… And Order

The first implication coming from the type of rights and law we choose is order. But who orders society? Is it the individual or the state? We’re going to use history to answer these questions.

Until Rome’s fall, many theologians referred to Platonic or neo-Platonic writings to support Christian ideas. The early church fathers used Plato’s works because, while still pagan, they came closer to many Christian ideas than other philosophers. After Rome’s fall, the links became dimmer and dimmer, until at some point the ancient philosophers were lost to church leaders.

Averroes

This changed in the thirteenth century. The Mu’tazilites integrated Aristotelian rationality into Islam during the 8th century, when they held some influence within the late Umayyad and early Abbasid dynasties.[1] This rationalism was influential in reshaping the Arab sunna and developing shari’a law. But not everyone accepted such ideas. Later clerics argued both for and against removing Aristotle’s influence from Islam.

Islam considers Al-Ghazali one of its most prominent clerics. He wrote against Aristotelian logic within Islam during the 11th and early 12th centuries, . In essence, his view was only the Qur’an should guide Islam. He saw Aristotelian logic as a corrupting force. The Moorish philosopher Averroes countered Al-Ghazali’s arguments in the late 12th century. Averroes argued Aristotelian logic should order all societies.[2]

St. Thomas Aquinas

Averroes’s writings not only influenced Islam. They also found an audience within Christianity, where they reawakened interest in Aristotle’s writings. Thomas Aquinas returned to the University of Paris during the final years of his life (in 1268) to teach against the rising tide of Averroism. Averroes’s writing led to the first complete set of Aristotle’s work being translated into languages understood by that day’s European scholars. Groups like the “radical Sicilians” developed who agreed society should be ordered around Aristotelian logic.

Plato’s complete works would not be translated and read once again for another hundred years. Remember the early church fathers often used Plato to discern the pagan from Christian.[3] But Thomas writings also relied largely on Aristotle’s ideas. Thomas also drew extensively from Augustine and other early church fathers, but those sources connections with Plato, Cicero, and others were largely lost. Make no mistake, both Plato and Aristotle are pagan philosophers. Therefore, no reconciliation is possible between their ideas and Judeo-Christian principles.

The early church fathers taught the complete fall of man—both will and reason. But Thomas taught only a partial fall.[4] Man’s will is corrupt, but his reason is not. Man’s reason became autonomous, no longer solely reliant on God’s principles and values. The integration of Aristotelian logic into the Christian church’s theology helped lay the foundation for today’s liberation theology.

Nineteenth Century America

The above ideas spread throughout Europe, coming to America during the nineteenth century. They came through education and found their way into philosophy, politics, and law.

The education influence came from Germany’s Prussian schooling. It combined ideas of the duties of state, with some of Locke’s and Rousseau’s writings. This school of thought influenced Hegel. People like Edward Everett and Horace Mann brought this education to America. It began in Massachusetts and entered the south after the War Between the States. It received funding from the Rockefeller, Carnegie, Whitney, and Peabody families. The objective was eliminating the one room school house, and thereby our independent thought.

Natural rights devolved into social Darwinism, particularly in the human sciences like politics and law. Its core principles included there being were no fixed or eternal principles, contrary to natural rights and natural law. That principle itself is self-contradictory. Second, the state is organic and needs to grow; contrary to America’s ideas of limited government. Finally, the state only exists in the process of history and must therefore occasionally need steering. Society requires an elite class(es); contrary to the Biblical principle of equality. A return to paganism.

This brings us to legal positivism. Its roots lie in the writings of those like Hobbes, Hume, and Jeremy Bentham. Their ideas were advanced further through social theories of those like Marx and Weber. Law becomes a way for shaping society to a desired end. Its context depending on social facts, not merit. “Law [is a] phenomenon of societies with a sovereign,”[5] a commander requiring obedience. “Human law is artefact and artifice; and not a conclusion from moral premises.”[6] It’s an abstract ideal designed to regulate the conditions under which governments may use coercive force over their subjects. Citizens no longer exist.

Relevance to Today

From the Renaissance and Enlightenment to today, man’s reason became unbound from God. But this created a problem. Without God, there was no longer any basis for Man’s existence, morality, or reason. By freeing himself, man made himself a slave. Here are some simple questions to determine whether you live in a Biblical principled society or not. Does government exist to serve you, or do you exist to serve government? Are you a customer at the businesses and institutions you frequent, or pressed to accept what they choose to offer? Once a society turns from Biblical principles, that decision permeates all society.

How else do you know? Is all speech welcome, or only certain views? If you don’t hold those views, are you heard or censured? Does your society emphasize natural law and rights, or human law and rights? Are you isolated, perhaps using the pretext of a virus, and your freedoms forfeit and businesses closed? Does society follow God, or remove Him from the public square?

Societies following natural rights rely primarily on natural law. Individual decision making orders these societies. When human laws create human rights, as in America today, government orders society. A society can only choose one or the other. This brings us to our next principle.

Individual decision making orders Biblical societies, leading to greater freedom.

Footnotes:

[1] Goldziher, Ignaz, Introduction to Islamic Theology and Law, pp. 85-90, Princeton University Press, 1981.

[2] Wolf, Dan, p. 88, The Light & The Rod, Biblical Governance Corruptions, Living Rightly Publications, 2020.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Schaeffer, Francis A., pp. 9-12, Escape from Reason, InterVarsity Press, 1968.

[5] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Legal Positivism, Dec. 17, 2019, https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/legal-positivism/#pagetopright.

[6] Ibid.

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About the Author

Dan Wolf
Dan Wolf is a researcher and analyst; examining complex, abstract topics. His writing’s premise is based on one simple idea. We do not receive the benefits of God’s gifts unless we are turned toward Him. Each generation needs to learn this lesson to pass on what’s important. What are those gifts? Freedom, faith, and grace among others. Our Founders considered education, religion, morality, and virtue to be the cornerstones for any successful society. Success requires an education in both the languages of reason and faith, reason alone is not enough. Unfortunately, our education system today no longer teaches what we need to be successful, so we risk losing our way. But it is not too late. In the end we each have the freedom to choose, and the ability to learn. There are many who have already blazed a trail for us; we only need the will to embrace the challenge and make the effort. Together we will restore the societal foundation that our Founder’s, and many after them, fought and died for. The choice is ours. My goal is to assist you on your way. I can be reached at livingrightly@mindspring.com. His site is at:  http://www.livingrightly.net/