The Declaration of Independence declared the position of our Founding Fathers that all men have been “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” This is one of the most important, but perhaps the most overlooked, ideals set out by the Founding Fathers. Many suppose that we could hold to the ideals of the Founding Fathers without a belief in God. In other words, they believe that we can fight for individual rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness (or of property), while denying that these rights have been granted by a divine power, or that a divine power even exists.
Yet this idea that a Creator, or God, granted these rights, although often overlooked as poetic phrasing in the Declaration of Independence, is the first foundational building block of the philosophy of our country. For, if these rights were not granted by our Creator, where did these rights originate? If these rights were granted by our Creator—who possesses power and authority far greater than any found on earth—then no power on earth can remove those rights and no one can, with impunity, infringe on the rights of others.
Does anyone suppose that these rights originated with the first person that is believed to have developed through evolutionary theory? This would stand in direct violation of nature’s laws. Evolution is based on natural selection, not equality. In natural selection, the more dominant person would be seen as wielding greater power and influence. Most of the history of human society has demonstrated that natural selection is the standard for elevating one person over another and justifying the domination of one group over another. The group with greater power and technology is able to exert influence and control over those groups with less power and technology. It is impossible that such “unalienable” rights could have originated from a process of natural selection. Had those rights originated from such a process, they would, of evolutionary necessity, be prominently regarded throughout all societies.
If these rights are not to be found in evolution, then, it seems, these rights are contrary to the natural and unchecked development of humankind. The natural development of humankind has always run contrary to the laws of God. Whereas the nature of humankind tends towards selfishness and domination, the laws of God teach us to seek a higher level of civilization. This level goes beyond the fulfillment of needs and includes a level of morality that transcends the restriction of action, which can be imposed by government. It leads people to change the intentions of their hearts.
If we were to suppose that these rights were granted by evolution, we must also suppose that they could be removed by the same principle as soon as someone with greater power determines that these rights are no longer suited to the ongoing survival of our species. Only through our Creator, and not through evolution, are these rights maintained.
Perhaps others suppose that the Founding Fathers gave us these rights at the foundation of the country? Yet this supposition suggests that the Founding Fathers had the power and authority to grant these rights in the first place. If they provided these rights to us, from whom did they receive the authority to bestow these rights on us?
Certainly, the Founding Fathers were not allowed these rights by virtue of their status as citizens of the colonies of Great Britain, for it was complained in the Declaration of Independence itself that this was not the case and that these God-given (not government-given) rights were violated. Had these rights been observed by Great Britain, there would have been no basis for the declaration to be issued and we may assume that the Founding Fathers were rebels attempting to usurp power that was not their right to possess. However, if God had granted these rights to each individual, including those in the American colonies at that time, then they were justified in their declaration of their intent to govern themselves, rather than to continue to suffer the abuses of which King George was accused.
If these rights had been granted by the power and authority of a government, established by the actions of mortal men, then a government could likewise determine that it was no longer in the interests of that government to maintain those rights. That government would be justified in such a decision, as the authority to remove rights would be inherent with the source that granted those rights. Again, it is only through our Creator, and not a government or its leaders, that these rights can be maintained.
A question came to my mind was: What do we expect from life? Many will give answers about providing for and raising a family, living in peace, enjoying friendships, pursuing interests, being productive, living according to our own conscience, or practicing our religion. In response, I would ask the questions:
To what extent could government be helpful in pursuing these ideals?
At what point does government begin to inhibit the pursuit of these ideals?
As we consider how the rights to life, liberty, and property help us to pursue these things, we must also consider how government can best serve us by protecting us from those who would infringe on these rights. At the same time, protection from others must be balanced with limited loss of these rights to the government itself for that protection. Otherwise, what purpose does the government serve if we would lose less to each other in a state of nature than we would to the government?
The purpose of a government is not to provide us with life, liberty, or property. God has already endowed us with these rights. The purpose of a government is to protect the rights we already have from those who would unjustly take them from us. When the actions of another take away my property, he is also violating my right to that property. When a person prevents me from the free exercise of choices according to my conscience, that person is also violating my right to liberty. When the choices of another threaten my life, they also violate my right to life. When these rights become skewed and a government is assumed to provide a right, rather than preserve it, the ground is tilled for tyranny.
Instead, when the role of a government is limited to protecting rights, rather than providing us with their outcomes, the rights remain with the individual to care for according to their stewardship to God, who granted those rights.