I noted again today, in an article discussing the erroneous statement of a CNN anchor about the source of our rights, these words from the Declaration of Independence:
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…
There is an implicit logic that the authors of this document express in the conclusion “endowed by their Creator”. It goes like this:
- God is the author if the absolute moral code.
- Justice requires an absolute moral code.
- Rights are claims in justice.
- Therefore, we are endowed with our rights by God.
The one that I think stumps people is the second: “Justice requires an absolute moral code.” Why does justice require an absolute moral code? Let’s say that we live in a culture like the Aztecs where sacrifice of children is morally licit. People steal my child from me for sacrifice by immolation. I go to the courts and demand that this not happen because of the child’s right to life. I am told my child has no such right where sacrifices are concerned as the rights of society to sacrifice him for the greater good outweighs any right he might have to life. Thus, I nor my child have any claim in justice. Does my child have a right to live? Yes. Why? My culture has determined he has no such right. But there is some “right” he has to life that transcends the rights my culture has authored. From where does it arise? If there is no God, there is no authority higher than the government under which I live. Why do I feel outrage? Why do I feel that change is demanded, that the culture is not properly aligned with what is truly “right?” If there is no God, I have nothing to which to appeal. If there is no absolute moral code, I can feel no outrage.
Now let us suppose my child is sacrificed. I bring charges against the priest who dropped him in the furnace. But the courts declare him innocent because human sacrifice is not a crime, and thus he violated no one’s rights. Where is justice? The priest sues me for some kind of slander. I am made to pay. Where is the justice?
Let’s go further. Let’s say that today human sacrifice is illegal, but then in a sweeping social change, it is made legal. Where do I turn when government issue boots break down my door and steal my child for immolation? Society has spoken.
Without a shared sense of a right and a wrong that transcends the whims of society there is no guarantee of any rights. Without an unchangeable “right” and “wrong” there are no unalienable rights. Without an absolute moral code there is no justice.
Thus, a statement like this:
Our rights do not come from God…. They come from man…. Our laws come from collective agreement and compromise.