Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Alan Keyes’ Empty Rhetoric

Alan Keyes has a column at the Worldnutdaily about the Afghani man targeted for the death penalty for converting to Christianity. It sounds very much like something I might write on the subject of liberty and the need to protect it not only from dictators but from democratic majorities as well. I’ll put a long quote from his column and my reaction below the fold:

The principle of democracy is majority rule. Does anyone deny that the overwhelming majority of Afghanistan’s population is Muslim? It is also likely that a majority of the Afghan population supports the decision to bring charges against the Christian convert, and even to put him to death when he is found guilty as charged of abandoning Islam.

This case is not about respect for democratic principle. It is about respect for the principles of unalienable human rights from which the preference for democratic self-government ultimately derives. The doctrine of unalienable rights, which requires that government be based upon consent (i.e., elections decided by majority vote) also prescribes limits upon the legitimate uses of government coercion. Even with the support of an overwhelming majority, government cannot legitimately use or threaten to use force to destroy the unalienable rights of individuals.

The right to individual self-determination in matters of conscience is the first and foremost of these rights, and the one on which depends the very possibility of individual liberty in other respects. There can be no liberty without choice, and there can be no free choice when the threat of violence holds conscience in the iron grip of fear. This is why Jefferson wisely swore “eternal enmity against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”

It is also why terrorism poses a threat to humanity that goes beyond the destruction of physical life. Terrorists seek to inspire fear by systematically employing violence against the innocent, with the ultimate aim of bending to submission the mind and will of targeted populations. In a sense, terrorism is the common principle of all physically despotic regimes, the naked truth at the heart of violent tyranny. If in Afghanistan the United States tolerates the threat or use of force to coerce conscience, we are allowing the principle of terrorism to triumph once again in the very country we say we are reclaiming from the terrorist scourge. Given the sacrifice of life good people have already made, this would be more than tragic irony – it would be criminal neglect of duty.

Hear, hear. I agree with every word of that. Unfortunately, Keyes doesn’t agree with his own words when it comes to a wide range of issues, most obviously gay rights. The man has never seen an anti-gay policy that he didn’t endorse. He railed against the Lawrence v Texas decision as an outrage, cursed those “unelected judges” for daring to overturn the “will of the people”. Where was that concern for unalienable rights that must be protected against democratic majorities then?

Where was the rhetoric about “self-determination in matters of conscience” in that situation? Where was his opposition to the “use of force to coerce conscience” when it comes to throwing people in prison for doing nothing more than choosing a consenting adult lover that Keyes disapproves of? It was non-existent. Why? Because Keyes only cares about unalienable rights when he approves of the people claiming them. When someone actually exercises those unalienable rights to do something Keyes finds morally objectionable, he is all for coercion and the use of force to override the self-determination of the individual.


  1. #1 Rob Knop
    March 27, 2006

    Hear, hear. I agree with every word of that. Unfortunately, Keyes doesn’t agree with his own words when it comes to a wide range of issues, most obviously gay rights.

    To be fair to Alan Keys, he wouldn’t consider any kind of gay rights “unalienable rights.”

    Mind you, I agree with you on this — I am in favor of homosexual marriage, and indeed think that conservatives are missing the boat when they oppose it.

    But, Keys isn’t being entirely inconsistent here; he’s just starting with a different set of axioms than you are.

    There are some things that we would “all” agree are inalienable rights; there are other things that many people differ on.


  2. #2 Ed Brayton
    March 27, 2006

    Rob Knop wrote:

    To be fair to Alan Keys, he wouldn’t consider any kind of gay rights “unalienable rights.”

    And that is exactly my point. But when he argues with the much broader rhetoric of opposing the use of “coersion” to violate the “self-determination of the individual”, this simply must apply to the right of an adult individual to love and to engage in consensual relations with another adult individual in the privacy of their own home without being thrown in prison for doing so. That is the logical application of the basis of his argument and the only reason he doesn’t apply it in that way is because he doesn’t really believe the argument he’s making. He only believes the argument he’s making if it is applied to those he doesn’t morally disapprove of.

  3. #3 tacitus
    March 27, 2006

    Ah yes, you’ve really got to read the whole column to see how out of his tree Alan Keyes really is. I find it amazing that he managed to string as many as four coherent and reasonable-sounding paragraphs together. You really get a better sense of his hate and bile the further down the article you read:

    The doctrine of unalienable rights is not a secular insight, justified by some purely materialistic scientific proof. According to the American credo, we are all created equal and endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights. The Islamic clerics who insist that God requires the destruction of the rights of conscience do so in the name of a very different deity than the one the American Declaration of Independence invokes as the authoritative source and sanction for our unalienable rights. The wishful thinking of liberal atheists, sexual hedonists and anti-Christian extremists provides no substitute for this understanding of our claim to liberty. The secular obsessions of liberal judges offer no replacement for it.


    The simple answer is that the god of the Afghan inquisitors, like the god of the Spanish Inquisition, is not God at all, but a ferocious figment of man’s evil imagination.

    Simply put, Alan Keyes has nothing but contempt for the human race — his twisted version of Christianity demands it. We are nothing, the lowest of the low, deserving of nothing but condemnation and damnation were it not for the “saving grace” of his deity.

  4. #4 ma3rk
    March 27, 2006

    What I don’t get is how people like this can recognize human fallibility in interpreting the divine, and yet assume that they, themselves, are 100% correct. Don’t they ever thing “I’m pretty sure of my viewpoint, but then, these mullahs seem pretty certain, too. Is it just possible that I might be wrong?”

  5. #5 tacitus
    March 27, 2006

    Just saw Ted Haggard on CNN (the pastor who threw Richard Dawkins off his church’s parking lot after he was upset by Dawkin’s questions in the documentary “The Root of all Evil”). He was talking about the Afghani Christian along with a Muslim imam.

    It’s amazing what people like Haggard can get away with in these softball interviews. He was rebutting a point made by the imam who said that the God of Islam and the God of Christianity were one and the same. Haggard said he thought they were “different spiritual entities”. That innocuous sounding phrase is deserved a follow-up question: “so if the god of Islam isn’t God, then who is he?” But I’m sure Haggard would have ducked that question because his only truthful answer would have been “Satan”, and imagine the fall out from that comment!

    Maybe CNN isn’t interested in stirring up such controversies, but if they invite extremists like Ted Haggard on to their network, they should extract from them what they really think and not allow them to conceal their real beliefs behind a veil of reasonableness.

  6. #6 Mike Heath
    March 27, 2006

    One of my biggest gripes with the media and the people who have access to them, especially our politicians, is how ignorant they are regarding our political system. We are not a democracy and never have been. We throw that word around and wonder why we have problems. James Madison, the architect of our republic, abhorred democracies and even commented that majority voting would lead to tyrannies as frequently as monarchies would.

    We are a constitutional republic structured to operate as a democratic republic. We don’t have rights because we are a “democracy” or because we have consent of the majority for these rights. We RESERVED our rights as free people and numerated limited powers to government mainly to protect our rights.

    Until Iraq and Afghanistan, and the U.S. for that matter, understands this concept and realizes that majoritarian rule will always deprive us of our rights and that liberty comes from people-ordained gov. with a constitution that protects our rights from government and simple majorities, we’ll continue to see people killing other people because God-ordained governments and simple majorities wish the world adhered to their worldview of utopia even if force is required.

    Tony Perkins is actually saying on TV that once the GOP controls all branches of gov’t (huh? they don’t now?); that the GOP will operate by an approach he calls “majoritarian conservatism”, which is spoon-fed to idiots as “the will of the people”. The will of the Aftgan people may very well be expressed if they start killing muslims converting to christianity.

  7. #7 blogista
    March 27, 2006

    It appears that the Afghan court threw out the case.

    But to the point. Keyes says:
    “The simple answer is that the god of the Afghan inquisitors, like the god of the Spanish Inquisition, is not God at all, but a ferocious figment of man’s evil imagination.”

    Dude, I hope no one points out to Mr. Keyes that the God of the Spanish Inquisition is the same God invoked in “the American credo” just a few hundred years later.

    Otherwise Keyes will have to explain that the people in the middle ages invoking God were doing so wrongly… which might lead him to admit that, uh, at the present time, uh, people might possibly … invoke … God … wrongly.

    Oohhh, Oh God NO! Imagine him trying to hand-wave his way out of that one.


  8. #8 WJD
    March 27, 2006

    Alan Keyes is a nutcase, pure and simple.

    And I’m not the only one with this opinion. My fellow Illinois voters gave him his come-uppance in his Senate race against Barack Obama. Keyes: 27%. Obama: 70%. I’ll be surprised if he ever shows his face here again. 😉

  9. #9 Jillian
    March 28, 2006

    Alan Keyes is a Roman Catholic.

    The God of the Spanish Inquisition is HIS god.

    Or perhaps it’s just that even the Catholic Church is only right when it agrees with him.

  10. #10 Raging Bee
    March 28, 2006

    It kinda sounds like Keyes is waffling about trying to work in some insinuation that similar persecution of Christians is going on here in the US. Or that anyone who mocks (his version of) Christian belief is in league with Christian-killing Muslims. Or something…

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