Natural Origin of Rights

Discussion in 'Politics' started by Paul3144, Sep 24, 2010.

  1. Paul3144

    Paul3144
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    As a spin-off from the other thread, I believe that human rights come to us in a natural way, in other words, from God. Some of them are based on scriptural principles. For example, God, in His word, has prohibited murder. Based on that and other passages of Scripture, it can be determined that we have a God-given right to life. Other rights can be determined from the way God created us. Our natural desire is to own and hold property, for example. We can tell by our own conscience that stealing is wrong. Therefore, it can be surmised that we have a right to own property.

    As another example, our God-given sense of justice tells us that it is wrong to deprive another of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. That can be carried out in a number of ways. In the United States, we require a jury trial in all criminal prosecutions unless the defendant pleads guilty or no contest or waives his right to a jury trial, except for the common-law exception of petty crimes. I bring this up because I do make a distinction between human rights and legal rights. The right to due process is a human right; the specific provision requiring a jury trial is a legal right.

    Human rights, because they come from God, can not be revoked by government, only violated by government. A person in North Korea has the same freedom of religion rights that I have, but the North Korean government violates that right.

    Legal rights, however, do come from government. As an example, the law says that children have a right to a free and appropriate public education. While I'm a supporter of that legal right, it does not rise to the level of a natural, human right.

    The authority of government also comes from God. I do not believe that an absolute monarchy is inherently immoral as long as it does not violate human rights. However, in a free society, the government must have the consent of the governed. In the United States, that is accomplished by having elections for legislatures. The primary function of government is to protect natural and legal rights and to establish justice. The government's other functions arise from the consent of the governed. As part of the government's authority, the government has the authority to levy taxes against my income, levy a sales tax when I buy stuff, require that I truthfully answer all questions on a census form, require that I have vehicle insurance and a driver's license to drive my car, build roads and post offices, etc. However, in our democratic republic, the government's authority arises from the consent of the governed for all but the most basic functions. Also, no government has the authority to violate legal or natural rights.
     
  2. NaasPreacher (C4K)

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    Thanks for starting this. I am looking forward to participating. Getting close to bedtime here. If I don't get back tomorrow it will be Monday.

    You have raised several points worthy of consideration.
     
  3. dwmoeller1

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    Let me just start off by saying that anyone interested in this topic should read Rutherford's "Lex, Rex".
     
  4. dwmoeller1

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    There are several difficulties I see with your proposition. Most stem from only considering one aspect of the question. As such, the reasoning seems very shaky. So here are some points which would need to be addressed in order to firm it up.

    Yet God also commands genocide. If prohibition against murder implies a right to life, then what does the command for genocide imply about the right to life?

    First of all, how do you know this is how God created us rather than a result of the fall? Secondly, arguing from inborn desire is highly problematic, particularly when one cannot be certain what desires should be considered ones "God created us with" and which should be considered perversions or corruptions of what God created us with. W/O some authoritative way to determine inborn desired is "God-given" and which is a corruption, one has to beg the question or revert to circular reasoning each time a right based on inborn desire is claimed or denied.

    So for instance, since man has an inborn desire to look on the naked female form does this imply some right? Or does the desire to eat imply some right? If not, why, and, if so, what are they?

    This claim to a "God-given sense of justice" is even more problematic than the "God-given desire for property". How does one determine if such a sense is God-given, and, given that sense varies so widely from culture to culture, how does one determine what it even means? That some sort of "sense of justice" exists I won't dispute, but what it means is so nebulous that deriving a meaningful "right to due-process" from it is problematic at best.

    The problem with this is that the OT system of laws didn't adhere to these rights. Non-Hebrews and women could be deprived of some of these rights and w/o due process (eg. non-Hebrews could be made slaves by reason of conquest, and kept in that condition indefinitely). Does this make Hebrew society based on OT law immoral?
     
  5. rbell

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    The first several books of Scripture do not spell out one's right to own property--that right is assumed; a given.

    It would seem simply from that that we could draw the conclusion property rights come from God.

    The right to life certainly comes from God. I don't even see the need to question that.

    The right to liberty? Being as God gave man a free choice to obey or sin--freedom was offered, with limits imposed--why should we not assume that liberty is a God-given right?

    I think the writers of our founding documents nailed it--even though folks such as our Community Organizer in Chief wish to assign "government," rather than "God," as the source of our most foundational rights.
     
  6. Paul3144

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    Honestly, it seemed shaky when I wrote it. I wrote it in about fifteen minutes off the top of my head, mostly to stimulate discussion. One thing I like about discussing things on this board is it helps clarify my own positions.

    Those commands were in a specific situation for a specific place and time. I will admit that they are difficult passages to deal with, but I must accept them as part of the Scriptures. I would say that because God gives the right to life, He also can override that in specific instances. Another difference is that God will give those people life at Christ's second coming, when he will judge all people.

    This is probably the weakest point in my OP, and I'll probably end up revising my argument on this after we discuss it more. I agree that arguing from innate desire is problematic. I am going to give two quasi-defenses, however. First off, an evil is a corruption of a good. For example, fornication is a corruption of sex, which God intended for marriage. Secondly, total depravity means that we are fallen in all aspects, not that we are as evil as we possibly can be. I think going from that to trying to develop a natural right from that is where my argument falls apart.

    There are differences between cultures, but I think that you can develop a right to due process from this. Every society has laws and social customs and a mechanism for punishment. Moral standards exist everywhere and Romans 1:19-23 at least implies a universal sense of morality.

    It would be immoral except in that specific context.
     
  7. Paul3144

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    How do you reconcile that with incidents of genocide in the Old Testament and with the fact that Hebrew law didn't always follow these rights?
     
  8. rbell

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    You recall how the idea of monogomous marriage evolved through the Scriptural eras?

    It was always God's best plan...early on, apparently, mankind didn't live up to it--even those who followed God.

    But by the time the church was growing, God prescribed monogomous marraige for its leaders. He "raised the bar."

    Same principle, IMHO.
     
  9. Paul3144

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    I agree. The issue is how far do you take that. In other words, do you look at the Bible and see a trend and then extrapolate that trend into the future? The areas where Jesus lived didn't have a free society and Jesus didn't establish a government. Please note that I largely agree with you; I'm just asking because you're a minister.
     
  10. dwmoeller1

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    That is how I took it and I am of the same mind. This just happens to be a subject I have thought extensively about for a decade or more now. So, while I don't have the answers I certainly have a decent idea of the difficulties.

    W/O agreeing or disagreeing, I will just point out that these sorts of exceptions one makes for God create serious difficulties for finding, much less deriving, any coherent system of natural rights from Scripture.

    My personal take (as of the past few years at least) is that the OT law does not represent God's ideal law for society, but instead reflects God willing to make allowance for man's hard hearts. As such, it is a poor model to derive a system of rights, much less natural rights (sorry to any theonomits out there :) ). IOW, God allowing divorce due to the hardness of men's hearts represents a general pattern in OT rather than being true only for divorce.

    I agree :)

    As to the distinction you make, I agree that in many cases it is clear. However, in the examples I gave it isn't. For instance, instead of speaking for the desire to fornication, I spoke only of the inborn desire of men to see the naked female form. Does this desire represent a corruption, or is it a perfectly fine desire which simply needs to be regulated properly? If it is a corruption, then should we repress it when dealing with our wives? If it not a corruption but merely needs to be regulated properly (ie. we like to see naked women in general but choose only to actually do so with our wives), then it would seem that a right could be derived from this desire (if deriving rights from desires is legitimate in the first place).

    The same sort of problem exists with the desire for property. Is it a corruption of our true nature, or a proper part of our nature that simply needs to be regulated? How would you know either answer from Scripture? Sure God provided for private property in the law (for free Hebrew men at least), but the NT example is that of Christian's selling all their goods and/or holding them in common. Sure, the latter doesn't negate the former (both can safely coexist), but it does present a problem for determining which better represents our uncorrupted, God-given desires.

    So what is the society has laws and customs which effectively equate to "whatever the king says, goes". Since such would be consistent with the customs, laws and practices of that society, would you consider that to fit the meaning of "due-process"? If not, why?

    Thus demonstrating why it is so difficult to derive a consistent system of natural rights from Scripture :)
     
  11. dwmoeller1

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    For the purposes of this thread, I agree (though I think we might quibble over the details if it came up in a different thread). My point though is that this evolution creates all sorts of difficulties for deriving a set of natural rights from Scripture. For one, how do you use any Scriptural laws/teachings/examples to derive a natural rights from w/o begging the question? How can you know, for instance, if law X represents something earlier or later in the evolution of God's revealed intentions?
     
  12. dwmoeller1

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    Me personally, I have taken it down the path of Barth and Yoder. Most would say thats too far. ;)
     
  13. rbell

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    come on, people...it's the weekend. Quit posting responses and asking questions that require so much thought!

    :D
     
  14. menageriekeeper

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    Marking a good discussion.

    One thought, perhaps OT law is imperfect because it was written to those who were a) so steeped in patriarchal tradition or b) not of sufficient intelligence to stand a "more perfect" law.

    Remember the historical context of the time. There were NO hard and fast laws as we think of them. Due process was a concept unheard of. The closest thing to a system of law any civilization had in that time period were those of the Egyptian pharoahs and those were more monarchial dictatorships than anything resembling a system of laws. More "survival of those with power" than "all men are created equal".
     
  15. dwmoeller1

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    Possibly. Although I don't see that we are any more intelligent or any less steeped in our own traditions today. If the OT law is imperfect, I see no reason to believe it was a particular fault of the Jews - any sort of God given law for our society today would need to be similarly imperfect for the same reasons.

    Even if one grants this to be accurate, it still doesn't give a basis for deriving natural rights, much less from Scripture. For one, you point out differences, but what is not evident is that differences represent an actual improvement.
     
  16. Paul3144

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    What do you believe is the basis for rights?
     
  17. dwmoeller1

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    I am not sure that such an animal exists in as far as those who argue for "natural rights" would understand it. I grant that it is self-evident that all men are created equal, but I don't grant the same for rights. What I think is more self-evident is
    a. God's rights
    b. man's duty to God

    So, for instance, what we see as our right to life could also (and more accurately IMO) be described instead in terms of God's right to our life and our duty to accede that right to him. The fact that we are created equal implies only that one person does not have the right to another's life, but it doesn't necessarily imply that they hold the right to their own life or that the right to life resides somehow in the fact of their existence.

    One upshot of this perspective is that life, liberty and happiness can be found and preserved only in one's faith and relationship with Christ. Any life, liberty or happiness outside of that is a pale shadow of true life, liberty and happiness.
     
    #17 dwmoeller1, Sep 25, 2010
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 25, 2010
  18. Aaron

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    One can discern natural law by first noting himself. How does one desire to be treated? No rational man desires to be slandered, betrayed, robbed or murdered. But what is the respnse when a man thus victimized? That's the idea of justice.

    You have already been referred to a work on the law. The questions posed in this thread have been dealt with, and the thinking of brilliant philosophers, theologians and statesmen is preserved, readily available and easily perused. There is no need to try to blaze a new trail.

    I'll say here that the use of the term "genocide" to describe the conquest of Canaan, is a misnomer and misleading. It is also slanderous. Its effect is to mask God's righteousness in His judgment of a people for their iniquity, and to paint Him as a racist simply preferring one race of people over another.

    What God commanded to be carried out was justice, and perfectly in harmony with His law.

    Have you never read that God would not give Abraham's descendents the land for four hundred years, because inhabitants still had rights to it? The iniquity of the Amorites was not yet full, Gen. 15:16.
     
  19. dwmoeller1

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    Ugh...the posit of "rational man". Game theory has the exact same downfall. :) How does one determine what desires typify "rational man"...w/o begging the question?

    For instance: No rational man desires to be punished for his misdeeds.

    The posit of natural rights derived from "how rational man desires to be treated" avoids a lot of the pitfalls of the deriving them from simply "what are inborn desires". However, it doesn't seem to avoid the main one of begging the question. AND, even though I would grant that a concept of "justice" could be reasonably derived from such a concept, I don't see the necessary connection to the idea of natural rights.

    The term "genocide" simply means the systematic and purposeful destruction of a people group (political, cultural or racial). God's command certainly fits that. Now, if I were loading the term with assumptions about motivation, racism, etc. then I could see your point. But as a technical term, it is a perfectly accurate description of God's command - neither a misnomer nor misleading. It is the loading of the term with extraneous concepts such as racism or preferential treatment which is misleading.
     
  20. Aaron

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    By going to the Scriptures. Christ said that treating others in the manner in which men desire to be treated sums up the law and the prophets.

    A rational man will desire mercy and not judgment, that's true. He is commanded to treat others that way. And herein is the foundation of all rational thought—everyone by nature knows what's right, but no one does it.

    It's a place to start. The connection becomes more clear after it has been thought on a while, and with the help of reading the thoughts of philosophers, theologians and statesmen—true philosophers like Plato and Aristotle, theologians like Thomas Aquinas, and statesmen like Cicero and John Adams.



    I wasn't suggesting you meant it in any other way, but as soon as someone says "genocide," it conjurs up ideas of injustice, and you did use it to counter the idea of the right to life.
     

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