Thinking in public about anything that matters.

Happy Independence Day, 2013!

Learning Liberty - (c) Barbara A H Marinakis

When the American colonies finally agreed to separate from England in order to establish a country where liberty was the law of the land, it was a turning point for liberty in the world.  The American Founders declared their reasons for the separation in the Declaration of Independence.

July 4th, 1776 was the day that the Declaration was officially adopted by Congress.

From The Charters of Freedom – Declaration of Independence: A History:  “Jefferson’s account reflects three stages in the life of the Declaration: the document originally written by Jefferson; the changes to that document made by Franklin and Adams, resulting in the version that was submitted by the Committee of Five to the Congress; and the version that was eventually adopted.

“On July 1, 1776, Congress reconvened. The following day, the Lee Resolution for independence was adopted by 12 of the 13 colonies, New York not voting. Immediately afterward, the Congress began to consider the Declaration. Adams and Franklin had made only a few changes before the committee submitted the document. The discussion in Congress resulted in some alterations and deletions, but the basic document remained Jefferson’s. The process of revision continued through all of July 3 and into the late morning of July 4. Then, at last, church bells rang out over Philadelphia; the Declaration had been officially adopted.”

This should be a precious document to anyone who knows the crucial value of living by his or her own honest intelligence, free from those who would impose their own beliefs and will through coercion.   Liberty enables the honest and the intelligent to go their own way (as well as the dishonest and stupid to go theirs, as long as they don’t use force or fraud to gain their ends), and to thus live with self-respect and to pursue happiness  according to their own judgment and conscience.  The result is an outpouring of intellectual, scientific, and material discovery and invention, a contentious but productive marketplace of ideas and goods.

When all agree on the principles of liberty, the widest variety of views can live in physical peace with each other (although the field of argument can become verbally heated and even ugly), and live by their own judgment and conscience.  It is when someone’s conscience includes the view that he must enforce his own particular ideology or religion on his ideological opponents that the protective wall of liberty is broken and a society of free people needs to rally against that breach.

The founding documents of the United States give the American people a strong foundation for liberty.  Those documents, however, do not guarantee that liberty will persist.   That depends on the American people, their educators, their writers and artists and other cultural contributors.  It depends on the American people’s understanding of what liberty is, why it’s so crucial to human well-being, and what upholds or destroys it.

Liberty has been a driving theme in my life ever since, as a young child, I began questioning whether God existed or not, and “going into” all the issues I could discover for myself that grew out of that questioning.  I realized, for myself, that I had to “keep an honest mind” or I wouldn’t be able to stand living with myself in my own head.  I didn’t know what I would eventually conclude about God, or if I ever would be able to conclude anything, but I knew that most people believed in God, that I didn’t know enough to be able to decide one way or another yet, and that I needed to be able to openly ask questions and challenge what most people believed in order to bring my own ideas closer to the truth – and maybe help other people to get closer as well.

If people could punish me – to imprison me, rob me, beat me up or kill me – for not believing in God, that would be a bad thing for my ability to live by my honesty and the search for truth.   I saw for myself that honesty and a freedom to explore ideas was how human beings (not just me in particular) travel from a less accurate grasp of truths to a more accurate one.  I saw that it was those who threaten this process by using force (or fraud) to derail inquiry and disagreement in favor of some official view who are the enemy of the best in me and in any honest human being who is serious about trying to grasp “The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” (I learned that phrase from watching Perry Mason.  🙂 )  And to live by what one grasps.

So I love the Declaration of Independence because I love my mind, my honesty, and my liberty to live according to those treasures of mine.  And I love living in a world where others are free to live by theirs as well.

I love my Life, my Liberty, and my Pursuit of Happiness.

Thank you, Founding Fathers, for the documents that grounded liberty in law.  May the American people take those values seriously, understand them deeply, and never let them go.

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  1. Denny Salazar

    While these self-evident truths for the signers were not the same as revealed truth as found in Holy Scripture, they are still “endowed” to all men by God the Creator. In theological language, they would be considered part of common grace, whereas for the believing Christian, the Bible comes under special or revealed grace. Thus, the Bible tells us that the rain falls equally on the just and the unjust, and in similar fashion, all men are endowed with the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Almighty God must be assumed, because without Him, how could one explain that all men are so endowed?

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  2. SydneyKendall

    Hi, Denny.

    I have to apologize to you for taking so long to approve your comment. I’ve been checking in every day to look at the “pending comments” in the moderation queue, and there were none. But I should have also been looking at the “Spam” folder. It *finally* occurred to me that the reason I haven’t been getting any comments might be that *everything* was going into spam. I found 6 legitimate posts in there. Geez.

    I should have realized that might happen, but in my haste to get through my Internet chores every morning, I just didn’t think of it. Now I’m fully clued in and alert and won’t make that mistake again.

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  3. SydneyKendall

    Now, to reply to your post.

    I believe your argument for rights, basing it on the existence of God, is circular. You have to *assume* the existence of God in order to “prove” that all people are endowed with the right to life, liberty, and the right to pursue happiness. But you assume an unproved God in order to prove what you already *want* to prove. You urge people to make an assumption in order to prove an assumption.

    That doesn’t work.

    It all falls apart, then, if you can’t prove God. You’re essentially telling people: “You have to believe in God or else you have no basis to believe in rights, so just believe in God as a starting point, because… we have to have rights.”

    That’s what your argument amounts to.

    I agree that we have to have rights. I don’t believe in God, however. If you can prove God’s existence to me, fine. But so far, I’m not convinced.

    But I don’t need that belief in order to recognize an *objective* need for a human being to have rights. The very thing that makes you want to believe in a god in order to believe in rights is the very thing that makes me say – hey, wait a minute, *why* do I *want* to believe in rights? Isn’t there something inherent in the Nature of Man that makes rights necessary to happy, successful, prosperous living? When rights are understood and upheld, don’t human beings live in greater peace and prosperity? Don’t we as a species discover more facts and solve more problems and raise the standard of living for more human beings?

    If rights are not recognized, if individuals are considered means to the ends of “society” or as means to the ends of an “elite” or as means to the ends of some version of a god that seeks human sacrifice, life for each of us becomes a constant terror, at the mercy of the whims of those with power who do not believe in universal individual rights.

    These are observable facts. For a human being, life without rights sucks.

    I put it to you that the Declaration of Independence contains a safeguard against the possibility that people may eventually lose their faith in god.

    “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.”

    Note the words “…the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God…”

    The Laws of Nature are the source of our rights – our nature as rational beings who need to seek truths through observing reality and applying reason. A person needs to do this honestly. A person needs to be free to make errors, discover errors, correct errors. One needs to do one’s best to take nothing on faith, but seeking to understand reality from the ground up.

    Each of us needs freedom in order to follow our honest seeking of truths using the difficult means that nature – or that a God, if there is one who created nature – gave us as our means of survival and flourishing.

    Whether there is a God who made nature, and thus the Laws of Nature, or whether nature evolved *naturally* as a result of the “law of identity”, the facts of our nature are what they are, and require what they require. *If* we want to live the best kind of life, the happiest, healthiest, most vibrant life possible to an individual human being and thus for all of us as a species, we have to recognize rights and live by them and learn to understand them from their roots in reality up.

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    Denny Salazar writes:

    “Almighty God must be assumed, because without Him, how could one explain that all men are so endowed?”

    I agree with SydneyKendall’s challenge to this statement — That it is circular.

    Denny Salaazar:

    “… these self-evident truths for the signers were not the same as revealed truth as found in Holy Scripture …”

    Yes, revealed truths are different from discovered, discoverable, and verifiable (by evidence and logic) type truths.

    Yet they are not in contradiction or conflict.

    And these Truths and Rights not only APPLY to Atheists (just as sun and rain falls equally on the Atheist as on the Christian). They can also be known and understood and embraced by both.

    I think that’s interesting.

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  5. SydneyKendall

    Prodos said: “Yes, revealed truths are different from discovered, discoverable, and verifiable (by evidence and logic) type truths.

    “Yet they are not in contradiction or conflict.”

    Certainly, if what is “revealed” is true, then it is discoverable. Certainly the truths we’re talking about here are discoverable. They do not need to be revealed.

    When we say that a truth is revealed, what do we mean? The religious believer takes the revelation as coming from God. But the truths that have been revealed about good and evil can be grasped by observation – evidence builds up in the mind and the subconscious can integrate it and present it to the conscious mind in images, dreams, flashes of insight – which a believer in mysticism can take as revelations from a god or spirit.

    Some people have “revelations” that command what any benevolent person should consider to be evil. Stuff like “Kill the unbelievers wherever you find them!” would qualify as that. If following revelation blindly were a good thing, the world would be in trouble.

    Oh, wait… it *is* in trouble.

    Well, I think all the Christians I know chose their religion because it doesn’t tell them to steal and rape and murder and lie in court and abuse their parents. It tells them to respect other people’s right to live unmolested. It tells them to love others as they love themselves, which I’ve always taken to mean to recognize that all people have the right to their lives, property, liberty – to all the good things that a person rightfully wants for himself. People already know what’s good for people and what’s not good for them, *if* they *think* about it seriously, honestly, and thoroughly. And we pretty much can *feel* what’s right in the most basic areas (regarding killing, stealing, cheating, for example), because of that moral math that happens in the subconscious – in a sane and honest person who wants to live happily.

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