The pursuit of happiness

By David A. Liapis

“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.”

Every word our Founding Fathers chose to include in the Declaration of Independence was undoubtedly selected carefully and intentionally since they were staking not only the future of the United States, but their very lives upon them. The document enumerates their complaints against the King of England, what qualifies or disqualifies a nation’s ruler, the remedies for their grievances, and bold proclamations of trust in the designs and providence of God to champion their cause. The familiar quote above is probably the only one most people would recognize as having come from the Declaration; and while our citizens should take the time to read and understand the documents upon which our nation was founded, this sentence is the one to know if only one could be known. This sentence asserts and affirms significant truths – the first of which is that there is objective truth. “We hold these truths…” Which truths? Self-evident (knowable) truths that are not subject to change over time or because of circumstances or opinion. They are true regardless of whether or not people like them or agree with them.

We live in a time where people claim truth is subjective and can (and should) change. This progressive mindset says that what was true about people and governance in 1776 is no longer true today. Moreover, the most important truth alluded to in the Declaration, namely that there is a Creator God who is the source of truth and of our “unalienable Rights,” does not exist. If then God does not exist, then logically the rights granted by Him do not exist. However, let us assume (rightly) that God does in fact exist, and He has fact granted us unalienable rights.

Before looking into these rights, it should first be established who is entitled to them – all men. Why? Because all men, or people, are created equal. We are all made in the image and likeness of God and therefore have intrinsic value, worth and dignity. All people share the same inherent need for community, relationship, to love and to be loved, to have physical needs met, and to have purpose and meaning in life. Theologically speaking, all people are also marred by sin and need to be reconciled to God, their Creator, through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ who was crucified on a Roman cross and then rose from the dead three days later, conquering sin and death. Without being reconciled to God, the “unalienable Rights” of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are ultimately impossible because apart from Christ we are doomed to die physically and remain dead spiritually, we are slaves to sin because of our inherited fallen nature, and true happiness can only be found in the deep, abiding joy of the Lord that exists in life and liberty as we all in spite of pain, suffering and evil.

It remains true that God created this world and all that’s in it and called it “good” and that “the sun rises on the just and the unjust,” and even though the only thing we are all truly and ultimately entitled to is eternal punishment for our rebellion against God, in His unmerited grace he allows us to live, in some cases (like ours), in relative freedom and to pursue what we determine will make us happy. These are the unalienable rights our Founding Fathers recognized and appealed to in the Declaration. Now to briefly examine those rights.

Life – to be allowed to live and thrive in a nation where all lives matter and are valued by all. Black lives. Brown lives. White lives. Old lives. Infirm lives. Unborn lives. Gay lives. Straight lives. Successful lives. Broken lives. All lives. We are commanded by Jesus Christ to love our neighbors as ourselves, and furthermore that all people are our “neighbors.” What does this mean for us? It means that we should champion the value and worth of all lives as we do for our own. We want to live, and we should seek for others to live as well so they have the opportunity to live in ways that honor our Creator. This must be caveated with this: to disagree with how someone chooses to live their life if it’s lived in ways that dishonor the Creator does not constitute hate or prejudice against someone. In fact, it would be unloving and unkind to not try to turn our neighbors from sinning against God.

Liberty – freedom for all, within the bounds of God’s laws and those of our government derived from them. We can all agree there are some things we are not at liberty to do: to murder, to steal, to rape, to harm, etc., so liberty cannot mean license to do whatever we want. Liberty in our case means exactly what our Founding Fathers established in the Constitution, such as the freedom of speech, assembly, religion, to protect one’s self and others (bear arms), to vote and to have fair trials. Liberty can only exist when it is defined objectively and protected from the whims of culture and attacks from without and from within.

The pursuit of happiness – not guaranteed happiness, but the pursuit thereof. This means sometimes (or much of the time) we will not have that which we deem will bring us happiness. We will not all be rich, healthy or successful. We will not all have the same level of education. We will not all have health coverage. We will not all be employed and well-paid. We will not all live in nice homes and drive new vehicles. However, America was designed to be a place where those things can be pursued, and possibly obtained, through hard work, dedication and with the appropriate level of government oversight of commerce, economics, infrastructure and security. What this does not mean is that the government owes it to every citizen to offer “free” healthcare, “free” college or other “free” things so everyone can achieve a commensurate level of happiness, but rather to establish and protect a society where these good things are attainable.

The sad reality is happiness is subjective, elusive and fleeting, so in the continued pursuit thereof, we are all too ready to sacrifice life and liberty. We have become a society willing to trade the lives of the unborn for sex without consequence and responsibility; freedom from government overreach for “free” services and amenities; building and being people of character and integrity for expedience and convenience; and the ability to protect ourselves from a “…Government [that] becomes destructive of these ends [our unalienable rights]…” for a false sense of security.

How does a government become destructive to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? When We the People, whether by electing (and reelecting) or simply through apathy and inaction, allow politicians who are corrupt, immoral (lack of character), and/or who put partisanship over the good of the nation to continue to represent us. We the People need to be informed, engaged and encourage civil discourse now more than ever. This quote from President Ronald Reagan is a fitting call to action and reminder of the role we play in the preservation of our unalienable rights:

“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”

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