Freedom and self-evident truths

Are there really any self-evident truths? Yesterday I suggested there might be when I wrote:

It seems to me, as apparently to Dave, to be a self-evident truth that faith or belief is an act of the human mind and will.

Yes, it seems self-evident to us that we have freedom of will. But are such truths really self-evident? Any American is likely to be reminded by this phrase of the second sentence of the United States Declaration of Independence:

We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

If these truths were really self-evident in 1776, they must still be today. But do people today hold them to be self-evident? I guess it depends on who exactly is included under “all Men”. The original drafters of this declaration may have intended this to apply only to male human beings, not to women. But in recent years its applicability seems to have become even more restricted, only to United States citizens, at least in the understanding of those citizens.

Even my friend David Ker, in his latest rant, does not seem to accept that the people of Iraq have the right to life and liberty. Indeed when in my first comment there I alluded to their rights I was accused of “pinko rhetoric”. It seems to me that to conservative Americans, including very many evangelical Christians, that famous sentence has been amended to:

We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all US citizens are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, the pursuit of Happiness, and the right to deprive anyone else of Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

No wonder most non-Americans in the world hate Americans, and consider them to be hypocrites in preaching liberty while using their military and financial might to trample over anyone else’s liberty. Perhaps the only non-Americans left who love Americans are those who think they can gain power or money by sucking up them.

David, sorry for such a rant at you and your compatriots, but you did ask for it.

At least there is hope, that President Obama understands the issues here and will do his best to defuse them. So, despite David’s rant against it, I support Archbishop Tutu’s call (see also the full text) for America to apologise to Iraq, as a step towards averting

the risk of squandering the goodwill he says the US president’s election has generated.

As for self-evident truths, I think this shows that really there are no such things, that concepts that we think self-evident are just reflections of our culturally relative presuppositions. Or perhaps there is just the one such truth, which Descartes found: cogito ergo sum, “I think, therefore I am”. For any truths beyond that we depend on what God, or our untrustworthy senses, have made evident to us.

0 thoughts on “Freedom and self-evident truths

  1. Finally, Peter, we agree. You forget, it was not merely Males, but white landowning males, perhaps non-catholic as well. It disgusts me the rhetoric that comes from the evangelicals in this country.

    And I would settle for pinko, myself.

  2. Thanks, Joel. You are Polycarp, I presume? I’m glad we can agree on some things. I was expecting more negative reactions from America, but perhaps all the evangelicals there are just in a state of shock at what I wrote.

  3. Say it louder! American evangelicals are hard of hearing when it comes to the syncretism that is nationalism and christianity (note the small c). It is idolatry, but anyone who dares to say so is blacklisted…


  4. Peter…not an evangelical…Yes, I am Polycarp. It seems to me that the Religious Right has divested themselves of anything gospel related to focus on politics. They have been consumed by their own lust of power, confusing patriotism for loyalty to Christ, and the United States as the Church.

    If we are to be citizens of the world, on any level, then perhaps we should stop acting like we own the ball of mud and get along with our neighbors, as equals.

  5. In a vacuum, an apology to Iraq may be the moral thing for President Obama to do. However, if it caused a political backlash that put war hawks back in power in the U.S., what would be gained?

    I just pray that President Obama can find a way to mend international fences without galvanizing his stateside opponents.

  6. “No wonder most non-Americans in the world hate Americans, and consider them to be hypocrites in preaching liberty while using their military and financial might to trample over anyone else’s liberty. Perhaps the only non-Americans left who love Americans are those who think they can gain power or money by sucking up them.”

    At least it’s a comfort to see that I’m not the only one guilty of gross generalizations.

  7. Bruce, the war hawks are fortunately out of power for two years. I doubt if an apology today will be remembered at the next election. Indeed I doubt if it will be remembered for a week especially if carefully timed. It might not have much more effect elsewhere, but at least it is a small step in the right direction.

    David, yes, a gross generalisation, but that’s the only language you understand! To be fair, as Tutu pointed out, we don’t so much hate Americans as people as hate its policies, especially those of the last administration. But some people find it hard to make the distinction.

  8. Pingback: Freedom for ALL? « Moderate Christian Blogroll

  9. Peter,

    On the subject of self-evident truths, the Bible, in particular Paul, strongly supports the idea when it comes to the existence of God. Romans is clear in pointing to man’s rejection of what is perfectly clear: that God does in fact exist and should be worshiped.

    On the subject of America, I am an American evangelical and supported the war in Iraq. While I’m not sure in what respect we have trampled on the rights of the Iraqi people, I do think that many of the justifications for anti-Americanism are sad evidence of Britain’s total collapse as a significant and confident force in the world. The lens that would paint America’s wars of liberation as evil would certainly have an even darker effect on Britain’s heritage. So whether or not American policy in recent years is justified, I wonder how the British who rebuke us view the last hundred and fifty years of their own democratic interventionism.

  10. Thanks, Benjamin. I think technically Paul would teach that the existence of God, and indeed his goodness, is not so much self-evident as evident from the created world, as perceived with our senses. But I take the point that this is supposed to be perfectly clear.

    I certainly do not support British policies of past generations, nor the current government’s waning support for US policies in Iraq. There are things that we need to apologise for, and some of which we have, officially. It is regrettable that the USA has learned little from British mistakes in for example Palestine and India. But my concern here is not for history, but for current affairs.

  11. Peter,

    If you oppose the US policies in the War on Terror, I am curious to know what your own position is on how to deal with Islamic extremism. We on the other side of the pond have been more than a little mortified at your own governments complete surrender to the aggressive tactics of people like Lord Ahmed. How can a politician threaten to lay siege to the House of Lords with thousands of Muslims and actually succeed in hindering the rights of a filmmaker to display his work? Doesn’t such capitulation display cowardice on the part of the British people?

  12. Benjamin, I do not endorse the tactics of Lord Ahmend. But my objections to US policies are nothing to do with the War on Terror as properly understood. They refer to the US (with some help from allies) attack on a regime which was the strongest bastion in its region against Islamic extremism, that of Saddam Hussein. You (and we) went into Iraq and blew the lid off that box which was containing terrorism far better than anyone else in the region, and turned Iraq into a world centre for terrorism. Of course that regime also had its serious negative side. But I can’t think of anything your government could have done more to promote the interests of its claimed enemies in the War on Terror. And you talk about capitulation!

  13. Peter,

    The Iraq war, like any war, had intended and unintended consequences. Frankly, I don’t have enough information to judge Iraq’s acceptability/unacceptability as a front for the War on Terror. At the present moment, I think Iraq has a chance to be a positive democratic presence in the region, but only time will tell.

    My greatest concern is the gradual encroachment of sharia law and Islamic extremism within the borders of historic Christendom. You speak about the dangers Iraq poses as a base for terrorism, but most of the recent effective terrorist attacks in the West can be traced to Pakistan, a country whose immigrants have established a beachhead of extremism within Britain’s borders.

    In short, you may feel that the U.S. has opened a can of worms, but, to pull a line from C.S. Lewis, it is your nation that has opened its doors to the Calormenes. Britain would do well to regain some of its former hubris if only to ensure its survival. A country where Mohammed is the No. 1 boys name faces a troubling future regardless of what the U.S. may or may not do.

  14. Peter, your comments about Obama ring
    hollow considering he is using his international
    influence to ship abortion overseas.

    On the subject of Iraq, there have been
    free and fair elections since the overthrow
    of Saddam. I’m not sure how to reconcile
    those elections with your overly zealous
    remark about the US trampling liberty.


  15. Saddam sent money to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers. I’m not sure how that is perceived
    as containing terrorism.

  16. Benjamin, Iraq under Saddam Hussein was an island of secularism with I think a 20% Christian population and freedom of religion. As a result of US policies and more or less democratic elections it is now in the hands of Shia Muslims, many of them Islamic extremists, who are likely to impose Sharia law. Christians who haven’t fled are being massacred. Is this how to stop “the gradual encroachment of sharia law and Islamic extremism within the borders of historic Christendom”? But if you praise Iraq today, in hope, as “a positive democratic presence”, you have to allow it to make its own internal policies and decisions even if these include Sharia law.

    While I certainly have concerns about Islamic extremism in the UK, I completely reject your suggestion that it should be countered by denying to Muslims the right of freedom of religion and even to choose their children’s names.

    Martin, thanks for your comments. I note that not all Palestinian suicide bombers were Islamic extremists; some of the first, perhaps including those supported by Saddam, were secularists. Abortion is a completely separate issue.

  17. Peter,

    You have greatly misinterpreted my comments. To state that my reference to Mohammed being the No. 1 boys name in Britain is a call to restrict the freedom of Muslims is absurd. My concern is that this is even the situation to begin with. The British population was once thriving, a demographic force that spread a Christian democratic ethos across the globe. Now Britain is a seed bed for Islamic extremism, primarily because of the British population’s wholesale abandonment of the “clannish” mentality. The answer is not restriction, but a rediscovery by the British of the value of children and a Christian worldview.

  18. Well, Benjamin, I’m all for the conversion of Britain! So let’s put aside pointless arguments (I’m talking to myself as much as to others here) and get on working for that, and the same for the rest of the world.

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