A Quick Correction, Governor Palin

Posted: October 14, 2008 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

From The Washington Post, emphasis mine:

The crowd was so large that some supporters standing far back from the stage began chanting “Louder, louder!” midway through Palin’s speech after she had paid homage to military veterans in the crowd.

Palin, who assumed they were protesters, said in response to the chants, “I hope those protesters have the courage and honor to give veterans thanks for their right to protest.”

From the Declaration of Independence, emphasis mine:

…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 to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…

The Creator endows people with their rights, not men with guns. 

You know who said that “‘Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun’– the gun being a metaphor for the military”? Mao.  Mao said that. For someone running on a “Country [America] First” platform and who presents herself as a Christian candidate, Governor Palin sure sounds like a Maoist.

One more time, for the record: tradition in the United States has always held that people have their rights, including their right to protest, by virtue of being human beings, not because people with weapons decided to give rights to them from atop a tank. Veterans may have used violence to defend the comfortable exercise of your inherent, God-given rights, but they did not give them to you.

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Comments
  1. Stuperb says:

    I had the same reaction. Not only is it not true, but to me it always seems cheap and disingenuous as well.

    good post!

  2. dcrowe says:

    Thanks!

    This kind of jingoistic rhetoric is not only silly, it’s dangerous. The underlying idea of the American experiment is billed as the idea that we live in a nation of laws, not men, and that rights of citizens are not arbitrarily handed out by tyrants. But if we are now saying that people give us our rights through war (think how preposterous the idea is that the right to “life” comes from warmaking!), we are in fact repudiating the principles that supposedly under-gird the republic.

  3. Greg says:

    Bravo!

    Jingoistic rhetoric indeed. All that is good apparently no longer ushers forth from Almighty God, but alas the Almighty State, which, Thank you Jesus, is heavily defended.

  4. dcrowe says:

    It’s strange, isn’t it? Often I find that the ascendant type of conservative critiques progressives for pushing an image of the state as provider of material benefits, while at the same time providing an image of the militarized state that is almost godlike.

  5. N. Dan Smith says:

    While Palin got it wrong from the standpoint of the Declaration of Independence, I think the Declaration is wrong from a theological standpoint. “Rights” are just a negative way of talking about laws (“congress shall make no law . . . “). Political power and these certain rights are indeed derived from the muzzle-loader of the Revolutionary War. All this talk about rights from God is simply civil religion.

  6. stuperb says:

    I disagree, N. Dan.

    While the Rev War and the resulting government helps *secure* these rights and assure they’re not violated, the rights themselves derive from the very fact that we are human beings.

    The Declaration acknowledges this with the language that follows the “unalienable rights” phrase: “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”

    Government exists simply to secure the rights we’re all granted as humans. Rights do not exist because they’re somehow granted to us by the government, or won on the battlefield.

    The unalienable rights talk is taken straight from John Locke, who claims the rights come from God. (I think it’s possible to look at this from a humanist perspective as well.)

  7. N. Dan Smith says:

    stuperb,

    If you do not mind me asking, how do you know what rights God has endowed men with? Can you make a Biblical case of it? According to Romans 13, governments derive their power from God, not from the consent of the governed. Let me give you an example:

    Freedom of speech: Theologically speaking, there is no such thing. Some speech is sinful, like blasphemy or saying “raca” against your brother.

  8. stuperb says:

    “According to Romans 13, governments derive their power from God, not from the consent of the governed.”

    Wow. Is this what you believe? I’m sure centuries of royal families saw it this way, but it seems like a strange way to describe our current thinking about the nature of governments. (Not making an argument against the Bible here. Is this topic addressed anywhere else?)

    I can’t make a Biblical case offhand, and I should apologize for that in the context of this site.

    I’m just looking at the context of the Declaration of Independence and where it says rights come from. I happen to agree that the rights exist not from the government or our army, but because we are human. The government/military enforces or secures these rights, but if I’m sitting out in the wilderness, I still have the right to life and liberty even if they’re functionally useless because no entity exists to make sure I’m not beaten over the head or enslaved.

    In that context, I think freedom of speech exists because it’s a function of liberty, and I do think there’s a distinction to be made between rights and laws.

    Theologically speaking, though, I wonder if a right can exist even when the abuse of that right is immoral. **I’m way out of my league here**, as this rambling comment proves, but I think about the concept of God granting us free will, even though we all make the wrong choices, over and over.

    Again, I’m in over my head here, theologically, so please forgive my ignorance.

  9. stuperb says:

    Sorry, I just re-read what I wrote and realized it was unclear.

    The first point I meant to make was this:

    how do you get from this argument: “According to Romans 13, governments derive their power from God, not from the consent of the governed.”

    To this one: “Political power and these certain rights are indeed derived from the muzzle-loader of the Revolutionary War.” ??

    Are you arguing that our rights are granted to us from the government because the government exists thanks to God’s consent?

    Don’t we have to assume, then, that all governments are just? If so, do we have to assume that all rights/laws are just, in all countries?

    That seems a bit problematic.

  10. dcrowe says:

    Man, I am fighting the urge to just respond to these comments all day instead of work. I’ll indulge a little because someone brought up Romans and it’s such a fascinating section of the New Testament.

    I think it’s important to keep in mind that there is no explicit “theology of government” in the Bible. We are always piecing together the way we think the writers thought about government from scattered references, but this question was beyond the scope of their immediate concern. They may or may not agree with our interpretations of their scattered references, and should be very hesitant to try to articulate an overall coherent system of the relationship between God, government, and human “rights.” My post above was, as N. Dan Smith rightly points out, confined to show the inherent betrayal of American values inside a “country first/Christianist” sales pitch during an election.

    But, I am not ready to go quite as far as N.Dan to say that there is no such thing is a “right.” Just because a principle can be stated negatively doesn’t mean it is not positively present; it just means that conceptually a person can describe a thing either way. To say that “rights come from God” can just as accurately be said as, “God wills humans to behave in certain ways toward each other, and that He wants rulers and subjects to relate to one another in certain ways.” Functionally, you’re saying the same thing. Just to show how this might (and I’m not necessarily saying that it does) make a “Biblical” case for rights: if N.Dan is correct in his interpretation of Paul in Romans 13, and God does provide states their authority, and, if we agree with Paul’s declaration in Acts that ‘we must obey God rather than man’ when deciding whether to consent to a governing power’s decrees, we might imply that governments are to be obeyed or disobeyed to the extent that their decrees align themselves with God’s commands. This effectively hems in a state’s authority on an individual, which fits with the restatement of the definition of rights that I articulated above.

    That does not get around N.Dan’s question of “which rights are articulated in the Bible,” because again, that’s not concern about which the writers spoke. But the more important point for me is that if one does think that one has rights by virtue of being human (which I know is not a given), then those rights by definition come from God, not the state or the military, and that to claim the converse –that human rights come from the state–would be idolatry.

    We should be *very* careful with the Romans text. Some things to consider:

    a) Romans can be read, especially in the opening chapter, as a parody of the imperial “good news” announcing the coming of the emperor, as pointed out by N.T. Wright. If we do that, it colors the entire text and how we should read the sections on government.

    b) Yoder wrote a whole chapter in “The Politics of Jesus” regarding Romans, and he draws a distinction between God legitimizing the actions of the state and God ordering the actions of the state – i.e. using them for his purpose w/o necessarily putting a stamp of approval on their behavior/actions.

    c) Often, highly subversive writings or oral stories (I’m thinking American slave stories/songs/etc.) contain overt affirmations of the authority of oppressive rulers while covertly subverting it. That could be the case with Romans as well. I’m not necessarily saying “case closed” on that kind of interpretation, but it’s worth thinking about. It is worth considering, though, that if you’re a super-literalist that takes every single sentence literally, you run the risk of flattening out any considerations of genre and metaphor. However, if you are a literalist in the medieval sense, you look for what the actual meaning of the author’s words, in which case this kind of reading becomes possible.

    Whew…that’s a lot of writing for me to not come out and state a flat-out position on this debate. My point is that we should proceed along these lines of thought slowly, carefully, and humbly, recognizing that a) there’s not an explicit answer in the Bible as to whether “rights” are given by God, or whether they are given by revolutionaries or governments, and b) much of the Enlightenment project had as it’s overt goal a severing of the link between the political affairs of this world and Christianity, so we should remember that when reading Enlightenment documents like the Declaration of Independence.

  11. stuperb says:

    Yep, I’m definitely in over my head. Fascinating and fantastic response, d. Excellent argument flow. Thanks for the references, too – I’ll be checking them out.

    Signed,
    a theological lightweight

  12. N. Dan Smith says:

    stuperb, here is what I should have said: “According to Romans 13, governments derive their warrant from God, not from the consent of the governed.”

    Now, my second point focused on my understanding of rights (which is that there are none). If there are any “rights,” they are subjective and merely the result of the sensibilities of the ruling power (who probably acquired power by force). If there are God-given rights, then they do not necessarily have anything to do with those rights we have in America as witnessed in the Declaration of Independence. Are “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” Biblical rights? As I have noted, some of the rights which flowed out of this document are decidedly unbiblical.

    Regarding Romans, I would agree that there is a distinction between the proper function of state and its actual outworking. The former is of God while the latter is of man. Paul obviously knew this too, because Caesars had already been a terror to those who do good in his day and age (which is why it is so tempting to read Romans 13 as ironic or subversive). However, I think Paul’s writing here is in accord with other NT passages (Jesus paid his taxes, after all) and the OT take on geopolitical events. So yes, it might be an overture to Caesar – Paul could be saying how it ought to be.

  13. […] was recently engaged in a conversation about the above text at Return Good for Evil.  Are there such things as God-given, unalienable rights?  Or are these […]

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