On Our Rights
Answering a question about life, liberty and property
Question: “How would you biblically support our (American's) right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? Even as ‘God-fearing’ Americans, we shouldn't just assume such a declaration - that truth is self-evident or not.”
I’ll start with your last sentence, in total agreement. No Christian should ever assume any proposition to be true without asking if it aligns with the Scriptures. So, amen: no Christian of any country should mindlessly adopt the axioms of their land, even if their country is good and their patriotism is strong.
Now to your first sentence. Good use of parentheses, because everyone has the right to life, liberty and the “pursuit of happiness” - not just Americans. That’s what the founders believed. That’s because these rights come from God, not from man - thus they belong to everyone. And thus they are “inalienable,” in that no one has the right to alienate you - separate you - from these rights.
But that’s not your question. Your question is about the biblical justification for those three rights. Before I get into those, it is important to remember that when God gives a right, and if that right is “inalienable,” that means that everyone else has a corresponding responsibility to honor that right.
Let’s start with the easy one. We all have the right to life, except under certain circumstances, which are easy enough to delineate from Scripture. If I take a life, I have forfeited my life (Exodus 21:12). But otherwise, God gives me the right to life, and therefore places on everyone else the responsibility to, you know, not kill me.
The supposed “right” to abortion completely flips this over. The government via Roe said that one person’s right to “a life” means that they have the right to take a life. And then instead of carrying the responsibility of honoring other people’s rights, the corresponding responsibility attached to the exercise of that right falls to the person inside the womb: they must die, for the exercise of the “right to a life” of the mother. This clearly illustrates what happens when we invert God’s structures, as communists and relativists so often do. We create our own standards apart from God, and the telltale sign is that the responsibilities and consequences always fall on someone else.
Let’s consider the right to “liberty.” We know this is an inalienable right because man-stealing (the very definition of taking liberty) was a capital offense in God’s law (Exodus 21:16). Again, there are limits - if I steal, for instance, I have surrendered my liberty, until I pay restitution. But outside of my own sinful breaking my responsibilities with everyone else, or my voluntary surrendering of liberty (say, entering the military), everyone else has a responsibility given to them by God, to leave me and you at liberty - to leave us alone, “that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Tim. 2:2).
The Pursuit of Happiness
Lastly, let’s consider the “pursuit of happiness.” It was originally “the right to property.” And this makes sense - it’s referring to the inalienable right to pursue that which would be for “blessing,” which for all of human history - right up to today - has required land and/or property. We live in a physical world, after all. They conceived of “happiness” as those blessings that are universal to mankind: food and wine for your table; the place and ability to raise a family; good clothing for your wife and kids; transportation; etc.
Thus if I own something, everyone else has the responsibility to recognize and honor that ownership, because we all are made to pursue certain blessings - “happiness.” Again we see the basis for this in the Bible, in the eighth commandment (Ex. 20:15), and in the forbidding of moving a neighbor’s boundary marks (Deut. 19:14).
Now a little bit of history. The formulation of these three (life, liberty and property) originally came from John Locke, with Locke building on centuries of Christian thought from various quarters. With Jefferson it was changed to “the pursuit of happiness,” perhaps as a hedge against the charge of greed - so that Parliament couldn’t say that all those rebellious colonists want is to get rich on the New World’s land.
Yet neither Locke nor Jefferson conceived of pursuing “happiness” with living with sinful license. It has only been in the last 140 years or so that “happiness” and “license” have been paired together as a “right.” But God is clear: no one has the right to pursue happiness through sodomy, adultery, self-mutilation, etc. - no matter what our government or culture says.
But there is a more subtle inversion of God’s structures today. When our government pulls out of its left ear yet another “right” that some people have, the result is not that we must honor and acknowledge that right. No, instead, we must all sacrifice our property, in the form of confiscatory taxes, fees, etc., in order to pay for that other person’s right. The state of California currently believes that everyone has the right to kill life in the womb, and the people of this state are made to pay for the exercise of that “right” - even for people from other states.
And to combine the second and the third rights - liberty and property - if you don’t pay your confiscatory taxes, we take away your liberty and throw you in jail. What do we call this, when an earthly authority denies God’s authority and His structures, and designs their own replacement authority and structures? We call that idolatry - rank idolatry. At least we should. Our state presumes to be God. And that never goes well. It is why the California law code is so bloated, our taxes so high, and so few problems are really solved. His ways are not our ways, in that His ways are not oppressive, and they actually work.
And His ways apply to everyone. This means the government, too. No government has the right to arrogate to itself a place above the law of God.
So to summarize: yes, the rights to life, liberty and property / the pursuit of happiness are biblical, and they are inalienable. Therefore if someone out there has mindlessly adopted this axiom and believed it, well, it’s a happy blessing that what they believe is true, biblical and good.
We should acknowledge - and perhaps this is behind your question - that it is also idolatry to assume that these truths just appeared POOF! out of thin air, out of self-evident American awesomeness some time back, and not from the character of God. That too is idolatry. Anything that made America great was that our founders had enough sense to humbly attempt to track with the mind and heart of the Almighty in their designs. And for that we should be thankful, for God is good.
One more thing: your question pictures the central importance of keeping one finger in our Bibles, about all things. And this is of central importance for everyone: for those who might unthinkingly accept the patriotic axioms of their country, as well as for those who grew up thinking it fashionable to unthinkingly disagree with and question every one of those patriotic axioms. For some of them are true and good. The point is what you already know: God’s Bible is our only true north.
Cordially in Christ,