I believe in being an informed Christian, and as such, that any Christian that wants to involve his or herself in a debate about the organization of civil society should study not only his or her bible, but also philosophy. Philosophy will help you understand your bible better, and your own thought process, and understand the mistakes made in history, and the fallibility of man.

Why do I say that? Because surrounding yourself only with people who agree with you is the best way to come to a wrong conclusion.

What is Philosophy?

“It was really reading philosophy that didn’t have anything to do with politics that gave me a breather and made me realize that a lot of what I said was ideological blather that really wasn’t meaningful. It wasn’t me thinking. It was just me saying things I had heard so long from people I thought were interesting and just came to believe for some reason, without really understanding it. I understood it enough to talk about it but not really enough to have a conversation about it.” Jonathan Krohn

A quick google of the word philosophy gives the definition: the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence.

To give a more qualitative definition, philosophy, for example, asks questions about the assumptions you made as a child before you knew what assumptions were. Some of those assumptions are:

  • I am a person.
  • That person in the mirror is me.
  • I can think thoughts.
  • I can communicate my thought to other persons through the medium of language.
  • My memories are reliable. (I can navigate space reliably)
  • Holding my breath is unpleasant. (I need air to breathe)
  • Going without food for a long time is unpleasant. (I need food to survive)

We are born philosophers. Philosophy has nothing to do with blindly accepting other belief systems, or becoming a heretic, or agreeing with Frederich Nietzsche.

Philosophy is about understanding how to understand.

Let me ask you a question. How would you read the bible, if you didn’t know how to read? How could you hear the gospel, if you didn’t already understand human language? That’s where these common theological questions come from.

  • Do babies go to heaven?
  • Do the mentally handicapped go to heaven?
  • Do people who have never heard the gospel go to heaven?

To say that the basis of all your rational thought and belief in the uniformity of nature comes from the bible is simply untrue, because you need rational thought and belief in the uniformity of nature, and physical laws of objects, and nuances of language, prior to knowing that a bible was an object you could pick up and read, and understand.

You can believe that all human knowledge starts from God consciousness and be sincere, but you’d be sincerely wrong. As a finite being, and as a creation, you start at self-consciousness. God-consicousness only comes after hearing and obeying the call of the Gospel.

The Slippery Slope fallacy

In our modern American context, in the year of our Lord, 2014, the argument usually goes something like this:

If we allow gays to marry, then what stops us from allowing people to marry animals, or marry inanimate objects.

If we allow gay marriage to be legal, then what’s next? Pedophilia?

If you’re interested in what a slippery slope fallacy is, watch the video, or click the link.

What are human rights?

There are two types of human rights, negative human rights and positive human rights.

A negative human right is “you’re not allowed to murder me”. A positive human right is “if I’m drowning, you’re obliged to save me”. Negative human rights are universal, while positive human rights are based on time, place, economy, technology, and ability. In my estimation, positive human rights aren’t really human rights.

“Under the theory of positive and negative rights, a negative right is a right not to be subjected to an action of another person or group—a government, for example—usually in the form of abuse or coercion. A positive right is a right to be subjected to an action of another person or group.”Negative and Positive Rights, Wikipedia.

If you’re an American, you’re familiar with human rights by this introduction:

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 The U.S. Declaration of Independence

Since then, the United Nations has come up with it’s own mix of negative and positive human rights: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

What are human rights within the context of Christianity?

“And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua 24:15

“And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.” Romans 1:28

“For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.” Romans 2:14-15

“The one who is not circumcised physically and yet obeys the law will condemn you who, even though you have the written code and circumcision, are a lawbreaker.” Romans 2:27

“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything.”  1 Corinthians 6:12

“So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”  James 4:17

God allows people to reject him, and to choose to do good or evil.

Furthermore, God calls the church to be a light to the world, and not to convert the world by force, or by using a temporary ideological majority to use government to coerce a non-believing populace into following religious commandments.

But you don’t have to look to the bible to see God allowing people to do what they want, despite warning them otherwise. Just look at history. Turn on the news.

All crimes are sins, but not all sins are crimes

It’s from Romans 2:14-15 where I get the idea that there are laws written on men’s hearts because men are made in the image and likeness of God. That law written on your heart is your conscience. When you do something that you know is wrong according to your own internal God-given moral code, you’ve committed a wrong.

What’s the difference between a general revelation wrongdoing, and a special revelation wrongdoing?

I’ll use myself as an example. If I were not a Christian, and I had no access to special revelation (the bible), there are certain things about relationships that my inner moral compass would think were wrong, and certain things that were ok.

A sin

I wouldn’t think all premarital sex was wrong. Not if I was in a committed and serious relationship with a girlfriend, and I planned on marrying her one day. I wouldn’t have any issue living with her (it makes economic sense), and having sex before marriage, or even having a child with her. My inner moral compass – my conscience – would be clear, so long as we were both in love with each other.

Yet, according to the teachings of Jesus, to lust after a woman that is not your wife is a sin (Matt 5:28). To have sex with someone before you’re married is a sin, or to have sex with someone other than your wife while married is a sin (1 Cor 6:15-20; Hebrews 13:4; Ephesians 5:3; etc.).

A wrong

I would think promiscuity was wrong. It spreads disease. It creates single mothers and fatherless children. Fatherless children turn to crime and violence as a way to seek approval and belonging from peers. Even animals without male leadership figures become unruly and overly violent.1

Promiscuity would leave me cold and empty. I might enjoy it, I might use protection, but I’d have trouble sleeping at night, especially if I had a child with a girl I didn’t love. I can’t explain it, but that would kill me on the inside.

Imagine knowing that your son or daughter would be raised by an irresponsible woman who jumps from abusive relationship to abusive relationship, with little regard or respect to herself or her own value. That random boyfriends, with maybe unsavory backgrounds will be around your child on a daily basis, maybe even abusing them. It’s not fiction, it’s real life for many children.

There are many women like that; physically they’re perfection, of whom a Nigerian would say, “Has back and front!”,  who are probably amazing in the bedroom – after all practice makes perfect. Yet even if I were a non-Christian, I’d avoid such women, and would encourage any daughter I had to avoid such men.

But even though I thought it was wrong, I wouldn’t be able to think of a legitimate reason to outlaw the behavior or enforce my standard on others, and not everyone engaging in this behavior would fit such a demoralizing demographic.

A crime

I would also think that to force a woman to have sex with me is immoral,  inhuman, and that such an action deserves to be punished by force and violence.

What’s the difference between a sin, a wrong and a crime?

You wouldn’t know a sin was a sin, unless you had special revelation (a face to face encounter with God, stone tablets, or a bible). You’d only know something was wrong by your conscience, yet not all wrongs are universally acknowledged. A crime is pretty much universally agreed upon, regardless of race, culture, age, or gender, or time in history.

Sin is special revelation. Wrongs and crimes are general revelation. Crimes are worthy of punishment by human governments, without waiting for eternal judgment by God.

For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Romans 13:3-4

I wish the last two sentences in that verse were talking about Batman, but it’s talking about government. And no, it doesn’t mean that all governments are righteous, or that governments have the authority to tell you to sin or break God’s commandments.

The Universality Test

How do you know whether or not an evil or a wrong is such a stain on the human conscience, that it deserves to be punished? Ask humans. I guarantee that regardless of time, or place, I could ask this first question and get the same answer every time:

Q: If you watched an enemy murder someone you loved, would you want revenge? I’m not asking if you would necessarily act on it, but would you want it? Would you want justice?

Adolf Hiter: Yes.
Alexander the Great: Yes.
Genghis Khan: Yes.
Mother Teresa: Yes.
Ghandi: Yes.
Caveman: Yes.
Abraham: Yes.
Me: Yes.

Do you know how I know that all humans everywhere would have the same answer to that question, besides the rigging the question with the word “love” so Genghis Khan gives the correct answer? Because God wrote that law on our hearts.

“Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.” God speaking to Noah, Genesis 9:6

It might be in the bible, but the prohibition of murder is universal. It’s everywhere. Even if you’re a murderer, you will always have somebody that you deem undeserving of murder: your lover, your spouse, your parents, your child, yourself.

Yet there are many other laws in the scriptures, that would have no intrinsic pull on anyone who didn’t have access to and agree with the bible: like the prohibition of premarital sex, or the call to celibacy for someone who was born gay. And yes, people can be born gay. That’s for another time though.

Q: Do you think premarital sex is wrong?

Adolf Hiter: No.
Alexander the Great: No.
Genghis Khan: No.
Mother Teresa: Yes.
Ghandi: No.
Caveman: No.
Abraham: No. Sex is marriage where I come from.
Me: Yes.

Q: Do you think genocide is wrong?

Adolf Hiter: No.
Alexander the Great: No.
Genghis Khan: No.
Mother Teresa: Yes.
Ghandi: Yes.
Caveman: No.
Abraham: Depends.
Me: Yes.

Q: Do you think the genocide of you and your family and people group is wrong?

Adolf Hiter: Yes!
Alexander the Great: Yes.
Genghis Khan: No.
Mother Teresa: Yes.
Ghandi: Yes.
Caveman: Yes.
Abraham: Yes.
Me: Yes.

Q: Is rape wrong?

Adolf Hiter: Yes.
Alexander the Great: Depends.
Genghis Khan: No.
Mother Teresa: Yes.
Ghandi: Yes.
Caveman: No.
Abraham: Yes.
Me: Yes.

Q: Would you be ok with someone raping your spouse or daughter?

Adolf Hiter: No.
Alexander the Great: No.
Genghis Khan: Yes.
Mother Teresa: No
Ghandi: No.
Caveman: No.
Abraham: No.
Me: No.

Q: Is homosexuality a crime?

Adolf Hiter: Yes.
Alexander the Great: No.
Genghis Khan: Yes.
Mother Teresa: Yes.
Ghandi: No.
Caveman: No.
Abraham: Yes.
Me: No.

Peer review is a powerful thing, and you can always get around people trying to dodge a question by bringing it to their doorstep. Humans basically agree on what a punishable crime is. That is, unless you’re Genghis Khan.

So why does homosexuality have nothing to do with pedophilia?

To translate secular human rights into the language of Christian morality: sin is a violation of God’s special revelation (his law as revealed in scripture), and crimes are a violation of the consent of another person to their body and property.

You have the human right to be a practicing homosexual, but not the right to be a practicing pedophile. You have the human right to self defense, but not the right to murder someone in cold blood. You have the human right to be married, but not the right to force a woman to marry you. You have the human right to religious freedom, but not to force people to convert to your religion.

Do you see the pattern here?

Homosexuality is between two consenting adults and since it’s a type relationship or exchange, it’s a type of verbal contract.

Pedophilia, on the other hand, is between a consenting adult and a non-consenting child.

Why is a child non-consenting by default?

Because over time, and trial and error, most of humanity has determined that children don’t have the ability to consent to a sex contract with an adult, because (1) they are uninformed and (2) the adult in question is much more informed. Basically children aren’t mature enough to understand the lifelong consequences of such an action, and there is an inherent power disadvantage, which makes a child vulnerable to coercion, manipulation, and abuse.

Yet there are caveats. Children cannot buy a house for the same reason they can’t be professional boxers, which is the same reason they can’t have sex with an adult, which is the same reason they can’t join the military. Yet, children can walk into a store and buy candy, or a toy, or food at a restaurant.

Children can have sex with other children once they reach puberty and begin to experiment without it being considered a crime. Two people incapable of informed consent, engaging in uninformed consent isn’t considered a crime in most western countries, nor is it a human rights violation.

The tricky aspect of this portion of the human rights framework is determining an age of consent to enforce legally. There is no magical age when all children begin to consent. It’s better to err on the side of caution and make it older than younger. In America it’s 18, in Scotland it’s 16.

This doesn’t just apply to sex. Governments must choose an age when children become adults, that is to say when they become legally competent to enter into contracts, work,  purchase property, pay taxes, join the military, drink alcohol, smoke. These are all things your children are not allowed to do until a certain age, and these laws weren’t made haphazardly. For every child law, at some point there was a violation of children that society at large decided to reject.

The bible has similar exceptions

In Christian circles, it’s called the age of accountability. Though it’s use is completely different. It represents when children can be held morally responsible for their sins. It’s not a universally agreed upon Christian doctrine, but there is a ton of evidence that children have an innocence about them.

“For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” – Genesis 3:5

“Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever…” – Genesis 3:22

“And as for your little ones, who you said would become a prey, and your children, who today have no knowledge of good or evil, they shall go in there. And to them I will give it, and they shall possess it.” – Deuteronomy 1:39

“See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.” – Matthew 18:10

“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” – Mark 9:42

Consent extends to the parent child relationship

Parents or guardians are responsible for a child, where and when he or she eats or sleeps, and basic education and discipline. Yet parents can’t purposely starve a child, or abuse them, or have sex with them. Children aren’t your property any more than your wife is your property.

Human rights apply to a parent-child relationship too. Parents and guardians have the ability to coerce, manipulate, or abuse children, so the parental authority and responsibility excludes things that would fall into that category.

Human rights violations (crimes)

A human rights violation takes place when someone either does not consent or can not consent, and the other party can. Parties deemed unable to consent, or incapable of informed consent are typically: children, animals, the mentally ill, the mentally handicapped, the very elderly (dementia), the extremely ill, someone in a coma or a vegetative state. That’s where legal term “of sound mind” comes from, and we are judicially lenient with people of “unsound mind”.

Professional boxing between consenting adults is not assault. Sex between consenting adults is not rape. Exchanging something for money is not theft. All these things have consent in common with each other.

Murder is non-consensual killing of another.

Rape is non-consensual sex with another.

Theft is non-consensual procuring of another’s property.

Homosexual sex is just sex, no different than pre-marital sex. Pedophilia is rape. That’s the difference, and it’s why gays (rightly) get offended when you compare the two, or insinuate that one leads to the other, which is a slippery slope fallacy.

Though I agree with a human rights framework for civil society (government), it has nothing to do with my personal stance on homosexuality as a practicing Christian who has chosen to follow God’s laws in scripture (theology).

But what about our traditions?

Just because something was always done a certain way, or done in some cursory projection of the term “golden age” upon your favorite period of human history, doesn’t make it right.

Interracial couples used to be unable to marry. Blacks used to be unable to vote. Alcohol used to be illegal. Women used to be unable to vote. Whites used to own other human beings in what was called chattel slavery.

Are all those things right? Are they good? If not, then tradition has no bearing on whether something is right or wrong.

Why have things changed over time?

Homosexuality used to be illegal. There are still some archaic and unenforced state sodomy laws in various municipalities. Divorce used to be illegal. Premarital sex (fornication) used to be illegal. Why can’t we enforce these laws even though our religion might deem them good for society?

Because we’ve learnt hard lessons from theocratic society as we move to a secular one.

Theonomy, the Christian extreme

People seem to forget that the Pilgrims sailed to America on the Mayflower because Christians (Church of England, i.e. Anglicans) were telling other Christians (Puritans) that they couldn’t be the kind of Christians that they were.

In Germany, the Catholics were telling the Lutherans and Anabaptists that they had to take oaths, and serve in the military. Things that they objected to based on their interpretation of the teachings of Jesus in the New Testament.

Before that, the Catholic Church would have arrested and executed Martin Luther, our beloved Reformer, under the Edict of Worms, had he not been protected by Prince Frederick and his German armies in the Wartburg Castle, where he translated the bible into the German common tongue, so for the first time since the early church, the masses could read the bible for themselves.

The Israelites tried theocracy and failed. Don’t believe me? Read the book of Kings.

The Catholic Church tried it and failed. The Muslims tried it and failed. Yet, every generation, someone gets some new idea about how theocracy can work (see: theonomy), because they’ve got all the answers now, and they’ll do it right this time.2

No, they won’t be like the Israelite Kings. They’re not going to be like the Catholic church from the 9th to 16th century a.d. with their debaucherous, and murderous Popes. They’re not going to be like the Church of England in the 17th century. They’re not going to be like the Muslim majority in Pakistan or Afghanistan or Iran, and stone people to death for blasphemy, or for leaving the religion. They’re not going to be like ISIS and behead people for being of a different faith.

No, they’re going to do it right this time, because they have all the answers.

At it’s root, theonomy is untenable because the bible is open to fallible interpretation. The only way to have a perfect theocracy on Earth is for Jesus to return and manage it himself. Wasn’t the whole point of the Old Testament, besides prophesying about the coming of Jesus, to show the Israelites that they couldn’t be their own king? God had to be their king, not some guy pretending to tell you what he thinks God is saying.

Hey everybody. Great news! God wants me to have 12 more wives. There’s going to be a nation-wide beauty contest. Requirements are that your daughters of eligible age bathe in perfumes for a year. ‘It puts the perfume on the skin,’ or it doesn’t get to be a concubine.

Without the face to face ability to consult Jesus to help us perfectly interpret his infallible scripture, we will fail just like every other theocracy failed.

You: Am I doing it right?
Jesus: No.
You: Now?
Jesus: No.
You: Now????
Jesus: A little better. Try again.
You: How about now?
Jesus: Perfect. Don’t ever change that.

That bit of dialogue above, though silly, is seriously the only way any of us will interpret scripture perfectly. Any other way is open to human fallibility and deception. That is not to say that you can’t come up with legitimate doctrines, or discredit false ones. It’s just an acknowledgement that you’re a human being.

“Oh, ya, um…the Holy Spirit told me in my prayer closet that we’ve been misinterpreting Matthew 5:17 for the past 2000 years, and we need to actually be keeping the Jewish feasts and stoning gays to death.” – Theonomist Charismatic

No. You can go stone yourself to death in your prayer closet, and leave the rest of us humans alone.

“That last guy’s crazy. I can prove to you in my bible that we’re supposed to be enforcing Mosaic law and killing gays. See, look here.” – Reformed Theonomist

I don’t trust your exegesis. In the meantime, go poke out your eyes and cut off your hand the next time you’re on the internet all alone at home. Then you and the rest of your blind one-armed friends can go try stoning gays to death.

Was that too much? It’s not really satire unless it has a bit of a sting.

Why we can’t have nice things

Just like dispensationalists never learn to stop trying to predict the return of Christ, theonomists never learn to leave the theocracy to Jesus when he comes back.

We can’t have a theocracy led by humans because of sin. We are wholly incapable of non-genocidal government under a theocracy. We should also know better because we have been on the receiving end bad theocracy, when Caesar was god, and Christians were persecuted and killed simply for being Christians.

You can be sure enough to proselytize, you can be sure enough to teach your kids, you can even be sure enough to die for your beliefs, but no New Testament Christian should ever be sure enough to advocate killing people for infractions to your religious laws.

We also have history to look at, take the Catholic church for example. They used to kill people for thought crimes. They’d put you in jail or house arrest for saying the earth goes around the sun.

The only person capable of running a theocracy, or perfect government, is Jesus Christ himself. We Christians believe the bible teaches that one day he will do exactly that. Until then, for the sake of living with one another in peace, and not re-enacting the mistakes of the past, we choose secular human rights over any type of theocracy. This will ensure that no matter who is in power, some minority group doesn’t get persecuted or exterminated.

To sum it all up

Though this America’s Judicial system was founded on mostly Judeo-Christian morality, some really smart people realized a few things.

That’s why the laws have changed over time. Because enlightened people slowly began to realize that “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.” There may be a time in the future when white Protestant Christians aren’t the majority. What if Hispanic Catholics become the majority? What if Muslims become the majority? What if Atheists become the majority.

If homosexuality or homosexual marriage should be illegal, then premarital sex should be illegal, and divorce should be illegal, and not being a Christian should be illegal, and taking oaths should be illegal. Then depending on which denomination is in power, alcohol is illegal too, and working on the Sabbath is illegal, and drawing pictures of Jesus or angels or God is illegal.

The point is that you can legislate human rights and the golden rule, but you can’t legislate religion without things falling apart unless the person legislating is perfect, and as Christians we believe we know someone like that.

Update 05/28/15

I have some experience debating Theonomists, and they can be diverse, but just to give you a taste of what they’re like, here’s a direct quote from a Theonomist I’ve debated before, as he addresses another gentleman:

Yes. If a church is preaching heresy, it should be suppressed. The failure of the state to do this is what allows such poisonous doctrines to spread like cancer (e.g. Joel Osteen, et al.).

But don’t bring your statist presuppositions to the confession. This doesn’t mean the magistrate sends in an army to execute every church member on the spot. That’s just not how the law deals with such things. The person responsible for the heresy would be taken into custody on the basis of two or three witnesses. He would be tried for his heresy and possibly given the opportunity to recant. Failure to do so would result in punishment by the magistrate according to God’s law. Sometimes this is death; other times this is exile.

The eldership of the church should immediately remove such an offender (excommunication). If the entire eldership is apostate, the session should deal with them likewise. This would all take place long before such a person were taken to civil court. He will remain anonymous, out of courtesy

Sounds like the Spanish Inquisition, doesn’t it?

  1. Juveile elephants without male authority figures slaughter Rhinos – CBS News

  2. There is nothing new under the sun.