Thursday, June 24, 2010

Your "Unalienable Rights"

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 Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776

Recently, I received a pocket-sized copy of The Declaration of Independence and The Constitution of the United States. It’s surprising in several ways. One is its size. The actual text of both documents takes up about 40 pages of a little booklet that easily fits into a shirt pocket (with room to spare!), and only about 1/8 inch thick. The type size is very readable. I don’t know for sure, but it’s probably 10 point Times New Roman. You’d think such important documents would require a larger booklet. Then again, perhaps one reason they are both historically significant is their brevity and clarity.

I constantly find myself struggling to find a political identity, but it keeps eluding me. I like much about conservatives, but they sometimes drive me up the wall and I opt for a decidedly liberal point of view. About the time I think I must be a liberal, I get fed up with what appears to be sheer ignorance, and I’m back on the side of conservatives. That lasts until I can’t take some ridiculous conservative point of view. I suspect a lot of Americans are like this. It’s probably one reason that the polls keep showing us as a rather middle-of-the-road people. We’re all just bouncing back across the net from one side to the other.

Over the years, I’ve engaged in discussions with people who claimed to be on one side or the other. I find a lot to agree with. I also find a lot to disagree with. If instead of Republicans, or Democrats (or Libertarians, or Tea Parties, or Socialists, or Communists, etc.), someone would start a “Middle-of-the-Road” party, maybe I’d join it. Then again, that would have to be some dull party. Either that, or it would perpetually be under fire for having to swing from one side of the road to the other.

My point here was not to get off on a tangent about politics, so I apologize for weaving. What I wanted to focus on was a simple, but important little concept contained in the Declaration of Independence.

The signers all agreed with the language of the document. They agreed that some truths were self-evident. I suppose such a statement has always been considered as less than agreeable. Some would likely suggest that nothing is self-evident, and others would at least question the things the signers thought self-evident. Still, we must consider their words. What is it they though self-evident? Two things are identified because they were pertinent to the document, but they were obviously not the only two things considered to be self-evident. Those two things are: 1) that all men are created equal, and 2) that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights. Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness are particular concerns of the document, but not necessarily the only unalienable rights existent.

Of course the concept of the equality of all men has likely become something today that it was not entirely at the time the Declaration was written. That’s not a bad thing, it’s just that we’ve had time, opportunity and reason to think it out and see its implications. That the signers of the document may or may not have held the same view of that statement that most hold today is not important. The point is that their statement was correct in its essential point. All men are equal.

It is the next phrase that got my attention anew. all men are not only created equal, but they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights. I suggest that we might rush too quickly to a consideration of those Rights, without first acknowledging the basis for the Rights. Rights, according to the signers of the Declaration of Independence, are endowed upon men by their Creator. Rights do not exist apart from a Creator. In fact, Rights are a human concern because they have been endowed upon men (and women!). This is a major consideration.

We are able to express ourselves in words like the Declaration of Independence because there is a Creator, and because the Creator has endowed us with certain unalienable Rights. Take away the Creator, and you take away the basis for the Rights. Take away the basis for the Rights and you may as well end all discussion of Rights. The reason we have such Rights is that they are endowed by the Creator. We do not have these Rights because we fought for them, therefore they are ours to possess. We do not have them because it is philosophically desirable to possess them. We do not have them because of political superiority. They are not ours because successful diplomacy secured them. We did not purchase them. We certainly didn’t create them. No, the unalienable Rights, according to the framers of the Declaration of Independence, are ours because they were endowed by the Creator.

Life, then, is a Right endowed by the Creator. Liberty, is a Right endowed by the Creator. The pursuit (not the possession) of Happiness is a Right endowed by the Creator. Remove the Creator from any or all of these unalienable Rights, and you remove the Rights themselves. Outside of the existence of a Creator, the signers of the Declaration envisioned no source of such Rights.

This remains important today. We still depend on the Creator to endow us with these unalienable Rights. Such Rights do not come from the government. They are not bestowed upon us by any political leader. Rights do not come from military power. Rights are not the product of economy, education, political party or even religious organization. Rights do not rest in the hands of any single person, or in the collective hands of any group of persons. To use another word for Creator, the Rights mentioned in the Declaration of Independence come from God.

If all this is true, then any minimizing of God (Creator) necessarily minimizes the unalienable Rights recognized in the Declaration. Be wary of those who, on one hand, argue for Rights, but on the other hand, minimize or dismiss God. If the Creator is ever cut from the picture, the rest is bound to fall. A Right endowed by God is one thing. A Right endowed by a government, a political party, a military, or any other human source, is a right tottering on feeble legs. Understand the source and basis for your unalienable Rights before you get too excited about your Rights.