Monday, July 04, 2005
Some Thoughts on Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness  

In the Declaration of Independence, which was adopted 229 years ago today, Thomas 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.
It is no accident that he enumerated these rights in the order in which he wrote them. There is a hierarchy to the rights which God has given us.

The first of these rights is the right to life. Without the right to life, all other rights are superfluous. It does not matter one wit about anything else in this world, if I am denied my right to life which has been granted to me by God.

Someone can be very concerned about helping the poor. Or another can be very motivated to assist the elderly. These concerns are valuable and worthwhile, but if they are colored by the person's belief that the poor, the elderly, the vulnerable do not have a fundamental right to life, that extends from conception until natural death, then the person's efforts are flawed. It is not compassionate to ever want to deny a person the right to life. It is never "freeing" to take away someone's life.

No, the right to life supersedes all other rights. Any attempts to limit that right, immediately removes all other rights. However, the right to life is not an end unto itself. Life is not to be lived just for the sake of the right to life.

This life is not all that there is. God has given us a right to life in order that we might have life with and in Him. He longs for us to live our lives in such a way that our lives are marked with a deep relationship with Him. To knowingly simply take the gift of the right to life to live life apart from Him is disrespectful to the gift and the giver. Instead, we must honor the giver by giving ourselves to Him and to His creatures. This is true living out of the right to life.

The second right that Mr. Jefferson listed is the right to liberty. Flowing directly from the right to life, each person has been given by God the right of free will. It is a birthright of being a person. God has given us the ability to choose to act or not to act to speak or not to speak.

Through the use of this right, we can exercise our right to life. In other words, we can demonstrate that we accept the right to life, by using our right to liberty to correctly live our lives. Our liberty is not a license to do as we please. Instead it is correctly ordered by the right to life. We have been given a free will to choose to live out the right to life. We have liberty in order that we might do what we ought to do.

The irony of not doing what we ought to do, is that we immediately limit ourselves. For example, we believe in the right to free speech. However, once you have told a lie, which fundamentally is out of order from the right to liberty, you have limited your freedom. For instance, suppose you gossip and tell someone that another person is bad person. Now when the three of you are together, you are not free to act as if the person is not a bad person, lest the first person consider you a hypocrite. You have limited your freedom to act toward the person who was the subject of your gossip.

The third right which Mr. Jefferson listed is the right to the pursuit of happiness. This is the right to do what is correct. It flows from the right to liberty or free will. Happiness is living our life as we ought to live it. We are human beings created by God to live lives that are fully human. He has given us a right to pursue that goal of living a completely human life which is filled with virtue as Aristotle in the Nichomean Ethics would suggest. We will not find happiness in being anything other than who we ought to be. God, who created us, desires that we be fully human or people who are pursuing the life of virtue. To knowingly do otherwise is a violation of this right to the pursuit of happiness.

To use an absurd example, people cannot be happy if they attempt to live like a dog. People are not dogs or any other animal for that matter. To reduce people to animals is a denial of their right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness because you are limiting their ability to be fully human.

Without the ability to freely exercise liberty, the ability to pursue happiness or a life of virtue is severely limited. The abominable slavery of African-Americans in this country was a fundamental denial of their right to liberty. Slavery was an attempt to reduce people to something less than their full humanity. In this attempt, the ability to pursue happiness was limited. Slaves could not pursue their full humanity because they had been denied full access to exercise their right to free will.

In the Declaration of Independence, Mr Jefferson has enumerated these three rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. These rights which come from God have been given to us in order that we might live a life with Him. From the giver come the gifts that bring us back to the giver who is Himself our greatest gift.

Posted by David at 9:30 AM  |  Comments (0)  | Link


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