During the last few weeks, I have been thinking about the American obsession with rights. What rights do we seek to claim? Here in America, we have the right to vote, the right to worship, the right to assemble, the right to speak freely, the right to own property,and other important rights that we claim, but as time has gone by, we have developed a sense of right-worthiness. We claim the right to privacy, the right to choose birth or abortion for a child, the right to choose to die with dignity, the right to have free tuition for college, the right to have a cell phone, and so on.
I wonder about those rights. If we go back to the Declaration of Independence, the framers declared that all men have the right to “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” In the pre-Revolutionary War days, the colonists saw themselves as unfairly oppressed by taxation, the demands to finance the debts of war procured by England, and other grievances enumerated in history books. The colonists sought to free themselves of these shackles and pursue a new kind of life, pursue the freedom from tyranny, and pursuit happiness that comes with opportunity.
I have been pondering the “pursuit of happiness.” Notice the word “pursuit.” Pursuit is “the act of proceeding with or toward an aim, an occupation” (New Webster’s Dictionary and Thesaurus). We here in America love the idea of happiness but not the idea of pursuit. We believe happiness just happens and we do not expect any requirements or responsibility to come with that expectation. This is not the concept proposed by the Declaration of Independence.
A new house may make a person happy, but how is owning that house a right? If a person wants a house, he or she needs to pursue the means of income that will give him or her the satisfaction of having that house. He or she needs to maintain that house to keep it in good condition and liveable.
Since when do students have a right to free tuition? What have they done to earn that right? True, the end may be the happiness of completing the degree, but the pursuit of the degree involves some effort on the part of the student. What liberty do students seek that comes with no responsibility or difficulty?
The right to choose an abortion falls short in the life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness phrase. Certainly, happiness does not come from eliminating a life, and certainly, one may have liberty once a child has been terminated from the womb, but certainly no real happiness comes from that action. (I just read an article that suggests that women who have had abortions increase their risk of breast cancer. I don’t know all the science associated with that premise, but consequences come from traumatizing the body.)
The right to privacy? A person has the right to keep his business to him or herself. If an individual wants privacy, he or she should not put eveything out on social media. All of us are not interested in every breath or action or opinion that these individuals bandy about so freely.
I could go on, but one other thought occurs to me. If rights are so important, from what source did those rights come? Do you think that you deserve them? On what basis do you make that assumption? If so many people disdain the idea of an all-wise, all-knowing and powerful Creator, Who created man in His own image, from what source does the concept of rights come to these naysayers? If we are merely the result of an evolutionary process, from what point in the process of human evolution did personal rights develop and on whose authority?
The writers of the Declaration recognized an entity greater than themselves from whom these rights derived. Now, we live in a world where we deify ourselves and thus, we determine what we want our rights to be based on our own preferences, seeking only to please ourselves.
As I observe the recent protests before, during, and continuing after the inauguration, I do not see happy people. I see people defying law, destroying property, and being disrespectful of those in authority. I hear a lot about rights, but very little about responsibility in obtaining and utilizing those unalienable right.