[Contents] [About the Participants] [Opening Statement by Ed Buckner] [Opening Statement by John Rankin][Dialog] [Questions from the Audience] [Closing Statements]
[Return to Mars Hill Forum]
 
Is the United States a Christian Nation?
Should It Be?
 
Questions from the Audience
QUESTIONER:
Hi, my name is Jim. You guys are both excellent. It seems like you have a lot of overlap in what you believe -- this wasn't explicitly a Christian nation, but there was strong Christian influence. I think you both agree on that. I'm wondering what are the practical implications now. OK, we're here in the year 2002. I'd like to know where your view of this leads you. For instance, John, what would you codify into law? Would you now bring Christian ethics more? Would you re-institute laws against fornication, adultery, homosexuality? Ed, what would you like to see? Would you like to see prostitution legalized? Would you like to see homosexual marriages allowed? Where do you guys diverge now? What you like to see in law? Where would you bring this?

ED:
It's a great question.

JOHN:
It's an excellent question, and I'll go first since you asked me, Jim. Some of you are aware that I am lobbying the legislature right now to stop the possibility of same-sex marriage. I've written all 187 legislators twice now. I've heard from a couple dozen, and progress is going excellently in terms of stopping same-sex marriage. And the way I'm doing it is I'm saying that unalienable rights come from the God of the Bible, and the God of the Bible says one man, one woman, one lifetime. And that if we are to allow same-sex marriage, we then have to come up with a new source of rights. And this is the argument I'm presenting to legislators. I've had some delightful response in the process.

The second initiative I have is a non-binding resolution I would like to see the legislature vote on called "Human Sexuality and Civil Rights." And basically what that does is it says every person, as a person, has unalienable rights. Marriage is the historic foundation for healthy society. There are those who live outside marriage. Marriage between a man and woman should be protected, but those heterosexually or homosexually are free to live outside of marriage if they want to in private consenting relationships. Therefore, no anti-sodomy laws. However, the conclusion is that all people, all people must honor the life, liberty and property of others. What this means is you have a libertarian ethos that says the government is not interested in policing your private relationships. However, the moment they become public and you deprive someone of life, liberty or property, then you are accountable to public laws. Rape does it; no-fault divorce does it; prostitution does it; pornography does it; pedophilia/pederasty also do it. And so basically it's giving freedom for choice between adults that doesn't injure somebody else and a public consequence. And this is translating theocracy into non-theocracy, which I could explain in great detail, but that's the conclusion of how I would do that.

The final observation here is in all I do - protecting the unborn, seeking to do that as well - I'm always going to appeal to the source of unalienable rights. And also, the passionate conviction that we win by persuasion, not imposition. In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court imposed false definitions that legalized human abortion. It was not voted on. I don't want to re-impose what I think is a true definition. We need to win the hearts and minds of the nation. And to do so, we have to minister to the brokenness that leads to bad laws like this. And as a Christian I'm utterly free. If I win or lose the political debate, that's secondary to the fact of the Kingdom of God which is my identity and my home.

ED:
Well to start with, I think John should continue to have the right to send letters to all the legislators. But I don't think that legislation should be passed based only on religious ideas. Certainly I was a little flippant about him writing the letters. I expect and understand that every citizen will make decisions about what kinds of things they want to lobby for or against, based on their belief systems. And so I expect that Christian legislators and Christian voters will have an impact on what legislation we get. But the legislation that they pass, in order to be constitutional, in order to be consistent with our religiously neutral government, has to have grounds and basis that is not only or strictly religious. It has to have some other basis for that. It's not that Christian legislators or Christian voters should leave their religion out of it. They're not going to even if we tried to get them to. I don't think they should be asked to. But it's never sufficient. You can't say, "well it says in the Bible…." And even if you can show me clearly (I think the Bible is a lot more ambiguous than John thinks it is), even if you can show me clearly that a biblical principle is such and such, that's not sufficient. There has to be other grounds.

To give you specific examples, I'm certainly in favor of…. John and I have lots more debates that we need to have. Because he and I disagree on abortion, disagree on same-sex marriages. We disagree on a variety of other things. I think that most of the opposition to granting gays and lesbians equal rights (and that's what I would call them, equal rights, not special rights), is in fact religiously based, and that's one of the reasons I'm opposed to it. We could get into long debates on all those things. The answer to your specific question is that I think we have a religiously-neutral government, and that it should continue to be a religiously-neutral government. I think that it has had impact on lots of different things. There are all sorts of myths on it. There's this myth that the Supreme Court took away kid's rights to pray in school. It never did any such thing. They never made any kind of ruling that said children can't pray in school. The old saw that I hear preachers say all the time, "As long as there are math tests, there will be prayer in school." And I think that may be true. The rights of every individual, student and teacher, to exercise and believe as they wish should not be interfered with, and the courts have not made any attempt to interfere. The only thing they have restricted is the right to impose your religion on someone else, or to give the appearance of having the government endorsing a religious view by having a prayer before school that implies that the correct or the moral or the appropriate thing to do is to pray to one or another deity. That should be a private matter. Everybody should have the power to do that anytime they want to, including in school, as long as they don't interfere with the functioning of the school. But they don't have the right to impose it on others. I don't know if I answered your question or not.

QUESTIONER:
Hi, my name is Jim. My question I guess is mainly directed to you, John. I think you both did an excellent job in presenting your viewpoints. The problem I had was you keep referring to the Creator, or your God, as the source of unalienable rights, and the source of unalienable rights as the philosophical basis of the Declaration of Independence. Now what I learned back in High School is that when they referred to the Creator -- it wasn't simply from one history instructor, it was actually a couple - when they referred to the Creator, it was simply a convention of the time much like "in the year of our Lord." So I want to know on what basis other than your interpretation, what factual basis that you interpret it that way?

JOHN:
Well, I think that's a good question. Another question is what is a "convention of the time"? With the phrase "convention of the time" do we short sell the historical assumptions of those who agree with Jefferson's language? If you look at the signers of the Declaration, they were overwhelmingly biblically-convinced Protestant Christians. This was in a country that was growing in religious liberty. They are tracing themselves back to the Reformation. And so if you look at all the scholars that will tell you about to whom they were referring, the Creator. You can say, well, a convention they were referring. But look at it deeply. They had to come up - and Jefferson's the one who gave us the language in terms of writing the actual words - but they had to come up with an authority greater than King George III. So it wasn't just a convention of the time. You see, what's so powerful about those who signed the Declaration, was unlike so many other revolutions, they wanted a moral basis in the sight of God for what they thought was covenant breaking. Why was that? Because they understood the biblical God who kept covenant, and kings were supposed to keep covenant biblically. The divine right of kings is a post-biblical idea against which they were rebelling. So in that context they were seeking to have moral authority. So when they said "the Creator" and "nature's God," it was far more than a "convention of the time," it was conviction. And there is no other Creator to whom they were referring. That's historically, inescapably the case.

ED:
Well, you won't be surprised to hear I disagree, somewhat. I do agree that it's not just a matter of the "convention of the time." The Declaration of Independence was in fact a revolutionary document. It was a break with the past. A very strong break. One of the ways that it broke with the past, especially the Judeo-Christian past, was to refer to "the consent of the governed." It certainly did have some allusions to a god. Jefferson certainly was a believer in some sort of a god. Not a Christian God, he was very explicit about that. Of course there were Christian influences, but it's an insult to the framers and to the signers of the Declaration of Independence to say that they meant for that to be a document that was rooted in Christianity. They didn't say so. They could have. There was no reason why they couldn't. Same thing goes for the Constitution. They chose not to. They were explicit about that. John Adams, as I said in his defense of the Constitution, the one referring to the Declaration particularly, was explicit about this notion that this was not a religious-based government that they were establishing. That's why the Treaty of Tripoli in its language is important. The Treaty has long since been overturned. It wasn't very effective anyway. We went to war with Tripoli a few years later. But the sense of the founders, and I would believe this was correct even if it wasn't what the founders wanted, was that our government (the federal government, they weren't talking about the state government at the time - we can get into that conversation if you like), the federal government should be neutral with respect to religion. There were some exceptions like chaplains in Congress that came before the Constitution. Oo, I'd like to talk some more about that. But we'd better let more questioners come in.

QUESTIONER:
I appreciate the civil exchange of diverging ideas, and you folks have both done a great job doing that. My name's Bob by the way. I have a couple of quick questions that I'd like to direct to Ed that really shouldn't require elaborate answers. And then I have kind of a larger philosophical question that I'd like both of you to comment on if you would. Do you, Ed, ascribe to any transcendent truth at all?

ED:
No.

QUESTIONER:
To what do you place your faith or hope that this free society that we enjoy here in America will abide?

ED:
Well, it's a good question. And it relates of course to the thing that John's been talking about. What's the source of these unalienable rights. It is a social contract which exists as long as we think it exists. And when we stop thinking it exists it'll quit existing. And there aren't any gods to keep it in place. It's only up to us human beings. It is in all of our best interests to understand that even though we're sure we're right about religion, liberty demands that we allow other people to be sure they're right, and to not impose religious ideas on each other. And that includes atheism. I know of course that there are historical examples where atheism has been imposed on people, and it's been a terribly destructive and dangerous thing. Just as it is terribly dangerous and destructive to impose Christianity or Islam or any other religion on citizens. What's my hope for the future? My hope is that we will all keep believing in unalienable rights that John and many of you will believe in it as something that came from God. That secular humanists like me will believe that it didn't come from God, but it's still awfully important, because it works, it protects liberty for all of us. It protects not just liberty, but our ability to progress and to stay at peace and not kill each other off.

JOHN:
If I could just give a quick addition to that. The question I would ask Ed is, why does it work? In other words, if there is no transcendent power, then might makes right if people aren't satisfied with what the consent of the governed gives to them, and they have the might to impose their right. What happens is that when we do not have a transcendent power to whom we're all accountable, then it becomes a free-for-all. My assumption would be from your perspective that it so happens the free-for-all is working OK right now in this country. But history gives us no guarantee it will continue to work that way. So the real contrast in terms of what works, is since I assume that we're all made in God's image, it works because it produces the best possibility for peace, order, stability and hope, short of the second coming of Jesus. If we are the by-products of a cosmos that doesn't know we exist, then freedom is no better than slavery -- other than your opinion, with which I agree it is better, but there's no reason it has to be.

ED:
There's no reason it has to be. I don't think might makes right. I think might makes might.

JOHN:
The right in terms of those who have the might.

ED:
I believe that those who have the power will win. I don't think they will necessarily be right. I don't believe that that proves that that's truth.

JOHN:
But what is right with no transcendent source? Isn't right just the opinion of who has the power?

ED:
No.

JOHN:
Why not? Your opinion might be different than a tyrant's opinion, and he's just as much a product of evolution as you are.

ED:
Do you want an answer? I'll give you one.

JOHN:
OK.

ED:
It probably won't be one that will satisfy you, and I understand that. It would be a wonderful thing, in my opinion, if we could all believe in the same transcendent reality, and that that could be the source for our respecting each other and not trampling on each other's rights and so forth. In one sense that would be a wonderful thing. But that doesn't make it true. That makes it useful, but not true. In fact, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin and John Adams - and this is one of the reasons that it's hard to piece out what their religious views are - all believed that religion for the masses was a good thing. They believed that the poor schmucks who were doing all the work in the country, that the whole country was better off, if people believed this. They didn't present that as a reason why religion was true, just why it was useful. Do I think there is a transcendent reason? No, I don't. But do I think it matters? Yes, of course. You understand, you're looking at somebody who thinks this is the only life I've got. There isn't another reality. There isn't anybody or anything that's going to come along and save me or my son or my wife, the things I care about, except human beings. They're not guaranteed to. I certainly agree with John that it's not guaranteed. It's not guaranteed if everybody believes in God, either. If the World Trade Center attack doesn't show you that, I don't know what would. Belief in God is not sufficient, and it's not necessary. It can be helpful if everybody has the same belief, but they don't. It's not just Islam versus Christianity, it's Christian versus Christian. Christians don't agree on a lot of the things John and I don't agree on. Christians don't agree on abortion, they don't agree on capital punishment, they don't agree on same-sex marriages, and on and on and on. We don't have uniformity of religious belief. It's not easy. I'm not trying to tell you that establishing moral standards and getting people to accept those moral standards is an easy thing. It's something that humanity has struggled with for hundreds of thousands of years, and done so imperfectly. And there have been many instances in the history of our kind of terrible, terrible things done by people who had power and who did them because they had power. Some of those people said they were doing it in the name of Christianity, or Islam, or atheism, or what have you. So, having these transcendent beliefs isn't that helpful. History tells us it's not. But is it important that we all accept that the other guy has these unalienable rights that we all have? It's very important for our future, for our happiness. It's not guaranteed. The best hope is that we all agree that we have these rights to disagree on things which are very, very important. It's hard to do. Because it's hard to say, "I believe that this is the one true way." But I don't think it's worth threatening to kill you to get you to agree with me. It's a tough thing. It's tough for every ideology or religion, not just for one or another.

QUESTIONER:
This is an historical matter that I'm interesting in having you both remark on. And that is, do you see any relationship between the philosophical underpinnings of the French Revolution and the American Revolution, respectively, and their outcomes?

ED:
Sure. There are some overlaps and some similarities and some connections. There are some differences, too. Thomas Jefferson for example was a strong Francophile. He loved the French. I found out a year or two ago, Thomas Jefferson was actually in Paris when they stormed the Bastille, July the 14th 1789 I guess it was. There were some similarities, but in general most of the Americans, like most of the British thought that the French Revolution went way too far. That it went berserk in destroying establishment principles. I'm opposed to beheading people under pretty much all circumstances. The philosophes, Diderot and DeHoback, had some limited influence on Franklin and Jefferson, and to some extent on the rest of American thinkers. Jefferson, because he knew a number of these atheists in France, wrote explicitly about the fact that he believed that atheists were moral people. Their morality did not come from belief in God, or from a god. Now, he was not an atheist; I'm not trying to say he was. He very clearly was not. I sort of agree with John. I don't think the word "deist" is the right description for him, either. He believed in an afterlife and some other stuff that isn't consistent with the strictly deist point of view. He was certainly not a Christian. He wasn't a Christian if to be a Christian you have to believe that Jesus died for your sins and rose again. Because he didn't believe that. He didn't believe in the Resurrection. He didn't believe in Atonement, etc. He described himself as a Christian. Did you have a more specific question about the French versus…?

QUESTIONER:
No.

JOHN:
Bob, I think it's a superb question. And actually it's one I wanted to raise earlier. Ed, when I asked you for the source of unalienable rights, and you traced it to the Enlightenment…

ED:
In part.

JOHN:
Then I'm interested in the other parts as well. But that's a part that I do not accept because the difference between the two revolutions is overwhelming. This is where my radical Protestant nature comes to the fore. A genuine Protestant wants the reformation of the whole church. The Reformation was in part rebelling against a culture where church and state were united in scratching each other's back to keep elitists in power over and against the common people. That had become so odious in French society and a Roman Catholic society that the revolution was against religion as well as establishment of church. The American revolution was a revolution in favor of religion against establishment of a church-state monopoly. And consequently what we have in the French revolution is because it was getting rid of God as well as a falsely imposed religion, you had the Reign of Terror, and once the Reign of Terror ran its course, you went back to the kingship of the military dictatorship of Napoleon. That issue is there to this day. What I see redemptively is that since we were a nation founded on the principle of the Protestant Reformation, which began before the Reformation with a simple radical idea of printing the Bible in English or in German, so that people other than priests could read it. And so, with those ideas coming to fruition in the United States, and we began not to beat up on each other, and embrace religious liberty that I trace back uniquely to Genesis, the difference is phenomenal to this day.

QUESTIONER:
My name is John, and I'm finding tonight's discussion very informative. I have a question for Ed. It actually relates to what you were just discussing: the origin of Thomas Jefferson's concept of unalienable rights. You discussed it earlier and mentioned just in passing how he was deriving this idea in some ways from the Enlightenment and also English common law. But you didn't go into detail. I'd like to understand more how you understand his derivation of that concept.

ED:
Well, I shouldn't pretend that I'm an expert on that, because I am not. But it's very clear that Jefferson did not believe that it came from Judeo-Christian sources. He was very bitter about what he considered to be a terribly corrupted religion. That's why he took the Bible and cut it out. He didn't just cut out the miracles, he cut out any reference to the deity of Jesus and so forth. He was a brilliant man. He was really screwed up on some things, but he was a brilliant man. He read and spoke about seven or eight different languages. He cut the Bible from a number of different languages and eliminated the parts he didn't like. On what grounds I don't know. I don't think anybody else does either. He created what is now called the Jefferson Bible. It's clear that he was influenced by Locke. It's clear that he was influenced by the French. Some of the influence in Jefferson's thinking by the French came after the Declaration, not before. And certainly he was not satisfied with the way the French Revolution went about. I certainly don't agree with John that the French Revolution was against God and government, and the American revolution was only against the king. It was not anywhere near that simple. It was much more complicated than that. Some of the founding fathers were in fact anti-religious. Many of them were in fact quite religious. But they all agreed that they needed to keep government out of religious matters. That's the primary thing that I want to urge you all to agree with me on.

QUESTIONER:
The English common law derivation, that part, could you…?

ED:
Yeah. Jefferson claimed, I don't know how accurately, that he wrote about this not once but several times and at great length in letters to other people, that the ideas of property and justice that we have adopted, derived primarily from English common law, which in turn was developed before Christianity came to England. Now, Christianity was first introduced to England briefly and then came back again later. And so it's a bit confusing. But Jefferson insists that the Anglo-Saxon predecessors of any Christian influence were the basis for trials by jury and things like that, and for our codification of law, and implicitly at least our ethics. They didn't come from Christianity. He picked out particular legal books of the day and showed how they were wrong in their interpretation in his opinion. I don't know with certainty whether Jefferson was correct about some of those things, but I do know that that was his view that Christianity was not the source of the rights of an Englishman, which he wanted to enlarge on.

JOHN:
This really helps me to hone my principal point. That is that if we take the Bible on its own terms of creation, sin and redemption, and we take seriously the corrupting effects of sin, and the looking for the Redeemer, what we have in Jefferson is a brilliant and sometimes confused man. When Ed talks about his bitterness and bitter complaints against corrupted religion, I say amen brother. Because corrupted religion is far worse than corrupted irreligion. Why is that? Because true biblical religion claims to be the source of genuine humanity. When you corrupt something that's true, it's far more dangerous than corrupting something that is false, which means you're corrupting something that's already corrupted. So what happens is, that Jefferson was a person who saw hypocrisy in the church. I think the number one objection to a biblical worldview and Christianity is, don't shove it down my throat. Why? The church has shoved it down the throats of people for centuries, and it had no excuse to do so biblically. Pagan religion was based on the assumption of the gods shoving it down each other's throats, and shoving it down our own throats. Therefore, when Ed also says it's a complicated matter between the French Revolution and the American Revolution, in many of the personalities that's true. But what I think is incredibly wonderful is what won out in terms of the framing of our Declaration and Constitution. It was utterly hospitable to religious liberty by not being an imposed Christian nation or some other type of imposed religion. In that context I might give a different theological oomph to the discussion if I were present two and a quarter centuries ago. But I would be completely happy with the non-christological language, "from our Creator," because that affirms the image of God within all of us. And so if we understand the image of God, and I don't know about the common law thing, that's a new argument I'm hearing tonight about Jefferson, talking about the common law being prior. Certainly trial by jury precedes the influence of Christianity in Europe. But trial by jury under whose authority? Not under a concept of unalienable rights. There were many societies that tried to have consent of the governed, and tried to get along. And that just testifies to the image of God. But none of them codified the unalienable rights or knew its source. We know it, we codify it, and that's why I celebrate it.

ED:
The only thing I would add, John refers repeatedly to taking the Bible on its own terms. But the thousands of people who take the Bible on its own terms, and say that that's what they're doing, come to very, very different conclusions about many, many different issues. I'm not talking about some atheist reading it and distorting it or taking it out of context. I can do that if you like.

[laughter]

I am talking about sincere, bible-believing … and this is not new either. John Calvin, who is one of the folks that you've referred to tonight, thought it was perfectly all right to allow somebody to be put to death for having the wrong religious beliefs. John Rankin doesn't think that, and I'm on John Rankin's side in that regard.

QUESTIONER:
My name is Al. I just wanted to let Ed know that I think God is after your soul more than you think.

[laughter]

JOHN:
And very graciously.

ED:
Well Al has certainly been gracious. We had a wonderful supper at his house, and I'm grateful for that.

QUESTIONER:
Question to you, Ed, is really a question that you posed to John earlier. What if government decides to impose itself upon him and he has to make a decision and compromise his religion. What about the reverse and you were put to the test? Not unlike Daniel, and say OK, it's that or the fire. John said he would die first. Where would you stand in that respect?

ED:
Well, I haven't been given that choice so it's hard to know.

QUESTIONER:
It's rather academic at this stage.

ED:
Yes. I hope it remains that way.

[laughter]

I think the important answer to the question is that I, and this is something I am convinced that John and I thoroughly agree on, that no government should ever ask any of its citizens to make that choice.

QUESTIONER:
That's academic too, right?

ED:
Yeah. If I were asked to make the choice, if they said either you say you're a Christian or we're gonna kill you, odds are pretty good I'd say I was a Christian. Now would that make me a believer? No, it wouldn't.

[laughter]

Would it change my desire to do everything I could to go back to working for religious liberty and for the liberty of somebody who doesn't believe, as well as somebody who does. It wouldn't change that. I don't know what the practical circumstances would be. You've got to remember, I don't think I've got but one life, so I'm not gonna give it up too quickly or easily. But that doesn't mean I wouldn't give it up for anything. I would lay down my life for my wife or my son, and under some circumstances for my country and for many principles. But if all I had to do was say I was a Christian…

QUESTIONER:
It was more a question of your belief. Your foundational thing which you're here for.

ED:
I'm very much committed to my foundational beliefs. I do in fact think they're correct. I'm not just having fun with debates, although I do enjoy them. I really believe these things. I don't want to overstate the courage, but I have stood up for my beliefs and taken some serious heat for doing so, more than once. I will do so again, not only for my irreligious beliefs, but for other beliefs and ideas as well.

QUESTIONER:
Thank you. I think God's tugging at you.

[laughter]

ED:
I'm glad you think so.

JOHN:
Just very briefly, I was doing a forum at a Unitarian church in Montclair, New Jersey. I don't know if you know Dr. Bob Price.

ED:
Of course.

JOHN:
Yes. And Bob is a former Gordon-Conwell graduate, now an atheist.

ED:
I didn't realize that.

JOHN:
Yes. He doesn't advertise it on his website. Our topic was the historical nature of Jesus. This fellow came up and he had a loaded question. Ah, I just made a pun without knowing it. He had a loaded question. He said, Dr. Price, if I took a gun and pointed it at your head and said, renounce your atheism or die, what would you do? He said, I'd renounce it. And then he turned to me and said, if I pointed the gun at your head, John, and said renounce your Christianity, what would you do? I said, I won't renounce it. And that is my conviction. You know, if I thought I only had one life, would I give up my integrity? I mean, you know, if you live fifty-six years or eight-six years, what's the difference? Three decades? So my sense is that a biblical worldview allows you to have integrity in the face of anything. I think it's that quality of integrity that leads to be willing to give up your own freedoms and life if necessary for the freedom and lives of others in quintessential capacity.

ED:
I would strongly disagree that integrity is best defined that way.

JOHN:
But you said, for the moment you would profess to be a Christian if it purchased your life for the moment.

ED:
I said that and I meant it.

JOHN:
That's what I mean by integrity.

ED:
Well that's not what I mean by integrity. Integrity to me is wholeness and commitment to your own ideas and being willing to stand up for them.

JOHN:
But you don't stand up for them.

ED:
John!

[laughter]

You have told me that if I put a gun at your head, you wouldn't renounce your religion. We don't know. Nobody's done that to you yet, have they?

JOHN:
Fair enough.

ED:
And even if you did, if somebody put a gun to your head and said, renounce your religion or die, and you renounce the religion at that moment, I don't think that would mean you had lost your integrity if in fact you didn't change your belief, and didn't change your commitment to work as hard as you could for those beliefs in any future circumstance.

JOHN:
Not if you were to grasp…

ED:
Now in practical terms, is it worth dying for your beliefs? It depends on the circumstances. If in fact you put me in front of a national forum and there is a gun pointed at my head, and I sacrificed my life and gained religious freedom for non-believers forever, I believe that I would then say, fire away. I don't know, because I haven't been there. Integrity is not such a simple thing that you can measure it based on a specific reaction at a very limited period of time. How you live your life is what matters. Not how you live one particular moment. Now, is it better to not tell a lie even under those circumstances? Yes, if you can manage it. If it's doable, yes, you should. But I don't think it is reasonable or fair to say, because John says he would take the bullet, and I say I probably wouldn't, that he has integrity and I don't. Doesn't make sense to me.

JOHN:
What I'm saying is that when you're based on no transcendent power, you can maintain your sense of integrity while doing that. And I'm saying that you perhaps do not grasp the reality of God in my life. And I would rather die than give up my relationship with the Creator who made me. And that's rooted in the conviction of the transcendent. When I'm raising the issue of integrity, obviously you're going to have a different view, because you have a different source.

ED:
OK. Let's have the next question.

QUESTIONER:
I think there is a difference here between looking at the law as useful, and looking at it as life itself.

JOHN:
Yes.

QUESTIONER:
There's a difference. I just want to thank you both for doing this. Ed, you've had a great heart in the way you've exchanged ideas. I think it's done far too infrequently on both sides.

ED:
I agree with that for sure.

QUESTIONER:
And especially the secular humanist view. I don't want to beat a dead horse because we've touched on this subject a few times. I think a lot of times when we get into these discussions, we use words like freedom and rights and stuff. It conjures up different ideas in everybody's mind. A lot of this is semantics. It's the definitions of the words themselves. I think all of us would have to agree, and probably you too, Ed, that there can be no such thing as absolute freedom. To give a certain aspect of freedom to some people is going to inherently have to infringe upon freedoms of some other people. We see that happening within our country today. I think that's where especially the Evangelical Christians have a concern, because we see secular humanists wanting rights and freedoms for themselves that they're not actually willing to extend to us. I would think that in public schools, especially, you would probably very easily have the freedom to go speak in a public school, but I would think that John Rankin would have much more difficult time presenting his views in a public arena, in the public school than you would. But I don't want to go there. I just want to ask you this question. As Christians…

ED:
You've already gone there.

[laughter]

QUESTIONER:
Sorry. That wasn't my question. My concern is this. I think when we refer to America as a Christian nation, we obviously know it's not a church-state type nation. We believe that freedom was rooted in the majority of the common people agreeing to the concept of a moral transcendent law that was higher than themselves. We as Christians would probably see that most clearly expressed in the Ten Commandments. To let you know, Ed, I lived as a secular humanist for years. I've lived on the other side of the fence seeking absolute freedom, which did limit the freedoms of others and ultimately mine also.

ED:
Is this another place you're not going to go?

[laughter]

QUESTIONER:
I would like to say this. When we remove this concept of a moral transcendent law, and we look at whatever law we have as just simply being useful, then who therefore and what are we going to replace it with? And I say this with deepest respect to you. But my concern is rooted in as I look at governments now, especially socialist and communistic governments, which are rooted in a secularistic and atheistic, humanistic worldview, when I look at their track record of granting basic human freedoms, it doesn't seem like it's that good to me. So how could you address us here tonight as Christians assuring us that if we abandon a transcendent moral concept of right and wrong, what would we replace it with? And what is going to cause us to think that they don't just look at this as useful to get what they want, and then eliminate who they don't want? Maybe by beheading.

[laughter]

ED:
OK. Let me go several of the places you didn't want to go.

[laughter]

QUESTIONER:
I did want to go further than that.

ED:
First of all, I would love to go to public schools and talk about secular humanism. I've tried and I've never been allowed to. Now, do I think I should be allowed? Only under the same circumstances exactly as John should be able to. I don't think that the public schools should endorse irreligion or religion. I don't think that things should be brought into the science curriculum based on religious views or irreligious views.

QUESTIONER:
There's where I want to get …

ED:
I know, we can talk about creation and…

QUESTIONER:
No, explain that. What's the difference between endorsing and allowing somebody else freedom to express those views?

ED:
Well, it is extremely complicated.

[laughter]

QUESTIONER:
That's what I mean. We're talking about words, but your concept of endorsing and my concept of endorsing … If you were to do something like this in public school, I wouldn't see this as endorsing anything. I would see it as just presenting worldviews, world concepts before an audience. And we would like to have that same freedom, but we don't quite see that extended as much. You would have to agree with us that most of the curriculum in schools has removed all religious concepts out of it. And obviously as a result of that is coming more from a secular humanist perspective than a Christian one.

ED:
I don't think that's obvious at all. I don't think secular humanism is taught in schools. I don't think it should be taught in schools. I think it should be secular, that is, neutral with respect to religion.

QUESTIONER:
Yes.

ED:
But not my philosophy or anyone elses in term of religion. It is true that the public schools do not and should not encourage belief in God or discourage belief in God. They shouldn't be engaged in any religious curriculum or an anti-religious curriculum. They should be neutral with regard to these matters. It's true that it's complicated in situations like, do you teach creationism or not? The basis for that should be whether it's good science, and whether the scientists conclude that it's good science, and not anything else. Shouldn't be based on religious views.

JOHN:
If I could give a brief response to that as well. In one of my forums with Barry Lynn who I'm sure you also know, head of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, he said he wanted to teach values in public schools. I asked him what values. He agreed that the values that should be taught are values consistent with secular humanism, but do not allow a religious liberty. When we look at the issue of unalienable rights, and yet we ban honest science from even talking about the Creator, because to believe in a Creator doesn't mean you believe in one view or another about science.

ED:
I think science should get to decide what's science, and not religion.

JOHN:
Well, here's the thing.

ED:
Science by definition won't allow discussions of, and then there was a miracle. That's not science, that's religion.

JOHN:
Science…

ED:
We can have another debate on creationism.

JOHN:
Science is the open-ended pursuit of knowledge as the facts present themselves. And so anyone, from whatever their presuppositional basis, should be allowed to put their presuppositional basis on the line, as they are accountable to good science.

QUESTIONER:
Let's not kid ourselves. Freedom is simply defined by status. The criminal that is on the run is free to run. The person taking his last breath is free. Now when you cross the line between freedom and liberty, now you're bringing religion into it. One other thing, John. You keep separating human secularism from religion. Religion is nothing but a person's heartfelt belief. And every human being that ever lived has a heartfelt belief. He expresses this heartfelt belief as you two gentlemen are, in the way that he thinks, in his actions, his political actions, his social actions, etc. And law is nothing but the rules of action. Our heartfelt beliefs determine what our laws are. The laws emanating from people recognizing the Creator means you recognize an object of relationship to God. You are an object of his creation. A subjective relationship would be following Christians, Muslims, etc. The distinction with Christianity is, and this gets back to your comments about "We the People." "We the People" is unique to Christians, because if you will recall, and obviously you're very versed in the Bible, at the time of the death of Christ, the veil was ripped top to bottom. At that point in time, there was no longer to be a human figure standing between God and men. It became "We the People" one on one with God, which is the nature of our government. So we are unique to those Christian principles. So when we get into the secular humanism side, you're talking about wills and opinions being exercised by decree and prohibition, without any objective belief in anything. Your own idea is to be the essence of law. Now if I accept that, then I have to ask a very blunt question. By what rights, if that's the essence, did America have to go against the Nazis?

[pause]

ED:
You're asking me, right?

QUESTIONER:
I'm asking anybody that wants to answer it.

ED:
It's very interesting that Hitler, who was a Christian, who said he was doing…

QUESTIONER:
No, he wasn't a Christian, sir.

ED:
Now wait a minute. Who gets to decide who's a Christian? What's the definition? Who gets to decide?

QUESTIONER:
The definition of a Christian is, I just said, is a heartfelt belief.

ED:
Well, according to Hitler…

[crosstalk]

QUESTIONER:
You asked me a question, a heartfelt belief as a Christian is recognition of Christ, his principles, his actions, his ways, his attitudes. I can call myself an elephant. Am I one? You see what I'm saying?

ED:
I see what you're saying but I don't agree with you. Hitler insisted that he was doing Christ's work. Now, was he perverting the Christian message? Yeah, but so were a hell of a lot of other people, including, in my opinion, John Calvin.

[crosstalk]

ED:
The main point you're trying to make I think is that a lot of this is arbitrary.

QUESTIONER:
No, it's not arbitrary.

ED:
That it's difficult to pin down exactly what the sources of things are if we don't have a God. My point is it's difficult to pin down, whether you believe there's a God or not.

QUESTIONER:
Then truth has to emanate from your own will and opinion, if it has no object relationship to anything. Then at that point in time, there is no law. There is no truth. There's nothing. I hate to say it. I wish I could say otherwise. That's reality, sir.

ED:
I don't agree with you, and I guess we should leave it at that.

JOHN:
Let me give a very quick observation here. "We the People" is biblical, because God does care for us as people. If you read Hitler's Mein Kampf, it was his war against those who disagreed with his ego. That led him into the occult, into hatred of Jews and Christians alike. Remember, he's the one who hanged Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

ED:
Next question.

QUESTIONER:
My name is Dave. I'm very puzzled by this question of where did this whole idea of unalienable rights pop up from. Where did we get our Constitution. I haven't heard really a clear historical statement of it. Maybe it's hard to get back to those times. Maybe it was just given, I don't know. But from what you've discussed so far, it is not clear to me, except in perspective, that it had a Christian basis. You say clearly at the time that many of those men did not believe that it was a Christian basis.

ED:
Some did. Some didn't.

QUESTIONER:
Where did it all come from? How did this develop? How did it happen then? And as your question said, if it's a Christian thing, why didn't it happen many years before? That's a very gray area from everything that we've talked about so far.

ED:
I think it's because the truth is gray here and not black and white. In fact, he said, we've got to come up with some source that's bigger than George III. So we'll pick the Christian God. In my opinion, what Jefferson did was to say we're not happy with this. We want some source bigger than George III. If God will do for the moment then we'll take it. The other thing you need to remember, which apparently we're not paying any attention to, is that the Declaration of Independence is not our governing charter. It's an important precedent. It makes a difference. I'm not suggesting that it's not important. It's not a Christian document. It's absurd to say that it is when there's nothing in it that's Christian. These people weren't uneducated, stupid folks. They could have put whatever they wanted to in there, and they didn't put any Christian reference in it. Not any. When we got to the Constitution, which is our governing charter, there is no reference to any God, not even to the Creator, nature's God, etc. They were self-consciously creating a human government with a human basis, based upon rights of human beings. They were in fact quite conscious of the rights of an Englishman. This was not revolutionary with the idea of individuals having rights, because Englishmen did before this. But it was revolutionary with respect to keeping religion out of it entirely.

JOHN:
Very briefly, the legal structure of the Constitution would not have existed apart from the philosophical assumptions of the Declaration of Independence. That's explicit in the Amendments, the Bill of Rights, which were all based on biblical assumptions. I say biblical. Christianity is the fulfillment of a biblical worldview, but it's not imposition of a Christian specificity. That's why I'm very confident in the foundations of Genesis. So the Constitution is based on that. The whole "life, liberty and property" being protected in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, legally codifies the "life, liberty, property/pursuit of happiness" of the Declaration. Only one historical source, Genesis 1 and 2.

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  [Contents] [About the Participants] [Opening Statement by Ed Buckner] [Opening Statement by John Rankin][Dialog] [Questions from the Audience] [Closing Statements]
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