Sunday, December 5, 2010

Waldron on Issues with Imago Dei

Jeremy Waldron is probably the foremost authority on the need to give human rights a theological grounding. This paper explores issues with using "Imago Dei" to ground human rights.

A taste:

Second, there are questions about what imago Dei means in the light of doctrine of the fall into sin. What is the relation between imago Dei and our fallen sinful nature? What can human rights theory do with Calvin’s doctrine that the image of God in us is now but a “relic” or Martin Luther’s teaching that since the Fall we are more “like” the devil than “like” or “in the image of” God?  When we use this doctrine in the context of human rights, are we committing ourselves to saying that Luther and Calvin were wrong?


It's surprising how many otherwise informed and intelligent folks are so quick to conflate their theological desires with America's Founding Fathers. The syllogism works something like this:

1. The Bible/Christian Religion/Calvinism is true;
2. Therefore I am a reformed Protestant in that sense;
3. The American Founding was a great event, one in which I'd like to believe my personal religious tradition gave us;
4. Therefore, the political-theological basis for the American Founding must have been the same as Calvinism (or whatever my religion is).

This syllogism works with anyone's personal religion. Though the further one's personal religion from that of the actual American Founding, the more of a stretch it becomes.

For instance, beginning with "Hinduism is true" results in an especially absurd syllogism. But ultimately, the entire syllogism, no matter what one begins with is an error. As I've said before, the political theology of the American Founding offers a little for everyone (including the Hindus!) and a little for no one.

If one doesn't take one's personal religion that seriously, the syllogism seems a harmless error. The more seriously one takes one's religion and values it over politics, the more dangerous the syllogism. America's Founders could have been wrong on how they understood theology and how it ought to apply to politics. If they were wrong on Romans 13 (which there is good reason to believe, from a strict literal textual interpretation, they were) the Bible says, "they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation."

It's only your soul that is on the line. Don't let America's Founders, and your desire to claim them, confuse you into making a soul damning error.

15 comments:

Tom Van Dyke said...

It's only your soul that is on the line. Don't let America's Founders, and your desire to claim them, confuse you into making a soul damning error.

Spoken like a true "2K" Christian, Jon. Except you're not one, are you?

This is an amusing meme I'm seeing on the internet---people who reject Christianity telling Christians how to go about saving their souls.

Pinky said...

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This is an amusing meme I'm seeing on the internet---people who reject Christianity telling Christians how to go about saving their souls.
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Tom, did you never notice that Jesus did exactly the same thing in his diatribes against the Scribes and the Pharisees?
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It is amazing that so many who profess to be Christians reject the teachings of Jesus while--at the same time--they claim they uphold his teachings. (Wolves in sheep's clothing?) In order to accomplish this almost unimaginable stretch of the imagination, they go about trying to prove Jesus is the God of the Old Testament in disguise as a human being. For the purpose of tricking someone? Gimmee a break!~!
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But, I do have to admit, it sure works in getting money into the pockets of the professionals who put out the hype.
.
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People who don't swallow the tall tales; but, who are well versed in what Jesus taught see through the flim flam of organized religion. And, the religious among us work overtime claiming the unchurched have no rights to speak their mind.
.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Tom, rather it's I begin with a certain premise and let the conclusion fall where it may. If I am going wrong somewhere with facts and logic then ANYONE no matter who they are would spot it.

And no, saying "you don't believe that, as a matter of personal theology," isn't a factual or logical refutation. Rather it's poisoning the well. Unless you assume that only the "regenerate" have a claim on the Truth.

Pinky said...

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Right!
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The "regenerate" and how conceited is that?
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Mark in Spokane said...

The Founders tended to believe in "true religion" -- although they often disagreed with each other about what that true religion was. I guess one could argue that if X religion really is true, the Founders would have supported it if they had know it was the true religion because they wanted to support the true religion -- they just didn't know which religion really was true.

I wouldn't find that argument particularly convincing, but I think it could be made.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Mark, my observation is that the phrase "true religion," as used in 1600s Britain and 1700s America, refers to Protestantism. As opposed to Roman Catholicism, of course.

Just something that jumped out at me in reading the source texts. It's not about Christianity per se, nor is it about the Presbyterians holding more theological truth than the Anglicans or baptists.

Just for yr mental files. "True religion" assumes Christianity is true, and that papism is false and corrupt.

A usage note, not a theological argument. I could be wrong, it's just my observation.

____________

Jon, it's pointless to debate the Christian scriptures with a) someone who has only a passing familiarity with them and

b) thinks they're a fabrication by men anyway.

I do not want to go "pearls before swine" here, because you're my friend and I don't consider you to be swine, but that's exactly what this passage


"Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.
---Mt 7:6, NIV

means.

I'm willing to have the 'social justice" or "2K" theological discussion under different circumstances, but not here on a history blog, nor with someone who is using the Bible as a political weapon, not a tool for understanding God's will.

Unless you assume that only the "regenerate" have a claim on the Truth.

I don't even know what "regenerate" means. It's a Protestant thing, I wouldn't understand.

But no, I do not think that anyone who rejects the Holy Spirit---if there is one---can properly interpret the word of God---if it is indeed the word of God. That's absurd, and contra all 2000 years of Christian tradition. Even Protestants are down with that much.

And so, I strenuously object to those who reject Christianity and the Bible presuming to tell anyone what the Bible means, or how to properly follow Jesus. This is an improper crossing of the line, and a violation of American pluralism.

I would not presume to tell a Muslim how to read the Quran. First, I don't know enough about it, or the surrounding 1500 years of Islamic theology.

As a matter of fact, I'm on record as strongly objecting when those hostile to Islam start pulling out the less attractive Quran verses as some proof that Islam sucks. This is an unacceptable hermeneutic. I would not explain my understanding or question Mormonism to a Mormon, except in the most gentle and friendly---and mutually acceptable!---conversation.

Tom, rather it's I begin with a certain premise and let the conclusion fall where it may.

It appears to me the other way around, that you start with a conclusion, and construct a premise, gathering along the way whatever Gregg Frazers and Darryl G. Harts who may be of use.

I've been reading Darryl G. Hart

http://oldlife.org/

for awhile now, Jon, probably put on him by your taking up his "2K" cudgel. [Luther's "Two Kingdoms" thing, for those who don't know what we're talking about, and Jon and I barely do, as outsiders.]

However, Jon, Darryl's at theological war with the neo-Calvinists and a major Calvinist dude, Abraham Kuyper [1837-1920].

I've expressed a few reservations about Dr. Hart's argument per Luther, but I would never take him on as fully as his fellow Calvinists do.

They have a stake, and they have standing. I have none. I wouldn't presume to lecture a Calvinist on Calvinism, and how could I possibly pick a winner between Hart/Machen and Kuyper? Absurd.

For me to get neck-deep into the comments section of Dr. Hart's blog would be an intrusion in an internal religious affair.

Jason_Pappas said...

Today, as I was reading some of the pamphlets of the 1760s and 1770s, I was struck by the absence of any reference to Christian doctrine. Sure "God" would be inserted every now and then but nothing that is distinctly Christian is introduced. While I have no doubt most of the founding generation believed that what is right and just must be blessed by God (and Jesus), there doesn’t seem to be any reliance on Christian principles in furthering the argument for our rights and independence. Where in the run-up to the Declaration is there explicit reliance on uniquely Christian doctrine? Perhaps I’m missing it.

Jason_Pappas said...

But Tom, surely you wouldn’t want a non-Christian to be ignorant of Christianity? There must be some critical assessment of this important historical force in history by those who aren’t converts.

I’m not an Existentialist but I believe I can understand and critically approach the subject. You’re not a Communist but I’m sure you’ve an opinion on the matter. Surely religion is also something we must all understand--perhaps less so if it is only a private personal matter--but more so if it is in the public debate.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Oh, Jason, I would argue that Western Civilization was not only built on Christian thought, but was inseparable from it, c. 300 AD-1776.

The "Enlightenment," as accepted by the Founders, was still Scottish, and apart from Hume, quite in the same vein as Aquinas, etc. Aquinas was sort of a giant of Western Civilization. They tend to discount him because he was catholic and Christian and all.

And as you know, I give great stature to the Calvinists, based on my studies springing from our blog. But the Calvinists who followed after Calvin still dipped into Aquinas. Not as a Roman Catholic, but as a Christian interpreter---"Christianizer"---of Aristotle and the Roman Stoics like Cicero.

And Jason, I think many of the folks who thump Christianity against Christians who don't vote the "right way" are completely ignorant of the nuances of Christian thought. They use the Beatitudes as a weapon for their politics, not as a bridge to understanding.

It offends me, frankly. I'm good with Christians voting their faith, wherever their faith takes them, to this party or the other one.

I invite the nonChristians to piss off, and stop advising Christians where their faith and their scriptures should lead them. They know embarrassingly little of the scriptures and the Christian faith, and have no right at all to tell another man what should be in his heart, and what God has put there.

Today, as I was reading some of the pamphlets of the 1760s and 1770s, I was struck by the absence of any reference to Christian doctrine.

I agree, sort of. But examine closely the famous Jonathan Mayhew speech, as well as Elisha Williams' "Rights of Protestants."

If not Thomas Paine's "Common Sense"---and which Washington had distributed to his troops---which is Biblical as hell!

http://americancreation.blogspot.com/2010/04/thomas-paines-common-sense-as-heard-by.html

Christ, Jason, I don't hog the mainpage much around here, but when I do, I bring the goods with me.

Jason_Pappas said...

As always, Tom, I agree with your emphasis on the influence of Aquinas. I suspect I’d agree with your thoughts on the limits of Enlightenment thought especially prior to 1776, a period of which I tend to take a particular interest. Unfortunately I find too few Christians who understand the influence of classical thought (direct or via Aquinas) on our founding … and frankly too few non-Christians with such an understanding as well.

In any case, I’ll check out your references on what I call explicit Christian influence.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Perhaps I could have let up on the last line which is a little tongue and cheek admittedly (in part because I don't "get" damnation theology). But the rest of the post stands. I've backed off from stating Gregg's position is the "right" one. But Romans 13 says what it says. And for Christians who believe the Bible is inerrant in a straight forward way, the caution is warranted. Especially if one believes unconfessed, unrepented sin damns the soul.

Jonathan Rowe said...

And let me note, you don't need to be a Christian believer to see a problem with, as Mark Noll put it, crass identification of Christianity with Americanism. They did it during the American Founding and it's perfectly acceptable for scholarly minds to test the hermeneutical, theological, historical validity of such crass identifications.

Those on the opposite side of Gregg and the Romans 13 issue actually claim their interpretation as the "obvious" one. Well, sorry, no it isn't. The DOI is not "obviously" a biblical document.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Why "crass," Jon?

And are you acknowledging that they did indeed identify Christianity with "Americanism" during the Founding?

And if Mark Noll is saying what you said he did, who is Mark Noll to say what is "crass?" He's a historian, not a theologian, not a preacher. His opinion is no better than anybody else's on this topic.

But Romans 13 says what it says. And for Christians who believe the Bible is inerrant in a straight forward way, the caution is warranted. Especially if one believes unconfessed, unrepented sin damns the soul.

So all the Founders are in hell, eh?

Look, I believe American pluralism guarantees the right to believe stupid shit, but that doesn't require the rest of us to take it seriously.

King of Ireland said...

Glad to see we are still discussing the idea of "imago dei". But Jon I have wonder why you keep bringing forth the Calvinist view of God and man's nature as the "Christian" view?
I will leave the Romans 13 thing alone but must reiterate that Locke's interpretation makes more contextual sense than Frazer's.

bpabbott said...

King/Joe/others,

I favor Jon's approach to qualifying Christianity by examining the orthodox position. Not because I think the orthodox position is more accurate than Locke's, or others, but because I think some of those who support orthodox position take too much credit for speaking for God (I do *not* count Frazer among them) ... and there are too many examples where such individuals promote personal prejudice that is destructive.

Ignoring such an active motivation, another reason I favor it, is because I see it as the de-facto *standard* of Christian thought.

p.s. I have no knowledge of why Jon favors qualifying Christianity by its orthodox opinion.