Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Profound Ignorance in Respect to Our Founding Continues

I am involved in an interesting debate at Dispatches about inalienable rights. It started with this statement by Ed Brayton:

"Then by all means, please name one thing in the Bill of Rights that has an analog in the Bible. Just one. Good luck."

Here is the relevant part of my response:

"The biblical concept of imago dei and man being the workmanship of God was the foundation for Western thought on inalienable rights all the way up to the founding. This goes back to canon law but it most pronounced in Aquinas. He took this biblical concept and added it to the wisdom of the ages seen in Aristotle and produced Christian thought in regards to political theory.

It is this concept of inalienable rights thats taken to its logical conclusion in the bill of rights. So, are the bill of rights found in the Bible? No. Did Christian theologians use the Bible and the wisdom of the ages to come up with a rational for inalienable rights that is unique to Judeo-Christian thought? Yes."
Here is one "insightful" comment that is disappointing to see from a group that prides itself on reasoned responses based on superior knowledge:

"The idea that Christianity has ever stood for inalienable rights would be comedy gold, indeed, if it didn't smell so much like bullshit"
I do not produce this comment to mock Dispatches. Besides a small minority of obnoxious hacks, it is mostly intelligent and informed people that comment at the blog. In fact, much of what I know on this subject is from study that was spurred by the back and forth I had there with the Ed Brayton.  With that said, the comment above points out the utter ignorance of otherwise intelligent people when it comes to our founding.  The biggest catalyst to this ignorance is people that want to comment on history that has been influenced by Christian thought and the Bible but are so anti-religious they refuse to learn about either.

This results in a radical secularist myth that causes severe blow back like the absurd changes to the Texas standards for Social Studies. The Culture Wars go on and the truth loses out...

26 comments:

Tom Van Dyke said...

Rock on, Don Quixote. The people there have largely returned your courtesy, and good on them too.

bpabbott said...

Kudos on the part; " Did Christian theologians use the Bible and the wisdom of the ages to come up with a rational for inalienable rights that is unique to Judeo-Christian thought? Yes."

I am in complete agreement that the manner in which inalienable rights was packaged by Christian theologians is unique, and that it was largely responsible for popularizing the concept.

In fairness, there is no denying that Christianity has also been responsible (at least in name) for many acts that are antithetical to inalienable rights.

Regarding the misunderstanding of what secularism is, the left and the right, who see the origins of secularism as anti-religious, are both guilty of ignorance and the propagation of it.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Or "secularists" re-packaged Christian thought.

Jürgen Habermas [a "secularist" philosopher]:


"Egalitarian universalism, from which sprang the ideas of freedom and social solidarity, of an auonomous conduct of life and emancipation, of the individual morality of conscience, human rights and democracy, is the direct heir of the Judaic ethic of justice and the Christian ethic of love. This legacy, substantially unchanged, has been the object of continual critical appropriation and reinterpretation. To this day, there is no alternative to it. And in light of the current challenges of a postnational constellation, we continue to draw on the substance of this heritage. Everything else is just idle postmodern talk."

King of Ireland said...

"In fairness, there is no denying that Christianity has also been responsible (at least in name) for many acts that are antithetical to inalienable rights."

Absolutely Ben. This is what is so absurd about the Texas Standards. It takes credit for all the good(when it was many ideas from many places) and leaves out all the bad. It is a myth.

In essence the Christian that were willing to embrace parts of paganism that did not conflict the Bible had a more positive on society.

Tom,

They have been courteous because the losers that snipe have nothing to say once I pulled out the Bellarmine and Aquinas quotes. The frame of discussion has been shifted from "You idiot Locke was an Enlightenment man" to "Prove Jefferson looked at things the way Locke did."

Huge shift. Huge. I see it here with Jon too. This is where the discussion should be. What did they take from the schoolmen, rational Calvinists, and Locke(though one could make the case he was a rational Calvinist)and what did they reject?

King of Ireland said...

Tom,

Can I use that quote over there from Habermas? You should really be doing this not me. But I respect why you do not want to waste your time. I hope I am not wasting mine.

Tom Van Dyke said...

You're doing fine. I peeked in. The Habermas quote doesn't open any closed minds, but it does show that what you're getting at isn't exclusively an opinion held by the right wing fringe. Habermas is quite a "modern" man.

bpabbott said...

Re: "Or "secularists" re-packaged Christian thought."

Certainly. The method of secularizing ideas is nothing more than expressing the ideas in a religiously agnostic manner. The motive isn't inherently antagonistic to religion.

The motive for secularization (a word the founders admittedly didn't use), during the founding, was to avoid dividing opinions based upon implied religious advocacy or prejudice. By removing the religious packaging, the idea being communicated is more readily understood and accepted by individuals of differing religions opinions.

Recognizing this leads to the conclusion that the founders' were not only a deeply religious group (as seen in the DoI), but were also competent secularists (as seen in the USC).

Tom Van Dyke said...

I agree with all that. Habermas recommends the same course of secularizating ideas in the 21st century, since today's environment turns off any arguments rooted in religion.

Which is why natural law is the only lingua franca for the religious, since it supposedly never disagrees with scripture, and presumably, natural law arguments are "self-evident" to reason.

I'm not sure it holds, though.


http://lexchristianorum.blogspot.com/2010/02/law-sit-up-higher-richard-hooker-and_07.html

Hooker then turns to the question of the basic principles of moral reasoning. The main principles of reason are self-evident or "in themselves apparent." Hooker notes that if one were to reject self-evident principles, one would destroy knowledge. "For to make nothing evident of itself unto man's understanding were to take away all possibility of knowing anything. . . . In every kind of knowledge some such grounds there are, as that being proposed the mind does presently embrace them as free from all possibility of error, clear and manifest without proof."

I find many modern empiricists taking away all possibility of knowing anything, nor do I think modernism admits anything as "self-evident."

Which is valid, I suppose, but skepticism isn't an argument, and leaves you only where you started. Nowhere.

And as K of I is learning in his current expedition, when it's not want they want to believe, they overturn the chessboard: even if x is true, it doesn't matter anyway.

King of Ireland said...

"And as K of I is learning in his current expedition, when it's not want they want to believe, they overturn the chessboard: even if x is true, it doesn't matter anyway."

A few have had the guts to admit it. Some others are still hanging on to the Harvard Narrative. One did go back and do what I originally challenged them all to do:


Actually read Locke for themselves instead of repeating stuff that others say or reading secondary sources.

If you listen to them talk about things they do know about these are brillant people. Just as stubborn and obtuse as the type of Christians they hate though. I have never been around two groups that are so similar and hate each other for it like these two.

If you hang on with them a while most had a bad experience in church and rejected God over it. They react because of their foolish family members that think brow beating them about it is helping have done it to them all their lives.

They see the same thing in anyone that brings up God. But the ironic thing is that they talk about God more than church people do there at Dispatches. Much more honestly I might add from my experiences.

bpabbott said...

Re:"I'm not sure it holds, though."

Natural Law claims may not be self-evident. In fact, It is self-evident to me that they are *not* to most :-(

Likewise, there may be no God.

Fortunately, the benefits of secularization do not rely upon the truth of either assertion :-)

Regarding skepticism, I find it has great value when examining claims lacking evidence. It safeguards the me from deluding myself. In my work, bad assumptions can be a career enders.

However, as the weight of the evidence increases the degree of skepticism must yield, or the individual comes full circle and is again deluding himself.

In my work I've seen too many examples of each. Striking the right balance is important.

Skepticism isn't a substitute for a belief system. It is a safety measure for belief systems.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Benefits of secularization? Now that's a proposition begging for proof.

Not one of King's interlocutors would agree with, and not one Founder would disagree with, Alexander Hamilton's formulation of the American political theology in The Farmer Refuted:

Moral obligation, according to [Thomas Hobbes], is derived from the introduction of civil society; and there is no virtue, but what is purely artificial, the mere contrivance of politicians, for the maintenance of social intercourse. But the reason he run into this absurd and impious doctrine, was, that he disbelieved the existence of an intelligent superintending principle, who is the governor, and will be the final judge of the universe.

As you, sometimes, swear by him that made you, I conclude, your sentiment does not correspond with his, in that which is the basis of the doctrine, you both agree in; and this makes it impossible to imagine whence this congruity between you arises. To grant, that there is a supreme intelligence, who rules the world, and has established laws to regulate the actions of his creatures; and, still, to assert, that man, in a state of nature, may be considered as perfectly free from all restraints of law and government, appear to a common understanding, altogether irreconcileable.

Good and wise men, in all ages, have embraced a very dissimilar theory. They have supposed, that the deity, from the relations, we stand in, to himself and to each other, has constituted an eternal and immutable law, which is, indispensibly, obligatory upon all mankind, prior to any human institution whatever.

This is what is called the law of nature, "which, being coeval with mankind, and dictated by God himself, is, of course, superior in obligation to any other. It is binding over all the globe, in all countries, and at all times. No human laws are of any validity, if contrary to this; and such of them as are valid, derive all their authority, mediately, or immediately, from this original." Blackstone.

Upon this law, depend the natural rights of mankind, the supreme being gave existence to man, together with the means of preserving and beatifying that existence. He endowed him with rational faculties, by the help of which, to discern and pursue such things, as were consistent with his duty and interest, and invested him with an inviolable right to personal liberty, and personal safety.


And that's the controversy in a nutshell. That the entire chain of Christian thought led up to that, and to "created equal, endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights" is the thesis, and there is no viable antithesis on offer, only screw it, those dead white guys have nothing to say to us in the 21st century.

bpabbott said...

Tom,

If I understand your objection, please consider that secular describes the manner of expression not what is expressed.

Admittedly, there are amble examples where a religious context is beneficial to expressing an idea. And in many cases that benefit would be lost if the expressions were secularized. The DoI is a good example.

At the same time there is often great benefit in secularizing that which is not inherently religious. The USC is a good example.

The benefit of secularism is in avoiding unnecessary religious conflict.

Pinky said...

.
heh heh heh
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It appears that Michigan site isn't working too well.
.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Ben, our Founding era pretty much took care of "unnecessary religious conflict" with non-sectarianism and a lowest common denominator of providential monotheism.

Unlike modern secular thought, which wants to get rid of even that common denominator. Modernity allows only a common denominator of zero, an infinity of possibilities, but renders e Pluribus Unum ["From many, one"] a mathematical impossibility.

[Hey, that one was pretty good, if you do the math. Any x divided by zero equals infinity...oh, never mind.]

What I'm getting at here: Modernity recognizes nothing but the material, nothing beyond empirical a posteriori reason, nothing except man's will.

The laws of nature, and of nature's God. Let's forget about "nature's God" for just a moment---that was added by Locke to the Jesuit Suarez and the Protestant Hugo Grotius' theory of natural law:

"What we have been saying would have a degree of validity even if we should concede that which cannot be conceded without the utmost wickedness, that there is no God."---Grotius, De Iure Belli ac Pacis [1625]

Whether you can effectively take God out of Hamilton's [Locke-influenced] exposition of the Founding's natural law, I'm unsure. But as historical fact, this is the Founding, its political theology. Godless Constitution, my ass. The only reason there's a Bill of Rights in the first place is because Christian thought developed the idea and existence of rights in the first place.

So, where does that leave us today, a separate question: What we do know is that 2010 modern skepticism rejects any a priori arguments about how man should live. Not one of King's interlocutors, educated and trained in the modern empirical/skeptical method, know anything of "natural law" or Hamilton's The Farmer Refuted. They don't teach that stuff in our schools, nor that mode of thinking.

It's the Founding theology, and it's as alien in 2010 as the Iliad's! And that's what happened down in Texas, my friends.

These were ordinary citizens on that board, who left the schooling of their kids to the scholars, academics, and education professionals. Their kids came back with only empiricism/skepticism and The Harvard Narrative, in which Christian thought doesn't exist atall except as an obstacle to rights and liberty.

All these ordinary citizens knew is that something was rotten in the state of Denmark---Texas, actually. But it stank to Denmark.

If they knew stuff like that passage from Hamilton's Farmer Refuted was being taught to their spawn, I don't think this whole mess would happened. And until we see an honest reporting of the Texas curriculum before the recent changes were made---I ain't seen one yet---the culture war grenade toss in the blogosphere goes only one way.

The citizens of Texas took their concerns into real life and political action instead of the blahblah-osphere. Let 'em laugh, sneer, toss rhetorical grenades.

King of Ireland said...

"The citizens of Texas took their concerns into real life and political action instead of the blahblah-osphere. Let 'em laugh, sneer, toss rhetorical grenades."

I agree in premise but the changes were absurd. Mostly their rationale was absurd for many of them. They took it too far.

But, I agree that public school sucks. It is all Dewey 100 percent now and it is killing the schools. I will not set foot in one again and hope they all close. This is from someone who spent a good part of my life trying to change them.

I realized in the last few weeks that good educators are important and that I am not done yet. I will take what I know to a Catholic(hopefully) school where you can teach the truth. The public school knew too much. Kind of like some at Dispatches.

They are actually wasting there time. They should be working to change local law and use their tax money to send their kids to private schools. Reject the federal money too Dewey comes with it.

We should start a campaign to "Dump Dewey"

By the way Tom,

A few of those assholes had it coming to them for years they way they treated me when I first starting commenting there. They were no where to be found today. A little personal vindication. But of lot of the thanks goes to you. Much of what I have learned about he philosophy end here is from you. Blended with with knowledge of the Bible(aquinas like) it makes a coherent argument that no secularist should have a problem with. The reasonable ones that is.

So kudos. Maybe it will teach them a lesson. They even messed with Jon. Who could have a problem with him. Fairest minded dude I know.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Yes, they even messed with Jonathan Rowe, when he was a guest-blogger, a fair-minded dude if there ever was one.

Do you know how Jonathan Rowe became my friend? Jonathan, who got me an invite to become a contributor to this blog?

It's an appropriate story. Jon was commenting on a conservative blog, taking on all comers, just like you just did.

I wrote Jon a note expressing my admiration for his courage, courtesy and fortitude. Didn't quite agree with him, but he won my admiration far more than any of his detractors whom I agreed with.

Aristotle---and Aquinas, following---defined admiration as a necessary component of friendship. Agreement is secondary, in fact, completely unnecessary. I'm proud to call Jon my friend.

You done good, dude. Like Jon. Jimmy Cagney once said of the art of acting,

"You walk in, plant yourself squarely on both feet, look the other fella in the eye, and tell the truth."

You and Jon hit the stage, planted your feet, looked the other fellow in the eye, and told the truth as you see it.

That's the pure thing.

And, as Spencer Tracy added, "Don't bump into the furniture." Have your act together; learn and know where the furniture and the bumps are. Aquinas always knew the best counterarguments out there, and always started by acknowledging them. [Skim the Summa.]

And you did quite a bit of that, too, acknowledging the predictable objections in advance. You done good, dude, props. Rock on.

Joe Winpisinger said...

"Aquinas always knew the best counterarguments out there, and always started by acknowledging them. [Skim the Summa.]"

I am going to do that and start posting on it. Kind of like I did with Calvin. Just pick some relevant blocks and give my take on what he is saying. I hope it promotes some discussion. Then on to Hooker...


Good story about you and
Jon. I think that is why I like Ed Brayton. He saw me take my lumps and not run away and then began to converse with me. We found a lot of common ground since then. Though I can see why you do not like him.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I like him just fine.

jimmiraybob said...

KOI - are you still checking comments at Dispatches? I was going to reply to the "Aquinas and gnostics" comment.

Joe Winpisinger said...

Go for it.

jimmiraybob said...

Per your suggestion to move it here....

KOI - Some Christian doctrine not all. Read what I said about Augustine and the gnostics.

--“From what I read Stoics were like Buddhists in that they believed that all matter was evil and thus desire was evil. Happiness was crucifying desire. I see none of that is the Founders. That line of thinking would be gnostic not Christian. Though some believe Augustine was more gnostic than Christian in some regards and his views of the depravity of man were based in Gnosticism.”

First, a lot of Gnostics then and now would be annoyed not to be considered Christian. Are you referring to the distinction between Gnostic and Orthodox Christianity?

Second, your referring me to what you said about Augustine and the Gnostics was in response to my statement: “In this [Stoic suppression of material desire and focus on developing higher virtues in finding happiness] I see a prequel to Christian doctrine and, in the extreme, Christian asceticism. I also see this same attitude in the writings of the leading founding intellectuals.” I’m not sure how going to Aquinas/Gnosticism fits unless it’s in partially equating Gnosticism with Stoicism. Is that what you meant?

Joe Winpisinger said...

JRB stated at Dispatches:


KOI - Some Christian doctrine not all. Read what I said about Augustine and the gnostics.

-- “From what I read Stoics were like Buddhists in that they believed that all matter was evil and thus desire was evil. Happiness was crucifying desire. I see none of that is the Founders. That line of thinking would be gnostic not Christian. Though some believe Augustine was more gnostic than Christian in some regards and his views of the depravity of man were based in Gnosticism.”

First, a lot of Gnostics then and now would be annoyed not to be considered Christian. Are you referring to the distinction between Gnostic and Orthodox Christianity?

Second, your referring me to what you said about Augustine and the Gnostics was in response to my statement: “In this [Stoic suppression of material desire and focus on developing higher virtues in finding happiness] I see a prequel to Christian doctrine and, in the extreme, Christian asceticism. I also see this same attitude in the writings of the leading founding intellectuals.”

I’m not sure how going to Aquinas/Gnosticism fits unless it’s in partially equating Gnosticism with Stoicism. Is that what you meant?



First, Gnosticism was one of the heresies that Paul was writing against. But if you want to call it Christian then fine. It did mix for sure. This really has nothing to do with my point though.

Which was about Augustine not Aquinas. In that I would suspect that his gnostic background made it into his view of total depravity and thus aesthethics. If you go back and read my orignal post here where I differeniate between a Locke/Aquinas view of human nature and Augustine you will see my point.

Depravity of man is one of the two doctrines of the Reformation that poisoned the well against reason and led to bad political theology. That is my point. Two warring streams.

Joe Winpisinger said...

I see you beat me to it.

Joe Winpisinger said...

I would like to see your proof of aestheticism in the writings of the founders. I have studied Buddhism a great deal and the Stoic idea of happiness sounds like Buddha's 8 fold path to Enlightenment. The idea is to crucify all desire.

I agree that monkish Christianity is very similar. Or really some holiness movements today. But I do not see this in the Founders. I see them wanting to engage in the world and politics not running from it. I believe that was Aquinas chief reason for embracing Aristotle.

I think he would agree with the Neo-Confucian thought that the key to happiness was to participate in the world. This was in reaction to Buddhism that had spread and taken root in China.

jimmiraybob said...

Yes, it was Augustine you referred to - I'm sometimes A dyslexic when it comes to Aristotle, Augustine and Aquinas.

It's not me calling Gnosticism, Christian. Or Google gnosticism christianity.

Thanks for the clarification - I'll see if I can straighten myself out.

Joe Winpisinger said...

I figured you got the two mixed up.