Judges 17:6 At that time there was no king in Isra’el; a man simply did whatever he thought was right.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty , and the pursuit of Happiness.
I still remember singing these words at Compton Junior High School at a Spring concert in 8th grade. At the time, those inalienable rights were assumed and not really questioned, at least in my mind. In the years since, however, much has changed. The USA is angrier, more polarized, and even the most basic assumptions of the Declaration of Independence are being questioned.
Never before in my memory has the issue of life been so controversial. From abortion laws to end of life rulings, the definition of life itself is under question. When is life valuable? When is life real? When is life? The abortion rights lobby has become so strong that even the Supreme Court of the United States obeys its commands, even when the end result is likely to mean harm to women who go to legal-but-unregulated centers. That is not health care. That is politics. Death with so-called dignity is glorified in pop culture books and movies, even as the laws in this country are altered to remove penalties for those who hasten the death of another. With the two extremes of life rendered unworthy, is it any wonder murder rates are alarming? If there is no value to life at its beginning or end, what gives it value in between? Why are we surprised at mass shootings or suicide bombings when as a culture we have so devalued life that some bizarre thought of personal gain is sufficient excuse to take lives from the innocent?
Personal liberty used to mean freedom to practice one's religion, speak in public, and engage in business. This is no longer the case. Religion, and the practice thereof is either banned from the public square or so belittled and scorned that practicing becomes difficult. When free expression of religion means not offending the non-religious, there is no longer free practice of religion. Freedom from religion was never part of the Founding Fathers' purpose. They were deists and theists, not opposed to religious expression. Liberty also meant civil discourse. Not sit-ins on the floor of the House of Representatives, not shout-downs of opposing views, and not being quieted by fear of reprisal or threat from an employer. None of these are liberty. As for commerce, once upon a time, if people wanted to make a statement about a business practice, they simply took their business elsewhere. Word of mouth was sufficient. Today, photographers and bakers lose businesses because they choose to hold their Christian moral stances above profit. I say Christian, because so far, only Christian businesses have been targeted. No other religious group or minority group is affected, even if they engage in the same practices. The laws passed to force Christian businesses to accommodate values systems with which they disagree are not essential services. In no case has there been no other option. And in no case has anyone suffered physical harm. It is political bullying, nothing more. And it is a denial of liberty for those businesses to practice according to their beliefs. There are still signs on doors saying, "No shoes, no shirt, no service". How long will those be allowed to stand?
Pursuit of Happiness
This is the first of the slippery slopes in definition changes. The pursuit of happiness does not guarantee an outcome of happiness. How is happiness defined anyway? Reportedly wealth does not equate to happiness, nor does power. Yet these are the two things most people seem to desire above all else. And when they don't get it, they cry for equality of outcome, saying that it isn't fair that some people have much and others have little. But if wealth and power aren't the keys to happiness, what does it matter? Granted, the past practices of government have limited the ways of pursuit for many, and that must be rectified. But how can it be made right when expectation is equality of outcome rather than the opportunity to pursue an individualized outcome? Happiness looks different for each individual; no amount of wealth redistribution can change that.
So what went wrong? Why is there such a feeling of unrest, distrust, and outright anger among Americans in 2016? I believe the answer is also in the Declaration statement: they are endowed by their Creator. When the idea of a Higher Power is removed from the minds of humanity, the chaos of culture always results. All the great empires of the world: Egypt, Babylon, Greece, Rome, Britain - each of these fell when the power of human will trumped the worship of god. The USA was founded on Judeo-Christian principles that included reverence and respect for a Divine Creator. Removing that ideal left a vacuum that is increasing filled with power-hungry people whose desire is for the self to become like god. When humans take on the role of the divine, truths are no longer self-evident. In fact, truth itself becomes questionable, and society returns to the chaos of self-determination without any idea of community. It is not new or unique to the US; it is what is common to humanity. And so it goes. Unless this nation returns to a reverence and respect for the Divine Creator, it is on a path to disintegration. Unless truth once again becomes part of the dialogue in the public square, deception will reign. Truth and justice must again become American ideals in order for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to once again become inalienable rights for each of us.