Friday, December 21, 2012

The 'Declartaion' and Theology

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.
Now, Jefferson goes on to list other 'self-evident truths,' but we'll stop here because these are the ones endowed by our Creator, according to Jefferson.

I'm sure there has been quite a number of theological analyses of the American Declaration of Independence, but I haven't read any of them. (I don't mean political analyses, I mean theological analyses.) I spoke recently with my friend, whose a graduate student focusing on American religious history, and he hadn't heard of such studies either, so maybe it's not so common.

My main question here is: Would Jesus or Paul have agreed with Jefferson that the unalienable rights that Jefferson enumerates here are indeed granted every person by their Creator?

It seems like a question well worth asking, and too little asked by conservative Christians in America, who typically hold the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution, as almost inspired documents granted to the Founding Fathers. This is true even for those Christians who understand that Jefferson was not particularly fond of traditional Christianity (though I know some people who would deny even this point, despite this, inter alia. It seems sort of funny to get our political theology from Jefferson, from whom we would not want to get much other theology.)

I'm sure I should read John Locke to see in what context he put the phrasing that Jefferson drew on for these thoughts. I haven't done that yet.

So, again, would Jesus or Paul have said that God has endowed all of humanity with the unalienable right of pursuing happiness? Or of Liberty, in the sense intended by Jefferson? Or even of Life? By asking the question I don't mean to imply a negative answer, but I do mean that the thoughts of the Founders of Christianity on the unalienable rights are not so clear as are those of the Founding Fathers.

And, as for theology, I think our views on these things have some implications for the role that we see the church playing in modern society. If the church in America is supposed to lead our society back to the vision of the Founding Fathers (I often encounter this sort of rhetoric), how far does this vision cohere with the vision of Jesus and the Apostles?

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