TCS Daily

Are We All Lockeans Now?

By Edward Feser - October 18, 2007 12:00 AM

President Bush has famously defended his administration's policy of promoting religious, political, and economic liberty around the globe by insisting that "freedom is the almighty God's gift to each man and woman in this world." His secular critics have seen this as an attempt to mix politics with traditional religious belief, and to some extent they are right. It cannot be doubted that the president has hoped to appeal to his Christian admirers and Muslim opponents alike by arguing in terms of premises they share, and the religions in question are both very ancient. At the same time, the rhetoric of freedom or liberty is decidedly modern. So too is the attempt to defend it in theological terms. Intentionally or not, the president's words evoke the thinking of John Locke (1632-1704), the quintessential philosopher of the Enlightenment era and a key influence on the American founding fathers. It is a mistake, then, for secularists to dismiss the president's position as necessarily an unsophisticated throwback to pre-modern times.

Still, that doesn't mean that the Lockean attempt to combine the old and the new, the religious heritage of the West with modern conceptions of reason and political freedom, is unproblematic. If the president's effort to transplant the Lockean ideal in the Middle East seems to have come a cropper, there is nevertheless a sense in which in the West itself, "we are all Lockeans now," and have been for some time. Locke's conception of individual rights, government by consent, religious toleration, and scientific rationality has swept all before it in the centuries since he wrote, to such an extent that the average modern Westerner, whatever his political or religious affiliation, finds it difficult to understand that anyone ever believed anything else. And yet modern Westerners are also very deeply divided amongst themselves over questions of morality, politics, and religion - including over the appropriateness of giving politics the sort of theological foundation Locke does. This is no accident; for these tensions exist at the very core of Locke's thought, and in building the modern West upon it we have incorporated those tensions into its very foundations. Liberals and conservatives, religious believers and skeptics, can all find in Locke much to like and much to dislike; and if the debates between them often seem intractable, that is precisely because they all have an equally strong claim to the Lockean legacy. A consideration of that legacy is therefore in order if we are to make sense of the so-called "culture wars" between traditionalists and progressives, "red-staters" and "blue-staters." To understand Locke is to understand ourselves.

The Lockean project

In the beginning (of our story, anyway) were the Middle Ages, and the relative political, cultural, religious, and intellectual unity that characterized them. This unity was never perfect, but it was extensive enough that the traditional label "Christendom" aptly describes the civilization of the period. Two events shattered this unity: the Protestant Reformation and the Enlightenment. The first event put private individual conscience in place of public institutional authority, splintering Christianity into innumerable sects and setting off a series of bloody religious wars. The second dethroned the Scholasticism that had given an intellectual foundation to medieval civilization, seeking to replace it with a philosophy more conducive to justifying the political, religious, and intellectual individualism that the Reformation had spawned, while reigning in the chaos it unleashed. (As Ralph McInerny has put it, modern philosophy can to some extent be described as "the Reformation carried on by other means.")

There is, of course, a lot more to the story than this; the point is to highlight the factors most relevant to understanding Locke's concerns. (In previous TCS Daily articles, I have had more to say about Scholasticism, the Reformation, and the Enlightenment.) A devotee of the Enlightenment, Locke sought to replace Scholasticism with a new empiricist foundation for philosophy and science, to promote individual rights and religious toleration, and to curb the dogmatic subjectivism or "enthusiasm" associated with some varieties of Protestantism. A sincere Protestant himself, he also thought that much of this could be accomplished only given certain theological premises; and as we shall see, his thinking on this was by no means an arbitrary byproduct of his religious views devoid of independent intellectual motivation.

Scholasticism was a complex intellectual phenomenon, but for our purposes we might focus on its commitment to certain key ideas derived from Aristotle's metaphysics. Among these was essentialism, the thesis that everything that exists has a fixed essence or nature, also known as a "substantial form." Hence the essence or substantial form of a human being is to be a rational animal; and a person retains this essence even when he or she fails to manifest it perfectly, due to incomplete development, say (as in a fetus) or injury (as in someone with brain damage). In addition to this, the Scholastics followed Aristotle in affirming the existence of final causes - ends, purposes, or goal-directedness inherent throughout the natural order, independent of any mind, and in particular of human interests. Thus a bodily organ like the heart, for example, has the end, purpose, or function of pumping blood, the moon has a natural end or tendency toward motion around the earth, fire has a natural end or tendency toward the generation of heat, and so on and so forth. (Contrary to a standard caricature, these ends or goals were not taken to be conscious ones: The heart has the end or goal of pumping blood and the moon of going around the earth, but obviously they don't think about doing these things; they just do them. For Aristotle and the Scholastics, conscious goal-seeking of the sort human beings and other animals exhibit exists against a larger background of unconscious goal-directedness or teleology permeating nature.)

Now these metaphysical ideas had dramatic practical repercussions for morality and politics. For human beings, like everything else, have on the Scholastic view an essence or nature, and this essence or nature entails that they and their various capacities, from reason on down to the lowest biological faculty, have various final causes or natural ends or purposes. All of this, on the Scholastic view, is entirely objective and rationally ascertainable. But this essence and these final causes determine what is good for us: If it is of our very essence or nature that we and our various capacities have certain goals, ends, or purposes, then we cannot flourish except by living in a way that is conducive to the realization of these goals, ends, or purposes. Hence morality has a foundation that is also entirely objective and rationally ascertainable. This is, in a nutshell, the idea of natural law. Later Scholastic thinkers developed on this basis a theory of natural rights, on which a person's right to something - his life, say, or his property, or whatever - is grounded in his obligations under natural law to pursue various ends. If the natural law obliges you to pursue X, and the only way you can pursue X is via Y, then you must have the right to Y, otherwise you would be unable to fulfill your moral obligations. Hence, for example, since not being killed or deprived of a certain domain of free action is a prerequisite to performing any actions at all, including moral ones, you must have a right not to be killed or deprived of personal liberty, all things being equal. (The usual caveats apply for those guilty of serious crimes.)

It is all much more complicated than this, of course, but that is perhaps enough to set the stage for Locke. Modern philosophy and science, as represented by thinkers like Bacon, Galileo, Hobbes, Descartes, Boyle, Newton, and so forth, are defined perhaps more than anything else by their rejection of Aristotelian Scholasticism, and in particular of the notions of final cause and substantial forms or essences. For the moderns, there are, appearances notwithstanding, no final causes or substantial forms in nature at all, or at least none we can know about. Hence science ought in their view to proceed on the assumption that the objects of its inquiries are comprised of inherently meaningless material elements governed by purposeless chains of mechanical cause and effect. This was not a "discovery"; it was a methodological stipulation, and it remains nothing more than that to this day. The reasons for making it were complicated, but chief among them were an obsession with quantifying nature in the hopes of making it more amenable to technological manipulation, and - not least - a desire to undermine what such thinkers regarded as the dogmatism of the Scholastic system. (It is also far more intellectually problematic than most people realize; indeed, the thinkers who made this historic intellectual shift understood its problems much better than do contemporary thinkers, who, generally speaking, simply take it for granted unreflectively and uncritically. I briefly discuss some of the problems with it here.)

Locke was thoroughly committed to this new "Mechanical Philosophy," as it was called. To provide it with intellectual foundations, and further to undermine the authority of Scholasticism, he developed his empiricist theory of knowledge and a corresponding metaphysics to replace the Aristotelian one. One result of this was a system of thought that severely curtailed metaphysical inquiry and any religious conclusions that might be based upon it. This skepticism, while by no means total, served to justify a doctrine of religious toleration: Since, given Locke's empiricism, there is very little to be had in the way of genuine knowledge where religion is concerned, we ought to tolerate a wide diversity of religious opinions.

Yet Locke was also intent on defending a doctrine of inviolable natural rights against thinkers like Hobbes and Filmer, whose advocacy of absolute state power threatened the individual liberty the Reformation and Enlightenment were supposed to have ushered in. How could this be done given his abandonment of the Scholastic foundations of natural law? Locke's solution was to draw very definite limits to his theological minimalism. In line with his Scholastic predecessors, he argued that the existence of God could be established through pure reason, by means of a version of the traditional cosmological argument. But to prove the existence of God is just to prove the existence of a divine creator of the world, including human beings. Hence reason shows that we are, as Locke puts it, God's "workmanship," "sent into the world by his order, and about his business." And given Locke's famous theory of property - that what starts out unowned can be acquired by "mixing one's labor" with it, as you might acquire a piece of fruit by plucking it from a tree - it follows that we are God's property. Indeed, since God created us ex nihilo or out of nothing, his ownership of us is even more absolute than our ownership of anything we can acquire out of raw materials we did not make. So to harm another human being in his life, liberty, or possessions is in effect to damage what belongs to God, to violate divine property rights. Talk of individual human rights, then, is a kind of shorthand for God's rights over us: I must treat you as if you had a right to your life, liberty, and property, because to do otherwise would be to offend against God. At the same time, our rights are not absolute; because we belong to God, we cannot damage ourselves (through suicide or debauched living, say) any more than we can harm others.

There is a rich irony in this. Modern people tend to assume that medieval thinkers regarded morality as grounded in arbitrary divine commands backed by hellfire, and that it was modern thinkers who moved us away from this crude understanding. Yet in fact the Scholastics thought that, at least to a very large extent, the demands of morality can be determined through unaided reason via a philosophical investigation of human nature. If something is good or bad for you given your nature, it is good or bad for you whether or not God created that nature; hence the question of God's existence can be bracketed off. But Locke, like other early modern philosophers, denied that there is, or at least that we could know that there is, such a thing as human nature in the sense that the Scholastics had in mind, viz. the having of a fixed essence or substantial form together with its inherent natural ends or purposes. Lacking this metaphysical foundation for his doctrine of natural rights, Locke, the Enlightened foe of Scholasticism, has no choice but to appeal directly to God's will for us.

The "conservative" Locke

So crucial, in Locke's thinking, is the existence of God to the possibility of natural rights, that he was led to deny that toleration ought to be extended to atheists. For "the taking away of God," he said, "though but even in thought, dissolves all." It is sometimes thought that his motivation was a mere prejudicial belief that atheists could not be trusted to abide by their promises and oaths. But it goes deeper than that. Whether or not this or that individual atheist happens to want to live a moral life, Locke's view is that atheism necessarily undermines the rational foundation for doing so. It is inherently subversive of public morality, whatever the motivations of its adherents. Contemporary conservatives would not go so far as to deny toleration to atheists, but many of them would sympathize with the view that at least a generic theism ought to inform public life, and that the moral and political order is unlikely to be stable without it.

In other respects too, contemporary conservatives are bound to find Locke's thought congenial, despite his status as one of the founding fathers of the broad liberal tradition in political philosophy. As was just indicated, Locke's criterion for denying toleration to a view was its tendency to subvert public order. This led him to refuse toleration not only to atheists, but also to any religious doctrine which bound its adherents to give their primary allegiance to a foreign power. Notoriously, this led him to hold that Roman Catholics ought not to be tolerated either, given their allegiance to the Pope. Obviously, contemporary conservatives would not agree with him on this. But many of them would say that radical forms of Islam, whose proponents' first (and indeed only) loyalty is to the international Muslim jihad rather than to the countries in which they happen to reside, have no right to expect the same treatment afforded to other religious communities. Whatever dangers some civil libertarians might see in such an attitude, it is certainly a very Lockean one.

A tacit Lockeanism may also underlie the attitudes many American conservatives have taken to international affairs in the post-9/11 world. Locke famously held that "all princes and rulers of independent governments, all through the world, are in a state of nature," meaning that the position of every government with respect to every other one is analogous to the relationship between individuals in circumstances where no government exists. This is so, in Locke's view, "whether they [i.e. 'princes and rulers'] are, or are not, in league with others: for it is not every compact that puts an end to the state of nature between men, but only this one of agreeing together mutually to enter into one community, and make one body politic." An international treaty, on this view, even if it establishes norms of international law or an organization like the United Nations, does not count as an exit from the state of nature as long as it falls short of the establishment of a world government. When you add to these theses the consideration that for Locke, "in the state of nature every one has the executive power of the law of nature" - that is, where no government exists, everyone has the right to punish violations of the natural law - it is easy to see why someone might conclude that in the international context, any particular government has the right unilaterally to punish another government for its violations of the law of nature (whether these violations involve reneging on its agreements, mistreating its citizens, or whatever). In particular, it is easy to see why many American conservatives would hold that the United States had every right to intervene in Iraq beginning in 2003.

Lockean considerations could even be applied to a defense of the controversial way in which the United States has treated enemy combatants in its wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. For Locke also famously argued that "captives taken in a just war, are by the right of nature subjected to the absolute dominion and arbitrary power of their masters. These men having, as I say, forfeited their lives, and with it their liberties... cannot in that state be considered as any part of civil society." In Locke's view, since someone who fights in defense of an unjust cause has forfeited his very right to life, he has no grounds to complain if he suffers some lesser punishment instead. At least with respect to those combatants who have engaged in terrorism, then, a defender of American policy could argue on Lockean grounds that there is no moral difficulty in detaining such persons indefinitely or applying to them rough or humiliating methods of interrogation.

None of this is intended as either a defense or a criticism of U. S. foreign policy, which is not the subject of this essay. The point is rather to underline the extent to which the thinking of many contemporary American conservatives reflects a broadly Lockean worldview. Indeed, a strong case could be made that modern conservatism (at least in the British and American contexts) represents a more purely Lockean point of view than that of contemporary liberals and libertarians, who also look to Locke for inspiration. Modern liberals would advocate a far more extensive redistribution of wealth than Locke could have tolerated, in the name of an economic interpretation of human equality that he would have rejected. Libertarians, by contrast, would radically scale back government in ways that Locke did not and would not advocate, eliminating public assistance for the needy and decriminalizing so-called "victimless crimes," all on the basis of a theory of rights very different from Locke's own. Both liberals and libertarians would eschew the theological foundations of Locke's political philosophy and his advocacy of a privileged place for religion (or at least a minimal theism) in the public square. There is a sense, then, in which today's conservatives are really just liberals of an old-fashioned Lockean sort who seek to preserve Locke's moderate liberal legacy "whole and undefiled" against the more radical contemporary liberals and libertarians who would, in their view, distort it by separating Locke's interest in liberty and equality from his commitment to religion and public order.

The "liberal" Locke

This does not entail, however, that contemporary liberals and libertarians do not have a Lockean leg to stand on; far from it. For one thing, whatever Locke's own intentions, the philosophical doctrines he put in place of Scholasticism do in fact tend to undermine even the few elements of that older worldview that he sought to preserve. As his successor David Hume was to show, empiricism, when followed through consistently, undercuts the notion of causation underlying cosmological arguments for God's existence. (It also undercuts the notion of causation underlying scientific inquiry, and indeed, the possibility of any knowledge at all. But that is another story.) The result is that Locke's theological minimalism collapses into a complete skepticism about religious claims in general - something Locke's liberal successors have quite naturally taken to justify removing even Locke's generic theism from any privileged place in the public square. And without either God or the Scholastic conception of human nature, the limits Locke would put on our rights disappear, opening the door to libertinism in the sphere of personal morality.

Locke's doctrine of religious toleration had in any case rested on a very restricted conception of what we could claim genuinely to know where religion is concerned. "Every church is orthodox to itself," Locke said, evincing the view that religious doctrines about which various denominations disagree must be treated by government as mere subjective preferences that ought to have, unlike his generic theism, no influence on public policy. He also went so far as to insist that "toleration" - not doctrinal orthodoxy, not apostolic succession, not antiquity, not holiness, but commitment to a modern liberal political ideal - is "the chief characteristical mark of the true church." When you combine all this with the radical religious skepticism entailed (however unwittingly) by Locke's empiricism, it is but a very short step to the conclusion that religious opinions as such and in general are as subjective as tastes in ice cream, ought to be kept out of the public square entirely, and are "reasonable" only to the extent that they subordinate themselves to the liberal conception of justice. John Locke is transformed thereby into John Rawls.

In opposition to the Scholastic view that the essences or natures of things are objective, existing independently of the human mind, Locke argued that "the essences of the species [under which things fall]... are of man's making." Thus, what counts as a member or this or that class of things is ultimately a matter of human convention rather than objective fact. Locke also famously held that what is essential to being a person is continuity of consciousness of the sort manifested in memory, rather than membership in the biological category homo sapiens. In these doctrines lay the seeds of the view that it is up to us to decide whether certain human beings count as persons, and that fetuses and those in "persistent vegetative states," since they are not conscious, ought not be afforded that status, or the rights that go with it. Though Locke himself would no doubt have been horrified at the fact, contemporary defenders of abortion and euthanasia have very solidly Lockean grounds for their position.

In several ways, then, Locke's epistemological and metaphysical views have implications that are far more congenial to the opinions of present-day liberals and libertarians than they are to those of conservatives. It is natural, then, if liberals and libertarians who reject Locke's theism but sympathize with some of his other epistemological and metaphysical views might see themselves as perfectly justified in picking and choosing those aspects of his political philosophy that they like and reinterpreting them along less conservative lines, even if the reinterpretation is sometimes a fairly radical one. Though their Lockeanism is less pure as a result, it may be more philosophically coherent.

Here many conservatives, though they are on the whole closer to Locke's own way of thinking, may for that reason find themselves in greater philosophical difficulty. For contemporary conservative intellectuals seem by and large to endorse the intellectual revolution that Locke and his fellow modern philosophers inaugurated. No less than their liberal counterparts, they tend to see the world in broadly empiricist terms, and regard science rather than metaphysics as the paradigm of genuine knowledge. Like Locke, most of them reject the suggestion that belief in substantial forms, final causes, and other Aristotelian and Scholastic metaphysical notions is essential to a proper understanding of morality. They are also, in their own way, as beholden to the rhetoric of individual freedom and skepticism about authority as any modern liberal or libertarian. To the extent that these philosophical attitudes have the unconservative implications mentioned above, then, the conservative Lockean position seems threatened with the same incoherence that Locke's own position manifests. Liberals and libertarians, while less true to the letter of Locke's philosophy, can plausibly claim to be more true to the radical spirit that underlies it.


The lesson would seem to be this. Those who seek to appropriate Locke's legacy today must decide which part of it they value most, for they cannot coherently have it all. One must either endorse Locke's revisionist metaphysics - his rejection of objective essences and final causes in nature, his reductionistic account of the nature of persons, and so forth - and abandon the traditional moral and religious elements of his philosophy; or, if one wants to maintain these conservative elements, one must reject the revisionist metaphysics, and return to something like the Scholastic worldview it replaced. One must be either a radical or a reactionary. It is no longer possible (if it ever was) to be a Lockean.

Edward Feser ( is the author of the recently published Locke, from which this article was in part adapted, and editor of The Cambridge Companion to Hayek. He is a regular contributor to the blog Right Reason.



1 Samuel 8, 10-19
" ¶ And Samuel told all the words of the LORD unto the people that asked of him a king.
11 And he said, This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: He will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots.
12 And he will appoint him captains over thousands, and captains over fifties; and will set them to ear his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and instruments of his chariots.
13 And he will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers.
14 And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants.
15 And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants.
16 And he will take your menservants, and your maidservants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work.
17 He will take the tenth of your sheep: and ye shall be his servants.
18 And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the LORD will not hear you in that day.
19 ¶ Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, Nay; but we will have a king over us;"

I don't recall this passage being discussed much when I went to church. I wonder why?

My take away is that God wanted his people to have liberty and freedom from the governments of men.

He had already distributed the Ten Commandments which form a sound basis for natural law. Don't murder, don't steal, don't even think about stealing, respect your parents and honor God.

The one question I have for moderns, especially atheists and agnostics, what higher authority do you believe in or will submit to?

Most who beleive in God place God at the top, self, family, then a modern state which exists at the consent of the governed.

Too many today, I believe, place the state as the highest authority.

Numbers 33:50-53, 55
And the Lord spake unto Moses in the plains of Moab by Jordan, near Jericho, saying,
Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, when ye are passed over Jordan into the land of Canaan;
Then ye shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you, and destroy all their pictures, and destroy all their molten images, and quite pluck down all their high places:
And ye shall dispossess all the inhabitants of the land, and dwell therein: for I have given you the land to possess it...
But if ye will not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you; then it shall come to pass, that those which ye let remain of them shall be pricks in your eyes, and thorns in your sides, and shall vex you in the land wherein ye dwell.


To me, this is more like the passage the Americans invoked when they were displacing the original inhabitants of the land that then became theirs.

No wonder they admire and identify with the Israelis. Both are Peoples of the Book.

only choice the state or God?
You said you have the question for atheists about what higher authority we believe in. Pardon me but I don't need the State, or God, or any higher autority over me. Thanks anyway. If I'm making wine with a real master, then I'll defer to his authority on that matter. If I'm having trouble with this laptop, I'll submit to the higher authority of the teenage geek who will sort it out. Other than that, why would I want or need any other authority, especially any government. Looks like most suffering is caused by the State.

Many non-believers substitute the state for god.
That happend in your country's past and it is happening in DPRK.

Maybe you don't submit to a higher authority, but many feel the need. If it is not God, it will be ... the state or....?

Blank Slate, too
Locke also introduced the concept of the mind as a blank slate. He intended it as a way to undermine the idea of the aristocracy being better due to ancenstry and inheritance. But the left, through Rousseau's use of the blank slate, have used the idea to justify socialist tyranny, since if the blank slate is true, then humans would be able to be molded into any way of thinking and behaving as one wanted -- including living harmoniously under tyranny.

It turns out that nothing could be more wrong than the blank slate idea.

Best Part
You left out my favorite part, where God punishes them by giving them what they asked for. Who says God doesn't have a sense of humor?

Real Masters
Pardon me but I don't need the State, or God, or any higher autority over me. Thanks anyway. If I'm making wine with a real master, then I'll defer to his authority on that matter. If I'm having trouble with this laptop, I'll submit to the higher authority of the teenage geek who will sort it out.

Isn't this a bit oxymoronic? Life is far more complicated pursuing one's oenophilia or banishing the blue screen of death. Life is often about coralling one's impulses to pursue the "obvious" because of the possibility of unseen consequences or acting in the face of unknown or unknowable circumstances. What authority do you choose follow then and how do you find an authority and then the highest.Who is the real master? Real masters are often reviled in their own time.

If people weren't so vulnerable to sophists peddling crap, then the Manifesto and Das Kapital would have been forgotten, not eagerly accepted and reversed as the (false) gospels of an earthly utopia

Radical individualism presumes human beings to be benigh rational free agents-I have history books and an evening news broadcast with plenty of contrary evidence.

If the evangelical atheists didn't practice so hard at being detestible, I'd pity them for the nihilist zeal.

Sovereignty is more important than liberty?
A sovereign state like DPRK has every right to exist and to murder and starve its slaves?

Cuban slaves fleeing to liberty in the USA should be returned to their sovereign?

Its acceptable for sovereign states like Mexico to help their subjects invade another sovereign state like the USA and the USA is wrong to force them back?

Since you live in liberty and prosperity, you feel no obligation to share liberty and prosperity to those in bondage to a state?

Oh brother
This is so utterly absurd I will not comment. I am laughing so hard it hurts.

Man o man, are you on drugs?

old Masters
You use my quote, but what is all that got to do with me? If I say I'm a rational individual, and don't want or need any master, what's wrong with that? And I recommend that all other people be rational too, and if you asked, well what if everybody did it? Then I would say I'm happy if everybody did it. I lament it that many people want to be more like sheep, suffering under whatever shepard dictator they have, and just bend over and get buggerred the way real shepards used to do to their flocks literaly.

"life is about"
and nihilism. I thought life was about trying to be happy. That's not nihilistic at all. I wish everybody would try harder to be happy, and you also don't need any nanny or god for that.

Maybe you need to define "happy".
Do you think all those expats hanging out at Swagman's are happy?

And I recommend people need faith.
If you are happy without faith and others are happy with faith, does it bother you, like many atheists, that they are happy with faith?

If you have a shepherd like Christ, whose only commandments are to love a forgiving, loving God and to love your neighbor as yourself, why wouldn't you follow His commandments or at least respect those who try?

only if the sovereign is a communist
that's always been roy's motto

So the Bible lied?
Let me ask you these questions:

1. Do Christians believe that the Bible is the word of God, and that everything in it is true?

2. Does the passage I cite not say that God has commanded his chosen people to find some place they like, kill off all the people in it, nay the women and children too, and spare no one? And then to live there?

I would like a more serious answer from you. The Americans did exactly this, to their native population. Then the Israelis have done it again. And their God has told them not only that it's okay, he has COMMANDED that they do it.

Argue from the text.

God's chosen
1. Some Chrisitans believe in a literal English translation of the Bible. Many do not.

2. If that's what God commanded, that what he commanded. He also commanded Abraham to kill Isaac.

Whoever "the Americans" are, they did NOT kill off the indigenous population. Those who migrated to the Americas are alive and well and thriving throughout the Americas.

Who have the Israelies exterminated? The Palestinieans could have had a state with defined, internationally recognized borders in 1948. There 'brother' Arabs could not tolerate Jews living beside them and attacked the internationally recognized state of Israel.

As for exteriminating a people, Christians and socialists have tried to exterminate the Jews. So far with no success. Maybe they ARE God's chosen people?

blind faith
No it doesn't bother me that people go on blind faith, and I notice that it's the main history of the world. I just think that nowadays when people have a chance to live more by reason, that they're foolish for sticking with primitive superstitions of the supernatural.
Did you say a 'loving, forgiving God'? I thought the whole thing was conditional, and if you don't follow his conditions you will burn forever in hell in torment?
Or what about if we Google biblical quotes we see stuff like:
Also Matthew 5:17-20 Jesus talks about how he hasn't come to replace Old Testament Law, but in fact fulfill it. Whoever breaks OT law won't be admitted to heaven.

Matthew 10:34-36 Jesus says that he has come to destroy families by making family members hate each other. He has "come not to send peace, but a sword."

Luke 12:46-47 Basically says Jesus said that God is like a slave-owner who beats his slaves "with many stripes."

Hebrews 10:28-29 Those who disobeyed the Old Testament law were killed without mercy. It will be much worse for those who displease Jesus.

But I know Christians can just rationalize every passage in the bible. We're supposed to kill infidels, and queers, oh well he didn't really mean it that way.

the passage americans invoked?
What about all the rest of the world who did the same, but didn't even know about the bible? A few centuries when americans took over from the red indians, those indians had the very same ethic, imperialsim, they also conquered neighbouring tribes, raped and pillaged, etc. So did the rest of the world at the time. So the biblical quote has nothing to do with it. It's only convenient for those who believe in the bible. In those days nobody needed any justification.

I was talking about superheaters comment about purpose of life or whatever. But sure, happiness is different for individuals. Some guys at Swagman's bar are miserable wretches, but some not. I have often been quite happy there, with my honey-ko on my lap, eating and drinking, etc. On the other hand, I've also seen many really miserable religious people, tortured by quilt that something might give them please, that the purpose of life is to suffer for God and all that.

And I recommend that all other people be rational too, and if you asked, well what if everybody did it? Then I would say I'm happy if everybody did it.

Marxists would all be happy if human beings were perfectly mutable into the new socialist man. Islamists believe temporal perfection lies in embracing (their version of) the five pillars.

Any philosophy that forms the basis for policy, that takes as a premise humanity is a benigh rational free agent is bound for failure.

Millions have been slaughtered because they wouldn't conform to prescriptions of radical secularists.

The tribe with no home
The passage I call attention to in Numbers is not the only OT passage that promotes genocide. The opening books of the Bible, like Joshua and Genesis, are full of this stuff. It's a basic tenet of Judaism. It is also, for that matter, the rationale behind the founding of an Israel on land that used to be a Palestine. A process, I will remind you, that has happened now on two historic occasions. Once by the Wandering Tribe of old and a second time in 1948.

So I think the passage is significant, and is intended to mean precisely what it means. It is the justification laid down by a warlike but literate tribe.

As for the later Christians, I will note that there came a time when they culled and weeded the Bible, throwing out all the books (the Apocrypha) they didn't care to include. These books were kept in.

So Numbers is not just some typo, some misprint. It describes the foundation of God's covenant with his Chosen People. They can kill off the infidels and be rewarded with His Holy Blessings.

You don't think an extermination campaign was waged in this country against the native tribes? There were survivors, sure, just like there were Jews who survived in Europe. Nonetheless, the idea was to destroy them AS A PEOPLE.

And it worked just fine. A generation of children were kidnapped and sent off to white-run "Indian schools" far from the internment camps into which their parents were herded. And there, they were instructed to forget their language and become little white citizens instead.

If that ain't genocide, nothing is.

Your history's a bit sloppy
You'r talking about the raiding tribes, like the Pawnee, Arikara and Arapaho. The ethos they used is very, very different than the one used by the European Christians.

Their lifeblood was in fighting for its own sake. Life was rough and ready, and they often killed for sport. More sporting than the kill was the coup. It was the height of cool to knock an enemy down, disfigure him and then let him live. And naturally, the women were raped whenever they could get away with it.

What they did NOT do was set out to exterminate their enemies and take their land. The land belonged to no one, but was wild and boundless. And if they killed all their enemies (an unsporting notion) they would have no one left to fight with. What would be the point?

Our pattern, from the start, was entirely more calculated. If you were actually interested, you could read Ernest Kroeber on the Arapaho (a fine piece of ethnology). And then read about our first American war, the Pequot War.

Suckled in a Creed Outworn
"Any philosophy that forms the basis for policy, that takes as a premise humanity is a benigh rational free agent is bound for failure."

So instead you defer to a schizophrenic dictate "from on high" that caused fallible human agents to write down some guidelines that they are so sure they correctly received and perfectly interpreted from an invisible man who is omniscient and onmipresent but, for mystical reasons of his own, always needs more money and allows the hurricanes to strike the good and the evil alike.

Yes, religion has just been a precious model of Utopian success, now hasn't it?

In your next Fed Ex to God, please give him a note from me: "You're incompetent at best". Believe me, I won't lose any sleep over it.

is just a mood, and thus transient.

What should be sought are joy and fulfillment, which can exist in "good" times and in "bad" times.

Tortured by the Quilt!
Damn, Dietmar, you ARE Amish!

(Hahaha, only joking with you.)

Amen, Zatavu.

The Bible didn't lie.

In answer to your questions,

1. Christians believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. We, or at least I, believe that the Bible is true, but not everything in it is literally true; some things are parables, songs, psychological insights, etc. However, I accept that the passage you quote is literally true.

2. The passage you quote does not say what you say it says, so you are mistaken.

The passage says that the Lord commanded the Israelites to take possession of the land of Canaan--i.e. the land west of the Jordan River. That was not "some place they like," but rather the place God had chosen for them.

Moreover, the passage does not say "kill them" but "drive them out" of the land.

I do not believe this passage to be generally applicable to all people at all times, but rather to that of the Jews entering the Promised Land. Therefore, I do not accept your attempt to expand it to other situations. That is not to say that Europeans in the late 19th C. did not did not seek to justify their westward expansion by means of this passage. I do not know whether they did or did not.

I also do not accept that the Jews drove the inhabitants of what is now the State of Israel out. As you are probably aware, the question of whether many Arabs fled of their own accord or were driven out of the State of Israel is hotly contested today and, from what I can tell, is probably not capable of proof by one side or the other beyond a reasonable doubt. I suspect it was some of both, and that therefore each side in the debate can point to evidence for its position.

Be that as it may, there are still a good number of Arab Christians and Muslims living in the State of Israel today so, even if the Jews used that passage as justification for the State of Israel, they did not follow the Lord's admonition, any more than their ancestors did at the time they entered Canaan. And that is what I take as the real point of the passage you quote: that there would be trouble for the Jews if all the Canaanites were not driven out.

Rationalize the ten commandments
Is there any bad advice in the ten commandments?

I won't argue with you about the first three, but they do have good points even if you are a pagan.

How about the last seven? Which ones don't you like?

Every single one of them there commandments
is derived straight from the Egyptian Book of the Dead, in which the deceased Pharaoh, poised to become a god, is instructed in how to respond to the god-inquisitors that he encounters.

The 10 Commandments are slight rewrites of his passage-buying responses. I.E. "thou shalt not kill" (which is a mistranslation of "you will not commit murder") is a rewrite of "I have not committed murder", and so on and so forth.

I don't have anything "against" those commandments. I'm indifferent to their existence, as they are to mine.

I appreciate that you got my reference, Marjon. But I'm no pagan.

The pagans lived outside the walls of Rome, in the countryside. In modern times they spend their weekends riding motorcycles.

But you needn't be concerned about me. From all that I've read, you and I share the same moral convictions.

"I'm indifferent to their existence, "
So you see no reason to not to commit murder?

Reasoned faith
"Reasoned Faith is a collection of fourteen essays offered in honor of Christian philosopher Norman Kretzmann that addresses Judeo-Christian themes in the tradition of analytic philosophy. The collection is divided into four sections, all addressing the rational assessment of religious faith: "The Role of Reason in Faith," "Reason and Revelation," "Reason and the Nature of the God Faith," and "Reason and Faith on the Relation Between God and Creatures." A large book of rigorous philosophizing is impossible to review exhaustively at other than book length, so instead of summarizing every essay I will focus on particular ones."

Just in case you care.

Not all have blind faith.

reasoned faith
That sounds like an oxymoron, like Christian Science, etc. Religion isn't reason or rational because it's not rational to believe in something that there's not eveidence of even existing; that's just faith. And usually religious people say stuff like, 'only god could have created something so beautiful'. Even though I also think it's like a miracle that Anna Kournikova could be so beautiful, I still think it's a matter of genetics, which is real science, based on reason. But like that site you gave us is just more of, how many angles can dance on the head of a pin.

number 5
Honour your father and mother. So you mean that somebody's father who is a drug addict, beats your mother, abuses the kids, makes hell on earth for the family; you thnink we should honour a guy like that? This commandment encourages masochism, and surley unhealthy.

Faith has saved many people
"And throughout his ordeal, he could not help but see that, among those given a chance for survival, it was those who held on to a vision of the future -- whether it be a significant task before them, or a return to their loved ones -- that were most likely to survive their suffering.

It would be, in fact, the meaningfulness that could be found in suffering itself that would most impress him:

(T)here is also purpose in that life which is almost barren of both creation and enjoyment and which admits of but one possibility of high moral behavior: namely, in man's attitude to his existence, and existence restricted by external forces.... Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete. (1963, p. 106)

That young doctor was, of course, Viktor Emil Frankl.

“He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how. " (Friedrich Nietzsche, quoted in 1963, p. 121) He saw that people who had hopes of being reunited with loved ones, or who had projects they felt a need to complete, or who had great faith, tended to have better chances than those who had lost all hope."

US Senator John McCain just made a speech stating his faith kept him alive while a POW in Vietnam for 5 years.

No value in faith?

In my opinion, throughout the entire Bible, God is trying to develop faith in His people. What is so important about faith? God thought it very important and many rational people believe so also. Especially when faith saved their lives or the lives of others.

You don't believe parents should be respected?
If one parent is bad, no parents deserve respect?

rational people also believe"
That's like say some chemist or other scientist is rational in his day job at the lab, but then comes home and says grace before dinner. Sure, people can compartmentalize(if that's a word), some parts rational, others not; some people are like that. But I do believe that faith in the supernatural world has helped some people, in the same manner that I know for sure that placebos have also helped people. Anyway, as a libertarian, I believe in freedom of religion, and have no problem if my neighbour worships even his garden elves.

parents respect
I believe in respecting and honouring those individual parents who deserve it. I go by the individual, not blood lines. If the parent is an assshole, it means the same as any other guy who is. So don't respect him, and even defend yourself from him. How many times have we heard that once the boys got big enough to fight back, the father stopped his abuse and beating etc.?

Faith is a placebo?
If a 'rational' scientist can't imagine the impossible, how would he discover it?

Respect begets respect
How can you help ensure a parent is worthy of respect?

Maybe you create a society which respects the rights of parents. Not like the middle school in Maine what is handing out birth control pills to 11 and 12 years olds without parental permission. Or a state that prohibits parental notification of a girl less than 18 years having an abortion.

Your personal issues with your parents are one thing. A society, like an economy, needs standards. Respecting parents is one such standard.

How many 17 years olds have you found that really know everything?

The only reason there are "Palestinian Arabs"
is because the Jews let them come, paid them handsomely to help terraform a wasting swampland, and gave them a better life than they had out in the deser with their "brethren".

PALESTINE is JEWISH territory. When the Roman writings refer to Palestine, they sure as hell are not referring to any Arabs.

You assume the 10 commandments invented that "law",
but it was clearly seen as a bad thing by societies for millennia prior to their being written. Non-Jewish, non-monotheistic civilizations grappled with the problem of murder long, long before the rise of Judaism. And as the bible attests to, the Jews might not have done any worse than those civs, but they surely did not do any better, either.

Nor did the Christians.

What's more...your assumption that human beings love to run around murdering each other without some "10 Commandments" telling them not to is as foundationless as the idea that we need big brother government to use its velvet-gloved iron fist to force private businesses to do the right thing. Same principle, different theater.

You support markets, which assumes mostly decent human behavior, yet you don't honor the idea of mostly decent human behavior. The devil might be in the details, but God did not invent capitalism.

Human civilizations had been around for many thousands of years prior to the 10 Commandments being delivered; they in turn were delivered approximately 500-600 years, perhaps a little longer time period, before the written codification of the bible, which took place during the Babylonian Captivity, when the exiled Jews rubbed elbows with Babylonian priests and scribes.

I assumed nothing of the sort.
I am pointing out that standards of behavior are valid on their merits regardless of the source.

If some believe the messenger is more important than the message, and if claiming God delivered the commandments adds to the message, then so be it.

Atheists and agnostics who reject the message because of the messenger are acting in opposition to the reason they profess.

The Wandering Tribe
The passage in question is a historical one, and clearly an accurate account of their tribe. They found a land they liked, and asked their god if it would be okay to take it. He said sure, fine, whatever.

If you believe they did so without killing people, I guess that's your view. There are plenty of other passages back there in Acts, Kings, Exodus, Genesis and Joshia that make the requirement to kill for God more explicit. Here they just come down from the hills and dispossess a people from the land they live on.

That's not my way. I'll have nothing of a religion founded on theft.

Here's another passage where the command to kill is more explicit. This one, from Exodus 32, is where God tells them to kill everyone who has a different religion. Best to pull out your Bible to get the full context.

32:26 Then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, Who is on the LORD's side? let him come unto me. And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together unto him. 32:27 And he said unto them, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Put every man his sword by his side, and go in and out from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbour.

32:28 And the children of Levi did according to the word of Moses: and there fell of the people that day about three thousand men.

Out of all the religions, if this is the one you like at least be aware that it condones, in fact commands, murder and pillage. I don't think you get to pick and choose which parts you like and which you don't. For me, I think the followers of Moses were wrong, and that their God was a transparently self serving one.

not sloppy
Neither did the whites when they came "set out to exterminate: the proof is that they could have, but didn't, there are still a lot around. Some tribes were more, or less warlike, sure, just like people all over the place. But the general pattern was just like old europe and asian, take over what you can. Do you really think the aztecs and incas spread by peace and love? Ever hear of the last Mohican? Wasn't it the Iriquois who wiped out that particular tribe. And the westernes made use of the constant warfare to their own ends. In both the new world and the old, it was only force that matter re land boundries and such. It's just romantic phantasy all this dancing with wolves crap.

Sure scientists not only have imagination, but should have good imaginations, but that doesn't counter my point anyhow. But believing in things with no evidence of their existance, or in spite of contrary evidence, is irrational. A lot of people can't stand it that if they die and there's nothing there, they think there's not point to life. And it gives some comfort to think that they will rejoin their loved ones and such, but there's no evidence that anyting like that will happen. Anyway, even if I'm an atheist I only don't believe in ONE god less than you do. People have postulated many gods, and you believe in only one of them i guess, I just believe in one less of all of them.

Is it irrational to survive?
As is mentioned, many have used faith to survive.

If faith is irrational, then using faith to survive is irrational.

By extension, life is irrational.

The only rational choice is to give up and die?

The intent to exterminate
Certainly the whites set out to exterminate the red man. They destroyed the buffalo, destroyed the way of life, captured the children and sent them off to schools to become white, and took the old men and women off to live in the worst parts of the desert, on welfare. That's extermination.

The only tribe I've found that exterminated its neighbors were the Carib, who came up from South America through the Antilles. At each island they came to, they killed and ate the inhabitants. But this was not at all the norm.

Even the Flower Wars were not for extermination-- nor were they to spread the culture, as you think. They were a means of population control. The land was full of people. Excess people were a problem. So all the tribes would field armies made up of the males who couldn't inherit land, and they fought each other for the sole purpose of taking excess life.

Nothing in anything I've said is "romantic fantasy" or "dancing with wolves crap". It's all been very solidly researched and can be found in the literature.

That's circular again, all the way back to the only choice being a believer in god, or death. There are other alternatives. It's possible to surive, and live a good life too, and you don't even have to believe in god.

I see you have a different definition of extermination, as you do for 'capitalism'. Those white guys didn't sit down and make a plan, let's kill off those bufaloes so that all the indians die. It was just really easy, and lots of fun to shoot bufalos from trains, and horsed etc. There was never anyting like a 'Wahnsee conference' to issue a 'Vernichtungsbefehl', to exterminate them, but more inadvertant, and the diseases etc. And you ignored the point that had they really wanted to, they could have actually done it, but they didn't, so no genocide, no extermination. The history of inidans was more like this quote from some ohio history site: "By 1650, the Iroquois began to push their way into the rich Ohio Country between the Great Lakes and the Ohio River. They conquered and drove out various groups of Native Americans living in the area" So the ethic was imperialism and force all around. And some say those Hopi indians might have been wiped out by some other passing thru tribe too.
But this is funny where you said they made war for population control. Imagine, only a few indians and they had to wiped each other out, and now about 300 million living to much longer ages, and they don't have to! You sure are a hopeless romantic.

Why do you keep missing what I write?

I said FAITH kept people alive. Why do you assume faith in God? But for many, it WAS faith in God which pulled them through.

And what I postulate is that God is trying to to teach us how to be faithful.

Faith, hope, love are all irrational yet they are essential for humans to survive. Do you deny that?

You hold on to your faith in your 'rationality', your faith there is NO God.

If you were truly rational you would have to be agnostic since there is no current method of proof either way.

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