Thursday, January 12, 2023

Winsome? Lose Some

According to, winsome means “sweetly or innocently charming; winning; engaging.” … While there is certainly nothing wrong with being kind or meek, the church must come to understand that winsomeness is not part of the fruit of the Spirit.

Addressing this issue requires starting with an understanding of natural law and natural rights.

There is a confusion when it comes to the topic of natural law.  There is also a confusion when it comes to the idea of natural rights.  There is a further confusion when discussing the two together, seeing the two as almost interchangeable terms or even synonyms one for the other.

Both those sympathetic to and those opposed to the idea of natural law share these confusions.  The confusion is grounded in the purpose of natural law as opposed to the purpose of natural rights. 

Natural law is an ethic.  It describes the proper way for man to live, based on objectively identifiable truths – both physical truths as well as truths that lead to a meaningful life that is beneficial to the individual, to the broader society, for today and for the future.

This ethic is understood and can be derived, ultimately, by identifying man’s purpose, or telos.  It is to grow ever more like Christ.  But for those out there who don’t like this idea, it is beatitudo.  This word is often translated as happiness, but it is best understood as fulfillment via other-regarding action.  I know…some won’t like that either.  But there you have it. 

Natural rights are rights possessed by individuals.  These are limited to rights in one’s person and one’s property.  Nothing more. 

To best and simply clarify the difference: natural law (ethics) demands from me that I act charitably – in other words, to act with regard toward the other.  Call it the Golden Rule.  So, while natural law demands of me to act charitably, no one has a natural right to demand charity from me.  All they can demand of me is to respect their natural rights in their person and the fruits of their person (i.e., their property).  I often phrase it as don’t hit first, don’t take my stuff.  The non-aggression principle.  Call this the Silver Rule (yes, there is one).

Of course, there is a small overlap: it is consistent with and a subset of natural law ethics that I act in a manner that respects another’s natural rights.  To respect another’s person and property is to act charitably toward that person.  But this is not the whole of natural law, just as the non-aggression principle is not the whole of an ethical system.

Not every violation of natural law should be subject to civil punishment.  That I do not act charitably toward someone is no cause for throwing me in jail.  That someone chooses sexual behavior that is outside of natural law is also no cause for that person to be thrown in jail.

Conversely, violations of natural law should not be made legal by civil law.  In other words, civil law should not force me to affirm violations of natural law.  Civil law should not force me to sell to those to whom I do not wish to sell.  Civil law should not force me to affirm gender identities which I choose not to affirm.

As should be expected, Thomas Aquinas has answered this question of the difference in natural law and natural rights, writing:

Now human law is framed for a number of human beings, the majority of whom are not perfect in virtue. Wherefore human laws do not forbid all vices, from which the virtuous abstain, but only the more grievous vices, from which it is possible for the majority to abstain; and chiefly those that are to the hurt of others, without the prohibition of which human society could not be maintained: thus human law prohibits murder, theft and such like.

Not all vices should be forbidden by human law.  Only those through which human society cannot be maintained such as murder and theft.  Note, the examples given by Thomas are examples of violations against person and property “and such like.”  Nothing more.  The examples he gives are those that violate natural rights, not natural law.

Natural law separates vices from virtues; natural rights identify the just use for punishment or use of physical force.  Walter Block once noted that the non-aggression principle can be best thought of as follows:

A more sophisticated understanding of libertarianism does not say, with the NAP: “Thou shalt not murder, initiate violence against innocent persons or their legitimate possessions.” Rather, it states, that if you do, you will be punished in accordance with libertarian punishment theory.

It isn’t a complete ethic; it is a theory of punishment (or, obviously, the correspondent proper use of violent defense).

Fundamentally, civil law should be concerned solely with violation against person and property: don’t hit first, don’t take my stuff.  These are our only natural rights, and civil law should be concerned solely with defending these. 


This post was prompted by the now bubbling discussion surrounding winsome Christians – those Christians who feel that affirming every violation of natural law ethics is the best path to win souls for Christ.  Let’s just say that hasn’t been working out so well.

In the United States, Protestant denominations that are supportive of natural law ethics regarding the current sex and gender discussions (the non-winsome protestants) are growing; those that affirm violations of the ethic (the winsome protestants) are shrinking.  I suspect the same trends are visible in the Catholic Church.  It isn’t clear to me that Orthodox Churches have yet really succumbed to this rancorous debate, but I cannot say anything with certainty on this.

How does this figure in this winsome discussion?  For the more strident fundamentalist Christians, stop trying to take the easy way out by advocating for laws regarding prohibition of behaviors that don’t violate natural rights.  Stop looking to the latest politician as your savior.

Instead, teach natural law as an ethic to live by.  Getting the state to do the work that should be done in faith through Christ and the Church is a losing game.  The issue is ethical.  The issue is cultural, not political.

As for the winsome Christians among us: don’t be shy about this teaching.  Being a poor substitute for the prevailing culture will win none to Christ.  Nor will it leave a better world for your grandchildren.

Ephesians 6: 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

It is past time to take this verse seriously.


  1. OMG! You quoted Walter Block. Hehehehe. Glad you found a space of agreement.

    I have been following multiple people speaking against this winsome Christian thing. It is basically moving the Church leftward into Woke Ideology.

    When I looked up the definition of "winsome". What stood out to me is that the word is linked being like a child. Having a child-like disposition towards their parents and family. But Christians are supposed to be winsome towards opponents or even other adults at large. We are to be winsome in our attitude and posture towards God. Towards other humans we are to be mature, wise, strong, righteous, dependable, etc. These Christian leaders have really flipped the meaning on its head. That is what winsome/wokeness is all about flipping things upside down. For the latest example I saw, Tim Keller in a video said that white people negotiating price with a car dealership is 'sin' somehow, or that car dealerships must have fixed pricing or they are similarly guilty.

    What a complete failure of a pastor on multiple levels. Actually leading his listeners down a path of lies unto death.

    As always the antidote is properly understanding the concepts and roles of natural law and natural rights.

    On the topic of natural rights extended to the concept of land ownership and distribution-

    With the WEF now attacking home and farm ownership the lesson is as timely as ever.

    1. I agree with Walter on many things - maybe 97% of things. It's just the really important things, the things that are most important to liberty and meaning and life, where I disagree with him.

  2. Good description of the difference between natural law and natural rights. Keep on like this and eventually I may come to understand these concepts.

    Every crime is a sin. Not every sin is a crime. We have to know what is criminal, what is not. What should be punished, what should not. What should be allowed, what should not. Who decides? What is the defining moment?
    As you say, probably at that time where acts of force and aggression occur, some of which are clear and obvious. Many are more subtle.

    "Conversely, violations of natural law should not be made legal by civil law."

    I wonder about this. Does it mean that if it is not made legal, then it is illegal? Or is there a gray area in the law, some murky part of the continuum where something may not be legal, yet not illegal. Can the State (we, the sinful people) ever adopt a neutral, "hands-off approach" toward anything and simply allow it to work its way through society, no matter how repulsive or disgusting it is? Will "proper" society tolerate such a response?

    We have a long way to go.

    1. Roger, I think you understand far better than you let on.

      As to my cited line, I think I could have worded it better, as follows:

      "Conversely, violations of natural law should not be made compulsory by civil law."

      In other words, there must be no laws that force me to violate natural law. Like force me to use my property in a manner against my will (bake a cake for the gay couple) or force me to use any and all gender pronouns, or force me to take a jab. These are all violations of natural law, yet each has been pronounced as civil law (or at least decree).

      I hope that helps....

  3. Sir, you left out the natural right of family, don't mess with my wife or children. Life, family, property, all from Genesis 1 before the fall. We can add a right to a just trial after the fall made that necessary.

    1. I did not. The right to life includes the right to defend the lives of others.

      As to a trial, in any civil society, adjudication of disputes and violations is inherent.

      It is dangerous to try to make a list that is all inclusive and extremely specific. This is how lawyers and kings find ways to abuse the serfs.

      I would trust my liberty to a society that understands the concepts of the non-aggression principle far more than one which has a ten thousand page federal register. In the federal register, there are dozens of violations we each commit every day.

    2. Yes bionic. I am currently writing up my thoughts on what Rothbard said on self defense in the The Ethics Of Liberty. Individuals have a right to defend their own lives with violence and volunteer to defend others' lives with violence. As long as the potential victims want to be defended.