Thursday, July 5, 2018

Pascal, Camus, and God-given Rights

There’s a quote I frequently come across by Camus:

I would rather live my life as if there is a God and die to find out there isn't, than live as if there isn't and to die to find out that there is.—Albert Camus 
I’m not sure he actually lived that way, but it’s an interesting theory. It’s related to a philosophical argument presented by French mathematician Blaise Pascal, referred to as Pascal’s Wager. He proposes that humans bet their lives on whether or not God exists. As Pascal argues, it’s rational to live as though God exists, and to seek to believe in God. If a person is wrong, his loss is finite (current pleasures, luxuries, etc.), but he stands to receive infinite gains (eternity in heaven) while avoiding infinite eternal losses (eternity in hell).
Blaise Pascal
image from Wikipedia

What if we try a similar wager on the related idea of God-given rights? Our nation was founded on an idea—rather than a geography or a tribal connection, like most other nations. The idea is that we are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, among which are “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” And, did we mention, God created us as equal—not the same, but with the same rights before the law. No one is born royal, or noble, while others are born as something less than human.

If God made us equal, with those unalienable rights, then we have a right to govern ourselves, rather than an inborn obligation to be subject to rulers.

Those who don’t believe in God are left with man-given rights. Who chooses what rights you’ll be granted? Who decides? Whoever is in the position to rule—which is likely to be whoever is the biggest, strongest, and meanest. That’s true whether there’s anarchy or a statist tyranny.

You don’t get freedom, prosperity, and civilization if you don’t have a government that is just powerful enough to protect your God-given rights but limited enough that it does not infringe on your rights. Such a government is simply the best way.

Even if people didn’t believe in God, it would still be better for them if they set up a system as if they were protecting God-given rights.

It’s better to live in a society where everyone practically takes it for granted that they can think and express their opinions, meet with others who share their beliefs, choose their own ways of making a living, or seeing to the care and upbringing of their own children. It’s better not to fear government spying and imprisoning you for your beliefs and opinions and pursuits.

Now that we’ve had America for a couple of centuries as an example—even non-believers want those freedoms, and even expect them and demand them.

But there’s no rationale for that expectation, because nonbelievers by definition have no more rights than what their ruler sees fit to allow them.

Using Spherical Model language, those who don’t believe in God-given rights are living below the equator, in the southern hemisphere of tyranny, just trying to get the best balance between chaos and control—all under the banner of some flavor of tyranny.

To them, it’s just a matter of forcing others to go along with the direction they want. They don’t look up and find freedom, prosperity, and civilization. They might think that the most we can hope for is some level of non-misery, if we’re lucky, and maybe we can find the right formula of statist tyranny to give us the impression of freedom, prosperity, and civilization—or at least some imaginary idea of fairness.

When they’re arguing with us, it’s against what they view as a stripe of tyranny they do not prefer. They do not even know they are arguing against freedom, prosperity, and civilization—and asserting a preference for tyranny, poverty, and savagery.

A Facebook friend, T. F. Stern, wrote a piece about a conversation he had with a socialist friend:

While exchanging ideas my friend boasted about how much better some socialist countries in Europe treated their citizens (subjects) and how Americans should consider moving in that direction.
My response, omitting his name out of respect for his privacy, “…there is no such thing as a socialist country that respects individual God-given inalienable rights.  While there are some that infringe on them less than others, the constitutional republic established by our founders with Divine intervention is by far much more desirable.  How about we, as individuals, how about we work at restoring that ‘more perfect union’ rather than seeking a replacement.”
He’s right. None of those countries has a guaranteed right to free speech, for example. Things go along fine—unless and until you disagree with what the government allows you to believe.

So, the question is, how do you enlighten someone in that much darkness? I’m not sure. They’re arguing against all the forms of tyranny except the one they prefer, and they assume we’re doing the same—except that they think our flavor of tyranny is certainly worse than theirs, so they dig in their heels.

Founding documents
image from here

If only we could get them to recognize the value of the experiment. As Pascal and Camus suggest: try living as if God does indeed exist. Let’s try living as if God-given rights do indeed exist. And therefore, let’s live as if our law—our Constitution—intentionally limits what government can do, so we can all live free. There’s been a world of history of their way, the no-God-given-rights way, the ruler-tyranny way.

It’s just possible that the Constitution works every time it’s tried. The possible benefits are immense and unlimited. On the other hand, the misery of tyranny—with the poverty and savagery that go hand-in-hand with it—is just as immensely negative. And the key difference is whether it should be a tyrant bestowing rights, or God. I choose God.

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