America’s Founders believed political liberty derived from an unalienable — that is God given — natural right to liberty. The ones most notable for articulating this theory were not orthodox Trinitarian Christians who believed the Bible the infallible Word of God. And the Bible itself, from a strict literal interpretation, is entirely unconcerned with political liberty. The Founders did sometimes write and speak as though God in the Bible grants political liberty. But as I have noted (after more distinguished scholars) these were unitarians like Jefferson who believed in a partially inspired Bible and therefore were more free to “read in” their desires to the good book.
I write this because I wonder what we think of the idea of a God granted right to political liberty. As a libertarian I value political liberty and would like to think human beings have an inalienable right to be free. I do believe that liberty inheres in human nature. I’m not sure if I can prove it does; and I know I can’t prove a God given right to political liberty.
But, for those of us who value liberty, what do we think of the notion of a God given right to liberty (or equality) in order to make such rights “unalienable”? Attaching something to God is probably the only way to make such a concept we really like trump all other claims. I don’t make this assertion without careful thought. I make this claim after witnessing two left of center Princeton University political philosophy professors, Paul Sigmund and Maurizio Viroli claim this, as has Jeremy Waldron of Columbia University School of Law. When I spoke with Sigmund and Viroli they both noted it was a “selective” interpretation of God or the Bible that yielded such desirable and necessary results.
The reason why I harp on the Bible, literally interpreted, as NOT supporting political liberty is because Christian Nationalists who don’t believe in political liberty try to define “liberty” as “the right” to do what our worldview permits (which is no meaningful concept of liberty at all). And they claim the Founders were biblical Christians like them and got their ideas of the Declaration of Independence from the Bible, yada yada. It’s important to show them that the concept of liberty means, in principle, a God given right to break the rules found in the Bible or to sin. And that’s exactly what America’s Founders believed. They believed in a God given unalienable right to religious liberty for all; this is indisputable. Yet, by granting such right, you necessarily grant men a right to break the very First Commandment as well as many other parts of the Bible, indeed violate parts of the Bible that, like sodomy and adultery, merit the death penalty. Go look up what it says in the Old Testament about folks who encourage you to worship false gods.