This is a fundamental essay on Christian Politics.
American Rhetoric says that it is self-evident that God grants men rights. Libertarian philosophers try to derive these rights from a Right to Property or the Non Aggression Principle.
But the Christian philosopher has at his disposal a handy book of propositions as sure or more than any first principle. If he holds the commandments up to a mirror, he can see in their reflection God-granted rights. In the commandment against murder, a right to life. In the commandment against theft, a right to property.
These, then, are seven rights, explicitly granted and avenged by God, which ought to be protected by the government.
- Orthodoxy: The right of man to worship the One True God in the manner of that God’s choosing, and to hear from that God’s shepherds truth and not lies, must not be infringed.
- Rest: Man must be permitted rest at least one day in seven.
- Honor: Man has a right to the honor due his station.
- Life: Man has a right not to be murdered.
- Fidelity: Man has a right to marital fidelity.
- Property: Man has a right to his belongings.
- Justice: Man has a right to remain unpunished when innocent.
Why Seven and not Ten? I have combined commands with similar and overlapping themes, and left off the commands about Envy. This is a convenience for the sake of political theory and in no way means I disregard or demean those commands that double up on rights or are left off altogether. The commandments are a matter of Revelation and Theology, a first order truth worthy of regard and meditation in any situation. The rights are a matter of philosophy, a second-order truth, useful for contemplating political and legal structures.
Why did you fuse most of the First Table? My church likes to summarize the commandments as the First Table of the Law (those commandments that are summarized by “Love the Lord Your God with all your heart etc”) and the Second Table of the Law (“Love your neighbor”). Because the second table creates obligations between men, it translates almost command for command into human rights. Because the First table creates obligations in us not toward men, but toward God, the only rights I have extrapolated from it amount to “don’t stop a man from doing this.”
Where is the commandment to honor your parents? It is taught in my church that the command to honor parents is the font from which respect for all authorities and civil structures springs. Whether this is true or not, nevertheless it is true that the Scriptures elsewhere say to obey even evil authorities, so long as they do not command you to transgress the law of God, so it is convenient to group these elements together. It is also taught in my church that the commandment against false witness extends to matters of gossip. Whether this is true or not, it is certainly true that gossip is forbidden within the same harsh verses that forbid slave trading and homosexuality. Therefore I have summarized the commandment to honor the parents and the condemnation of gossip found in the commandment against false witness as a right to Honor.
Why have you left off the commands regarding Envy? Because I do not see their enforcement as a matter of which human government is capable. This is the second biggest weakness in this pillar of the theory.
Wait, no freedom of religion? No freedom of speech? No right to bear arms? These are not divine rights, but at best human treaties and contracts meant to secure divine rights. Freedom of religion is a peace treaty between different Christian sects that we have generously (and foolishly) extended to religions overtly hostile to our faith. At best, it is a flawed way to secure the right to Orthodoxy. So, also, with Freedom of Speech. The Right to Bear Arms is a hallmark of Anglo-Saxon culture. It is not bad and, I would argue, is the best possible way of doing things, but it is neither commanded nor its violations avenged by God except when they are also violations against the other rights.
I’m not a Christian. Why should I care about this? If you enjoy the freedoms and advantages of Christendom, you should by all means promote Christendom as a purely pragmatic matter. That said, this essay is not for you. In early 21st century America (and there will, I fear, be no late 21st century America) there are two dominant political parties. One claims to represent Christian love, the other Christian truth, but neither of them are fundamentally Christian in their histories or philosophies. The best I can say is that one of the parties seems less eager to burn us all at the stake.
American Conservatives have in my lifetime constantly courted the Christian vote (whereas American Liberals have merely tried to use our morals as a stick to beat us into submission), but it is not a fundamentally Christian political philosophy. It is, rather, historically an attitude that wherever we are going we should probably go there more slowly.
I submit that a sound Christian political philosophy can be developed rather easily. I submit that a sound Christian political philosophy should be developed. That Christians, instead of embracing the attacks of their enemies to the left and to the right, ought to embrace their own identity as citizens of the Divine Kingdom and a beacon of light in this dark world. That we should jettison the role of sea-anchor the Conservatives have foisted upon us and take up instead our native role as lighthouses, fixed upon the Rock.
And I offer as a step on that road this list of divine rights.