteed in the amendments. Nobody at the time of the founding ever thought that it would become an issue. Same with the right to potty. This wasn’t an issue until enough public schools (functions of government) and jails (functions of government) refused to let students and inmates use the facilities in the late 20th Century that society said they’d had enough of that and demanded action. The Supreme Court made another inference in the amendments (I’ll have to double check. It’s either the 4th or 9th amendment where the Supreme Court’s inferences came from in both privacy and potty) guaranteeing individuals the right to go to the bathroom. Nobody, during the founding, would have thought that denying someone the right to go potty would become an issue. And actually, that’s pretty sad that it did become an issue.

    To the point, societal organizations like religion and government are created and empowered by society. And because those organizations are run by people, they are corrupt. Certainly not so much at the lower levels, like individual parishes and whatnot, but at the higher echelons, it’s ugly. The power struggle between religion and government isn’t going to go anywhere. It ebbs and flows. What started at the founding as freedom of religion turned into freedom from religion as prayer was banned from public schools. In the court room, witnesses no longer place their hand on a bible to swear in and the wording has changed ever so slightly . . .”Do you swear or affirm to tell the truth . . .”. Demands government met because society cried out.

    But religion holds it own in government. Certain states have “blue laws” that dictate whether businesses can be open on Sunday or if specific products can be sold on Sunday. Or even if specific products can be sold at all (e.g. dry counties can’t sell alcohol). These specific instances of law date back all the way to the founding. If blue laws changed in states after that, it is because society demanded the right to conduct business or buy certain products on Sunday, just as society demanded the right to breath clean air in buildings which resulted in smoking bans.

    I hope this is a little clearer. :O)

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