Monday, June 30, 2014

Self-Evident Truths

"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."
These words from the Declaration of Independence provide the foundation upon which our democracy stands.  Or falls.
If we accept the premise that our Creator has made all men and women equal and has endowed us with "unalienable" rights--rights which are not to be separated, given away, or taken away--, then we have a common ground for meaningful public discourse and rational decisions about particular policies.  However, if we deny truths such as the right to life or liberty or the pursuit of happiness, our society becomes subject to the arbitrary whims of those wielding power.
Indeed, if the only "self-evident" truth is that there is no truth, then we have effectively embraced a new Declaration of Dependence:  Our "rights" will be perceived as coming from the government; our value for human "life" will be determined by whether it is "productive" or "wanted"; our definition of "liberty" will be dictated by whatever the often tyrannical majority deems appropriate.  Our laws will inevitably become unjust.  And, as Martin Luther King wrote in his Letter from Birmingham Jail, "An unjust law is no law at all."
So, what about the pursuit of happiness?  If we bear the image and likeness of our Creator on our immortal souls, then happiness will be found by living in accord with the divine law written on our hearts; it will entail having the freedom of conscience to discern and dedicate ourselves to this truth.  If there are no self-evident truths about the human person, however, then why would the government allow people the freedom to follow their consciences in matters of faith or morals?  Why would the powerful resist from coercing the consciences of those who disagree with their arbitrary and authoritarian decisions?
As our country's third "Fortnight for Freedom" comes to a close, we should thank God for all those men and women who have worked tirelessly to defend religious liberty.  While narrow and limited in its scope, the Supreme Court's decision in favor of Hobby Lobby provides a glimmer of hope:  It is not inevitable that radical secularism will swallow up our constitutional democracy.  But there is clearly much more work to be done in order to ensure not only the non-establishment but also the free exercise of religion in the U.S.
Authentic independence requires that we start with self-evident truths.  After all, God doesn't want the things that are Caesar's, and we should never give to Caesar the things that are God's (cf. Mt 22:21).