What is a human right? How is a universal freedom defined? How is it enforced? These questions have been discussed and debated for thousands of years. They are among the most important questions of our existence and the discussions must continue. Even though I strongly disagree with Glenn Beck on the origin of rights, I thank him for openly challenging me on this issue and bringing the discussion additional public exposure.
Does every human being deserve the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? If so, where does this right come from? Glenn Beck answers this question with the God of Abraham. James Kirk Wall answers this question with the greatest moral reasoning of mankind.
On October 27th, I issued an article titled, Dear Glenn Beck, human rights do not come from god.
On October 30th, Glenn Beck countered with a summary that can be found at http://www.glennbeck.com/2013/10/30/glenn-responds-to-man-who-argues-against-the-belief-that-our-rights-come-from-god/
Glenn Beck’s rebuttal included:
• “If you really understand Christianity, human life is sacred and it is absolutely absurd to think otherwise.”
• Rights are from god, laws are from man
• The idea that rights come from god comes from the Founding Fathers and as far back as Moses
• Atheist dictators killed a whole lot of people
• If you don’t believe that rights come from god you must be perfectly fine if mankind takes them away
• “Slavery’s right, slavery’s wrong; smoking’s good, smoking’s bad. That’s man. That’s not God.”
• China has different rights than America because they come from the person in charge
• George Washington quotes endorsing religion
My response will include the following sections:
• No one really understands Christianity and the same number of people understand Mormonism.
• Two words in the Declaration of Independence does not make the U.S. a Christian nation.
• Why would Glenn Beck or anyone idolize Moses?
• Did the Founding Fathers want a man dictator or god dictator?
• What is a right? How do rights pertain to laws?
• Secularism vs. Christianity – what is the best way to promote global human rights?
No one really understands Christianity and the same number of people understand Mormonism
Glenn Beck makes the following statement. “If you really understand Christianity, human life is sacred and it is absolutely absurd to think otherwise.”
What I “really understand” is this. I was never interested in religion when I was very young, but as a young man I decided to give it a shot as I was looking for some deeper meaning to my life. I was surrounded by people who called themselves Christian. This path seemed to be what was expected. The question back then wasn't “are you religious,” but rather, “you’re a Christian right?”
It seemed to me that a lot of people were calling themselves Christian, but didn't have any real connection to it. Perhaps tradition and a sense of community provided by the church was enough for them. They simply adopted the label because they were supposed to. That wasn't enough for me. If I’m going to dive in, I’m going to dive in. I then did something that would forever make being a Christian impossible. I read the Bible.
Immediately it became painfully clear that this book was not the word of any god. It wasn't even decent literature. The world became a different place after this experience. How can so many people be Christian and speak so highly about it? Have they read the Bible? Don’t they realize it’s nonsense? How can they be so impressed with the smoke and not notice the man behind the curtain?
I know this may come across as deeply insulting and insensitive, but I honestly don’t know how anyone can read the Bible and not find it revolting. That's not to say there isn't anything good in it, but how can everything else that's either hateful, insane, ignorant or irrelevant be ignored?
But that being said, there is a reality that many highly intelligent people, past and present, have read the Bible and do indeed believe it is the word of god. Many of these people were excellent philosophers and scientists. There is only one explanation to this. Either they’re nuts or I am.
How are so many people loving, generous and compassionate who follow a book that is not? My conclusion is that no Christian is good because of the Bible, they are good despite it. Innately they are good people and would have been so with any other religion. Those who have read the Bible and believe it to be the word of god suffer from delusion. They have a strong conviction despite superior evidence to the contrary. They may be perfectly rational, logical and reasoned in every other aspect of their life, but when it comes to religious belief they have abandoned reason for madness.
My journey for greater meaning didn't stop at the scripture of one faith and fortunately I found what I was looking for in philosophy and religious studies. I called myself an agnostic meaning I could study anything without boundaries. No dogmatic allegiance to any particular creed. From any source I could harvest the best of knowledge and wisdom. Imagine an all you can eat buffet where the tables are endless and your appetite is unquenchable. These days I most commonly refer to myself as an atheist, as when it comes to discussions of religion, that’s what I am.
Today’s definition of atheist is very simple. Atheist – We don’t know how the universe began, but we’re really sure it wasn't that guy.
Beck states that he couldn't get his arms around atheism. But he was able to get his arms around Mormonism?
Christianity isn't about understanding. It’s about repeating at 90 what you were told to say at 9. If people were able to understand the Bible they would agree on the interpretations and meanings. Instead what we have is countless sects and divisions within the faith. And then there’s Mormonism which adds a whole other level.
Two words in the Declaration of Independence does not make the U.S. a Christian nation
The U.S. Constitution does not begin with “I the God of Abraham”, it begins with “We the People.” The U.S. Constitution makes no mention of god. The First Amendment in the Bill of Rights is in direct opposition to the First Commandment of the Bible. You shall have no god but me vs. you can have any religion you want. So how is it possible we constantly hear the rhetoric that the United States was founded on Judeo-Christian values? What is a Judeo-Christian value? Where could they possibly be getting this from?
The answer is desperation. Two words in the Declaration of Independence are what certain Christians exploit to the best of their ability to try and twist what is a secular foundation into a religious one. The two words are creator and inalienable.
Here is the passage in question from the Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
Who wrote this? Did this statement come from the Bible? No, it came from a man named Thomas Jefferson. Was he a divine prophet? No, he was someone who believed in the natural order of the universe. He mentions “Nature’s God.” He was someone who didn’t believe in miracles or supernaturalism. Is nature as a creator the same thing as the god of Abraham? It is not. What about the word unalienable? That word implies something that can’t be taken or given away. Does this word imply the god of Abraham? It does not.
It’s also important to read the rest of the paragraph. “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men.” Where does god exist in this statement? It doesn’t. “Deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Where does god exist in this statement? It doesn’t.
Some Christians claim creator is god, but any god. But then out of the other side of their mouth they claim this word means the U.S. was founded on Judeo-Christian values. This, of course, doesn’t imply the word creator means god in an agnostic sense, but is explicitly the god of the Bible.
People like Glenn Beck can produce Founding Father quotes all they want where they endorse Christianity or pray. The bottom line is that the philosophy of the U.S. Constitution is not Biblical and if the Founding Fathers wanted to make a direct tie to the god of Abraham, they could have done so easily. It is clear they wanted a country that was neither run by a dictator nor the church.
And even though many of the Founding Fathers might have had nice things to say about the Bible, they also had a high regard for the ancient Greeks, most if not all of which had no knowledge of the Torah let alone the New Testament. They were clearly influenced by Greek philosophy and the first democracies of Athens that were created by a people that predominantly worshiped Zeus.
The following quote would appear to indicate that Jefferson was not a Biblical divine prophet speaking for god.
"And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter" -- Letter from Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, April 11, 1823
Why would Glenn Beck or anyone idolize Moses?
Glenn Beck soils the legacy of the United States by implying the foundation of this country goes back to Moses. Who was Moses? Take the most murderous modern dictator you can think of. Put him back in time about 3,300 years, add a voice in his head and a burning bush story. Voila! You have Moses.
Was Moses really that bad? In the Book of Numbers Chapter 31 Moses is going to war against a large group of people known as the Midianites per god’s command. What did the Midianites do? Midianite women seduced Israeli men into participating in rituals to their god on Mt. Peor. Freedom of religion in the U.S. Constitution is a little different than freedom of religion in the Bible.
The Israeli soldiers kill all the Midianite soldiers and bring the rest of the Midianite people to Moses. Who were these people? The males who were not soldiers meaning they were too old or too young to fight. All the old women, mothers and young women. Among these people are infants, children and elderly people who had nothing to do with Midianite women seducing Israeli men. These people are brought to Moses. What happens next?
Book of Numbers Chapter 31 15-19 KJV
15 And Moses said unto them, Have ye saved all the women alive?
16 Behold, these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the LORD in the matter of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the LORD.
17 Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him (non-virgins).
18 But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him (virgins), keep alive for yourselves.
God speaks to Moses but makes no mention of the slaughtering of non-combatant citizens and violating the “thou shall not kill” and “steal” Commandments. God’s only concern is to tell Moses how to divide all the gold that was taken from the dead bodies. The treasure, cattle and virgins must be divided among the soldiers, priests and vault. God gives Moses lots of detail on how to split the loot.
And this is the source of divine morality that grants us the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness according to Glenn Beck? Moses and the God of Abraham represent where we should be getting our ethics from? This serves as the moral foundation of our country? I think not.
What if Glenn Beck was back in the time of Moses? Would he stand silent as Moses ordered the slaughtering of civilians? If Beck was a soldier of Moses, would he participate in cutting down women and children with his sword? I don’t think so. I believe Beck is a good person. This is the biggest problem I have with religion. It causes otherwise intelligent and good people to idolize things that are intellectually and morally repulsive.
Did the Founding Fathers want a man dictator or god dictator?
Glenn Beck brings up Pol Pot, Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong in this debate to somehow illustrate that murderous dictators who were atheists are bad too. This has been a common defense for murderous Christian dictators and the crusades. This has been a common defense of bloodshed committed in the name of god. In today’s world, is it the atheist countries that we’re worried about? Are we worried about Sweden getting nukes, or Iran? Are we worried about atheists flying planes into buildings?
Atheists predominantly don’t look up to murderous dictators. They idolize people like Carl Sagan and Neil DeGrasse Tyson. A murderous dictator is a horrible person no matter what religion or non-religion they may be. An atheist has no dogmatic obligation to defend someone who is evil or something that is evil.
If Glenn Beck is right about atheist dictators killing more people, should we be OK with being killed by a religious one? Didn’t the Founding Fathers provide a separation of powers to prevent a dictatorship? Didn’t the Founding Fathers provide a secular foundation to prevent a theocracy? Didn’t they work to establish a country to be free of any human or godly dictator?
Here’s an idea. Let us not worship anything whether it be man or imaginary. Let us not allow any totalitarian ruler to establish roots whether they claim or don’t claim to speak for god. Let’s stick with secularism and a separation of powers.
In my previous article I stated that anyone who claims that the United States is a Christian nation wanted to, intentionally or unintentionally, take away our rights. Stating that the United States is a Christian nation not only is blatantly not true, it opens the door to religious extremism and the establishment of a theocracy. Let’s keep that door closed.
The United States is secular meaning our country is for everyone regardless of belief. We the People, not We the Christians. All people are created equal. Not all people are created equal, but people of certain faiths are more equal than others.
What is a right? How do rights pertain to laws?
A right is something considered to be morally good, justified or acceptable. A law provides rules and resulting penalties for certain actions. Beck claims that rights come from god and laws come from man. It’s not that easy. Rights and laws are often interchangeable. Rights are supposed to be the philosophical foundation from which laws are made. But what happens when they’re not?
If a right comes from god and a law comes from man, what does that mean when a law or Judge violates an individual’s right? What happens in this scenario? Does god interfere? “Excuse me, this right comes from me. Let this man go!” There is no all-powerful being looking out for our rights. Either god doesn’t care, he doesn’t exist, or is some kind of higher intelligence that simply doesn’t interfere in human affairs.
“Slavery’s right, slavery’s wrong; smoking’s good, smoking’s bad. That’s man. That’s not God.” This statement from Beck has some serious issues. How can all people be equal with inalienable rights if we have slavery? This has often been a criticism of the Founding Fathers, especially the ones who denounced slavery but still owned slaves.
In defense of the Founding Fathers, the division over slavery between Northern and Southern colonies was already taking place. This didn’t start with Lincoln and I believe the FF, at least many of them, nobly established a moral code that was beyond what they themselves could accomplish at that time but future generations would be able to strive for.
In additional defense of the FF, to start a Civil War before getting into a fight with England would be akin to cutting off your leg before getting into the ring with Mike Tyson. It took 8 years to defeat England and this was only accomplished with the help of the French. Even after defeating England they would return later and in 1814 burn down the White House.
Glenn Beck brings up Sharia Law. Laws are made by men. But according to devout Muslims, Sharia Law comes from god. Bill of Rights, rights come from god. But “Alcohol is good, alcohol is bad” were each Amendments to the Bill of Rights. If rights comes from god then it was an indecisive god regarding booze. Amendment 16 to the Bill of Rights gave Congress the power to collect income tax. Did that come from god?
Franklin Delano Roosevelt (not one of Beck’s favorite guys) proposed a Second Bill of Rights publically in 1944. One of these being a right to work and through that work make enough money for a decent living. Is an economic safety net a right from god? What if FDR added the word creator and inalienable to his statement? Would it then come from god? Rights and laws are created and enforced by mankind. It all comes down to human opinion as to what a right is.
In my previous article I mentioned our creator was 3.6 billion years of evolution. Glenn Beck implies this statement means I would have no problem with mankind taking my rights away. I would just say, “Oh well, evolution.” What an absurd statement from Beck. My statement regarding evolution is that it took a very long time for our species to get here. It wasn’t to imply that we should go back to the dark ages.
Ideally everything evolves meaning everything progresses. Evolution in itself does not necessarily dictate constant progress, but that’s the definition I’m implying here. Our culture should evolve. Social progress should advance. Our laws should advance. Our rights should advance. Just as our species progressed in intelligence, everything else should follow.
This gets into the quote I shared from George Washington that made Beck very upset. He immediately shared quotes demonstrating that Washington was not an atheist. But I never argued that he was. This is the quote which I will extend here.
“The foundation of our Empire was not laid in the gloomy age of Ignorance and Superstition, but at an Epoch when the rights of mankind were better understood and more clearly defined, than at any former period, the researches of the human mind, after social happiness, have been carried to a great extent, the Treasures of knowledge, acquired by the labours of Philosophers, Sages and Legislatures, through a long succession of years, are laid open for our use, and their collected wisdom may be happily applied in the Establishment of our forms of Government”
George Washington, Circular to the States, June 8, 1783
In 1783 George Washington is claiming that the rights of mankind were better understood and more clearly defined than any former period. Why is this? The labor of philosophers, sages and legislatures through a long succession of many years. If the Bible is the divine source of human rights, and the book hasn’t changed since publication well over a thousand years ago, how can social progress be attributed to it? And what age of ignorance and superstition was Washington referring to? Surely not an age where men were guided by a divinely inspired holy book.
In 2013, shouldn’t we now have an even greater understanding of, and more clearly defined human rights than what was established in 1776? Since 1776 we now have Amendments making slavery illegal and granting the right to vote to minorities and women. This is progress, and it by no means came from the Bible. It came from the greatest moral reasoning of mankind which has progressed and must continue to do so.
Secularism vs. Christianity – what is the best way to promote global human rights?
Glenn Beck makes the astute observation that China doesn’t have the same rights for citizens as the United States. I found it curious that he used China. Why not Syria, North Korea or Saudi Arabia? I know someone who just returned from visiting China. She had a very good time. Of course she was also there with the protections of being a U.S. citizen.
What if the rights enjoyed by U.S. citizens were global rights?
Imagine if the people of Syria were able to protest government without being shot by their government?
Imagine if women in Islamic countries had equal rights and privileges?
Imagine if people weren’t imprisoned anywhere for speaking their mind.
Imagine if people weren’t murdered for leaving their religion or being gay.
Imagine if nothing was exempt from criticism anywhere be it man or imaginary.
How do we make this happen? By arguing that human rights are dictated by the Christian god? Or by arguing that human rights come from the greatest moral reasoning of mankind and referencing the great philosophers (religious or not) that have existed in every culture and every country. Do we force “Christian” values by god, or discuss secular values by and for all of mankind?
When it comes to China, they have one of the greatest classical philosophers who ever lived. Long after Chairman Mao is forgotten, Confucius will still be remembered and provides a great discussion point regarding human rights and liberties.
“Exemplary persons associating openly with others are not partisan; petty persons being partisan do not associate openly with others.” – Confucius
Human rights are global. They are deserved by everyone. This doesn’t mean everyone enjoys them. But the approach to spreading human rights needs to be all inclusive. Christianity is specific to one religion, secularism is inclusive to all people.
It is clear that both Beck and I have a warm regard for the Founding Fathers of the United States. It seems to me that I give these men far more credit regarding their accomplishment. Like Beck I encourage people to research who these people were. Their biographies are fascinating. But one must also examine the finished product they produced.
The human values espoused in the Constitution dwarf the human values expressed in the Bible by a degree which exceeds all computation. Human progress does not rest on a static book written by ancient and bigoted men claiming to speak for god. Progress relies on honesty, courage, intelligence, will and a continuous advancement of moral reasoning.
“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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