Paul's Passing Thoughts

God’s Acknowledgment of “Self” and the Full Circle of the Ten Commandments.

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Young, PPT contributing editor on November 12, 2017

Originally Published May 25, 2016

“And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.” ~ Exodus 3:14

When Jehovah (I Am) identified Himself to Moses at the burning bush, He did more than just tell Moses His name. God made a philosophical statement about reality. God acknowledged His own existence, and in so doing He declared His intrinsic rights because of that existence. Furthermore, by acknowledging His own existence, God also recognized man’s existence. I believe this is at the heart of what the Bible means when it says that man was made in God’s image. We have a right to “self” because God has a right to “self”.   And for us to acknowledge our own right to “self” demands that we by extension must acknowledge others’ right to “self”, just as God acknowledges ours.

Do not misunderstand what I mean by “right to self”. I do not mean “self-ishness”, which the Bible clearly decries. “Selfishness” means to love oneself MORE than another. On the other hand, the Bible never teaches us to love others more than ourselves. Said another way, the Bible doesn’t teach that we should love ourselves LESS than others. It says we are to love others AS MUCH AS we love ourselves. Herein is the way in which we acknowledge another’s right to “self”, we treat others as WE would want to be treated. We see our own value as an individual and in so doing recognize that others have that same value. That value includes one’s right to existence and the means necessary to sustain that existence. The United States’ Declaration of Independence embodied that idea in this way:

“…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…”

“That all men are created equal” is to recognize that all men have the same basic right to “self” and to existence, and that equality of individualism is preserved in the rights to seek those things which would secure that existence. No one ever has the right to violate another’s right to “self”, EVEN GOD!

In a conversation with a close friend the other day, I posed the question, “why is stealing wrong?” My friend replied that stealing is wrong because God said so; it’s in the Ten Commandments. Stealing is wrong because God said, “Thou shalt not steal.” I then followed up with the next question, “Why did God say stealing is wrong?” For this my friend had no answer. All he could say was, “I don’t know, I never thought about it before.”

You see for my friend, as it is with most people (particularly Christians), that God “said it” was enough for him. It was nothing more than an appeal to authority. An authority says this or that, so we must do it or not do it. This is the same reasoning that led to the slaughter of 6 million Jews while millions of others gave their tacit approval. People’s behaviors are the product of their assumptions, to paraphrase John Immel. No matter how irrational the behavior may seem, if you find the assumption you will find the reason for the action.

So why DID God say that stealing is wrong? It is a simple question, and once challenged to think, my friend finally did ask it of me. Stealing is wrong because it is a violation of “self”, of the individual. Our possessions are the products of our labors which are an investment of ourselves. Your labor is an exchange of value. You enter into that exchange with an employer who trades you wages for your investment of yourself. Those wages then in turn are exchanged for those things that are necessary to further your existence – food, clothing, shelter, etc. – and if there is any surplus, luxuries – car, mobile phone, flat screen TV, etc. So in reality, everything you produce – labor, wages, food, clothing, car, TV, etc. – is a product of you as an individual. For someone to steal those things from you is to violate “you” (self) because those things represent what the individual produced as a function of “self”. You have a right to them because you produced them because you have a right to “self”.

Contrary to what people/Christians are taught, the Bible is not a theological book. It is a philosophical book. And the Ten Commandments in particular are not simply an authoritative codification of do’s and don’ts. It is a philosophical statement from God to man about the value of the individual. It is a statement about how God values Himself, and it is a statement about how God values man. Conversely it is a statement of how man is to value God and how man is to value man. God’s very first statement to man is an appeal to God’s own sense of “self” and value. God as an individual. “I am God. I exist. I have value.” Therefore, the way we show God that we value Him is to have no other gods before Him! We do not make vain attempts to conceptualize God’s sense of “self” by making an image to represent that. We do not mock God’s name because His name is intrinsically tied to who He is. To violate God’s name is to violate who He is.

Man, too, has value as “self”. Therefore, we honor our parents, we don’t murder, we don’t commit adultery, we don’t steal, we don’t lie, and we don’t covet, not because God said so, but because we acknowledge that this would violate another person’s right to “self”. This is the basis for morality. It can be said then that the definition of morality is anything that does not violate God or man as “self”.

God’s command to not covet seems all-encompassing. The last commandment perfectly reduces everything down to the root motivation for all violations of “self”. And that is self-ISHNESS. A desire to usurp for oneself that which rightfully belongs to another. And as we have said before, that is a desire caused by Sin. The Bible describes Sin as an entity that seeks to control others. It seeks to master and enslave. It seeks to violate another for it’s own benefit, to wield control over another.

The New Testament offers another perspective on covetousness.

“For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.” ~ Ephesians 5:5

“Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry:” ~ Colossians 3:5

The apostle Paul had a unique insight among the other apostles in that he was a certified expert on Jewish law. This perspective gave him an ability to draw parallels between Old Testament and New Testament concepts that the others did not. Peter even declared that many of the things which Paul taught were hard to understand (2 Peter 3:16).   In these two passages in particular, Paul sees covetousness as being nothing more than idolatry. I’m not exactly sure how he gets there since he doesn’t elaborate on it.

Still, it is an interesting piece to the puzzle. Consider that one of the Ten Commandments speaks to idolatry. When one thinks of graven images, one usually thinks of idolatry. But Paul seems to suggest that idolatry involves more than just “idol worship”. It is a violation of God as “self”. Covetousness is a violation of man as “self”. What Paul has done here is to show the intrinsic relationship between the two. To violate man is to violate God, and to violate God is to violate man. Do not misunderstand, I am in no way suggesting that man IS God. But I do want to point out that there is a mutual recognition between God and man with respect to existence.

So to violate the tenth commandment is to violate the first, and thus we have come full circle. The Ten Commandments then are not statutes in and of themselves. It is not a means for God to show us “filthy rotten sinners” just how “holy He is” and how “sinful we are.”  It is a full-orbed treatise on morality and existence. It is not a law for authority’s sake. It is God instructing us on reality. What we see in the Bible is that LOVE is the motivating factor in all of this. To love someone is to ascribe value to them. Perhaps this is the relationship between idolatry and covetousness. To idolize something is to objectify it, to assign value based on its desirableness to oneself instead of an individual’s intrinsic value as another individual.

Whatever the case may be, when we show love to God and others, we have thus fulfilled the whole law because in this way we demonstrate a like view of both man and God, and we see reality the way God sees it.

Andy

Independence Day Message from John Locke

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Young, PPT contributing editor on July 3, 2017

…Taken from Two Treatises of Government

“But though this be a state of liberty, yet it is not a state of licence: though man in that state have an uncontroulable liberty to dispose of his person or possessions, yet he has not liberty to destroy himself, or so much as any creature in his possession, but where some nobler use than its bare preservation calls for it. The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges every one: and REASON, which is that law, teaches all mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions: for men being all the workmanship of one omnipotent, and infinitely wise maker; all the servants of one sovereign master, sent into the world by his order, and about his business; they are his property, whose workmanship they are, made to last during his, not one another’s pleasure: and being furnished with like faculties, sharing all in one community of nature, there cannot be supposed any such subordination among us, that may authorize us to destroy one another, as if we were made for one another’s uses, as the inferior ranks of creatures are for our’s. Every one, as he is bound to preserve himself, and not to quit his station wilfully, so by the like reason, when his own preservation comes not in competition, ought he, as much as he can, to preserve the rest of mankind, and may not, unless it be to do justice on an offender, take away, or impair the life, or what tends to the preservation of the life, the liberty, health, limb, or goods of another.”

~ John Locke

From the Reformation to the Third Reich: Protestantism’s Impact on Western Culture – Part 5

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Young, PPT contributing editor on March 11, 2017

The following is part five of a multi-part series.
Taken from John Immel’s fourth session
at the 2014 Conference on Gospel Discernment and Spiritual Tyranny
~ Edited by Andy Young

Click here for introduction
Click here for part two
Click here for part three
Click here for part four
Click here for part six
Click here for part seven
Click here for part eight
Click here for conclusion

 

Editor’s note: I realize up front that this next article is long, but the content is powerful and emotional, and I do not want to break up the continuity or diminish the sense of John Immel’s passion in this segment.

 

The Inspiration of John Locke

Aristotle had become re-institutionalized into Western thought. We now fast-forward about 500 years to the Age of Enlightenment and the Renaissance.   Reason has become effective and successful. Man’s life on earth is effective and successful, and we are trending towards where the seeds of political liberty are finally starting to emerge.

The continental rationalists started with Descartes. Descartes started with doubt. He said to himself, “I think. Therefore, I am.” This is an unfortunate formulation because it is effectively a primacy of consciousness formulation. It starts with consciousness first and then presumes being. It presumes existence. This, of course, causes all sorts of problems. Subsequent thinkers like Spinoza and Leibniz take these concepts and run with them. It produces some real conflicts in philosophy.

Finally we arrive at John Locke. John Locke is an empiricist, and he says exactly the opposite. He says, “Wait a minute. It is not reason that is first. It is actually the nature of human experience and perceptions by which we encounter the world.” So that sends us on the right track. It sounds very similar to Aristotle, but it is not Aristotle.

You must grasp that during this time period there are no options in Christianity. You have Catholicism, and you have Lutheran-Calvinist orthodoxy. There are other variants of Christianity out there, but for the most part, they are so politically and socially insignificant as to really not be an option. We are also still within the framework where being an atheist is punishable by death, and that prevails, depending on the country, well into the 19th century. So you really don’t have a genuine secular alternative, meaning a State not wrapped around religious orthodoxy.

Well, people are finally starting to become bold. They can tell that there must be a dramatic shift, and the fundamental problems and conflicts that they are identifying are directly tied to church tyranny and political freedom. Locke is the philosophical apogee of the Enlightenment and the advocacy of reason, and as we will see shortly, the assault against reason starts almost immediately after Locke. Fortunately for us, by the time of the American Revolution, John Locke was a household name, and the concept of natural rights had spread throughout the colonies.

The brilliant thing about John Locke was his political philosophy. Locke wrote a few books. His most influential was The Second Treatise of Government. I do also do recommend you pick up A Letter Concerning Toleration. I’m going to give a few excerpts from that one because it will give a sense of how Locke is arguing against church-statist control.

“Since you are pleased to inquire what are my thoughts about the mutual toleration of Christians in their different professions of religion, I must need answer you freely that I esteem the toleration to be the chief characteristic of the mark of the true Church. For whatsoever some people boast of the antiquity of places and names, or the pomp of their outward worship; others, of the reformation of their discipline; all, of the orthodoxy of their faith – for everyone is orthodox to himself – these things, and all others of this nature, are much rather marks of men striving for power and empire over one another than the Church of Christ.”

There could be no greater truer aphorism. Everybody assumes that their own definition of Christianity is right. Everybody assumes that. And I find it fascinating that he points out that we cannot make orthodoxy the premise by which we have religious toleration. Here is another excerpt.

“In the second place, the care of souls cannot belong to the civil magistrate, because his power consists only in outward force; but true and saving religion consists in the inward persuasion of the mind, without which nothing can be acceptable to God. And such is the nature of the understanding, that it cannot be compelled to the belief of anything by outward force. Confiscation of estate, imprisonment, torments, nothing of that nature can have any such efficacy as to make men change the inward judgment that they have framed of things.

“It may indeed be alleged that the magistrate may make use of arguments, and thereby, draw the heterodox into the way of truth and procure their salvation. I grant it; but this is common to him with other men. In teaching, instructing, and redressing the erroneous by reason, he may certainly do what becomes any good man to do. Magistracy does not oblige him to put off either humanity or Christianity, but it is one thing to persuade and another to command, one thing to press with arguments, another with penalties. This civil power alone has a right to do; to the other, goodwill is authority enough.”

I want you to notice he is correctly making the distinction that authority and force are the same thing. Governments are tools of compulsion. When you hear men making the argument that they have the right to ask you to submit to their authority, they are really declaring the right to use force against you to compel you to a given outcome.

Locke is making the correct assessment that the nature of government compulsion should not be mixed in with religious conviction. This is an evolution of thought. You have lived with this for so long in your lives that you honestly have a hard time conceptualizing it not being true. In all of my subsequent discussions with people, whenever we disagreed, whenever we’ve come at these things at different ways and from different frameworks, one of the things that I find so impressive is how genuinely indignant people are that they shouldn’t be entitled to their own opinion. We are absolutely daughters and sons of the Enlightenment! Until the Enlightenment, such a notion did not exist – it was nowhere – that one has the right to be an independently thinking creature in one’s own behalf. This is absolutely the product of the Enlightenment and more particularly of John Locke’s arguments.

Here’s another quote from A Letter Concerning Toleration.

“The care and salvation of men’s souls cannot belong to the magistrate; because, though the rigor of laws and the force of penalties were capable to convince and to change men’s minds, yet would not that help at all to the salvation of their souls.

“For there being but one truth, one way to heaven, what hope is there that more men would be led into it if they had no rule but the religion of the court and were put under the necessity to quit the light of their own reason, and oppose the dictates of their own conscience, and blindly to resign themselves upon the will of their governors and to the religion which either ignorance, ambition, or superstition had chanced to establish in the countries where they were born?”

That’s a wordy way of saying men should be entitled to the rights of their own lives, and the nature of their religious convictions should be determined by conscience. You take that for granted. In the United States of America, we have a hard time conceptualizing religious wars because our Founding Fathers were brilliant. They approached the nature of government with the expectation of the separation between Church and State.

As a result, the result of our religious disagreements in the United States are church splits for the most part. One group in the church wants the color of the carpet to be pink. Another group says they want it to be blue. They get fussed, and they decide, “You know what? I’ll start my own church. Doctrinally blue is better.”

Well, that’s the sum, and it frankly doesn’t matter how egregious the doctrinal fight. At whatever point of disagreement, everybody goes, “Well, I’m just going to start my own church.” And they do, which is why in America religion has exploded with flavors of denomination, and in almost any given city you can see where first church became second church that became third church that became fourth church on all four corners – it was essentially the same people and the same orthodoxy. This is directly tied to the fact that the American Church has never had access to genuine civil power.

I made this point earlier. A secular government is a free government because a secular government should be agnostic. Its interests have no interest in religious orthodoxy it. It is not interested in a doctrinal standard, and I understand why Christians find that truly scandalous, but you must hear me here. Your freedom is directly tied to a secular, agnostic government. Now, that is different than a government that professes atheism and chooses to oppress alternate positions. That is actually the reverse form of political tyranny. What I am talking about is a government that gives no advantage and gives no penalty based on religious conviction.

Here is another excerpt from Lock. I find this example humorous.

“Let us suppose two churches – the one of Arminians, the other of Calvinists – in the city of Constantinople.

“Will anyone say that either of these churches has right to deprive the members of the other of their estates and liberty because of their differing from the same doctrines and ceremonies… (while the Muslims laugh to see with what inhuman cruelty Christians thus rage against Christians?)

“One of these churches has the power to treat the other ill. To which of them does this power belong and by what right?

“It will be answered, undoubtedly, that it is the orthodox church which has the right of authority over the erroneous or heretical. This is, in great and specious words, to say just nothing at all. Every church is orthodox to itself; to others, erroneous and heretical.

“So the controversy between these churches about the truth of their doctrines and the purity of their worship is on both sides equal; nor is there any judge, either at Constantinople or elsewhere upon earth, by whose sentence it can be determined.

“If it could be manifest which of these two dissenting churches were right, there would not accrue thereby unto the orthodox any right of destroying the other. For churches have neither any jurisdiction in worldly matters, nor are fire and sword any proper instruments wherewith one convince men’s minds of error, and inform them of the truth.”

At the 2013 TANC Conference, Susan Dohse did a fantastic job of explaining Augustine and his use of violence as a doctrinal standard to compel men to the Church. I invite you to go back and review what she said. What Locke is saying here is in direct defiance of Augustinian ideology. It is in direct defiance of Calvinist ideology. Both men presumed the right of the Church to compel rational compliance.

Locke’s arguments become foundational for what ultimately becomes the secular government of the United States; the belief in the expectation of the division between religious conviction and political power. In his book, Second Treatise of Government, Locke opens his work with a definition of terms. He summarizes his initial thoughts:

“Political power, then, I take to be a right of making laws with penalties of death – and consequently all less penalties – for the regulating and preserving of property, and of employing the force of the community, in the execution of such laws, and in the defense of the commonwealth from foreign injury; and all this only for the public good.”

Now he is defining his terms about the nature of what political force is, what is the legitimate purpose of government. It is specifically for the defense of the property and the “public good.” Now I want to make this distinction. When I say “public good”, most people confuse this with the collectivist assertion of “common good”. Locke doesn’t mean this. When Locke says for the “public good,” he means the good of individuals.

The State of Nature
This becomes a common phrase in the Enlightenment. Thomas Hobbes used it, Jean Jacques Rousseau used it, and so it is ambiguous and inconsistent. For Hobbes, state of nature meant that man is basically a barbarian and that the nature of his barbarity needs restraint. So because of that need for restraint, government’s function is designed to handcuff man in his most base passions. This idea is echoed by Edmund Burke when he said that it is through government that man forges his fetters by virtue of the fact that he really doesn’t have self-control. This a very Hobbesian position.

Rousseau has a very similar concept of the state of nature, but he doesn’t think man is a barbarian as such. He thinks that the state of nature is man’s highest ideal. Man in his natural form is the height of the perfect predator in nature. He still thinks that the function of government is to restrict man, and therefore man gives something up when he enters society.

Here’s Locke’s definition. To understand political power correctly, man must first understand the state of nature. Man is perfect, so he is free, meaning man is at liberty to act as he pleases. He acts to dispose of his own possessions, and he acts to dispose of his own person. Think of it this way. If you live on a desert island by yourself, you are at liberty to organize your desert island to your own benefit, and it would require of you your highest and best reason to do so. Your very survival would be dependent upon your ability to organize your environment to your advantage, and you are perfectly free to dispose of everything that you create and your entire person to that end. The state of nature is a state of equality. All the power and jurisdiction is reciprocal. All the men are born to the same advantages of nature.

Now expand the example I gave so that now we two people on the same desert island. The exact same state exists between both men. They both have the ability to act and to dispose of themselves in the exact same fashion. That is their natural right. Locke goes on to say this means that God would not and could not appoint some men to subjugate others, and he says that the law that governs the state of nature is reason. Reason teaches all men that all men are equal and independent.

Now notice how this goes. Man’s existence requires his survival, and his survival requires that he successfully manages his own environment, that he specifically sets out to organize that environment such that he disposes all of his work product in service to that survival. All men exist in this state, and the reason they do so, the reason they are successful in this state is because the only way they can survive is by reason.

Notice how Locke is making the equation: Existence → survival → liberty → work → reason. All are integrated.

The state of nature is a state of liberty, but it is not a state of license. The law of reason says that since no man may harm other man’s life, health, liberty, or possessions, there is no subordination among men that authorizes one to destroy another. Inasmuch as man preserves his life, he must also seek to aid the preservation of another’s liberty, health, limb, and property. Notice that Locke’s state of nature requires man to acknowledge exactly the same thing in another man that he demands for himself. Reason, the law of nature, wills peace and the preservation of man.

Therefore, the law of nature puts in everyone’s hand the right to punish the transgressor of reason and to hinder the violation of reason with violence. Without the power of retribution, the law of nature would be in vain. In other words, without the ability to recompense the irrational, to give retribution to the irrational, reason could never thrive and survive. The law must have power to preserve the innocent and restrain offenders. If any one may punish evil, then everyone must be qualified. What any may do in prosecution of the law, everyone must be able to do to prosecute the law of reason.

Man’s power over another is not arbitrary or absolute. Individuals cannot vent their passions against a criminal without limitation. Retribution must be in proportion to criminal action. Violence can only be used to obtain reparation and restraint. But if criminals abandon restraint and reason, and declare themselves outside of the law of reason, these criminals become dangerous to men of reason and peace. So the dividing line of violence is when the un-reasonable and irrational initiate violence against reasonable and peaceful men. They trespass against the peace and safety of the whole of humanity. This abandonment grants mankind the right to destroy the one who abandons the law of reason, to make him repent of his actions, to deter him in continued action, and to make an example of those who would follow in his footsteps.

Every man has the right to punish the offender and executioner of the law of nature. The man who has been injured by a man who abandons the rule of reason not only has the right of punishment but also the right to obtain reparations. Furthermore, all people who respect justice may join the injured party to assist in recovering his restitution. The man who murders or commits unjust violence and slaughter has declared war against all mankind and may be destroyed just like you would kill a lion; a tiger with whom man cannot have society or security.

Locke is standing the historic philosophical perspective on its ear!

He is centralizing the entire right of man to exist for the sake of himself, and he is arguing directly that the nature of man’s existence demands that he be able to resist with violence all who wage war against his peaceability.

Locke says that punishment must be proportional to the crime, but the punishment must be sufficient to make continuing in the same action an ill bargain. This leads to Locke’s next point.

The State of War
This is a state of enmity and destruction intended by one man against another by word or action. The state of war is a deliberate intentional design to take a man’s life or property. When a state of war is initiated, the innocent has the right to destroy that which threatens his destruction just like you would kill a wild beast, because they have no commitment to common law or reason. The man who seeks to place another man in his absolute power has initiated a state of war. The man who seeks to place another man in his absolute control seeks to make him a slave. Slavery is merely the same as a state of war.

This was revolutionary. The determinism of Augustinian and Calvinist doctrine placed men in a specific relationship to their Creator. Their Creator appointed them their position. The justification for slavery was that it was your ordained place. Locke’s argument here says this is not true. Slavery is really an act of war. It is the possession of another man’s life that is not yours to possess. The nature of reason and the nature of peace eliminate slavery.

Of course, most of you who have done any work at all with American history know that slavery was one of the hardest things against which we fought. The universal justification for slavery was church doctrine. Modern Calvinists like to pretend that they have always been on the side of peace and prosperity and the brotherhood of all men. That is all nonsense. For centuries the right to enslave was considered an orthodox position. And the same argument that everybody used was when they would point to the fact that Paul consecrated the state of slavery when he told Philemon to go back to his slave master. And it frankly doesn’t matter that he ultimately told the slave master to take it easy. Ultimately, what Paul did is confirm that slavery was, in fact, something ordained by God. That’s one among many of the arguments.

The argument that inspired the Methodists and the Unitarians was this argument: natural rights. And this argument from John Locke was the inspiring force that started the Church to rethink the idea behind slavery.   Back in the 1700s, if you weren’t Calvinist orthodox or some variation of Calvinist orthodox, there were very few options, but the Methodists and the Unitarians happened to be two of them, and they rejected the fundamental translation making this argument. It took about 30 years to persuade the bulk of the colonies that slavery was in fact immoral.

The natural liberty of man is to be free from any superior power on earth and not to be under the will or legislative authority of men. In society, the liberty of man is not under any legislative power except what is established by consent. Freedom from absolute arbitrary power is so fundamental to man’s life that he may not part with it, not even by consent.

Did you hear what I said?

Man cannot give up. It is so fundamental, this thing that man is, these natural rights and this reason is so fundamental to who he is he can’t even give it up by consent. Man may not enslave himself to anyone because no man can give more power than what he has. This is a brilliant argument. Slavery is a little more than a state of war sustained by legislative means. It is merely the relationship between conquered and captured.

Private Property
Locke’s definition of private property is an essential evolution of thought. He correctly establishes the roots of private property. Private property is the product of labor. Individuals employ their industry to create the substance of their lives. Man in the state of nature must work to survive. Man’s survival is directly tied to his labor. This makes man’s work a direct function of his life. This makes what he works at his property, and it must be private. Seizing man’s property then is the same thing as seizing his life. In an evolution of thought where it has always been assumed that the state is the political and social primary, where man is disposed to the will of the state, to correctly identify the location for the nature of work product, life and property was a profound advance.

Consider our discussion of the soul-body/mind-body dichotomy from the previous conference in 2013. The ability to take man and divide him in half and distribute those halves across whatever world you want to distribute them. For instance, John Calvin basically says that you have no right to complain about the nature of your existence. Who cares if you are persecuted? Who cares if the government comes and takes whatever they come and take? Ultimately, your treasures, your life, your values are all stored away in some other place, but here on earth you just have to suck it up, and that is your specific Christian responsibility.

That is Calvin’s argument. But notice he succeeds in doing this based on the soul-body dichotomy. He can say that your physical self is actually immoral and irrelevant. Your spiritual self is this thing that gets magically transported someplace else. By dividing man, he can make the moral justification that tyranny is morally acceptable.

The Dark Ages was rooted in this dichotomy. This was the justification for the church to seize earthly production. Man’s focus should be in the afterlife. Man’s material existence is morally inferior which means man’s industry is morally questionable.

But Locke is one of the first philosophers to successfully make the mind-body/soul-body integration. correctly identifies that man is indivisible from his work. He correctly integrates human existence by identifying reason as the root of man’s production and production as the root of man’s life. Thus, man’s life and man’s property are corollaries of the same existence. This is profound and powerful. I want to dance every time I consider this! This is an amazing philosophical achievement.

The standard objection to private property has always been that private property prevents some men from actually getting resources. In tribal cultures this had some validity because tribes did not have the concept of private use, but in fact they held everything in common. This social dynamic historically produced lack. But Locke applies reason to the process of wealth creation. He correctly identifies that man creates his own level of prosperity. Wealth is not static because wealth is the product of labor, and labor is expansive.

I want to read you a prolonged section from Locke.

“This is certain, that in the beginning, before the desire of having more than man needed had altered the intrinsic value of things, which depends only on their usefulness to man’s life; or had agreed that a little piece of yellow metal, which would keep without wasting or decay, should be worth a great piece of flesh, or a whole heap of corn; though men had a right to appropriate, by their labor; each one unto himself, as much of the things of nature, as he could use: yet this could not be much, nor to the prejudice of others, where the same plenty was still left to those who would use the same industry.

“To which let me add, that he who appropriates land to himself by his labor does not lessen, but increases the common stock of mankind: for the provisions serving to the support of human life, produced by one acre of enclosed and cultivated land, are ten times more than those which are yielded by an acre of land of an equal richness lying waste in common. And therefore, he that encloses land and has a greater plenty of the conveniences of life from ten acres, than he could have from a hundred left to nature, may truly be said to give ninety acres to mankind: for his labor now supplies him with provisions out of ten acres, which were but the product of an hundred lying in common.”

Notice his reason, that the nature of labor expands human prosperity, and he is exactly right. Man must successfully use his resources as effectively as possible. Private property demands of the man his highest and best reasoning capacity, his greatest efficiency. This is what has always elevated the rise of man’s natural material wealth. Private property is at the heart of increasing and never-ending prosperity. Locke correctly identifies that things laying in common actually do not have the optimal uses, but private property expands human resources because of labor and ownership.

Paternal Power
Locke correctly identifies that men do not give up rights when they join social contracts. They do not give up liberty to gain security, and this is actually a very important concept. It was very common for people to say that men needed to give up something to join society. Like I said, this was Hobbes and Rousseau and pretty much every other philosopher on the other side of this argument. The presumption is that I am only in restraint because there is no government compelling me to some given action, and that for me to enter society, to enter political agreements, what I’m really giving up is the nature of my own liberty. Locke says, “No. This is wrong.”

Remember the Augustinian and Calvinist doctrine of subordination. Government’s function is to restrain men. Government is compulsion to moral action, but Locke says not so.

“So that, however it may be mistaken, the end of law is not to abolish or restrain but to preserve and enlarge freedom. For in all states of created beings capable of laws, where there is no law, there is no freedom, for liberty is to be free from restraint and from violence of others, which cannot be where there is no law. But freedom is not, as we are told, a liberty for every man to do as he lists: (for who could be free, when every other man’s humour might domineer over him?) but a liberty to dispose, and order as he lists, his person, actions, possessions, and his whole property, within the allowance of those laws under which he is, and therein not to be subject to the arbitrary will of another, but freely follow his own.”

I want you to notice the part I emphasized above. The nature of liberty is to be freed from restraint or violence. The reason I enter into political agreements is because I want to secure for myself security. I want to emphasize this point.

Locke is brilliant here. The legitimate function of government is to defend the individual from all encroachments. The function of government is to secure man’s freedom. Man’s freedom is expressed in his action to dispose his life and property. Government’s limited function is to defend man in that freedom or pursue restitution or retribution for those men who enter a state of war.

Notice how does progression works. Man is the sovereign political unit. Man creates private property. Man needs a means to defend himself from the irrational, so he voluntarily enters into agreements with other men with the exact same premise. They consent to government to gain liberty, not to lose it. Government’s function is no longer fetters. Government’s function is defense. It is the defense of the individual who is living his life in the pursuit of life and prosperity and happiness. Now you can begin to understand where the signers of the Declaration of Independence and the framers of the Constitution got the substance of their arguments.

The Beginnings of Political Societies
It is here that Locke identifies the correct order of social relationships. Historically, it was assumed that State was the social primary. Men were born into the State, and their lives were disposed of at State will. Locke says this is backwards.

“Men being by nature all free, equal, and independent, no one can be put out of this estate, and subjected to the political power of another, without consent. A man can only divest himself of natural liberty, and put on bonds of civil society, by agreeing with other men to join and unite for their comfortable, safe, and peaceable living amongst another, in secure enjoyment of their properties.

“This any number of men may do, because it injures not the freedom of the rest; they are left as they were in the state of nature. When any number of men have so consented to make one community or government, they are thereby presently incorporated, to make one body politic, wherein the majority have a right to act and conclude the rest.”

Here is his progression. Man is first a free and sovereign agent. Man labors to create property to satisfy his survival and enjoyment. He seeks social relationships to expand his freedom. His consent is to social contacts, and government is by consent of the governed for the express purpose of defending his life, peace, and property.

Legislative Power
The extent of Legislative power cannot take from any man any part of his property without his own consent. The reason man enters into political agreement is to sustain and enjoy his property, so he cannot then enter society and then have society expropriate his property. Thomas Paine echoed this concept.

“It is a perversion of terms to say that a charter gives rights. It operates by contrary effect – that of taking rights away. Rights are inherently in all the inhabitants; but charters, by annulling those rights, in the majority, leave the right, by exclusion, in the hands of a few…They…consequently are instruments of injustice…The fact, therefore, must be that the individuals, themselves, each in his own personal and sovereign right, enter into contract with each other to produce a government: and this is the only mode in which governments have a right to arise, and the only principle on which they have a right to exist.” ~ Common Sense, chapter 5

Dissolution of Government
Since government is by consent, the government is dissolved when the legislature takes upon itself the power to make laws that people do not appoint them to make. This is very important. A legislature does not become autonomous and sovereign by the fact that it was created. The people sustain their political sovereignty. When a legislator acts in this fashion, the people have no obligation to obey the laws. They can refuse to obey as an act of refusing to be subjugated. And the logical outworking is everyone returns to the state of nature, at the pleasure of his will as he was before contract.

So rejecting the legislature, an unjust legislature, is not chaos. It is not anarchy. It merely means that man reverts to his original state of nature. This would be the answer to a runaway bureaucracy that is neither elected nor subject to the people like when Congress decided to start giving legislative power to bureaus in the United States. Just an observation.

  • Governments are dissolved when a single person sets up his own arbitrary will in place of laws, like presidents who pass endless executive orders.
  • Governments are dissolved when a single person hinders the legislature. When this person suspends legislature, he is in effect putting an end to the government the people instituted.
  • Governments are dissolved when one man seeks to alter elections and thereby change the legislature to which the people consented.
  • Governments are dissolved if the “prince” (Locke’s word) or the legislature deliberately delivers the people into the subjugation of a foreign power.

The people entered into political agreement to be governed by their own laws. They cannot be transferred into a government that was not authorized by their own consent.

Americans, hear me…

It is treason for any member of the American government to act to deliver the American people into the hands of the United Nations!

We did not authorize the existence of them to govern us. Our constitution is unique and proprietary. We have the right to define our own body of laws.

Here is Locke’s summary. When legislators and agents of the government act against the trust of the people by invading their property, they, the government agents, are the ones who are initiating force, and they are the ones who are the rebels. They are the ones committing treason against the people. Never lose sight of the fact that men enter into civil government to exclude force from social interaction and to preserve their individual property and peace and unity. So those representatives of government who use force in opposition to the laws are the rebels against the state of nature. They are hiding behind the pretense. They claim authority to justify their actions, but they are the ones who bring back and initiate the state of war. They are the ones who have overthrown the government.

This is a profound and important distinction. The government of the United States is for the people and by the people. The fact that we elected legislators does not make them the politically sovereign unit. The State in the United States is not sovereign. The people are sovereign, and they grant limited function to the legislators, the state governments, the federal government, and the judiciary.

We have catastrophically lost this concept in the United States, and I want to draw your attention because this point is specifically and expressly made in the Declaration of Independence.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they that are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – that to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed – that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive to those ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it and to institute new Government, laying its foundations on such principles and organizing the powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to affect their Safety and Happiness.” ~ from, The Declaration of Independence

Please notice the emphasized part. This is John Locke. This is at the root of our government. The United States government is not the political sovereign. The people are the political sovereign, a people committed to reason, peace, life and prosperity and property. When governments use force in direct violation of the express social contract, the government is committing treason.

Now you can have some sense of scope. Now you’ve seen the evolution from the disaster that was Augustinian ideology to the evolution of thought that began to inspire men to believe and commit themselves to trust in reason and for man to begin to solve his own problems. Then comes John Locke, and he successfully identifies the core elements of political liberty.

This was huge, and it was this event that created the sense of life in the Enlightenment. Generations of European Christians accepted the premise of human depravity as self-evident, as have all socio-political organizations founded on the metaphysical premise that man is a sinner who inhabits a fallen world.

By the late 18th century and early 19th century, this social assumption had been dealt a mortal blow. People were living through the greatest expansion of liberty and knowledge and prosperity the world had ever seen. Men had the proof that life was filled with opportunities, that the future could be bright because the future could be built. Every technological advance, every disease, every pain, every new level of mass prosperity was one more example of the fraud the Church had perpetrated on humanity. It was a conclusion born from seeing the world’s harsh and brutal environment mastered and ordered and pacified.

The Medieval Age had no such contrast. The world of gargoyles and superstition and brutality was all anyone had ever known. So there was an internal logic to the Church’s ban on reason and science. All the world knew was despotism and dogmatism and the poverty that those twin destroyers bring. But the 17th century was the beginning of the Enlightenment and the full immersion of Aristotelian thought into the minds of men, and by the time history arrives in the 19th century, man was without excuse.

The Roaring Twenties roared for a reason. Man was fruitful. Man enjoyed life. And for the first time in world history, man could see a vision of life that held endless possibilities. It seemed that man was on the verge of solving the world’s problems. Man woke up seven days a week and saw man’s ability to triumph. He went to church one day a week to be told he was a sinner, life was hopeless, and man’s highest ethical ideal was death. But man knew there was a disconnect. Something was wrong with this picture.

The men of the Enlightenment could see the living contrast between the American form of government and the despotism that had dominated the whole of Europe. Indeed, anywhere medieval doctrines have dominated American life, they could see the manifestations of slavery, poverty, and war.

Church doctrine condemned the whole of man’s existence, but man’s existence was very obviously not the impotent, ulcerous, cancerous sore described by the preacher. America’s founders knew that the Church must be separated from the State, and for only the second time in human history, there was a truly secular state. The state was agnostic, giving no advantage to statements of orthodoxy. Man was free to follow his conscience. Man was free to create and prosper, and the greatest political achievement man had ever known led the world into the greatest expansion of peace and prosperity the world had ever seen.

Government’s only function was the defense of the individual in pursuit of his life, liberty and happiness. The shining light on the hill, the amazing beacon of hope, the culmination of the Enlightenment thought and political organization, was the United States of America.

To be continued…


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Click here for part two
Click here for part three
Click here for part four
Click here for part six
Click here for part seven
Click here for part eight
Click here for conclusion

 

The Philosophy of the Reformation and Its Historical Impact, by John Immel – Part 4

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Young, PPT contributing editor on December 22, 2016

Taken from John Immel’s third session at the 2012 Conference on Gospel Discernment and Spiritual Tyranny
Published with permission
~ Edited by Andy Young

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(Continued from part 3)

Now I want to make a series of contrasts.

The Enlightenment begins around 1650, give or take. The Enlightenment thinkers included men such as John Locke, David Hume, and Adam Smith. From these men comes a large amount of the foundational thought of human freedom, human competence, and human liberty. Enlightenment thought influence our Founding Fathers – Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, and Thomas Jefferson to name a few.

Recall that the three English civil wars were religious wars. The American Civil War was not a religious war. It was a war specifically fought in pursuit of liberty and freedom.

james-madisonIn an article written in 1786 by James Madison, “A Memorial in Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments,” Madison weighs in against the establishment of civil government, civil patronage, and religion. I want you to notice the Founding Fathers’ clarity on the arguments against merging the state, no matter how small, with ecclesiastical establishments.

Madison begins:

“We, the subscribers, citizens of the said Commonwealth, have taken into serious consideration [that] a bill establishing provision for teachers of the Christian religion and conceiving of the same if finally armed with sanctions of law, will be a dangerous abuse of power.”

There was no illusion here. The nature of Christianity, as our Founding Fathers understood, was that it was a dangerous force to be contended with when it was merged with the power of the state. Madison then goes on to detail several reasons for this understanding.

“1. Because we hold it for a fundamental and undeniable truth that religion or the duty which we owe our Creator and the manner of discharging it can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force and violence.”

This was revolutionary. While this idea had circulated amongst any number of different sects and any number of different intellectual ties, for the first time, there was a formal effort to challenge at the root that religion could not ever be merged with the force of the state. But rather the force of government was to be tempered by intellect and reason.

This is a central Enlightenment idea.

Madison Continues:

“2. Because the rulers who are guilty of such encroachment exceed their commission from which they derive their authority and are tyrants. The people who submit to it are governed by laws made neither by themselves nor by an authority derived from them, and are slaves.”

“3. Because the free men of America did not wait till usurped power had stricken itself by exercise and entangled the question in precedents. They saw all the consequences in the principle, and they avoided the consequences by denying the principle.”

Hold that thought. I will come back to that in a moment.

“We revere this lesson too much soon to forget it. Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians in exclusion of all other sects?”

This is why the historic fight between Calvinists and Arminians gained some attraction, because we fail to identify the principle that Madison is arguing here. The issue is not necessarily the Arminian perspective versus the Calvinist perspective. The issue at central root is man’s fundamental competence to master his own life, however that may be accomplished. The reason all other doctrinal fights are useless in this instance is because, at the root, until you defend man’s right for moral existence, you have lost. Madison makes this observation in point seven.

“7. Because experience witnesses that ecclesiastical establishments, instead of maintaining the purity and efficacy of Religion, have had a contrary operation.  During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity, and in both, superstition, bigotry and persecutions.”

It is important to understand that our Founding Fathers had no illusions about the nature of what Christianity was and was not. They understood its broad history. They understood what Puritanism did. They understood what the Massachusetts colony theocracy did. For many of them, it was close enough to their lifetime that it would not have been lore as if we were learning it out of the book. They certainly would have been within striking distance of the religious wars in England and the tides of warfare that swept across the face of the earth.

James Madison goes on to say in Point 8.

“8. Because…what influence in fact have ecclesiastical establishments had on civil society? In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of civil authority; in many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny; and in no instance have they been seen as the guardians of the liberties of the people.”

This is one of the most scathing denunciations ever! Until Christians are guardians of the liberties of the people, all we are doing is perpetuating spiritual tyrants.

Madison wrote this a mere ten years from the Declaration of Independence and the adoption of the U.S. Constitution. I want you to notice that this memorial and remonstrance takes place dead square between two events: from the specific overthrow of tyranny in 1776, within ten years’ time we already have a religious movement trying to use civil authority to create patronage. In other words, you have a specific group of people seeking to create a means by which others pay taxes to support a religious organization. They were trying to use taxation to advance sectarian orthodoxy.

Madison is arguing for the supremacy of human reason, and he is denouncing the use of civil authority – the merging of religious faith and the power of the state. He is saying it is a menace. Christianity is a menace because Calvinism demands war for all who refuse to bow to its edicts. The current Calvinist defenders can pooh-pooh my point all they like, but I win this argument only because all I have to do is educate people on the public record. This is not complicated.

The Founding Fathers had no illusion about the destructive force of Christian religion, and it is the most virulent forms of Christian thought that the Founding Fathers put absolute barriers in place to curtail this acquisition of civil power.   declaration_of_independenceFor the first time in human history, men sat down and they finally said, “No, man is entitled to the sum and substance of his own life,” and they penned these words:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by the Creator with certain inalienable rights that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, that to secure these rights governments are instituted among men deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new governments laying its foundations on such principles and organizing its powers.”

Let’s do a contrast.

Puritan theology:

  • Man is incompetent.
  • Man is morally guilty.
  • Man needs the force of government to compel him to good action.
  • Government is an unquestionable manifestation of God’s appointment.
  • God is wrathful and offers man no rights of existence.
  • God appoints man to a predetermined existence of suffering and bondage.
  • God’s sovereignty appoints man to slavery.

This is the Puritan construct. This is Reformation theology. This is Calvinism. This is the most virulent form of Reformation thought.

Contrast this with what comes out of the Declaration of Independence:

  • That man is competent to understand.
  • That man can understand the world in which he lives.
  • That his epistemology is fully intact.
  • That by virtue of that ability, truth is self-evident.

The equality of human creation endows all with the same right. There is no election to specific privilege, yet in the Calvinist construct, the men standing in the pulpits today are claiming a special privilege.

Man has a right to life, liberty, and happiness, yet the Calvinist construct says there is no such thing; that any effort towards right or life or liberty or the claim to any happiness is a self-deception and a manifestation of your depraved nature. Just government is a product of human consent.

Consider this, that for almost 1,800 years, the Church had said that it was the divine right of kings to dictate government, and that government was in fact divinely appointed. Man had no right to question, for the most part. Whatever happened was in fact the product of God’s will.

The American Declaration of Independence was the first time in human existence that men articulated that just government must be the product of human consent. I am only governed in as much as I choose to let you govern me. Truth is not the property of the state. The state is in fact the servant of man’s defense. This was revolutionary.

The advances of man, the things that have eradicated human suffering across the board, are directly tied to human liberty, because when man is free, man is free to think.  Thinking men are free to create, and creating men are free to exchange value with whomever they chooses to associate. Man can better his life as he sees fit, and he can solve the problems of the beggarly elements of this earth.

I am able to do in the 21st century what a paltry number of human beings had ever been able to do, and it is directly related to the legacy of human competence, human freedom, and human liberty. You do not get this level of prosperity with the ideology of the Dark Ages. Every place this ideology has manifested itself, it has driven man back to the Dark Ages.

These exact same metaphysical assumptions that are in Calvin are in Augustine. These exact same metaphysical assumptions that are in Augustine are in Islam. Notice that if you go to any place in this world where there is a purely Islamic state you will see the dark ages in modern times: you will see the same paltry human condition from over a millennia ago in western civilization. This is true because the ideas are the same.

Liberty, freedom, thought; they are absolutely tied together. Human competence and human liberty are essential for the benefit of man.

I have now come full circle in my argument. The cohesive structure of ideas from the metaphysical premise to the epistemological ability to the ethical understanding to the political action; all of them run in a progressive line of thought.   This is the answer to my original observation:

The Gospel According to John Immel, chapter 3:1-3

1. All people act logically from their assumptions.
2. It does not matter how inconsistent the ideas or insane the rationale. They will act until that logic is fulfilled.
3. Therefore, when you see masses of people taking the same destructive actions, if you find the assumptions, you will find the cause.

Christians love to thump their ESV while laying claim to the Declaration of Independence and the Founding Fathers. They hold freedom of religion as a certainty. They love the prosperity that rational thought, logic, and industry produce. But they do not even blush at the hypocrisy when they pound that same ESV to claim solidarity with Reformation orthodoxy. They will then rate John Calvin as the great reformer of Geneva. They will speak sagely, calling Jonathan Edwards their homeboy, not once realizing the philosophical schizophrenia. These are mutually exclusive worldviews.

In the world of election and limited atonement, there is no such thing as self-appointment and self-determination. There is no such thing as self-governance, because you do not own you.

In a world of irresistible grace, there is no such thing as private property, private possessions, or even personal boundaries, because whatever good you have is a manifestation of God’s grace, and all grace is administered by His stewards of grace.

And in a world of predestination, there is no right to inquire. In a world of predestination, there is no human sensibilities to be conservative. Your pain and your suffering is irrelevant. Who are you, O man, to challenge God, to inquire the things of God, the mysteries of God! Your pain is what you should have.

In the metaphysical world of T.U.L.I.P., there is no real justice. Everything is one great big fat sin before God, because the nature of man is utterly offensive to God. If you happen to be a part of the group that gets picked, it’s all good. And if you don’t, then it sucks to be you. The threat of damnation hangs over your head like the Sword of Damocles. Your sin violates God. So, who are you to demand recompense for a violation of sins against you? How dare you speak justice? You don’t own you.

Or do you?

This is the first choice. This is the fight within the ages. Who owns man?

Father, in the name of Jesus, we must live in understanding. Never before has man been defended. We’ve defended you and we’ve swatted our own. But never have we defended man’s right to live, right to exist, right to live, right to prosperity; never have we done this successfully. To throw off the tyranny of the ages, Father, we need your wisdom and understanding. We need to have the eyes of our understanding opened, that our insides will be filled with light. We ask these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.

~ John Immel


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God’s Acknowledgment of “Self” and the Full Circle of the Ten Commandments.

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Young, PPT contributing editor on May 25, 2016

“And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.” ~ Exodus 3:14

When Jehovah (I Am) identified Himself to Moses at the burning bush, He did more than just tell Moses His name. God made a philosophical statement about reality. God acknowledged His own existence, and in so doing He declared His intrinsic rights because of that existence. Furthermore, by acknowledging His own existence, God also recognized man’s existence. I believe this is at the heart of what the Bible means when it says that man was made in God’s image. We have a right to “self” because God has a right to “self”.   And for us to acknowledge our own right to “self” demands that we by extension must acknowledge others’ right to “self”, just as God acknowledges ours.

Do not misunderstand what I mean by “right to self”. I do not mean “self-ishness”, which the Bible clearly decries. “Selfishness” means to love oneself MORE than another. On the other hand, the Bible never teaches us to love others more than ourselves. Said another way, the Bible doesn’t teach that we should love ourselves LESS than others. It says we are to love others AS MUCH AS we love ourselves. Herein is the way in which we acknowledge another’s right to “self”, we treat others as WE would want to be treated. We see our own value as an individual and in so doing recognize that others have that same value. That value includes one’s right to existence and the means necessary to sustain that existence. The United States’ Declaration of Independence embodied that idea in this way:

“…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…”

“That all men are created equal” is to recognize that all men have the same basic right to “self” and to existence, and that equality of individualism is preserved in the rights to seek those things which would secure that existence. No one ever has the right to violate another’s right to “self”, EVEN GOD!

In a conversation with a close friend the other day, I posed the question, “why is stealing wrong?” My friend replied that stealing is wrong because God said so; it’s in the Ten Commandments. Stealing is wrong because God said, “Thou shalt not steal.” I then followed up with the next question, “Why did God say stealing is wrong?” For this my friend had no answer. All he could say was, “I don’t know, I never thought about it before.”

You see for my friend, as it is with most people (particularly Christians), that God “said it” was enough for him. It was nothing more than an appeal to authority. An authority says this or that, so we must do it or not do it. This is the same reasoning that led to the slaughter of 6 million Jews while millions of others gave their tacit approval. People’s behaviors are the product of their assumptions, to paraphrase John Immel. No matter how irrational the behavior may seem, if you find the assumption you will find the reason for the action.

So why DID God say that stealing is wrong? It is a simple question, and once challenged to think, my friend finally did ask it of me. Stealing is wrong because it is a violation of “self”, of the individual. Our possessions are the products of our labors which are an investment of ourselves. Your labor is an exchange of value. You enter into that exchange with an employer who trades you wages for your investment of yourself. Those wages then in turn are exchanged for those things that are necessary to further your existence – food, clothing, shelter, etc. – and if there is any surplus, luxuries – car, mobile phone, flat screen TV, etc. So in reality, everything you produce – labor, wages, food, clothing, car, TV, etc. – is a product of you as an individual. For someone to steal those things from you is to violate “you” (self) because those things represent what the individual produced as a function of “self”. You have a right to them because you produced them because you have a right to “self”.

Contrary to what people/Christians are taught, the Bible is not a theological book. It is a philosophical book. And the Ten Commandments in particular are not simply an authoritative codification of do’s and don’ts. It is a philosophical statement from God to man about the value of the individual. It is a statement about how God values Himself, and it is a statement about how God values man. Conversely it is a statement of how man is to value God and how man is to value man. God’s very first statement to man is an appeal to God’s own sense of “self” and value. God as an individual. “I am God. I exist. I have value.” Therefore, the way we show God that we value Him is to have no other gods before Him! We do not make vain attempts to conceptualize God’s sense of “self” by making an image to represent that. We do not mock God’s name because His name is intrinsically tied to who He is. To violate God’s name is to violate who He is.

Man, too, has value as “self”. Therefore, we honor our parents, we don’t murder, we don’t commit adultery, we don’t steal, we don’t lie, and we don’t covet, not because God said so, but because we acknowledge that this would violate another person’s right to “self”. This is the basis for morality. It can be said then that the definition of morality is anything that does not violate God or man as “self”.

God’s command to not covet seems all-encompassing. The last commandment perfectly reduces everything down to the root motivation for all violations of “self”. And that is self-ISHNESS. A desire to usurp for oneself that which rightfully belongs to another. And as we have said before, that is a desire caused by Sin. The Bible describes Sin as an entity that seeks to control others. It seeks to master and enslave. It seeks to violate another for it’s own benefit, to wield control over another.

The New Testament offers another perspective on covetousness.

“For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.” ~ Ephesians 5:5

“Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry:” ~ Colossians 3:5

The apostle Paul had a unique insight among the other apostles in that he was a certified expert on Jewish law. This perspective gave him an ability to draw parallels between Old Testament and New Testament concepts that the others did not. Peter even declared that many of the things which Paul taught were hard to understand (2 Peter 3:16).   In these two passages in particular, Paul sees covetousness as being nothing more than idolatry. I’m not exactly sure how he gets there since he doesn’t elaborate on it.

Still, it is an interesting piece to the puzzle. Consider that one of the Ten Commandments speaks to idolatry. When one thinks of graven images, one usually thinks of idolatry. But Paul seems to suggest that idolatry involves more than just “idol worship”. It is a violation of God as “self”. Covetousness is a violation of man as “self”. What Paul has done here is to show the intrinsic relationship between the two. To violate man is to violate God, and to violate God is to violate man. Do not misunderstand, I am in no way suggesting that man IS God. But I do want to point out that there is a mutual recognition between God and man with respect to existence.

So to violate the tenth commandment is to violate the first, and thus we have come full circle. The Ten Commandments then are not statutes in and of themselves. It is not a means for God to show us “filthy rotten sinners” just how “holy He is” and how “sinful we are.”  It is a full-orbed treatise on morality and existence. It is not a law for authority’s sake. It is God instructing us on reality. What we see in the Bible is that LOVE is the motivating factor in all of this. To love someone is to ascribe value to them. Perhaps this is the relationship between idolatry and covetousness. To idolize something is to objectify it, to assign value based on its desirableness to oneself instead of an individual’s intrinsic value as another individual.

Whatever the case may be, when we show love to God and others, we have thus fulfilled the whole law because in this way we demonstrate a like view of both man and God, and we see reality the way God sees it.

Andy

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