On the Divine Right and Duty of Self-Defense
The Trayvon Martin case has brought to the forefront the issue of a person’s right to self-defense. Not since Bernard Getz killed his would-be attackers on a New York subway has the issue of defending oneself in public gotten so much attention.
Along with the death of Trayvon Martin, the tragedy of the whole scenario is that media attention and political gamesmanship have diverted the nation’s attention from the primary issue.
The issue ultimately is this: Do “We the People” have a natural right to self-defense, irrespective of government mandates, public pronouncements and acts of Congress? This presentation will examine the necessity of the natural right of self defence as a divine right from God, from philosophy and from human history as set forth in the writings of our Founders.
A Defense from the Bible
This exploration on the question of “The Sacred Right of Self-Defense” is not a Bible study. We’re going to cover a few passages to establish the point that it is not a contradiction to be a believer in God and to lay claim to the right and responsibility of self-defense.
With that in mind, an appropriate starting point is a person’s obligation to provide for his/her family. Paul wrote in I Timothy 5:8, “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”
Naturally our first inclination is to assume that the passage is talking about earning a living, providing a house to live in, clothes to wear and food on the table. Yet, providing for our community and for our families goes beyond the physical amenities. It should also be taken to mean that we provide a covering for them—a blanket of safety.
The next passage is Exodus 22:2, where God is speaking to Moses and says, ‘”If a thief is found breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there shall be no bloodguilt for him.”’ This passage establishes the principle that God permits, even encourages, people to defend their homes from those who would pilfer the contents.
Proverbs 25:26 says that a man who gives way to a wicked person is like muddy water. In Nehemiah 4:14, the royal governor reports that he visited the Israelites returning from exile and encouraged them to continue rebuilding Jerusalem’s wall.
Nehemiah wrote, “And I looked and arose and said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, ‘Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.’”
The Israelites were facing threats from those who opposed the rebuilding project. Nehemiah the governor’s role in the process is to exhort the people to defend themselves and the integrity of the project.
The final example is from Jesus’s time in the Upper Room with His disciples. Jesus said in Luke 22:36, “’But now let the one who has a money bag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one.’”
For what reason would Jesus tell His disciples to prepare for their journeys, including buying a sword? Could it be that Jesus is saying that they may encounter trouble in their journeys and that they needed to be prepared to deal with the opposition or trouble?
Again, this is not a theological paper, but there is a significant movement in the United States among the clergy and congregation members alike to support the right to concealed carry.
One such person is Pastor Al Maxey. Maxey wrote a 2008 essay that not only defends a pastor’s right to concealed carry; the essay promotes it.
There is even a Facebook page by Louisiana Catholics promoting concealed carry in Louisiana’s Catholic Churches.
A Natural Right
Journeying back to ancient Rome, the chronicler of Caesar’s civil wars Marcus Lucanus, or Lucan, wrote in Book IV of his epic history, “…and the tyrant is dreaded by his sword, and freedom is weighed down by cruel weapons, and men are ignorant that the purpose of the sword is to save man from slavery.”
Lucan wrote from the point of view of natural law, and he was able to deduce from this law that the sword’s major purpose was to defend the masses from an oppressive state.
Over 16 centuries later, British philosopher Thomas Hobbes published Leviathan in 1651 during the Third English Civil War, near the beginning of Oliver Cromwell’s republic.
Despite Hobbes’ sympathies for a monarchy, the English thinker revealed in his seminal work, Leviathan, that, “A Law of Nature is a Precept, or general Rule, found out by Reason, by which a man is forbidden to do, that which is destructive of his life, or taketh away the means of preserving the same; and to omit, that, by which he thinketh it may be best preserved.”
This passage has to be carefully examined. Hobbes says that a law of nature is discerned by reason. His assertion is that rational people should be able to determine the truth based on facts he considered to be plainly evident.
Hobbes goes on to say that natural law forbids us from doing that which is destructive of life. He goes on to say that natural law should rationally determine that we should not take away from mankind the “means of preserving the same.”
A clear an unbiased reading of this statement shows that no human being should be deprived of the means to defend and preserve life.
A few paragraphs later in the same chapter, Hobbes adds, “The first branch of which Rule, containeth the first, and Fundamental Law of Nature; which is to seek Peace, and follow it. The Second, the summe of the Right of Nature; which is, By all means we can, to defend our selves.”
Hobbes was diametrically opposed to any man laying down his rights, or divesting himself of those same rights.
Thirty years later, British philosopher John Locke felt compelled to respond to social philosopher Robert Filmer’s assertion that men are naturally born in slavery. Locke wrote that, “Slavery is so vile and miserable an Estate of men,” adding that, “Filmer’s Patriarcha, as in any other Treatise, which would persuade all men, that they are slaves and ought to be so.”
Locke disputed Filmer’s contention that slavery is a natural condition. In his Second Treatise of Government John Locke says that people have a right to defend themselves from any type of aggression. He wrote:
“And hence it is, that he who attempts to get another man into his absolute power, does thereby put himself into a state of war with him; it being to be understood as a declaration of a design upon his life. This makes it lawful for a man to kill a thief, who has not in the least hurt him, nor declared any design upon his life, any further than by the use of force, so to get him in his power, as to take away his money, or what he pleases from him: because using force, where he has no right, to get me into his power, let his pretense be what it will, I have no reason to suppose that he, who would take away my liberty, would not when he had me in his power, take away everything else. And therefore it is lawful for me to treat him as one who has put himself into a state of war with me, i.e. kill him if I can; for to that hazard does he justly expose himself, whoever introduces a state of war, and is aggressor in it.”
Locke is telling his readers that the invasion of one’s home by a thief is in a sense a personal act of war against the homeowner. In the same way that nations have the right to defend themselves against aggression, an individual has the right to defend him or herself against an unwanted intrusion.
Locke makes a similar argument later in the Second Treatise regarding a person’s right to defend himself against a thief.
While neither Hobbes nor Locke specifically mention firearms, they eloquently defend the right of self-defence. Lucan’s statement even affirms the truth that an armed citizenry is the best means to repel tyranny
From the Founders
Founding Father historian Thomas Haskins has assembled a collection of quotes from the Founders in his book, In the Words of Our Founding Fathers.
Haskins quotes George Washington’s famous description of government, ‘Government is not reason, and it is not eloquence; it is force! Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master: never for a moment should it left to irresponsible action.’
The first general of the Continental Army and the first president had an appreciation and great skepticism about the power of the state. Thus, Washington later said, “A free people ought not only be armed, but disciplined.”
Yet it was in the eloquent and poetic Declaration of Independence that Thomas Jefferson penned reflected relationship between the people and the rightful limits of government power.
Jefferson wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created
equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
The first point Jefferson makes here is that he is writing about “truths”, which
requires that there be such a thing as truth. This assertion must naturally drive the country’s moral relativists up the wall. The deist/Unitarian Jefferson says that there is such a thing as truth.
The mere fact that Jefferson is penning his magnum opus on the topic establishes that truth is knowable. He adds that the truths are “self-evident.” They’re not merely knowable; they’re obvious. Jefferson is asserting that no one should be groping around trying to find the truth about liberty, justice, self-sufficiency and independence. The truth is there for the whole world to see.
Jefferson takes another jab at the relativists and secular humanists by saying that the people, “are endowed by their Creator.”
We’ve all heard about endowments. Colleges survive on them. Many churches derive some of their long-term income from them.
An endowment is a fund that completely provides for the establishment of a specific program. If spent wisely, the endowment should last for years, possibly indefinitely if it is an invested fund, and the institution so blessed should never have to have a fundraiser or publicity campaign to raise money for the endowed position.
The permanent nature of an endowment is supported by the definition of the term in Dictionary.com. An endowment is, “to provide with a permanent fund or source of income: to endow a college.”
Note the word permanent. Jefferson wrote that we are “endowed by our Creator.” In other words, God’s intended these liberties to be everlasting, never to end, and never to be taken away by anyone. The rights should live on as long as there are people on this earth.
The other point is that Jefferson attributes this endowment to a Creator. Here is it irrelevant as to whether Jefferson was a Christian, a Unitarian, or a deist. He is ascribing creative authority to a Creator. That means he understood that we are beholden to this Creator to the extent that we owe God our gratitude for our creation and for our liberties.
Then there are the natural rights: “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Jefferson believed we have the right to life. Everyone deserves the right to exist, to be born, to live and to experience the path that life brings his/her way.
Jefferson believed we have the right to liberty—to be free from government intrusion, control and manipulation. We have the right to live as our conscience provides and to do so without fear of search, seizure, detention, or persecution.
America’s third president also believed we have the right to pursue happiness. Note that the one who penned the Declaration didn’t say we have the right to be happy; we simply have the right to pursue that elevated emotional state.
Some scholars have taken issue with Jefferson changing Locke’s formula of “Life, liberty and property” and inserting the phrase “pursuit of happiness.” Was Jefferson diminishing the significance of a government’s responsibility to protect property rights? Or, did he believe that a new nation should chart a new course in terms of the natural rights of humankind?
There is a hint of his reasoning in his May 8, 1825 letter to Henry Lee. Jefferson was responding to Lee’s question on the rationale for the Declaration. Jefferson responded by saying that his treatise was to set forth known and established principles with an American flavor.
“This was the object of the Declaration of Independence. Not to find out new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of, not merely to says things which had never been said before; but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and so firm as to command their assent, and to justify ourselves in the independent stand we are compelled to take. Neither aiming at originality of principle or sentiment, nor yet copied from any particular and previous writing, it was intended to be an expression of the American mind, and to that expression the proper tone and spirit called for by the occasion.”
In his later years, Jefferson thought it necessary to explain two things about the Declaration: First, it merely recorded existing truths. The second is that the revision to the “pursuit of happiness” was likely his method of showing that even though the Declaration was based on divine law drawn from the wisdom of the ages, the American experiment was meant to break from the European tradition of class stratification that so often obsessed and focused on property.
Jefferson also emphasized the purpose of government, and warned future generations of the danger from an overreaching state. In the next sentence after the “pursuit of happiness,” he wrote, “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
In this short passage, Jefferson establishes the principle that the entire purpose of government is to ensure freedom and protect liberty. Any government that does not do that should be abolished. Thus, Jefferson said that the people not only have the right to resist the oppressive power of the state, they have an divine obligation to disobey or eliminate the power of the state if the state becomes abusive.
The best evidence for the fact that Jefferson meant the right and duty of self-defense is in his draft of the Virginia Constitution. Jefferson included in section four, right after his statement on religious liberty, this short, succinct statement: “No freeman shall be debarred the use of arms.”
Jefferson understood the necessity of the people having the means to resist the power of the state.
If there needs to be an illustration given to verify the need for resistance expressed by the writers quoted, South African missionary and author Charl Van Wyk provides one.
At the end of his book, Shooting Back, Van Wyk provides details and figures on the grim result that follows a citizenry being deprived their power to resist.
Ottoman Turkey, the former Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, China, Uganda, Cambodia, and Rwanda all enacted laws that disarmed the citizens. Each one followed with a violent purge against its citizens or an ethnic minority within the national boundaries.
The total casualty count from these nations and their supposed safe ‘gun control’ laws is 114.6 million people.
A frequent sidebar discussion that crops up in debating the ‘Right to keep and bear arms,’ or the ‘sacred right of self-defence’ is the Second Amendment’s phrase, ‘A well-regulated militia…’
The key to understanding this point is to understand that when the Founders referred to a ‘militia’, they meant a group of citizens.
In discussing frontier security and the practicality of deploying a militia to the borders, in Federalist Number 24, Alexander Hamilton said it would be a bad idea.
“The first is impracticable; and if practicable, would be pernicious. The militia would not long, if at all, submit to be dragged from their occupations and families to perform that most disagreeable duty in times of profound peace. And if they could be prevailed upon or compelled to do it, the increased expense of a frequent rotation of service, and the loss of labour and disconcertion of the industrious pursuits of individuals, would form conclusive objections to the scheme.”
It’s clear that the militia was a group of citizens. They were not a disciplined fighting force, nor were they a well-trained standing army. They were craftsmen and traders, and their absence from their jobs would bring hardship upon their employers.
No one should ever allow the discussion to drift onto the issue of a standing army, the National Guard or a reserve force. That deviation from the major point is merely a distraction from the issue—the sacred right of self-defense.
The Founders nobly recorded on paper the magnificent precepts that are enshrined in the words of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights that followed. What must be remembered is that the Constitution is not a collection of new ideas developed through the cleverness and wisdom of its authors. It is the product of over 20 centuries of revelation from divine providence and the contemplations on natural law.
Therefore, the Constitution is the product of the best reflections of its authors that flowed from an understanding of rights that existed long before the United States was founded.
It should be rightly concluded then that a Kind Providence and Superior Benevolence gave us the sacred right of self-defense. So, in a larger sense, whether the Constitution says we have the right ‘to keep and bear arms’ is irrelevant. That right was handed to us from a Higher Authority and exists in the courts of heaven. Thus, it is incumbent on the people of the United States and elsewhere in this world to continue to do all in their power to preserve that right.
Michael Carl is an ordained bi-vocational priest and a journalist. He felt the call into ministry while serving in the United States Army. Michael Carl has worked in private security, radio journalism, done investigative work, and now serves a church in Massachusetts. He has two Master’s Degrees and happily lives with his family in Massachusetts.
Catholics for Concealed Carry, 20 July 2010. From the site,
Dictionary.com. “Endowment.” From the site,
Hamilton, Alexander. “Federalist Number 24,” The Federalist Papers. New York:
A Mentor Book, 1961.
Haskins, Thomas E. S. In the Words of Our Founding Fathers. Framingham, MA:
TESH Publishing, 2004.
Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan. New York: Barnes and Noble, Inc., 2004.
Jefferson, Thomas. “The Declaration of Independence,” The Independence Hall
Association. From the web site, http://www.ushistory.org/declaration/document/ .
Jefferson, Thomas. “The Object of the Declaration of Independence to Henry
Lee,” Jefferson: Writings. New York: The Library of America, 1984.
Locke, John. “Book One,” Two Treatises of Government. New York: A Mentor
Locke, John. “Book Two,” Two Treatises of Government. New York: A Mentor
Marcus Lucanus. “Book IV,” The Civil War. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
Maxey, Al. “Concealed Carry Christians,” Reflections. Issue 345, 12 April 2008.
From the site, http://www.zianet.com/maxey/reflx345.htm .
Plant, David. “Timeline, the Third Civil War,” British Civil Wars and
Commonwealth Web Site, 2002. From the site http://www.british-civil-wars.co.uk/timelines/civil-war-3.htm .
Van Wyk, Charl. Shooting Back. Torrance, CA: WND Books, 2006.
Washington, George. Quotations of George Washington. Bedford, MA:
Applewood Books, 2003.
 Al Maxey. ‘Concealed Carry Christians,’ Reflections. (Issue 345, 12 April 2008). From the site, http://www.zianet.com/maxey/reflx345.htm . Accessed 26 April 2012.
 Catholics for Concealed Carry, 20 July 2010. From the site, http://www.facebook.com/pages/Catholics-for-Concealed-Carry-in-Churches/136757176354638?sk=info (No longer active) . Accessed 26 April 2012.
 Marcus Lucanus. “Book IV,” The Civil War. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006 ed.), 217.
 David Plant. “Timeline, the Third Civil War,” British Civil Wars and Commonwealth Web Site. (2002). From the site http://www.british-civil-wars.co.uk/timelines/civil-war-3.htm . Accessed 1 May 2012.
 Thomas Hobbes. Leviathan. (New York: Barnes and Noble, Inc., 2004), 79.
 Hobbes, 80.
 John Locke. “Book One,” Two Treatises of Government. (New York: A Mentor Book, 1963), 175.
 John Locke. “Book Two,” Two Treatises of Government. (New York: A Mentor Book, 1963), 320.
 Locke, Book Two, 451-452.
 Thomas E. S. Haskins. In the Words of Our Founding Fathers. (Framingham, MA: TESH Publishing, 2004), 196.
 George Washington. Quotations of George Washington. (Bedford, MA: Applewood Books, 2003), 8.
 Thomas Jefferson. “The Declaration of Independence,” via The Independence Hall Association. From the web site, http://www.ushistory.org/declaration/document/ . Accessed 1 May 2012.
 Dictionary.com. “Endowment.” From the site, http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/endowed?s=t . Accessed 1 May 2012.
 Thomas Jefferson. “The Object of the Declaration of Independence to Henry Lee,” Jefferson: Writings. (New York: The Library of America, 1984), 1501.
 Independence Hall Association.
 Jefferson, Writings, 344.
 Charl Van Wyk. Shooting Back. (Torrance, CA: WND Books, 2006), Appendix 1, 99.
 Alexander Hamilton. “Federalist Number 24,” The Federalist Papers. (New York: A Mentor Book, 1961), 161.