Mixing Politics and Religion

Posted on December 24, 2009

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All Men Are Not Created Equal

Could it be that Thomas Jefferson got it wrong when wrote what amounted to a preamble to the Declaration of Independence?

“We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with [inherent and] inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed….”

The words “inherent and” were in the original, but deleted from the final copy accepted by Congress.
How can all men be equal in any way when we have the self-evident truths that half the men are women in our world, and with the exception of identical twins, it is transparently evident that all men are not created equal. They come in different sizes, different colors, speak different languages, and in thousands of way, each one is indeed unique, but not equal.

So what did Jefferson mean to say? How could he claim—even as a political theorist—that all men were created equal when he owned slaves, often considered property like your plow or hoe?

I believe the key to understanding Jefferson is in the second phrase: “they are endowed by their Creator with inherent and inalienable rights.” All may not be created equal, but all are endowed by God with equal rights, which cannot be denied or stripped away, they are inherent, just like your head is inherent in your body.

And “among these” inherent or inalienable rights…”are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” the latter long thought to have been a reflection on the sanctity of property and the protection of that same property.

So, each of us, being equally endowed by God, has the right to life and to liberty. That is, each one of us is born free in liberty, and has the right to live free.

Jefferson never said all men were equal. He wrote each was “created” equal, by that meaning that each was endowed with equal rights to life and to liberty.

Now, the rest of the Declaration goes on to justify the rebellious colonies which were rapidly moving to establish their independence. But the arguments as elucidated by Jefferson, and accepted in the main by Congress, were founded on the principles in the first few lines of the Declaration, so it is to these lines we must look for founding principles.

Does being “created” equal, endowed with equal rights to life and to liberty, guarantee that all will develop equally? Of course not. Look around you. We are not the same!

We all start out the same, but character, genes, social circumstances, race, ethnicity, religion and a thousand other factors all combine to contribute to our formation. So, we are molded by circumstances? Yes, but only in part.

We in fact, born in “liberty,” are given equal opportunity to exercise our free will, for all men are born free. And here is where I believe that tricky little phrase, “pursuit of happiness,” must be examined. It means, I think, much more than the defense of property, or sometimes described as a collective or “public” happiness.

It means in fact that one has to exercise one’s free will in pursuit of a life filled with reward, with happiness, with the fruits of one’s labor. The Bible abounds in such admonitions. Here are but a few samples.

Lazy hands make a man poor,
but diligent hands bring wealth. (Proverbs 10:4)

He who works his land will have abundant food,
but he who chases fantasies lacks judgment. (Proverbs 12:11)

Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. (Luke 6:38)

We have free will. We are born with free will, which is another one of those natural rights we receive as human beings, regardless of your religious persuasion, or lack thereof. The only reason Jefferson did not mention it in his preamble was that he probably took it for granted. Free will was inherent in liberty.

And we “pursue happiness” by exercising our free will. So there you have it.

All men are not created equal, but they ARE endowed with the same rights, and, of these, the right to exercise your free will is a key to understanding why we are equal at birth but are not given equal property, equal substance, equal anything through life. That is to be determined by what we do.

And since
1. we are a Christian nation; the Creator in Jefferson’s formula is indeed the Christian God, at a remove as a Deist or close up as a Methodist, He was the same God,
2. and we have free will,
3. and the Bible—a good source of wisdom, not just for Jews, Christians and Muslims—is very clear on the relationship between work and “happiness,”
4. the road to happiness is laid out very nicely.

However, and here’s the kicker, we won’t all exercise that free will in the same fashion. We are all different. We all have free will.

Some will work for the good of all, like the sheep in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats (Mathew 25:31-46), and some simply don’t care, or just take care of themselves, like the goats. The sheep and the goats are separated by what they do, or don’t do.

And in the final reckoning—at the Final Judgment if you are a Christian—the sheep will go to one place, the goats to another.

Or if you just a plain vanilla secular American, the end of your journey here on earth, or at any point along that journey, will ALSO be determined by how you apply your free will.

You can adduce the rest. Some will rise above others, some will tread water (probably most of us), and some will simply fall away.

You are not guaranteed anything except the liberty and free will inherent in your being to do as you please. It is no mere play on words, an advertising gimmick that trumpets America as the land of opportunity. All men are not created equal, but all men born in this land possess the equal opportunity to rise or fall.

The choice is yours, but don’t claim that you are “owed” something, or “enfranchised” in some fashion, or possess inherent privileges or “entitlements” simply because you exist. Neither Thomas Jefferson—arguably the best thinker ever to inhabit this country—nor Scripture says you are the same as all others, and all deserve the same. The choice is yours, by what you say or do as you move through life.

I can’t improve on either Jefferson or Scripture, which is quite clear on this point:
“This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.” (Deuteronomy 30:19)

Posted in: Politics