|July 3, 2006|
"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." When you quote Bible verses, citing the reference - book/chapter/verse - is customary. When you are quoting from the revered texts of American origins, "reference" is sometimes akin to a game show query. We all know that famous sentence: do you know from whence it comes?
Many would guess "Constitution;" if that was their final answer...they'd get the booby prize and leave the stage without the Grand Prize.
On this celebration of our national founding - Independence Day, 2006 - we'll hear wonderful, patriotic citations. That may be one of the sound bites of the weekend. Where's it found?
Declaration of Independence is the right answer. Intriguingly, there is no binding guarantee found in those 36 words. You'd never get it past the ACLU today; mentioning the "Creator" in a government document will get the "separation" challenge, immediately. "Endowed" by their "Creator?" Sounds like church talk... but it was the kind of thinking that mobilized the brightest and best in their effort to disconnect from British control and establish American independence. The Declaration is not, today, a document of law; rather, it was the blueprint for a dream that became the US of A.
How do we measure up? In what ways have we grown into that hopeful phraseology that gave clarity to the kind of nation those signers were willing to risk all they had to enable?
Nearly a quarter-millennium later, we can claim pretty good achievement on a couple of those fronts. Life? Unless you're a baby in the womb of a mother with second thoughts, you've got pretty good safeguards protecting your existence. We'll give that one a "B-" (voting against it would be the souls of those children whose lives were cut short by a Supreme Court decision, carried full-term).
How about "liberty?" Well, that's about "freedom," and we hold that one pretty high. In fact, our country has become a place where the criminals among us enjoy more liberty than the non-incarcerated do in some other countries. There are strong forces at work to assure that people in America are free to be stupid, without anyone setting or enforcing boundaries that will protect them from themselves, or others from them. Liberty? A solid "B" on the Freedom front.
How about that "Pursuit of Happiness" business? Good thing that one said "pursuit," and not "attainment." That's the fine-print, though; most people believe that the government - or, God - are committed to make them happy, not to allow them the pursuit. How are we doing on the Happy scale?
Not too well, it seems. This just in: money doesn't do it. The distinguished journal, Science, reported this week that people with money aren't any happier than anyone else. It takes relationships, they said, for happiness to occur. Another study, just reported: modern Americans have fewer friends than they did 25 years ago. Their confidant count has dropped by a third; as you move up the socioeconomic scale, it worsens. Age at first marriage has risen five years in the last 30... and the divorce rate has climbed like a '90's internet stock price. If we're measuring ourselves as a society, it seems that "Happy" is scoring a weak "C-."
Ask a really wise man about happiness, and here's what he would say: "Then I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him - for this is his lot. Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work - this is a gift of God. He seldom reflects on the days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart." (Solomon, in Ecclesiastes 5:18-20).
What do you "need" to be happy? You've got all you need, according to God. If an American who is a Christian doesn't have what happiness requires, there's limited hope for anyone else. How about it: are you, today, "occupied with gladness of heart?" Happy Fourth of July!
© 2006 Bob Shank. All rights reserved.