“Though the argument for rights can be made in the absence of God, I find it difficult to completely separate the two.”
I have heard and read the above response on numerous occassions, I reject it and its various forms emphatically. There is no logic in this idea that natural law can be divined from a supernatural source. Moreover, the notion that there are natural laws atributable to men that are somehow “intrinsic” is also false and indefensible. Such mere assertions open the door wide for any would-be looter of either the mind, your life here on earth, and all too often your pocketbook! More importantly, without a rational basis for this claim of natural rights anything created on its back, e.g. The Declaration and The Constitution, become easy targets for subjectivist reinterpretation and utter bastardization if not total dismissal. Be they Christians, Moslems, Jews, Buddhists, Marxists, Liberals, Republicans (Conservatives), etc. Let me take this all the way through the door to its logical outcome, and then let’s take a different tack..
The premise above that natural rights come (either in part or in whole) from a supernatural source is, at the end of the day, the conclusion that the supernatural is not just a source, but in fact the primary source of all that is good and right, including natural rights and just about anything else for that matter. The implication here is that facts of reality can be discovered from supernatural revelation, and if there is ever a conflict between an assertion of fact divined from the supernatural it must take precedent over facts discovered from rational examinations in the real world – witness the divide between fundamentalist Christian views regarding creation versus the plain facts of biology that strongly suggest natural selection and evolution. Moreover, in the case of Eastern religions, that nothingness is bliss (Nirvana); that the absence of mind is the highest, most desirable, form of existence. More bluntly that one’s wishes can create reality, or that one’s knowledge can actually come from, or be imparted through and to others by way of the supernatural, and therefore a moral code can be defined and defended by men who merely assert a claim of first-hand acquaintance with the supernatural. But this whole idea implies some serious suppositions regarding the nature of reality, which is known as metaphysics (one of Aristotle’s greatest contributions to man).
Q: How do you know this supernatural source is the/a source?
A: Well, I don’t actually KNOW this.
Q: If you don’t KNOW this to be a fact, how can you purport it to be true?
A: I have faith.
Q: What is faith?
A: …..blank out, or worse.
Folks, this is the nub of the issue in many respects. I don’t fault people for sensing a need to have a philosophy by which they live. Moreover, I respect an individuals’ right to believe in what they desire to believe in – everyone needs philosophy! Whether you like the idea or not, man cannot live in a social context without some means or mechanism for making decisions about what one OUGHT to do in the face of alternatives in the course of their lives. Of course, one of the principal reasons people sense this need for some form of a philosophical system by which to live is due to the fact that subjectivism (because I feel like shooting you, or stealing from you, it’s OK) tends to reign supreme without a formalized, defensible, and understood “ought to do” list. The intellectual machinations then run amok from there…
Religion (and not just Christianity) is a very primitive form of philosophy that has meandered, redefined itself, and otherwise been rationalized (and now, in the case of Christianity, the subject of some 200 plus disparate denominations here in the U.S.) for thousands of years, but principally (insofar as Christianity is concerned) from 331 AD and on. In my view, it is better than no philosophy at all (subjectivism is a nightmare, and was arguably the operational philosophy of characters such as those responsible for the Columbine massacre, and the recent shootings in Arizona), and there are embedded in various religions some redeeming features regarding ones behavior – both individually and in a social context. But religion must be viewed for what it truly is, not what people wish it to be. And the premise upon which virtually all religion (I am hard pressed to find one that isn’t) is based is this concept of faith. What is faith?
Plainly, it is the act of mental lying that equates ones feelings with knowledge. Thomas Paine, in the Age of Reason, wrote overtly, and certainly to be understood between the lines, on this very point. He rejected all of the man-made religions. Many of the Founders were, in fact, operational Diests – particularly Paine, and arguably Jefferson. They knew that the political system they had brilliantly created and defended was not matched, or fully supported, by the philosophical systems that were at hand; they did not have another means to properly defend the concepts embedded in the Declaration of Independence other than an appeal to some unknown higher authority.. or an appeal to some nondescript innate right. Same for, and profoundly, a defense of the only economic system (capitalism) that is consistent with the premise of individual rights found in the Declaration. The fact that America was not overtly created as a Christian, or Moslem, or Jewish, nation is profoundly telling here.
To operate under the notion of “faith,” to treat it as if it were a core and primary virtue, a person has to regard their own vision and individual, rational, judgment subordinated whenever contradicted by the fundamental prescriptions of scripture or the religion’s official spokesperson; accepted without any evidence, rational proof, or in some cases even a cursory review of history. Assertions handed down, and chronicled, in fairy tale-like stories supposedly written by first-hand witnesses many decades after, in the case of Christianity, the death of their religion’s namesake. One must accept as “gospel” an amalgamation of stories found in various texts over 300 years later that combined the Greek biblical tales with the Hebrew biblical tales, calling it all the word of God. It is completely and totally a man-made document, and to allow it, or its spokesmen, to trump the plain facts of reality is a complete and total rejection of that faculty which allows humans to live – reason.
If one cannot see the embedded problem here, then one only needs to see the direct implications and results. What has been done over the course of time in its name (slaughters, inquisitions, indoctrination and brainwashing of children, and more… yes, many good deeds as well) should be reason enough to start questioning religions, but yet these primitive philosophies have survived. Principally due to the fact that until the 20th century there hasn’t been a rational philosophical system fully conceptualized that points out to man the cognitive tools necessary to match the political system the Founders crafted. Natural rights are critical to the American idea as outlined and written in both the Declaration and the Constitution, but they can no more come from supernatural source than blood can come from a turnip. Not, at least, if we want to keep those freedoms, and liberty itself, intact for us or our progeny. Every dictator, preacher, subjective lunatic, and government monopoly supporter has relied on this flawed idea, and they are in either of two camps: social mystics, or religious mystics.
So, if natural rights, properly understood in terms of reality, do not come from the netherworld then where do they-if they actually do exist-come from?
Are there fundamental natural rights of man?
Fortunately, the answer to the last question is an emphatic YES! The answer to the first will be the topic of Part II.