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Should the secular state legislate morality?


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#61 Evan

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Posted 07 September 2011 - 07:05 AM

Herman,

Your summary seems right to me. Even more specifically, for Locke and Jefferson, the government's support of us positively requires that it respect the human person. The human person is the workmanship of God. We must respect certain aspects of our created nature, as they are not, strictly speaking, our own. We can't delegate authority over them in any absolute sense to the government, and the government is obliged to secure them against attack by others. Including its own agents. Who are in fact our agents.

Thus Jefferson: "Our rulers can have authority over such natural rights only as we have submitted to them. The rights of conscience we never submitted, we could not submit... Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God?"

From "Notes on the State of Virginia."


Yes, I know what Locke and Jefferson thought about other things. And I know that appeals to natural right, divorced from any notion of natural right that they thought to be fixed in the souls of men (and therefore not susceptible to nebulous expansion and multiplication), have been used to justify atrocities. But I find their particular way of thinking about God-given “rights” and corresponding duties immensely attractive, and if it's not inappropriate, I'd very much like to discuss whether it makes for a good way to think about the foundations of political society as Orthodox Christians living in the world.


Antonios,

Thanks for the reference! Looking through this thread, I find myself far more sympathetic to your arguments for limited (but by no means amoral-- indeed, limited BECAUSE of moral considerations) government than I once was.

In Christ,
Evan

#62 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 07 September 2011 - 01:47 PM

We do not understand thinkers like Locke- who do indeed provide the philosophical & political foundation that we in the west now take for granted- unless we understand the context of the Enlightenment that he writes from within. When we better understand the cultural conditions of that time then we are more able to read between the lines of writings like his as well as other thinkers who provide the foundations of our present day society.

Locke's deeper point is not about freedom in the abstract or in general. Rather it is an appeal rooted in the understanding that authority itself infringes upon man's true nature. In other words the definition of freedom which Locke comes to and which is now so familiar and accepted by us is of the ability and importance of personal conscience to determine one's welfare. Specifically however in terms of the world in which Locke lives- what he is specifically reacting to in terms of authority- is monarchy & church. These latter two will be seen by almost all Enlightenment thinkers as preventing man from being free according to their own definition. Locke's appeal then carries a very strong social agenda and something amounting to a social and cultural revolution especially when you keep in mind the world in which European man had lived in for centuries.

In a real sense then what the Enlightenment thinkers are doing is providing a justification for ongoing radical social change itself according to the pattern of freedom of personal conscience to determine one's world. This is one of its most deeply felt legacies for how our society is now shaped by the understanding that man by nature is best defined by this pattern of freedom. As part of this legacy though there is also the attached idea that freedom is necessarily a progressive program wherein the greater effort is to shed allegiances of mind and body to authority. It's no accident that according to this way of seeing things, authority by its very nature is almost always inherently a basic hindrance to the project of man to become free.

Lastly though there is in Locke a residual way of thinking that goes back to the century before him- the Baroque age- which was the last age in the west to openly put forward a view of man and society in which authority, Church & monarchy at their Christian and moral best reflect nature (the Enlightenment proclamation that they are the first to proclaim who man and society really are is complete propaganda). Locke rejects all of this in terms of the higher authorities. But he still accepts that society itself acts as a kind of stabilizer for man's freedom- a kind of authority achieved by common agreement among all free men. In this he reflects a British side to the Enlightenment that in turn affects the later history of America and basically most all countries formed by the English tradition. The more radical turn which the Enlightenment later on takes in France then is usually balanced in countries formed according to the British tradition of the Enlightenment by ideas of social stability. This inheritance of more stable and more radical versions of the Enlightenment also still continues in the west.

To say that this affects us as Orthodox I think is an understatement. The legacy of the Enlightenment is fundamentally formative for every aspect of our present day society and many of its values are now taken for granted much as John Locke intended. As we can see this touches us on the most basic level for the most active threads on the Forum are affected by the views put forward originally by the Enlightenment thinkers as to who man and society are.

Real and critical thought about this are needed but I have never personally felt easy with the present day culture wars presently going on in our society. As Orthodox Christians we need a decent understanding of where the values of our present day society come from and their actual motives - ie mainly to disconnect man from any external authority so as to set himself up as the ultimate authority of everything. But we also need to be able to recognize and then acknowledge and work with aspects of society which continue to hold to the basic welfare of the community. Much of this still continues around us although nowadays we often take much of this for granted and honestly do not notice it at work as a fundamental part of the positive social glue which holds society together in the deeper sense. Here precisely I think is where we as Orthodox can still work within society and be very cautious of recent political philosophies which are so negative that taken to their full logic would be destructive of any idea or legacy of society itself.

In Christ-
Fr Raphael

#63 Rdr Daniel (R.)

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Posted 07 September 2011 - 02:39 PM

I would like to offer two thoughts here in reasons to to Locke and Jefferson's view of man's freedom.

Man does not have freedom in that he is personally free to do what he wants as a God given right.

First of all we must look at what it is to be free now creation can not be free on its own beacuse it is created it is always subjected to that beyond its control. God is truly free what he wills happens. With man we have a choice so we can chose to drink or not, now we see this as freedom, the freedom to say no I will not drink I might die but I will not drink as I have a choice. This relates as to whether we choice to obey God we can chose to or not to, and again we see this as freedom. God's freedom is not between choices, what He wills happens for God it is always yes. Man's true freedom is in yes it is in saying yes to God beacuse only in God the will of God are we free. Just some thoughts base on reading things from here http://www.oodegr.com/english/.

Now we must ask where is the idea God gave man the right of personal freedom come from? God put man over all the animals plants ect.. he did not give Adam a person right to freedom. We have a free will to chose or reject God only beacuse God see into our heart whether our will is for Him and He allows us to reject Him, so even this freedom is dependent on the will of God not a given right God could chose not to allow us to reject Him, he does not beacuse He wills us to come to him beacuse we chose to not are made to, but this freedom is in saying yes. So any freedom is depended on God's will.

Now the notion that we are given a rights is not true, we are made in the image of God that means we have a duty to care for each other. God allows us to chose what to do so we in intimation of God do not impose ourself on others not beacuse of their rights but God's will. We are called to love one another that is why we must not steal from someone beacuse it is wrong, beacuse they are an image of God not beacuse of their rights.

Christ is the King of kings, a king is an icon of Christ, an icon of His authority. Those appointed by the king are in turn an icon of the king. The king's duty is to serve God to love God and to love his people even die for his people. He is there to rule over the people in the best way for Church to be able to care spiritual for the people, to provide a stable nation, to defend it, to maintain justice for he does not bear the sword in vain. The king is the king beacuse of God's will not the will of man. Saint Paul wrote to obey the Roman Empire even though the Christians would not want the emperor as there ruler as he persecuted the Church, yet in all things bar faith the emperor was to be obeyed. The subjects duty is to obey the king in all matters of state and the Church in all matters of faith.

Which leads me to something else God has always called people as a community, as a nation; Israel of old the New Israel of God the Church, with Christ at its head ruled over by the bishops appointed by God.

Finally the whole process of rule by consent leads to many wrong things. Look at most mps to they do what is right before God or what will get them elected. A king guides his people, the prime-minster is guided by his people, who in turn are then guided by other things like the press. Look how many immoral things have taken place since democracy, he does what is right before them not God.

A final point I don't know about Locke not Jefferson was a heretic, who denied the clergy, the Church,the miracles of Christ. He only worked with the morality he thought he could see.

In Christ.
Daniel,

#64 Evan

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Posted 07 September 2011 - 03:21 PM

Father, your blessing:

Indeed, the notion of the individual conscience as the ultimate arbiter of right conduct is front and center in Locke's work-- particularly his "Letter Concerning Toleration." However, I think we must appreciate the fact that Locke did not believe that man was ever "free," or ought be treated as if "free," in the radical sense of being free of moral obligation. He is quite explicit (as was Jefferson) that man is inherently independent from all BUT the moral law, and man who consults his conscience will find it there written.

As can be seen in the passages that I cited, even in the state of nature, man is obliged not to treat other men in certain ways, precisely because he is God's worksmanship. Locke is clear that man in the state of nature thus has a "law" to bind him, and he enters into society in order that said law be better observed and enforced. That law is accessible to "unassisted reason," but it does not mean whatever we want it to mean. And, in Locke's estimation, it is nothing less than the law of God, who has so made men. The individual conscience of the reasonable man should teach him that all men have certain features and thus we can speak of them having certain rights that the government is obliged to protect in order to acquire legitimacy. The primary problem with the state of nature is that people aren't consulting their conscience! ("There wants an established, settled, known law, received and allowed by common consent to be the standard of right and wrong, and the common measure to decide all controversies between them: for though the law of nature be plain and intelligible to all rational creatures; yet men being biassed by their interest, as well as ignorant for want of study of it, are not apt to allow of it as a law binding to them in the application of it to their particular cases.")

I would caution against conflating Locke with, say, Hobbes, whom the Founding generation had nary a kind word to say. In Hobbes' state of nature, man can do absolutely anything to preserve his life. He has no moral law to bind him in respect of pursuing his self-preservation, and the state exists only to prevent us from killing each other. Such was not, so far as I can tell, Locke's view.


Perhaps Locke can be best understood as shifting "divine right" from the king to the people. From a king whose absolute authority over the rest of the people was thought to mimic the sovereign rule of God over His creation, we get the rule of law as said absolute authority, which authority falls upon all men equally, just as all souls are equal in the eyes of God. I am not of course denying for a second that this emerged from a Protestant mindset-- Locke argued vigorously that enlightened consent to any assertion of authority was essential within the Church ("a voluntary society of men, joining themselves together of their own accord in order to the public worshipping of God in such manner as they judge acceptable to Him, and effectual to the salvation of their souls") no less than in the state.

To summarize, I read Locke thus: There is a moral law, it can be discerned through the exercise of reason, and it is binding upon men regardless of how they feel about it, because it reflects God's worksmanship. It falls to government to ensure compliance with that law. When it doesn't, it does not govern legitimately. No majority vote can change that. The moment one's natural rights are violated, one can resist the authority claimed by the state. An unjust law (not simply one that you disagree with) is no law. No state, no more than any person, has a right to do wrong-- even if prudence may dictate that we bear the wrongdoing, it is not thereby legitimated.

Properly understood, I think it's fair to say that we've gotten a long way away from Locke. The state of nature was never for him a state of license, nor the state an amoral, indifferent means of facilitating egoism. By way of further illustration, Locke says that adultery, sodomy, and incest are called sins and properly forbidden by the state because “they cross the main intention of nature, which willeth the increase ofmankind, and the continuation of the species in the highest perfection."

Whether he in fact paved the way for such an understanding, however, is a different question, and I'm glad you've raised it.

Daniel, all of these men held heretical opinions. The question I'm raising is whether the notion of natural right they espoused provides a firm foundation for a civil order that enables us to work out our salvation in fear and trembling. Or one that's at least "better" than any alternative. There has been and will be only one perfect society, and it's a monarchy. But it's not one of this world, even if it is in it. One of the virtues of Locke's understanding of government, to my mind, is that it allows us to sanctify the world through participation in government and the promotion of a godly civil order, without allowing the state to claim the things that belong to God for itself.

But, my opinion on this subject is not what it once was. That's part of why I thought I'd revisit this thread, to gauge whether I'd gone astray. I've been reading a lot of these guys lately.

In Christ,
Evan

Edited by Evan, 07 September 2011 - 03:53 PM.


#65 Evan

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Posted 07 September 2011 - 04:22 PM

Now the notion that we are given a rights is not true, we are made in the image of God that means we have a duty to care for each other. God allows us to chose what to do so we in intimation of God do not impose ourself on others not beacuse of their rights but God's will. We are called to love one another that is why we must not steal from someone beacuse it is wrong, beacuse they are an image of God not beacuse of their rights.


One last point (for now):

Locke's "rights" were in fact inferences from our being made in the image of God. There's no question of God actually assigning rights at some point.

I'll cite him again:

"The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges every one: and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions: for men being all the workmanship of one omnipotent, and infinitely wise maker; all the servants of one sovereign master, sent into the world by his order, and about his business; they are his property, whose workmanship they are, made to last during his, not one another’s pleasure: and being furnished with like faculties, sharing all in one community of nature, there cannot be supposed any such subordination among us, that may authorize us to destroy one another, as if we were made for one another’s uses, as the inferior ranks of creatures are for our’s."

Not a word of rights. Yet, he will go on to talk of "rights" to life, health, liberty, and extant possessions we've acquired, precisely because God has given us life, health, liberty, and the capacity to acquire property. We don't take them from others because God has willed that others have them, and we have a duty to ensure that they remain in possesion of them because God has willed that it be so. In his "Letter Concerning Toleration," Locke argued that we have a right to be free from state compulsion in matters of religious belief, because God did not impose belief upon us. Jefferson's statute establishing religious freedom in Virginia, which he wrote with Locke's "Letter" at his side, famously begins, "Well aware that Almighty God hath created the mind free; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burdens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the Holy Author of our religion, who being Lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to do..."

But is the expression adequate? Does speaking of certain of the unique features of our created nature as implicitly conferring "rights" do justice to God's worksmanship? For the limited purpose of laying foundations for a political society, not all of the citizens of which are Christians? For any purpose? There, I think, we must press.

In Christ,
Evan

Edited by Evan, 07 September 2011 - 04:41 PM.


#66 Antonios

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Posted 07 September 2011 - 08:55 PM

Something which I find fascinating (though haven't found any mention of in the writings of the founding fathers of America) is how the structure of government is in trinity, namely, the Legislative Branch, the Judicial Branch and the Executive Branch.

Interestingly, these have remarkable similarities to the personal attributes of the Three Persons of the One Godhead in Christian theology. For example, the Father and the Legislative Branch which create and is the source of the Law, the Son and the Judicial Branch which defines and defends the Law, and the Holy Spirit and the Executive Branch which apply and enforce the Law. All different but equal and all required in order to bring about a more perfect government.

#67 Anna Stickles

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Posted 07 September 2011 - 11:54 PM

I am not sure if basing a civil govt on ideas that do not reflect sound theology is truly constructive. We are not made equal and independent. The natural order includes submission - under the Fall it tends to be involuntary, but as originally created a voluntary submission, to God and to one another. And we are not independent but mutually dependent. I am not sure that the way to fix the problem of oppression by the powerful over those that are in submission to them is to try to make everyone equal and independent. Anyway, we see in our country now that the fruit of this is bad.

There are some good things, and there was some good intentions but these ideas nurture insubordination and lack of ability to truly be humble.

Perhaps Locke can be best understood as shifting "divine right" from the king to the people.

The human race lost their "divine rights" when they fell. To restore this prematurely to a still fallen people.... well we are suffering the consequences of that in our country. Human govt, soveriegn authority in whatever form of governing that takes, is a necessary check in the midst of a state wherein our conscience is blinded and our will toward good weak. We are not in an enlightened state and civil authority is God's medicine for a fallen state wherein we are in rebellion against the natural law.

Edited by Anna Stickles, 08 September 2011 - 12:18 AM.


#68 Michael Bauman

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Posted 08 September 2011 - 01:01 AM

From Angleos: I think the only way for Christians to live as Christians in our Western European/North American countries is for the Government to get out of the business of legislating behavior. The Government has an important function: keep everyone safe from outside enemies and criminals...they should stick with just that narrow Constitutional mandate.


Government always has and always will legislate morality by legislating behavior (or refusing to)--just depends on what morality. Behavior is all that can be legislated BTW. The morality being legislated now is egalitarian nihlism and is specifically aimed at compromising Chrisitan morals, and Chrisitians. There is simply no such thing as moral neutrality. The nature of the morality legislated is founded upon the cosmology that the people of any given state hold to. Change the cosmology and you change the morals legislated. That is how Chrisitianity became dominate in the late Roman Empire and remained more or less dominant until the rise of humanism begining (in earnest) in the 14th century. With the advent of 'every man is his own Pope' Protestanism the stage was set for the more drastic 'if it feels good do it' morality of the 1960's and since.

Goverments are formed by the belief of the people out of the culture in which they are set. Want to reform government--reform the prevailing cultural belief, i.e evangelize? Chrisitans as a whole have largely forgone that route for a long time--thus debates like this one which are little more than circular logic in which fundamental assumptions are neither revealed nor explored.

A righteous government will legislate righteously. An unrighteous government will not. Frankly there is, IMO, little in most current governments that is righteous, yet we are bound in obedience to follow what is righteous, if we can find it.

#69 Evan

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Posted 08 September 2011 - 04:42 AM

I am not sure if basing a civil govt on ideas that do not reflect sound theology is truly constructive. We are not made equal and independent. The natural order includes submission - under the Fall it tends to be involuntary, but as originally created a voluntary submission, to God and to one another.


For Locke, being made equal and independent meant the following: (1) All of us (of age and mental competence) are made capable of discursive reason and discerning the moral law and can be addressed with persuasion, if of age and sufficiently educated; (2) None of us are infallible in respect of exercising our reason and moral judgment. Therefore, to force anyone to do anything without our enlightened consent is to act unrightfully, against the will of God.

Certainly, this doesn't fully capture the Orthodox understanding of what it means to be made in the divine image, and called to grow in his likeness. I would ask you, though: Can we do better and still have a functioning civil order? Has there ever existed a state whose foundations were laid in "good theology"? What would such a state look like?

Human govt, soveriegn authority in whatever form of governing that takes, is a necessary check in the midst of a state wherein our conscience is blinded and our will toward good weak. We are not in an enlightened state and civil authority is God's medicine for a fallen state wherein we are in rebellion against the natural law.


I'm not sure there's any disagreement between you and Locke as to the ends of government. Government exists, for Locke, in order to bind us to obey the moral law which can be discerned in the "state of nature" but is (a) not often discerned, because people are extremely vulnerable (b) not often enforced, because some men are weaker than others © not often enforced impartially, because everyone acts as judge in their own case and is susceptible to being swayed by passion.

Where I do find substantive disagreement between you is in the proposition that "our conscience is blinded." Locke plainly believed that "unassisted reason" COULD lead us to the moral law which binds us, within and without civil society. That is to say, he actually thought that man could appreciate, without divine revelation, that we were obliged to respect and protect that created nature, as reflecting God's worksmanship.

The end of all of this, as understood by Jefferson, was facilitating "the pursuit of happiness," which for him meant living in accordance with virtue, as it did for Aristotle some three thousand years before him (eudaimonia). While virtue didn't entail theosis for any of these men, it did not exclude it. What it did exclude was anything that violated the above-discussed rights.

We know that the Gentiles who know not the law can do by nature the things of the law. Jefferson, following Locke, took to making such "natural law" the foundations of a polity. Could you elaborate as to your concerns with this project, so stated?

In Christ,
Evan

#70 Evan

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Posted 08 September 2011 - 07:12 AM

Sorry for the repeat posts, but I think another point of clarity is in order. I beg your patience: I cannot claim to have a comprehensive knowledge of Locke’s social and political thought, although I hope, with God’s help, to increase in that knowledge (separating wheat from chaff, and approving only that which is excellent, of course).

Certain of the terms Locke used have since been employed for purposes utter alien to Locke’s way of thinking. Perhaps most prominent among them is “consent.” For Locke, consent, in order to have any authority whatsoever, had to be “enlightened.” That is, it needed to be bounded by the particular feature of God’s worksmanship, and the natural rights inferred therefrom. Locke denied, for instance, that a man could “consent” to suicide, as men’s bodies are not their own—they are to be kept in stewardship for the Lord Who gave them life. They are His “property."

Neither a person nor a community of persons, neither before nor after entering into civil society, could "consent" to violations of natural right. They lack the authority. For Locke, such debased “consent” as would vindicate, say, a community’s choice to approve euthanasia, would have no binding authority on anyone within it. What God has given, man cannot take away-- unless, of course, it be to prevent and/or punish violations of natural right, which reflect an implicit renunciation of human nature on the part of those who so violate it.

In Christ,
Evan

#71 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 08 September 2011 - 02:52 PM

I'm still very confident of what Locke and the other English Enlightenment thinkers main point was. He was after all until very recent times held up as a founding father of 'liberty & free personal conscience'. That none of these thinkers meant a free for all by this is true. But still the point remains that for all of these thinkers the point was to define man's nature in a new way and then to present this within a new social structure that to their way of thinking would no longer constrict man as the traditional authorities of church and monarchy had. From this point there was a concern for social stability and the cohesion of the community. But the way in which such thinkers proceeded on such issues was a basic confidence that a society of free men always works. In other words behind this way of thinking was another strand of thought which is a faith in the basic goodness of man in an individual & social sense, once he was set free to live according to his individual conscience.

I think that this is important to keep in mind because these values have deeply formed the countries in which most of us live. Most people may not know who Locke was anymore. But basically everyone has been deeply influenced by the social program they put forward. And even if the optimistic view of man as part of this agenda has taken a real beating in the past few decades, still the view that man given the freedom to pursue whatever is felt to be right in his/her own conscience will be 'fulfilled', shows no sign of losing its influence.

As Orthodox Christians I think this is very important to keep in mind. For we all interact with our society and its values. We pray for our country and its authorities so that we show concern for the society we live in. And in this sense knowledge of our society is important.

In Christ-
Fr Raphael

#72 Rdr Daniel (R.)

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Posted 08 September 2011 - 04:01 PM

Dear Evan,

First sorry for not reading your post rightly I miss understood what you where saying in regard to rights, which I think we agree on. It was that you said "Locke believed that protection of our natural rights is God’s will." and to me yes it is more a duty to love each person than a matter of them having rights.

But he says all men are 'equal and independent' and this means 'there cannot be supposed any such subordination among us' to me this is two different things all men are equal in the site of God, but that does not mean the should be no subordination, men are equal before God but not all are called to rule over a people, this is a responsibility given by God and it does mean those called to this are in authority they rule over the people as an image of the true King. God appointed Judges then David and his descendents to rule over the people. that this I think is not quite right. But this is a responsibility to rule in accordance with God's will so I agree no man as the authority to destroy another beacuse he is of a higher rank but he does have the right to administer justice.

Now onto the independent bit no man is independent this idea of independent men forming a society I think is from Aristotle as a opposed to the society first in other philosophers. But it found its apex in Protestantism and then the "Enlightenment". Man was created always for communion with God, but also fellow man. A man is not independent of a woman nor woman of a man. For woman was from man but since then all men are from women. The basic unit for man (non monks) is that of a marriage and the children from marriage in a family no one is independent of each other for the husband must care for the wife and children ect... they are a unit. Israel was a unit it was not independent of each other when David sinned all Israel suffered. When our leaders make wrong choices the whole country suffers.
Neither is a man saved alone (as in protestantism) we are saved as one as the Church united to Christ.

Lockes views affected on the independence of each man affected his concept of everything both state and Church.

He also says,

'IF man in the state of nature be so free, as has been said; if he be absolute lord of his own person and possessions, equal to the greatest, and subject to no body, why will he part with his freedom?'

Here I disagree again where is this idea of freedom come from. Freedom given us by God is the choice to say yes to Him he gives us free will that we may choice Him, but if we should choice not to and we reject Him without repentance at the end of the age He will reject us and we shall be thrown into the fire. The freedom is not in the choice but in the saying yes to God where true freedom is.

Now how does this idea of God giving us such free will result in us being "absolute lord of his own person". God respects our free will in salvation, we can only do this beacuse allows us to. This does not mean we have do not have to obey the rules of the community we are in, we are not "absolute lord". We obey the bishops in matters of the Church. We obey the king in matters of the state.

On a side note I think this is not the same issue the question that started this tread. To me we a looking for the ideal in this the thread is dealing with whether the sate as it is now should legislate morality which to me is not a question beacuse it does and badly and there is not much we can do about it.

In Christ.
Daniel,

#73 Evan

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Posted 08 September 2011 - 04:27 PM

Father,

I'm grateful for the context you've provided. Leaving aside for a moment (although without discounting its importance!) the question of whether one can speak of Locke's ultimate project as one of giving man "freedom to do whatever is felt to be right in his/her own conscience," I'd like to press on the concept of God-given "natural rights" I've presented here.

I read Locke and Jefferson, and I find an understanding of created human nature that is accessible to "unassisted reason," which understanding in turn informs their teachings concerning how precisely the state is to act as God's minister. Those who administer the laws of the state (chosen, of course, by the people) are obliged to coerce obedience to this "law of nature, and reason which is that law" (Locke) expressed in the form of "unalienable rights" (Jefferson), and all citizens are bound to obey and support the state, as thus carrying out God's will, so long as the state does in fact keep their rights secure. The terms to which the state is bound in seeking that end are set by a constitution, to which there is unanimous consent at the outset. The constitution being ratified, the state operates through the rule of the majority, but must do so within the confines of the constitution.

If it doesn't adhere to the constitution, or if the constitution itself proves insufficient to protect natural rights (either because the state continually violates them, or private citizens violate them to such a degree as to make one's natural rights in political society more vulnerable than those rights were were in the pre-political "state of nature"), the people are not bound to obey the state. They may choose, out of prudence, simply to bear the indignities they're faced with, or wait for the next election and vote for new leaders who will obey the constitution, but they need not be so patient. They need not acquiesce in violations of their natural rights, or the terms of the organ that was put in place to protect them against such violations. People cannot, however, violate the natural rights of others, regardless of their grievances. The state can always stop them from doing so, and private persons can always stop them from doing so, if the agents of the state aren't immediately at hand so as to protect their "lives, liberty and estates" ("property," on Locke's wide-ranging understanding").

I can see numerous potential problem areas here, and I thought you might be willing to address them for our edification. This is an area of intense personal interest for me at the moment, but I think, as you say, it is very important for all of us, as we interact within society, to keep in mind the intellectual foundations it rests upon.

In Christ,
Evan

PS: I now see that Daniel has posted a lengthy response, which looks to address precisely these matters! :-)

#74 Anna Stickles

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Posted 09 September 2011 - 12:44 AM

Evan,

You laid aside my comment about man's weakened conscience and Fr Raphael's comment about a foundational concept in Locke being "freedom to do whatever is felt to be right in his/her own conscience,"

But here is precisely where we have to back up to. This whole senario only works if our "natural rights" really are accessible to unassisted reason. Otherwise on what basis can the govt enforce those rights and on what basis can others rebel against the govt for abusing those rights.

But here is a comment to consider that Fr Raphael made in another thread about our conscience and our ability to discern right and wrong that just by experience we can see is true.

Conscience left to itself can fall into the same quagmire of subjective feelings & attractions already referred to above. It can lead to the point you hint at that 'following one's conscience' really leads to following ones own varying opinion about things.

It just seems to me that what is being put forward is a set up bound to lead to nothing but one man's opinion of what is right against another without any ground in truth, with a built in mechanism for any person or group of people with enough power to assert their will against the rest of the community whenever they feel unfairly treated according to their own subjective feelings.

#75 Evan

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Posted 09 September 2011 - 10:12 AM

Evan,

You laid aside my comment about man's weakened conscience and Fr Raphael's comment about a foundational concept in Locke being "freedom to do whatever is felt to be right in his/her own conscience,"

But here is precisely where we have to back up to. This whole senario only works if our "natural rights" really are accessible to unassisted reason. Otherwise on what basis can the govt enforce those rights and on what basis can others rebel against the govt for abusing those rights.


But here is a comment to consider that Fr Raphael made in another thread about our conscience and our ability to discern right and wrong that just by experience we can see is true.

Conscience left to itself can fall into the same quagmire of subjective feelings & attractions already referred to above. It can lead to the point you hint at that 'following one's conscience' really leads to following ones own varying opinion about things.

It just seems to me that what is being put forward is a set up bound to lead to nothing but one man's opinion of what is right against another without any ground in truth, with a built in mechanism for any person or group of people with enough power to assert their will against the rest of the community whenever they feel unfairly treated according to their own subjective feelings.


Anna,

I hope I didn’t give the impression that I was deliberately ignoring a point you were trying to make. But I do not see in Locke and Jefferson what I see in, say, Rousseau, who discovered the distinction of his species to consist in freedom from the limitations that nature had imposed on all other species. For Rousseau, man is by nature presocial and prerational, free of all moral obligation in his solitary state. For Locke, the state of nature is prepolitical but not presocial, and so far from being prerational, it is governed by the law of reason, which imposes a moral mandate upon him from the very outset, even if he’s not aware of it. I do think it’s important to recognize that these are very different premises, and they support different arguments that build towards different conclusions. That is not to say that Locke’s premises, arguments, and conclusions are correct, but we must be fair to what he did in fact say.

For Locke and for Jefferson, natural rights, which we are bound to respect by the law of reason, were not nebulous. They had definite content. They could not mean anything one wanted them to mean. They were derived from facts about our created nature that were said to be available to “unassisted reason,” in the sense that one needed no particular revelation vouchsafed to them to discern that they were facts (although, as I've said, they believed that men did not always so discern, nor act on them, being fallible and passionate). I've tried to give an account of them above. If you take issue with the proposition that any of these rights can be discerned by, as it were, the Gentiles who know not the law but can do by nature the things of the law, such that the state can undertake to secure them, I'd certainly be open to that argument.

I think you're correct in your assessment of what “natural right” has come to mean for many. Namely, the right to do what “feels” naturally right to oneself. Natural right thus is reduced to a form of self-assertion, and all forms of self-assertion are created equal. But I don’t see this in the writings I've presented and sought to summarize above. If you do, I hope you’ll draw my attention to it.

As to conscience—it’s important to understand that for Locke and Jefferson, “freedom of conscience” did not entail indifference to what men thought. Again, for Jefferson, the rights of none could be thought secure, without the understanding that they were the gift of God. What both men were at pains to insist was that neither the state nor any private person could coerce nor punish those who had attained the age of reason, simply for thinking things, as one exerting such force towards such ends would be claiming for oneself a prerogative that God Himself did not claim. Neither denied the state the ability to provide for the moral education of their citizens (Jefferson thought the state was obliged to do so), or serve as a moral educator by enforcing laws that compelled obedience to the natural law.

Now, it seems clear, so far as the historical record would indicate, that Jefferson was indifferent to matters of religious dogma (cf. "The Jefferson Bible"-- a synthesis of the Gospels without any miracles and without any of Our Lord's discourses concerning His eternal sonship or the life of the Trinity). For him, the great value of Christ was his moral teachings, which he considered the most sublime ever promulgated for regulating the affairs of men (his understanding, NOT mine). But can we say that he was wrong in so delimiting state authority, on the grounds that to do otherwise would be “(a) departure from the plan of the Holy author of our religion, who being Lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as it was in his Almighty power to do?” I’d submit that he was not, and that his reasoning in this regard was substantially sound.


Dear Evan,

Now onto the independent bit no man is independent this idea of independent men forming a society I think is from Aristotle as a opposed to the society first in other philosophers. But it found its apex in Protestantism and then the "Enlightenment". Man was created always for communion with God, but also fellow man. A man is not independent of a woman nor woman of a man. For woman was from man but since then all men are from women. The basic unit for man (non monks) is that of a marriage and the children from marriage in a family no one is independent of each other for the husband must care for the wife and children ect... they are a unit. Israel was a unit it was not independent of each other when David sinned all Israel suffered. When our leaders make wrong choices the whole country suffers.
Neither is a man saved alone (as in protestantism) we are saved as one as the Church united to Christ.


Daniel,

This is most welcome. There's much in your post that prompted reflection on my part, but I'm a mess when it comes to parsing quotes, and I hope you'll forgive me for focusing on this portion of your response.

You’ve pointed, I think, to perhaps the most serious deficiencies I’ve come across in Locke’s political philosophy.

First, there’s priority of the individual. The family is the basic unit of political society, and indeed the foundation of all human life. Man is never, has never been, and never will be, alone. We look at people, and we don’t see “men.” We see fathers, sons, mothers, daughters, brothers, sisters.

Now, Locke might respond that he is concerned with the state’s ministry to man “in his highest state”—that is, rational, moral discerning, and propertied (Locke’s understanding, not mine), because only such men make decisions affecting the polity. Independents consent for their dependents. Children need not have their reason addressed, because they are not yet capable of reasoned decisionmaking. Of course, they are not to be treated like beasts, but it makes no sense to solicit their opinion about whether or not they want to escape the “state of nature,” or, having entered into society, whether they want to extend the payroll tax cut. Once they’re sufficiently rational, they cease to be dependents, and hey presto everything changes.

I do not find this account satisfactory. It is too abstract, too impersonal, and too indifferent to the bonds of love that subsist between family members. One recalls Aristotle’s scornful criticism of Plato’s arrangement for the ruling class in the Republic, wherein sexual relations take place between strangers and birth is given in secret, to the end of better public-spiritedness and less “selfishness” such as family ties promote. For Aristotle, this is abolishing oxygen to prevent fires. The state should draw strength from the intense love that links fathers and sons and mothers and daughters who know themselves to be such. Locke fails to even address these bonds of love.

Second, and relatedly, it’s arguable that there’s a definite sense in which Locke (although he never quite says this) regards man as political by art rather than by nature. It is useful but not essential—under certain circumstances, we could do without it. How different this understanding is from that of Aristotle, who believed that man’s nature could only be perfected in the context of a political society. Of course, we would go farther—political society doesn’t perfect man either. Man is perfected by a society held together by the joints and members of the Risen Christ—the dividing wall of hostility between us is broken down by becoming brothers and sisters of the God-Man. The state provides a forum in which we can work out our salvation in the context of the only perfect society that ever has, or ever will, exist. It must be judged with reference to how it does that. It will never be “ideal” for the simple reason that all things worldly will inevitably be fallen and ultimately will pass away. Nonetheless, I think we must say that certain arrangements are better than others.

This notion of self-sufficiency is in evidence in other contexts as well. It is in evidence in his “Letter Concerning Toleration,” where he sets forth most concretely his ecclesiology and sorteriology. The church is a “voluntary society of men, joining themselves together of their own accord in order to the public worshipping of God in such manner as they judge acceptable to Him, and effectual to the salvation of their souls.” The individual Bible-reader can assault the mountain on his own— so long as he does what the Sermon on the Mount says (begging the question, of course—one recalls the Ethiopian eunuch), he doesn’t really need anything else to be saved.

In Christ,
Evan

Edited by Herman Blaydoe, 09 September 2011 - 03:43 PM.
Fixed quote tages


#76 Anna Stickles

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Posted 09 September 2011 - 12:05 PM

For Locke and for Jefferson, natural rights, which we are bound to respect by the law of reason, were not nebulous. They had definite content. They could not mean anything one wanted them to mean. They were derived from facts about our created nature that were said to be available to “unassisted reason,” in the sense that one needed no particular revelation vouchsafed to them to discern that they were facts (although, as I've said, they believed that men did not always so discern, nor act on them, being fallible and passionate). I've tried to give an account of them above. If you take issue with the proposition that any of these rights can be discerned by, as it were, the Gentiles who know not the law but can do by nature the things of the law, such that the state can undertake to secure them, I'd certainly be open to that argument.

I think you're correct in your assessment of what “natural right” has come to mean for many. Namely, the right to do what “feels” naturally right to oneself. Natural right thus is reduced to a form of self-assertion, and all forms of self-assertion are created equal. But I don’t see this in the writings I've presented and sought to summarize above. If you do, I hope you’ll draw my attention to it.


I am not saying that the "Gentlies" cannot know somewhat by nature the things of the law. However, in a fallen state such that "even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, nor give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened." wherein God gave them over.... such that they not only do evil but heartily approve those who practice it ... who do we trust to govern dispassionately and with a true knowledge of our nature? And will not those who are full of their own futile thinking take the idea that each individual is free to live by their own conscience and abuse it? What I am saying is that the enlightenment thinkers overestimated mankind's ability to know the good.

I think Fr Raphael and Daniel have addressed problems with the theory in other areas that maybe are more relevant. I am just trying to draw attention to the fact that the theory does not work in practice because it has flawed assumptions about our ability to know and act on the good simply in practical terms. It underestimates the effect of the Fall.

#77 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 09 September 2011 - 03:02 PM

Dear Evan,

You wrote:

But can we say that he was wrong in so delimiting state authority, on the grounds that to do otherwise would be “(a) departure from the plan of the Holy author of our religion, who being Lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as it was in his Almighty power to do?” I’d submit that he was not, and that his reasoning in this regard was substantially sound.


This is an example of what I mean. To understand Locke and the other Enlightenment thinkers you have to understand their overall context so as to grasp their overall point. Otherwise as with any author we can miss their actual point or intent.

In any case with such thinkers by authority they meant to question not authority in general but rather hierarchical authority. That is: what they stood firmly against was traditional authority and the whole manner of traditional belief that stood behind this. That is why in practical terms the social community they had in mind as best reflecting or allowing for man's free nature would include neither monarchy nor the Church. This was fundamental to their whole program.

I'm not saying that as Orthodox Christians we have to know who Locke was (although in previous times in the educational system that most of us grew up with, Locke and the other Enlightenment thinkers were taught in basic terms as founding fathers of liberty and the rights of man that were so important for each citizen to be aware of and to preserve). But a basic understanding of the foundational beliefs that make up the social reality that we live in the west is very important. Otherwise we simply take this reality for granted and take it as being all there can be. We start looking at our social world as being either the absolute definition of reality itself or else as being some sort of ball of uncontrollable energy that no one can have any control of. What's lost sight of is the understanding that the Orthodox deeply shared in until the 20thc (and I think that this lost understanding applies more to the Orthodox who live in the west or who have been influenced by western values) that the social world is a community, constructed through conscious and moral thought and effort. It isn't something that simply falls from the sky and we have to live with.

In Christ-
Fr Raphael

#78 Evan

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Posted 09 September 2011 - 03:08 PM

Well, I think that we may have a new avenue of inquiry that's worth pursuing. Namely, given that any political order is necessarily "fallen" in the sense of being unable to save those who are under it, can we speak of a Christian political science? Aristotle and Plato believed that the perfection of man was the end of the political order. The wise and virtuous were to shape the souls of those subject to them in their image. There was no facet of human life out of reach of the state. Locke cordoned off areas of human life that would have been regulated in the ancient polis (Socrates, charged with impiety against the gods of the city and faced with the death penalty, never claimed to be free to worship whatever gods he chose!), in the interests of preserving undefiled what he understood to be the peculiar features of God's worksmanship, and leaving perfection, that is, salvation to the individual believer (and whatever church they thought "effectual" to their salvation). The state was still to promote virtue, but it was considered less-than-virtuous to rule a state in ways thought conducive to virtue by the ancients.

It has been argued that we find in the letters of St. Paul and St. Peter a complete depreciation of the continuing importance of politics. Men are subjects, and there is no suggestion of the distinction between just and unjust governments, and certainly no arguments against taxation without representation. Governors are described as "sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praised those who do right" (1 Peter 2:13) although the imperial authorities the apostles were familiar with actively persecuted them. There is no whisper of the least participation in government by the governed. To live as a free man means to live as a servant of God, period. The rulers are answerable to God alone.

Why? Arguably, because the world was thought to be ending, and the preaching of the Gospel was facilitated by the existence of a "universal city" that swept away the authority of the local gods of the polis and prepared the way for the Savior of the World. Caeser ministered to the needs of the saints, despite himself, by extending Roman citizenship to the provinces.

I see in Locke an attempt to solve a problem that politics has been confronted with ever since the apostles' proclamation went out to the ends of the earth, in a manner conducive to his understanding of what that proclamation consisted in (one that was vigorously individualistic and anti-hierarchical). Namely, how does one inculcate a sense of duty to promote an active political life that prevents Caeserism and its attendant abuses (and in particular Caeserism allied with hierachical religious establishments which did such "odious" things as claim authority to bind and loose sins) and promotes a virtuous political order when one's "duty towards the Creator... is precedent, both in order of time and in degree of obligation, to the claims of civil society?" Locke's answer: Preventing Caeserism, and undermining claims of "absolute" authority by men over souls and bodies in any context, is God's will. The law of nature, which reflects God's worksmanship and unassisted reason can grasp, must ground everything that the state does, and it does not give grounds for despotic authority. Participation in the life of the state becomes a "religious obligation," because the law of nature is of God. "Doctrine" doesn't get in the way, because the state doesn't ally itself with any sect and you don't need to accept "doctrine" to "get" the moral conduct required of you (although you do need education). Easy, right?

Of course, it isn't. And we're here today with "rights" which sanction wrongs (I stress that the thinkers we've discussed could not have conceived of such rights as are now recognized or argued for-- Jefferson's Virginia, for instance, treated sodomy with the same harshness as rape).

And so: Is political science interesting? Knowing that the world is passing away, should Christians strive to make the political order substantially "better?" Is this necessarily an endeavor like unto the Tower of Babel? Or something in between?

In Christ,
Evan

#79 Evan

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Posted 09 September 2011 - 03:36 PM

Father, I just had an opportunity to look at your most recent post concerning the Enlightenment. I would daresay I'm familiar with what Jefferson and Locke thought about hierachical authority, as well as with the cultural context in which they lived. What I'm trying to stress is that they did hold to absolute truth, derived from their understanding of human nature, created by God, and drew upon that absolute truth in laying the foundations for political society. And I thought we might evaluate that approach towards politics.

Of course we can't understand them by simply cracking open a volume. Of course we need to know what they thought about other things, what circles they moved in, what events they participated in, what they did in the course of those events. But neither can we say, I think, that such context made them birds of the same feather. Locke was not Rousseau was not Voltaire was not Jefferson was not Diderot (although certainly they substantially agree in certain of their teachings). I've tried to distinguish Rousseau from Locke above.

I'm not making an apologia for Locke's (much less Jefferson's) ecclesiology or theology, which ought to distress every Orthodox Christian who encounters them. But when it comes to structuring a polity in a fallen world, I think there's something to be said for what they had to say, and something to be said against it. And I would that we come to terms with what they had to say, separating wheat from chaff. If that's not appropriate to this forum, I would ask your forgiveness. We can pursue other things.

In Christ, in love,
Evan

Edited by Evan, 09 September 2011 - 03:52 PM.


#80 Anna Stickles

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Posted 09 September 2011 - 07:53 PM

What I'm trying to stress is that they did hold to absolute truth, derived from their understanding of human nature, created by God, and drew upon that absolute truth in laying the foundations for political society.


One thing to look at that might be more in line with this forum's purpose might be to talk about the fact of how Locke's understanding of human nature was faulty and in what way. I guess this is where I have been tending toward, although, maybe it is not of general interest.

In a way I guess I look at it with an engineer's eye. If I want to design a machine to do a particular job, it's success lies in being able to accurately know the forces and stresses to which it will be subjected, as well as having an accurate view of what needs to be done and how. If someone's view of human nature, and the stresses and forces that are acting on this nature are faulty, and their ideas about how this nature responds under different kinds pressure is faulty well...... how can they engineer a social structure that will do what they intend it to do.

Another avenue for productive discussion might be to discuss the Christian idea of the duties of kings in a Christian state (for instance in Tsarist Russia) and how the Church in Christian empires has viewed this problem of "Caesarism" and how they have attempted to mitigate it. Obviously Christianity existed within cultures under a monarchy for a long time, and had plenty of opportunities to respond to abuses of the authority by the rulers -whether those rulers be within the state or the church. Their answer was not the answer we find among the enlightenment thinkers.




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