Home > Uncategorized > The need for clarity

The need for clarity

Unlike many of the bloggers here, I’m not a big fan of Eric X. Li’s writing and speeches from what I have so far seen and heard. I disagree with what he has said as they are either irrelevant, confused, contradictory or a strawman. I think I have expressed why I felt this way in the comments section of the latest blog on Li but there still seems to be some misunderstanding between Allen’s interpretation of Eric and myself.

Here I’d like to give a more detailed explanation of why I didn’t think Eric’s interview was that interesting or even helpful to bettering understanding between China and the west. I did agree on some things but found myself disagreeing far more often. I do not believe that Eric’s view represent much of what the Chinese government’s views which I think are primarily very sound. It’s a shame that people may misconstrue Eric’s views as a defense of China’s view because they are quite different.

But first, I will give some of the reasons I have that his interview isn’t very convincing or interesting. First, notice that he keeps using big terms and abstract terms such as “universalism” and “pluralism” and “democrat with a small d,” Modernism with a capital M,” Capitalistic, not capitalism,” etc without  defining specifically and concretely what they mean. I get very suspicious when people start using buzzwords like this without concrete examples and definitions. They may sound nice but do they have substantive and relevant meaning? What he says later makes me even more suspicious that he doesn’t really understand these terms either or at least uses them as a strawman against what he perceives (inaccurately) as the western view.

At 9:10 to 9:50 he says that democracy and human rights are fundamentally western religious concepts. His example that human rights is a western religious concept is the phrase, “All men are created equal.” He asked rhetorically “well, by whom?” He assumes that the “creator” must be some supernatural force or person like an Abrahamic god. But the natural rights tradition, the tradition that is dominant in western human rights development over the last 300 years, does not posit any person as the creator. The “creator” could very well be naturalistic process like evolution and rights may very well be a product of human institutions rather than god. It makes no claim either way. Most of the original fathers of the rights approach are either deists, agnostics or atheists.  Most of the people today working on rights are atheists. See here for a brief description of contemporary approach .

Rights plausibly attributed to divine decree must be very general and abstract (life, liberty, etc.) so that they can apply to thousands of years of human history, not just to recent centuries. But contemporary human rights are specific and many of them presuppose contemporary institutions (e.g., the right to a fair trial and the right to education). Even if people are born with God-given natural rights, we need to explain how to get from those general and abstract rights to the specific rights found in contemporary declarations and treaties.

Attributing human rights to God’s commands may give them a secure status at the metaphysical level, but in a very diverse world it does not make them practically secure. Billions of people do not believe in the God of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. If people do not believe in God, or in the sort of god that prescribes rights, then if you want to base human rights on theological beliefs you must persuade these people of a rights-supporting theological view. This is likely to be even harder than persuading them of human rights. Legal enactment at the national and international levels provides a far more secure status for practical purposes.

Human rights might also exist independently of legal enactment by being part of actual human moralities. It appears that all human groups have moralities, that is, imperative norms of behavior backed by reasons and values. [Emphasis mine]

Rather, the rights approach seeks to make common intuitions more cogent. Consider our intuition that we ought to keep promises. Why ought we keep them? Why is it wrong to make and break them? The rights approach says that we have an obligation once we make a promise. That is a duty is conferred on the promiser and a right to goods and services on the person promised. Eric also makes another strawman when he says that rights can be “negotiated rights” and can be “taken away”. I don’t know who or what he is arguing with here. Even in the US, the bastion of Liberal approach, people conccede that rights can be taken away. Just look at criminals. Their rights may be taken away. Their freedom, their right to vote, even their lives. So it seems again, that he is making a strawman here too.

Whether those stories about rights is wrong or right is obviously not the point. The point I was making is that Eric is setting up a strawman by attacking his version which seems to be a divine rights version (obviously much easier to argue against) and not the actual version employed by those in the modern world. I have reservations about the modern rights approach as well as I made clear in another post but my criticisms are based on what people actually think and say about rights, not on what a few religious people said about certain kinds of “rights” more than 300 years ago. No one today really takes seriously the idea of  divine rights. So attacking it is a strawman.

This blog usually focuses on misunderstandings that the west has about China. But in this case, there is the reverse problem in that many Chinese often misunderstand the western tradition (more specifically the philosophical and historical forces producing the Liberal tradition). Understanding on both sides must be improved to gain real understanding.

Next, he explicitly says that the notions of human rights and democracy “evolved from the Judeo Christian traditions” (10:15-10:30) Again, I’ve already made my case that this is a common misperception and false in another blog so I won’t deal with it here further except to say that fact, there are far more likely roots for their origin and in many important ways, the Judeo-Christian tradition is one of the most antithetical traditions towards the Liberal conception to have ever existed. I think the Judeo-Christian origin theory of the Liberal approach is a lie that has been told so often that it has become “common sense” but one without any justification and is wholly ridiculous upon serious historical and philosophical reflection.

In both history and philosophical content, the Liberal tradition has its roots in values that are opposed to the values of Christianity. Many of the men who are the intellectual fathers of the tradition, despite Eric’s explicit claims (10:20-10:25) that all were religious, were in fact, not religious at all. In fact, most weren’t religious. Some did believe in a non personal creator and some didn’t even go that far. Even among those that did believe in a creator, they believed such a being created the world through naturalistic, lawful processes much as a watch maker did with a watch e.g. rather than supernatural powers and that such a being had no role to play in human moral affairs.

I want to make clear that I’m not advocating for or against any particular view of human rights or even the whole rights enterprise here. Just that Eric does not seem to understand what modern human rights discourse is, makes it into a simplistic caricature, and that he makes several historical and philosophical errors in his argument against it.

But this issue is not the worst of Eric’s errors.

Next (14:40-14:55) he says that “we are back to the religious idea” if we posit anything “beyond the law.” This is false. We are not back to any particular religious idea if we posit principles or sensibilities above the law. Think about it. Laws change. Why do they change and why ought they change? Because some laws become obsolete. Because some are not right, are not just, or are impractical, etc. They change according to some basic principles and sensibilities (such as practicality, justice, etc) so in some sense, these things are above the law because the law ought to conform to them and not vice versa. Some laws are unjust and must be changed much like say, apartheid laws in South Africa or the laws the Chinese were made to observe under foreign occupation. In positing these principles and sensibilities, I made no commitments to any particular version of religion.

He claims that we ought not approach countries with “any kind of values.” This is odd as this seems to contradict the purpose of actually dealing with other countries even in strictly economic terms for such economic terms presuppose certain values (economic development, welfare of the population, fairness, etc). However, he also does not understand that other more general moral values are connected to economic values. For example, if there is civil unrest, genocide, mass killings, an unstable political environment, and a society without the rule of law and widespread injustice etc etc. that is a society that will be detrimental to economic development. Again, this is an issue that the Chinese government deeply understand but that Eric seems not to. So you can’t separate them and say “well, we’ll only deal with them on economic terms and not impose any values on them.”  That would be pragmatically contradictory because good economic relations presupposes many values and many of those values are inseparable from common moral values. This is partly why the Chinese government has played in such vital roles in resolving international affairs through diplomacy, dialogue, and through international law in recent years.

The only interesting points he seemed to have made was in questioning the interviewer on what democracy is (because it is such an ambiguous and vague term and shouldn’t be used so carelessly and there are hidden assumptions the interviewer clearly had that are questionable) and his point about consent. Unfortunately, he contradicts himself when he both says that he doesn’t know what democracy is but then proceeds to make all sorts of (false) substantive claims about it.

The interviewer asks next if Eric is scared that China has “nothing to say” regarding atrocities like genocide in the world and Eric responds with “the bad things ought to be allowed to take their course and to play out.” This is wrong and idiotic on many levels. First of all, the interviewer assumes that China does have “nothing to say” regarding these matters when that is wholly the opposite of the truth (it’s not a surprise that he makes such stupid accusations like this and many others because he is a NYT journalist).

Both the west and China agree that things like genocide and the atrocities of the Japanese and the Iraq war among many other things are wrong. The issue is how to stop these things from happening. China has lots to say about these issues but that voice is being ignored by people like the interviewer, the public and the media in the west. They all agree that these events are bad and that they ought not be allowed to play their course. They may sometimes disagree on how best to avoid them. But all sides disagree with Eric that they ought be allowed to “take their course.” That much is patently clear to me and to anyone in the Chinese government. In fact, I would argue that China’s strategy so far has been far more effective (or at least less damaging) than the west’s strategy in preventing them.

Eric buys into the western rhetoric unquestioningly and accepts it.

Finally, Eric’s confusing talk about “plurality” and “universality” seems contradictory or at least confused to me. For example, it’s not clear to me at all why his notion of “plurality” is not a “universal concept”. He seems to argue that the US is employing a universalist strategy in spreading “western” ideas of human rights and democracy but says that China’s view is that every society ought to have their own way even if it is not a western conception. But in pitting the “pluralist” conception against the “universalist”, doesn’t Eric presuppose that the pluralist model ought to be the model to be followed by the world including those who follow a “universalist approach”? Isn’t he advocating that people jettison the universalist approach in favor of a pluralist one? Why should the US stop its “universalist” strategy in favor of allowing more pluralism in the world? It seems to me that Eric presupposes that the “pluralist” approach is somehow superior. But pluralism applied universally is also universalist. So Eric seems to presuppose a kind of universalism. It’s like two adversaries standing on one carpet and one adversary wants to yank the carpet underneath the other not realizing that both are standing on the same carpet and when he does yank it out, he yanks the carpet underneath his own feet.

I find this talk both confusing and possibly worse, contradictory. Why not simply avoid using such abstract, buzzwords and replace them with simpler, concrete  terms? I think you could get at the gist of what Eric wanted to say simply by saying that the west needs to be more open-minded in regards to how other people run their countries. It’s also not clear to me that the west is anymore “universalist” than other cultures. Many cultures make general universalist claims (murder is wrong, genocide is wrong, economic development is right, etc, etc,) including the Chinese. So this distinction seems to trade between incoherence, contradiction and strawman arguments.

Eric’s responses to questions also seem contradictory. He says that all of China’s laws are currently just and ought to be followed but then says that Chinese laws in the past were not just and ought to be amended. What makes the laws now completely just and outside of amendment and the laws in the past subject to amendment? This is not clear and his fidgety, confused response simply confirmed to people in the audience, IMO, that he doesn’t know what he is talking about.

There are many things that the Chinese government and the Chinese people agree with westerners on such as there ought to be greater transparency in government (for both China and the US) and that democracy is a goal for society and that there ought to be better establishment of the rule of law to protect people’s human rights. These values are explicitly framed by the Chinese government. It’s really a false dichotomy to see a divide as China on one side not valuing these and not doing anything to develop them and the west as valuing and developing them. This is what the interviewer and Eric seems to fall into thinking.

  1. March 6th, 2012 at 22:27 | #1

    This is a good post. I will write some comments tomorrow (got other priorities I need to attend to tonight, and don’t want to write something rushed).

  2. March 7th, 2012 at 12:53 | #2

    Here is my response. Let me preface by saying that I welcome melektaus to take the opportunity to rebut Eric’s video. However, after thinking about this more, I must say there are lots we disagree. Here is my take, I will try to be succinct.

    First I want to say I agree that it is just as important to foster Western understanding of China as well as a Chinese understanding of the West. Melektaus thinks Eric has caricaturized Western thoughts – which doesn’t foster communication. I want to explain why Melektaus characterization of Eric’s positions may be misplaced.

    About Capitalism vs. capitalism and Modernity vs. modernity – I agree that those terms were not well defined in the talk, but the thing is that books can be written about each of these individual notion. The talk is not about capitalism or modernity per se. Those were background thoughts – ideas from another discussion with Eric to be more accurate – that the interviewer wanted to briefly follow up. For this talk, the main point Eric wants to make is this: if the small character version represent the essential, pragmatic ideas of our age – i.e. capitalism=the reliance on capital to distribute resources, modernity=technological advancement (again the precise definition doesn’t matter) – then the big character version represent merely ideological versions or special cases of those ideas, incorporating into the idea further that the needs of capital trumps must trump other political considerations, and distribution of power to the masses is the goal of modern society.

    If one ever studies Supreme Court jurisprudence, one would see a similar debate. Judge, do you really see that idea in the Constitution or are you reading your favorite pet theories into the Constitution?

    Eric is challenging the notion that just because there is one particular of capitalism or modernity that is in vogue in the West, there are other versions that are equally valid, that the Chinese can adopt.

    At 9:10 to 9:50 he says that democracy and human rights are fundamentally western religious concepts. His example that human rights is a western religious concept is the phrase, “All men are created equal.” He asked rhetorically “well, by whom?” He assumes that the “creator” must be some supernatural force or person like an Abrahamic god. But the natural rights tradition, the tradition that is dominant in western human rights development over the last 300 years does not posit any person as the creator. The “creator” could very well be naturalistic process like evolution and rights may very well be a product of human institutions rather than god. It makes no claim either way. Most of the original fathers of the rights approach are either deists, agnostics or atheists. Most of the people today working on rights are atheists.

    I don’t think Eric said rights were created by an Abrahamic god per se. He merely said the Western characterization of rights appears “religious.”

    I agree with that. The people of the West have a religious faith in their form of government. They want to export it like crusaders in the past wanted to preach their religion to the world. This is what Eric meant when he said all these “rights” look religious. Westerners feel like they’ve seen the light while the rest of the world has not. Even without resorting to God, Westerners see themselves as priests to this new religion. Just like the West wanted to export the notion of a personal God in the past, they want to export the notion of universal right today.

    Of course, the specific version of rights the West wants to impose as Universal rights are rights that are discovered through its own historical experiences. They may appear universal in the context of the value and cultural experiences of the Western world, but to make the leap that they must ergo be universal to all cultures – that’s religious – based on the some belief that Western values are universal – or superior.

    As for the history of the origins of Western political thought, you certain have a right to make a case that those thoughts developed separate from Judeo-Christian thoughts, I can only say my studies have led me to the opposite conclusion. Reading the original writings of people like Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Montesquieu, John Locke, David Hume, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, Oliver Wendell Holmes, etc., I get the distinct feeling they were all religious (they may not all be church going catholics, but they were all religious and Christians). They were all a product of their times (that’s also why so many of the founding fathers saw nothing wrong with slavery, not because of objectivity and rationality, but because their notions of objectivity and rationality were colored by the values of their times).

    As you mentioned in a comment in another thread though, this is ultimately unimportant. I agree. Regardless of whether Western political thoughts originated in a religious or non-religious context, the important thing is to assess those thoughts as they are today. Viewed in that light, I think it’s religious.

    He claims that we ought not approach countries with “any kind of values.” This is odd as this seems to contradict the purpose of actually dealing with other countries even in strictly economic terms for such economic terms presuppose certain values (economic, welfare, fairness, etc). However, he also does not understand that other more general moral values are connected to economic values. For example, if there is civil unrest, genocide, mass killings, an unstable political environment, and a society without the rule of law and widespread injustice etc etc. that is a society that will be detrimental to economic development. Again, this is an issue that the Chinese government deeply understand but that Eric seems not to. So you can’t separate them and say “well, we’ll only deal with them on economic terms and not impose any values on them.” That would be pragmatically contradictory because good economic relations presupposes many values and many of those values are inseparable from common moral values. This is partly why the Chinese government has played in such vital roles in resolving international affairs through diplomacy, dialogue, and through international law in recent years.

    You bring up several issues. I agree that economic development per se is a value (maybe even an ideology). I agree that in doing business, China will inevitably impose a sort of value per se. Countries that adopt a mercantilistic culture may profit more from China, and hence there is a pressure for countries to do that.

    But to see this type of “interference” is the same as “political interference” for which the West is so well known for is see miss seeing the tree from the forest.

    Africans have a choice to interact or not interact with China. It has a choice to keep its resources indigenous or to trade. China does not barge in to say you must do this or that in the name of “universal” right per se. Even when it trades, China deals with nations economically – leaving as much of the political decisions indigenous as possible. China doesn’t say that if you don’t economically develop, you are oppressing your own people. China treats other polities as equals while the West treats others as children.

    That would be pragmatically contradictory because good economic relations presupposes many values and many of those values are inseparable from common moral values. This is partly why the Chinese government has played in such vital roles in resolving international affairs through diplomacy, dialogue, and through international law in recent years.

    Resolving international affairs through diplomacy, dialogue and law is not interference. Nations interact with each other on the international stage. Nations influence each other regarding international affairs. China participates in this context. Trying to bring justice to international relations is not the same as trying to influence the domestic character of nations – to carry out interference in the name of some higher power. In Libya, and in Syria – for example – China called for calm and for the domestic parties to work things out. It would act as an honest broker if asked. It doesn’t dictate particular solutions. It doesn’t say who must step down when. It wants to let the internal stakeholders work those out.

    But if the domestic parties want to fight it out – let’s say for arguments sake that that’s really what the people want – I’d think outsiders should be ok with it. Imagine if the U.S. civil war were to take place today, are we to say – hey stop it, let’s split the country – or let’s not, but let’s destroy southern institutions – in the name of the U.N. – or China? Who is China to intervene? China is not a sovereign of the U.S. Sometimes the biggest changes in the world require people to slug it out (civil war is one such thing), the Americans need / want to fight a civil war to define itself, who is an outsider to say they must not?

    We’ve talked about genocide in the other thread, so I won’t bring it up here. Suffice it to note that in the Civil War example, a case for “genocide” can be made, but the case for non-interference still stands. Non-interference is not saying one must be amoral; it is merely the idea of self restraint, the acknowledgement that one’s power is limited. There may be injustices around the world, but it’s not of national gov’ts or even the U.N. to right all injustices – unless we are really ready to have a world gov’t (and as I discussed in another comment, I don’t think we are ready).

    I won’t make my comment about your take that you think Eric is confused about democracies since I have commented already.

    But this issue is not the worst of Eric’s errors.

    Next (14:40-14:55) he says that “we are back to the religious idea” if we posit anything “beyond the law.” This is false. We are not back to any particular religious idea if we posit principles or sensibilities above the law. Think about it. Laws change. Why do they change and why ought they change? Because some laws become obsolete. Because some are not right, are not just, or are impractical, etc. They change according to some basic principles and sensibilities (such as practicality, justice, etc) so in some sense, these things are above the law because the law ought to conform to them and not vice versa. Some laws are unjust and must be changed much like say, apartheid laws in South Africa or the laws the Chinese were made to observe under foreign occupation. In positing these principles and sensibilities, I made no commitments to any particular version of religion.

    This I believe is a mis-characterization again. I personally would also feel Eric give too much weight on “law” as the be all and end all – except he didn’t. He alluded to notions of justice.

    What is justice?

    I believe they must be defined by the norms of a society.

    We may think apartheid is inherently – universally – unjust. But that’s really a political question. In South Africa, people think it’s unjust, and people died and fought for integration – hence the laws eventually changed.

    In India, there are still deeply ingrained notions of caste. The popular politics of India panders to caste. The laws allow people to be treated differently based on caste. Is this just or unjust? Well – I say let the people in India figure it out. China may have values and may think it’s unjust – but India is not China. Let’s India find and define its way.

    I can go on.

    Are laws that prohibit parents from sending children to religious schools – at the expense of an education in science and math – just? Are laws that encourage abortion to keep population low just? Are laws that prohibit secession just? Are laws that allow for a large disparity in wealth and income just?

    There are all political questions that need to be defined locally – not universally.

    Rather, the rights approach seeks to make common intuitions more cogent. Consider our intuition that we ought to keep promises. Why ought we keep them? Why is it wrong to make and break them? The rights approach says that we have an obligation once we make a promise. That is a duty is conferred on the promiser and a right to goods and services on the person promised. Eric also makes another strawman when he says that rights can be “negotiated rights” and can be “taken away”. I don’t know who or what he is arguing with here. Even in the US, the bastion of Liberal approach, people conccede that rights can be taken away. Just look at criminals. Their rights may be taken away. Their freedom, their right to vote, even their lives. So it seems again, that he is making a strawman here too.

    Typically, in law, when we talk about rights, and definitely about universal rights, it is a set of things people ought to have – regardless of and despite political climate.

    So if I have a right to free speech, then I must have that, even if most people might not want me to have it – even if my speech might cause great inconvenience.

    The modern notion of rights were created to constrain the monarch in the English magna carta. Later it’s incorporated into the Constitution to constrain the people – to constrain popular governments. The notions of a right is thus to place a brake on popular governance – by appealing to a higher ideal. It is not about “common intuitions” as you say. It is about protecting against the “common intuitions” of the times.

    Since rights is not about normal politics, but higher ideals – it must appeal to deeper values. When one transplant rights from one set of values to another, rights appear “religious.”

  3. March 7th, 2012 at 14:14 | #3

    Actually – following up on the notion of what is a “right” in comment #2, maybe by rights you mean “common aspirations”?

    Hence people have a right to food, shelter, etc., etc.

    If that’s what you mean, then yes, I don’t think they are “religious.” They are man-articulated aspirations of mankind…

    Even then, I would caution again universal based interpretations of what these are.

    No doubt – there are many aspirations – but are they all common? Even of the ones that are common, are they necessarily the most important – or do each society ascribe the most important in accordance with local beliefs and values?

    Even if we agree on a subset of common values, must all societies rank them the same?

  4. March 7th, 2012 at 14:15 | #4

    Allen :

    I don’t think Eric said rights were created by an Abrahamic god per se. He merely said the Western characterization of rights appears “religious.”

    I never said that he said rights were created by the Abrahamic god, just that that was once possibility among other western religious possibilities which he did in fact say. The point is is that he said that they are western religious concepts (see the video).

    I agree with that. The people of the West have a religious faith in their form of government. They want to export it like crusaders in the past wanted to preach their religion to the world. This is what Eric meant when he said all these “rights” look religious. Westerners feel like they’ve seen the light while the rest of the world has not. Even without resorting to God, Westerners see themselves as priests to this new religion. Just like the West wanted to export the notion of a personal God in the past, they want to export the notion of universal right today.
    Of course, the specific version of rights the West wants to impose as Universal rights are rights that
    As for the history of the origins of Western political thought, you certain have a right to make a case that those thoughts developed separate from Judeo-Christian thoughts, I can only say my studies have led me to the opposite conclusion.

    Fair enough.

    Reading the original writings of people like Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Montesquieu, John Locke, David Hume, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, Oliver Wendell Holmes, etc., I get the distinct feeling they were all religious (they may not all be church going catholics, but they were all religious and Christians).

    I’ve also read many of those people and I get the opposite understanding. Especially regarding Hume whom I believe to be an atheist (despite living in a relatively tolerant Scotland, he lost the Chair in philosophy at his university because of his atheistic beliefs). The literature on Hume is divided on whether he was an atheist or agnostic but almost everyone that’s an expert on Hume agrees that religion had no role (by conscious choice) to play in his philosophy.

    The most accurate and informative label for describing Hume’s views on this subject, I suggest, is irreligion. This is a term that both Hume’s contemporaries and our own would understand and can apply to Hume’s arguments and outlook without any serious misrepresentation. Calling Hume’s views on this subject irreligious avoids, on one side, attributing any form of unqualified or dogmatic atheism to him, while, on the other, it also makes clear that his fundamental attitude towards religion is one of systematic hostility and criticism (i.e., he believes that we are better off without religion and religious hypotheses and speculations).

    The term irreligion has several other specific advantages. In the first place, as we have noted, it captures the full strength and scope of Hume’s sceptical stance concerning the metaphysical claims of orthodox religion. This covers not just his views about the being and attributes of God but also his views about the soul and a future state, miracles and the foundations of morality. Hume’s core arguments are intended to leave religious doctrine without any solid philosophical grounds or significant content — much less any practical value or influence. The label of irreligion serves effectively to identify these wider concerns and places appropriate emphasis on Hume’s destructive intent in respect of religious systems….

    When we consider Hume’s philosophy from the perspective of his fundamental irreligious aims and objectives it is entirely understandable why his own contemporaries did not hesitate to label him an “atheist”. What they recognized, throughout Hume’s philosophical writings, was his effort to show that religion, in almost all forms that his own contemporaries would be familiar with (i.e. Judeo-Christianity), was permeated with philosophical absurdity and corrupt and confused practices. What Hume aimed at, in other words, was to “unmask” religious doctrine and institutions. It was his general ambition to expose the groundlessness of their doctrines as well as the destructive nature of their influence on human life. In pursuing this end — i.e., to free humanity from the yoke of religion, – Hume follows in a tradition that can be traced, before him, to Lucretius, Hobbes and Spinoza and, after him, to thinkers such as D’Holbach, Marx and Nietzsche.

    Locke and Jefferson I’ve already talked about as likely Deists and thus by definition, nonreligious. As for Montesquieu,

    Religion plays only a minor part in the Spirit of the Laws. God is described in Book 1 as creating nature and its laws; having done so, He vanishes, and plays no further explanatory role. In particular, Montesquieu does not explain the laws of any country by appeal to divine enlightenment, providence, or guidance. In the Spirit of the Laws, Montesquieu considers religions “in relation only to the good they produce in civil society” (SL 24.1), and not to their truth or falsity. He regards different religions as appropriate to different environments and forms of government. Protestantism is most suitable to republics, Catholicism to monarchies, and Islam to despotisms; the Islamic prohibition on eating pork is appropriate to Arabia, where hogs are scarce and contribute to disease, while in India, where cattle are badly needed but do not thrive, a prohibition on eating beef is suitable. Thus, “when Montezuma with so much obstinacy insisted that the religion of the Spaniards was good for their country, and his for Mexico, he did not assert an absurdity” (SL 24.24).

    Religion can help to ameliorate the effects of bad laws and institutions; it is the only thing capable of serving as a check on despotic power. However, on Montesquieu’s view it is generally a mistake to base civil laws on religious principles.

    Those are similar to Jefferson and Locke’s views AFAIK. That is, god creates the laws of nature but rights are the domain of man’s morality and legal institutions.

    But to see this type of “interference” is the same as “political interference” for which the West is so well known for is see miss seeing the tree from the forest.
    Africans have a choice to interact or not interact with China. It has a choice to keep its resources indigenous or to trade. China does not barge in to say you must do this or that in the name of “universal” right per se. Even when it trades, China deals with nations economically – leaving as much of the political decisions indigenous as possible. China doesn’t say that if you don’t economically develop, you are oppressing your own people. China treats other polities as equals while the West treats others as children.

    I’m not sure I understand how this relates to my objection to any of Eric’s claims.

    Resolving international affairs through diplomacy, dialogue and law is not interference.

    I didn’t say it was. I said that it presupposes certain values (economic development is good, fairness, welfare, etc) and thus contradicts what Eric said about values. Whether they are “interference” or not is not the point Eric was making at that point. “Interference” is another topic I disagree with him about because he seems to give vague and blanket statements (that genocides and other bad things always ought to play out etc) without any nuance.

    We’ve talked about genocide in the other thread, so I won’t bring it up here. Suffice it to note that in the Civil War example, a case for “genocide” can be made, but the case for non-interference still stands. Non-interference is not saying one must be amoral; it is merely the idea of self restraint, the acknowledgement that one’s power is limited. There may be injustices around the world, but it’s not of national gov’ts or even the U.N. to right all injustices – unless we are really ready to have a world gov’t (and as I discussed in another comment, I don’t think we are ready).

    I’m not sure I understand this. I never said that the UN or any nation ought to right all injustices. That’s not what they are meant to do. That’s not what they can do. But they are meant to right *some* kinds of injustices and if given the opportunity they have and may continue to work to resolve some injustices (see Joshua Goldstein’s article in FP on the effectiveness of the UN in the last 20 years).

  5. March 7th, 2012 at 14:37 | #5

    Allen :
    Actually – following up on the notion of what is a “right” in comment #2, maybe by rights you mean “common aspirations”?
    Hence people have a right to food, shelter, etc., etc.
    If that’s what you mean, then yes, I don’t think they are “religious.”

    Not exactly. I said that I make no firm specific view on what rights are. They may be something like “common aspirations” or they may not be. I simply made negative claims of what they are not. At least for the modern rights approach and the natural rights approach of the fathers of Liberalism, they are not Judeo-christian or western religious concepts. This is far easier to prove because I don’t have to make any substantive arguments of what they are but simply show their antithetical nature to fundamental western religious precipes and the historical geneology of the development of modern rights as not derived from that religious tradition.

  6. March 8th, 2012 at 11:08 | #6

    This is a good site for quotes from Jefferson, Madison and other US founding fathers on religion. Some example quotes from these men.

    Jefferson:

    I have recently been examining all the known superstitions of the world, and do not find in our particular superstition (Christianity) one redeeming feature. They are all alike founded on fables and mythology.

    Difference of opinion is advantageous in religion. The several sects perform the office of a common censor over each other. Is uniformity attainable? Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced an inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites. To support roguery and error all over the earth.

    On the dogmas of religion, as distinguished from moral principles, all mankind, from the beginning of the world to this day, have been quarreling, fighting, burning and torturing one another, for abstractions unintelligible to themselves and to all others, and absolutely beyond the comprehension of the human mind.

    We discover in the gospels a groundwork of vulgar ignorance, of things impossible, of superstition, fanaticism and fabrication .

    Christianity neither is, nor ever was, a part of the Common Law.”

    James Madison:

    What influence, in fact, have ecclesiastical establishments had on society? In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of the civil authority; on many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny; in no instance have they been the guardians of the liberties of the people. Rulers who wish to subvert the public liberty may have found an established clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just government, instituted to secure and perpetuate it, needs them not.

    Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise.”

    It seems clear to me that these were not religious men never mind Christians. In fact, they are about as anti-religious and Christian as I am which is saying a lot. It is equally clear that they took meticulous care not to incorporate Christian religious concepts into creating the political foundations of the new republic.

  7. March 8th, 2012 at 13:27 | #7

    I want to praise melektaus’ comments, which are well researched and totally correct. It is well know that the Founding Fathers were Deists, which is defined on Wikipedia as follows:

    a religious philosophy which holds that reason and observation of the natural world, without the need for organized religion, can determine that the universe is the product of an all-powerful creator. According to deists, the creator rarely, if ever, either intervenes in human affairs or suspends the natural laws of the universe. Deists typically reject supernatural events such as prophecy and miracles, tending instead to assert that a god (or “the Supreme Architect”) does not alter the universe by intervening in it.

    The Founding Fathers were the products of Enlightenment thinking, which rejected religious superstition and relied instead on science, empirical evidence and logic. Thus there is no reference to the word “god” anywhere in the US Constitution. Unfortunately today’s right-wing fanatics are trying to claim America as a “Christian nation,” a shocking perversion of the Founding Fathers’ vision.

  8. March 8th, 2012 at 14:24 | #8

    @melektaus

    I feel like we are going around in circles after circles.

    I never said that he said rights were created by the Abrahamic god, just that that was once possibility among other western religious possibilities which he did in fact say. The point is is that he said that they are western religious concepts (see the video).

    Please watch the video around 8:30 where Eric first defined what he meant by “religious.” I paraphrase: ‘The political system in this country, of the West, the focus on the role of the individual – they are fundamentally religious. … Yes, religious, ideological.’

    He never used the word “Abrahamic god,” but you did – in your post. And it is to that I was responding …

    Even between 9:10-9:50, the segment you referenced in your post, Eric never said an “Abrahamic god.” Picking the example of equality – all men are created equal, he asked “by whom?” In my reading of classical western political philosophical texts and biographies of some of those philosophers, I saw that most if not all philosophers talked about a “God” from which these rights arose. Of course by God, they may not necessarily mean Jesus, but that’s another matter…

    Now Eric didn’t really say this – he simply asked rhetorically. Even if you don’t believe that these rights arise from a “God,” it arose not merely from men – since any relations among men can be regulated – are “negotiable” as Eric said – depending on the needs of society. But by “rights” in the West, we mean something above that. These rights are not to be touched – except under exceptional circumstances and for exceptional reasons. These rights arose – if not from God – then from a unique inspiration then – such as in the minds of enlightened men in the West. It is certainly not a universal right that arose spontaneously in parallel across all societies. Until it is subscribed by others, Eric seems to say, it is merely a religion – a cultural artifact of one culture – albeit a dominant one. And I agree with that.

    About our back and forth on non-interference, I also feel we are going in circles. I feel like I am responding to your criticisms, yet you you respond you don’t know the relevance of my response or that I have misunderstood your original comments. Maybe we can hold until I write a post on non-interference…

    About whether the many philosophers of the Renaissance and enlightenment were religious or not – at the risk of going way off topic (you and I already agree that whether natural rights had a religious or secular origin is unimportant for today’s purposes (it might even be argued that modern science, is religiously inspired, as I posited earlier, yet most have no qualm adopting it), it can still be adopted for secular purposes today) – and at the risk of sounding like we are trying to psycho-analyze philosophers that have died 200-300 years ago – I clarify this to be my perspective.

    The philosophers we talk about – they were generally religious. They were often attacked as non-religious by specific churches and they are often involved in the struggle to push the application of rigid religious doctrines from government – but that doesn’t mean they were themselves not religious. Few men were really non-religious at that time – by today’s standards.

    Even looking at Hume, whom you assert were not religious and whose work were not affected by the religious, he may just be more religious than you think.

    According to this biography, he grew up in a religious family, but was deeply troubled by the orthodox, inflexible religious practices pushed by local clergies and churches. He never called himself an “atheist” – merely a “skeptic” – and what he was opposed was the oppressive social institutions that made people ashamed of so many things in life … all in the name of sin. Hume looked up to the idea of logic and reason as God-given faculty that can be used to to free men from the grip of dogmatic religion. He yearned to find God – but lamented he was not too successful…

    Here is an excerpt from wikipedia on Hume:

    Hume wrote a great deal on religion. However, the question of what were Hume’s personal views on religion is a difficult one.[18] The Church of Scotland seriously considered bringing charges of infidelity against him.[19]

    In works such as On Superstition and Enthusiasm, Hume specifically seems to support the standard religious views of his time and place. This still meant that he could be very critical of the Catholic Church, referring to it with the standard Protestant epithets and descriptions of it as superstition and idolatry[20] as well as dismissing what his compatriots saw as uncivilised beliefs.[21] He also considered extreme Protestant sects, which he called enthusiasts, to be corrupters of religion.[22] Yet he also put forward arguments that suggested that polytheism had much to commend it in preference to monotheism.[23]

    It is likely that Hume was skeptical both about religious belief (at least as demanded by the religious organisations of his time) and of the complete atheism promoted by such contemporaries as Baron d’Holbach. Paul Russell suggests that perhaps Hume’s position is best characterised by the term “irreligion”.[24] O’Connor (2001, p19) writes that Hume “did not believe in the God of standard theism. … but he did not rule out all concepts of deity”. Also, “ambiguity suited his purposes, and this creates difficulty in definitively pinning down his final position on religion”. When asked if he was an atheist, Hume would say he did not have enough faith to believe there was no god.

    The perception of Hume as an atheist with an axe to grind is an oversimplification and contrasts his views on extremist positioning. Hanvelt dubs Hume as an Aristotelian in his view that rhetoric is a form of ethical studies, which ultimately make it political.[25]

    By far most philosophers of the era believed in God – and that God gave men the faculty to appreciate and know God – that Natural Rights as then being defined arose from God. You even have philosophers like Descarte who claimed he could proof the existence of God from first principles – from our god-given faculty.

    If you want to dig deeper – farther back – you find that the so-called “rights” were limits placed on the monarchy – the sovereigns – by the all-powerful Church. While in most other societies the religious were part of the temporal (sure kings looked to religion for legitimacy – to boost support, the religion in general supported the king, not the other way around), in the West, the Church were able to force its hand. Property rights were created to protect the extensive church assets from the reach of the monarchy.

    Anyways – of course all the above is disputable. History is definitely amenable to different interpretations. Today, human rights are often applied against the Muslim word – in a secular vs. religion fashion. However, I believe it’s an over-reach to say the political philosophers of the enlightenment and Renaissance were on the whole anti-religious and that people who see them otherwise are mistaken – or reaching for “straw arguments.”

  9. March 8th, 2012 at 15:54 | #9

    Now I want to conclude my remarks in this thread as well as the original thread showing Eric’s video (http://blog.hiddenharmonies.org/2012/03/eric-x-li-chinese-pluralism-vs-western-universality/) by noting that the real issue is whether Eric’s argument was so “confused” as to turn off Westerners and others we want to reach.

    It may very well that my style or Eric’s style may be too presumptuous – and that we need a more refined, polished, nuanced approach that melektaus provides.

    If melektaus is up to the challenge, I encourage him to do that whenever he can. There are 1.3 billion Chinese. There are probably 1.3 billion views (many more, if people are inconsistent, as people often are). Having one extra – and one that is offers more “clarity” – only get us closer a better understanding – if not a better face – of the Chinese perspective…

  10. raventhorn
    March 8th, 2012 at 17:15 | #10

    @richard

    “Unfortunately today’s right-wing fanatics are trying to claim America as a “Christian nation,” a shocking perversion of the Founding Fathers’ vision.”

    Interesting.

    Nevertheless, it comes as no surprise to many that “religion” and fanaticism can pervert “Democracy” and “vision” of a few.

    Afterall, isn’t “Democracy” fundamentally opposed to the “dictate” of the vision and ideologies of a FEW elite men far in the past?

    If the Founding Fathers are alive today, I have no doubt that many will accuse them of being “Elitist”.

  11. March 8th, 2012 at 18:08 | #11

    The way I kind of see this discussion about Western values are as follows:

    1. If someone keeps murdering people in the name of god, and his society keeps murdering people in the name of god, then we must conclude that god in the way framed by the murderers must be evil; to be rejected.

    Regardless how pure and well intentioned this god has been touted, there is no point in rescuing the sanctity of that god as framed.

    2. So, if the West perpetually invades foreign countries (or sow chaos in others societies) under the pretext of “human rights,” “democracy,” and “freedom” – then the world ought to reject these ‘values’ as how the West frames them.

    In order to rescue the sanctity of these values, it is up to the West through their actions.

    For now, I think the world has the right to say, keep your ‘democracy,’ ‘human rights,’ and ‘freedom’ to yourself. They stink.

    In Korea today, there is a huge Christian population. The reason for it was because the Buddhist in Japan supported the invasion of Korea, and it was the Christian missionaries who provided the Koreans some cover. How come they abandoned Buddhism and embraced Christianity? The lesson in that is simple: if you do real good, that in itself will naturally have allure. If you do not, you invite rejection.

  12. March 9th, 2012 at 15:50 | #12

    Allen :
    @melektaus

    Please watch the video around 8:30 where Eric first defined what he meant by “religious.” I paraphrase: ‘The political system in this country, of the West, the focus on the role of the individual – they are fundamentally religious. … Yes, religious, ideological.’
    He never used the word “Abrahamic god,” but you did – in your post. And it is to that I was responding …
    Even between 9:10-9:50, the segment you referenced in your post, Eric never said an “Abrahamic god.” Picking the example of equality – all men are created equal, he asked “by whom?”

    You completely misunderstood my reference to an “Abrahamic god”.
    I never said that Eric said rights were created by the Abrahamic god. Eric assumes (that doesn’t mean he said) that the “creator” of rights must either be the “Abrahamic god”. By asking “by whom” Eric assumes that there is a whom (person) that created those rights. That’s not the same thing as saying explicitly that the Abrahamic god created the rights. But the Abrahamic god is the god of the three major western religions which Eric did in fact say was that from which rights are from.

    In my reading of classical western political philosophical texts and biographies of some of those philosophers, I saw that most if not all philosophers talked about a “God” from which these rights arose.

    Can you cite directly any of those philosophers as saying rights came from god? I don’t know of a single one that would say that rights came from god. That’s not a surprise as so many were not believers in a personal god. Philosophers are an unusual bunch. They are among the few people that do not rely on bias and faith but almost always on reason for all their beliefs. Every single philosopher I have come across that is one of the founding fathers of the liberal tradition were quite explicit in saying that rights are only discoverable from reason and that they are the domain of man (while natural physical laws are the domain of god). Many other philosophers did not believe in a god at all, not even a personal one (Hume, Spinoza, John Stuart Mill, etc). They were either atheists or skeptical agnostics.

    It’s odd, to say the least, when people attribute beliefs by philosophers to religion when, by and large, philosophers have been some of the most skeptical people in the world regarding religious claims. they always have been since ancient times. I’m just so used to philosophical thinking that relying on religious dogma or faith to come to substantive conclusions (about human moral affairs) seems so alien to the discipline that it doesn’t seem natural, kind of like I would imagine astronomers would feel if told that they should rely on astrology to get data. I think most philosophers throughout time would agree to this.

    Of course by God, they may not necessarily mean Jesus, but that’s another matter…

    They neither meant Jesus nor any supernatural being. Like I said, it is pretty explicitly mentioned by everyone I have ever read that morality in general (not just rights) are outside of all supernatural and religious boundaries only in the real of man’s reason will you find it.

    Now Eric didn’t really say this – he simply asked rhetorically. Even if you don’t believe that these rights arise from a “God,” it arose not merely from men – since any relations among men can be regulated – are “negotiable” as Eric said – depending on the needs of society. But by “rights” in the West, we mean something above that.

    No not really. Like I already quoted from from the stanford encyclopedia of philosophy, rights are contemporaneoulsy believed to be either naturalistic properties or properties of man-made institutions. Some may posit them as platonic ideals but these platonists would also not attribute them to god’s creation.

    These rights are not to be touched – except under exceptional circumstances and for exceptional reasons. These rights arose – if not from God – then from a unique inspiration then – such as in the minds of enlightened men in the West. It is certainly not a universal right that arose spontaneously in parallel across all societies. Until it is subscribed by others, Eric seems to say, it is merely a religion – a cultural artifact of one culture – albeit a dominant one. And I agree with that.

    I don’t see how this follows. Just because it came from ‘enlightened minds” in the west does not imply that they ought not be applied to people in other parts of the world. That would have to be argued in a separate argument that they are not but in engaging in such argument, one uses one’s reason to settle it which brings us to the realm of reason and not faith or religion.

    The philosophers we talk about – they were generally religious. They were often attacked as non-religious by specific churches and they are often involved in the struggle to push the application of rigid religious doctrines from government – but that doesn’t mean they were themselves not religious. Few men were really non-religious at that time – by today’s standards.
    Even looking at Hume, whom you assert were not religious and whose work were not affected by the religious, he may just be more religious than you think.

    Again, I completely disagree. From their own writing we can tell they were very hostile to religion and beliefs based on faith or dogma. You can see the quote I gave above. they are pretty clear. In fact, I don’t know what they could have said to make it any clearer that they were not religious and did not believe in any supernatural forces doing work in our universe. They were as explicit as I am in denying religion. So if someone were to say that I am a religious person, I don’t know what else to say to convince them otherwise. it would be futile.

    “According to this biography, he grew up in a religious family, but was deeply troubled by the orthodox, inflexible religious practices pushed by local clergies and churches. He never called himself an “atheist” – merely a “skeptic” – and what he was opposed was the oppressive social institutions that made people ashamed of so many things in life … all in the name of sin. Hume looked up to the idea of logic and reason as God-given faculty that can be used to to free men from the grip of dogmatic religion. He yearned to find God – but lamented he was not too successful…”

    Hume is pretty much universally agreed to be either an atheist or agnostic. So I don’t know why you keep mentioning him as a religious person (or even someone that believes in god or gods). It’s true that he wrote quite a bit on religion but all his writing were aimed at supplanting religion. He is a notorious skeptic of religion, maybe the greatest of the 18th century according to most philosophers. Richard Dawkins write extensively on religion as well, Does that mean Dawkins is religious?

    “It is likely that Hume was skeptical both about religious belief (at least as demanded by the religious organisations of his time) and of the complete atheism promoted by such contemporaries as Baron d’Holbach. Paul Russell suggests that perhaps Hume’s position is best characterised by the term “irreligion”.[24] O’Connor (2001, p19) writes that Hume “did not believe in the God of standard theism. … but he did not rule out all concepts of deity”. Also, “ambiguity suited his purposes, and this creates difficulty in definitively pinning down his final position on religion”. When asked if he was an atheist, Hume would say he did not have enough faith to believe there was no god.”

    This suggests that Hume was at least an agnostic at this time. But from his later writings (when he had some freedom from the university after retiring where his job wasn’t under threat) he made more skeptical claims suggesting atheism.

    You have to keep in mind that these men lived in very different times when denials of one’s religious beliefs can literally condemn you to be burned alive (in Hume’s case, he lost his university job).

    Anyways – of course all the above is disputable. History is definitely amenable to different interpretations.

    Yes, must some interpretations are more accurate than others. ;)

    In some sense, religion is responsible for at least rights being explicitly formulated and institutionalized but in my earlier blog, Human Rights Revisited claimed, that relation is one of opposition, a reaction of one against the other so as to better protect from religion rather than developing from religious concepts, etc.

    Eric (and I’ve seen the video twice now, very carefully the second time) was clearly saying that rights are a western religious concept which is simply untrue.

  13. March 9th, 2012 at 16:28 | #13

    YinYang :
    The way I kind of see this discussion about Western values are as follows:
    1. If someone keeps murdering people in the name of god, and his society keeps murdering people in the name of god, then we must conclude that god in the way framed by the murderers must be evil; to be rejected.

    I agree with this view. I believe that the Judeo-Christian god is actually infinitely evil. Many philosophers have thought this. This view called “maltheism” has been advocated by many philosophers (that if the god of the Bible exists and the descriptions accurate, he must be very evil or infinitely evil).

    Even one of the founding fathers believed this (can’t remember which one) but he said that if one was rational, nonbiased and had read the Bible for the first time and knew the history of Christianity, he would be forced to conclude that such a deity must be a devil.

    2. So, if the West perpetually invades foreign countries (or sow chaos in others societies) under the pretext of “human rights,” “democracy,” and “freedom” – then the world ought to reject these ‘values’ as how the West frames them.

    Hypocrites have always used noble terms to justify ignoble deeds. That will never change.

    In order to rescue the sanctity of these values, it is up to the West through their actions.
    For now, I think the world has the right to say, keep your ‘democracy,’ ‘human rights,’ and ‘freedom’ to yourself. They stink.

    We need to make a distinction between image and reality. Whether or not some concept or moral institution is good for society depends on its soundness which will have to be determined by our reason. It should not be accepted or rejected by whether they come from the mouths of hypocrites or saints.

  14. March 9th, 2012 at 17:06 | #14

    A description of Hume’s autobiography by Annette Baier

    Famous in Christian Britain as a polymath and a nonbeliever, Hume recounts how his early encounters with clerical authority laid the foundation for his lifelong skepticism toward religion. In Scotland, where he grew up, he had been forced to study lists of sins in order to spot his own childish flaws, he reports. Later, as a young man, he witnessed the clergy’s punishment of a pregnant unmarried servant, and this led him to question the violent consequences of the Church’s emphasis on the doctrine of original sin. Baier’s clear interpretation of Hume’s Treatise of Human Nature explains the link between Hume’s growing disillusionment and his belief that ethics should be based on investigations of human nature, not on religious dogma.

  15. Rhan
    March 9th, 2012 at 17:37 | #15

    I can’t write as well as you guys, from my shallow understanding, i agree with Allen more. Human rights in the West have much to do with their religion.

  16. March 9th, 2012 at 22:16 | #16

    @melektaus
    I understand and agree with your points. My feeling is you are the wiser the two of us. I am just so upset at how these ideals have been bastardized by the West to further their political ends, the just consequence ought to be the severing of heritage.

    As Ray recently wrote, “Human Rights in Ancient China,” these philosophies cannot be exclusively claimed by the Western philosophers.

    Many people in fact argue the European Enlightenment was heavily influenced by Chinese philosophical thought.

    If we look into the future – perhaps a few centuries forward where China regains her preeminence, the dominant philosophical thoughts distilled to practice then might be branded Chinese names, and names such as “democracy” and whatever else would be forgotten. Note I mean the brand only. The ideals/useful values would be subsumed.

  17. March 9th, 2012 at 23:01 | #17

    @melektaus

    I am spending only a short time on this – because I think we are at a point of diminishing returns.

    But quickly:

    Can you cite directly any of those philosophers as saying rights came from god? I don’t know of a single one that would say that rights came from god.

    I really don’t know why we disagree on this. I will provide two – with some interesting notes.

    John Locke, Second Treatise on Civil Government, Chapter 5:

    Sec. 25. Whether we consider natural reason, which tells us, that men, being once born, have a right to their preservation, and consequently to meat and drink, and such other things as nature affords for their subsistence: or revelation, which gives us an account of those grants God made of the world to Adam, and to Noah, and his sons, it is very clear, that God, as king David says, Psal. cxv. 16. has given the earth to the children of men; given it to mankind in common. But this being supposed, it seems to some a very great difficulty, how any one should ever come to have a property in any thing: I will not content myself to answer, that if it be difficult to make out property, upon a supposition that God gave the world to Adam, and his posterity in common, it is impossible that any man, but one universal monarch, should have any property upon a supposition, that God gave the world to Adam, and his heirs in succession, exclusive of all the rest of his posterity. But I shall endeavour to shew, how men might come to have a property in several parts of that which God gave to mankind in common, and that without any express compact of all the commoners.

    The rest he attempts to prove – in his mind – how property is a god-given, inalienable right.

    Since Eric is focused on U.S. – extending to the West – here is a reference on American notion of natural rights.
    A Principle of The Traditional American Philosophy – concept of inalienable rights:

    The American notion of government is important not only because it has had strongly affected the world, but also because it is the first government to be founded on the natural rights being developed during the enlightenment.

    A Principle of The Traditional American Philosophy
    3. Unalienable Rights – From God
    “. . . endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights . . .” (Declaration of Independence)
    The Principle
    1. The traditional American philosophy teaches that Man, The Individual, is endowed at birth with rights which are unalienable because given by his Creator.
    The Only Moral Basis
    2. This governmental philosophy is uniquely American. The concept of Man’s rights being unalienable is based solely upon the belief in their Divine origin. Lacking this belief, there is no moral basis for any claim that they are unalienable or for any claim to the great benefits flowing from this concept. God-given rights are sometimes called Natural Rights–those possessed by Man under the Laws of Nature, meaning under the laws of God’s creation and therefore by gift of God. Man has no power to alienate–to dispose of, by surrender, barter or gift–his God-given rights, according to the American philosophy. This is the meaning of “unalienable.”
    One underlying consideration is that for every such right there is a correlative, inseparable duty–for every aspect of freedom there is a corresponding responsibility; so that it is always Right-Duty and Freedom-Responsibility, or Liberty-Responsibility. There is a duty, or responsibility, to God as the giver of these unalienable rights: a moral duty–to keep secure and use soundly these gifts, with due respect for the equal rights of others and for the right of Posterity to their just heritage of liberty. Since this moral duty cannot be surrendered, bartered, given away, abandoned, delegated or otherwise alienated, so is the inseparable right likewise unalienable. This concept of rights being unalienable is thus dependent upon belief in God as the giver. This indicates the basis and the soundness of Jefferson’s statement (1796 letter to John Adams): “If ever the morals of a people could be made the basis of their own government it is our case . . .”
    Right, Reason, and Capacity to Be Self-governing
    3. For the security and enjoyment by Man of his Divinely created rights, it follows implicitly that Man is endowed by his Creator not only with the right to be self-governing but also with the capacity to reason and, therefore, with the capacity to be self-governing. This is implicit in the philosophy proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence. Otherwise, Man’s unalienable rights would be of little or no use or benefit to him. Faith in Man–in his capacity to be self-governing–is thus related to faith in God as his Creator, as the giver of these unalienable rights and this capacity.

    As Thomas Jefferson has written: “The god who gave us life, gave us liberty at the same time: the hand of force may destroy, but cannot disjoin them.”

    In the wiki entry on natural rights, it is noted:

    Natural rights are rights not contingent upon the laws, customs, or beliefs of any particular culture or government, and therefore universal and inalienable. In contrast, legal rights are those bestowed on to a person by the law of a particular political and legal system, and therefore relative to specific cultures and governments.

    [discussing natural rights to be inalienable rights]

    Many documents now echo the phrase used in the United States Declaration of Independence. The preamble to the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights asserts that rights are inalienable: “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” … However, there is still much dispute over which “rights” are truly natural rights and which are not, and the concept of natural or inalienable rights is still controversial to some.

    Erich Fromm argued that some powers over human beings could be wielded only by God, and that if there were no God, no human beings could wield these powers.[23]

    Thus even today, there is still a debate that if a right is universal – whence do they come from? What makes them truly universal?

    About Hume, you concluded:

    You have to keep in mind that these men lived in very different times when denials of one’s religious beliefs can literally condemn you to be burned alive (in Hume’s case, he lost his university job).

    As I said, let’s agree to disagree about Hume. The “rights” framework he dealt with had a divine origin for many (most, maybe all) philosophers of the time. Also, a Hume that is against religious dogma, against intrusion of religion into the secular, that is despondent that he cannot rationally prove God with 100% certainty is not necessarily a Hume that is irreligious. His norms, his outlook, values would still be strongly shaped by his peers, his society, his family, his upbringing – all of which can all be characterized as religious by today’s standards.

    I think this quote from Thomas Jefferson may provide some context to what many see as irreligious, atheist Hume. Hume and others were fighting more against the social establishment of religion rather than religion per se.

    Shake off all the fears of servile prejudices, under which weak minds are servilely crouched. Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call on her tribunal for every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear.

    If you are into quotes, here are some (googled these, read these before in school, there are a lot more….)

    “Without God nothing can be conceived.” – Benedict de Spinoza

    “Among the facts of the universe to be accounted for, it may be said, is Mind; and it is self evident that nothing can have produced Mind but Mind.” – John Stuart Mill

    “I have concluded the evident existence of God, and that my existence depends entirely on God in all the moments of my life, that I do not think that the human spirit may know anything with greater evidence and certitude.” – René Descartes

    “All things have sprung from nothing and are borne forward to infinity. Who can follow out such an astonishing career? The Author of these wonders, and He alone, can comprehend them.” – Blaise Pascal

    “It is true, that a little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism; but depth in philosophy brings about man’s mind to religion: For while the mind of man looketh upon second causes scattered, it may sometimes rest in them, and go no further; but when it beholdeth the chain of them confederate and linked together, it must needs fly to Providence and Deity.” – Sir Francis Bacon

    “The sum total of all possible knowledge of God is not possible for a human being, not even through a true revelation. But it is one of the worthiest inquiries to see how far our reason can go in the knowledge of God.” – Immanuel Kant

    “An intelligent being, is the active principle of all things. One must have renounced all common sense to doubt it, and it is a waste of time to try to prove such self evident truth.” – Jean Jacques Rousseau

    Now – even if it were the case that Hume – and perhaps even most philosophers at the time – were irreligious and pretended to be more religious than they were to avoid persecution, the relevant question is still are their works truly universal concepts such as calculus – i.e. ignore them at your own peril – or merely cultural artifacts such as Western music – i.e. they may be great and should be definitely adopted if you like them, but ignored if you don’t like them? I don’t see anything in them that make them calculus. They are more like music. Yes, perhaps great music. But the ultimate judge of whether they apply to me – is me, the receiver.

    Eric (and I’ve seen the video twice now, very carefully the second time) was clearly saying that rights are a western religious concept which is simply untrue.

    And I have to emphatically disagree again, as I already have in my first comment above. Eric never said rights were Western religious concepts. He only said they were Western concepts – not universal – and to impose them as universal approaches the “religious” – the “ideological.”

  18. March 9th, 2012 at 23:07 | #18

    Allen said:

    Eric never said rights were Western religious concepts. He only said they were Western concepts – not universal – and to impose them as universal approaches the “religious” – the “ideological.”

    My take too after watching the video again. (If someone such as me who only follows about 30% of what the two of you are saying counts!)

  19. March 10th, 2012 at 09:38 | #19

    @melektaus

    I missed this part in my last reply, but I think it’s important.

    These rights are not to be touched – except under exceptional circumstances and for exceptional reasons. These rights arose – if not from God – then from a unique inspiration then – such as in the minds of enlightened men in the West. It is certainly not a universal right that arose spontaneously in parallel across all societies. Until it is subscribed by others, Eric seems to say, it is merely a religion – a cultural artifact of one culture – albeit a dominant one. And I agree with that.

    I don’t see how this follows. Just because it came from ‘enlightened minds” in the west does not imply that they ought not be applied to people in other parts of the world. That would have to be argued in a separate argument that they are not but in engaging in such argument, one uses one’s reason to settle it which brings us to the realm of reason and not faith or religion.

    Your response makes no sense to me.

    Just because someone claims something came from “enlightened minds” does not mean they are universal. It does not become the burden of others to argue separately why they are not.

    Buddha was considered enlightened. Just because his ideas are originally considered that in India does not make it everyone else’s burden to refute that universality or else accept his teachings and experiences as universal.

    Mohammed was considered enlightened – that doesn’t mean it is universal – and those don’t accept that is illogical, unreasonable, not human, or even evil.

    I can go on…. The reasoning applies to spiritual and religious figures generally – as well as political philosophers.

  20. March 10th, 2012 at 13:59 | #20

    Allen :

    I really don’t know why we disagree on this. I will provide two – with some interesting notes.
    John Locke, Second Treatise on Civil Government, Chapter 5:

    Again, you’ve misunderstood me. By “God” I meant the Judeo-Christian god because that was what Eric implied by saying that rights and democracy are Judeo-Christian concepts “evolved” from that religious tradition and hence my criticism. I explained in many other places that I believed Locke to be a deist (or possibly an agnostic at later points in life). I made this very clear many times already in the above blog and other posts. Believing in god and being a Christian are not the same things. See what I said above above.

    In both history and philosophical content, the Liberal tradition has its roots in values that are opposed to the values of Christianity. Many of the men who are the intellectual fathers of the tradition, despite Eric’s explicit claims (10:20-10:25) that all were religious, were in fact, not religious at all. In fact, most weren’t religious. Some did believe in a non personal creator and some didn’t even go that far. Even among those that did believe in a creator, they believed such a being created the world through naturalistic, lawful processes much as a watch maker did with a watch e.g. rather than supernatural powers and that such a being had no role to play in human moral affairs.

    In fact, I think the Treatise says the opposite of what you interpret as saying that rights come from natural (non religious) properties (such as labor). The rights of life and liberty Locke does say that because we are the properties of god, we have these rights in so far as god gave us life and liberty but this view is not a specifically a Christian view. It is likely a deist view and Locke says that they are revealed to us through reason alone. God’s role is derivative and not Christian specific for Locke. He never derived any of his claims based on religious beliefs. The Chinese also have (along with many other people) that “Heaven” has given us certain rights (such as not to be oppressed by the government). All cultures have similar concepts and there is no evidence that Locke thought exclusively that these were Christian concepts or values. He was clearly using certain religious quotes from the bible in a tongue and cheek manner (probably to appease the powers that be).

    Many of the other men of the enlightenment, as I’ve shown, didn’t even go that far and said that god had no role to play in human moral affairs (Hume, Hobbes, Spinoza, just about all our Founding Fathers, Mill, Montesquieu, etc).

    I think I gave enough quotes from them to put this definitively to rest. Merely citing them referencing “god” does not show that 1. they were Christians, 2. more relevantly that the ideas they advocated were Judeo-Christian derived concepts.

    So it is false to say that these are strictly western Judeo-Christian religious ideas and Eric does, indeed, say so.

    I don’t know why this is controversial as Eric is clear and explicit that they are Christian (not just that they are religious or even from “god”). I quote directly from the interview:

    Interviewer: Why have these ideas (democracy and human rights) worked in certain places?

    Eric: It’s worked in western cultures because they evolved from the Judeo-Christian tradition. The men of the enlightenment were highly religious men. They came from the tradition of Christianity. It’s the evolution of the western religious tradition.

    [10:10-10:40]

    So I was absolutely correct in my interpretation that he not only said that they were “religious” but Judeo-Christian concepts. That is simply not true. It is also not true as I’ve quoted the men he talked about that they were Christians. In fact, it’s the opposite of the truth; they were very hostile to Christianity and to religion. Please don’t keep confusing deism with Christianity. One is a philosphical position that is harmonious with the scientific and philosophical developments at that time but the other is a religious position that is not founded on reason.

    A Principle of The Traditional American Philosophy – concept of inalienable rights:
    The American notion of government is important not only because it has had strongly affected the world, but also because it is the first government to be founded on the natural rights being developed during the enlightenment.

    Like I said, 1. many of the Founding Fathers were deists and thus were not using “god” in a religious and specifically Christian way. 2. Some may have even used it in tongue-in-cheek. You can read from the site I provided that in their personal writings, they were clearly very hostile to Christianity and probably all religions.

    Since Eric is focused on U.S. – extending to the West – here is a reference on American notion of natural rights.
    A Principle of The Traditional American Philosophy – concept of inalienable rights:
    The American notion of government is important not only because it has had strongly affected the world, but also because it is the first government to be founded on the natural rights being developed during the enlightenment.

    I do not accept that interpretation of the constitution. You have quoted a site selling homeschooling services for that interpretation and hence, highly questionable to boot. I think it is uncontroversial that the Founding Fathers of the US tried very hard to make sure that our political system did not incorporate any religious (and indeed, specifically Judeo-Christian) elements. I just don’t see any evidence of that. It’s a rightwing propaganda myth that has been said so many times that it is believes without any shred of evidence.

    As Thomas Jefferson has written: “The god who gave us life, gave us liberty at the same time: the hand of force may destroy, but cannot disjoin them.”

    Again, I think you are taking this completely out of context as many have done with the Founding Fathers and religion. “God” for them was not a Christian god but the god of deism as I’ve explained many times. Some didn’t even believe in any god and were simply being tongue-in-cheek in using that term (like Einstein’s “God does not play dice” quote that religious people have quoted out of context in “proving” that Einstein was really a religious person).

    Please see his actual letters to other people and his personal writings for acerbic denunciations of Christianity, religion and religious people.

    Natural rights are rights not contingent upon the laws, customs, or beliefs of any particular culture or government, and therefore universal and inalienable. In contrast, legal rights are those bestowed on to a person by the law of a particular political and legal system, and therefore relative to specific cultures and governments.Many documents now echo the phrase used in the United States Declaration of Independence. The preamble to the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights asserts that rights are inalienable: “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” … However, there is still much dispute over which “rights” are truly natural rights and which are not, and the concept of natural or inalienable rights is still controversial to some.

    I don’t know why you think this is relevant. I never said they didn’t think rights were universal (in fact, I said they did think so). I said that Eric is wrong to think that the rights approach was derived (or “evolved from” in Eric’s own words) from Judeo-Christian western religion.

    Notice that these are in contrast. If they are universal, then why would they also apply to Muslims, Hindus, atheists, etc? By asserting that they are universal, the fathers of the Liberal tradition ARE saying that they are independent from any specific religion. That is my whole point. So in asserting that that they are universal and saying that that is what the founders of the Liberal tradition wanted to show, that actually shows what I have been saying is correct because it doesn’t make sense to say that they are both universal and specifically Judeo-Christian. The Founders of the Liberal tradition would quickly see the contradiction as silly. They are not specifically western and western religious in nature.

    As I said, let’s agree to disagree about Hume.

    Fine, but I just don’t know how you can assert that without any evidence. It’s pretty well established by all Hume experts that he was not religious and was in fact quite hostile to religion. He also did as much as any to destroy the foundations of morality based on religious precepts and into a purely naturalistic approach to morality. I’ve already given many cites of Hume from places like the Stanford Encyclopedia of philosophy to support this. I’ve also given the quote from Hume’s autobiography from one of the leading Hume scholars. It seems that this is so obvious that it is unreasonable to argue this point.

    I really think you have taken all those other quotes out of context. Many of those philosophers first of all, were not the founders of the modern Liberal tradition. Second, as I’ve been saying for quite some time, many were deists, not religious never mind Christian. So by quoting them as they mention “god” does not show that they were Christians. Like I said, many were anti-Christian and explicitly so.

    And I have to emphatically disagree again, as I already have in my first comment above. Eric never said rights were Western religious concepts. He only said they were Western concepts – not universal – and to impose them as universal approaches the “religious” – the “ideological.”

    Incorrect. Again, from Eric’s own mouth:

    Eric: [Human rights] worked in western cultures because they evolved from the Judeo-Christian tradition. The men of the enlightenment were highly religious men. They came from the tradition of Christianity. It’s the evolution of the western religious tradition.

    I really think this is the crux of the disagreement between us so far. You think that I have misunderstood Eric because you think that he only said that western concepts such as human rights and democracy are universal concepts and never said that they were western religious or Judeo-Christian concepts. I never denied that they were originally thought to be universal concepts. I denied that they were specifically Judeo-Christian, western religious concepts and it is VERY clear (again, please watch the video from 10:15-10:40) that Eric DID in fact say that. (I think he said it at another part of the video as well) That was where I disagreed. So I stick to my original criticisms. They are absolutely correct: 1. They are not western Judeo-Christian concepts. 2. The founders of that tradition were not Christians as we understand the term.

  21. March 10th, 2012 at 14:28 | #21

    Allen :
    @melektaus
    I missed this part in my last reply, but I think it’s important.

    These rights are not to be touched – except under exceptional circumstances and for exceptional reasons. These rights arose – if not from God – then from a unique inspiration then – such as in the minds of enlightened men in the West. It is certainly not a universal right that arose spontaneously in parallel across all societies. Until it is subscribed by others, Eric seems to say, it is merely a religion – a cultural artifact of one culture – albeit a dominant one. And I agree with that.

    I don’t see how this follows. Just because it came from ‘enlightened minds” in the west does not imply that they ought not be applied to people in other parts of the world. That would have to be argued in a separate argument that they are not but in engaging in such argument, one uses one’s reason to settle it which brings us to the realm of reason and not faith or religion.

    Your response makes no sense to me.
    Just because someone claims something came from “enlightened minds” does not mean they are universal.

    I never said that they did. I simply said that universal claim need to be evaluated on their own merits, not whether they came from “enlightened minds” or non enlightened minds. So simply by claiming that they came from enlightened minds, we have no grounds to dismiss them as false or to affirm them as true regarding people in other places. Whether they are applicable to other peoples need to be evaluated by reasonable, informed debate. But reasonable informed debate does not rely on faith or religious dogma and ergo, not religious.

    The Buddha did not rely on him being an enlightened being to spread his message. He didn’t say, “do what I say,” “believe in what I believe, because I’m enlightened.” He actually gave principled reasons to convince people. That’s my point.

  22. March 10th, 2012 at 15:02 | #22

    @Allen
    Also, a Hume that is against religious dogma, against intrusion of religion into the secular, that is despondent that he cannot rationally prove God with 100% certainty is not necessarily a Hume that is irreligious. His norms, his outlook, values would still be strongly shaped by his peers, his society, his family, his upbringing – all of which can all be characterized as religious by today’s standards.

    Hume didn’t just argue against religious institutions. he argued that religious beliefs were stupid, immoral and ought not be obeyed. He openly questioned god’s existence. He was irreligious. He was among the greatest religious skeptics in philosophical history and it is widely accepted that he was.

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/hume-religion/

    The term irreligion has several other specific advantages. In the first place, as we have noted, it captures the full strength and scope of Hume’s sceptical stance concerning the metaphysical claims of orthodox religion. This covers not just his views about the being and attributes of God but also his views about the soul and a future state, miracles and the foundations of morality. Hume’s core arguments are intended to leave religious doctrine without any solid philosophical grounds or significant content — much less any practical value or influence. The label of irreligion serves effectively to identify these wider concerns and places appropriate emphasis on Hume’s destructive intent in respect of religious systems. Related to this point, by widening our scope of interest in relation to Hume’s views on religion, and avoiding a narrow focus on his argument concerning the existence of God, we are encouraged to consider works other than the Dialogues when assessing the nature and character of Hume’s views on this subject. It is, for example, especially important that proper weight be given to Hume’s effort in the Treatise to discredit the metaphysical and moral paraphernalia of orthodox religious systems and to redirect human investigations to the study of the “science of man”, whereby we may develop a secular, scientific account of the foundations of moral and social life. In so far as we consider Hume’s views as advancing a “philosophy of irreligion” (rather than simple atheism) we are more likely to appreciate and capture these more complex and subtle aspects of his thinking on this subject.

    When we consider Hume’s philosophy from the perspective of his fundamental irreligious aims and objectives it is entirely understandable why his own contemporaries did not hesitate to label him an “atheist”. What they recognized, throughout Hume’s philosophical writings, was his effort to show that religion, in almost all forms that his own contemporaries would be familiar with (i.e. Judeo-Christianity), was permeated with philosophical absurdity and corrupt and confused practices. What Hume aimed at, in other words, was to “unmask” religious doctrine and institutions. It was his general ambition to expose the groundlessness of their doctrines as well as the destructive nature of their influence on human life. In pursuing this end — i.e., to free humanity from the yoke of religion, – Hume follows in a tradition that can be traced, before him, to Lucretius, Hobbes and Spinoza and, after him, to thinkers such as D’Holbach, Marx and Nietzsche. Whatever label we place on this tradition (i.e., “atheist”, “irreligious”, “anti-Christian” etc.), there is no doubt that Hume’s contributions stand among its greatest achievements and, for the most part, represent it in a particularly humane and measured voice.

  23. March 10th, 2012 at 15:11 | #23

    Allen :
    Now I want to conclude my remarks in this thread as well as the original thread showing Eric’s video (http://blog.hiddenharmonies.org/2012/03/eric-x-li-chinese-pluralism-vs-western-universality/) by noting that the real issue is whether Eric’s argument was so “confused” as to turn off Westerners and others we want to reach.
    It may very well that my style or Eric’s style may be too presumptuous – and that we need a more refined, polished, nuanced approach that melektaus provides.
    If melektaus is up to the challenge, I encourage him to do that whenever he can.

    I already did for the concept(s) of democracy. Maybe later I will do so for the broader human rights or even moral concepts but that is a considerably more complicated affair.

  24. Rhan
    March 10th, 2012 at 18:31 | #24

    I am not sure if my analogy make sense, many Chinese in Nanyang use to call ourselves buddhist, but fact is some don’t even understand a single thing of buddha and his teaching, they are either taoist or the follower of confucianism, however we can’t really tell which is which, the three share lot of thing. Thus when you read the many western philosophy and concepts, it may not sound Christian but the roots and idea is very similar, at least to readers like me.

  25. March 11th, 2012 at 03:01 | #25

    @melektaus

    You seem to imply that religious = “Christianity” only. Eric had at least 2 meanings, one is as a synonym for the “ideological” (as cited above) – another a tag for Christian in a wide sense of a way that I would take to include “deism.”

    In my view, there is no point in separating Christianity vs. deism – just like there is no point in separating Protestants vs. Catholics vs. Mormans. They are all religious for the sake of these discussions. If you don’t think deism is a kind of religion, then by god, we better all believe in some notion of a God lest we be accused of being unreasonable or not following natural evidence.

    You don’t seem to like my referencing “A Principle of The Traditional American Philosophy – concept of inalienable rights” – dismissively calling it a site that ‘sells homeschooling services.’

    I still recommend you read that. I reference it because it’s a short read (has passages I can copy without bloating my comment). More importantly, as you mentioned later – in discussing natural rights, we shouldn’t care where the idea comes from, only the ideas themselves.

    But if you want more serious academic sources, there are the writings of Thomas Jefferson. But the concepts of inalienable rights and natural rights didn’t originate with Jefferson. The terms used in the declaration of independence can also be found in the previous legal writers such as Grotius, Burlamaqui, Blackstone and others. And, subsequent jurists have also written about them – too many to name…

    Of course, the Declaration of Independence itself is a treasure trove.

    Today, some may point out, wait, the founders of this nation couldn’t really be that religious since they didn’t use the word God in the constitution (presuming of course, that the use of the word God – not necessarily Jesus – would have made the constitution religious) – and that we have the notion of separation of church and state and freedom of religion, but again things must be understood in context.

    As famed jurist – Justice Joseph Story (who served on the Supreme Court from 1811-1845) – noted in his work Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, 2 Vol. 2:593-95, 2nd Ed. Boston: Little Brown (1905),

    Probably at the time of the adoption of the Constitution, and of the First Amendment to it . . . the general if not the universal sentiment in America was, that Christianity ought to receive encouragement from the state so far as was not incompatible with the private religious rights of conscience and the freedom of religious worship. An attempt to level all religions, and to make it a matter of state policy to hold all in utter indifference, would have created universal disapprobation, if not universal indignation . . . .The real object of the amendment was not to countenance, much less to advance, Mahometanism, or Judaism, or infidelity, by prostrating Christianity; but exclude all rivalry among Christian sects, and to prevent any national ecclesiastical establishment which should give to a hierarchy the exclusive patronage of the national government.

    You wrote:

    Fine, but I just don’t know how you can assert that without any evidence. It’s pretty well established by all Hume experts that he was not religious and was in fact quite hostile to religion. He also did as much as any to destroy the foundations of morality based on religious precepts and into a purely naturalistic approach to morality. I’ve already given many cites of Hume from places like the Stanford Encyclopedia of philosophy to support this. I’ve also given the quote from Hume’s autobiography from one of the leading Hume scholars. It seems that this is so obvious that it is unreasonable to argue this point.

    Please re-read my previous comments, I provided sufficient evidence. And all the quotes you give supports my position as far as I can see. The philosophers of the enlightenment were uniformly against the oppressive social institutions that the church stood for – that doesn’t not mean they were not religious. I have given you a few quotes of famous philosophers from the enlightenment period already that I believe are sufficient. In my studies, they appear very religious to me. Even Hume – despite his reputation – is a product of his times, having internalized many of the values of the time. Having read Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion – I don’t think he refute the values of his times – values that others have deemed to have divine origins. He (and many others) is against organized religion and the church dogma of his time. He may have mean dogmatic that to know God one must do it through reason and observation (reason and observation that other philosophers believe proves God and the divine-nature of natural rights). If he appear to you a strict atheist, fine. But to say it’s beyond dispute, that is really problematic. It just ain’t black and white. As already noted above, the wiki entry on Hume summarized:

    It is likely that Hume was skeptical both about religious belief (at least as demanded by the religious organisations of his time) and of the complete atheism promoted by such contemporaries as Baron d’Holbach. Paul Russell suggests that perhaps Hume’s position is best characterised by the term “irreligion”.[24] O’Connor (2001, p19) writes that Hume “did not believe in the God of standard theism. … but he did not rule out all concepts of deity”. Also, “ambiguity suited his purposes, and this creates difficulty in definitively pinning down his final position on religion”. When asked if he was an atheist, Hume would say he did not have enough faith to believe there was no god.

    The perception of Hume as an atheist with an axe to grind is an oversimplification and contrasts his views on extremist positioning. Hanvelt dubs Hume as an Aristotelian in his view that rhetoric is a form of ethical studies, which ultimately make it political.[25]

    You provided more quotes in this comment – but I think they are consistent with my position. The enlightenment philosophers were almost all uniformly against the oppressive social institutions that the church stood for at the time…

    Now I think I will give you the last words because I’ve already exerted quite a considerable amount of time on this topic, in a way that I don’t think anyone – myself included – will find valuable as it appears to me that we are arguing past each other.

    You and I have fundamental understanding what is religious. I have no idea why you keep harping on the idea that Christianity=religion but deism≠religion, implying in my view that deism and Christianity are mutually exclusive. There are many ways to be religious, and even for a specific religion like Christianity, many paths to be Christians – with deism one possible path. Just as there are many paths to achieve Buddhist enlightenment (there are many schools of Buddhism, for example), there are many ways to ground one’s Christian faith – through personal relations with Jesus, the notion of the trinity, Mary, supernatural miracles, church authority, literal reading of the Bible for example – and yes, also a reliance on some human faculties such as reason and observation.

    As the wiki links on deism given above noted,

    Deism is a religious philosophy which holds that reason and observation of the natural world, without the need for organized religion, can determine that the universe is the product of an all-powerful creator.

    The earliest known usage in print of the English term deist is 1621,[3] …. Deism became more prominent in the 17th and 18th centuries during the Age of Enlightenment — especially in Britain, France, Germany and America among intellectuals raised as Christians who found they could not believe in supernatural miracles, the inerrancy of scriptures, or the Trinity, but who did believe in one God.

    Finally – about the back and forth we have on “enlightenment”

    You wrote:

    The Buddha did not rely on him being an enlightened being to spread his message. He didn’t say, “do what I say,” “believe in what I believe, because I’m enlightened.” He actually gave principled reasons to convince people. That’s my point.

    In my view, you seem to be back peddling (or maybe it’s must too late). In any case, that’s my point, too.

    Natural rights must not be taken on the face value to be universal simply because its originators thought they were based on universal notions of reason and observation. Natural rights should be evaluated by each society for what it is. Until a society accepts, it is neither universal nor inalienable – only an artifact of another culture. To claim the artifacts to be anything more is merely “religious.”

    You have lots of absolutes in your comments that are just opinions – things like I am “absolutely correct” – or that things might show the philosophers were religious were all done in “tongue-in-cheek” – suppossedly to “appease” some religious authority – that what I quote reflect merely “propaganda myth.” I don’t quite appreciate those.

    You also have some very weird logic. For example, you wrote

    Notice that these are in contrast. If they are universal, then why would they also apply to Muslims, Hindus, atheists, etc? By asserting that they are universal, the fathers of the Liberal tradition ARE saying that they are independent from any specific religion. That is my whole point. So in asserting that that they are universal and saying that that is what the founders of the Liberal tradition wanted to show, that actually shows what I have been saying is correct because it doesn’t make sense to say that they are both universal and specifically Judeo-Christian.

    But a religious / ideological person would think that their rules ought to apply to Buddhists, Muslims, atheists, Hindus. Many religious / ideological people do really think their faith is Universal. The enlightenment philosophers could be guilty of just such things – elevating their personal faith, conclusions, cultures, values – couched in the newly fashionable term that they are based on “reason” and “observation” – as universal.

    Perhaps some traditional Western scholars might buy that. But as a citizen of world that is increasingly multi-polar, non-Western, I challenge that take. The reason and observation of the enlightenment are just terms. They are still based on the values and perceptions and biases and cultures of the times.

    Why are so many founders of America slave owners – and why did so many condone slavery; why are none of them feminist? Why frame legal philosophy in terms individual rights? Why not in terms of the duties of the sovereign – just as an example?

    Anyways – as I said above, you can have the last word – a final conclusion of sorts if you like. I am done.

  26. March 12th, 2012 at 11:50 | #26

    I don’t think this is going anywhere. There just seems to be some fundamental issues that we disagree on but the problem is is that I don’t know what reasons you have for supporting your views. They just don’t seem to be supported by the body of evidence. But I’ll try again to answer some of your points in your last post.

    Allen :
    @melektaus
    You seem to imply that religious = “Christianity” only.

    No, my case implies that “religious” means far more than Christianity because I am making the distinction between Christianity and other forms of theism. Just because someone believes in god does not mean they are Christians. This is what the people who are in question assert themselves. As my quotes from the founding fathers of American show, they were virulently anti-Christian. They admitted this themselves. It’s their own sayings. So I don’t know how you can keep asserting that they were Christians and say that our Liberal political system is based on Christian concepts when they explicitly denied this. They took great pains to avoid incorporating religious concepts into the political foundations of this country and this is no coincidence. Why would they incorporate them while holding anti-Christian views? That doesn’t make sense.

    Eric had at least 2 meanings, one is as a synonym for the “ideological” (as cited above) – another a tag for Christian in a wide sense of a way that I would take to include “deism.”

    Yeah, but that was clearly NOT the meaning I was criticizing. I never claimed that they weren’t “ideological.” I criticized Eric’s claim that they were Judeo-Christian which is demonstrably false.

    I don’t see how you can conflate deism with Christianity. Just because Deists believe in a god does not make them Christians. Many people believe in god but are not Christian. Muslims are clearly not Christian and yet they believe in god (in fact, the same god as Christians). So do Jews. Sikhs believe in one god. Many religions in the world that are not Christian believe in one god. Are all these other groups “Christians”? Some ancient Chinese cults also believed in one god. Does that make them Christians? That’s ridiculous.

    In many ways, Deism is far less Christian than Islam, Judaism, and and the other monotheistic beliefs because deism is not a religion and do not believe in a personal god like Islam, Judaism, etc.

    In my view, there is no point in separating Christianity vs. deism – just like there is no point in separating Protestants vs. Catholics vs. Mormans.

    Of course there is. Christians tend to believe in many things that Deists do not believe. I’ll list a few salient beliefs.

    1. Christians believe in the divinity of Christ. No deist believes that Jesus was the son of god. IMO, this is a fundamental essential belief of Christianity.

    2. Christians believe in a personal god. Again, deists do not believe in a personal god. Again, IMO, thiws is a essential belief of Christianity.

    3. Christianity is a religion. that is, it is a institution or set of institutions that is holds certain practices (ritualistic) in common. Deism has no such institutions of religious ritual.

    4. Christians believe in the redemption of Man’s Sins through the death of Jesus. Deists do not.

    5. Christians believe that morality should be based on the Bible. Deists have a humanistic conception of morality.

    I can go on and on and but I don’t need to. It’s clear what deism is and what Christianity is,.

    If you don’t think deism is a kind of religion, then by god, we better all believe in some notion of a God lest we be accused of being unreasonable or not following natural evidence.
    You don’t seem to like my referencing “<a

    This doesn’t make any sense. Deism was perfectly reasonable philosophically in the 18th century because of the status of science at that time.

    I still recommend you read that. I reference it because it’s a short read (has passages I can copy without bloating my comment). More importantly, as you mentioned later – in discussing natural rights, we shouldn’t care where the idea comes from, only the ideas themselves.
    But if you want more serious academic sources, there are the writings of Thomas Jefferson. But the concepts of inalienable rights and natural rights didn’t originate with Jefferson. The terms used in the declaration of independence can also be found in the previous legal writers such as Grotius, Burlamaqui, Blackstone and others. And, subsequent jurists have also written about them – too many to name…

    My problem is not that some rights are “inalienable.” It’s Eric’s claim that they are fundamentally Christian concepts or derived from them and that the fathers of the Liberal tradition were Christians which is the opposite of the truth that is problematic. They were hostile towards Christianity. I really don’t think you gave any evidence to show that they were Christian and I think the quotes I gave show definitively that they were anti-Christian and thus could not have been Christians. Moreover, the quotes also show that they took great pains to avoid incorporating Christian (or any religious) concepts into the political foundations of this country. Simply by finding a few quotes of them referencing a “god” does not show them to be Christian as Eric explicitly claims several times.

    You and I have fundamental understanding what is religious. I have no idea why you keep harping on the idea that Christianity=religion but deism≠religion, implying in my view that deism and Christianity are mutually exclusive.

    This is a complete misunderstanding of what I said. I never said nor implied that “Christianity = religion.” I don’t see how you could interpret anything I’ve said as suggesting that. Many times I said things that implicate the opposite, that Christianity =/= religion. There are many different religions and many non religious people that are NOT Christians. That is why you did not show that the founding fathers are Christians simply by citing them referencing “god”. Because many people believe in “god” or reference god and yet are NOT Christians. That is a mistake, a fallacy, on your part.

    Deism =/= religion by the very claims of the deists themselves. So in essence you are saying that Jefferson, Madison, Pain, Franklin, etc etc were all wrong when they asserted that their deist beliefs weren’t Christian but you would need to do some semantic gerrymandering and arbitrary redefining of the terms to do that. Deism has many properties that religions do not have (common set of ritual practices for one. reliance on reason rather than faith to arrive at the truths of the world, second).

    It seems that you are just drawing semantic lines where you want to draw them just to make your case.

    There are many ways to be religious, and even for a specific religion like Christianity, many paths to be Christians – with deism one possible path.

    Let me ask you this: How would you define Christianity?

    rel=”nofollow”>schools of Buddhism, for example), there are many ways to ground one’s Christian faith – through personal relations with Jesus, the notion of the trinity, Mary, supernatural miracles, church authority, literal reading of the Bible for example – and yes, also a reliance on some human faculties such as reason and observation.

    None of which except the last Deists believe in! So again, you are redrawing the semantic lines where you want them just so that “deism” becomes “Christian.” It’s like if I had claimed that the Koran is a Christian work and when asked to explain this falsehood, I had redefined what it means to be “Christian” by including Muslims.

    I quote from the description of deism

    Deism (i/ˈdiː.ɪzəm/[1][2] or /ˈdeɪ.ɪzəm/) is a religious philosophy which holds that reason and observation of the natural world, without the need for organized religion, can determine that the universe is the product of an all-powerful creator. According to deists, the creator rarely, if ever, either intervenes in human affairs or suspends the natural laws of the universe. Deists typically reject supernatural events such as prophecy and miracles, tending instead to assert that a god (or “the Supreme Architect”) does not alter the universe by intervening in it. This idea is also known as the clockwork universe theory, in which a god designs and builds the universe, but steps aside to let it run on its own. Two main forms of deism currently exist: classical deism and modern deism.
    The earliest known usage in print of the English term deist is 1621,[3] and deism is first found in a 1675 dictionary.[4][5] Deism became more prominent in the 17th and 18th centuries during the Age of Enlightenment — especially in Britain, France, Germany and America among intellectuals raised as Christians who found they could not believe in supernatural miracles, the inerrancy of scriptures, or the Trinity
    , but who did believe in one God.

    In England, deism included a range of people from anti-Christian to un-Christian theists.[9]
    Deism holds that God does not intervene with the functioning of the natural world in any way, allowing it to run according to the laws of nature that he configured when he created all things. God is thus conceived to be wholly transcendent and never immanent. For Deists, human beings can only know God via reason and the observation of nature, but not by revelation or supernatural manifestations (such as miracles) – phenomena which Deists regard with caution if not skepticism. See the section Features of deism, following. Deism can also refer to a personal set of beliefs having to do with the role of nature in spirituality.[10] Deism does not ascribe any specific qualities to a deity beyond non-intervention. Deism is related to naturalism because it credits the formation of life and the universe to a higher power, using only natural processes.

    Critical elements of deist thought included:
    Rejection of all religions based on books that claim to contain the revealed word of God.
    Rejection of all religious dogma and demagogy.
    Rejection of reports of miracles, prophecies and religious “mysteries”.

    Natural rights must not be taken on the face value to be universal simply because its originators thought they were based on universal notions of reason and observation. Natural rights should be evaluated by each society for what it is. Until a society accepts, it is neither universal nor inalienable – only an artifact of another culture. To claim the artifacts to be anything more is merely “religious.”
    You have lots of absolutes in your comments that are just opinions – things like I am “absolutely correct” – or that things might show the philosophers were religious were all done in “tongue-in-cheek” – suppossedly to “appease” some religious authority – that what I quote reflect merely “propaganda myth.” I don’t quite appreciate those.</

    Absolutes? No. Your comments seem far more absolute than mine. My point always has been who’s closer to the truth here? It’s hard to find “absolute” truth in these kinds of debates. It would appear that you have to stretch meanings and deploy word games to make your case (such as saying that Deism, agnosticism, atheism are Christian) while I rely on no such stretching of the meaning of words. You’re really conflating very different concepts (such as the belief in god with Christianity or religion) and using equivocation fallacies. I employ them as they are commonly employed and even by the people self-identifying as deists assert (i.e., that they were NOT Christians and were in fact anti-Christian).

    You also have some very weird logic. For example, you wrote

    Weird logic? Where is it “weird”?

    But a religious / ideological person would think that their rules ought to apply to Buddhists, Muslims, atheists, Hindus.

    Sorry, that doesn’t follow.

    Many religious / ideological people do really think their faith is Universal.

    That’s the point. If they thought their beliefs were universal than why would they also believe that their beliefs are Christian? Do they not know that there are many people out there that do not believe in the fundamental tenets of Christianity?

    The enlightenment philosophers could be guilty of just such things – elevating their personal faith, conclusions, cultures, values – couched in the newly fashionable term that they are based on “reason” and “observation” – as universal.

    That’s an assumption without any evidence. It’s an assumption that has already been definitively put to rest.

    Why are so many founders of America slave owners – and why did so many condone slavery; why are none of them feminist? Why frame legal philosophy in terms individual rights? Why not in terms of the duties of the sovereign – just as an example?

    Again, this is a non sequitur. It simply doesn’t follow.

  27. March 12th, 2012 at 12:07 | #27

    I am still challenging anyone to find some error in my criticisms of Eric. All of the responses do not show anything wrong in it. In fact, they are based on outright mistakes such as claiming that Eric never claimed that human rights were derived from Christianity and that he never claimed that the fathers of the rights tradition were Christians.

    See the video again. He very clearly and explicitly makes those claims (10:15-10:10:40). Now the question is, are those claims accurate? Well, Allen, in supporting that case, can be right only if Deism, agnosticism and atheism are a form of Christianity. But this is obviously ridiculous. All of the people that were the founders of that tradition were either deists, agnostics or atheists. There is no doubt about that. Additionally, many of them were explicitly anti-Christian and anti-religion in general.

    Allen’s mistake in attributing Deism to Christianity rests on the mistaken assumption that belief in ‘god’=christianity. That cannot be the case as most people who believe in god (Muslims, Sikhs, Jews etc, etc) are not Christians and yet believe in one god.

    It is even a larger stretch and mistake to include agnostics and atheists (such as Hume, Mill and possibly many others) as “Christians”.

    To say that they were Christians or that these concepts are Christian or derived therefrom is not only doomed from the get go but disingenuous. You’d have to do some serious fallacious semantic gerrymandering to classify deism, agnosticism and atheism as “Christian”… Though I said that there is rarely absolute truth and falsity in these kinds of debates, that claim is about as obviously wrong, as unreasonable, as it gets.

  28. March 12th, 2012 at 12:41 | #28

    @Rhan

    Rhan :
    I am not sure if my analogy make sense, many Chinese in Nanyang use to call ourselves buddhist, but fact is some don’t even understand a single thing of buddha and his teaching, they are either taoist or the follower of confucianism, however we can’t really tell which is which, the three share lot of thing. Thus when you read the many western philosophy and concepts, it may not sound Christian but the roots and idea is very similar, at least to readers like me.
    EditMore OptionsModerateSpamTrashMoveE-mailBlacklist

    It’s not that it doesn’t “make sense”. It’s that it ain’t even analogous. If you do not ascribe to Buddhism and also make anti-Buddhist claims and consciously and explicitly try to make some view antithetical to Buddhism, how is that view then “Buddhist”? In what why is it Buddhist? Don’t it make more sense to say that it is anti-Buddhist?

    In the same way, many of the people that are the fathers of the enlightenment and specifically the Liberal tradition such as the US founding fathers, Hume, Mill, Montesquieu, were clearly hostile to Christianity and religion (again, see the quotes I’ve already provided). They also made conscious decisions to avoid the pitfalls of a religious government by making their the foundations of their government as nonreligious as possible. Their personal philosophies were naturalistic and scientific. It did not rely on a single biblical doctrine. So in what way were these ideas Christian or Christian derived?

    Doesn’t it make more sense to call them “anti-Christian”?

    You are simply relying on bias and faith much as religious people do when you keep asserting that they were Christians or Christian inspired when there is no evidence of it and in fact, plenty of evidence against it. The real analogy would actually suggest the opposite.

  29. March 12th, 2012 at 13:53 | #29

    More on deism:

    http://deistalliance.org/about/

    Deism is belief in God based on reason, nature and experience. Deists believe that God reveals truth to us through the everyday miracles of nature. Deism is God without the baggage, God without organized religion, religion without church or clergy. Deism has no dogma, no tenets claimed to be of divine origin, no sacred texts, no rituals, no sacraments. Deism is a sensible alternative to both organized religion and Atheism. A Deist understands that faith and doubt go hand in hand. Ultimately, we must come to our own conclusions, not allow someone else to reach those conclusions for us.

    We begin with doubt. Deists are seekers of knowledge, so Deists question everything. The universe holds many secrets, and science searches the universe for knowledge. Deism and science are closely compatible.

    And, from the the World Union of Deists whose site proclaims “God Gave Us Reason, Not Religion.”

    http://www.deism.com/deism_defined.htm

    The natural religion/philosophy of Deism frees those who embrace it from the inconsistencies of superstition and the negativity of fear that are so strongly represented in all of the “revealed” religions such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam. (These religions are called revealed religions because they all make claim to having received a special revelation from God which they pretend, and many of their sincere followers actually believe, their various and conflicting holy books are based on.) When enough people become Deists, reason will be elevated over fear and myth and its positive qualities will become a part of society as a whole. Then, instead of having billions of people chasing after the nonsensical violence promoting myths of the “revealed” religions, people will be centered on their God-given reason which will lead to limitless personal and societal progress!

    This is not a utopian pipedream. Deism has the potential to connect with every human being because every human being possesses God-given reason. Because of this fact, Deism clicks with the vast majority of people who are made aware of it. This God-given reason, which is so dear and key to Deism, is the natural state of humanity. The superstitions of the man-made “revealed” religions are NOT the natural state of humanity. The cause of our God-given reason being overrun with these man-made myths and superstitions is very simple. ACTIVE people promoted these falsehoods. Some of these active people were motivated by self gain while others were acting on ignorance. Since the problem was brought about by ACTIVE people, it can be corrected by ACTIVE people. As the number of ACTIVE Deists grows, our actions and energies will cause Deism to eclipse the “revealed” religions of the world and Deism will eventually, through lots of hard teamwork and altruism, replace the “revealed” religions. Humanity and the individuals who make up humanity will then be able to reach their full progressive potential!

    Please familiarize yourself with Deism by reading the many articles the links to the left take you to. By using this site you will learn such things as God and religion are two distinct things, that one of the many benefits Deism offers you and your family and friends is solid protection from cults, that America’s Declaration of Independence is a Deistic document, that the Bible and Koran paint a very evil and insane picture of God, that the Designer of Nature is as real as the designs in Nature, plus much, much more!”

    From the article “Deism vs. Atheism and Christianity”

    http://www.deism.com/deism_vs.htm

    Revelation, or revealed religion, is defined in Webster’s New World Dictionary as: “God’s disclosure to man of Himself.” This should read, “God’s alleged disclosure to man of himself.” For unless God reveals to each of us individually that a particular religion is truly His disclosure to us of Himself, then, by believing that religion, we are not taking His word for it, but we are instead putting our belief in the person or institution telling us it is so. This is what we are doing when we believe in any revealed religion, and that’s all Christianity is. It’s a revealed religion like many others such as Islam and Judaism. Revealed religion gets dangerous however, when it crosses over the line into politics. This is the admitted goal of the Christian Coalition. God allegedly revealed to Pat Robertson and his Coalition, that He wants them to take over America and eventually the world with “His Word,” so the laws of the nations will mirror the laws in the Bible, which, if you know what’s in the Bible, is terrifying. This, too, is what the Ayatollah’s goal was, only his “revealed word of God” was the Koran, an other revelation. Are we to believe Pat when he says the Bible is revelation of God’s Word?

    As THINK! has already offered several examples in the above article, YANKING THE TEETH FROM THE RELIGIOUS RIGHT (this article is in the subscribers’ section. If you’re not currently a subscriber, please click here.), taken directly from the Bible itself to prove itself false and NOT the Word of God, reason alone will now be used to demonstrate Christianity is NOT revelation from God.

    So much for the claim that Deism is Christian.

  30. March 12th, 2012 at 14:21 | #30

    Again, the claim that Jefferson and the rest of founding fathers were “Christians” is called “Christian revisionism.”

    http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/farrell_till/myth.html

    Jefferson didn’t just reject the Christian belief that the Bible was “the inspired word of God”; he rejected the Christian system too.

    Whenever the Supreme Court makes a decision that in any way restricts the intrusion of religion into the affairs of government, a flood of editorials, articles, and letters protesting the ruling is sure to appear in the newspapers. Many protesters decry these decisions on the grounds that they conflict with the wishes and intents of the “founding fathers.”

    Such a view of American history is completely contrary to known facts. The primary leaders of the so-called founding fathers of our nation were not Bible-believing Christians; they were deists. Deism was a philosophical belief that was widely accepted by the colonial intelligentsia at the time of the American Revolution. Its major tenets included belief in human reason as a reliable means of solving social and political problems and belief in a supreme deity who created the universe to operate solely by natural laws. The supreme God of the Deists removed himself entirely from the universe after creating it. They believed that he assumed no control over it, exerted no influence on natural phenomena, and gave no supernatural revelation to man. A necessary consequence of these beliefs was a rejection of many doctrines central to the Christian religion. Deists did not believe in the virgin birth, divinity, or resurrection of Jesus, the efficacy of prayer, the miracles of the Bible, or even the divine inspiration of the Bible.

    Why would contemporary clergymen have so vigorously opposed Jefferson’s election if he were as devoutly Christian as modern preachers claim? The answer is that Jefferson was not a Christian, and the preachers of his day knew that he wasn’t.

    Some Christians were of course involved in the shaping of our nation, but their influence was minor compared to the ideological contributions of the Deists who pressed for the formation of a secular nation.

    Clearly, the founders of our nation intended government to maintain a neutral posture in matters of religion. Anyone who would still insist that the intention of the founding fathers was to establish a Christian nation should review a document written during the administration of George Washington. Article 11 of the Treaty with Tripoli declared in part that “the government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion…” (Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States, ed. Hunter Miller, Vol. 2, U. S. Government Printing Office, 1931, p. 365).

  31. March 12th, 2012 at 15:49 | #31

    Here’s another issue that seems to be causing some confusion.

    Christianity is one form of religion. There are many other forms of religion (e.g. Islam, Judaism, Bahaii, Taoism, etc etc).

    In other words, all Christians are religious but not all religious people are Christians. That much is obvious.

    So if I show that someone is not religious, a fortiori, I show that they are not Christian.

    The basic structure of the argument is (C=You are a Christian, R=You are Religious):

    C–>R
    ~R
    :~C

    This is called Modus Tollens. Anyone studied logic knows this is valid. The premises also seemed to be true and thus the argument sound.

    It’s an analytic truth that all Christians are religious (can you come up with a counter example?).

    By the quotes I have given from these people, it’s clear that they were not religious and often anti-religious (and more specifically, often their sayings suggested more directly they were anti-Christian).

    So both premises are true. Ergo, the conclusion that they are not Christians must be true.

    As for deists, as I have done so often thus far, deists believe in god but it is fallacious to argue that just because they believe in god they must be Christian. This has the obvious fallacious structure:

    (C=Christians, B=believer in god, D=deists)

    All Cs are Bs

    All Ds are Bs

    : Ds are Cs

    That is wholly fallacious. It’s not even valid and it is what you seem to be saying in arguing that the deists such as Jefferson, Madison and maybe Locke are Christians..

  32. Rhan
    March 12th, 2012 at 19:45 | #32

    melektaus,

    I am from a Muslim majority country, our first national principles is “Belief in God”, many claim that our constitution is secular in nature, and our first Prime Minister also said the same, however I still think we are basically a Muslim country because that is pretty obvious in what we encounter everyday life. My point is if USA founders were deism or whatever you call it, why USA still gives the world an impression that they are a Christian country and majority of population is Christian? Are the founders ever evidently anti Christian and anti Christ (I don’t know, I am asking)? It doesn’t make sense.

    Is what Eric said really different from Huntington and Brad i copy from internet?

    Samuel P. Huntington, “Americans have always been extremely religious and overwhelmingly Christian. The 17th-century settlers founded their communities in America in large part for religious reasons. Eighteenth-century Americans saw their Revolution in religious and largely biblical terms. The Revolution reflected their ‘covenant with God’ and was a war between ‘God’s elect’ and the British ‘Antichrist…’
    Americans tend to have a certain catholicity toward religion: All deserve respect. Given this general tolerance of religious diversity, non-Christian faiths have little alternative but to recognize and accept America as a Christian society.”

    Brad O’Leary “During World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt prayed over national airwaves to ‘Almighty God’ for the success of the D-Day invasion and the war effort in a manner that today would surely unleash a torrent of protest. Roosevelt’s prayer begged God’s blessing in America’s ‘struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization.’ That’s right. Our religion. It wasn’t Hinduism or Shintoism that President Roosevelt had in mind when he uttered that phrase. It was America’s Judeo-Christian beliefs, which have been a pillar of our society since the nation’s founding.

    I personally think Zen Buddhism and Confucianism during Han and late Song is antithetical to traditional Buddhism and Confucianism, but we still perceive that as one of the belief system for the Chinese.

  33. March 12th, 2012 at 22:30 | #33

    @melektaus

    OK – I am responding because I don’t think you made a “conclusion” of your position – but merely responded to my statemetns.

    So here I continue, although in abbreviated format.

    Well, Allen, in supporting that case, can be right only if Deism, agnosticism and atheism are a form of Christianity.

    Not quite. I said deism and christianity need not be exclusive. Deism is a legitimate way to the Christian faith. But deism can be a path to other religion also. This is what I wrote in comment #25:

    I have no idea why you keep harping on the idea that Christianity=religion but deism≠religion, implying in my view that deism and Christianity are mutually exclusive. There are many ways to be religious, and even for a specific religion like Christianity, many paths to be Christians – with deism one possible path.

    You wrote:

    So I don’t know how you can keep asserting that they were Christians and say that our Liberal political system is based on Christian concepts when they explicitly denied this.

    Again – this is not what I said – although I don’t necessarily disagree with it (it’s a possible reading of history in my opinion). If you read carefully what i wrote; I never said all deists are Christians. All I said was that the enlightenment philosophers – for all their rhetoric – appeared to me as a group religious. Deism is a religious philosophy; and hence, when deists say they believe in a god, that to me makes the enlightenment philosophers who are deists religious. They may believe it not as an act of faith, but because of so-called “reason and observation” – but even then, their beliefs must be considered religious, not universal lest we must all be deists as well (reason and observation demands it!). (The “deist” approach is actually closer to zen Buddhism (up the ante of reason and observation to meditation, and the notion of God with enlightenment), to which I personally subscribe.) The God they believe in may not be involved in their daily lives, may not create miracles, may not even act in a way that is illogical, may not even necessarily be Jesus – but they are still religious.

    As for whether natural laws grew out of Christian concepts, if you trace the historical roots – yes. As I already wrote, the Church was an interested party in this. In a twist of fate, in the West, the Church grew so powerful as to carve out rights that the sovereign must respect. Hence, the right of property was so important – whereby the sovereign must respect the rights of the Church in possessing the extensive assets it held. (see, e.g., chapter 1 of Zakaria’s Future of Freedom, http://www.amazon.com/The-Future-Freedom-Illiberal-Democracy/dp/0393331520/)

    Many deists at the time did look very Christian. As I already quoted from the wiki entry deism above:

    Deism is a religious philosophy which holds that reason and observation of the natural world, without the need for organized religion, can determine that the universe is the product of an all-powerful creator.

    Deism became more prominent in the 17th and 18th centuries during the Age of Enlightenment — especially in Britain, France, Germany and America among intellectuals raised as Christians who found they could not believe in supernatural miracles, the inerrancy of scriptures, or the Trinity, but who did believe in one God.

    Also doctrinally, the contents of natural right did not arise from the vacuum. They grew out of notions of natural rights in the medieval world. As the wiki entry on natural rights noted:

    Liberal natural law grew out of the medieval Christian natural law theories and out of Hobbes’ revision of natural law, sometimes in an uneasy balance of the two.

    Hugo Grotius based his philosophy of international law on natural law. In particular, his writings on freedom of the seas and just war theory directly appealed to natural law. About natural law itself, he wrote that “even the will of an omnipotent being cannot change or abrogate” natural law, which “would maintain its objective validity even if we should assume the impossible, that there is no God or that he does not care for human affairs.” (De iure belli ac pacis, Prolegomeni XI). This is the famous argument etiamsi daremus (non esse Deum), that made natural law no longer dependent on theology.

    John Locke incorporated natural law into many of his theories and philosophy, especially in Two Treatises of Government. There is considerable debate about whether his conception of natural law was more akin to that of Aquinas (filtered through Richard Hooker) or Hobbes’ radical reinterpretation, though the effect of Locke’s understanding is usually phrased in terms of a revision of Hobbes upon Hobbesean contractualist grounds. Locke turned Hobbes’ prescription around, saying that if the ruler went against natural law and failed to protect “life, liberty, and property,” people could justifiably overthrow the existing state and create a new one.[93]

    While Locke spoke in the language of natural law, the content of this law was by and large protective of natural rights, and it was this language that later liberal thinkers preferred. Thomas Jefferson, arguably echoing Locke, appealed to unalienable rights in the Declaration of Independence, “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.”[94]

    So yes – even if liberal natural rights eventually came to be substantiated with so-called “reason and observation” – the rights to be substantiated were still of religious origin. The fact that many enlightenment philosophers – through reason and observation – saw natural rights to have a divine-origin – as inalienable – to me makes it a closed case.

    Finally, to your challenge:

    I am still challenging anyone to find some error in my criticisms of Eric. All of the responses do not show anything wrong in it. In fact, they are based on outright mistakes such as claiming that Eric never claimed that human rights were derived from Christianity and that he never claimed that the fathers of the rights tradition were Christians.

    See the video again. He very clearly and explicitly makes those claims (10:15-10:10:40). Now the question is, are those claims accurate? Well, Allen, in supporting that case, can be right only if Deism, agnosticism and atheism are a form of Christianity. But this is obviously ridiculous. All of the people that were the founders of that tradition were either deists, agnostics or atheists. There is no doubt about that. Additionally, many of them were explicitly anti-Christian and anti-religion in general.

    Allen’s mistake in attributing Deism to Christianity rests on the mistaken assumption that belief in ‘god’=christianity. That cannot be the case as most people who believe in god (Muslims, Sikhs, Jews etc, etc) are not Christians and yet believe in one god.

    Read comment #2 by me – where I discussed what Eric defined what religious mean.

    As for 10:15-10:10:40, I still don’t see any problems. Eric was asked why do these natural rights that are according to him “religious” and ideological” work in some places but not others? He responded, well, it’s because the Western society 200-300 years was a deeply religious place. The enlightenment philosophers were religious. They appealed to a God (he didn’t say Christ) for the source of these rights. That idea took hold in a society that was Judeo-Christian in nature – that believed in a world created by God. Hence liberal version of natural rights took hold in Western society…

    Yes Eric also said the enlightenment philosophers were Christian. But note – that’s what’s called dictum in law. It’s not important to answering the question. It’s a side observation. It happens to be an observation with which I also agree, and I believe reasonable people can agree or disagree on how Christian these philosophers were (various sects of Christians today still debate what makes a real Christian today!).

    Now that I have made clear what I think Eric means, you can definitely have your take. Most of what I write here (after comment #2) is not geared toward defending Eric, but the ideas I had written that you have attacked.

    I also want to emphatically emphasize that I never said god=christianity or deism=christianity, and I had thought it was clear from what I wrote.

    I want to point out that your willingness to focus so much energy on whether Eric thinks natural rights had Christian (not merely religious) origins or not puzzles me. We already agree that the origins of the natural rights doesn’t matter. From today’s multipolar perspecive, there is nothing natural or universal or inealienable about natural rights. If it’s useful for the non-Western cultures to adopt it, they will be adopted. If not, these will only seem religious and should not be forced fed. That to me is the main point Eric is trying to make.

  34. March 13th, 2012 at 13:54 | #34

    Rhan :
    melektaus,
    I am from a Muslim majority country, our first national principles is “Belief in God”, many claim that our constitution is secular in nature, and our first Prime Minister also said the same, however I still think we are basically a Muslim country because that is pretty obvious in what we encounter everyday life. My point is if USA founders were deism or whatever you call it, why USA still gives the world an impression that they are a Christian country and majority of population is Christian?

    You are confusing the founding fathers with what the media and the population portray of themselves today. Obviously, there’s going tyo be a difference. You say you come from a majority Muslim country but does that make you a Muslim? Does that make everyone in that society a Muslim? Clearly not. Even if society was by in large Christian today, does that show that the Founding Fathers were Christian? Does that show that everyone in the USA today is Christian? Am I Christian?

    Are the founders ever evidently anti Christian and anti Christ (I don’t know, I am asking)? It doesn’t make sense.

    Have you read any of the quotes I gave from them in this thread? Don’t be lazy. It is obvious that they were anti-Christian. Why would Jefferson, for example, call Christianity a superstition? Why would he call Christian population half fools and the other half hypocrites and why would he say that the Bible was full of “vulgar ignorance” if he wasn’t anti-Christian? Why would (John Adams) say “This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it” if he wasn’t anti-religion? You need to answer these questions and so far you have only dodged them.

    Why would the rest of the Founding Fathers make such anti-Christian statements in spite of opposition if they weren’t really anti-christian?

    Is what Eric said really different from Huntington and Brad i copy from internet?
    Samuel P. Huntington, “Americans have always been extremely religious and overwhelmingly Christian. The 17th-century settlers founded their communities in America in large part for religious reasons. Eighteenth-century Americans saw their Revolution in religious and largely biblical terms. The Revolution reflected their ‘covenant with God’ and was a war between ‘God’s elect’ and the British ‘Antichrist…’

    First of all, what does Samuel Huntington have to do with anything I have said? Where does Samuel Huntington say that Jefferson and Madison, e.g. were Christians and why is Huntington an authority on this topic? Samuel Huntington is a fraud of the highest caliber. See this book which got Huntington banned from the National Academy of Science. I think you along with many of the American rightwing have been brain washed into thinking this country was founded by Christians and under Christian principles. Nothing could be further from the truth. Where is your evidence? One quote from Samuel Huntington does nothing. I gave actual quotes from the founding fathers and you think one quote from Samuel Huntington is better than all the evidence I gave from them directly? Please learn to think for yourself instead of relying on others to think for you.

    Americans tend to have a certain catholicity toward religion: All deserve respect. Given this general tolerance of religious diversity, non-Christian faiths have little alternative but to recognize and accept America as a Christian society.”

    No doubt but what does that have to do with any of my claims? I didn’t explicitly doubt that many Americans have a “catholicity” towards religion but what does that have to do with the original founding fathers who clearly did not have a “catholicity” towards their religion (how could they when they weren’t religious?). You keep begging the question and dodging the crucial issues. Where is the evidence that they were Christians? All of the sayings they have said so far seem to say that they are anti-christian. So if they are anti-Christian, then obviously you would be making a mnistake to say they are Christian. You keep making the error that general American population = founding fathers. Actually I don’t even think that today, most Americans want their religion to be “catholicized” for the rest of the world to follow

    Brad O’Leary “During World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt prayed over national airwaves to ‘Almighty God’ for the success of the D-Day invasion and the war effort in a manner that today would surely unleash a torrent of protest. Roosevelt’s prayer begged God’s blessing in America’s ‘struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization.’ That’s right. Our religion. It wasn’t Hinduism or Shintoism that President Roosevelt had in mind when he uttered that phrase. It was America’s Judeo-Christian beliefs, which have been a pillar of our society since the nation’s founding.

    Again, you keep conflating other people with the Founding Fathers. I have no doubt that there are many Christians in the US. That’s not the point. There are many Muslims in Malaysia. Does that mean that all Malaysians are Muslims? No. The Founding Fathers stood out from their society because they were so educated. Most people back then could barely read. They were far more educated than most people today. So it’s not a surprise that they should reject much of the orthodox prejudices of their society.

  35. March 13th, 2012 at 14:47 | #35

    Allen :
    @melektaus
    OK – I am responding because I don’t think you made a “conclusion” of your position – but merely responded to my statemetns.
    So here I continue, although in abbreviated format.

    Well, Allen, in supporting that case, can be right only if Deism, agnosticism and atheism are a form of Christianity.

    Not quite. I said deism and christianity need not be exclusive. Deism is a legitimate way to the Christian faith. But deism can be a path to other religion also. This is what I wrote in comment #25:

    Let’s not get sidetracked. The issue is whether the Deists in question, namely, the founding fathers were also Christians as well as deists. By their anti-Christian statements and by the fact that deists explicitly contrast themselves with christian dogma and “superstition” and consider themselves anti-religious in general, I see them as non Christian. This is made even clearer from the deist sites I gave that showed they do not consider themselves Christian.

    I still don’t know how you could classify someone that does not believe in the divinity of Christ, a personal god, redemption of original sin, the immaterial soul, hell, heaven, miracles, the Trinity, or the Virgin birth to be a Christian. How is then anyone not a Christian? Am I a Christian? Are you? Who’s then a “Christian”? The word loses its meaning once you start gerrymandering the word to outside of all normal use parameters.

    Again – this is not what I said – although I don’t necessarily disagree with it (it’s a possible reading of history in my opinion). If you read carefully what i wrote; I never said all deists are Christians.

    But I’m having trouble with what you mean and what relevance it is to say that some are Christian. The issue is, were the founding fathers Christian and did their legacy in establishing a Liberal society based on Christian principles? The answer is as clear to me as anything. Everything they have said seems to suggest

    1. That they disliked Christians (half of which are “fools” and the other half “hypocrites” in Jefferson’s words)

    2. That they did not believe in vital Christian doctrines (and in fact ridiculed them as “superstition”)

    3. That they did not found this country on Christian principles/doctrines and in fact took great care to make their government as separate from Christianity (or any religion) as possible. (Again, many quotes from Jefferson and other founding fathers bares this out which I have already supplied)

    4. That they did not like religion and thought the world better without it. In John Adam’s words in a letter to Jefferson, “This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it!” and then Jefferson wrote back emphatically agreeing.

    All I said was that the enlightenment philosophers – for all their rhetoric – appeared to me as a group religious. Deism is a religious philosophy; and hence, when deists say they believe in a god, that to me makes the enlightenment philosophers who are deists religious.

    Religious philosophy =/=religion. Religious philosophy just means a philosophy of religion that ascribes to theism (belief in one or more gods). To be a religion, it would need certain dogmas, faith based creeds, and institutionalized rituals. That is absent in deism.

    They may believe it not as an act of faith, but because of so-called “reason and observation” – but even then, their beliefs must be considered religious, not universal lest we must all be deists as well (reason and observation demands it!).

    Jefferson said that one must doubt god’s existence (“doubt everything, even god’s existence”) and that if reason suggests that god does not exist then people ought not believe in it. The problem is is that in the 18th century, it was somewhat reasonable to believe in god. The universe seemed like a clock to scientists and they reasoned that where there is a clock, there must be a clock-maker. This was long before modern inflation cosmology and quantum mechanics explaining that the universe could have arisen in other ways than through conscious design.

    (The “deist” approach is actually closer to zen Buddhism (up the ante of reason and observation to meditation, and the notion of God with enlightenment), to which I personally subscribe.) The God they believe in may not be involved in their daily lives, may not create miracles, may not even act in a way that is illogical, may not even necessarily be Jesus – but they are still religious.

    Zen Buddhist may or may not be religious. But this is outside of whether they believe in a god. This has to do with whether they practice certain Zen rituals that are common to a religious institution. I know many zen Buddhists who do not think of themselves as religious. Rather they think Zen Buddhism is a philosophy of life, a way of thinking that is based on reason. The question is, were the founding fathers like the later or the former? They were probably much more like the later in seeing deism as a philosophical viewpoint rather than a religious one. They may have had many other philosophical viewpoints (such as maybe utilitarianism, Eudemoniaism, hedonism etc, etc that had nothing to do with god).

    As for whether natural laws grew out of Christian concepts, if you trace the historical roots – yes. As I already wrote, the Church was an interested party in this. In a twist of fate, in the West, the Church grew so powerful as to carve out rights that the sovereign must respect. Hence, the right of property was so important – whereby the sovereign must respect the rights of the Church in possessing the extensive assets it held. (see, e.g., chapter 1 of Zakaria’s Future of Freedom, http://www.amazon.com/The-Future-Freedom-Illiberal-Democracy/dp/0393331520/)

    Other than what I have already wrote explaining my position that modern rights approach are actually founded to protect against Christianity, I have nothing further to say here other than reiterating that they seem to me to be fundamentally anti-Christian. They protect the individual from church hegemony which Christianity tries to impose through its Biblical doctrines. That seems like a far more credible, reasonable, evidence, and simpler explanation. It makes far more sense.

    Many deists at the time did look very Christian.

    Many Muslims also look quite similar to Christians in Chinese people’s eyes but that doesn’t mean Islam=Christianity. There are fundamental differences.

    Hugo Grotius based his philosophy of international law on natural law. In particular, his writings on freedom of the seas and just war theory directly appealed to natural law. About natural law itself, he wrote that “even the will of an omnipotent being cannot change or abrogate” natural law, which “would maintain its objective validity even if we should assume the impossible, that there is no God or that he does not care for human affairs.” (De iure belli ac pacis, Prolegomeni XI). This is the famous argument etiamsi daremus (non esse Deum), that made natural law no longer dependent on theology.
    John Locke incorporated natural law into many of his theories and philosophy, especially in Two Treatises of Government. There is considerable debate about whether his conception of natural law was more akin to that of Aquinas (filtered through Richard Hooker) or Hobbes’ radical reinterpretation, though the effect of Locke’s understanding is usually phrased in terms of a revision of Hobbes upon Hobbesean contractualist grounds. Locke turned Hobbes’ prescription around, saying that if the ruler went against natural law and failed to protect “life, liberty, and property,” people could justifiably overthrow the existing state and create a new one.[93]While Locke spoke in the language of natural law, the content of this law was by and large protective of natural rights, and it was this language that later liberal thinkers preferred. Thomas Jefferson, arguably echoing Locke, appealed to unalienable rights in the Declaration of Independence, “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.”[94]

    I still see no significant traces of Christianity in the natural law approach and in fact, significant anti-Christian influences. No one person started the Liberal approach. Many people did. Locke was interpreted by Jefferson himself to be a deist (like himself). Example, Jefferson said:

    “To say that the human soul, angels, God, are immaterial, is to say they are nothings, or that there is no God, no angels, no soul. I cannot reason otherwise. But I believe that I am supported in my creed of Materialism by the Lockes, the Tracys, and the Stewarts.”

    It’s even easier to show that Hobbes, Hume and Mill’s position were far more influenced by anti-Christian sentiment than Christian sentiment as they were openly hostile to Christian beliefs and Christian people (even more so than Locke, Jefferson, Adams, Monroe and the rest of the founding fathers.)

    Read comment #2 by me – where I discussed what Eric defined what religious mean.
    As for 10:15-10:10:40, I still don’t see any problems. Eric was asked why do these natural rights that are according to him “religious” and ideological” work in some places but not others? He responded, well, it’s because the Western society 200-300 years was a deeply religious place.

    First of all, that’s not what he said and what I responded to. Second, he made much more specific claims that I have demonstrated were false using direct quotes from the founding fathers and other experts on the founding fathers. He is also substantively wrong because he did not show substance wise any significant element in human rights and democracy that is derived from Christianity. There is none. It’s almost like the story of the King’s Robe. Everyone says he sees it but it is an illusion that people have been told for so long that they begin to see it even when it’s not there. I have studied the history of the Liberal tradition and Christianity find no real connection. I actually find major tensions in basic tenets.

    The enlightenment philosophers were religious. They appealed to a God (he didn’t say Christ) for the source of these rights.

    I never said he said “Christ” I said he said that they were Christian and that human rights evolved from western religion and the “Judeo-Christian” faith.

    That idea took hold in a society that was Judeo-Christian in nature – that believed in a world created by God.

    The founding fathers and the fathers of Liberalism =/= “society.” Obviously since they were clearly far more educated an intelligent than most of “society” at that time, it should come at no surprise that they should hold many beliefs at odds with common societal beliefs.

    I want to point out that your willingness to focus so much energy on whether Eric thinks natural rights had Christian (not merely religious) origins or not puzzles me. We already agree that the origins of the natural rights doesn’t matter.

    I really didn’t ‘focus’ on it anymore than you have. And I do think it matters. That’s why I wrote the article “Human rights revisited” and its followup, “Refilling the Liberal vacuum.”

    From today’s multipolar perspecive, there is nothing natural or universal or inealienable about natural rights.

    This is refutable with empirical evidence. Again

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trolley_problem

  36. March 13th, 2012 at 15:31 | #36

    @melektaus

    Because we are going in circles after circles, I think I only need to respond to this.

    You wrote:

    Zen Buddhist may or may not be religious. But this is outside of whether they believe in a god. This has to do with whether they practice certain Zen rituals that are common to a religious institution. I know many zen Buddhists who do not think of themselves as religious. Rather they think Zen Buddhism is a philosophy of life, a way of thinking that is based on reason.

    I myself don’t think myself religious at all – even if I do deeply believe in the path of zen as a way to a understanding to life. However, where zen Buddhism becomes a religion and not a mere philosophy is when a practitioner claims what he has discovered through their meditation – an elevated form of reason and observation – something to be the universal truth. Everyone must believe in X. It applies to everyone, at all eras, in all cultural contexts – without condition.

    I am sure some knowledge have that property: once discovered and spread, everyone comes to accept them. They are regarded as universal truth: it applies to everyone, at all eras, in all cultural contexts.

    But most things when applied in that broad a stroke becomes merely the religious, including a “philosophy” that claims to be universal by its own merit – without any reference to whether others claim it.

    Unless one is an omniscient being, universality to me is an empirical thing. However sure one might be of oneself, an idea gains the status of universality through time and deliberation amongst a diverse group of people from a diverse group of cultures. It cannot just be pronounced at the start of its utterance.

  37. March 13th, 2012 at 16:38 | #37

    Allen :
    @melektaus
    Because we are going in circles after circles, I think I only need to respond to this.
    You wrote:

    Zen Buddhist may or may not be religious. But this is outside of whether they believe in a god. This has to do with whether they practice certain Zen rituals that are common to a religious institution. I know many zen Buddhists who do not think of themselves as religious. Rather they think Zen Buddhism is a philosophy of life, a way of thinking that is based on reason.

    I myself don’t think myself religious at all – even if I do deeply believe in the path of zen as a way to a understanding to life. However, where zen Buddhism becomes a religion and not a mere philosophy is when a practitioner claims what he has discovered through their meditation – an elevated form of reason and observation – something to be the universal truth. Everyone must believe in X. It applies to everyone, at all eras, in all cultural contexts – without condition.
    I am sure some knowledge have that property: once discovered and spread, everyone comes to accept them. They are regarded as universal truth: it applies to everyone, at all eras, in all cultural contexts.

    For eric to make his case, he would need to show that not only has the deism, agnosticism and atheism of the fathers of the Liberal tradition has some religion like properties but he has to show that they are basically Christian properties or else his case collapses. Remember that he is arguing that they are incompatible with other kinds of religions and other philosophical systems in other parts of the world such as China. He would need to show that 1. rights and democracy has Christian elements (not deist, or agnostic, or “religious”) elements but specifically Christian. 2. That Christianity is fundamentally at odds with other religions. I agree with the second but deny the first claim.

    But most things when applied in that broad a stroke becomes merely the religious, including a “philosophy” that claims to be universal by its own merit – without any reference to whether others claim it.
    Unless one is an omniscient being, universality to me is an empirical thing. However sure one might be of oneself, an idea gains the status of universality through time and deliberation amongst a diverse group of people from a diverse group of cultures. It cannot just be pronounced at the start of its utterance.

    No one would disagree that human rights approach would need empirical support. No one would doubt that. Remember that Locke, Hume, Mill, Hobbes and the Founding Fathers were all empiricists. I’m sure they would deny what they have said if you can prove through empirical evidence that they were wrong about human rights. But all the evidence from recent studies on moral intuitions suggests that for at least the basic intuitions behind our conceptions of human rights such as respect for other people’s dignity, autonomy, freedom, reciprocity etc are universal moral intuitions. In fact, I would argue that the Confucian philosophers articulated many of these intuitions into their philosophy 2500 hundred years ago. The Chinese legal system during much of its history was far ahead of the west in respecting these values and it wasn’t until 300 years ago when Christian/political/social persecution got so oppressive that a more detailed system was forced into existence to protect against it.

  38. Rhan
    March 13th, 2012 at 21:59 | #38

    melektaus,

    Sorry I admit I lack the knowledge to put forward my argument on this topic, but I still have problem to follow your logic, I don’t know about others, my impression of USA is they are a Christian country, though not everyone a Christian. Maybe you are right some founders are not Christian, but how many of them are not Christian and do this few represent all? Is that logical for me to argue the China system base on what Mao said? Is today China a communist/socialist or capitalist?

    From wiki “Lambert (2003) has examined the religious affiliations and beliefs of the Founders. Of the 55 delegates to the 1787 Constitutional Convention, 49 were Protestants, and three were Roman Catholics (C. Carroll, D. Carroll, and Fitzsimons). Among the Protestant delegates to the Constitutional Convention, 28 were Church of England (or Episcopalian, after the American Revolutionary War was won), eight were Presbyterians, seven were Congregationalists, two were Lutherans, two were Dutch Reformed, and two were Methodists. A few prominent Founding Fathers were anti-clerical Christians, such as Thomas Jefferson[14][15][16] (who created the so-called “Jefferson Bible”) and Benjamin Franklin.[17] A few others (most notably Thomas Paine) were deists, or at least held beliefs very similar to those of deists.”

  39. March 13th, 2012 at 22:16 | #39

    @melektaus

    For eric to make his case, he would need to show … deism … [has] properties … that they are incompatible with other kinds of religions and other philosophical systems in other parts of the world such as China.

    Why? Deism by pronouncing that there is a god is already offensive. But even without that, just because someone comes up with a bunch of “rights” that they say is universal does not mean that I ergo have the duty to show they are incompatible with my culture.

    No – it is they who must show why I want to embrace their “rights.”

    The presumption that there is a universal set of rights is troubling (as I describe below). The pronouncement that one specific culture’s values represent such a universal set of values – to me – is deeply offensive.

    Remember the universal value of “keeping a promise” that you brought up earlier? It might look fine to talk about it at a very high level of generality. However, once one gets into the details: when is one justified in breaking a promise, one gets into a bunch of social norms that are not universal. And once we accept universality, we get into shady questions of whether some cultures are more right than other – whether some cultures are more advanced than others. Note also how we frame issues? Why start out from the notion of keeping a promise as a basic value? Why not start from the notion of fairness – or social order – or costs of reliance – whereby “keeping a promise” is not so much a value but a result of other deeply-held values?

    Same with natural rights? One might start with the notion that we are all created equal. That might sound good, except when we dig in deeper on what equality means and get into all sorts of social and cultural norms that might not be so universal. Since we are born unequal – what must we do to make men equal? And why do we start with the notion of equality of individuals? Some might say that’s a farce anyways. Why not focus on these other notions such as social harmony, social justice, basic sustenance, etc. – where equality (of some sort) is a result of those other values?

    There are many ways to cut at the issues of justice / fairness. Many sorts of workable solutions. These are not merely issues of “reason and observation” even if some traditions may want to frame it that way. And the ways to approach these are by no means universal.

  40. March 14th, 2012 at 14:09 | #40

    Rhan :
    melektaus,
    Sorry I admit I lack the knowledge to put forward my argument on this topic, but I still have problem to follow your logic, I don’t know about others, my impression of USA is they are a Christian country, though not everyone a Christian.

    I really don’t follow your “logic”. First of all, what does the fact that American is a “Christian” country have to do with anything? What do you mean that America is a Christian country and what has that got to do with anything I have said?

    If you mean that most people in the US are Christians (about 75%) then yes, America is a Christian country in that small sense that over 70% are Christians.

    But America is NOT a Christian country in a more fundamental sense. It was not founded on any exclusively Christian beliefs. This is a secular country in a more fundamental sense, not a country that is of any one religious system. It was founded on the notion of separation between church and state.

    But more relevantly what has that got to do with any of the claims I made? Are you saying that because the country is majority Christian that everyone in that country is Christian? That’s silly.

    Where is your evidence that The Founding Fathers were Christian? Where is your evidence that they incorporated Christian tenets into the foundations of this country’s political system? You have no evidence? Well, that’s the more relevant topic isn’t it?

    Maybe you are right some founders are not Christian, but how many of them are not Christian and do this few represent all?

    Again, I gave sites showing that all of them explicitly said things that were anti-Christian or anti-religion. How logical is it to claim that they are Christian if they held anti-Christian attitudes? Please read the sites contents and reflect deeply.

    Is that logical for me to argue the China system base on what Mao said? Is today China a communist/socialist or capitalist?

    Sorry this is a stupid question. Of course Mao had significant influence on China. Why are you talking about Mao when the topic is Christianity and human rights? Your “logic” is confused. Very confused.

    From wiki “Lambert (2003) has examined the religious affiliations and beliefs of the Founders. Of the 55 delegates to the 1787 Constitutional Convention, 49 were Protestants, and three were Roman Catholics (C. Carroll, D. Carroll, and Fitzsimons). Among the Protestant delegates to the Constitutional Convention, 28 were Church of England (or Episcopalian, after the American Revolutionary War was won), eight were Presbyterians, seven were Congregationalists, two were Lutherans, two were Dutch Reformed, and two were Methodists. A few prominent Founding Fathers were anti-clerical Christians, such as Thomas Jefferson[14][15][16] (who created the so-called “Jefferson Bible”) and Benjamin Franklin.[17] A few others (most notably Thomas Paine) were deists, or at least held beliefs very similar to those of deists.”

    These were the founding fathers:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Founding_Fathers_of_the_United_States

    There are seven, not 55. Also, as I have been repeating myself many times and you have been ignoring just as many times, we should always take their own self religious identifications with a grain of salt because they were running for office.

    Today, there are many atheists in the US congress who must, for political survival, identify as a Christian. The pressure was probably even more profound in those days.

    I will simply leave you with the question: How logical is it to assert that they were Christians when they said things in their private letters to each other such that they ridiculed basic Christian beliefs by saying that they were “superstitions,” called Christian people “half fools” and “half hypocrites,” called the Bible full of “vulgar ignorance” and said that the world is better off without any religion?

  41. March 14th, 2012 at 14:39 | #41

    Allen :
    @melektaus

    For eric to make his case, he would need to show … deism … [has] properties … that they are incompatible with other kinds of religions and other philosophical systems in other parts of the world such as China.

    Why?

    Think about what Eric is saying. He said that human rights are not compatible with China because human rights are a judeo-Christian concept or derived therefrom and because China does not have a judeo-Christian history, it will not be successfully implemented in China. But if deism is not Christian, his claim false flat right off the bat.

    So he would need an additional argument (which he does not make in the video) that human rights is a deistic concept or that human rights is derived from deistic principles. I don’t see how this is the case. Deism makes no moral claims other than the negative meta-ethical claim that morality does not come from religion. It is a fundamentally philosophical position regarding god, not morality.

    Even if Eric shows that human rights are derived from deistic principles, he would also need to show that they are not compatible with China. That requires then a further argument (again, which Eric does not supply).

    His argument is that Christianity is the basis for human rights, not deism. That was what I was criticizing. I don’t want to go over this a million and one times. I really think you are completely misrepresenting my criticisms to make them a strawman.

    Deism by pronouncing that there is a god is already offensive.

    Offensive to whom? Why should you be offended at ideas like deism? That’s like someone saying they were offended at utilitarianism or something. It’s irrational to fear ideas like that.

    But even without that, just because someone comes up with a bunch of “rights” that they say is universal does not mean that I ergo have the duty to show they are incompatible with my culture.

    Who said that it did? Whether rights are compatible with one’s culture need to be evaluated on their own merits. They can’t be dismissed simply by making false statements about the religious beliefs of people who supported their development. That makes no sense. That is exactly what Eric has done.

    Remember the universal value of “keeping a promise” that you brought up earlier? It might look fine to talk about it at a very high level of generality. However, once one gets into the details: when is one justified in breaking a promise, one gets into a bunch of social norms that are not universal.

    Like I said in my Human Rights Revisited article, values for human rights may differ from culture to culture because some human rights may be valued more than others and given more priority, more value both in the people’s values system and reflected in their laws.

    But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t large overlap in the values behind human rights.

    I set up a challenge for you to find a culture that do not value keeping promises when they can be reasonably kept. I’m assuming that you could not find such a culture. Of course, many cultures might value promise keeping more than others and that difference might and ought to be reflected in their society but that doesn’t mean that promising keeping a only a Judeo-Christian concept. The value behind the right to have a promise be kept when it is reasonable to do so is there in every society. I would imagine it is so for many other kinds of rights as well.

    And once we accept universality, we get into shady questions of whether some cultures are more right than other – whether some cultures are more advanced than others.

    All this talk of “universality” is really vacuous. You should define what it is “universal of.” I never said that all cultures have complete universality in all moral intuitions and ought to completely resemble each other in political, social and ethical development.

    I am taking a nuanced approach. There is large overlap but each issue must be evaluated on its own regard. If Eric doesn’t think that promise keeping is value that ought to be enforced in Chinese society, the he would need to show that it is not compatible with Chinese beliefs and society. And he would need to show how Chinese society can get along well without making and keeping promises. Has he done that for ever this single right? Nope.

    Note also how we frame issues? Why start out from the notion of keeping a promise as a basic value? Why not start from the notion of fairness – or social order – or costs of reliance – whereby “keeping a promise” is not so much a value but a result of other deeply-held values?

    I don’t know, I don’t see why not. They are not mutually exclusive. You can start out with the notion of fairness. Or you can make more specific concepts. Why do you assume that one “frame” is always better than another? Again, I have a flexible and nuanced approach. Focus should depend on the context of the discourse. Sometimes we may want to have a general discussion just about fairness, e.g. Other times we may want to get more specific and talk about things like promises, free speech, education distribution etc, I don’t know. i don’t follow you at all.

    Same with natural rights? One might start with the notion that we are all created equal. That might sound good, except when we dig in deeper on what equality means and get into all sorts of social and cultural norms that might not be so universal. Since we are born unequal – what must we do to make men equal? And why do we start with the notion of equality of individuals? Some might say that’s a farce anyways. Why not focus on these other notions such as social harmony, social justice, basic sustenance, etc. – where equality (of some sort) is a result of those other values?

    No doubt all these topics ought to be discussed but I don’t see the relevance for this thread. Question everything and those are all interesting topics. But the context of this discussion is specific; it is about the specific claims Eric made in that specific video. I don’t see how questioning all these things is relevant to the discussion.

  42. Rhan
    March 14th, 2012 at 18:56 | #42

    My stupid question is meant to find out can we claim that China is a communist/socialist society because Mao (founding fathers?) say so, by the fact that Mao is well known for his anti capitalism stance.

  43. melektaus
    March 15th, 2012 at 15:03 | #43

    Rhan :
    My stupid question is meant to find out can we claim that China is a communist/socialist society because Mao (founding fathers?) say so, by the fact that Mao is well known for his anti capitalism stance.

    Sorry, it’s still a stupid question that is irrelevant. Modern China is a mixed economy with both communist and capitalist properties. So is China a communist country? Yes and no.

    The question that you should be asking is “Were the founding fathers of the USA Christians and did they found the US’s Liberal political system on Christian principles/tenets?”

    That is the relevant question, not Mao or China’s economic and political system.

  44. Rhan
    March 15th, 2012 at 16:55 | #44

    The reason I asked stupid and irrelevant question is because I hope you could see the whole issue from a wider angle and not be too specific/obsessed with what Eric said, unless we could seek further clarification from Eric, anyway my job done and I failed miserably, I think we should move on to other topic.

  45. March 15th, 2012 at 18:33 | #45

    @Rhan

    I do see it from a wider perspective. the sad part is is that you don’t even see it from a narrow perspective never mind a broad perspective. How do you expect to go from a wider perspective if you don’t even bother to understand more specific issues? You still haven’t made the relevance between what you said clear.

You must be logged in to post a comment.