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Monday, June 10, 2013

Natural and Unalienable Rights?

In my previous post, I mentioned The Young American, or, Book of Government and Law by Samuel Griswald Goodrich (1844). I'm still not finished with the book, but what I have read has kindled a few thoughts on "natural rights."

Goodrich, like Jefferson and Locke, believed in the law of nature, or the ability of man to derive moral values through  reason alone. Goodrich teaches that "savage" societies follow natural law. Natural rights descend from this natural law.

Romans 2:14-16 appears to support the idea of natural law:
For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them 16 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. [ESV]
However,  I believe it would be a mistake to assume that men arrive at a "law written in their hearts" through nothing but human reason. Consider Romans 1:18-21, which say:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
Clearly, verse 19 teaches that God has revealed something about Himself to every man. This revelation is not sufficient for salvation, but it is enough to make every man "without excuse" before God. This is the real law of nature - that God has revealed His divinity, power, and character to all societies, and they have suppressed this truth in unrighteousness.

Natural law gives rise to the concept of "natural rights." Jefferson called these "unalienable" rights in the Declaration of Independence. It is significant that the Bible doesn't speak in terms of "rights," i.e. that which is due to someone by just claim. (Some modern translations use the word "rights," but the underlying Hebrew or Greek words do not connote the meaning we presently ascribe to the word.) The Bible does speak of responsibility, duty, and accountability. So for example, while the Bible does protect life, it does not speak of the "right to life." Instead, it gives all men the responsibility to protect life - "Thou shalt not kill." The Bible does not speak of the right to own property, but it protects ownership by giving all men the responsibility to respect the property of others - "Thou shalt not steal."

The distinction between the "rights" of Enlightenment philosophy and the responsibilities of the Bible is critical. With the former, man is preeminent and God is all but absent. Essentially, the world owes me MY rights. With the latter, God is preeminent, and every man is accountable to God. I must protect the life of my neighbor and respect his property because God says so.

Although Jefferson gives a nod to God as the Creator, the Declaration of Independence does not acknowledge any responsibility or accountability to God. It merely speaks of "unalienable rights," putting man and his happiness at the center of all things. We should not be surprised then that there has been a proliferation of rights. Every special interest group now demands its "rights," and often these so-called rights are in direct conflict with God's Word.

The point of this post is that even when we use "Christian" books for homeschooling, we should read them through the lens of the Scriptures.

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