Is Martin Luther King, Jr. Worth Listening to?

01.14.2013, 12:39 AM

How does Martin Luther King, Jr. rate in David Blankenhorn’s eyes today? More specifically, how does King’s understanding of moral truth and his articulation of that truth square with David’s recent reflections about moral epistemology and public argumentation?

These were the questions I was left with after reading David’s recent post on Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld. He praised Herzfeld’s epistemological modesty, and then went on to laud him for “not declaring, or explicating from on high for our edification, things that he insists are objectively true. He does not ask us to believe that he is somehow channeling the voice of Nature and Nature’s God.”

While David and I agree on the need for modesty and humility in public discourse and public reasoning, I must part ways with him regarding his treatment here of objective truth and the natural law tradition. If there is no objective truth out there, why come together to reason together, or debate one another, about the common good? Why not just retreat to the comforts of our own secular, political, or religious ghettoes or, worse yet, simply worship at the contemporary altar of the sovereign self? What is the point of “engaging the key debates” about the family unless we hope–albeit imperfectly, through a glass darkly, this side of eternity–to draw closer to the “objective truth” about the human person, the family, and the common good?

More particularly, David’s post makes me wonder what he thinks of reformist movements in American life that have drawn much of their power from strong appeals to truth, Nature, or Nature’s God. Consider, for instance, this passage from the Reverend Martin Luther King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail:

How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law.

King’s letter has none of the epistemological modesty David admires in Herzfeld’s sermon. But, as King’s letter argues, sometimes the gravity of an injustice demands clear and bold assertions, rooted in a confident assertions about the “moral law.”

In my view, one of the greatest challenges facing our nation is not so much a lack of epistemological modesty but rather the fact that many of our citizens have such divergent and incommensurate understandings of what the “moral law” looks like and demands of them and the nation.

But we can only profitably live together, work together, and argue together, amidst our deepest differences, I think, if we believe in a truth and a moral law that ultimately exists, to some degree, above and apart from our own limited, parochial, and self-interested conceptions of the true and the good. And motivates us to find common ground for the common good, realized in part through reasoned and civil argument.


50 Responses to “Is Martin Luther King, Jr. Worth Listening to?”

  1. If there is no objective truth out there, why come together to reason together, or debate one another, about the common good? Why not just retreat to the comforts of our own secular, political, or religious ghettoes or, worse yet, simply worship at the contemporary altar of the sovereign self?

    Because regardless of if there’s an objective truth out there, we have to live together in society, and an overwhelming majority of us would prefer to live together in a peaceful society, where policy disagreements are handled through talk rather than violence.

    Brad, suppose that there are two people you could form a new society with. One of them is an atheist who believes there is no objective morality, but who also is a pacifist and a big fan of pluralistic democracies. The other is a homicidal maniac who loves to kill and believes in an objective moral truth (which is, God wants him to kill).

    I somehow doubt you’d rather form a new society with Axe Murderer Albert than with Atheist Annie.

    If King’s letter simply said that an unjust law is a law that is against God, I don’t think many people would have found King persuasive. But of course, King’s letter says much more than that. Just on the subject of distinguishing unjust versus just laws, King makes many arguments, not just the one you cite, and most of his arguments could be persuasive to unbelievers as well as believers.

    MLK makes the argument from God, as you correctly cite.

    But he doesn’t end there. MLK makes the argument that the law (in this case, segregation) can be recognized as unjust because it is psychologically harmful: “It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority.”;

    MLK then says that we can recognize an unjust law because of unfairness: “An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself.”

    MLK then makes an argument from Democracy: “A law is unjust if it is inflicted on a minority that, as a result of being denied the right to vote, had no part in enacting or devising the law.”

    And an argument from the Constitution: “…an ordinance becomes unjust when it is used to maintain segregation and to deny citizens the First Amendment….”

    Think of it as searching for common ground. An argument rooted only in belief in God, or in belief in an Objective Moral Law, can only be persuasive when speaking to others who also believe in God and/or Objective Moral Law. it’s unlikely that argument is ever going to persuade Atheist Annie, because nothing in that argument rests on common ground between Annie and the person making the argument.

    It’s obvious that MLK understood that, and in the Letter you quote, he made sure to make arguments that sought to find common ground with his listeners, rather than just bringing them God’s word and leaving it at that.

    Brad, I don’t believe in an Objective Moral Truth, partly because so many people who do believe in such things have acted in ways that seem to me to have been unkind and unjust. If you can’t imagine that there’s any basis for discussion with someone who doesn’t believe in Objective Moral Truth, then there’s no point in you ever talking with me.

    But I do believe in democracy. I do believe that debate and discussion is better than violence. I do believe that it’s very important to treat other people with kindness. If you believe in these things too – and I think you do – then why isn’t that enough common ground for us to begin a discussion?

  2. Mont D. Law says:

    My problem with this argument is the use of the word truth when what is meant is religious truth.

    The false dichotomy is bothersome too. It’s either a debate about religious truth among believers or it’s pointless and we’re doomed. This leaves a growing number of people with no seat at the table yet bound to the result. This doesn’t enthuse me. It also ignores the fact that historically these discussions have not gone well.

  3. La Lubu says:

    Barry beat me to the punch. I do feel the need to add that in regards to:

    worse yet, simply worship at the contemporary altar of the sovereign self?

    is a false dichotomy. Where is the room for collectivity, cooperation, a worldview that sees us as all parts of the whole—even though we disagree? Human beings are not the Borg; we are not going to agree on what Truth is, or Where to find it, or even if It exists. We are still tasked with living together peacefully (and as a Pagan, I would argue protecting our planet for its own health and the health of all who live on it, including future generations…..but then we get into that pesky argument about Truth again, as IME many Christians cannot relate to the Gaia hypothesis, which is how I experience my relationship to the multiverse…).

    I think it’s also worth a good mention that all of the Western canon about natural law is abysmally anti-woman. It is very restrictive of women and does not recognize our full spectrum of humanity. I can understand why men would make arguments to other men from this basis, but I cannot understand why men expect this line of argument to appeal to women—persons who are de-facto classified as second-class citizens within it. If your Ultimate Truth results in the classification of another set of human beings as lesser-thans, it is prima facie evident that it is not Ultimate Truth.

  4. Maggie Gallagher says:

    Thanks Prof. Wilcox. This had occurred to me too.

    Perhaps as foundationationally, David objects to those who believe they can know “Nature and Nature’s God.” I think he was referring to, or prompted by a letter from Cardinal George on gay marriage in Illinois. But of course there was once another group of men who felt they could tell for sure what nature and nature’s God require. . . and they left a little legacy called America.

  5. Maggie Gallagher says:

    There was also once a man named Rawls. He was a smart guy and very worth listening to. And he layed down a law, based on his perceptions of truth, that democracy requires something he called “public argument” which he said could not include religious truths.

    For some reason people accept this as a natural law. Although Rawls’ capacity to found a democracy that lasts 200 years based on his truths, has never been tested.

  6. Kevin says:

    Any notion of a religion-centered or god(s)-centered truth is doomed to fail since the existence of god(s) is so uncertain. You can’t build an enduring edifice on shifting sands.

  7. Anna says:

    I agree that it’s odd to look around and see too little “epistemological modesty” around us today. After teaching several hundred undergrads in the past few years, I could count on one hand the number who would agree to the statement “There are objective truths that can be known.” (Measurable, empirical data possibly excepted, according to some but not all of my students.)

    Not that they didn’t unquestioningly accept many current cultural orthodoxies – perhaps chief among them the admiration of doubt and epistemological modesty David Blankenhorn has been championing. It was pretty much axiomatic that anybody who holds any moral truths with any firmness or certainty must be ignorant, bigoted, and probably a danger to society and peace.

  8. Anna says:

    Oh, and Kevin, what counts as enduring? It seems to me some pretty enduring edifices have been built on God-centered notions of moral truth throughout human history. To name a few that have lasted either centuries or millennia, how about the Mosaic Law? The legal code of Rome? The Catholic Church? Or even the American system of government – two centuries is a good start on “enduring” I think.

    In fact, until very recent times, has there ever been a society whose order was not premised on God-centered truths?

  9. La Lubu says:

    In fact, until very recent times, has there ever been a society whose order was not premised on God-centered truths?

    It depends on what you mean by “God”. Many indigenous societies (and ancient European societies prior to the coming of Christianity) have a conception of the sacred or divine that isn’t similar to any of the Abrahamic traditions. Buddhism is a nondeistic faith. So is Taoism. It is misleading to claim that all religions have a grounding in “God” as the center of faith, and that’s even setting aside the notion that “God” means a singular, discrete, masculine-oriented Being.

  10. Anna says:

    La Lubu: Sure, God or gods. I didn’t mean the Abrahamic god necessarily. But although the concept of the divine in Rome, say, was very different, the social order was very much a religious matter, with the notions of “pious” and “impious” behavior carrying huge weight. Most indigenous cultures I’ve read anything about have a similar notion of piety, and similarly non-optional civic religions – but I admit, I am no expert in anthropology.

  11. Schroeder says:

    Barry, I agree with a lot of what you say, especially regarding your implication that an argument with another person can, in one sense, only proceed when there are mutually agreed upon premises. For instance, if you start with the premise that enjoyment is more important than long-term health, I’m never going to convince you to give up smoking because it’s unhealthy in the long term. My options are to convince you that your premise is wrong or to argue that you should give up smoking for some other reason. Or, of course, to stop trying to convince you.

    This seems to be common sense, and I doubt (although I can’t speak for him) that Brad would disagree.

    I also agree that one of the constant struggles of democracy is learning how to live with this fact. The recent movie, Lincoln, illustrates this tension powerfully.

    However, when you say, “I don’t believe in an Objective Moral Truth, partly because so many people who do believe in such things have acted in ways that seem to me to have been unkind and unjust,” it strikes me as self-contradictory (at least by implication). If there is no Objective Moral Truth, how do you know that it’s bad to be unkind or unjust? (I guess I should clarify that I’m with David Hume here, in that I don’t believe you can go from an “is” to an “ought,” without supplying an additional premise. If you disagree with that, how can you go from an “is” to and “ought?”) (Also, to clarify, I do believe that it’s bad to be unkind or unjust, but that’s precisely because I believe in objective moral truth.)

  12. Barry – Based on what you blog about and the way you blog about it, I think you are strongly committed–in practice, if not always in theory–to objective truth and to a moral law that binds all of us. And that’s why you rely on thoughtful arguments, persuasive evidence, and a spirit of civility to engage others, including me, in an effort to find common ground for the common good. And I’m grateful to you for the way in which you engage these important questions, and those with whom you disagree.

  13. Karen says:

    An article that I can recommend on this subject:

    “Are Babies Born Good?
    New research offers surprising answers to the age-old question of where morality comes from”

    http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/Are-Babies-Born-Good-183837741.html

    There is too much to summarize here (please read the whole thing – it’s excellent) but here is a tease quote from the last paragraph:

    Yes, babies prefer to accept a snack from the good guy, but what if the bad guy offered them three graham crackers, or ten?

    For a grant proposal, Tasimi put a working title on this query: “What pPrice Do Babies Set to Deal With The Devil?”

  14. Mont D. Law says:

    [It seems to me some pretty enduring edifices have been built on God-centered notions of moral truth throughout human history.]

    Except once you emancipate women and stop persecuting minorities, any that still survive start failing en masse.

  15. La Lubu says:

    Anna, what I’m trying to get at is that there is a profound difference in cosmologies in which the divine is transcendant, and cosmologies in which the divine is immanent. There is a much greater basis for comparison of the differing views of the nature of God in Judaism, Christianity and Islam than there is between any of the above and Buddhism, Taoism, Shinto, Hinduism, the Yoruba pantheon, Lucumi, Vudu, various indigenous North American tribes’ conception of the Great Spirit, the Nahuatl pantheon, the ancient Celtic pantheon, La Vecchia Religione, various animist practices throughout the world (including within many of the above religions). There is also a profound difference between faiths that are State-centered (such as your mention of ancient Rome) and those that are not. Glossing over those differences does not promote mutual understanding.

    I appreciated Barry’s response because it highlighted how we find common ground with those we radically disagree with. We share grounding in our material world and in many of our collective human circumstances. That is the source of what is colloquially known as “the Golden Rule”.

  16. David Blankenhorn says:

    Thanks for the good post, Brad, and thanks to all for the good comments.

    With several others, I would point out that our choices in these matters are not limited, as Brad seems to suggest, to, on the one hand, saying that I somehow know the one true answer to every question, or on the other hand, saying I know nothing except my own selfish desire. Many thinkers over the centuries have argued that this dichotomy is a dangerously false one, and I agree with those thinkers.

    For example, I too am a believer in a group of ethicial ideas that I think could reasonably be called natural law. But my understanding of the precise content of such law, and my understanding of the grounding this law, is not the same, I think, as what Brad and Maggie are defending. But my inability to believe what they believe doesn’t mean that I don’t believe anything.

    Brad points to Dr. King as one who was not epistemologically modest, and that is fair enough. But that example does not prove the point, any more than me citing, say, bin Laden, who also spoke for God, proves the point. I don’t think that any one, or even two or three or four, historical examples can prove the larger point either way.

    To me, in my current thinking at least, here are the basic questions:

    1. Are there certain core questions about life?
    2. Can these questions be answered?
    3. Is there one true answer to every question?
    4. Do all of the true answers fit together into one harmonious whole?

    Traditional Christian natural law thinking boldly answers “Yes” to each these four questions; provides an extensive and highly detailed body of definitions and conclusions to give substance and specificity to that “Yes”; insists all that people who doubt or disbelieve these truths are objectively in error; and actively seeks to use or influence civil law and the power of the state, insofar as circumstances permit, to bring that highly detailed “Yes” to bear on all people in all places at all times.

    Now, as I see it, the difference between me and Brad is not who admires Dr. King, or the abolitionists; but instead, what are the best answers to these four questions; and then, derivatively, what are the social and poltical implications of one’s answers to these four questions.

    P.S. I think Maggie and I disagree about the founders, who in my mind were as a group were closer to Locke (and even Rawls) than to the Church on these matters, but that’s an argument for another day perhaps.

  17. Diane M says:

    @ Barry Deutsch – MLK Jr. was talking to a country that shared his religious background. When he appealed to God, it was an effective argument.

    MLK and Gandhi believed in objective truths about the world. I think modern liberals are often uncomfortable with that. However, profound social change comes from people who are willing to stick to a principle absolutely.

    The wonderful thing about MLK and Gandhi is that they believed in non-violent action. So although they were completely convinced that they were right, they had the humility to not use force against others – and they held the conviction that the force of truth/love/non-violence would win in the long run.

    This is one of those subjects that gets me going. MLK was a minister. The civil rights movement was run by the Southern Christian Leadership. People had mass meetings in churches. It was religious to its core. That’s history.

    Contemporary American thought includes a strand that is anti-religion, particularly religious organization, and I think it’s hard for some people to deal with the fact that one of our national heroes did what he did because of his Christian faith.

  18. Diane M says:

    @David Blankenhorn – I think that yes, there is one true answer to every question. There are many times when the circumstances change and so the answer is different, but if you have the exact same circumstances, you don’t shake the dice to decide if something is moral or immoral.

    I think the answers have to fit together in a harmonious whole or you’re reasoning badly.

    I also think there will be many questions that we can’t get the answer to.

  19. Maggie Gallagher says:

    Well, I’m certainly not attempting to deny the influence of Locke on the American Founding. I’m just saying this is not an example of epistomological humility:

    When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
    We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, 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 to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

  20. Schroeder says:

    Diane, “yes” to what you say. Thank you. I think there is an important and relevant difference between saying, 1.) “I believe that there is objective moral truth, but I freely admit that I don’t know all of the ins and outs of it,” 2.) “I believe that there is objective moral truth, and I know it all completely,” and 3.) “I don’t believe in objective moral truth.” I subscribe to 1.), and I think there are severe epistemological problems with 2.) and 3.) I would also add that I don’t think Christianity is at all incompatible with with 1.)

    David, I think that orthodox Christianity’s answers to the questions you propose is a lot more subtle than “yes.” They aren’t questions it’s possible to answer with “yes” or “no,” unless one is a fundamentalist Christian or a fundamentalist postmodernist.

    I’m going to quote Lincoln’s second inaugural address – not to suggest that you have to agree with him because he is Lincoln (I agree with your critique of the “Do you agree with MLK?” question, David), but because I think he has the right idea. My comments are in brackets.

    “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right [an acknowledgement that there is "right" and that we should be firm in it] as God gives us to see the right [an acknowledgement that we don't always know what the "right" is], let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations. [An acknowledgment that we are forced to act in the light we are given, even with insufficient knowledge.]“

  21. nobody.really says:

    To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law.

    No disrespect to MLK, Jr, but this is just sloppy. Honestly, it reads like something scribbled out in a jail cell or something. 

    Yes, Aquinas recognized eternal/natural law, and recognized violations of that law. But he also recognized adinventio, or positive law. This refers to man-made additions to natural law that do not contravene natural law. These laws are not rooted in eternal/natural law, yet are not unnecessary unjust. For example, in Summa Theologica 2.2, quaest. 66, art. 2 ad 1, Aquinas states that natural law governs the existence of property, but man-made, positive law governs how property gets distributed within a society:

    The possession of all things in common is ascribed to the natural law; not in the sense that the natural law dictates that all things should be possessed in common, and that nothing should be possessed as one’s own; but in the sense that no division of possessions is made by the natural law. This division arose from human agreement which belongs to the positive law…. Hence the ownership of possessions is not contrary to the natural law, but a super-addition (adinventio) thereto devised by human reason.

    Hooray for Aquinas, Redistributionist-in-Chief!

  22. La Lubu says:

    Question: is it sufficient that people of differing cosmologies and different means of relating to the multiverse find common ground in the material world and common human experiences, or is it necessary that all human beings recognize a universal source of truth that is separate and apart from the material world and common human experiences? If the latter, why?

  23. David Blankenhorn says:

    Schroeder: In my view, Lincoln supports my argument. You say “orthodox Christianity” in connection with his views, but Lincoln was by no means a conventionally religious man, much less an orthodox Christian. Far from it. And yet he said what he said, and there certainly is, in what he said, a kind of Biblically-informed natural law reasoning. But he was openly violating, not affirming, the Christian epistemological mainstream thinking of his day. (“The Almighty has his own purposes.”)

    More generally, I also meant to add, that in singling out classical and Catholic Christianity, I don’t mean to imply that that way of thinking is the only way that answers “Yes” to the four questions, and that views all disssent as objective error. Marxism does the same thing. There are strains of Muslim thought that do the same thing. There are some respects in which I think Freudianism does, or used to, do the same thing. And, to Maggie’s point, I agree that there is a kind of “new liberalism” that does the very same thing. My epistemological beef is with all of them, and for exactly the same reasons, not just with one or two of them.

  24. Amy Z says:

    Brad’s post made me think of St. Anselm who coined “faith seeking understanding.” He probably meant faith in a more volitional sense, whereas I see it as both volitional and epistemological. I understand faith through my Christian Lutheran theological lens, and that faith, the living of which I find to be grounded in the moral imperative of the Shema: Love God and love your neighbor, impels me to seek ways to better understand God and neighbor. Seeking understanding should not be limited to pondering and discussing the existence or know-ability of objective moral truth but I feel must include listening for overlooked and oppressed voices (liberation theology’s “preferential option for the poor” thrust, feminist theology’s reclamation of lost voices and stories), engaging in the work of the “public church” often called civil religion, and involve a nuanced and thoughtful lifelong dance between theory and practice. Granted I’ve been reading lots of Hans Jonas, Bonhoeffer and Kant of late so when I hear the phrase “objective moral truth” my mind strays to ontology—the mystery of createdness which in faith I claim as being in the “image of God” and which involves the deep intricacy of molecules and hormones, instincts and will. Kant’s ontology that is grounded in the relational definition of God as triune is compelling to me and thus as a human, to be is to be in relationship. Ergo to ask and ponder truth can only be done in and through relationship.

    And so here is where my tendency to be a visual thinker comes in. I tend to find that when discussions of moral truth arise it is as though the journey to or living that truth is a straight line, a one-way journey. Thus folks need to see the signs, the map, and get on board and start moving that direction. But modern science and hermeneutics and even social science and sacred texts (!) convince me that the expression of moral truth is prismatic and cumulative in ways that a black hole or Bell’s theorem mystify me, and that the journey forward (since life is lived chronologically with a definite end guaranteed) may be more paradoxical than logical.

    And I say all of this as someone preaches most Sundays and paradoxically speaks with great confidence in faith and that greater understanding of the world in which we live and concerted action to serve others will contribute to a vision of human flourishing defined by the kingdom of God that is, is not, and continues to break into our broken world, even in a blog comment section! Praise be to God!

  25. Schroeder says:

    You say “orthodox Christianity” in connection with his views, but Lincoln was by no means a conventionally religious man, much less an orthodox Christian. Far from it. And yet he said what he said, and there certainly is, in what he said, a kind of Biblically-informed natural law reasoning. But he was openly violating, not affirming, the Christian epistemological mainstream thinking of his day.

    To clarify, David, by placing my third and fourth paragraphs right after my second paragraph, I did not mean to imply that Lincoln was an orthodox Christian. I don’t know much about Lincoln’s religious beliefs, so I can’t speak into that. I also don’t know whether he openly violated “the Christian epistemological mainstream thinking of his day” or whether “the Christian epistemological mainstream thinking of his day” was orthodox.

    However, speaking only about the quote that I quoted, it is very much in line with orthodox Christian epistemology, as I understand it. So is the quote that you quote “The Almighty has his own purposes.” (In fact, the latter seems to be a, if not the, main point of the last few chapters of Job.) Just out of curiosity, Maggie or Brad, do you see any problem with David’s or my quotes by Lincoln?

    There are some beliefs that are essential to orthodox Christianity (just as there are things that are essential to triangles, horses, Buddhism, etc.), but they are, for the most part, matters of faith, not knowledge, so they don’t really fit in to a discussion of epistemology, which deals with knowledge, not faith. Knowledge, of course, is better than faith, but it’s hard – if not impossible – stuff to come by.

  26. Diane M., it is because almost all influential people in MLK’s society believed in God – or at least, could not openly state disbelief without risking social and professional consequences – that I doubt his argument from God was persuasive. God-fearing folks who disagreed with MLK’s policy views had literally hundreds of respectable religious leaders telling them that MLK was not only wrong, but that his views were despised by God.

    You point out that MLK “did what he did because of his Christian faith.” That’s true to some degree, but it is likewise true that Civil Rights opponents were driven by their Christian faith.

    What distinguished the Civil Rights supporters from opponents could not, logically, have been Christianity, because most people on both sides were Christians.

    * * *

    Karen, thanks for the link to that article. I found it very interesting.

    * * *

    La Lubu, I think your point about women and Natural Law is a good one, and I wish that some of the Natural Law supporters here would respond to it.

    My belief is that “Natural Law” – or, more accurately, what Natural Law supporters describe as Natural Law – is a moving target. At one time, religious pluralism was said to be against Natural Law. Today, perhaps because it’s no longer socially acceptable to imply that Jews are morally deficient creatures compared to Christians, Natural Law is no longer described as against religious pluralism. Natural Law was once cited to support (and also to oppose) race-based slavery; now almost everyone who believes in Natural Law says it obviously conflicts with both racism and slavery. I think that in time, if anti-sexism and anti-homophobia become more mainstream views, Natural Law advocates will shift again and begin saying that Natural Law is clearly against sexism and homophobia.

    But of course, it’s easy for me to say that, since I don’t believe in Natural Law. For those who do believe in Natural Law, how do you account for the fact that what the Natural Law is believed to say has shifted over time? More important, if in the past, people who were just as smart and pious as any of us had good-faith but mistaken beliefs about what Natural Law calls for, then how can you believe that your beliefs about what Natural Law calls for are correct?

    * * *

    Maggie, the Declaration of Independence may not be a model of epistomological humility, but this is:

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.

    I’d also question whether the society set forth by the founding fathers has actually survived 200 years. The ending of slavery, and the expansion of the vote beyond white men, are changes profound enough to call into question whether or not we can really call the societies before and after those changes “the same” society.

    * * *

    Schroeder and Brad, I apologize for not responding to you now. I intend to respond, but I have a doctors appointment. I will ask my doctor if she believes in objective morality, however.

  27. La Lubu says:

    Thanks, Barry. I think your teasing out of the conflation of Natural Law with eternal truth is a good one, too. I’d like to hear the answer to that one, and I’m still waiting on any of the supporters of Objective Moral Truth to clarify if by “objective”, they mean verifiable in the material world and/or common human experience.

  28. Kevin says:

    Also good to distinguish between empirical, verifiable Truth, and doctrinal truth(s), such as religious beliefs.

  29. Matthew Kaal says:

    La Lubu,

    is it sufficient that people of differing cosmologies and different means of relating to the multiverse find common ground in the material world and common human experiences, or is it necessary that all human beings recognize a universal source of truth that is separate and apart from the material world and common human experiences? If the latter, why?

    Well, I don’t think separating “a universal source of truth” from “the material world and common human experiences” is a good way of framing the debate, because many religious and philosophical systems don’t neatly separate the two. Christianity, for instance, roots its central, essential redemption narrative in the temporal and material world through the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection. Christianity claims that these are not metaphorical happenings, but rather historical events with real implications for the material world and human experience. I am not well versed in Paganism, but I suspect such a distinction isn’t made there either.

    To attempt to answer your question, I think the central truth claims being made will greatly influence if they need to be universally addressed. In a system like Christianity, which is making universal truth claims about the material world and human experience [summarized as "there is a universal need for redemption, and that redemption comes through Christ's atoning sacrifice"] the claim being made apply equally to everyone.

    If that claim is true, it applies just as much to you as to me and we both need to grapple with its implications for our lives. It is the sort of claim that is making a personal demand on each of us; it is audacious, and it deserves to be taken seriously and either flatly rejected or accepted – it can’t be easily shuffled aside and accommodated, at least not without watering down its truth claims until they become moral platitudes. For better or for worse it doesn’t play nicely with other systems, and is always trying to assert supremacy and privilege (claiming the truth), even within pluralist situations and societies. A system like liberalism doesn’t know how to cope with that, which is at the root of many contemporary civil controversies.

    Epistemologically, we can’t know with certainty many of the premises a system like Christianity is based upon (we rely on ancient accounts in literature, systems of doctrine from authorities we either trust or don’t trust, our own perception of how ‘being a Christian’ changes the way people live there lives, and for those of us who believe in the spiritual, we also may or may not believe that a spirit is working to make belief and faith possible). I cannot say I know the gospel is true with epistemological certainty. I can say I believe it is true. Every journey of belief (and unbelief) is different, and will be the product of an individual’s right reason, experience, and spiritual journey. Belief cannot, by definition, be compelled; it is totally within the realm of an individual’s personal agency. Our experiences and backgrounds will shape the way we engage truth claims, but ultimately we are free to accept and reject as we see right – this gets to the Lincoln quote Schroeder posted. Our journey’s lead us to different places – Christianity, Paganism, Atheism, Islam, Buddhism and so on…

    If we are devout in these differing beliefs, there is a scary reality that we cannot all be right based on the claims we are making. Some of us are wrong. Humility in this realm is the recognition that wise, intelligent, and good people have answered these questions differently. Humility recognizes that these are difficult questions, and the answers are never simple. Yet we are called to answer them as best we can.

    What is important is that when a system makes the truth claims of the sort Christianity is making, how one decides (belief or unbelief) does actually matter if those truth claims turn out to be true. So grappling with these questions is the central intellectual pursuit of the human experience, because everything may weigh in the balance.

    At a certain level, our various systems of belief will allow us to find commonality with each other. For instance, it is generally accepted that murder is morally wrong – even though the “why” varies based on beliefs. Similarly, the concepts of agency and humility are affirmed by many belief systems, making it possible for most of us to have these conversations without being totally dismissive of each others’ experiences and views (even if we all often fail to communicate in ways that affirm the dignity of others while disagreeing). Our commonalities make it possible for us to be in community and to build peaceful and mutually beneficial relationships with each other in our day to day lives; they are sufficient in that sense. However, our differences matter from a teleological perspective, and depending on which claims are true at the end – they will matter a great deal – which is why we owe it to ourselves to be constantly evaluating our own beliefs and the claims of others in the pursuit of truth.

  30. Diane M says:

    @Barry Deutsch – “it is because almost all influential people in MLK’s society believed in God – or at least, could not openly state disbelief without risking social and professional consequences – that I doubt his argument from God was persuasive.”

    I think you’re missing something big here. A religious person hearing that God supported segregation could definitely be influenced by an argument that in Christ there is no East or West. In fact, to the extent that someone was affected by religious arguments against integration, they would absolutely need to hear religious arguments for it.

    In addition, although he argued against segregation on many fronts, I don’t think you can always completely separate religious moral beliefs and other moral beliefs. Talking about how segregation violates human dignity connects to beliefs that you should treat people in a way that gives them dignity. Talking about the rights of the Constitution gets back to the ideas of natural rights based on a Creator.

    (And thank heavens the founding fathers believed in natural rights, even their limited white male version – that’s how we ended up with more rights for all of us eventually.)

    When I hear them, MLK’s religious arguments are more powerful than his other arguments. One’s religious values are more basic than anything else. It’s more important than loyalty to the state, etc.

    One of the great things about MLK is that he looks at the civil law and says there’s a higher law we need to obey. That was something that carried the civil rights movement through being jailed and beaten.

    “You point out that MLK “did what he did because of his Christian faith.” That’s true to some degree, but it is likewise true that Civil Rights opponents were driven by their Christian faith.”

    I don’t think there’s any degree about it. If you read MLK, his Christian faith was the most important thing in his life to him. It was what guided him and inspired him and strengthened him. It’s in his speeches, it’s on his gravestone, it’s what he sang about.

    There is a difficult truth that sometimes people will do wrong in the name of their religion. I think we can actually evaluate which actions were being done most in line with the teachings of Jesus or Buddha. So I would say that the segregationists might believe they were defending Christianity, but they really weren’t. They had other motives involved.

    I think if you start with the idea that religion is all not-true (I think you said you were an atheist), then you see things differently than if you start with the idea that religion is based on truth, even if religious people are often wrong. So for someone who believes in God or a Force of the Universe, you can look at whether or not someone who claims to be following religion is in line with God or not. There can be two competing parties claiming to follow God without it meaning that both are equally right in terms of religion.

  31. Billy says:

    Barry and La Lubu and David have made compelling comments about Martin Luther King’s great Letter and why Wilcox’s account of it is distorting in crucial ways. The recent outrage on the religious right over Pastor Louie Giglio’s withdrawal (or removal) from the Inaugural platform raises similar issues, particularly their claim that they are being persecuted for their moral beliefs, etc.

    The problem of relying on “moral belief” or religious teaching or the Bible is that they are all subject to challenge and to different interpretations. In the Giglio case, the right-wing bloggers are saying that the Bible is crystal clear that homosexuality is wrong and that Giglio should not be penalized for accepting biblical “truth.”

    But biblical “truth” is not clear. The bible says all sorts of nutty things that are mostly disregarded even by those who profess that it is inerrant. It says, for example, that people who do not keep the Sabbath are going to hell and that fornicators are going to hell and that “If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved off, she should cover her head” and that “Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says.”

    In addition, the Bible clearly endorses the institution of slavery, as in Ephesians 6: 5-9: “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ…”

    In the Civil War era, many Christians defended slavery with those very passages. In the segregation era, many Christians found biblical passages and analogies to defend the separation of the races.

    A lot of the people who fought the Civil Rights movement denied that they were motivated by animus. They professed, at any rate, that the laws mandating “separate but equal” treatment of the races were perfectly moral and just, rooted both in eternal law and natural law.

    In fact, many of the proponents of segregation made arguments very similar to those arguments currently being made about how the denial of equal marriage rights is “rooted both in eternal law and natural law.” Those arguments are just as wrong when they are applied to marriage equality as they were when applied to segregation.

  32. La Lubu says:

    Matthew, correct me I’m wrong, but I hear you as saying that while we can find common ground in the material world and common human experiences, it is not sufficient to find our common ground solely in those realms. That as long as people find sustenance in transcendant, unverifiable truths, it is contingent upon people to press for the adoption or refutation of those transcendant, unverifiable truths (as the case may be). Did I read you right, and if not, where did I go wrong?

    (Because when I’m thinking of truths in the material world, I’m thinking of thinngs like “the sun always rises in the east” because the planet always spins in the same direction, and truths of human experience things like “everyone dies”. Things that no reasonable person can disagree on.)

  33. Diane M says:

    @Billy “Barry and La Lubu and David have made compelling comments about Martin Luther King’s great Letter and why Wilcox’s account of it is distorting in crucial ways.”

    I am honestly puzzled by this. Where do you think Wilcox distorts what MLK says? MLK is appealing to ultimate truths. He believed in them.

    And I should add, he is writing the letter to fellow clergyman. So it would be just plain weird if he didn’t use religious arguments as the basis and most important part of what he was saying.

    In fact, the letter has some even more religious parts:
    “I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.”

    I think that MLK was what he was – a Southern Baptist preacher who lived out his values in an inspiring way.

    This is a different issue from whether or not we should appeal to religion in arguments about civil law and marriage.

    I think Wilcox’s point is that MLK believed in ultimate absolute truths. I think he was right on that.

    You can go on and argue for same sex marriage based on belief in Truth. It’s a separate question.

    (And I don’t want to go too far out on this tangent, but I think everyone believes in some absolute truths they can’t prove – things like people should be free and equal or the truth matters.)

  34. David Blankenhorn says:

    Schroeder:

    According to my understanding, in 1860-1865, the conventional Christian view in the north would have been that God and God’s law and the Christian religion all point to the clear objective truth that the northern cause in the war is just and in keeping with God’s will; and that the conventional Christian view in the south would have been that God and God’s law and the Christian religion all point to the clear objective truth that the southern cause in the war is just and in keeping with God’s will. So when Lincoln said, “The Almighty has his own purposes,” he was explicitly repudiating the absolute truth-claims of both the north and the south.

    Which, in my view, is why we remember that speech with awe and reverence, and why alternatively, the thousands upon thousands of sermons and tracts, from both north and south, which made the objective truth claims that Lincoln rejects are now little noted and not long remembered.

    And which is also, in my view, strong evidence against the suggestion that a person who rejects such truth claims is someone who does not, or logically cannot, believe in anything, or at least believe in anything strongly enough to pay a high price for it. Whatever else one wants to say about Lincoln, he did believe in something for which he was willing to and did pay a high price.

  35. Billy says:

    Diane, I am not denying that MLK was religious and makes religious arguments. Clearly, he does, though not exclusively. I am also not denying that, although MLK was not himself Roman Catholic, he also invokes “Natural Law.” He was, after all, educated at a Catholic university.

    What I am denying is that such appeals are as simple and unambiguous as Wilcox seems to suggest. I am also aware that Wilcox is a fervent opponent of same-sex marriage and has participated in the defaming of gay families that is embodied in the infamous Regnerus study. Thus, I am very suspicious of attempts by him to place the Letter from Birmingham Jail within the same Roman Catholic worldview that is evoked by the opponents of marriage equality.

    I agree with the qualifications pointed out chiefly by Barry, La Lubu, and David Blankenhorn.

  36. Schroeder says:

    Also good to distinguish between empirical, verifiable Truth, and doctrinal truth(s), such as religious beliefs.

    Kevin, I think that this statement is really revealing of the heart of the disagreement. Let me be clear, Christians in my tradition do not distinguish between “empirical, verifiable Truth, and doctrinal truth(s)” (as Matt indicates, above).

    There is some ambiguity in what you say, though. What do you mean by “empirical, verifiable Truth?”

    Let’s take a test case:

    For the sake of argument, say we live 100 years in the future, when everyone associated with the first moon landing is dead. Is the moon landing an example of “empirical, verifiable Truth,” or not?

    If you say, “No, because no one is alive who witnessed it, and the documents we have attesting to it could be falsified or mistaken,” then, based on that definition, I would say that something like the resurrection is not empirical, verifiable truth.

    If you say, “Yes, because, even though no one is alive who witnessed it, it was a historical event and we have good evidence for it,” then, based on that definition, I would say that something like the resurrection is empirical, verifiable truth, because I believe that it actually happened.

    when I’m thinking of truths in the material world, I’m thinking of things like “the sun always rises in the east” because the planet always spins in the same direction, and truths of human experience things like “everyone dies”. Things that no reasonable person can disagree on.

    What makes “the sun always rises in the east” and “everyone dies” true, is not that “no reasonable person can disagree on” them. They are true because they are consistent with reality. Christians believe that their religion is consistent with reality (which, of course, you disagree on, which is fine). (Also, I would add that induction is such a weak tool, epistemelogically, that it is not as easy to prove as you might think that “people die.” All of the evidence that “people die,” could just be evidence that, “on or before January 14, 2013, people die.” The evidence for both of these propositions would look exactly the same up til now.)

  37. Matthew Kaal says:

    La Lubu,

    Sufficient for what? To run a society…maybe? To get along with out killing each other…probably? But does the ultimate good of man consist simply in co-existence? Not sure, but hesitant.

    Systems like Christianity (and probably Paganism) are making claims about the material world that matter for everyone if they are true. We can find common ground in things like the sun rising, gravity, the Cleveland Browns having a losing season, and our mortality (although even these are not perfectly verifiable, the sun might not rise one day, gravity might be relative, we might be able to engineer immortality, the original Browns might move to Baltimore and not be awful anymore…(too soon?)) – but if a question like “what is the meaning of life” or “what is the good of man” has material significance (which I believe that most people believe it does), then it bears to reason that how we answer that sets us apart from each other and creates an intellectual tension that must be worked through.

    And if one group is confident that they have discovered the truth – and it has serious implications for them and everyone else – they may believe they have a moral obligation to share that truth with everyone else.

    When they are unwilling to abide any dissent from belief and adherence, they become fundamentalists who cannot have meaningful discussions about their beliefs. They do practical damage to their cause by victimizing the dissenters and creating enmity.

    Conversely, if such a group recognizes personal agency and humility, it is possible for them to present their truth without militantly forcing it upon others; the outcome is recognized to be in the hands of the listener (and in some traditions in the co-actions of the listener and an animating spirity). The truth still has consequences, but the ultimate recourse for the believer becomes the practical living out of the believed truth – in prayer, charity, love…so forth…to best express the truth within the material world.

  38. Matthew Kaal says:

    note: when I use the phrase “their truth” in the first sentence of the last paragraph, I should have said “what they believe to be true.” Truth, by definition, cannot be divided up into oppositional groupings – it either is or isn’t. A group either believes something that is truth or they believe some untruth.

  39. Schroeder says:

    The conventional Christian view in the north would have been that God and God’s law and the Christian religion all point to the clear objective truth that the northern cause in the war is just and in keeping with God’s will; and that the conventional Christian view in the south would have been that God and God’s law and the Christian religion all point to the clear objective truth that the southern cause in the war is just and in keeping with God’s will.

    David, I’ll just say this: “conventional” does not equal “orthodox.” The orthodox “answer” to the question of “Who does God favor in such and such war?” is “I have no idea! Why are you even asking that?!” To say more is borderline blasphemous.

    Lincoln’s response (“The Almighty has his own purposes”) is the orthodox one. He is just pitting good theology against bad theology. And it was probably rooted in Lincoln’s belief that slavery is an objective moral evil.

    (I’m not sure if Lincoln ever calls slavery an “objective moral evil,” but he does call it a “great moral wrong,” which, in my view, comes down to the same thing.)

  40. Diane M says:

    “What I am denying is that such appeals are as simple and unambiguous as Wilcox seems to suggest.”

    What do you mean? It seems fairly unambiguous to me. The other ministers are concerned about his course of action, going to Birmingham and breaking the law. He explains why it is the right thing to do. The part about law is essentially a theological argument – you should obey the law, except when it goes against God’s law and is unjust.

    Also what exactly do you think Wilcox is suggesting about King and why is it wrong?

    “I am also aware that Wilcox is a fervent opponent of same-sex marriage and has participated in the defaming of gay families that is embodied in the infamous Regnerus study. Thus, I am very suspicious of attempts by him to place the Letter from Birmingham Jail within the same Roman Catholic worldview that is evoked by the opponents of marriage equality.”

    I think it’s good to try to step back from who is saying something to look at what they are saying. If the argument is about whether there is or is not an absolute truth, it’s fair to use King as an example of someone who thought that there was.

    What you think about the existence of objective truth doesn’t determine what you think about same sex marriage or most other actual question.

    And I strongly suspect that you think there are objective truths that justify same sex marriage – things like we shouldn’t discriminate against LBGT people or people should be equal.

  41. Kevin says:

    “….he also invokes “Natural Law.”….

    Invoking “Natural Law” is a tactic designed to strengthen a (probably weak) argument: it sounds like something occurs in nature, beyond the influence of humans, and is therefore powerful and irrefutable, and untainted by human frailty. It sounds authoritative.

    Schroeder, there are people who doubt that the moon landing occurred TODAY; there’s no need to wait 100 years, when all the people associated with it are dead.

    Truth doesn’t exist in a vacuum, so if something is true, there should be ripple effects. Other, related things, should be true. And there should be evidence of the truth. In the moon landing case, if there are museums with moon rocks, videos of men planting a flag on the moon, proof of landings on other planets, etc., then the moon landing acquires the necessary gravity, so to speak, to become a truth: it’s plausible and there’s actual evidence of it.

  42. Diane M says:

    “According to my understanding, in 1860-1865, the conventional Christian view in the north would have been that God and God’s law and the Christian religion all point to the clear objective truth that the northern cause in the war is just and in keeping with God’s will; and that the conventional Christian view in the south would have been that God and God’s law and the Christian religion all point to the clear objective truth that the southern cause in the war is just and in keeping with God’s will.”

    But I think this overlooks two important things about religious arguments:

    1. Some of them are better than others, just as when you have two people arguing that science proves opposite claims. So in the case of slavery, you can argue that some truths in the Bible (or any religious text) are more essential than others. Christ tells his followers what the two most important commandments are – and holding slaves doesn’t fit with loving your neighbor as yourself.

    2. People arguing within a religious context sometimes change each other’s minds. For example, Quakers long before the Civil War owned slaves. Some Quaker became concerned that this was wrong and convinced the others to give up their slaves. (This process did not take place overnight, to put it mildly.) The arguments they used to get to this were religious.

  43. Bregalad says:

    “The will of God prevails. In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be, wrong. God cannot be for and against the same thing at the same time.”
    -Lincoln Diary, September, 1862, Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln

    When a pious minister told Lincoln he “hoped the Lord is on our side,” the president responded, “I am not at all concerned about that…. But it is my constant anxiety and prayer that I and this nation should be on the Lord’s side.”
    -Carpenter, F.B. (1866). Six Months at the White House. p. 282.

  44. Diane M says:

    @Kevin – “In the moon landing case, if there are museums with moon rocks, videos of men planting a flag on the moon, proof of landings on other planets, etc., then the moon landing acquires the necessary gravity, so to speak, to become a truth: it’s plausible and there’s actual evidence of it.”

    That’s what makes people who don’t believe in the moon landing foolish. But 100 years from now, or 200, there might not be as much physical evidence.

  45. David Blankenhorn says:

    Schroeder:

    With respect, I think that you may be defining “orthodox” in this case mainly as “what I think.”

    I can’t know this for certain, but I’m fairly sure, that if you and I could agree on who in 1860-1865 most vividly respresented institutionally and intellectually what was “orthodox” in American Christianity, and we could somehow put all of these agreed-upon representatives of orthodoxy in one room, and we then asked them, “Are you certain beyond any doubt which side God favors in this war?”, an overwhelming majority — north and south — would say “Yes” and only a small minority would say “No.”

  46. Schroeder says:

    That’s what makes people who don’t believe in the moon landing foolish. But 100 years from now, or 200, there might not be as much physical evidence.

    Exactly, Diane, and I would add, Kevin, that in a million years, there will likely be zero evidence that the moon landing occurred, but that does not at all diminish it’s standing as truth.

    Also, I think you’re confusing the effects of truth (“ripples”) with the causes. In other words, things are not true because they have ripples. The moon landing did not “[acquire] the necessary gravity… to become a truth.” Rather things have ripples because they are true. You have it backward.

  47. Billy says:

    Diane, you are simply begging the question when you say that in terms of religious arguments, some are better than others. Yes. Which is why arguing from the Catholic version of “Natural Law” is not a good way of arguing, since, as has been pointed out above, the argument keeps changing.

    It embodies a very selective and loaded view of what constitutes “Nature.” Although it pretends to be secular or “natural,” Natual Law is ultimately grounded in the presupposition that nature has an ethical purpose or intention that is identical with the purposes and intentions of the Christian God. Hence, natural law is dependent on circular reasoning; it discovers in nature what its adherents already believe is the intention of the Christian God.

    No serious scientist or student of nature believes in “natural law.” It is simply a religious belief designed to impose religious ideas on people. Sometimes the ideas are good, as when it is used to argue against the injustice of segregation; sometimes the ideas are harmful, as when it is used to build an argument against equal rights for homosexuals.

    It proves nothing.

  48. La Lubu says:

    Re: moon landing as a verifiable truth: for the moon landing, we can at least prove the possibility of its truth by building another spacecraft and flying there, if the documentation and physical artifacts of the moon landing does not suffice. The same cannot be said of spiritual beliefs (whether mine or yours); those are internal, not external. We cannot build a craft to any before- or afterlife.

    Matthew, while both Christians and Pagans believe in certain material, easily verifiable truths, we differ greatly on the role of religion/the sacred and how one discovers or approaches the sacred. Paganism doesn’t have a One Truth nor does it have One Way to find truth. We don’t have a scripture. We don’t have an intermediary between ourselves and the sacred. Not all Pagans believe in a deity or deities, and certainly not in the manner conceptualized by Christianity. The sacred is immanent, recognizable in the circle of life and flow of the seasons. We don’t proselytize, because there is no need. There is no punishment for those who aren’t Pagan; neither is there any “ultimate reward” (other than the intrinsic reward one experiences for following the truth as they experience it) for being Pagan (translation: no Heaven or Hell). There is no role for proselytizing in Paganism. Paganism is experiential, not scriptural or doctrinal.

    Anyway. I believe our common ground in material, verifiable truth and our common human experience is sufficient both for the successful running of a pluralistic democratic society and for any and all ultimate-good-of-humankind. I’m not hesitant about that. Coexistance, and leaving it at that, is our only hope for the survival of humanity.

  49. Schroeder says:

    David,

    Here is what the dictionary says about “orthodox:”

    “1. of, pertaining to, or conforming to the approved form of any doctrine, philosophy, ideology, etc.
    2. of, pertaining to, or conforming to beliefs, attitudes, or modes of conduct that are generally approved.
    3. customary or conventional, as a means or method; established.
    4. sound or correct in opinion or doctrine, especially theological or religious doctrine.
    5. conforming to the Christian faith as represented in the creeds of the early church.”

    When I say “Christian orthodoxy,” I mean definition five, primarily – and, just a little bit (but only based on my understanding) – definitions one and four. But primarily definition five. I think you mean definitions two or three, which I emphatically do not mean, so maybe that’s why we’re talking past each other.

    The early Christian creeds do not mention the Civil War (or any war), so the orthodox Christian response to “Who does God favor in such and such war?” is “I don’t know.”

    (Also, even in the creeds, I am called to have faith, not to assert knowledge. They begin “We believe” for a reason.)

  50. La Lubu says:

    Also: it is misleading (to say the least) that Natural Law is what led to women and other historically disparaged groups gaining human rights previously withheld and unrecognized. It would be more accurate to say that refutations of Natural Law made room for greater equality. The germination of the seeds of equality is historically recent, and only within the past hundred years or less have such seeds borne fruit in a way to making a difference in the everyday lives of marginalized people. Constrast that with how Natural Law has produced a veritable Old Growth Forest of racism and sexism over its tenure.