Religion sometimes causes very intelligent people to say very silly things. During the Republican Presidential debates, Newt Gingrich said he couldn’t trust someone with power who didn’t pray. That’s like saying we can’t trust someone with money who doesn’t gamble. If prayer worked many more people would be winning the lotto. It’s always better to focus our resources on competency and action rather than fantasies of divine intervention. Recently Paul Ryan, the newly chosen running mate of Mitt Romney, stated that our rights come from nature and god, not government. This is blatantly not true.
Survival of the fittest in nature is not an acceptable system of morality by human standards. Nature only cares about survival and offspring. Charles Darwin never argued for the morality of evolution, he argued for the reality of evolution. What we consider to be virtues such as empathy and compassion assisted in the survival of our species. We can find comfort in that thought; however, we also need to recognize the same applies for what we consider to be unvirtuous traits such as jealously and greed.
Our rights do not come from god as no one has ever had the authority to speak for god any more than anyone else. We can’t even get people who follow the same book to agree on the interpretations and meanings. We don’t even know what god is or even if god exists at all. Someone stating, or even taking the impressive effort of writing down that they speak for god doesn’t make it true. Thomas Jefferson in mentioning a creator in the Declaration of Independence was no more a divine prophet with the authority to speak the will of god than Thomas Paine who heavily criticized religion. In reality, our rights come from mankind.
If you are caught and convicted of driving under the influence on multiple occasions, you will face jail time. Your liberty and pursuits of happiness will be taken away. A U.S citizen was executed for supporting terrorist activities. His life was taken away. Ask someone who’s in jail for smoking pot where their rights come from. Arguing that their rights come from god doesn’t remove the bars. Smoking or possessing marijuana is against the law. This law was created by mankind; not god. The laws are made by people in government and the laws are enforced by people in government. The laws of our society dictate our rights.
In the United States, alcohol used to be illegal. It was legal, illegal and then legal again. This was not due to an indecisive god. Slavery used to be legal and now it is not. Human progress is dependent on the greatest moral reasoning of mankind, not god. Laws can be improved to better a society. Laws can oppress rather than protect if a societies’ leadership morally degenerates. There are good laws and bad laws. This is regardless of any claim that a god commands or doesn’t command that a particular law has divine authority. This is that way it has always been, the way it is, and the way it always will be.
There are those who claim humans cannot be moral law givers because then how do you decide which laws should be followed. Adding god to the equation only pushes the question. How do you decide which people claiming to speak for god and which laws of the religion should be followed? For example, should we stone people to death who work on the Sabbath? Should we cut off the hand of a thief? When it comes to laws of Western religious scripture, even the religious pick and choose what to follow based on their own moral reasoning. Everything comes down to what we connect with as individuals and as a society. Some people have a greater authority to enforce their opinions than others. It is political authority they wield, not divine authority.
Who was the moral law giver for the ancient Egyptians long before the Torah was written? Who was the moral law giver for the Native Americans who were enslaved by Columbus? Who was the moral law giver for the Midianites as they were being murdered by Moses under “god’s” command? Did those people have freedom of speech? Did they have freedom of religion? Did the Midianites have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? Had they lived in today's’ time in the United States; the Midianites would have been protected, but under what moral authority? God’s?
Some claim that the word “creator” in the Declaration of Independence makes the United States a Christian nation. It does not. The United States Constitution begins with “We the People”, not “I the god of Abraham”. The freedom of religion granted to all U.S. citizens in the First Amendment come from the greatest moral reasoning of mankind. This right is not in compliance but rather in opposition to the Bible that states there is no other god and that no other god will be put before it.
Some claim acknowledgment that laws come from mankind equals submissive compliance to whatever laws people make. Actually the opposite is true. Since laws come from people they can be protested and changed by people if they are perceived to be wrong. If laws are considered to be from an all-powerful and perfect god, that implies they can never be changed no matter how unjust or irrelevant they may be. Acknowledging reality is vital for solving our problems. The individual liberties enjoyed by United States citizens are a result of great thinkers. Although we still have many problems to solve, there is much to be proud of. Progress must continue and can only do so through reality based thinking.
“Government is instituted for the common good; for the protection, safety, prosperity, and happiness of the people; and not for profit, honor, or private interest of any one man, family, or class of men; therefore, the people alone have an incontestable, unalienable, and indefeasible right to institute government; and to reform, alter, or totally change the same, when their protection, safety, prosperity, and happiness require it.”
John Adams, Thoughts on Government, 1776
James Kirk Wall
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