Our country has a mantra or anthem that we live by, or govern ourselves by which has been bothering me for quite some time – “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” It sounds pleasant enough, fantastic really, especially since its purpose was to guarantee the alienable rights of every human being. Its premise is that everyone has been created equally and so everyone deserves the right to these things. It is just too bad that so often our own liberties and our own pursuit after happiness often denies the life, liberty and happiness of another. Allow me to explain:
Another right that we have in this country is that of free speech. We can say whatever we want to say, however we want to say it, to whoever we want to say it. It does not matter who you are or where you are from, our country guarantees you that right. This means that you can exercise your right to tell people that you love them, but it also means that you can do the same and tell people that you hate them, wish them dead, and even get on TV and do it. But doesn’t such hate-filled speech violate the rights of the person that you are targeting? How can they fell free or happy when you come at them with threatening words and accusations?
Or what about our right to carry guns? This is another right that we are guaranteed. It does not matter if you are crazy. It does not matter if you have had previous offenses. All that matters is that you have the freedom and the ability to protect t yourself from other crazies. But most guns are not used as objects of self-defense, they are used as weapons and means to hurt and kill others. Pick up a paper and you will know that this is true. In our pursuit of liberty here we lose a lot of lives.
Or what of our pursuit after happiness. This means that we can pursue after whatever makes us happy. For most people this boils down to family, faith, and wealth, which would make this a pretty worthy pursuit because all of these things are important. However, and here is the caveat, what if in our pursuit after wealth, we make other people unhappy and downright miserable. I am not talking about wealth that provides for your family, enables you to save and empowers you to bless others with, I am talking about the kind of wealth that we take out of the hands of those who are poor, sick and suffering. This happens through our tax code, it happens through our jobs, and it happens through our government. The burden of proof is in the unemployment rate in that the highest rate of people unemployed are blacks and Latinos, many of whom were already poor and struggling to begin with. But the jobs that they once had are needed by the company so that the CEO who bankrupted it can be happy and get their big fat bonus before they walk away. Yet it violates the life, liberty and happiness of the unemployed and their families.
It seems to me that the problem lies not in striving for life, liberty and happiness, but in our striving to the extent of ostracizing and oppressing others so that our own selfish motives might be realized. Yet if we take a careful look at Scripture, we will see that our own gain is not the purpose of our liberties. According to the Apostle Paul our liberty, our freedom sets us free to love and serve one another (Galatians 5). This concept of serving others is quite interesting, especially in our highly individualized culture where service seems to be the last thing on our agenda. However, it also means that the freedom that we so desperately seek is not freedom at all but actually bondage. The Apostle Paul calls it slavery in Romans. We are slaves to ourselves and thereby slaves to sin, and slaves to our lusts. And slaves don’t get to make their own choices, instead their choices are already made for them! Which is incredibly ironic to me since this seems to be the very thing that we are fighting so hard to escape. We don’t want the government to make decisions for us, much less any authority figure. Yet we fail to understand that every time we put ourselves before someone else that the decision has already been made.
I think that it is time that we evaluate not the existence but the application of our nation’s mantra here. Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness must be defined in such a way as to encourage every citizen, both young and old, both native and foreign born, to pursue the welfare of others around them. We should be encouraged to make sure that people around us not only have a chance at life, but a life worth living where all of their physical, emotional, mental, social, and spiritual needs are met. We should pursue justice for those who are oppressed and relief for those who have been destroyed for one reason or another. We should seek the freedom of those who are slaves to drugs, crime, and poverty so that they have an opportunity to realize the happiness that we all seek.
I realize that this is novel but imagine what would take place if we really did this. Perhaps there would be less war and conflict. Perhaps crime, hunger, poverty, and the rate of those in prison would reduce. Perhaps the polarization of the political parties would minimize to healthy levels of disagreement and misunderstanding. If these things were to be realized we would really, I mean absolutely really come to embrace the life, the liberty and the happiness that we’ve been fighting so hard for.