Monday, September 4, 2017

Liberty, Equality & God

“We must face the disturbing dilemma that modern liberal democracy needs God, but God is not as liberal or as democratic as we would like Him to be”-- Robert Kraynak

"Modern liberal democracy" as defined here relates to the notion that men are by nature free and equal. That's the small l "liberal" part of the equation. The "democratic" part means that political systems are validated by the "consent of the governed." That voting and majorities matter. Voting majorities often, but not always trump. Sometimes rights that are antecedent to majority vote, trump.

When Kraynak invokes "God," the God he invokes is generally that of orthodox Christianity, more particularly that of Roman Catholicism.

Is God so necessary as he asserts? A number of notable atheists have made the case that God isn't a necessary part of the equation for the objective, non-negotiable status of "rights" that are antecedent to majority rule. Ayn Rand believed this. As does my blogfather, the fervent atheist Timothy Sandefur. Though not an expert, I understand that some more traditional natural law philosophers have held God isn't necessary to prove the objective binding reality of the natural law.

But God does serve as a firm place to rest the principles. That's my position. Two notable left of center public intellectuals and John Locke scholars, the late Paul Sigmund and the currently living Jeremy Waldron, have argued for the "liberal democracy needs God" part of Kraynak's above noted formula. That is, you don't get universal human rights without God.

I have explored this issue for quite some time. See this link for what I have argued. Again, it's my position that God functions as a necessary guarantor of human rights in a clearer way than philosophy divorced from God does, even though I am open to arguments that the latter can "work."

However, what I have long stressed is that it's not any kind of traditional orthodox notion of God that is necessary. That, to the contrary, as Kraynak above notes, the more traditional notions of the deity, really aren't all that "liberal democratic" (as that term is defined above).

It's not my position that Thomas Jefferson spoke for all of even most of the Founders. Rather, that his God "worked," indeed, worked perfectly in the equation that makes God the necessary guarantor of liberal democratic rights. And Jefferson's God was devoid of the following features:
The immaculate conception of Jesus, his deification, the creation of the world by him, his miraculous powers, his resurrection and visible ascension, his corporeal presence in the Eucharist, the Trinity; original sin, atonement, regeneration, election, orders of Hierarchy, &c.
It is also my position that the texts of the Bible and orthodox doctrine qua orthodox doctrine do not speak to unalienable rights that are doctrinally grounded in nature, discovered by reason. There is a need for some kind of additional theory that is largely outside of holy texts of revealed scripture, though certain texts of revealed scripture can be used to incorporate such outside the text teachings and doctrines.

As we know Dr. Gregg Frazer has termed the political theology of the American Founding, hence the political theology of "liberal democracy" as articulated in America's Declaration of Independence, "theistic rationalism." That term, no doubt has its inadequacies. But so too do most other terms that have attempted to claim such ground. The Declaration of Independence is hardly a "Christian" document. It doesn't mention Jesus or quote verses and chapter of Scripture. Rather, what it does is mention a God of some sort in four places (using the titles Creator, Nature's God, Divine Providence and Supreme Judge of the World).

The term "Judeo-Christian" is no better than Dr. Frazer's "theistic rationalism" in its attempt to describe this political theology. That term is unnecessarily exclusive. How does the henotheistic God of Mormonism relate to "Judeo-Christianity"? Mormonism, unlike Judaism or orthodox Christianity, because of when and where it was founded actually incorporates the divine nature of America's Declaration and Constitution into its official teachings and arguably makes for a more authentic representation of the God of the American Founding than either traditional Christianity or Judaism do.

Likewise with Islam. That religion too believes in One True God. Like Judaism and Christianity, Islam has competing theories in how it understand the natural law. Like Judaism and Christianity, Islam has all sorts of competing varieties. I reject there is something in the nature of Islam that makes it impossible to be compatible with liberal democratic norms.

I do believe however, we can argue that Christianity is more compatible with liberal democracy for a number of reasons (indeed, Christendom, not Islam or Judaism birthed liberal democracy). I don't believe Islam by its nature is any less compatible with liberal democratic norms than is Judaism. And Judaism has found a way to reconcile itself with liberal democracy.

I can anticipate the objection by proof texting various Islamic holy texts and teachings that would defy universalism that liberal democracy teaches. I answer this by noting, after Larry Arnhart, that likewise problematic verses and chapters exist in both the Old Testament and the New. The New Testament is arguably more amenable to such universalism. However, Christianity too has its sects that problematically conflict with liberal democratic norms.

Think of Calvinism with its teachings on Election and Limited Atonement. In other words, if you are not of the Elect, then to Hell with you. Calvinism contributed to liberal democratic theory by making a case for "resistance" to higher powers under law. But on matters like free exercise of religion, those same "good guy" Calvinist resisters like Samuel Rutherford held it was just for John Calvin to have Michael Servetus burned at the stake for heresy.

Yet, by the time Calvinists Roger Sherman and John Witherspoon articulated their politics, they managed to find a way to make their religious creed compatible with late 18th Century American liberal democracy.

So Islam's problem, in my opinion, is that it has not adequately revised its understanding of the creed to make itself compatible with liberal democracy like even traditional versions of Christianity and Judaism have.

What to make of all this?

If we are going to come together and do our best to agree to a term that invokes a political theology necessary to the equation of providing the firm foundation for liberal democratic rights, what should it be?

There is no "right" answer. The best lowest common denominator compromise answer I have seen is one that was offered by Dennis Prager: "Ethical Monotheism." It's not as "mushy" as "generic monotheism" (a term I think actually describes America's founding political theology); it's not as problematically and erroneously exclusive as "orthodox Christianity," "Christianity" or "Judeo-Christianity." It's not quite as loaded as "theistic rationalism." It's more accurate than either "Deism" or "Ceremonial Deism." It includes within its ambit Judaism, Islam, Mormonism, the varieties of orthodox Christianity, unorthodox Christianity, and Deism.

1 comment:

Tom Van Dyke said...

The term "Judeo-Christian" is no better than Dr. Frazer's "theistic rationalism" in its attempt to describe this political theology. That term is unnecessarily exclusive.

As a historical term, "Judeo-Christian" is a neologism, invented in the 20th century, but better than the others because it has the virtue of everyone knowing what the hell it means. It does not mean Islam, and can include the Mormons or Jew or Christian who generally goes along with the development of "rights theory" as it's known in the West.

However, when it comes to religious freedom, you may find this congenial to Kraynak's [as a Catholic] assertion that God is not democratic, and we presume "pluralistic." [At long last Vatican II developed a theo-political philosophy that religious freedom is a natural right, but Kraynak is a paleo.]

It is an undeniable fact that the proliferation of sects after the Protestant Reformation and the resulting bloodbath made pluralism a practical necessity.

Ideas were not enough
Locke, Spinoza and Voltaire were all brilliant, but religious freedom in Europe was driven by statecraft not philosophy