What I had begun to notice, in my studies, was that of these 800 or so distinct ethnic groups that all started out on the Tibetan plateau, the ones that lived in more "liberal" nations had a far higher Christianization rate than those who did not. In other words, all of the groups that had almost no interaction with Christianity(or for that matter any foreign ideas) seemed to live under totalitarian regimes or strict theocracies.
Ok, I am sure that many of you are asking what any of this has to do with American Creation? Well, this realization was the spark that re-ignited my interest in political theory that brought me to this blog. The long and short of it is that I had just witnessed first hand what I had read about in Jihad vs. McWorld years earlier about the coming clash between the modern and tribal world. More specifically, I began to focus on the role that just government could play as this script was acted out. This is the focus I brought to AC.
As I wrote, commented, and listened to many diverse points of view here there was one statement that continued to pop up over and over again that caught my attention. Here it is in the words of Ed Brayton from Dispatches:
"There isn't a single provision in the Bill of Rights that has any concept even remotely analogous in the Bible. The Bible does not say a word about political liberty or political rights."
I am sure many of you are wondering about how what I shared about Tibet and just government have to do with Ed's statement? It is quite simple, in that I feel that rights are fundamental to all just government. So if Ed is right that would mean that the Bible does not promote just government. This implication would completely contradict my view that one of the main Christian obligations to the tribal world is to aid them in establishing just governments. In other words, for a well meaning Christian that wants to bring heaven to earth this pursuit could be a waste of time.
With that said, as I began to study this topic it became abundantly clear that major streams of Christian Thought have used the Bible to promote the merits of just government based on inalienable rights; confirming that the pursuit of these ideals was not a waste of time. In fact, these rights were said to be grounded in man being made in the image of God. Simply put, according to the way some interpret the Bible man has an inherent dignity because, as Locke would say, he is the "workmanship of God". If true, this directly contradicts statements like the one made by Ed Brayton and brings into question what version of Christian theology he and others that follow his line of reasoning are beholden to?
Now some might say, "What is all this theological talk doing on a history blog?" I would retort that it is impossible to have a reasonable historical discussion when such profound ignorance about the relevant theology exists. Nonetheless, I think it proper to stray away from truth claims and focus on the validity of labeling various streams of political theology as legitimately Christian or not.
If this is a valid line of historical inquiry, and I think that a proper understanding of Church history says it is, then the questions about the founders and their view of the foundations of just government would seem to boil down to these essential two:
1. Is there a historically valid biblical case for rights grounded in imago dei?
2. Is this case for rights that was used at the founding?
These two questions are at the heart of our ongoing discussion about vast differences in certain aspects of Enlightenment and Christian thinking and knowing the difference. Especially those aspects that revolve around what Francis Fukuyama would call "the end of history" which was a popular topic of discussion in both circles during the founding era and into the next century. The former called it the millennial reign of Christ and the latter utopia but both were looking forward to the day where lion shall lie down next to lamb. Which both seem to agree is only possible in a universal state of just government. A concept that goes back to Plato and Fukuyama's thesis brings back into the forefront.
At the heart of the modern version of this discussion is if "liberal democracy" is the key to a universal state of just government? If so it seems prudent to ask what form of "liberal democracy"? That is if there is more than one form. I would submit that there is and that one is based on Enlightenment thought and its idea of man made rights and another on Christian thought and imago dei. If America is to be the example to be followed by the rest of the world then my two questions above carry great weight. That is because I don't think Fukuyama's version of the "end of history" refers to the Christian influenced version of "liberal democracy" and if the foundation of our success the last 200 years is found in God given inalienable rights this could be bad news for the Tibetan lamb.
It is also a shame because I think there is a possibility that Islam may allow for inalienable rights based on imago dei as well. But that is a discussion for another day.