“I brought you into this world, and I can take you out!”
Bill Cosby used to do a comedy routine in which a dad would say that to his bratty kid. It was a joke, but in many cases – maybe most cases – he who gives can also take. When the president appoints someone to a lofty position, that someone has to remember to keep the president happy, lest he be removed with the same ease. When a parent releases the family car to the teenage driver, the teenager does well to remember that driving the car is a privilege that can be dissolved on the spot. When a political party solicits a candidate, fundraises and promotes, and basically places a person in office by securing the votes, he/she should recognize how they found themselves in the position and acknowledge that they can be replaced by the same entity.
I bring all this up because of the idea of “inalienable rights.” I know, I know . . . it’s “unalienable rights.” Right? Well apparently, even the drafter, Mr. Jefferson, went back and forth on that, as his chicken scratch bears witness:
I’m not starting a grammatical debate though, I’m pointing out that Mr. Jefferson wanted the citizens of a new country to have rights not granted by a king, but recognized as “inherent” or “inalienable.” Something that is built in and couldn’t be separated out.
Now Mr. Jefferson believed in a Creator, but he called much of the beliefs of Christianity nonsense:
In a letter to W. Short, in 1820, he wrote, “It is not to be understood that I am with him (Jesus Christ) in all his doctrines. I am a materialist; he takes the side of spiritualism; he preaches the efficacy of repentance toward forgiveness of sin; I require a counterpoise of good works to redeem it.”
Given the above, Thomas Jefferson makes it clear that he is no Christian, by any definition I’ve ever heard. As a matter of fact, in a letter to John Adams, Mr. Jefferson, who wrote his own version of the Bible – extracting the miracles and signs of deity of Christ – explained: “I never told my own religion, nor scrutinized that of another…”
Earlier still, in a letter to Dr. Benjamin Rush, in 1800, he stated that the clergy “believe that any portion of power confided to me, will be exerted in opposition to their schemes, and they believe rightly. . .”
So this is all just one of many founding fathers, obviously, but I point all this out to suggest that when Mr. Jefferson drafted the language about the Creator in the Declaration, he was not referring to the Christian God, so much as whatever “creator” might exist. “Nature’s God.”
Mr. Jefferson accepted the idea that if rights were given by man, they could be taken by man – maybe even King George. Based on this, as a logical exercise as much as a statement of his own belief, he claimed the natural rights of men to be granted by something higher than man himself. Otherwise, those rights would not be inherent or inalienable at all. They would be granted at the whim of a legislature or a court or a king. That would not be suitable for a new nation, therefore, we acknowledge a Creator.
So individual rights hinges on the existence of a God. Otherwise those rights can be granted and denied by men. But, at least as far as Jefferson was concerned, the Declaration referred to no particular God as named or worshiped by any particular faith.
Based on this idea of “inalienable rights” granted by “Nature’s God,” several men forwarded this Declaration of Independence to King George, and started a revolt against the King’s authority.
In doing so he once stated “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.” (a motto found among his papers post mortem) Interesting indeed.