Christian apologist Frank Turek offers an argument we hear quite often from the Christian right. It’s in the context of same-sex marriage, but we hear it in many other contexts as well, pretty much any time someone is granted a right that they don’t think they ought to have.
Is same-sex marriage really a “right”? If so, by what standard is it a right? Who said and by what authority?
A right is something that a person has even if the majority of people disagree with it. In other words, rights are not based on human opinion, but on an unchangeable authoritative standard beyond human opinion. That’s why human rights cannot exist unless God exists. Without God everything is simply a matter of personal preference.
Some say, “Our laws are the basis for rights!” No they are not. Human laws can only recognize God-given rights-they are not their ultimate justification. To claim otherwise would be to admit that your “rights” would vanish if a majority of humans or a dictator changed the law. No advocate of same sex marriage would agree with that. In fact, those advocates are arguing that in states where the majority is against same-sex marriage, they still have a right to it. They are correct if same sex marriage is actually a right. But since when does God consider same sex marriage a right?
Forget about the “separation of church and state” objection. It doesn’t apply here. We’re not talking about establishing a religion through our laws, but we are talking about protecting moral rights through our laws (which is what good laws are supposed to do). Our founders didn’t demand adherence to any particular religious denomination, but they recognized our moral rights come from the Creator and founded the country on “Nature’s Law” consistent with Christianity.
So let’s formalize this argument:
The Declaration of Independence says our rights are “endowed by our Creator.”
That creator is the God of the Bible.
Therefore, any right that is not given in the Bible is not a legitimate right but is an illegitimate, manmade “right.”
There are a whole lot of major problems with this argument, of course. The first is that Thomas Jefferson, who wrote the Declaration, would have found it quite laughable. This was a man who called the God of the Bible “cruel, vindictive, capricious and unjust.” Jefferson’s conception of rights could hardly be more different:
Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add ‘within the limits of the law’ because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual.
Jefferson agreed with John Stuart Mill that our rights should only be limited by the equal rights of others and to prevent us from injuring one another:
The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.
And that brings up the second major problem with this argument. If the Bible determines the limits of our rights, if anything condemned by God in the Bible as immoral cannot be considered a right, then we must become theocracy. No other religions would be allowed, since the very first commandment says that you cannot worship other gods. The list of things the Bible declares to be immoral is virtually without limit and only a totalitarian society could possibly tolerate laws against them.
If this argument is correct, we must make it against the law to have premarital sex, to make graven images, to eat shellfish or bacon. We simply could not be anything but a totalitarian theocracy if Turek’s argument is to be applied coherently and consistently. But aside from the Christian Reconstructionists, very few Christians would ever apply it in that matter, precisely because of those terrible results. So they apply it when they feel like it, while pretending that they don’t.
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