[About the Participants] [Opening
Statement by Arline Isaacson] [Opening
Statement by John Rankin][Dialog]
[Questions from the Audience] [Closing
[Return to Mars Hill Forum]
Is Same-Sex Marriage Good for the Nation?
Questions from the Audience
Questioner: I have a question for John. I am a Buddhist. In the conversation I find you keep going into a corner. There’s only one in history about certain thing, about unalienable rights. My question is, this is simply because Christianity only two-thousand years, and this is your history. And basically for my understanding somebody in the close door writing some book and claim that this their only one in history. Pretty much this only person writing their book. And my religion is five-thousand years, but my religion doesn’t against same-sex marriage. And doesn’t have your opinion. But simply we didn’t write your book. So we are not in history. My question is, how you define your only in history? Because for me to see Christianity such a short term. I don’t know how that can stand, your only one standpoint that this is solid. For me that’s not.
John: Right. Well first of all, if you’ve noted carefully, I have not once, I believe, said this is a Christian argument. I said this is a biblical argument. It’s Christian, pre-Christian, Jewish, pre-Jewish back to Genesis 1 and 2. So that is more ancient than Hinduism and Buddhism. Buddhism comes out of Hinduism, and correct me if I’m wrong, but it starts with the first tenet from Siddhartha Gautama, that suffering is. And that Buddhist philosophy is an attempt to escape a cycle of suffering. It takes suffering as a predicate. Every pagan religion, and pagan means anything outside of the Bible by definition, every pagan religion in history starts with an assumption that suffering already exists. Genesis 1 and 2 is unique. It’s the only basis that starts and says there is unmitigated goodness, first. And part of the goodness was the freedom to accept or reject that goodness, out of which suffering comes. And it’s in that context that the unmitigated goodness, both historically, theologically, and philosophically, that marriage is one man, one woman, one lifetime.
Moderator: Arline, did you want to address that?
Arline: No. [audience laughter]
Questioner: Hi. I find your discussion fascinating but really unproductive because I think you’re both speaking different languages. And you’re basing your understanding on the argument on different concepts which don’t seem to be compatible. So I have a very specific question for Mr. Rankin to make sure I understand his position. Because you’re the position I would not agree with. If your statement is that marriage is the union between one man and one woman for one life, I would presume that you would also think divorce is as negative to society as would be same-sex marriage.
Questioner: That being the case, do you work for the abolition of legal divorce. Do you think we ought to get rid of divorce as a legal entity? If in fact divorce is a negative for society, do you have any empirical evidence to show that that is the case?
John: Well, I can email you the resources on that. They are overwhelming from a thousand angles in terms of what divorce does. But let me go back to your even prior question. Bishop John Spong, one of the first Episcopal bishops to ordain homosexual ministers, he and I addressed a forum at Yale quite some years ago. And he brought up the subject of homosexuality. It was not our subject that evening. He asked me exactly the same question. And my answer then is the answer that’s prior to that and the answer now. That the overwhelming majority of my work as a minister of the Gospel over the last twenty-plus years has been to strengthen and protect marriage. And so I’m only responding to same-sex marriage initiative out of the positive “yes” that I began with this evening. Now, I would love to see the abolition of no-fault divorce. However, Jesus also gave the exception for divorce when there is infidelity. That means brokenness of trust. That can be sexual infidelity. It can be abuse at a physical or sustainable or definable emotional level. Therefore, in fact, I just went across the country to a bunch of speaking engagements. I went about eight-hundred miles out of my way down to Kentucky to work with a couple to stop them from divorcing. I’ll return in a month to do the same thing. So the overwhelming majority of what I’ve done over the years is pro-marriage. And I’ll respond to this or other issues out of the positive “yes.”
Arline: I feel, John, like you’re trying to have it both ways. If you don’t want to downgrade marriage, and earlier you said, you threw out a real red herring. You said that if same-sex couples were able to marry it would lead to things like polygamy. Well that happens interestingly enough as we discussed a short while ago, to be the exact same argument they used about allowing blacks and whites to marry. They said if there was inter-racial marriage it would lead inevitably to polygamy and the downfall of marriage as we know it. But the fact of the matter is, we’re not talking about how many folks you can marry. If you grant same-sex couples marriage we will still not be able to marry more than one person at a time, nor are we seeking to do so. We are seeking the equality with the current law. You know earlier I made a statement about the myriad kinds of straight people that can get married. People that I know you, I don’t doubt at all you would not really want ever to get married based on your religious beliefs. But it’s all right for them to get married. Prisoners, wife abusers, child molesters, people who have been divorced multiple times. Why wouldn’t you work to repeal the laws that permit them to get married?
John: Well, first of all, you say a red herring. I don’t think it’s a red herring. In my language tonight I don’t believe once I have said a negative statement about homosexuals as people. And you’re pointing out all these negative caricatures of straight heterosexual married people. I will acknowledge that there are people in all contexts who themselves are not good people in how they treat other people. And so I’ll simply go back to my predicate. I will do everything I can within my modest resources and influence to strengthen true, biblical, covenantal marriage. And part of covenantal marriage is you regard your husband as your wife as one flesh with you. Which means you love them as yourself. And anything that falls apart from that is going to break society. My observation about same-sex marriage is that man and man together, or woman and woman together, do not have emotional, sexual, psychological complementarities to the necessity of male and female influence in our lives and upon our children’s lives. Now, in having made that argument, you do not accept my basis for unalienable rights. You do not accept the reason I believe this will lead to a destruction of those rights. You haven’t challenged the evidence I’ve given on how it is assaulting religious liberty. And that’s fair if you don’t want to accept that or agree with that. Nonetheless, I am defining a basis for your rights equal to mine, of inviolable life, liberty, and property. On that basis we can argue. And if you can win the passage of this law, you can win it. You have that freedom to do so.
Arline: You’re arguing for our rights to be equal except for those fourteen-hundred rights and benefits.
John: No. I’m saying those rights we have to look and say, are they rooted in unalienable rights that God protects for all people. Or are they simply different people lobbying against different people for whoever’s in power to have rights for the moment. Because those rights change very often.
Arline: How does my getting married to my partner hurt your marriage?
John: It doesn’t hurt my marriage personally.
John: And that’s why I’m a pro-life libertarian on these matters. But I am saying for the well-being of society I’m making a positive argument for the source and protection of unalienable rights.
Questioner: Hi. I’d like to go back to what I thought I came to listen to, which is a debate on the question, is same-sex marriage good for the nation? And so far I’ve heard a lot about inalienable rights and I’ve heard a lot about it. But I haven’t heard either of you, especially you, John, address the fundamental question of the evening. Which is, is same-sex marriage good for the nation?
John: I said no.
Questioner: But you haven’t exactly explained why in anything other than reference to the inalienable rights that were adduced as the foundation for the decision to overthrow government. You haven’t said anything about the rights that have been conferred upon all the people who live in this country with the consent of the governed. What I’d like to do is see if I can get you to address the question of the evening without regard to your God. To address the question of the ways in which you think same-sex marriage would be bad for the nation, without using the term inalienable rights. And perhaps Arline, you could address the question without invoking the equality issue. You could address the question of ways in which same-sex marriage would be good for the nation.
John: But I think your question is fundamentally dishonest. Because you are asking both Arline and I to undercut our foundation of thinking and then to make sense. That will not happen. I’ve made an historical argument about the unalienable rights given by the Creator. And you’ve raised a good issue about how the consent of the governed flows from that. Well one way in which I’ve explicitly addressed that is I’ve said the consent of the governed, as the Founding Forefathers knew, they could elect a tyrant. They could change anything they wanted to. And I said upfront my assumptions could be voted out of existence. And I’m willing to accept that. But for me to try and argue, why is it not good for the nation, because the unique thing why immigrants flocked to the shores from all over the world today is the religious, political, and economic liberties that are unique and give people a freedom away from government tyranny to make a living and life. And that goes back to unalienable rights. If you undercut that it’s like undercutting the foundation of a building and wondering why it won’t stand. And I think the same is true for Arline. If you ask her to do it apart from the terms she cherishes the most, I think again it’s a dishonest question.
Questioner: I’ll bet you she can do it. [audience laughter]
John: She can because she says…
Questioner: I’ll bet you she will.
John: … because she said earlier, why do definitions matter? If definitions don’t matter you can say anything.
Arline: I think the definition of how society is helped is a pretty easy one to answer. Having the right to marriage helps to tighten the bonds in relationships. Having the right to marriage helps to stabilize relationships. Having the right to marriage, it helps children, it helps families, it helps them in times of crisis and grief. It helps them financially. It keeps families out of poverty. It keeps children out of poverty. And for those reasons, that’s just a small subset, marriage is a terrifically helpful thing. And if it’s good for some people, although I’m jumping the gun on something I’ll be saying later, I can’t imagine how anyone could say it’s not good for other people.
Questioner: I have a question about the inalienable rights. If we have the right to property and that is God-given by your definition…
John: The right to purchase property, the right to have contract.
Questioner: Why then do you want to deny same-sex marriages that common right to common property.
John: You see, I said explicitly, that they have the right under laws they can fashion for property, there is power of attorney. There are many possibilities for that. The only point I’m disagreeing with is, yes, and if you’d like me to I will email you an attorney who has done a whole research on this down in Connecticut. Let me finish please.
Questioner: Can I have one quick question?
John: Oh, I’m glad for your follow through. And so that’s my pro-life libertarian political instincts. The only point of disagreement is the redefinition of marriage.
Questioner: Power of attorney is very helpful, I agree. And that is available to everyone in our country. However, Arline and her partner cannot share social security benefits. If anything happens to Arline, unless they put away a lot of money, and I don’t know what their financial status is, whether they can afford to do that or not, her partner is going to suffer an economic property, because money is property, an economic loss if Arline dies before she does. That is not an equal right to property.
John: I understand that. So now we go back to FDR, and is social security a right? That’s a larger issue, OK. But let’s come back to the history here. You used the language, me seeking to deny. This attempt at same-sex marriage is historically unique and recent. It is seeking to change the basis of this country which goes back to unalienable rights. Therefore, Arline has the freedom to seek to do that. And to do it she must persuade the public. If she persuades the public she is successful. I have the same liberty to say no because I believe it will undercut the very right that allowed her to persuade the public to begin with. So, what we do when Arline and I at such a fundamental and personal level have great disagreement, my number one concern in this is, do I give a level playing field for those who disagree with me. I know of no better level playing field than unalienable rights and religious, political, economic liberty. The freedoms of speech, press, assembly and redress. What’d we lose somewhere? I lost something in there. But the five freedoms. Association, yes. Assembly. Someone was paying attention. So that’s the best I can do. Would you say that Arline and I will leave here tonight agreeing? No. So the question is, in our disagreement, what basis do either of us positively put forth for a civil society and the basis of our deepest disagreement? And that’s my motivating agenda. Do you know why? I believe God is good, and God is the judge who will show mercy to those who seek it. And I’m always one who seeks his mercy.
Questioner: Your argument sounds hypocritical.
John: It sounds hypocritical why?
Questioner: Because if people have the right to pursue property, put aside life and liberty. What happens to property?
John: Without life and liberty you’ve got no property rights.
Questioner: That’s true, but talking simply about the property issue. Same-sex couples do not have the same rights under the current laws to do that.
John: OK, under the current laws. So do they have the freedom to change those laws?
John: OK, now let me ask you this. Am I a hypocrite, as you just said I was, if I hold to a foundational definition of laws, and someone comes and tries to challenge them. Am I a hypocrite because I disagree with them?
John: Then where is my hypocrisy?
Questioner: In your statement that every aspect of your argument comes from these rights to life, liberty and property.
Arline: She’s breaking down your assertion that you’re seeking to protect the right to property. She’s breaking it down into its component parts. She’s choosing a subset. She’s saying, here’s a kind of property. You just said you wanted to defend property. Look, here’s one you’re not defending.
John: And what I’m saying there is in order for her new definition of property rights to come, she must change the existing definition. And I’ve commended to her that freedom. How is that hypocritical? Because I am saying that your redefinition of property rights and social security for same-sex couples is a new idea in American political history. And you have the freedom to make it. How am I a hypocrite if I say I disagree with you?
Questioner: Because you’re confusing in your own argument the issue between rights, three of them, and law. We’re talking, we’re using…
John: Which comes first?
Questioner: You say the rights come first. I happen to agree with you.
John: You don’t?
Questioner: I do.
John: Oh, OK.
Questioner: However, if the rights are fundamental then the laws, we should all be working for the laws that enhance those rights.
John: OK. But what happens when we disagree? When I say the source of unalienable rights – life, liberty and property – only come from the God of the Bible who says man and woman in marriage is the best economic unit to protect the best property rights. If you look at the inheritance of property rights from the Jubilee ethic in the Old Testament, and you see the unalienable rights of life, liberty and property that are given there, you will see the finest basis for the protection of property rights. When you talk about social security as a property right, you’re talking about FDR’s political machinations seventy years ago, something I disagree with at many levels, you think a different theory. I want to see from you that those rights are directly tied to unalienable rights. If you can make that argument you can persuade me.
Questioner: This is I guess a question directed at John, but I’d really be interested to hear what Arline has to say about it. I’m Jewish personally. The reason I bring this up also is I should probably say, is because a lot of your argument you’re saying that our Constitution is based on your God. And you’re also pulling a lot up from Genesis that the reason it’s OK to use Genesis as a backup for why we should not be able to have same-sex marriage is because so many religions say you [inaudible] something similar to it. Or have it sound something as maybe what you repeat there as progressive as Genesis. So we should use Genesis as our standard. I’m Jewish. Now according to your Bible that you go on -- and not of course the part of the Bible that includes the Torah, actually the second testament which would be the part in which Jesus comes in – I’m going to go to hell because I haven’t accepted Jesus Christ as my savior. That’s one of your beliefs. I don’t agree with it, but I accept it.
John: Have you heard me say that?
Questioner: No. I’m going to make the assumption because of the fact that you are a minister.
John: It’s the wrong assumption.
Questioner: Fine. I won’t make that assumption. The reason I state that is because regardless of what you think of me because I’m Jewish, regardless of what you think about my religion, that doesn’t give the government any jurisdiction over who I marry. Why is it that you think that just because somebody does something that doesn’t agree with your Bible it should give the government any jurisdiction over whether or not they marry?
John: You know, my entire argument is Jewish and pre-Jewish. Nothing…. Yes it is. I as a Christian am profoundly thankful for the Jewish antecedents of my faith in the nature of the Jewish Messiah. And Genesis 1 through 11 is pre-Jewish and pre-Christian. And therefore all I’m saying is the following. There is no impositional religion here. I am saying that the right to life, liberty and property, which I see everyone cherishing, has only one historical source. And it is the Jewish God. It is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Questioner: [inaudible] but it shouldn’t be based on any god whatsoever.
John: Well then you have to contest with the writers of the Declaration. When they had to overcome the false covenant-breaking authority of…
Questioner: [inaudible] the right of the Declaration. That’s what we’ve been doing. That’s why we have amendments to our Constitution. We have some and we say we no, we’re going to [inaudible], we’re going to…
John: Very good. Very good, and I agree with that. But once again, it started with an appeal to the only one who is greater than King George III, the Creator. And yes, amendments and constitutional process. And I said up front, that if Arline and others can argue and change it that is their liberty. But it is changing it from a foundation that is uniquely rooted in the appeal to the Creator of Genesis 1.
Arline: You know, John, I swore I wasn’t going to get into theology, because it’s just not something where I would ever consider myself knowledgeable enough. But some of my friends are and they were sending me emails this past week in preparation for this. And some of them sent me a little list here and they said, you know Arline, if at any point it does get into religion, if at any point John asserts that he feels this way because essentially the Bible says it has to be a man and woman and it can’t be two women, that I should, they insisted, remind John of the many other things the Bible says that we totally ignore. [audience applause] They are, the quick short list on one of the many emails I received, someone started to list some of the abominations for me. I didn’t realize this but apparently it’s an abomination to wear lycra. You have to wear certain blends. You can’t eat ham, that one I knew. You can’t eat shellfish, that one I knew but I suspect you might. You can’t sleep with a woman who’s having her period. You can’t trim your beard by rounding off the hair on your temples. You may not tattoo any marks upon you. And adulterers should be put to death. Now there’s lots and lots and lots more, and whether you think these are good ideas or bad really isn’t the question. The fact of the matter is that you probably don’t think they are all bad.
John: Well just a second. Since you’ve raised this I want to give a very brief answer. If you will notice I have not quoted the Bible once tonight.
John: Well… [audience laughter and scattered applause] What I haven’t done is I haven’t quoted any verses in a doctrinal sense. The only reason why we’ve gone back to Genesis is for the ethics of religious, political and economic liberty. So that’s my interest.
Arline: But that’s one thing the Bible says, but apparently it says a lot of other stuff.
John: Well just a second. And you know you could go in about three-hundred things and I would love to deal with them one at a time. But I just want to deal with what you’ve brought up. All the laws you just mentioned are in the book of Leviticus. The book of Leviticus is given to the Jews who are protected from pagan nations where sorcery, sacred prostitution and child sacrifice were their religion. God was protecting the Jews from the pagans so the Messiah would come through them. There were two sets of laws. One was cultural, and you just mentioned a bunch of cultural laws, to keep them distinct from the pagan nations that surrounded them. Secondly were the moral laws. The final element. Theocratic Israel, no one came into that nation apart from their informed choice. Joshua said, if you want to serve other gods you’re free to do so. If you come into this nation you believe that these laws are good. So these laws are not given to all people. They are given to people who believe that the God of the Bible is good, and any breaking of those laws is an act of treason. If someone wanted to live as a homosexual, if someone wanted to be an adulterer, every other nation around them allowed this possibility, and they could leave any time they wanted to. So if we’re going to grasp the Bible on its own terms, it’s a very concerted story. And what it does is it gives the understanding of theocratic Israel as a community of choice. And there are cultural laws, there are moral laws, and they lead to the Messiah. Now you bringing them up, you brought up stuff that’s worth thousands of pages of writing that are honest questions, but it would take us in a different direction.
Arline: I won’t get too deeply into the Bible, but a different email mentioned another section that wasn’t Leviticus, it was Deuteronomy, and another one mentioned Exodus, and there were all sorts of things…
John: All three are in the context of theocratic Israel.
Arline: OK. So what’s in the context of the Bible? That’s my point. There are some things you follow and some things you ignore.
John: No, the Bible has a story line, and I won’t go into details…
Arline: Yeah, this one says you should stone non-virgins to death.
Moderator: OK, can I reign this in a little bit. The question is, is same-sex marriage good for the nation? And though I know some of the arguments come down to theological issues, we don’t have too much time left, we have about ten minutes before they give their closing arguments. Let’s have short, informed questions. OK? Thanks.
Questioner: Hi, my name’s [inaudible]. I actually go to Harvard Divinity School, and I’m a Christian, and I like the ladies. [audience laughter] I had a question about in the beginning when you talked about history and the Creator with the Founding Fathers. Now they had this idea, this sort of, I guess think of Plato and sort of this form of the creator and inalienable rights.
John: There was no platonic idea.
Questioner: No, I’m using that as a metaphor.
Questioner: OK. But as a metaphor I’m saying that basically that in the beginning they had those unalienable rights for life, liberty and pursuit of happiness for men. And this is how the Founding Fathers, but it was how they articulated who were men. And so in that history you have sort of after a hundred years of the Constitution this sort of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, “men” was sort of redefined and extended to include black people. Then in the twentieth century you could say in some ways it was redefined again with voting to include women. Then it was redefined again in the sixties to include black people again. So you talk about [inaudible] how if you have a redefinition of marriage how there may be sort of an unsettling of the foundation of society. But again in United States history we have repeatedly seen redefinitions of fundamental tenets of the Constitution. I mean, I would say a fundamental tenet of the Constitution is what constitutes a man. And considering in the beginning you had man equaled white, and then black people were three-fifths, I don’t understand how you can say history sort of provides a foundation.
John: Well that’s an excellent question. And here’s my simple observation which I didn’t go into theological detail on. I root the life, liberty and property explicitly back to the God of Genesis in 1 and 2. In Genesis 1 and 2, male and female are equal. All people are equal despite their racial divisions that happen later on. The Founding Fathers were terrified of dealing with slavery, though many of them knew better because they knew the nation wouldn’t hold together. So I don’t ordain their falling short. But what they did that I think is powerful to me is they appealed to the Creator, and they appealed to the source of Genesis 1 and 2. Out of that came the abolitionist movement and the suffragette movement. But out of that cannot come same-sex marriage or same-sex relationships.
Arline: I think you hit the nail right on the head. You can’t have it both ways. Either it’s a static document that doesn’t change, and a static definition of these things that doesn’t change, or it does, thankfully, evolve, as people figure out how wrong they once were. You know, Nancy Cott, a woman who writes quite a bit about the subject of marriage said that if you buy a house from the 1780s, it doesn’t have plumbing and it doesn’t have heating. In order for that home to remain viable for you to live in it and use it and to breathe life into it, you put in the plumbing, you put in the heating. Now someone who is a strict constructionist could perhaps say you ought not. But most people would agree it’s a reasonable thing to do.
Questioner: I’m a Christian from Alabama. I don’t know if you’ve been keeping up with the New York Times recently, but there was a story run this week about Roy Moore and how the Ten Commandments were commanded to be removed from the Alabama State Supreme Court on the basis of the fact that Roy Moore was using them to argue that only God’s law was the law available to man in Alabama. Courtroom last summer by Roy Moore in the state of Alabama, there was a couple that had been married in the state and sought a divorce in the state. The woman was currently living as a lesbian in California. The husband was a convicted wife beater in Florida. And Roy Moore ruled that the father should be given custody of the child because all good Alabamians should take up arms against gay people. Here’s my question. The father doesn’t want the child, and the mother can’t have the child. And that child is now a ward of the state in Alabama. As a Christian, the one thing that I’ve noticed throughout the Bible is that Christ concerns himself not with law ever. He openly refutes law in favor of love. What should be done about that child? And what are the implications of those actions toward gay marriages?
John: That’s a very good question. Jesus did not refute the laws, he said he fulfilled the laws. So there’s a difference there. But we’re looking at a truly difficult situation. The man is abusive, doesn’t want the child. The woman’s in a lesbian relationship. The lesbian relationship is better than the abusive father, I will agree with you at that point.
Arline: Thank you. [audience laughter]
John: But, it is not what the child needs. So the question is, what is the best for the child? And I admit that’s a very difficult question. Now I’ve only followed that from a distance. When you said that Judge Moore was, you said some language about he really was against the gays, or something like that. My agenda is not to be against anyone. It is to be for the image of God in all people. Now the deeper question that I addressed earlier with this lady in the front is how when we disagree do we conduct ourselves. And so that’s an honest question and I don’t know enough about the situation. But I do enough to say generally that there are many Christians who give the Gospel a bad name in terms of their conduct toward other people.
Arline: The American Academy of Pediatricians came out this past year affirming the positive nature of gays and lesbians, same-sex couples to raise children, and how well the children can do and thrive in those environments. When they did that they were agreeing with the National Association of Social Workers, the American Psychological Association, and the American Psychiatric Association. And I throw those names around intentionally to say that those people who have invested their lives in the betterment of children and family seem to think there is not only not a problem with there being same-sex families, but in fact the children do very well in them. [scattered audience applause]
John: You know, I want to communicate, Arline, with you down this line. Because I’ve read the AAP report, and the statistical basis it had for affirming that was scientifically very, very poor. And I would love to communicate with you down the line when five, ten years we have more data, and look at the explicit scientific research data employed in that.
Questioner: John, if I can give you an ultimate non-biblical theory of unalienable rights that justifies same-sex marriage, would you comment on it, please?
John: I’m listening.
Questioner: OK. First off, you neglect that Jefferson and others who wrote the Declaration and the Constitution were deists, not orthodox Christians or Jews. Their conception of unalienable rights in fact stems from social contract theory, which historically traces to the philosophy of Epicurus, who said that the one inalienable right stemming from nature is not to be harmed by another if it can be prevented. Now, if you deny a loving couple with or without children the benefits to take care of one another, to not be molested, harmed, interfered with by the state or anyone else, if you deny them the right of a marriage license or access to a marriage license, you are causing harm which could otherwise be prevented. If by fulfilling the social contract of preventing harm when you can by letting them have a marriage license, you now prevent unwarranted harm. You are actually doing something good for them, the community and the nation.
John: Thank you.
Arline: All right!
John: Let me give answer to that. First of all, Jefferson was not a deist. He was a rationalist. Secondly, most of the people with him… There’s a huge difference. A deist does not believe that he will stand before God’s judgment in the final day. Jefferson believed he would, and particularly for his refusal not to let his slaves go while he was alive.
Questioner: He also said he was an Epicurean.
John: Epicurus was in my list of the things you brought up. Also, all those with him, almost all of them were orthodox Christians in the committee that framed those words. Now the thing that impresses me about Jefferson as a rationalist, when he needed to go for a source for his unalienable rights, he went to the Creator, who is the God of the Bible. Epicurus. He’s the one who invented Darwinism long before Darwin figured it out. He believed that life was a chance collision of molecules, and only the strong survive ultimately in his philosophy. He was looking for some honest peace and satisfaction in life against a hostile universe. There’s no concept of unalienable rights given by a good god equally applicable to all people. He was part of a Greek society of philosophers where only a minority having the rights over and against everybody else. And when you are in that position, a right to contract is not equitable for all people. The final observation here, the right not to be harmed. That’s known as the Silver Rule, the opposite of the Golden Rule. It’s a negative. It’s trying to prevent yourself from being harmed. Most major religions have it. Only the Bible has it positively. Do unto others what you would have them do unto you, as a positive act of giving. So you haven’t given me a source for unalienable rights different from the Creator of the Bible.
Questioner: This question is for John. Can you give me a logically compelling, as opposed to emotionally compelling reason why a group of atheists couldn’t have founded our nation using the same document and the same language because they wanted to frame the Constitution in terms that would be agreeable to a theistic citizenry that would have to fight to defend ultimately?
John: That’s a good question. I’m very good friends with the founder and head of the Council for Secular Humanism. I’ve done many forums with him on this exact same subject. And I would ask you a historical question. Where has it ever happened on philosophical atheism? If you can answer that.
Questioner: That’s a fallacious reply because it’s an argument from present which is irrelevant. It’s not logically compelling. That it hasn’t happened before does not mean it can not happen.
John: Well OK. Then if that’s the case that it hasn’t happened before, then make the case… OK, what is atheism? Atheism is the belief in no god. It’s the belief that we as people have to form our society the best way we can. It cannot arrive above the fact that 6.2 billion people have different opinions. There is no compelling ethic, there is no reason in philosophical atheism why murder is not good. There’s none. And so if you want a civil society and unalienable rights that protect life, liberty and property…
Multiple voices in audience: That’s not true.
John: I never said atheists believe in that. And I have many atheist friends. We talk about this. I’ve said philosophically, logically, there’s nothing in their presupposition that prohibits that, and look how…
Voice in audience: That’s still not true.
John: … look how Stalin and Mao justified themselves.
Questioner: But that is not logically compelling. That’s irrelevant. Again that’s an argument from present.
John: History is irrelevant?
Questioner: No. That’s not logically compelling. You can’t escape, you can’t justify a logical argument by using fallacious foundations.
John: That’s not fallacious.
Questioner: That other people have done things and happened to be atheists as well…
John: I didn’t say that. I said philosophically the belief in no god gives you no basis for a standard of good and evil. And therefore anything can go.
Questioner: …contract. It’s a pragmatic decision.
John: Pragmatic based on my opinion versus his opinion versus that opinion. There’s no governor of right and wrong that restrains any of us.
Questioner: It’s an arbitrary decision by an oligarchy at an opportune moment in history to endow all people with equal rights. And the way they were able to get all people to agree to equality, which not all people agree with, was to say these rights stem from our Creator. It was a very clever thing to do.
John: Well if it was clever, why hasn’t the cleverness appealed to a different source for freedom?
Questioner: It has happened in the United States.
John: It has?
Questioner: It’s a secular nation.
John: This is a nation that guarantees religious liberty.
Questioner: That’s correct.
John: And secularists included.
Questioner: And if I [inaudible] any argument that you find in the Bible is ultimately not logically compelling because your belief in the Bible is not logically compelling.
Questioner: …that you believe the Bible…
John: Nonsense. I will argue the only basis there is for history, science and good law is the Bible, logically.
[About the Participants] [Opening
Statement by Arline Isaacson] [Opening
Statement by John Rankin][Dialog]
[Questions from the Audience] [Closing
[Return to Mars Hill Forum]