Archive for the Category » Declaration of Independence «

May 19th, 2010 | Author:

When I touched on America as a “Christian Nation” in my last Word for Wednesday, Rebecca from Freaky Frugalite left a comment that made me realize that much of the controversy surrounding this issue results from fuzzy terminology.  This post is an attempt to rectify that problem.  [I also want to acknowledge that a pithy comment left by Dave from Brainbiter resulted in the title of this post.]

In my attempt to do away with the fuzzies, I’ll start with some definitions in bold taken from the 1828 Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary.  My personal definitions are more  narrow (and blunt), so I’ve included my thoughts on each.

CHRISTIAN, n.

  1. A believer in the religion of Christ. Simply believing doesn’t cut it. Demons also believe. (James 2:19)
  2. A professor of his belief in the religion of Christ. Many hypocrites profess belief in Christ with their lips, but their heart is far away from God. (Matthew 15:8)
  3. A real disciple of Christ; one who believes in the truth of the Christian religion, and studies to follow the example, and obey the precepts, of Christ; a believer in Christ who is characterized by real piety. No flesh will be justified in God’s sight by the works of the law. (Romans 3:20)
  4. In a general sense, the word Christian includes all who are born in a Christian country or of Christian parents. Our first birth is immaterial.  We must be born again of the Spirit to enter the kingdom of God. (John 3:3-8)

NATION, n.

  1. A body of people inhabiting the same country, or united under the same sovereign or government; as the English nation; the French nation. It often happens that many nations are subject to one government; in which case, the word nation usually denotes a body of people speaking the same language, or a body that has formerly been under a distinct government, but has been conquered, or incorporated with a larger nation. Thus the empire of Russia comprehends many nations, as did formerly the Roman and Persian empires. Nation, as its etymology imports, originally denoted a family or race of men descended from a common progenitor, like tribe, but by emigration, conquest and intermixture of men of different families, this distinction is in most countries lost.
  2. A great number, by way of emphasis. This definition does not apply.
  3. The etymology of “nation” shows the root word comes from the Latin nationem (nom. natio) “nation, stock, race,” literally “that which has been born.”

While the following passages are not the only definitions of a Christian, they contain the elements that are closest to my heart, emphasis added:

Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”  (John 3:3-8)

“Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ–this Jesus whom you crucified.” Now when they [the Jews] heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:36-38)

If being a Christian requires a second birth, a heart-piercing acknowledgment of sin, repentance from those sins, baptism, and a receipt of the indwelling Holy Spirit; and if a nation is comprised of people joined only by geography or government, who may or may not fit this definition of Christian; how can a nation possibly be Christian?   A Christian is an individual who has given their life to Christ.  It’s rare for an entire family to give their lives to Christ.  It stretches the imagination that even a small town would be comprised of all Christians.  An entire nation has never, and will never, be a Christian nation, regardless of the laws that may exist. It’s an oxymoron.

Governments are given the sword for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. (Romans 13:1-5; 1 Peter 2:13-14) Whenever government steps beyond that narrow mission, it is no longer in God’s will.

By claiming that America is a Christian nation,  we claim that what is done by our government is done in Christ’s name.  On a smaller scale, it’s the same principle that applies to a car with a fish on the back.  If that car cuts someone off, or otherwise drives in a reckless manner, the driver brings shame and reproach on the name of Christ.

When our government tortures people and kills innocent people – like native Americans or those who live over oil fields or other coveted lands – it brings shame and reproach on the name of Christ.

Again, I have no doubt that many of those who founded our country were Christians.  I have no doubt that they did their best to create a government that would please God.  But that did not make us, or our nation,  Christians.

In a previous post on church and state, I concluded this way:

American Christians typically approach government from one of two perspectives. Desiring to help those in need, they use the government to redistribute wealth. Others, motivated to see repentance from sin, use the government to define and enforce moral behavior.

Both positions use the coercion of the state to enforce religious practice. Neither position draws people to Christ, and in fact, interferes with the work of the Holy Spirit. In addition, it allows Christians to avoid their personal obligation to speak the truth with love, help those in need, and preach the gospel to all creation.

If Christians truly desire to draw others to Christ, they will not force society at large to fulfill their responsibilities. Moral laws do not change people, they only create self-justified hypocrites or criminals. Neither do laws save people. God changes people, and God alone, through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, can save people.

I believe the real, underlying problem in this controversy is a matter of motivation.

If our goal is to make this world a better place according to what we consider important, which is largely based on dominionism – to raise moral standards, to reduce poverty levels, to educate, to increase longevity – then passing  laws  may accomplish that, although a recent NY Times article by David Brooks points to a conflicting result:

Roughly a century ago, many Swedes immigrated to America. They’ve done very well here. Only about 6.7 percent of Swedish-Americans live in poverty. Also a century ago, many Swedes decided to remain in Sweden. They’ve done well there, too. When two economists calculated Swedish poverty rates according to the American standard, they found that 6.7 percent of the Swedes in Sweden were living in poverty.

In other words, you had two groups with similar historical backgrounds living in entirely different political systems, and the poverty outcomes were the same.

A similar pattern applies to health care. In 1950, Swedes lived an average of 2.6 years longer than Americans. Over the next half-century, Sweden and the U.S. diverged politically. Sweden built a large welfare state with a national health service, while the U.S. did not. The result? There was basically no change in the life expectancy gap. Swedes now live 2.7 years longer.

Again, huge policy differences. Not huge outcome differences.

I suspect that if someone could calculate the Christianity of  two different countries, one of which had laws about a National Day of Prayer and many Christian symbols strewn about, and the other which completely ignored religion, the results would be the same.  Governments do not make Christians.  It’s not their job.

If our goal, however, is to go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation (Mark 16:15), then government laws are at best irrelevant, and at worst counterproductive.  As Jim from the Chestnut Tree Cafe commented on the previous post, the atmosphere of the palace has always been deadly to the Church. Persecution is the food on which she grows.

We can fight to keep the National Day of Prayer and the other Christian elements contained in our government.  Or we can fight for souls.

God gives each individual the free will to choose to repent and follow Him, or to continue on the path to hell. Government should do the same. The language of the First Amendment in this regard is God-given:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ;

Among the last words attributed to Jesus in the Bible are these, addressed to the church in Laodicea:

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot.  So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.  (Revelation 3:15-16)

Government laws, if they do anything, create lukewarm Christians.  What a heart-breaking tragedy.

Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’ (Matthew 7:21-23)

And someone said to Him, “Lord, are there just a few who are being saved?” And He said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. Once the head of the house gets up and shuts the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock on the door, saying, ‘Lord, open up to us!’ then He will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know where you are from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets’; and He will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you are from; DEPART FROM ME, ALL YOU EVILDOERS.’  (Luke 13:23-27)

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November 24th, 2009 | Author:

The Gadsden flag is one of the most easily recognized symbols of the American Revolution, and has been widely adopted today as a sign of government protest.

Last spring a Missouri report was leaked that labeled anyone with a gadsden flag as a potential terrorist, and I’ve been especially partial to it ever since. [Note in the Interesting Stuff in my sidebar that I am a Charter Member of "The Domestic Terrorist Bloggers Network."  Click on the button if you'd like to join, too.]

But tonight my hubby came across an updated 21st century version of this historic flag that speaks to the age we live in.  I believe it would make Colonel Gadsden smile.  I know I did.

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November 05th, 2009 | Author:

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.

It hasn’t been a good news week for the equality of all.  First, from Homeland Stupidity:

Prosecutors trying to put you in prison for a crime you didn’t commit can fabricate evidence, coerce witnesses into lying on the stand, and enjoy absolute immunity. They cannot go to prison. They cannot even be sued. They aren’t even likely to get so much as a reprimand from the bar association or from their bosses, even after publicly admitting to framing you.

It seems two teenagers were framed for and convicted of murder in 1977.  In 2003, their convictions were overturned because the key witness had committed perjury at the behest of the prosecutors.  But the Supreme Court was told yesterday in Pottawattamie County v. McGhee that the prosecutors shouldn’t be punished.  HS summed it up well:

I’m not sure what’s more disturbing, the fact that prosecutors routinely get away with framing people or the fact that the government wants to keep it that way. The federal government, 27 states, and several intergovernmental associations all filed briefs in support of the prosecutors.

This is our justice system.

*   *   *

And we’ve all heard that Obama signed the so-call “hate crimes” bill  last week, which results in more punishment for murdering someone because they’re gay than murdering someone because you wanted to steal their money.  This doesn’t sound very equal to me.  And, of course, the government now gets to determine our motive for murder, giving them more power to screw things up, à la Pottawattamie County v. McGhee above.

So how did this bill get passed after more than a decade of opposition?  It was attached to the latest military spending spree of $680 billion, which was a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t proposition.   According to Truthdig:

It was a clever piece of marketing. It blunted debate about new funding for war. And behind the closed doors of the caucus rooms, the Democratic leadership told Blue Dog Democrats, who are squeamish about defending gays or lesbians from hate crimes, that they could justify the vote as support for the war. They told liberal Democrats, who are squeamish about unlimited funding for war, that they could defend the vote as a step forward in the battle for civil rights. Gender equality groups, by selfishly narrowing their concern to themselves, participated in the dirty game.

William Grigg has posted a poignant analysis of the whole sorry situation titled Blood on Their Hands, complete with photos of the results.  Here’s an excerpt:

The difference between this measure and its predecessors is this: The leading elements of the “hate industry” — those sanctimonious scolds who make a handsome living tutoring the rest of us in the ways of “tolerance” — are now directly implicated in the avoidable mass murder of innocent people in the Near East.

For the squalid collection of pressure groups that promoted passage of the hate crimes measure, — the so-called Anti-Defamation League, the self-styled Human Rights Campaign, the fraudulently named Southern Poverty Law Center, et. al. — this is an entirely acceptable arrangement. Their fund-raising will prosper; their stature in Washington will continue to grow; their influence over law enforcement will expand; most importantly, the power of the state to persecute their political enemies will be significantly enhanced.

Oh, sure — the political trade-off behind this “victory” means that poor brown people in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq will suffer violent death in their homes, streets, and houses of worship, cultivating understandable anti-American hatred that will yield a bloody harvest of terrorism and unending war.

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May 14th, 2009 | Author:

This post is part of the Favorite Founders’ Quote Friday meme. Go to Meet the Founding Fathers to see who else has participated today.

* * *

With this post, I finally(!) conclude my line-by-line examination of the most famous part of the Declaration of Independence, but here’s a little refresher as I know it’s been a long time between posts.

In the first post I looked at the phrase, We hold these truths to be self-evident. I established that relative moralism, which declares that no universal standard exists to judge right or wrong, is a lie that many Americans have been taught and have believed. In contrast, ethical positions do not change, but are self-evident in that we instinctively recognize injustice.

In part II, I examined the phrase that all men are created equal, concluding that to “create” means to bring into existence and not to “evolve,” and equal in this case doesn’t mean size or ability or morals or accomplishments or station in life, but instead refers to an individual’s inherent value or worth. I restated the phrase this way: all men are brought into existence having equal worth.

Based largely on Webster’s 1828 dictionary, Part III amplified the next phrase as follows:

that all men are freely given gifts by the One who brought them into existence, which are based on the law or will of God and conform to truth and justice, and may not be transferred or have any legal claims placed against them

Today we’ll look at the last phrase: that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Being careful to state that the rights listed are not the only rights, the founders none-the-less selected three as being worth mentioning individually:

Life: The first definition of life in Webster’s 1828 version goes this way, emphasis added:

In a general sense, that state of animals and plants, or of an organized being, in which its natural functions and motions are performed, or in which its organs are capable of performing their functions. A tree is not destitute of life in winter, when the functions of its organs are suspended; nor man during a swoon or syncope; nor strictly birds, quadrupeds or serpents during their torpitude in winter. They are not strictly dead, till the functions of their organs are incapable of being renewed.

If we accept this definition as being the one our founders understood, then the right to life begins at conception, for what is more natural than our development in the womb? Concurrently, the right to life does not end until all functions are beyond renewal. “Brain-dead” then is a meaningless term if the heart or any other organ continues to function.

This definition agrees with the 4th century Hippocratic Oath which, until quite recently, included the following statement:

I will not give a lethal drug to anyone if I am asked, nor will I advise such a plan; and similarly I will not give a woman a pessary to cause an abortion.

Liberty: Returning to Webster’s 1828 edition, the first definition of liberty is this, emphasis added:

1. Freedom from restraint, in a general sense, and applicable to the body, or to the will or mind. The body is at liberty, when not confined; the will or mind is at liberty, when not checked or controlled. A man enjoys liberty, when no physical force operates to restrain his actions or volitions. [volition is defined as the power to choose]

Pursuit of Happiness: Again from Webster’s 1828 edition, happiness is defined as follows, emphasis added:

The agreeable sensations which spring from the enjoyment of good; that state of a being in which his desires are gratified, by the enjoyment of pleasure without pain; felicity; but happiness usually expresses less than felicity, and felicity less than bliss. Happiness is comparative. To a person distressed with pain, relief from that pain affords happiness; in other cases we give the name happiness to positive pleasure or an excitement of agreeable sensations. Happiness therefore admits of indefinite degrees of increase in enjoyment, or gratification of desires. Perfect happiness, or pleasure unalloyed with pain, is not attainable in this life.


Summary

In this very long attempt to understand just what our founders meant when they declared independence, I’ve examined the words they chose to begin this infamous document:

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.

In the process, an expanded, albeit less elegant, version has arisen that reflects our current use of language, and hopefully, the founders intent.

We believe the following truths are understood by all: that all men are brought into existence having equal worth, that they are freely given gifts by the One who brought them into existence, which are based on the law or will of God and conform to truth and justice, and may not be transferred or have any legal claims placed against them. These gifts include life, which begins at conception and continues until all organs cease to function; liberty, with no physical force to constrain actions or choices; and the pursuit of happiness, which comes from the enjoyment of good.

So how do we apply this today? How does it compare to the Bible? Can we stand on this statement and make informed, principled decisions about church and state and life in general? I’m asking each of my readers to mull this over and share your thoughts in a comment.

Next week (I promise, if the Good Lord is willin’ and the creek don’t rise) I’ll include your thoughts and try to apply this founding statement to the America of today.

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March 12th, 2009 | Author:

This post is part of the Favorite Founders’ Quote Friday meme. Go to Meet the Founding Fathers to see who else has participated.

With this post, I continue my line-by-line examination of the most famous part of the Declaration of Independence.

In the first post I looked at the phrase, We hold these truths to be self-evident. I established that relative moralism, which declares that no universal standard exists to judge right or wrong, is a lie that many Americans have been taught and have believed. In contrast, ethical positions do not change, but are self-evident in that we instinctively recognize injustice and abuse of power.

Last week, I examined the phrase that all men are created equal, concluding that to “create” means to bring into existence, and equal in this case doesn’t mean size or ability or morals or accomplishments or station in life, but instead refers to an individual’s inherent value or worth. I restated the phrase this way: all men are brought into existence having equal worth.

Today we look at the next phrase:

that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights

I’ve again gone back to Webster’s 1828 dictionary to try to get the sense of what the founder’s meant with this words. Endow means to “enrich or furnish with any gift.” Creator, which is capitalized, is the One who brings into existence.

Unalienable, with the root word “lien”, refers to property that may have a lien placed against it, that may be sold or transferred to another; as, land is alienable according to the laws of the state. In this sense, then, unalienable, means that these rights are not transferable, and may not be sold or have a lien placed against them.

Right has its basis in the “law or will of God” and conforms to the standard of truth and justice. It does not mean, as when someone declares, “I have my rights,” that we can do whatever it is we want to do. It means that we can do that which is “in accordance with what is good, proper, or just.”

Taking all these definitions into account, I’ll restate an “amplified” phrase:

that all men are freely given gifts by the One who brought them into existence, which are based on the law or will of God and conform to truth and justice, and may not be transferred or have any legal claims placed against them

Next week, I’ll finish defining the Declaration, and then I’m going to ask you for commentary on what it means to us today, and how it should be applied. Start thinking!

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.

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