Undeclaring the Declaration

Is it really any wonder we are struggling to maintain our superiority in world commerce?  We have met the enemy, and he, to paraphrase Pogo, is us.  Will we regain our role of the world’s leading nation in commerce?  Alas, I do not believe we will.  Worse, I fear we are headed for fates far worse than of losing our competitive edge.  Why?   Because we have trashed the ideals that made us great.

When our founding fathers wrote the Declaration of Independence, they laid the cornerstones for a new kind of country:  one governed not by a monarchy, but by “We the People”.  By way of review, it starts thus:

When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitles them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

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.  That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly, all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government and to provide new guards for their future security. Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former systems of governments. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these States. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.

That first paragraph isn’t quoted nearly as often as the second.  But pause just a second and consider:  their purpose was to declare themselves “separate but equal” and that doing so to them was given “by nature” and by “nature’s God”.  This they saw as something to which they had been entitled not by the mere act of declaring themselves independent, but by the God of nature.

Then come those ringing words that are unique among the world’s most famous and significant documents.  But let’s see what we believe as contrasted against the Declaration’s noble ideals.

We hold these truths to be self-evident – What do we as a society hold to be self-evident?  Not much.  We have come to believe that all things are relative.  There are no absolute truths anymore.  What’s true for you is not necessarily true for me, and you have no right to declare my truth untrue, even in the face of objective verifyability.

…that all men are created equal – We give this one lip service.  Sure, we have finally given black people the rights they were denied for so long.  But slavery remains rampant.  It’s just underground.  We believe in Darwin, not God, and that gives the strong the right to do with the weak as they please.

…that they are endowed by their Creator – What creator?  We weren’t created at all.  We evolved.

…with certain unalienable rights – So if there is no creator, there are no rights that have been endowed upon us by one.  We give ourselves rights.  Or the government gives us rights.   Sadly, many of our elected leaders actually believe that they are the givers of rights, and that they have the power to take them away.

…that among these are life – We have the right to live.  That’s a right given to us by our creator.  Without God, we as a society or as a government can deny this right.  All we need to do is deny that certain groups are really not people at all.  The Nazis did it with Jews, Stalin and Pol Pot did it with dissenters, and we do it with unborn babies.  We just “thank god” that our mothers didn’t abort us.

…liberty– There is a distinction between freedom and liberty.  Your freedom, it has been said, ends where your fist meets my face.  Freedom is the unrestricted ability to act as one will.  The trouble is that freedom without restraint is anarchy, because no one is guided by any overriding ethical or moral framework.  If I have liberty, I along with the people I owe allegiance to, have the freedom to determine our own courses of action.

…and the pursuit of happiness. – In today’s society this is taken as the right to do whatever makes me happy, so it is much like freedom.  I believe that what the framers meant here was more like a right to pursue that which would be good not just for ones self, but for society in general.  Unfortunately, we too often don’t make the distinction.

To paraphrase the next section, people consent to be governed only so long.  Inevitably, if they are not governed under just laws rather than the whims of the powerful, they will rise up in revolution.  Indeed, it is their duty to do so.  So after a litany of despotic actions by the King of England, they declare themselves independent thus:

We, therefore, the Representatives of the United States of America, in general Congress assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name and by the authority of the good people of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as free and independent States, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliance, establish commerce, and do all other acts and things which independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.

What do we hold sacred?  Would we make such a pledge, knowing as they did that it could be put severely to the test, and that they, each one, would be called upon to give up their lives and their fortunes.  But “with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence”, they knew without doubt or reservation that they would never be called upon to give up their sacred honor.

Dorothy Sayres once said

In the world it is called Tolerance, but in hell it is called Despair, It’s the accomplice of the other sins, and their worst punishment.  It’s the sin that believes in nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, interferes with nothing, enjoys nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, lives for nothing, and remains alive because there is nothing for which it will die.

John Lennon sings to a rapturous generation:

Imagine

Imagine there’s no Heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

You may say that I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world

You may say that I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one

It sounds beautiful, but like all dreams of utopia, it’s a myth.  We simply cannot ever achieve such a wonderful state, because evil is real, and the line between good and evil, as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said, runs through the heart of every human being.  That’s why Pogo was right.

We aren’t all that.  We are incapable of governing ourselves without allegiance to a higher power.  And since we refuse to bow, as our forefathers did, we are toast.

Oh, it will take a few generations.  We may even wake up one day and pledge to each other all that we are and all that we hold sacred in order to recapture what we once had.  But until then, future generations will look at us and ask “What were they thinking?”

Rev John Sirico says it well in this short video.

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One thought on “Undeclaring the Declaration

  1. Havok

    John: But pause just a second and consider: their purpose was to declare themselves “separate but equal” and that doing so to them was given “by nature” and by “nature’s God”. This they saw as something to which they had been entitled not by the mere act of declaring themselves independent, but by the God of nature.

    You know the “Declaration of Independance” was penned by Jefferson, and that “natures God” is the god of Deism, not the god of Christianity, right?
    Jefferson seemed to be very much the deist, so it would be rather unusual of him to have attributed anything to a being he didn’t believe existed, wouldn’t it?

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