Why Are We Here? (Part 2)
“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”
~ John 15:13 (ESV)
Greetings my fellow Americans!
As we wind our way to an answer to the broader question posed in the title of this series, I’d like to continue explicating the notion of a “right” by unpacking the intent of the American founders in this more specific regard. Rooted in the profound and divinely-inspired words of our Declaration of Independence, we were deemed to, individually, have three such fundamental entitlements: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. Further, these, and only these, according to those willing to fight and die for said rights, were endowed directly by Him through whom all that exists in our universe came to be, and were to be respected and safeguarded by government.
As intrinsically broken, fallen men are wont to do, we have strayed both individually and collectively from this original charter, and gradually invented, codified, and bestowed additional so-called freedoms which only partially align or directly contradict those originally named, and have tended to be viewed more and more as granted at the pleasure or discretion of those in government than on something or someone outside of our corporeal creation. And, having been given to men by other men, these later edicts have tended to benefit the grantor(s) much more than the grantees, an eventuality and by-product of which we were sternly warned by our founders should we ever dare to forget that America was designed to thwart such power and control over other people’s existence.
So, what, exactly, does it mean to have rights to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness, in the context of a representative republic which has foundationally acknowledged itself as a collection of the created, and existing solely at the will of a Creator? Before parsing these individually, let’s recognize that all three are based on the notion that “all men are created equal,” and that, by our divine Master’s reckoning, none of us is intrinsically or inherently more nor less entitled or privileged to enjoy these freedoms, that all are to be held to the same ultimate standards of conduct and assessment of reward or penalty by Him.
This implies that individual respect for these rights in a free society is directly proportional to each’s true realization and acceptance of the existence of others whose rights are just as intrinsic and fundamental as his, and that his selfish tendencies must be tempered for the sake of protecting his own; it also suggests that any system of earthly justice meant to foster the highest possible achievement of civilization and respect for these rights will be established unto, and maintained in accordance with, this ideal—meaning that degrees of forfeiture of any of these rights would be administered without regard to wealth, social status, or outward appearance, i.e., blindly. This also necessitates that these rights for one must be balanced against those afforded to all others, in order for a society to be civilized. (Yes, the allusions to the blindfolded and scale-holding Lady Justice here are intentional.)
Life as a right would seem to be the most obvious and easiest upon which to gain a general consensus of possession and abidance among a collection of humans; given the ongoing disputes in which we find ourselves today, however, I believe we need to resecure this one first and foremost. What is human “life?” What does it mean to have a self-right to it? What does it mean for another to possess such an entitlement? How one answers these questions, ironically, tends to be inversely reflective of his awareness of his aforementioned selfish tendencies, and willingness to temper these for the sake of securing his own right to life by supporting that of others.
Now, it’s clear we have vehement disagreement about when a so-called human life actually begins; why? What motivates some to claim that life does not yet exist where others do? When we say that “all men are created equal,” to what extent do those along the contemporary spectrum of this conversation between “at conception” and “at the will of the birthing parent” share an interpretation of equality of the creation process of all human beings? How can a civilized society survive, let alone self-govern, when the gap between these worldview extremes is so wide? How can anyone truly have a right to something so fundamental within a society whose purported members cannot agree with nor abide by without having it legislatively mandated in exhaustive detail?
While our founders were 18th-Century men, most between the ages of 30 and 40, and every bit as flawed as we, there was a beauty to the relative simplicity of their shared worldview that enabled a codification of a divine right to life which was not only unprecedented in the history of nation-states, but also has lasted for centuries, even if now on the verge of being quashed. Granted, they had a enjoyed a relatively coalition of “common sense” among those who desired to break free from the relative tyranny of their former King, but also managed to establish a system well suited to grow the ranks of those sincerely, passionately and humbly pledging allegiance to the American ideal which they recognized as superior to what they were leaving behind, for a remarkable period of time. It has never been paradise (nor did they ever claim it would be), but, despite its naysayers—especially those of the modern ilk who fail to grasp the profound sacrifice these people made to enable the convenient and comfortable lives in which we currently bask—America has led the way in producing a nation which has generally respected the right to “life.”
Everything I’ve stated here thus far may be equally applied to Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness, but I believe further unpacking of both is needed in the context of an answer to “Why Are We Here?” More in Part 3.
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