Legislation aimed at reducing gun violence is “a limitation on a God-given right of man that has existed throughout the history of civil society,” according to an article published in the leading conservative opinion journal National Review.
The author, David French, interprets the Christian Bible as granting everyone a right to self-defense. He suggests that this, if true, means that God’s will is that people have access to guns, as they are the means for self defense:
In fact, Jesus’s disciples carried swords, and Jesus even said in some contexts the unarmed should arm themselves…What does all this mean? Essentially that gun control represents not merely a limitation on a constitutional right but a limitation on a God-given right of man that has existed throughout the history of civil society. All rights — of course — are subject to some limits (the right of free speech is not unlimited, for example), and there is much room for debate on the extent of those limits, but state action against the right of self-defense is by default a violation of the natural rights of man, and the state’s political judgment about the limitations of that right should be viewed with extreme skepticism and must overcome a heavy burden of justification.
Even if French is right about the Christian view of self-defense (though Jesus did have choice words about “turning the other cheek“), it’s a logical fallacy to say this implies anything about restrictions on access to guns. Saying that people have a right to defend themselves if attacked isn’t the same thing as saying they should have a right to possess any conceivable means of defending themselves – presumably, French is fine with banning grenade launchers. The burden, instead, is on French to prove that universal background checks or limitations on assault weapon ownership somehow prevent people from defending themselves; to prove, in other words, that gun regulation is actually a restriction on the right of self-defense proper rather than a crime-prevention statute.
Moreover, French is wrong about the role of “self-defense” in a democracy. He cites John Locke, enlightenment philosopher and inspiration for the American Revolution, to suggest that gun rights are “fundamental rights of nature.” But as Ari Kohen, a professor of political theory at the University of Nebraska, points out, French radically misinterprets Locke:
But for people to establish a political community, Locke asserts that people must give up to the government their natural right to punish criminal behavior and agree to have the government settle grievances. This is why we have standing laws that are meant to be applied equally by independent officers of the law and by the courts.
Locke, as Kohen says, held that our right to use force was necessarily limited by the creation of legitimate government — that’s why we have police. This means that the government can limit access to certain weapons as means of discharging its responsibility to keep the peace. While the government may not be able to legitimately ban you from say, killing a home invader who’s brandishing a gun, it also can take reasonable steps to prevent criminals from being able to threaten you with arms in the first place without having to overcome a “heavy burden of justification.”
This isn’t the first questionable gun piece published in National Review. After the Newtown shooting, its editors suggested that mass school shootings were the price we pay for the Second Amendment. One of its writers, Charlotte Allen, infamously wrote that the Newtown massacre happened because there were too many female teachers.
By: Zack Beauchamp, Think Progress, January 28, 2013
There is much dispute and dialogue among scholars over what to make of the Christmas narratives in the scriptures and the connection between what was written and what we can know about what happened. As the Rev. Daniel J. Harrington has noted: “The New Testament contains two Christmas stories, not one. They appear in Matthew: 1–2 and Luke: 1–2. They have some points in common. But there are many differences in their characters, plot, messages, and tone.”
Those of us who celebrate Christmas do not tend to think as scholars or (God forbid!) journalists, but as people of hope. We tend at Christmastime to rely most on Luke, whose telling of Jesus’s birth is, as the Rev. Harrington says, is “upbeat, celebratory, and even romantic.” We find in Jesus, all at once, inspiration, comfort, challenge and, in one of Pope John Paul II’s favorite phrases, “a sign of contradiction.” And the contradiction is right there in the two Christmas accounts: Matthew emphasizes Jesus’s noble lineage, while Luke tells the story of a savior born in a manger. There is a special moral significance, I think, in Luke’s account: a faith rooted in the Jewish prophetic tradition traces its origins not to a palace but to a stable; not to an aristocratic household but to a family led by a carpenter. It was a powerful way to send one of Christianity’s most important messages: that every single human being is endowed with dignity by God and worthy of respect.
Pope John XXIII offered a take on this idea that quietly reminds us of how the materialism that seems to run rampant at Christmastime is antithetical to the Christmas story. The church, he argued in his 1959 Christmas message, “has always fixed her gaze on the human person and has taught that things and institutions — goods, the economy, the state — are primarily for man; not man for them.” He added: “The disturbances which unsettle the internal peace of nations trace their origins chiefly to this source: that man has been treated almost exclusively as a machine, a piece of merchandise, a worthless cog in some great machine or a mere productive unit. It is only when the dignity of the person comes to be taken as the standard of value for man and his activities that the means will exist to settle civil discord . . . .” In this telling. “Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men” is not a greeting card sentiment but a moral demand.
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. also took “peace on earth” as a personal and social imperative. On Christmas Eve 1967, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. aired King’s “A Christmas Sermon on Peace” as part of the Massey Lecture series. (I draw this from “A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King Jr.,” published by Harper Collins.) King argued that “if we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional,” and he added: “Now the judgment of God is upon us, and we must either learn to live together as brothers or we are all going to perish together as fools.”
Like so many of Rev. King’s sermons that included stern warnings and tough lessons, this one ended in hope.
“I still have a dream,” he said, four years after his most celebrated speech at the March on Washington, “that with this faith, we will be able to adjourn the councils of despair and bring new light into the dark chambers of pessimism. With this faith, we will be able to speed up the day when there shall be peace on earth and good will toward men. It will be a glorious day when the morning stars will sing together, and the sons of god will shout for joy.”
Go tell it on the mountain.
By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, December 24, 2012
“Inconvenient Biblical Truths” And Traditional Marriage: One Man, Many Women, Some Girls, Some Slaves
Well, it’s been quite a whirlwind week for same-sex marriage, from North Carolina to Obama to Colorado—and, of course, to the many outraged conservatives concerned with preserving traditional marriage, i.e., the time-honored sacred bond between one man and one woman. Why, just last week, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council said that marriage has meant just that for over five thousand years.
Time to break out your Bible, Mr. Perkins! Abraham had two wives, Sarah and her handmaiden Hagar. King Solomon had 700 wives, plus 300 concubines and slaves. Jacob, the patriarch who gives Israel its name, had two wives and two concubines. In a humanist vein, Exodus 21:10 warns that when men take additional wives, they must still provide for their previous one. (Exodus 21:16 adds that if a man seduces a virgin and has sex with her, he has to marry her, too.)
But that’s not all. In biblical society, when you conquered another city, tribe, or nation, the victorious men would “win” their defeated foes’ wives as part of the spoils. It also commanded levirate marriage, the system wherein, if a man died, his younger brother would have to marry his widow and produce heirs with her who would be considered the older brother’s descendants. Now that’s traditional marriage!
Later Islamic and Jewish sources, unclear on these parameters (the prophet Muhammad, of course, had several wives), debated whether it is permissible for a man to marry a three- or four-year-old girl. St. Paul, meanwhile, said that marriage was a compromise between the ideal of celibacy and the unfortunate fact that people like to have sex. Fortunately, we pluralists can appreciate both those religious traditions which advise men to marry little girls and those which tell them not to marry anyone at all.
And of course, even until the present day, traditional marriage has meant arranged marriage. The notion that two adults would enter into a marriage on their own volition is a radical innovation in the institution of marriage, at most two hundred years old.
Oh, and let’s not forget that in Europe and North America, marriage was considered a commercial proposition first and foremost—not a romantic one. Princes married princesses not because of fairy tales, but because their parents had political alliances to consider. Further down the economic ladder, people married for a variety of biological, commercial, and genealogical reasons—but rarely for love. (See Stephanie Coontz’s excellent Marriage: A History for more.)
Oh, and that’s right, I almost forgot about interracial marriage, which in some parts of America was seen as a crime against nature and God up until the 1960s. (Of course, Moses himself was in an interracial marriage, but the anti-miscegenation crowd overlooked that inconvenient fact.) It’s easy today for the likes of Tony Perkins to say that this change was a minor one; but let’s remember that a century ago, African Americans were not considered fully human by religious conservatives. Interracial marriage—as much as it’s disgusting to even say so today—was seen as an unnatural marriage between different species.
Oh, wait a minute, I forgot the most laughable part of this whole ludicrous spectacle: that it’s the Mormon Mitt Romney who’s insisting that marriage has “always” been between one man and one woman. Right—except that Romney’s own great-grandfather had five wives, before the LDS church, under massive pressure and persecution, reversed its doctrine on polygamy.
So, let’s see if I can total all this up. Traditional marriage is one man with multiple wives, multiple concubines, wives conquered in war and wives acquired in levirate marriage, possibly including girls under the age of ten, but definitely not including anyone of a different ethnic group, in an arranged marriage with disposition of property as its purpose. That seems very different from “one man, one woman,” does it not?
Of course, it’s easy to say that marriage as an institution evolves—but then, if we admit that, we have to admit that sanctioning loving, same-sex unions is just another step in that evolution. Perhaps this is why the Tony Perkinses of the world simply ignore the Bible when it doesn’t suit their purposes, instead preferring to make pseudo-scientific (and wholly unsupported) claims about what’s best for children and society. The Bible’s truths are just too inconvenient.
By: Jay Michaelson, Religion Dispatches, May 16, 2012