Turek’s Absurd Conception of Rights


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.

Comments

  1. matty1 says

    Hmm, I think there is an issue in coming up with definitions for things like rights and ethics that are universally accepted (not in coming up with definitions at all, those are two a penny). However of all the proposed solutions divine command theory is by far the weakest, it doesn’t even attempt to answer the questions “why is that a right” or “what is a right” it just asserts that certain things are rights because the boss said so.

  2. John Pieret says

    In other words, rights are not based on human opinion, but on an unchangeable authoritative standard beyond human opinion.

    But who decides what that “unchangeable authoritative standard” is, exactly? Many, if not most, people once thought that “unchangeable authoritative standard” permitted and even required the enslavement of millions of people based on their skin color. Most people now think that wasn’t part of the “unchangeable authoritative standard.” What changed except the opinion of humans?

  3. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    Is same-sex marriage really a “right”?

    Yes.

    If so, by what standard is it a right?

    By plenty of standards.

    Who said and by what authority?

    Quite a few judges and most people in civilised ethical nations these days chump.

    Oh & if your’e going to make an extraordinary claim otherwise Mr Turek , then your;e going to need some extraordinary evidence to back your case up – burden of proof is on you.

    PS If ya gunna use ya Bible inas “evidence” here ya might want to ask why homosexuality is worse than eating shrimp and working on the sabbath among many other things. Like lying and not loving your neighbours something I gather you religions founder kinda asked you to do -unlike judging folks which he told yuz *not* to do.

  4. says

    It’s interesting how rights guaranteed by a document, written and signed by human beings, are not “man-made”. That makes about as much sense as saying that paintings and poetry aren’t man-made.

    To claim otherwise would be to admit that your “rights” would vanish if a majority of humans or a dictator changed the law.

    Yes they would.

    Next?

  5. marcus says

    “A right is something that a person has even if the majority of people disagree with it. “
    Very good!

    “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”
    Fuck it. Never mind.

  6. Loqi says

    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.

    I’m an advocate of same sex marriage, and I’d agree with that. Rights exist because we decided we wanted to live in a world in which they do. We decided people should have rights, so we created a system in which we do. And one doesn’t have to look very hard to find instances in which laws were enacted which violated rights.

  7. moarscienceplz says

    I think Turek should work to ban all pork products. No more bacon or pork chops for anybody. After all, he wouldn’t want to be accused of cherry-picking the Bible just to suit his personal whims, would he?

  8. khms says

    In any case, his “God-derived” rights are not actually independent of majority opinion. After all, it’s only human opinion which says which god they are to be derived from. If the US changed into (say) a Hindu majority state, you’d try to derive rights from that religion, and no doubt you’d arrive at a different set of rights than those he wants to derive from Christianity.

    I prefer deriving rights more directly from humans. And given that we think rights are good things, then we want as much of those at possible. Like Jefferson, I think rights should only be restricted to protect rights of other people, and as much as possible, the restrictions should be “fair” – that still leaves a great deal of wiggle room, of course.

  9. kosk11348 says

    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.

    Even granting his premises, this doesn’t make sense. If God has no intention of ever changing his views on same sex marriage, then why wouldn’t its advocates appeal to the majority of humans? Isn’t dealing with a dictator who may revoke your rights in the future better than dealing with a god who refuses to recognize them in the first place?

  10. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    @Area man #4:

    That makes about as much sense as saying that paintings and poetry aren’t man-made.

    Less, actually. To wit:

    Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.

    Fortunately that lets me off the hook for any graven images…

  11. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    Also, Ed? A nit.

    Jefferson would have been agreeing with Jeremy Bentham and James Mill (John Stuart’s dad). John Stuart wasn’t born until Jefferson’s first term as President was over, and turned 20 the same year Jefferson died.

    John Stuart did do a lot of great thinking, but even more great propounding and arguing: Bentham and James Mill were good friends and raised JS in an environment steeped in Utilitarianism from the get go: the ideas he expounded and expanded were not primarily ideas that he originated.

  12. jws1 says

    “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.”

    Ah, but we all know the standard get-out-of-old-testament-free card: Jesus died so we don’t have to obey rules that we don’t like!

  13. Sastra says

    Modusoperandi beat me to the punch. What grants “God” His authority? It can’t just beassumed; it has to be justified. So justify it.

    Hell, I didn’t vote for Him.

    The sort of people who think rights must come from God like permission must come from a parent are usually the same sort of people who eventually terminate in premises like “Might Makes Right” or “Whatever you make, you own.” Reject those — and we should — and they’re back to square one.

  14. scienceavenger says

    …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.

    It’s amazing to me that people can express this tired helping of either-or fallacy without choking on the idiocy. Everything is either an absolute god-ordained right or mere personal preference eh? Fine, do we have the right to breath? To drink? To think? Is wanting to do these things mere “personal preference”? And in the instant we find an absolute proof there is no God, do we lose the right to do these things? Dumbth indeed.

  15. Hercules Grytpype-Thynne says

    it doesn’t even attempt to answer the questions “why is that a right” or “what is a right” it just asserts that certain things are rights because the boss said so in an unsigned memo that some people claim was written by the boss, or perhaps rather by a trustworthy stenographer or pool of stenographers who correctly transcribed the boss’s instructions, but others are equally sure is not.

  16. Gvlgeologist, FCD says

    Where in the bible is anything akin to the phrase “the right of the people to keep and bear arms”?

  17. doublereed says

    Ehh… usually when they say “Rights come from Almighty God” they mean that as interpreted by them or as interpreted by priests. So really they just mean “Rights come from Almighty Me.”

  18. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    I love the selective reading of such asshats. What does it say right before that … literally right before that … in the document they quote? Here:

    http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/declaration_transcript.html

    (Bold added)

    When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

    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, […][

    Seriously. “Creator” in context is “Nature’s God”. Can these people not read?

    The expressed purpose of the constitution of the US was for a “natural rights” document. It was expressly intended as an alternative to the doctrine that rights come from god.

    Srsly people, srsly.

  19. steve84 says

    >”To claim otherwise would be to admit that your “rights” would vanish if a majority of humans or a dictator changed the law.”

    Yeah, so? The right would still exist in an abstract sense, but the law doesn’t recognize it. Something that happens all the time. Same with things like slavery, segregation and anti-miscegenation laws. Strictly, speaking society or the court system didn’t invent any new rights when they gave black people rights. But they changed the legal system to acknowledge rights that they refused to do before.

  20. hunter says

    “We simply could not be anything but a totalitarian theocracy if Turek’s argument is to be applied coherently and consistently.”

    Suggestion: They can apply it to themselves and leave the rest of us alone.

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