Saturday, June 29, 2013

Rush misunderstands natural law

Rush: "'We hold these truths to be self-evident...' was so obvious that those truths had to be written down."

Unwittingly, Rush Limbaugh has given us another teachable moment. Teachable as in, we should avoid repeating the errors of an ignoramus.

Rush and his caller last Friday discussed natural law.  What's that?  Well let me define it for you, alternatively, as:

1. (Philosophy) an ethical belief or system of beliefs supposed to be inherent in human nature and discoverable by reason rather than revelation;
2. (Philosophy) a nonlogically necessary truth; law of nature. See also nomological;
3. (Philosophy) the philosophical doctrine that the authority of the legal system or of certain laws derives from their justifiability by reason, and indeed that a legal system which cannot be so justified has no authority.

What Rush and his interlocutor meant to say was divine natural law:

Divine natural law represents the system of principles believed to have been revealed or inspired by God or some other supreme and supernatural being. These divine principles are typically reflected by authoritative religious writings such as Scripture. 

Notice that these two are not necessarily the same.  One could be an atheist and a Darwinist and yet subscribe to natural law, because certain laws just make sense in our historical-human context.  For example, murdering somebody is morally wrong for all kinds of obvious reasons, and you don't need God in the guise of a burning bush to tell you why.  Same thing with stealing, bearing false witness against your neighbor, etc.  These immoral acts cause unnecessary conflict, strife and suffering.  

Here's a more generic definition of natural law that covers the two above: "A principle or body of laws considered as derived from nature, right reason, or religion and as ethically binding in human society."  So it's either/or/or.  

The major difference between the non-religious and religious definitions would be the concept of "inalienable rights."  Personally, I find the concept of inalienable rights awfully stupid, and it's easy to demonstrate why:

Imagine it's just you and a liberal (or a conservative, it doesn't make a difference) all alone on a deserted island.  You're fighting over coconuts to survive.  While arguing for your fair share of coconuts on the island, you remind him about your "inalienable" rights to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness"... and in reply he hits you on the head with a club and takes all the coconuts for himself.  Your rights were easily made alienable with that club.

Meanwhile, God or Zeus does not strike him down with a thunderbolt, preventing him from taking all the tasty, life-sustaining coconuts and saving your cranium from a cracking.  In fact, he gets fat on coconuts while you become tropical fish food.  So where do your inalienable rights figure in there?  Sorry, there was no overreaching government there to protect your inalienable rights. 

So the concept of "rights" without a strong government to uphold them is just academic-philosophical flim flam.  And who are the biggest opponents of strong government?  Advocates of divine natural law, that's who.  See the cognitive disconnect?  

Non-religious definitions of natural law don't subscribe to "inalienable rights," that's why they're superior.  They rely on innate arguments from logic, experience and history, not from dry old sectarian texts.  This is not to say I'm a believer in natural law.  I'm not.  What may seem "obvious" or a "law of nature" to you may not be so obvious to me; so again, any right of yours that depends on persuading me cannot be innate or natural.  

For Rush and his caller, this discussion of natural law was just a segue to complaining about the all-fronts "assault on God" in America.  That phrase always makes me laugh.  Does God really need the American federal government to protect Him?  Is He really that weak? Aren't churches strong enough?  If not, then... what's their purpose?  Are they just non-profit conservative lobbying organizations?  (In Republicans' ideal US of A, yes, they would be.)

As a member of the Left, let me make it clear: I'm not assaulting anybody's religion.  With my politics, I'm simply ignoring it.  That's all.  If ignoring something is offensive then... Well, if you're a married man, you know it's almost a sin to ignore your wife's new hairdo, outfit, etc.  But I think with religion we should not be so overweening and sensitive, what do you say?  Any religion that's been around more than a millennium can probably fend for itself.  Agreed? 

June 28, 2013 | The Rush Limbaugh Show

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