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“Thou shalt have no other god before me.”  (Exodus 20:3 KJV)

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Life, Liberty And The Pursuit Of Happiness

Part 1

November 16, 2013

Life, Liberty And The Pursuit Of Happiness

Guaranteed by God & The Declaration of Independence!

Right?

There’s been this ongoing debate over whether the founding fathers were Christian - or not -
whether they built Christian principles into the Constitution of the U.S. - or not -
and it’s not just recently - it’s been ever since it was written.  
It just seems to be a bigger thing now.

So let’s take a look at this.

I don’t know that it counts as a guarantee, having it in the Declaration of Independence -
but it is there:

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.

Everybody knows those words.  Well, at least everybody who is paying attention to this issue.


But -

In keeping with the goal here of always maintaining context -
how many know what came before that?
Here it is - the opening statement of that same Declaration of Independence -

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 entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

Did you catch this part -

the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.


If you’re thinking - as I did - that “the Creator” of the second sentence is the God of the Bible -
maybe it’s time to reconsider that thought.



Before we conquer the political question - having opened up a seed of question on that end -
let’s look at whether the God of the Bible ever promised life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

On the topic of life -

the answer is yes and no.
How’s that for a confusing answer?

I say yes because of another commonly known sentence - this one from Jesus in John 3:16 -

Jn 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

At the same time - I say no -
because eternal life is most certainly not something the government can promise -
and therefore in not the same “life” that is referenced in the Declaration of Independence.


So - what about liberty?  Did God promise us liberty?

Again - yes and no.  
Check out Jesus’ response when James and John wanted to site to His left and right -

Mk 10:35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”

Mk 10:36 “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.

Mk 10:37 They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”

Mk 10:38 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”

Mk 10:39 “We can,” they answered.

Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with,  40 but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”

Mk 10:41 When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John.  42 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.  43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,  44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.  45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Again - did you catch this part?

43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,  44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.  

Being a slave -
while that is the ultimate liberty to a Christian -
the freedom to live life as God intended as opposed to the way the world says -
to literally be the best we can be -
that doesn’t seem like the kind of liberty that was being fought for in the Declaration of Independence.


What about the pursuit of happiness?

You’ve probably guessed -
yes and no -
Jesus never promised happiness in this life
but joy in the next.

Consider what Jesus said on Luke 6:27-26 -

Blessings and Woes

Lk 6:17 He went down with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of his disciples was there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coast of Tyre and Sidon,  18 who had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. Those troubled by evil spirits were cured,  19 and the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all.

Lk 6:20 Looking at his disciples, he said:

“Blessed are you who are poor,

for yours is the kingdom of God.

Lk 6:21 Blessed are you who hunger now,

for you will be satisfied.

Blessed are you who weep now,

for you will laugh.

Lk 6:22 Blessed are you when men hate you,

when they exclude you and insult you

and reject your name as evil,

because of the Son of Man.

Lk 6:23 “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their fathers treated the prophets.

Lk 6:24 “But woe to you who are rich,

for you have already received your comfort.

Lk 6:25 Woe to you who are well fed now,

for you will go hungry.

Woe to you who laugh now,

for you will mourn and weep.

Lk 6:26 Woe to you when all men speak well of you,

for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.

Again we see that what Jesus promised isn’t anything like what the Declaration of Independence is talking about.  To Jesus - happiness wasn’t even the word.  It went beyond being happy to leaping for joy.

But - as with life - it wasn’t leaping for joy in this life - but in the next -
after being poor, hungry, hated and rejected in this life.


Oh well - so much for idea that the Creator in the second sentence of the Declaration of Independence was the Creator in the Bible.

So - that begs the question - who was he?



Let’s get back to the political side of things to examine that question.

For one thing - let’s look at where that document came from.

Thomas Jefferson was the one chosen to write the first draft of the Declaration of Independence.

Where did his ideas come from?
According to
"TO HENRY LEE — Thomas Jefferson The Works, vol. 12 (Correspondence and Papers 1816-1826; 1905)". The Online Library of Liberty. May 8, 1825.

Neither aiming at originality of principle or sentiment, nor yet copied from any particular and previous writing, it was intended to be an expression of the American mind, and to give to that expression the proper tone and spirit called for by the occasion.

OK - so it wasn’t copied word for word - but it also wasn’t really new either.

This leads to the question of the source of the idea of a creator who endowed life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  Where did this concept come from?

A clue to this comes from a letter that Thomas Jefferson wrote to a famous painter of his time -
in which he was asking for portraits of three men.
In the letter, he wrote of these men -

Thomas Jefferson identified Francis Bacon, John Locke, and Isaac Newton as "the three greatest men that have ever lived, without any exception," in this 1789 letter ordering portraits of them from the American painter, John Trumbull. Their works in the physical and moral sciences were instrumental in Jefferson's education and world view.

Did you catch that last sentence -

Their works in the physical and moral sciences were instrumental in Jefferson's education and world view.

Physical and moral sciences.
Not Christianity -
not even religion in general.

This isn’t sounding good.

But - let’s keep going.

Following are some quotes from John Locke’s A Letter Concerning Toleration (1689) -
which was written - and certainly read by Jefferson - long before the Declaration of Independence was written -


The toleration of those that differ from others in matters of religion is so agreeable to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to the genuine reason of mankind, that it seems monstrous for men to be so blind as not to perceive the necessity and advantage of it in so clear a light. I will not here tax the pride and ambition of some, the passion and uncharitable zeal of others. These are faults from which human affairs can perhaps scarce ever be perfectly freed; but yet such as nobody will bear the plain imputation of, without covering them with some specious colour; and so pretend to commendation, whilst they are carried away by their own irregular passions. But, however, that some may not colour their spirit of persecution and unchristian cruelty with a pretence of care of the public weal and observation of the laws; and that others, under pretence of religion, may not seek impunity for their libertinism and licentiousness; in a word, that none may impose either upon himself or others, by the pretences of loyalty and obedience to the prince, or of tenderness and sincerity in the worship of God; I esteem it above all things necessary to distinguish exactly the business of civil government from that of religion and to settle the just bounds that lie between the one and the other. If this be not done, there can be no end put to the controversies that will be always arising between those that have, or at least pretend to have, on the one side, a concernment for the interest of men's souls, and, on the other side, a care of the commonwealth.

The commonwealth seems to me to be a society of men constituted only for the procuring, preserving, and advancing their own civil interests.

Civil interests I call life, liberty, health, and indolency of body; and the possession of outward things, such as money, lands, houses, furniture, and the like.

Now that the whole jurisdiction of the magistrate reaches only to these civil concernments, and that all civil power, right and dominion, is bounded and confined to the only care of promoting these things; and that it neither can nor ought in any manner to be extended to the salvation of souls, these following considerations seem unto me abundantly to demonstrate.

First, because the care of souls is not committed to the civil magistrate, any more than to other men. It is not committed unto him, I say, by God; because it appears not that God has ever given any such authority to one man over another as to compel anyone to his religion. Nor can any such power be vested in the magistrate by the consent of the people, because no man can so far abandon the care of his own salvation as blindly to leave to the choice of any other, whether prince or subject, to prescribe to him what faith or worship he shall embrace. For no man can, if he would, conform his faith to the dictates of another. All the life and power of true religion consist in the inward and full persuasion of the mind; and faith is not faith without believing. Whatever profession we make, to whatever outward worship we conform, if we are not fully satisfied in our own mind that the one is true and the other well pleasing unto God, such profession and such practice, far from being any furtherance, are indeed great obstacles to our salvation. For in this manner, instead of expiating other sins by the exercise of religion, I say, in offering thus unto God Almighty such a worship as we esteem to be displeasing unto Him, we add unto the number of our other sins those also of hypocrisy and contempt of His Divine Majesty.

In the second place, the care of souls cannot belong to the civil magistrate, because his power consists only in outward force; but true and saving religion consists in the inward persuasion of the mind, without which nothing can be acceptable to God. And such is the nature of the understanding, that it cannot be compelled to the belief of anything by outward force. Confiscation of estate, imprisonment, torments, nothing of that nature can have any such efficacy as to make men change the inward judgement that they have framed of things.

In the third place, the care of the salvation of men's souls cannot belong to the magistrate; because, though the rigour of laws and the force of penalties were capable to convince and change men's minds, yet would not that help at all to the salvation of their souls. For there being but one truth, one way to heaven, what hope is there that more men would be led into it if they had no rule but the religion of the court and were put under the necessity to quit the light of their own reason, and oppose the dictates of their own consciences, and blindly to resign themselves up to the will of their governors and to the religion which either ignorance, ambition, or superstition had chanced to establish in the countries where they were born? In the variety and contradiction of opinions in religion, wherein the princes of the world are as much divided as in their secular interests, the narrow way would be much straitened; one country alone would be in the right, and all the rest of the world put under an obligation of following their princes in the ways that lead to destruction; and that which heightens the absurdity, and very ill suits the notion of a Deity, men would owe their eternal happiness or misery to the places of their nativity.


These considerations, to omit many others that might have been urged to the same purpose, seem unto me sufficient to conclude that all the power of civil government relates only to men's civil interests, is confined to the care of the things of this world, and hath nothing to do with the world to come.



This pretty much summarizes Locke’s view of the political side of things as they relate to government power over religion.  It does not shed much light on his thoughts towards any specific religion.

The next section of the document goes on to do that.

At this point though -
I do believe it’s obvious that he did believe in the separation of church and state.
Not the separation that says there should be no religion -
but one that says the government should stay out of religion and allow all of them.
Well - almost all of them.

From a brief summary of John Locke under the title of Classical Liberalism (which came about with the ideas of John Locke, among others) - available here - we read -

As a trustee, Government was expected to serve the interests of the people, not the rulers, and rulers were expected to follow the laws enacted by legislatures. Locke also held that the main purpose of men uniting into commonwealths and governments was for the preservation of their property. Despite the ambiguity of Locke's definition of property, which limited property to "as much land as a man tills, plants, improves, cultivates, and can use the product of", this principle held great appeal to individuals possessed of great wealth.

Locke held that the individual had the right to follow his own religious beliefs and that the state should not impose a religion against Dissenters. But there were limitations. No tolerance should be shown for atheists, who were seen as amoral, or to Catholics, who were seen as owing allegiance to the Pope over their own national government.


What can we conclude then about this question of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?

I believe it’s safe to say that it wasn’t from the God of The Bible -
because while - in His way - He does intend

These certainly are not the means of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness that the government would be intending to mean.


What of Jefferson himself -
what did he believe?

I’m not sure that it matters -
at least not to this question.


Look again at John Locke’s statement -

Now that the whole jurisdiction of the magistrate reaches only to these civil concernments, and that all civil power, right and dominion, is bounded and confined to the only care of promoting these things; and that it neither can nor ought in any manner to be extended to the salvation of souls, these following considerations seem unto me abundantly to demonstrate.

If that is truly the foundation for the Declaration of Independence -
which appears to be a reasonable conclusion (although you may differ) -
then the question of any individual’s beliefs -
the question of any one religion -
no longer matters.

It doesn’t matter what religion John Locke was -
It doesn’t matter what religion Thomas Jefferson was -
If your religion is based on the God of the Bible, it doesn’t matter what denomination  you are -
It doesn’t matter if you’re something else entirely -

The Declaration of Independence is not talking about what God wants for us.

No matter how much one may want to infuse religion into this document -
it just doesn't appear to be there.


Now -

Having said all that -

Religion did have a lot to do with people coming over to this country in the first place.

Religious freedom was important to them.

In many ways - I think we’ve lost much of both of those concepts.

And maybe most of all - we’ve lost the concept behind why religion isn’t in this document.


Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.


If there was true freedom -
the ability to exercise our free will regarding religion -
like the free will that God gave us -
we would have the ability to to enjoy those three words -
either the way many people believe them to be defined today -
or the way that the God of the Bible meant them to be -


Consider these words on the way Paul lived his life -
what he did with his freedom -
and what he pursued -

1Co 9:19 Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.  20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law.  21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law.  22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.  23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

1Co 9:24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.  25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.  26 Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air.  27 No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.


How’s your life?  Are you living it to the fullest - or is something missing?

Are you free - free to commit yourself to the One who really matters - Jesus?

And what are you pursuing - happiness in this short life - or joy for eternity?