Thursday, March 03, 2005

More on the Importance of Philosophy...

There is a beautifully written article on MSNBC by Rabbi Marc Gellman. It's called "'We Hold These Truths to Be Sacred' - What Thomas Jefferson would say about the Ten Commandments today." (As a side note, I also really liked his article called "Deep Gidget" from last week.) The article is about what Thomas Jefferson might say regarding the Ten Commandments and how they relate to the First Amendment.
He might teach the court that there are only three ways human rights are accorded to citizens. Either they are the rational construct of people trying to avoid “the war of each against all” in what Rousseau called the "State of Nature." This way sees civil rights as a rational outgrowth of our fear of those who want to hurt us or steal our iPods... ...Freedom in this theory is merely protection from the guy down the street. The problems with this theory are severe despite its appealing claim on human reason. In this view, some people can easily be excluded from rights because of some rational argument claiming to prove that it is not rational to protect them...

The second possibility for the origin of our rights is that they are gifts from the state to all or to some selected inhabitants of the state. This view sees rights as like a driver’s license. They are a privilege bestowed by the author of privilege, which is the government. This was not the communist theory, the theory was that the workers ran the state, but it was definitely the communist reality in which the state decided who had rights and that decision did not reach beyond the Politburo. It is also the present view of every dictatorship in the world—and the Department of Motor Vehicles.

The third theory of how and why we have rights is the one Jefferson authored, the one I revere, and the one I hope the high court affirms without too many subjunctive clauses. This is the theory that our rights come from God through the state, which is created by the consent of the governed to protect the dignity of all its citizens, who are all made in the image of God. The state, in this view of rights, is always subject to critique based on its success or failure to respect the God-given freedoms of its citizens...

...What people forget, Jefferson might remind the court if he still had a larynx, is that our rights do not derive from the beliefs of any one religion. They derive from a nonsectarian national religious belief that our rights are secured by our being created in the image of God. Even though all Americans do not believe this, it is the reason why the rights of all Americans are secure... ...Only a national belief that we are created beings can do the job. Now that job is on trial by morons (and I say that without any negative connotation) who want to set adrift our God-given freedoms, represented perfectly but not exclusively by the Ten Commandments.

Perhaps Jefferson would say all that, or perhaps he would do something more dramatic and more profound. I bet he would approach the justices and place before them a yellowing piece of paper upon which was written his first version of the Declaration of Independence, the one that does not begin with, “We hold these rights to be self-evident, that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights …” At first, Jefferson did not write “self-evident” because he knew that such rights as he imagined were absolutely not self-evident to reason or to the state. The rights that created America are the result of a spiritual/political leap of faith that grounds our rights in a formative national religious belief that we are all made in the image of God. From this belief has grown an exceedingly great and tolerant nation where people with different faiths and no faith at all have flourished.

The words on that yellowing paper, the words Jefferson’s wanted to open the Declaration of Independence contain no contradictions. They are made of whole cloth and they are woven on the loom of faith and freedom. This is what Thomas Jefferson wrote: “We hold these truths to be sacred …”

My previous posting on Philosophy touched on the idea that our beliefs have ramifications that affect our actions. I do believe that we are created by God in His image, and Jefferson's grand idea that people are "endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights" is just one of the many, many logical consequences of this belief.

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