Rediscovering Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness: Eighteenth-Century Solutions for Twenty-first Century Problems
By Ryan C. MacPherson, Ph.D.
Presented for the 2013 Online Apologetics Conference, Athanatos Christian Ministries, 22 April 2013.
The Declaration of Independence claims life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as the birthrights of all people. America’s founding fathers understood that these were natural, inalienable rights, and that the chief purpose of government is to protect these rights. The exercise of these rights by the people also presupposed a set of natural responsibilities. Thus, civic virtue fostered an ordered liberty capable of sustaining the republic. Today, however, many Americans are skeptical that natural rights exist at all. Instead of protecting rights, government appears to create them—or to destroy them. For forty years now, the Supreme Court has defined “liberty” to include a woman’s supposed right to end the life of her unborn child. Men, however, are prevented by law from exercising their natural responsibilities to preserve a child’s life. Meanwhile, the prophets of radical individualism have recast “the pursuit of happiness” in a manner destructive to the social order. As the natural bonds between husband and wife, parent and child, have loosened, artificial connections between government and individuals have re-centered social life around a set of politically fashioned entitlements that respect neither marriage nor parenthood. Unfortunately, human nature simply is not designed to thrive under such circumstances. The way forward in the twenty-first century must, therefore, begin by turning back to the eighteenth century to rediscover the natural rights, and the natural responsibilities, affirmed by America’s founders. This is a task in which people of many religious persuasions may participate, and for which Christians are particularly well suited.