“Error Has No Rights”

Interesting post over at First Things on the concept above: that rights correspond to right – that you have no right to practice wrong.

The contention: that the American idea of religious freedom that treats all religious beliefs as equal before the law versus the European idea of an established religion that might tolerate other beliefs insofar as, in the judgement of the government, those beliefs don’t unduly interfere with the truth lives on in the secular world. If you are in error about the wonderfulness of homosexuality and free love in general, you have no rights – at least, that’s where it’s headed, as the examples in the article indicate.

To sum up: in the old days, under states whose established religion was Catholicism, the Inquisition could determine if you were a heretic or not. If you were, they would hand you over to the state – which, using its prudential judgement, decided if you needed to be burned at the stake.* The logic here was that the state derived its legitimacy in part from its conformity to truth, that the laws of the state were reflections to some extent of the laws of God. In this context,  failure of subjects to acknowledge the the truth about God – committing heresy – undermined the legitimacy of the state. 

We, the Protestant people who founded this country, didn’t much like that. (Not that they disputed the logic – they agreed that the Catholic crowned heads of Europe were illegitimate precisely because their ideas of God – their theologies – were wrong.  The Pilgrims came to America, after all, to avoid religious freedom – they wanted a state where *they* did the burning at the stake, as it were.) But, unfortunately in the eyes of many, by 1789, establishing a national religion was a non-starter – the Constitutional Convention left that up to the states. The states eventually chickened out, too, and so we got the idea that the state, at whatever level,  would not establish any religion. This reluctance to establish religions has become, through a subtle transmogrification, the Separation of Church and State and Freedom of/from Religion.

Which seems to have worked out OK. At least, so far.

The underlying concept, the founding mythology, really, is that the legitimacy of government rests on the consent of the governed. So, if we all played nice and consented to the separation of Church and State, everything was cool.  The Consent of the Governed concept, however, never really got off the ground in practice, and by the Civil War it had been buried for all practical purposes – the South didn’t consent to be governed, but that hardly stopped the North.

So our government’s legitimacy today hangs on something else. The essay linked above suggests that we’re back to claiming that governments depend for their legitimacy on the proper reflection of truth  – but a highly intolerant secular view of truth. Therefore, any deviation from the truth is heresy and treason – it is a threat to the legitimacy of the government.  This is exactly the view taken by the Catholic heads of state in the past, with one key exception: they – the old kings and queens – could view tolerance as virtue, insofar as things could be tolerated without threatening the state. (not saying they always did, but, in general, they were free to let things slide a bit.) It remains to be seen how far the modern established secular religion will feel itself compelled to enforce orthodoxy. The error of not getting on board with homosexual and ‘reproductive’ rights does seem to have no rights.

The track record of previous governments built on secular dogmas does not inspire confidence in the ability of governments so established to tolerate dissent.

*A fate that befell a few thousand people across Europe over the course of a couple centuries. We should be so lucky.

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Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

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