Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Natural Law: What is included?

[Number three in a series]

The last two natural law posts seemed to develop questions around what I intended to deal with now anyway: What are those things "we cannot not know" or "cannot not learn"? In looking around the planet what can we recognize as:

". . . [flowing from] the authority of . . . the Creator, its content in the design He has imparted to us - which is also part of the design, and which includes deep conscience as a part" - J. Budziszewski [hereafter: J. Bud]
I will take a couple of lists from J. Bud [this time] and C.S. Lewis [next time] - and let everyone from different cultural, religious, and moral backgrounds see whether they jive with your personal grounding. Try to add and subtract.

The reason to examine these "first principles" (as J. Bud calls them) is to know what is foundational to human morals. For me the reason to do this is to find some foundation of agreement so I can have a discussion with those of other moral systems.

Remember, natural law is not genetic, and it is not programmed in any way that keeps us from violating it even while we know its there. I will talk in later posts about some of the witnesses of its existence; the results of its violation; and the ways it is being eclipsed in our culture. Finally, I will point out C.S. Lewis's predictions about what its eclipse will do to us - the abolition of man. First, let's argue over the list.

Also remember: rationalizations, justifications, and excuses are all proof the law exists. We would not need to explain and/or justify our acts to others if we did not know that there was a prima facie case against those acts.

In What We Can't Not Know, J. Bud focuses primarily on the Ten Commandments as being the Abrahamic (Christian, Muslim, Jewish) reflection of natural law. Please note what I just said: the reflection of natural law and not the source (Thank you).

This makes the "Decalogue debate" in the United States interesting. I believe that the United States legal system was not based explicitly on the Decalogue. However, I believe that English common law and foundational US law are based on natural law - so both the Decalogue and US law share a common root - that universal moral code. Since, as J. Bud notes, the Decalogue "states the most important part of the universal moral code in ideal form" - it also harmonizes with US secular law. Hence, while it may be true that the Ten Commandments were not the basis of US law, it becomes impossible to convince some of that.

The First Tablet
"Love God with your all"

The first set of commandments have to do with what we owe to God. This is the group that will "incite the crowd" when it comes to calling this a "universal moral code". As J. Bud points out, Thomas Aquinas made a distinction between those commandments "that are evident to every mind and those that are evident to the faithful mind". J. Bud clarifies this apparent contradiction by pointing out that it is like listening to music with, and without, your fingers in your ears - we all hear the basics of the music, but faith - removing the fingers - allows us to hear it as it really is. Faith then is not just a spiritual virtue, but also an intellectual one. This is why Paul, in Romans 1:19-20, would say:

. . . because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. [See also Isaiah 28:23-29 and Psalm 19]
The First Commandment:

'I am the LORD your God . . . 'You shall have no other gods before Me. 'You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. 'You shall not worship them or serve them . . .
There are no atheistic cultures on the planet - and never have been. All attempts to impose atheism on people (particularly communism) have failed miserably; and brutally. Even Buddhism has internal debate about whether reincarnation, and the eternal nature of souls, implies a creator and, while the practice of the religion doesn't require one, they will not bring themselves to flat out deny His existence. Obviously, different cultures have different cosmologies and different sets of gods - but the human race, in general, knows a creator exists. J. Bud lists some other suppositions that arise from this:

  • We know benefit incurs obligation;
  • We recognize what is intrinsically worthy of our gratitude, and to pay such a debt ennobles us
The Second Commandment:

'You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.
People all over the planet "just know" the bad-mouthing your own Creator is wrong; and most usually have codes written into their religion about bashing other people's. This brings light to the extreme emotional undercurrents in the Danish cartoon issue; and why so many moral and ethical people, whatever their beliefs on free speech or Islam, are bothered by the nature of the cartoons. We know the cartoons were wrong - because they were blasphemous - in our deepest fiber; and we have sympathy for those whose Creator was blasphemed even though the most extreme reactions are too much for us to take. It also illuminates why those who wish to bash God in the public square will simply talk themselves out of political existence.

The Third Commandment:

'Observe the Sabbath day to keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you.
J. Bud points out the parts of this that are considered to be general moral knowledge:

  • Our complete engrossment in mundane affairs is not merely tiring but debasing - time must be set apart just for the remembrance of the Creator
  • While the created world in which we labor is important, the Creator is more important
  • We are built to run in cycles - it isn't possible for beings of our type to do the same thing all the time. We must intermit our work
BTW: The seven day cycle in the Bible is not part of natural law: it is a specific revelation to the Abrahamic religions.



The Second Tablet
"Love your neighbor as yourself"

The "Second Tablet Project" is J. Bud's name for those who wish to ignore the three previous commandments (the "loving God" ones); and focus on the rest (the "loving your neighbor" ones). He posits this position is actually more popular among lukewarm religious believers trying to make the moral law more palatable to non-believers than among non-believers themselves. Non-believers will fight the whole ten.

The Fourth Commandment (some place this in the first tablet):

Honor your father and your mother
The general moral knowledge according to J. Bud:

  • Parents are the Creator's delegated representatives to their children
  • They can be delegated verbally in specific revelations (such as this one in the Bible); or tacitly by the inclination to procreation and care of the family which has been imparted to us by the Creator
I will mention that since parents are the appointed representatives of the Creator to their children; this implies parents loving their children as the Creator does.

The Fifth Commandment:

You shall not murder.
The general revelations:

  • You may not take innocent life
  • Killing is not always murder: self-defense, just war, and the death penalty are some of the types of killing that have generally been excluded over time
  • Imago Dei (we are created in image of God) is not a general revelation; but some intuition of the sacredness of life is - and this intuition is what makes Imago Dei attractive when its first heard

The Sixth Commandment:

You shall not commit adultery.
The general suppositions that must be present for this rule to exist:

  • That marriage of some type exists. Marriage is a universal institution - while marriage hasn't always been for life, or monogamous.
  • While some short-term exceptions existed, marriage has always been esteemed over other erotic relationships
  • While some short-lived exce
  • It has been between a man and a women as a natural outgrowth of the procreative function. [Whatever changes may be occurring in a few cultures - there is no doubt this has been the historical truth in all cultures.]
  • Even polygamy and polyandry have never existed together; and have always been viewed as a series of marriages between one man and women. A series of marriages and not a group marriage.
The truth of marriage as a core moral element is proven to me by the desire of gays to be married. While couched in the desire for receiving the benefits society gives to straight marriages, the hunger for a sanctified union speaks to me of a deeper drive than just some civil rewards.

The Seventh Commandment:

'You shall not steal.
This commandment pre-supposes the existence of personal property. The point of the commandment is that no one can take from another what is theirs against their reasonable will.

Societies may differ on what may become personal property, how much may be accumulated, and what limits there may be on its use; but all societies recognize personal property and oppose theft.

As J. Bud points out, that word "reasonable" is not just inserted up there. It aligns with "the plain sense of common people - the only warrant for saying it belongs to the basics of natural law". Katrina and New Orleans points out the distinction: people stealing big screen T.V.'s were one thing; food and emergency supplies another. J. Bud:

"The will may be unreasonable; for example, it is unreasonable for the owner to withhold what he has in plenty at the cost of his neighbor's life. The point here is not that some thefts are permitted, but that some takings should not be considered thefts."

The Eighth Commandment:

'You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
As J. Bud points out, this is not about lying per se - it is about lying to get someone else in trouble; especially in a judicial setting where one is offering evidence. It therefore pre-supposes that some provision exists for public justice. Indeed:

  • No people in the world live without some such customs;
  • The office of the judge, like the family and marriage, seems to be a spontaneous and natural human institution; and
  • the most fundamental role of government is judgment - not legislation.
J. Bud looks at moral codes and philosophies around lying per se and points out that that this is definitely not one of the things we cannot not know: it is not a part of natural law.

The Ninth and Tenth Commandments:

You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, and you shall not desire your neighbor's house, his field or his male servant or his female servant, his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
This heightens the sixth commandment in the first part; and the seventh in the second. Not only should be not commit adultery - we should not even desire too. Not only should we not steal - we should not desire too.

The presupposition of the ninth and tenth is that the right ordering of our lives does not just rely on mere performance (or avoidance) of outward deeds; but on our entire inner life. This may also be said about the other eight as well.

Next time: "Natural Law: Objections and C.S. Lewis's Tao"

7 comments:

  1. Now, I believe in God. I believe God is responsible for the flow of history that has led us to where we are. I can't figure out for the life of me what you're trying to say with that first quotation -- "[flowing from] the authority of . . . " You might want to edit that, I looked for a while and couldn't find the main verb of the sentence, either in your introductory phrase or the quotation itself. I'm guessing I'd agree with parts here and there but disagree with an assumption or two that you make.

    I wouldn't trust J. Bud's interpretation of Aquinas, if I were you, John. Can you at least tell me where Aquinas makes the distinction that Budziszewski claims he does? I actually have read some Aquinas, and I'm pretty sure he doesn't mean what you claim he means here.

    I'm a little confused by your section on the First Tablet. Are you really arguing that the special theistic revelations to Israel can be rationally established as natural law? That sounds totally ridiculous to me. I thought you said that the decalogue is merely a reflection of natural law. Now it sounds like the first commandment is an actual part of natural law. Please elaborate.

    You write:

    Obviously, different cultures have different cosmologies and different sets of gods - but the human race, in general, knows a creator exists.

    Of course, I agree with the first half of this statement. To assume that this proves the second half is an incredible leap in logic. Especially when you write "most [belief structures] usually have codes written into their religion about bashing other people's." Your logic, to repeat, boils down to this:

    If just about everyone believes something relatively similar, it must be right.

    Since just about everybody (a higher portion of humanity than that which believes in a creator, I'd wager) believes that people who disagree with their cosmologies have incorrect cosmologies, you'd have to say that everyone's belief structure is wrong. This is obviously a ridiculous claim to make. The result is that the premise "If everyone believes something it is true" is false. If this is Budziszewski's argument for the inclusion of belief in a creator in his natural law theory (since natural law must be established by rational(istic) metaphysical -- underlying any possible human experience -- analysis, natural law doctrines can never be anything but theories) you'd best find another natural law theorist to work with. Rolling up the sleeves and digging into Aquinas for yourself might be a good idea.

    We know the cartoons were wrong - because they were blasphemous - in our deepest fiber; and we have sympathy for those whose Creator was blasphemed even though the most extreme reactions are too much for us to take.

    That's total crap. Unless you meant to say in an earlier sentence "Some people all over the planet (Namely, those people who believe that bad-mouthing their own Creator is wrong) "just know" the bad-mouthing your own Creator is wrong." It sounds like you are implying that deep down inside, everyone knows that those cartoons are wrong. This obviously not true.

    More generally, if you're arguing for something to be included in a natural law theory, you must be able to show that it is impossible to be human without this doctrine being included in the theory. That's why Lewis claims that an abandoning of the natural law will result in the abolition of man. Otherwise it's simply not natural law, it is a human law imposed on nature. Arguments that go "Everyone knows x," just don't work. You're elevating your own beliefs about what everyone knows to the status of a natural fact and, as a result, you are claiming that your own human impressions are God's actual truth. Now, this idolatry is probably coming from Budziszewski and not yourself (at least I hope so -- I like you!) but regardless, you should look at some other explications of natural law that aren't tied so directly to Christian apologetics.

    Iris Murdoch wrote a great book called "The Sovereignty of Good" that you should check out. It's quite readable and not very long. Remember, if you only read books from one specific corner of the tradition, you'll continue to share the errors and blindspots of that tradition. You owe it to yourself to check out what the preeminant thinkers who disagree with you have to say about these issues. Relying on the blogosphere for that kind of hashing out doesn't really work -- the vast majority of the people who wind up replying (myself included) have radically incomplete understandings of the questions at hand. Those who can answer you right are too busy teaching theology and writing books to reply to your blog.

    I get the impression that you want to start a debate about what the natural law includes. I'm unwilling to enter such a debate unless we can agree on how to determine what to include. You make a bunch of assumptions about what "everybody knows," without much support at all for them. I will never accept this as an appropriate method for establishing the content of a natural law, even if we temporarily bracket the questions "Is there really a natural law?" and, perhaps more importantly, "If there is a universal natural law, is it possible for us to figure out what it is using our human reason?"

    You did try to answer the first of those two questions by saying:

    Also remember: rationalizations, justifications, and excuses are all proof the law exists. We would not need to explain and/or justify our acts to others if we did not know that there was a prima facie case against those acts.

    That's crap. Rationalizations, justifications and excuses do all suggest that some type of law governing social interactions exists in every culture. Every rationalization, justification, and excuse happens in a particular social and cultural context. It is possible that each culture has its own mores, (well, that's a fact, actually) and it's no less likely that every rationalization and excuse takes place within a specific context, relates specifically to that context, and testifies to no universal meta-ethic.

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  2. Ah. I found your last post. The mistake you're making in a nutshell, is this. You wrote:

    Natural law is not innate - we are not born with it. J. Budziszewski describes it as "what we cannot not know" or "cannot help learning" ...The curiosity is that those things that natural law theorists would say comprise the natural law cut across cultures, time, religion, and philosophy - in other words they are nearly universal.

    I don't know if this is your mistake or Budziszewski's, but "what we cannot not know," unless "we" doesn't mean "every single human being," means that natural law is universal, not "nearly universal." This means it is a logical fallacy to look at things that most people believe and claim that because most people believe them, they're part of the natural law.

    For example, before Galileo (and for a long time afterward, actually) almost everyone believed that the sun goes around the earth, not vice versa. Using your logic, it would have been right for natural law theories of the time to include the doctrine of a geocentric universe. This is obviously wrong, unless natural law changes over time, which doesn't seem to make sense.

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  3. Tyler

    Well first, this isn't even close to being about what people "believe" - it is what deep conscience has them "know" by the time they reach the age of reason. It has nothing to do with earth going around the sun or the reverse. It isn't about scientific law or mistakes of observation - it is about universal moral codes. Incidentally, was Copernicus the first to postulate the sun as center - or did science in India, China, or within Islam already know. I seem to remember that this knowledge was known earlier than the Europeans.

    Nearly universal is good enough. As a few thinkers point out, it is possible to create a "new" morality in a society outside natural law. That is the point of "Abolition". So, the fact that at certain times certain cultures have stepped outside the boundaries (Nazi Germany, periods of Imperial Rome, Greece at times, etc.) only means that humans have succeeded in a given culture of ignoring their deep conscience as a group. Bonhoeffer used this violation of natural law by a culture/state to show the state to be illegitimate; and as a justification to say that the only moral act was to oppose a state that violated natural law.

    So this doesn't even begin to be about what we believe - it is what we must know (and often succeed in ignoring) from our deep conscience.

    You had to many pronouns in the part about Aquinas - tell me what you are referring to that he doesn't say and we will move on from there.

    That's crap. Rationalizations, justifications and excuses do all suggest that some type of law governing social interactions exists in every culture. Every rationalization, justification, and excuse happens in a particular social and cultural context. It is possible that each culture has its own mores, (well, that's a fact, actually) and it's no less likely that every rationalization and excuse takes place within a specific context, relates specifically to that context, and testifies to no universal meta-ethic.

    Your consideration of this being defecate aside - what testifies to the existance of natural law is the similiarities in the base moral codes of societies all over the planet. Whatever moral structures they have built on the foundations (and those structures indeed look different) the foundation they are building on has huge similiarities - and that is curious considering the difference in gods, morals, history, etc.

    If you are a prison guard in Germany in 1944 and you go home and tell your wife you killed 10,000 today - but they were only Jews - you have proven natural law. You had to find a reason they were outside the admonition not to take innocent life: they were not innocent, or they were not a life covered under the law. You have to explain the killing however.

    It is interesting that at street prophets where this was crossposted among pagans, wiccans, tibetan buddhists, persian gulf muslim, (and more) no one argued the point that the list in the post wasn't common to their culture; or that the idea wasn't rational even if the list had a point to many or a point to few.

    As to the "first tablet", I made it clear which parts of Abrahamic faith were included and which were specific revelations to the Abrahamic faiths. Be more specific in your criticism.

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  4. I'm not buying the distinction you're drawing between "believe" or "just know." Do you merely believe in the existence of God or "just know" that She is real? What about the people who "just know" that there is no God? Are they confusing mere belief with knowledge? Who says? What about God are you saying natural law proves? What about God is special revelation?

    With regard to Aquinas, I wanted only to know what part of his writings you are referring to, so I can go an look at what he actually says and see if it means what you think it does. I'm not going to argue over what he believed until I read what he actually says, it is intellectually dishonest to do otherwise.

    If you are a prison guard in Germany in 1944 and you go home and tell your wife you killed 10,000 today - but they were only Jews - you have proven natural law.

    Hypotheticals won't work here.

    1. You haven't shown that there actually was such a German prison guard, so it remains possible that such an interaction never happened.

    2. Even if such an interaction did happen, you are suggesting only that this specific German believes there to be a natural law. You don't show that every human believes there to be such a law, let alone show that such a law objectively exists. If I'm not going to let you generalize from "what most people just know," I'm sure as hell not letting you generalize from one, single, made-up German.

    I'm not gonna argue that there isn't a natural law. I think there is. I am arguing that you are not doing a successful job proving there is one. It's not nearly as simple as you seem to assume. I do suggest you add Kant's Critique of Practical Reason to your reading list. He has interesting things to say on the subject. (He was about as prudish as is humanly possible -- he'd have his manservant roll him up with his hands at his sides in a blanket every night so he wouldn't accidentially masturbate during the night, fwiw.)

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  5. Let's see: J. Bud's, mine, and God's position (Romans 1 and Psalms 19) are that people who say they do not believe in God are "without excuse" and in J. Bud's words - lying. They do know about God whatever they say they believe.

    When I get to the four witnesses I will talk about human's ability to overrule their deep conscience with the own will - essentially to cut it off and ignore it.

    The Aquinas thing is a paraphrase from J. Bud. He says Thomas was crititcized for not specifying what the natural law was; but Budziszewski says he made it clear the decalogue was a reflection of it. He cites Summa Theologica I-II, Question 100.

    I am not trying to prove natural law exists. I am stating it exists; and reviewing what one person said it includes; and asking for critiques and discussion about whether or not this list constitutes what we must know.

    And, of course, I made it clear the first tablet would raise the hackles - something you know I do not care a lot about.

    I very few people would kill anybody anywhere and not offer a justification, rationalization, or excuse for their action. If you want to object to the made-up German go ahead.

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  6. JPE ignores, however, those may openly queer christians, whose homosexuality is quite latent, but who haven't jettisoned their theism with their repressions and sublimations. Wow, his criticism is even easier to answer than your mistakes, John!

    And, of course, I made it clear the first tablet would raise the hackles - something you know I do not care a lot about.

    Yeah, but I'm not saying that my hackles are particularly raised; I'm saying you're wrong. Hopefully you do care about that.

    Let's see: J. Bud's, mine, and God's position (Romans 1 and Psalms 19) are that people who say they do not believe in God are "without excuse" and in J. Bud's words - lying.

    Aside from the fact that it is utterly presumptuous to claim to know objectively God's consciousness and what he requires from anyone other than yourself (and that's far from an anti-intellectual position; it is one shared by many, if not most in the long, distinguished history of Christian intellectuals. I believe avoiding their work, of course, to be anti-intellectualism of the highest order.) God's position as revealed in scripture has no place in this argument. You admitted as much at the beginning of this post.

    I am not trying to prove natural law exists. I am stating it exists; and reviewing what one person said it includes;

    I am saying that you must proove natural law exists before you can figure out what it includes. Until we know that there is other intelligent life in the universe, of course, it is pointless to speculate on what it might be like unless you're writing a science fiction novel. Until you demonstrate the reality of the natural law, all your talk of what it includes fails to reach beyond the realm of speculative fiction.

    and asking for critiques and discussion about whether or not this list constitutes what we must know.

    It doesn't. I've already said that. I actually agree that any belief system that excludes some form of theism is inherently incoherent, but I think that it is arrogant, intellectually dishonest and uncharitable to assume this without backing it up with an argument that is conducted on grounds those who don't believe in God would accept. I'll email you an essay by the excellent theologian Shubert Ogden where he tries to do this. It might actually help your case.

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  7. Tyler,

    Talk about wrong:

    Aside from the fact that it is utterly presumptuous to claim to know objectively God's consciousness and what he requires from anyone other than yourself (and that's far from an anti-intellectual position; it is one shared by many, if not most in the long, distinguished history of Christian intellectuals. I believe avoiding their work, of course, to be anti-intellectualism of the highest order.)

    I do not avoid the work - I disagree. We have general revelation which flows from God's character - since we are made imago dei. We have specific revelation through scripture and the guidence of the Holy Spirit in understanding it. And, as Paul said:

    1 Corinthians 2:10 For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. 11 For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, 13 which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. 14 But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. 15 But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. 16 For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, THAT HE WILL INSTRUCT HIM? But we have the mind of Christ."

    Do we know everything God knows? No. Can we trust that what we know applies to more than ourselves? Of course, that depends on the nature of the revelation; but indeed there are many, many cases where we can indeed know the consciousness of God as it applies to other people. To say otherwise is to make God a pandering simp that just wants to make everyone happy; regardless of their heart. And certainly, then:

    God's position as revealed in scripture has no place in this argument. You admitted as much at the beginning of this post.

    No I do not believe I did. I brought up points all through the post that talked about specific revelation to Christians, through scripture, outside of the general moral code.

    There is general revelation to all humans (which our natural self/sin nature can overrule or ignore) and specific revelation to Christians in general, and individuals also (which our natural self/sin nature can overrule or ignore)

    I am saying that you must prove natural law exists before you can figure out what it includes.

    The only "proof" natural law exists is that the moral code it encompasses exists across all human culture. Do moral axioms (which peoples sin natures cause them to disobey and ignore) exist across almost all cultures present and past? I say they do, and that "demonstrates the reality of natural law" in the only way it can ever be demonstrated; that there is a underlying moral foundation upon which all cultures have built more specific frameworks; and have presented a list above that I think are included in that foundation.

    You have said you think natural law exists; but I have to "prove it" before you will comment on what is or isn't included in that code. Huh?

    I actually agree that any belief system that excludes some form of theism is inherently incoherent, but I think that it is arrogant, intellectually dishonest and uncharitable to assume this without backing it up with an argument that is conducted on grounds those who don't believe in God would accept

    This is, and isn't, a valid criticism. I did not even try to make an argument that would convince agnostics and atheists of God's existance - and realized when I put the first tablet in that it was a "slap in the face" of those who reject God. Guilty as charged.

    In pleading for leniancy, I have pointed folk to the first 5 chapters of Mere Christianity where Lewis attempts to make that case from natural law; and of course, as Joe Carter (and Paul above) rightly states:

    Denying the reality of God is, I believe, more a matter of the will and passions than of reason and intellect. This is one of the reasons that ontological arguments, which rely on reason and intuition alone, are almost completely unpersuasive to those of agnostic inclination.

    I should have pointed folks to Carter's great series, "Dismantling Implausibility Structures" at least. Included there is a review of Elton Trueblood's moral argument for God. I will make up for it in the next post in the series.

    However, it is unlikely to do any good - you cannot argue people into a belief of God. They must experience God and, since Paul says they already have, actually stop allowing their "will and passions" to get in the way of God's revelation to them.

    Since I will not be a Calvinist, I will believe that God has not left them out of the revelation; and that they have simply chosen in their free will to pass by it.

    And in that, your criticism may be wrong.

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How to debate charitably (rules are links to more description of rule):
1. The Golden Rule
2. You cannot read minds
3. People are not evil
4. Debates are not for winning
5. You make mistakes
6. Not everyone cares as much as you
7. Engaging is hard work
8. Differences can be subtle
9. Give up quietly