Wednesday, December 29

Alternatives to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit

Recently, in a series of essays, I've come to the conclusion that one cannot independently discuss right and responsibility. This comes from the assumption that any responsibility given, infers the partner (dual) rights required to carry out that responsibility. That is to say, a "Catch 22" situation is not playing fair. One cannot be required to shoulder responsibilities without the rights and freedoms required in order to carry them out. For example, you cannot make your child responsible for cutting the grass, without giving him the freedom (right) to go outside or use the mower.

Our government is founded upon the principle that all men have certain unalienable rights. Namely we have the right to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Now they settled on our form of republican government because they thought that other forms so far enjoined by states had restricted those rights in ways they found avoidable.

But, I am a Christian. As an unapologetic Christian, I don't have to take as my starting point the purely Deistic rights of life, liberty, et al, but should use scripture as my starting point. The Torah defines the Law. I haven't grokked what St. Paul says when he means the "Law" as applies to Christians, so I'll just go with the basics for now and just drop the purity stuff for now. I reserve (of course) the right to revisit this after I've come to a more complete understanding of St. Paul's concepts of law and his (and the gospels) ethics.

The Torah hands down a set of responsibilities, not rights. I have the responsibility to raise my family (in a manner respectful of the Torah and to keep us safe). I also have the responsibility to obey the 10 commandment and to love my neighbor. St. Paul hands us other dicta as we pass on to the New Testament, but I'm going to follow his lead and keep them separate from the state for the nonce. So, the program is now in place. We first follow my strategy and convert those responsibilities to rights (by assuming I have the rights required to shoulder those responsibilities) and then see if I can see clear to a government that would ensure those rights.

Now before I get started on this project (which will get underway in the next essay) I'd like to make a few more comments about what I'm trying to do here. These conjectures on Christian thinking about government were spurred on by reading various comments from people who feared that the religious right were trying to foment a theocracy in this country. Now, while I thought that claim to be largely laughable, it occurred to me I had no idea what sort of government a "theocracy" mean for a Christian. David Koyzis (web site here) has written a book (Political Visions and Illusions) which had skimmed a few months ago. I apologize if I misquote, I'm on the road, and I'm talking about this from memory. But anyhow in that book, he mentions some of the ideals of Christian government which were proposed centuries ago in the lowlands. Now, these ideals of Christian government were not democratic, based more on a top down model of authority (following the non-democratic authority of God). But it seems to me we dwell in a time when the Church has been shattered, where a dizzying array of faiths all more or less Christian are on offer. In that sort of environment, I see it difficult to propose from the start such a government.

In fact, as I'm starting this project, I have no idea where I'll end up. And to be honest, I think that's the right way to proceed. This time out, I'm starting with the premise that possibly the "right to life, et al" is not the correct starting point. After I've figured out what I find what fundamental rights are scripturally sound, then I can try to propose which form of government used in the past (or some new one) might best support those rights.

So, in the next essay in this series, we'll get right to work, establish our "God given" fundamental rights and then try figure out what sort of changes that would wreak on our Constitution and Bill of Rights.

Update: Welcome Carnival readers. I have part 2 of this post up tonight (here) if you're so inclined.