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Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness

As we prepare to celebrate our country’s birth and freedom it seems only fitting that we should take a hard look at our nation and what she has become over time.  Does she still stand for the principles our founding fathers fought so hard to gain and protect?  Does she still stand for Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness?

Many people, when arguing about our country and what we should or shouldn’t do, often cite Thomas Jefferson as he wrote in 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…”  We see people mistaking what Jefferson truly meant when he wrote these words.  They twist and turn his words to fit their agenda.  They confuse their wants for rights.  Why do we wonder how our country is in its current state when we misuse the guidelines our forefathers so carefully penned for us?

So, what are these unalienable rights that we are promised?  We first need to define life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Life is defined as the quality that distinguishes a vital and functional being from a dead body; the sequence of physical and mental experiences that make up the existence of an individual; the period from birth to death; spirit or animation.  There are of course other definitions but we will use these particular definitions for this article.  Given these definitions are we insuring that all of our citizens are granted the Right to Life?  Without a doubt the answer is a resounding NO!

If we are supposed to be assured life why is it that in our country 1.21 million citizens lose their life through abortion each year?  Why does our country allow this great travesty to occur?  Truly our country has lost her vision when it comes to seeing what this crime against humans does to her very being.

In addition to the right to be born, we also include the right to live in with our right to life.  What does that encompass?  This means that we should be afforded all the necessities needed to actually stay alive… food, water, shelter, health care.  There are many in our nation that do not have these basics needs met.  While our government has programs in place to help some people, many others are left without help. Our programs are misused, broken, and need to be fixed.  We need to stop arguing about who is to blame and look at our moral responsibility to take care of all of our citizens.  This doesn’t mean we provide hand-outs but that we provide hand-ups.   We should be helping each other to be able to LIVE.   Our Catholic faith also teaches us about this social justice.  We have a moral and social obligation to help others who we see are struggling to live.

What is liberty? Liberty is defined as the quality or state of being free.  One could argue that our nation is one of the most “free” nations in the world.  Our citizens are free to travel unrestricted throughout the nation, we have the right (and privilege) to vote, we are supposed to be guaranteed the right to say what we want, the freedom to practice our religion safely, to make money and spend it the way we see fit.  The list goes on and we could expand on those many times over.  But, are we truly as free as our government would like us to believe?

We only have to look at the HHS Mandate to know that some of those freedoms we enjoy so much are in danger of slipping away.  The government wants to insist that all employers, including religious entities like the Catholic Church, abide by the law which forces them to purchase/pay for a product that could very well go against their moral or religious beliefs.  This is a clear violation against our religious freedom.   Still, our government pushes forward with this law.  What other laws should we worry about, especially with DOMA being struck down, being forced upon our churches and our consciences?

Additionally, we have seen strides from our government in taking away our rights to own guns, our rights to free speech, and our right to not be unlawfully detained (the National Defense Authorization Act) among others.  Our right to liberty doesn’t seem to be as secure as we may hope.  Still, does our right to liberty (freedom) mean that we should be able to do whatever we want, whenever we want?  No.  We still have to answer to a higher authority and a code of moral conduct.  Our forefathers knew this and yet unfortunately we see our society detouring from that belief.

That of course leads to the pursuit of happiness.   I think when people quote Thomas Jefferson this is actually the part they are hoping to have on their side.  Our God-given right is to be happy and to pursue whatever it is that makes us happy no matter what… right? Wrong.  When the founding fathers signed our Declaration of Independence and claimed our right to pursue happiness they didn’t mean for us to go hog wild and throw morality and common sense into the wind.  Quite the contrary in fact!

Happiness does not just refer to an emotional state.  It also refers to our overall well-being.  This is the happiness that our forefathers thought was so important.  They wanted us to pursue the things that not only helped us be well physically but morally and religiously as well.   In the world today where our own immediate satisfaction is paramount we lose sight of the original context of the word happiness.  People now want to be happy immediately but often that happiness is fleeting.  It is devoid of anything to do with long-term well-being but focuses more on what will satisfy me this moment.  Happiness as defined in the Declaration of Independence is nothing without the moral and religious connotations.  Our forefathers knew that true happiness depended not so much on ourselves but on something much greater than us.  We can see this clearly in other writings of the times as well.   If we look at the Massachusetts Constitution drafted in 1870 we see the following written, “the happiness of a people and the good order and preservation of civil government essentially depend upon piety, religion and morality, and . . . these cannot be generally diffused through a community but by the institution of the public worship of God and of public instructions in piety, religion and morality.” 

We can see that the Declaration was not written to give us a free pass to do whatever we wish as long as it makes us happy.  True happiness cannot come at the expense of others.  It cannot come by throwing our morality aside.  It cannot come by pushing God out of our schools, our homes, and our lives.  True happiness, as a right, has to include faith, reverence, virtue, integrity, and righteousness.  This is the happiness we are promised, not the fleeting “happiness” brought on by selfish desires and wants.

With all this in mind where does this leave us as a nation?  We still live in one of the greatest countries in the world but we live in a country where we still need to work to insure our God given rights are never taken away.  As Christians it is our duty to stand up for those rights, not only for ourselves, but for those who cannot stand up for themselves… the poor, the sick, and the unborn.  We can clearly see that our nation’s moral compass is not quite pointing in the right direction.  We need to work to bring our focus back to God and less on ourselves.  Let us show our love for our great nation by taking it back from those who wish to rip it from God’s hands.  As Christians and patriots it is our duty.

“It is religion and morality alone which can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely stand. The only foundation of a free constitution is pure virtue.”  ~ John Adams

“God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that His justice cannot sleep forever.”   ~ Thomas Jefferson