God Matters: On Liberty, License and Liberalism

It is clear to me that just about any normative proposition concerning how we should organize ourselves and our resources is dependent upon or influenced by further propositions regarding knowledge about the existence of God and His relation to us. Take western Christianity, for example. If it is true, then, as a matter of fact, each human being is created, free and of enormous intrinsic worth whose objective good is with God; and moreover, each person is subject to the Ten Commandments, and we are commanded to care for the most vulnerable and love our neighbor; it’d also be true that direct abortion is evil, men and women are created for each other and that the man holds the servant leadership role as the head of the family, etc. Given this, if we know that Christianity is true, and if we are thinking rationally, then we will strive to conform our wills, society and political institutions to what God wants, for therein rests the ultimate good to which each of us are ordered. That seems obvious to me.

What is equally obvious to me is that if we don’t know that God exists, or that such a belief is not active in our political consciousness, then we will not try to conform our wills, society and political institutions to what God wants. What we think about ourselves, our society and our political institutions would eventually reflect a practical atheism—a world in which what we think and how we behave shows no recognition of God’s existence. That doesn’t suggest that we wouldn’t treat other things as if they were gods (e.g., nations, dictators, money, sex, and human freedom), but just that there’d be no recognition of God’s existence.

My primary point in the preceding paragraphs is just to say that God matters, particularly belief about God’s existence. So let’s apply this. What about the modern liberalism of Canada and the United States? Does God matter in these countries?

Canada did not have a state church (unlike England), but the Canadian people and their political institutions were once very Christian. For example, a great majority of people went to church regularly. Canada once gave exclusively Christian prayers in public schools and within its legislatures. It was once illegal to open stores on Sunday, and regular, public schoolteachers were mandated by law to inculcate by precept and example the principles Christian morality (technically they still are). But that is just not the case now—Canada has secularized greatly and much of the Christian ethos and privilege has been thrown out, particularly in Quebec. In fact, fundamentally anti-Christian developments have occurred within Canada since the 1960s, particularly those concerning divorce, abortion, secularization, same-sex marriage, assisted-suicide, and now transgenderism.

I don’t know much about the States and its institutions, but its liberalism has come a long way from Locke, the gent who affirmed that the liberty of man must be consistent with the moral law, a law of which is none other than God’s law. For Locke, even our rights themselves are derivative or flow from this general moral order, one of God. Hence, this is a very God-centric political philosophy. But now things are different. Liberty is now seen as the ability to choose and be let alone, or as the freedom of access; and rights are looked at as prior and potentially opposed to the moral order, not derivative of it. Is God in any of this? I don’t see it. Instead, what I see here are the inner workings of absolute autonomy and self-legislation, with God largely isolated into the “realm” of private belief for whomever cares to believe. Consequently, we see the unfolding of the nation’s theistic fibre, just as we found in Canada.

So in returning to my earlier point, we can ask: What about the liberalism in Canada and the States? Does God matter in these countries? It doesn’t appear so. The liberalism that now permeates their political institutions is a practical atheism, for there is no political consciousness that we are creations, subjects to the will of God and His moral order. Worse still, this liberalism exalts the individual’s autonomy and liberty as sovereign, an exaltation once exclusively reserved for God.

Faced with that measure of man, it can’t be the business of the state to pursue the common good and legislate morality for individuals. Instead, the state is to secure and safeguard the liberty of individuals despite any general or collective moral order.  Hence, that’s why we are now seeing some institutional strictures of the moral order eradicated: Laws restricting divorce, abortion, same-sex “marriage”, prostitution, and assisted suicide are being tossed out as undue infringements. And that these eradications are seen as successes for freedom or liberty should not be surprising, because that conforms to how freedom and liberty have been redefined after Locke.  Indeed, once we see and value freedom and liberty in the terms mentioned the preceding paragraphs, those strictures do seem like undue infringements. But whether they are, in fact, undue infringements will depend upon how we view liberty and what we believe about God.

It’s funny, you know. When people learn that I support those aforementiomed institutional strictures, I am called an opponent of liberty. But that is so wrong. That gets traditional conservatives wrong. In fact, it totally misunderstands everything. We cherish liberty, but oppose license. And license just is liberty understood apart from God and the moral order. That’s it. There’s nothing else to it. Of course, you might disagree, or maybe not. But at least now you can ask with a clearer understanding, what is liberty and should God matter?

24 Comments

  1. It’s not that freedom and liberty have been redefined after Locke. It’s the fact that God is dead, and it’s we who have killed him in the fullest Nietzschean sense. To not be misunderstood, Nietzsche’s pronouncement agrees with you above. We no longer act as if God existed. In light of this change in how we relate to the universe there are two implications A) nihilism (which Nietzsche admittedly recognized) and B) this makes us radically responsible for our own lives in light of the death of God, which is what your practical atheism points out.

    I would put to you, however, that even if God does exist as you believe Him to be (and I at one time accepted) it would still be necessary to govern secularly. When we think for a minute about the Hindus, the Taoists, the Buddhists, the Jews, and the Muslims in the United States (which doesn’t even encompass exhaustively the amount of different religious opinions), I think it’s part of our civic responsibility to ensure the choice of how each man and woman chooses to relate to the divine. You can beat your fists against the wall that they are not all Catholic (and/or Christian), but to insist that they do not see the world as you do will only invite more disappointment.

    It’s a good thing that your Canadian teachers are not allowed to teach my Buddhist kids Christianity. I find the religion absurd. As a parent, it’s my choice to see that they have no contact with Christianity much like they will never play MA video games at the age of 12. I’m sure the likeliness of your response might be “Same” concerning my beliefs. In this way, secularism helps secure the prospects of our democratic ideals largely because of the diversity of belief and the fact that no religion can really be proven philosophically true–this last part I know I did not argue for. I’m putting this out there as one of my commitments.

    • Hello, there. You wrote:

      “I would put to you, however, that even if God does exist as you believe Him to be (and I at one time accepted) it would still be necessary to govern secularly. When we think for a minute about the Hindus, the Taoists, the Buddhists, the Jews, and the Muslims in the United States (which doesn’t even encompass exhaustively the amount of different religious opinions), I think it’s part of our civic responsibility to ensure the choice of how each man and woman chooses to relate to the divine.”

      By why would non-secular government stop someone from having the choice of how he relates to “the divine”?

      You write:

      “In this way, secularism helps secure the prospects of our democratic ideals largely because of the diversity of belief and the fact that no religion can really be proven philosophically true–this last part I know I did not argue for. I’m putting this out there as one of my commitments.”

      Do you expect Catholics and the sort to get on on board with secularism because “no religion” can be “proven philosophically true” (whatever that means)? Our agreement would have us undermine the epistemic status of our worldview.

      You wrote:

      “It’s a good thing that your Canadian teachers are not allowed to teach my Buddhist kids Christianity. I find the religion absurd.”

      That’s unfortunate. But how would the current secular, public education be so different? It’s secular constructivism, offering a robust understanding of the world divorced from theism, which quite obviously privileges secular and atheistic points of view over others.

      • By why would non-secular government stop someone from having the choice of how he relates to “the divine”?

        In the very act of endorsing Catholicism, the state would prefer values that are an affront to other religious traditions. Ensuring the state and the culture it promotes never favors any religious tradition means I am free from the violence of Christianity on my children.

        And yes, no religion can prove itself with reasons independent of itself. Even the proofs of God, such as the five ways, are an expression of the historical understanding of God at a certain time and place. They only prove divine necessity, but again, the five ways do not prove the Christian God over Allah–let alone Brahmin.

        Second, the five ways no longer command the assent of others because, quite frankly, the world is not teleologically ordered in that way anymore. Each religion claims that their text is the secret revelation of God, and yet none of them can show independently with the use of reason that their version of divine revelation is more true than next. In this way, belief in God should be left like Kant left it “as postulates of pure practical reason.” This doesn’t mean that you cannot have faith in your particular faith tradition. However, it does mean that your faith cannot serve as an absolute source of value as you indicate here. So when you ask me:

        “Do you expect Catholics and the sort to get on on board with secularism because “no religion” can be “proven philosophically true” (whatever that means)? Our agreement would have us undermine the epistemic status of our worldview.”

        If you agree to that, then you essentially are agreeing to live practically alongside others. This is the rigidity of one’s religion preventing you from living democratically in a pluralistic society. Instead, you’ve chosen an absolutist uncompromising dogmatism and then shrink back and scream any time someone doesn’t like this dogmatism.

        You claim, it’s “unfortunate” that I don’t want public school teachers teaching my kids Christianity anymore than you would want your kids learning about Buddhism? And then you ask:”how would the current secular, public education be so different?” The fact that you couldn’t &^$*ing teach my kids what I don’t want them to learn since it’s not the role of the state (and public schools are part of the state) to elevate any religious tradition over another. I’ll teach my kids about how to find salvation under their own power in this lifetime, or in their next lifetime. I don’t want them anywhere near Christian bullshit. I will not teach them Trinitarian bullshit or teach them bullshit theology of the body that conceals bigotry for homosexuality. Now, I know you disagree with me (otherwise you wouldn’t picked the name “Catholic Hulk”) and this leads to the question: Should it be any different for you? Should your kids perform Zazen in the morning in homeroom? No, because again, it’s not the public schools right to indoctrinate your kids into Zen Buddhism let alone your Catholicism be privileged to indoctrinate my kids.

        If you want that elevation and privilege of Christianity, send them to a parish school. But notice above, you’re not trying to find a philosophical argument to convince us. You’re just spelling out the coherency of your own worldview and then lamenting that nobody shares it with you as much as you would like. Finding reasons to convince others — even those that don’t agree with you — is the mark of philosophical effort. All you’ve done here is do theology.

      • Jim,

        “If you agree to that, then you essentially are agreeing to live practically alongside others.”

        What counts as practical? I guarantee you will run in to disagreements very similar to religious disagreements.

        “I will not teach them Trinitarian bullshit or teach them bullshit theology of the body that conceals bigotry for homosexuality.”

        Next you are going to say that teachings about the difference between children and adults just conceal bigotry because of age.

      • Jim,

        “In the very act of endorsing Catholicism, the state would prefer values that are an affront to other religious traditions. Ensuring the state and the culture it promotes never favors any religious tradition means I am free from the violence of Christianity on my children.”

        “The fact that you couldn’t &^$*ing teach my kids what I don’t want them to learn since it’s not the role of the state (and public schools are part of the state) to elevate any religious tradition over another. I’ll teach my kids about how to find salvation under their own power in this lifetime, or in their next lifetime. I don’t want them anywhere near Christian bullshit. I will not teach them Trinitarian bullshit or teach them bullshit theology of the body that conceals bigotry for homosexuality…it’s not the public schools right to indoctrinate your kids into Zen Buddhism let alone your Catholicism be privileged to indoctrinate my kids.”

        Didn’t you chide me for me polemicizing against social justice warriors — a term which you object to on moral grounds purporting the integrity of civil discourse — and not being charitable enough? That, I should quote chapter and verse from sophisticated thinkers with whom I disagree, with you using citing natural lawyer Thomas Aquinas as an example? As I suspected, we’re getting more and more evidence that it apparently was all a self-serving, false pretense. We now have your explicit own words showing how you really feel about the philosophies you disagree with, and by implication, how you feel about those who subscribe to those philosophies that “conceal[s] bigotry for homosexuality.” A paragon of intellectual charity, indeed.

        And, more to the point, where exactly in public elementary and high schools is trinitarianism or the theology of the body being taught like it was math, science or English? It’s not even being taught in the manner of a philosophy professor explaining what solipsism is to his students, let alone indoctrinated as a matter of fact. This push to remove all reference to God and religion from our secular life is not very classically liberal. In fact, it bespeaks a totalitarianism. In the words of Tyrion Lannister, “When you tear out a man’s tongue, you are not proving him a liar, you’re only telling the world that you fear what he might say.” See, I don’t fear the proliferation of views I disagree with or are critical of my beliefs. Instead, I fear those who fear to countenance and move to squash my defense of them in public life to which I’m both morally and legally entitled. These folks won’t even stomach a reference to God or Christian religion in any secular or public institution that MIGHT NOT BE CONSTRUED AS mere “bullshit,” superstition, chastisement, in the realm of not real knowledge or some other unflattering/negative connotation. Never mind this is not what the Founders had intended when the first members of congress prayed before sessions in the legislature. John Rawls and Oliver Wendell Holmes have spoken otherwise about what separation of church and state really means is the maintenance a strict cultural and normative egalitarianism about “comprehensive doctrines,” by limiting what can be said, mentioned or expressed in any secular institution, thereby not trusting in individuals to decide for themselves what they want to believe as true. Yep, sounds really classically liberal and neutral to me.

        Setting aside the truth claims of Christianity, there is little doubt that it is a significant part of the mythos of the West. Christian morality, biblical narrative and Mosaic law are intrinsically intertwined with our cultural formation and maturation. It already is privileged de facto by being who we are as a civilization and a people. To treat it as an anathema and cull any meaningful reference to it in public education is to deliberately deprive our children of their cultural heritage, regardless of race, religion, creed or belief. I put to you that you and other kindred spirits that you are looking at your children being exposed to — not indoctrinated in — Christianity in the wrong light; this being a free country, there’s plenty of competing worldviews and time to apostatize and or adopt some other guiding principles by which to live. Rather, you should take pride in their learning about the tradition, very much their birthright, that fostered the beliefs, values and tolerance that made it possible for them to be Buddhists freely and openly and not libel it as mere “bullshit.”

    • Also, you wrote:

      “It’s not that freedom and liberty have been redefined after Locke. It’s the fact that God is dead, and it’s we who have killed him in the fullest Nietzschean sense.”

      Even if I were to accept the death of God, I am here looking at the preconditions for His death. Quite obviously, God could not have died if we understood liberty as we used to understand it, as something that cannot be apart from god and the moral order. The practical atheism we now face could not have sustain itself with that definition of liberty, right?

  2. Why couldn’t God have granted humans the right to do wrong (within the constraints of others’ rights to be free from invasion of their person and property, of course)? The notorious Rick Santorum says that liberty doesn’t mean the license to engage in (more or less) biblically-prohibited behaviors, presumably things such as sodomy or contraception (and the individual states can rightly prohibit such behaviors). But what if God didn’t mean his commands to take on a pervasively and oppressively political meaning?

    Now, whether a culture is predominantly religious or predominantly secular, there does seem to be (at least implicit) near-universal agreement on the standard of the good and that this standard is more or less expressed in terms of human flourishing. Where does the institution known as the state fit into this picture? We can certainly make ethical or moral judgments about the state insofar as it proves quite detrimental to this good; whatever the exact “telos” of the state (something like maintaining law and order, I believe), this “telos” would exclude activities by the state which would tend to be detrimental to human flourishing.

    That is about the only obvious and clear-cut relation between “state” and “human flourishing” that I can think of. That leaves open a lot of room for dialectic about what all that entails. (Namely: what are the sorts of things that a state can do that are detrimental to human flourishing?) To say that such a dialectic leads (of all places) to a state that, via its legal compulsions and coercions, enforces biblical or Christian standards of behavior is to presume quite a bit. Surely there’s more to the dialectic in response to the thesis that liberty is in effect only the liberty to do only what is (purportedly) commanded by God? What you write above sounds only like the opening salvo of a serious dialectic and not anything like a closing argument.

    Imagine the best serious argument for why the state should leave people to their own devices (while protecting them from other people who would not leave them to their own devices), and then answer that argument. That’s when it starts to get interesting.

    • You’re getting ahead of me, asking questions that I didn’t yet try to answer. The point now is to consider how we understand licence and liberty and whether God matters.

  3. Faced with that measure of man, it can’t be the business of the state to pursue the common good and legislate morality for individuals.

    Under liberalism, is not the the advancement of individual autonomy the common good and any interference with ones autonomy a moral evil? Is it possible for the government to be neutral about God?

    • That depends on your liberalism and your understanding of autonomy and common good.

      On the understanding used here, the common good cannot stand apart from the moral order. Absolute human autonomy is thus not a part of the common good, for the common good is objectively directed toward the moral order, not directed toward or existent for the sake of human autonomy itself. Indeed, autonomy is a good only so that we can choose to conform our lives to it.

      Social libertarian conservatives, just as the modern liberals, share blame for the moral breakdown of public virtue and our national ethos, because their understanding and value for “autonomy” eroded the common good,and authority of the state to pursue it, creating a society of people who act like gods unto themselves, free from the dictates of any external moral order.

      • “Indeed, autonomy is a good only so that we can choose to conform our lives to it.”

        By “it” I mean the good- autonomy is a good only so that we can choose to conform our lives to then good and the common good.

  4. Several problems from a Biblical Christian perspective:

    The state has no specific role (theologically speaking) beyond that spelled out in Scripture which is to act for the common grace good of humans by restraining evil and rewarding good. In Gentile (e.g. non-theocratic Israel) this evil/good dichotomy is based on God’s law which is written on man’s heart (per Paul), which is why things like murder, theft, and so forth have *normally* been condemned by functioning human societies, and therefore has normally been codified into law.

    The abject failure of even the best and most priveleged of all human societies to govern according to God’s will is sadly on display in the OT and NT accounts of Israel which was privileged above all nations with God’s law, prophets, priests, Temple, and revealed Word, and yet they murdered their Messiah, just as they rejected and killed the prophets before Him.

    This points to man’s need for God’s perfect rule, which is yet to come in its fulness, although He rules and reigns over His kingdom on earth today, the church. Yet even the church fails to be the ideal model of God’s governance because of our remaining sin and rebellion as fallen yet redeemed humans.

    Then there’s the problem of which “God” is being referenced. There are many wrong conceptions of God.

    Even on loosely “Christian” terms, which God does the state honor?

    The unitarian “god” of Mormonism who used to be a man, and became exalted to godhood by following the tenets of Mormonism, having multiple “spirit wives” and populating earth copulation with his multiple wives who bore him millions of spirit babies who are sent into the world to inhabit human bodies, with Jesus and Lucifer being spirit brothers as his offspring? A God who requires works salvation and promises his faithful male followers that they too can become gods with their own planets to populate via copulation with their multiple spirit wives?

    The unitarian “god” of the Jehovah’s Witnesses who created the highest being, Michael the Archangel, who later took on the form of a man and became Jesus Christ? A Jesus that returned in 1914 secretly and ushered in the last days? A god who requires works salvation and promises 144,000 of his faithful that they will rule and reign over a new Earth with him, while the rest of the faithful will live forever in paradise on earth, while the rest will be annihilated from existence?

    The Trinitarian God of the Bible? This is ideal on Christian terms, but as history teaches us heresy is rampant, and but for God raising up Athanasius the visible church would likely have at one time been swallowed whole by Arianism.

    Which Trinitarian tradition does the state select for? Romanism? Protestantism? Pentecostalism? Baptist? Amish?

    Christian parents and the Christian church, by and large has abdicated the Biblical responsibility to educate our children as Scripture commands, leaving the state, which is generally, historically, and globally anti-christ to teach them its various anti-christ, anti-theist worldviews and value systems.

    Of course I don’t expect anything else from the world system nor the people in it, and therefore that’s why I would never expect a state solution to the problem of liberty, license, virtue, or vice.

    The state-church experiments of the past have in many ways proven to be at least as lethal as their secular counterparts, and of course Romanism has a particularly bloody history, so I don’t get warm feelings when I read something like this written by an author who refers to himself as “Catholic Hulk”. Read Foxe’s Book of Martyrs lately? I have.

    If the state will at least provide for the common defense, punish criminals, and follow the laws duly enacted and enumerated to it, that’s enough. I don’t expect or desire it to teach morality, because it can’t. If it will demonstrate justice and integrity, that’s as close to godliness as I as a Christian can hope for from the state in this fallen world. Christ’s kingdom is not of this world.

    In the meantime actual Bible believing, Christ-following, blood-redeemed believers ought to be about doing the Lord’s work of evangelizing the lost and discipling His people until His kingdom come.

    Even so, come Lord Jesus. Maranatha!

    • Several problems from a biblical Christian standpoint with my blogpost? Perhaps, but it is unclear which idea within my blogpost is challenged here. Can you specify what idea you’re challenging, please?

      • It appeared to me that, among other things, you were bemoaning the unraveling of certain institutional (state) enforced strictures related to morality that you tethered back to (some) conception of the Christian God.

        This made me wonder about the which conception of God you appeared to be endorsing (implicit in the bemoaning of the aforementioned unraveling), and what role for the state you were advocating.

        That led me to opine about the lack of a Biblical case (that I’m aware of) for any role beyond that which I outlined above.

  5. When asked why a non-secular state would stop him from having the choice of how to relate to “the divine”, Jim responded:

    “In the very act of endorsing Catholicism, the state would prefer values that are an affront to other religious traditions. Ensuring the state and the culture it promotes never favors any religious tradition means I am free from the violence of Christianity on my children.”

    But Jim, I didn’t ask you what would ensure that you’re free from “the violence” of Christianity. I simply asked how a non-secular state would stop you from choosing how to relate to “the divine”. A confessional state for Catholicism would encourage Catholicism, true, but that is not to say that you’d not be free to worship as a Muslim, Jew, pagan, or even to live as an atheist.

    Regarding Catholicism and my “dogmatism”, I only asked if it is appropriate to ask Catholics to agree that their religious perspective cannot be “philosophically proven”. You responded with Kant and a denial of teleology, but Catholicism rejects what Kant had to say about these matters and it affirms teleology. Now, I’m not concerned with who is right here, but you can hardly ask Catholics to accept these ideas as a basis for running the state, for they’d undermine their own Catholicism. I realize that you think these things about Catholicism, teleology, and religion, but it is quite another thing to expect agreement from Catholics and others. If your approach requires me or any other Catholic to hold a degree skepticism or reservation regarding Catholic beliefs, then I respectfully reject your approach.

    You write: “Instead, you’ve chosen an absolutist uncompromising dogmatism and then shrink back and scream any time someone doesn’t like this dogmatism.” But how did I do that? I only rejected the idea that Catholicism cannot be “proven”. Your inferences are far more bloated than they ought to be.

    Regarding public schooling, the point I was making is that the secular education within the schools is not neutral. Secular education offers a secular curriculum, explaining the world and the human dynamic apart from God, in ways that privilege non-theistic perspectives. Likewise for the liberalism that penetrates these schools. So while you might find a curriculum permeated with Catholicism to be “absurd”, I have similar charges for secular curriculums and their “indoctrination”. If we are to have public schools, I suspect a fairer approach would be the allocation of public resources to parochial schools, secular schools, or to possibly whomever else would like to establish a school.

    We could, of course, continue to argue about why it is not the business of a state to favour a religion. Why single religion out but not feminism, secularism, liberalism, egalitarianism, and so forth? I’d like to hear why.

  6. Catholic Hulk,

    What you seem to be talking about are consequences of specific beliefs about what God wants us to do, not about belief in God per se.
    If I were to assume for the sake of the argument that there is a creator, or even an omnimax creator (i.e., omnipotent, omniscient, morally perfect) I would not under that assumption conclude that same-sex relations are immoral, or that abortion before the development of the brain and because a woman doesn’t want a child is immoral (and after that, my assessment would not be affected by the God assumption), and so on.
    So, it seems to me that belief in God, on its own, does not matter in those regards. If you have an argument to derive only from the existence of God such a ban, I’d ask you to please explain it.

    On the other hand, there are governments that do or did restrict abortion, or same-sex relations, or prostitution, etc., regardless of their lack of commitment to the existence of God, and without contradiction (or without necessarily incurring contradiction, at least). For example, China and Japan restrict prostitution and restricted same-sex relations. They don’t accept same-sex marriages. Sweden is restricting prostitution for reasons not related to theism (at least, most of the drive behind the ban on paying for sex didn’t come from theistic-motivated people), and so on.

    That aside, your claim that you “cherish liberty, but oppose license” while you want to legally restrict same-sex marriage, prostitution, divorce, etc., might be mirrored by other theists who want to, say, imprison, flog and/or execute people for homosexual sex, or for adultery, or for apostasy, blasphemy, etc.
    It seems clear to me that you – and they – oppose some freedoms, and cherish some other freedoms.
    You call some freedoms “license” and judge them negatively, and you want to restrict or remove some of them. There might be freedoms that you call “license” that you don’t want to restrict or remove. I’m not sure. Do you want to ban same-sex relations? Sex after divorce? I don’t know your position on that, but you’d probably call those “license”, right?
    Regardless, the sort of freedoms you want to restrict/remove, and the sort of freedoms other people want to restrict, or successfully restrict (be it in theistic Saudi Arabia, or in non-theistic China) depend on your and their moral assessments about those specific matters and the respective proposed bans, not about a belief in the existence of God on its own (though of course, people’s their specific religious beliefs often impact their moral beliefs).

    • Belief in some general idea of God doesn’t give grounds to oppose same-sex sexual relations. So? That’s perfectly consistent with my point. That doesn’t challenge the idea that God matters. Likewise, I didn’t say that same-sex marriage is restricted only if country upholds God, so that doesn’t challenge the belief that God matters. But, say, if we believe such a general God, who is morally perfect, omniscience all-powerful, commanded us not to allow same-sex marriages, then that should influence our practices. That constitutes a further proposition about god’s existence and his relation to us, which is what I spoke about in the very first paragraph,

      Everything else you spoke about seems to be a misunderstanding.

      • Catholic Hulk,

        What I spoke of does not seem to be a misunderstanding. And it challenges your OP, because I’m explaining you have not provided grounds to think that belief in God – rather than more specific religious beliefs – supports the moral claims that you made. In other words, it you have provided no good reason in the OP to think that belief in God on its own – rather than, say, Catholicism, or the belief that an omnimax being commands a ban on same-sex marriages, etc. – matters, when it comes to the moral beliefs at hand, the legal framework you support, etc.

  7. Hi, Angra.

    No, you’re misunderstanding. I never isolated myself to belief in God alone. I focused my point on God’s existence and His relations to us. And my point is not that belief in God alone commands a ban on same-sex marriage, etc. You fabricated that idea in your head. You won’t find a single quote that says such a thing. Did you even read what I wrote?

    • Hi Catholic Hulk,

      I thought I had already posted a reply to that, but it seems not.

      Anyway, you seem to have fabricated the idea that I claimed you claimed that it follows from belief from God alone. Rather, I’m pointing out that you haven’t shown that any of the things you say follows from belief from God alone, as part of my argument that you haven’t shown that God matters.

      Let me make it clear: One of your claims was: “My primary point in the preceding paragraphs is just to say that God matters, particularly belief about God’s existence.”

      However, your preceding paragraphs do not support the conclusion that God matters, particularly belief about God’s existence. Rather, they support the conclusion that some specific religious beliefs (e.g., Catholicism) matter when it comes to assessing how to behave.

      Now, you say: “In fact, fundamentally anti-Christian developments have occurred within Canada since the 1960s, particularly those concerning divorce, abortion, secularization, same-sex marriage, assisted-suicide, and now transgenderism.”

      Anti-Christian – or more precisely, against some versions of Christianity, but even if anti-Christian -, but not anti-theist.

      In short, I don’t see any good reason in your OP to accept your point that belief in God, in particular in God’s existence, matters. What seems to matter is belief in specific religious beliefs.

      By the way, in the OP you say: “So in returning to my earlier point, we can ask: What about the liberalism in Canada and the States? Does God matter in these countries? It doesn’t appear so. The liberalism that now permeates their political institutions is a practical atheism, for there is no political consciousness that we are creations, subjects to the will of God and His moral order. Worse still, this liberalism exalts the individual’s autonomy and liberty as sovereign, an exaltation once exclusively reserved for God.”

      Actually, the US had a lot of freedom of speech from starters, even speech deemed (correctly or not) immoral. But that was of course based on moral assessments, including the assessment that it’s not morally acceptable for the government to ban speech, even when said speech is immoral.
      What you describe as “practical atheism” is not so. It doesn’t follow from atheism, it’s not based on atheism.
      Yes, granted, atheism has overall being growing for a while. But people – atheists or not – generally care about morality, and most people in Canada remain theists. Agreement with the Catholic-based moral beliefs is less frequent today than it used to be, even among theists, and even among Christians, but that’s another matter.

      Take, for example, same-sex relations. I suggest that you take a look at Randal Rauser’s blog post entitled “More than half of American Christians are now gay-affirming”. Canada seems to be going in a similar direction.

  8. The claim was always that just about any normative proposition about how we organize ourselves and our resources is “dependent upon or influenced by further propositions regarding knowledge about the existence of God and His relation to us.” You might like to try to isolate my claim to God’s existence alone, but you’re operating in Angra’s fantasy land.

    You write: “Actually, the US had a lot of freedom of speech from starters, even speech deemed (correctly or not) immoral. But that was of course based on moral assessments, including the assessment that it’s not morally acceptable for the government to ban speech, even when said speech is immoral.
    What you describe as “practical atheism” is not so. It doesn’t follow from atheism, it’s not based on atheism.”

    I don’t have a clue what you think these claims about the US add to this discussion. If I had to guess, it’d be something like, “free speech laws come from ideas about the morality of government infringement.” That might have been truer in times when natural law was foundational and recognized in American and Canadian law, but now? I don’t think so. Even if some courts would say that such government infringement is immoral, that’s quite different than saying that it the right is derivative of the moral order. Once we do that, we evoke natural law jurisprudence, provided the moral order is understood to be external and objective. You’re welcome to do that, but that’s just not characteristic of modern America. Jurisprudence.

    Moving on, Practical atheism is to live, think or act as if God does not exist–to no show recognition of his existence. The claim isn’t that the aforementioned behaviour or ideas “follows” from atheism or is “based on” atheism. You can be a practical atheist and still be a theist–and so you don’t even seem to know what I’m talking about here

  9. Catholic Hulk,

    You say: “The claim was always that just about any normative proposition about how we organize ourselves and our resources is “dependent upon or influenced by further propositions regarding knowledge about the existence of God and His relation to us.” You might like to try to isolate my claim to God’s existence alone, but you’re operating in Angra’s fantasy land.”

    Actually, that was a claim, not the claim.
    In fact, you said “My primary point in the preceding paragraphs is just to say that God matters, particularly belief about God’s existence.”. In this context, that obviously says that belief in the existence of God on its own does matter – even if other beliefs about his relations to us matter to -, which is what I challenged.
    If you did not meant to imply that belief in God on its own does matter, then you should not have said “My primary point in the preceding paragraphs is just to say that God matters, particularly belief about God’s existence”; if there was an error on this point, it was on your part, not on mine, so I’m not operating in any fantasy land.

    But regardless, my point is that belief in the existence of God, on its own, does not seem to matter when it comes to the moral issues you discuss in the OP.

    You say: “I don’t have a clue what you think these claims about the US add to this discussion.”
    The point is that it’s not a recent development the belief that the government should not interfere on certain matters – not even to prevent immoral behavior.
    What may have changed is that some matters used to be considered by most people in the US or Canada matters where the government should interfere, and now they’re no longer considered so, whereas some other matters were thought of (mostly) as matters in which the government should not interfere, but now beliefs on that point have changed.
    But the beliefs against interference on at least some issues regardless of whether people are behaving immorally isn’t new at all. You seem to be confusing changes in moral beliefs over time with some sort of alleged “practical atheism”. While the rise of atheism had some impact on average moral beliefs, that was mostly in the sense that by not being Christians – rather than by not being theists – many people no longer came to have some specific Christian-based beliefs.

    “That might have been truer in times when natural law was foundational and recognized in American and Canadian law, but now? I don’t think so. Even if some courts would say that such government infringement is immoral, that’s quite different than saying that it the right is derivative of the moral order.”
    When laws are debated, passed, etc., moral considerations – such as whether the laws are just, whether people are being treated in the way they should, etc. – are at the forefront. The fact that many of the present-day laws are based on moral beliefs that you disagree with doesn’t make them any less motivated on moral considerations, regardless of whether they use the expression “moral order”, or other expressions indicating moral assessments, like considerations of fairness, justice, mistreatment, etc.

    As for court rulings, even as recently as Obergefell v. Hodges, the majority of the SCOTUS said that (purely for example) “The limitation of marriage to opposite-sex couples may long have seemed natural and just, but its inconsistency with the central meaning of the fundamental right to marry is now manifest. “, and “The nature of injustice is that we may not always see it in our own times. The generations that wrote and ratified the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment did not presume to know the extent of freedom in all of its dimensions, and so they entrusted to future generations a charter protecting the right of all persons to enjoy liberty as we learn its meaning.”

    Again, this is a matter of moral disagreement, not a matter of a lack of moral considerations (by the way, in his dissent, Roberts claims that the majority is basing their ruling not on the Constitution, but on their own moral assessments about same-sex relations).

  10. Interesting post! I think the point about rights as licenses over-emphasizes negative rights, rights against various kinds of intereferences and such. But positive rights — the right to some healthcare, shelter, reasonable working conditions and unemployment benefits — are an enduring tradition in both countries, whatever you think of them.

    They may not INTENTIONALLY serve “what God wants,” as you put it, inasmuch as some of their champions and implementers are atheists. But they may still serve Him all the same, and they are descendants of the notions of “created in God’s image,” even if they have equally compelling secular grounds (and yes, they really do).

    If you don’t believe me, just consider who the most vocal critics of rights talk have been in the academy and the elite: the postmodern Left. They regard rights as moral absolutes, objective and universal and therefore hegemonic and imperial. They treat rights as religious even if the loudest rights activists are not. And they’re onto something.

    Of course, positive moral rights talk doesn’t presuppose or depend on religious claims, as long as you buy some fairly uncontroversial moral premises that the Bible itself expounds — about, say, “the least of these” — but whose much vaunted wisdom and beauty are supposed to inhere in their content, not (merely) their source.

Comments are closed.