Inalienable Rights (not Christian rights): Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness

12 08 2010

“When followers of Jesus aren’t careful to clearly distinguish the Kingdom from their own nation, we easily end up Christianizing aspects of our culture we ought to be revolting against.

For example, America is founded on the conviction that everybody has an “inalienable right” to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Now, politically speaking, I think these rights are the greatest privileges a government could ever give its people. Politically speaking, I’m a fan of the Declaration of Independence. But as a Kingdom person, I have to be careful not to think these values are Kingdom values. Indeed, as a follower of Jesus I have to critically assess these values as things I may have to revolt against to manifest the unique beauty of the Kingdom. Let’s briefly consider each of these rights.

The Right to Life

Americans believe we have the right to defend our lives and our rights when they’re threatened, using any means necessary.

This is a noble political right. I personally wouldn’t want to live under a government that didn’t grant this right to its citizens. Yet as a follower of Jesus we must never let political values – even noble ones – define the unique Kingdom that alone has our allegiance.

As Kingdom people we’re called to follow the One who surrendered his right to life in order to express God’s love for his enemies. We’re thus called to manifest the beauty of a life that no longer clings to its right to remain alive and no longer fears death, even at the hands of our enemies. Following Jesus, we’re called to manifest the beauty of an outrageously impractical life that would sooner be killed than kill.

So, while we can affirm the right to life as a noble political value, as Kingdom people we have to revolt against the temptation to put this noble political value above the value of self-sacrificial love in order to manifest the beauty of the Jesus-looking Kingdom.

The Right to Liberty

We Americans believe we have the right to exercise our free will however we see fit as long as no one gets hurt. And we believe we have the right to have a say in who governs us and how they govern us.

These are noble political rights. I personally wouldn’t want to live under a government that didn’t grant these rights to its citizens. Yet as a Kingdom people we must notice that this value, while politically noble, has brought about massive decadence in our culture. The emphasis on personal freedom has produced a society that is largely characterized by greed, gluttony, self-centeredness, and sexual immorality. This has to curb our enthusiasm for the ideal of freedom somewhat.

Sadly, many American Christians assume personal freedom is an ultimate value that is therefore worth killing and dying for. Indeed, for many, this is the “light” America shines to the world and the reason why we are a “holy city set on a hill.” For many, their faith in freedom and their faith in Christ are essentially inseparable. Standing up for freedom at all costs is part of what it means to be a “true Christian.”

But one reads nothing about political freedom in the Old or New Testaments. Most importantly, Jesus doesn’t say a word about political freedom. The early Church grew and thrived for several hundred years in a context entirely devoid of political freedom; yet never once in their writings do we hear early Christian writers wishing for it or expecting it – let alone fighting for it! Nor does one find any talk about political freedom throughout the rest of Church history before the modern period (the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries). In fact, the Church on the whole strongly opposed the concept of people governing themselves when it first began to be discussed in the late Renaissance and Enlightenment periods. How ironic that several hundred years later the majority of western Christians assume political freedom is synonymous with the Christian faith and – even more ironic – worth killing for! This simply demonstrates how thoroughly the faith of many western Christians has been co-opted and redefined by nationalistic ideals.

Personal and political liberty certainly is a noble cultural ideal, but it certainly is not a distinctly Kingdom ideal. In fact, on some level, personal liberty is something Kingdom people are called to revolt against.

As Kingdom people we’re called to imitate the One who never exercised his free will outside the will of his Father. We’re called to surrender our freedom and submit our will to God’s will, both as he’s revealed it in Scripture and as he directs us by his Spirit moment-by-moment. Not only this, but we’re called to live in communities in which we surrender our rights and humbly defer to one another.

Our fallen tendency to exercise our free will however we want is something we must revolt against. As we faithfully do this, we manifest something that goes far beyond a noble political value. We manifest the beauty of a life that is no longer addicted to its freedom and rights, for it has found something far better and far more beautiful – the eternal Life that comes from God lived in a community characterized be servant-love.

The Pursuit of Happiness

We Americans believe we have the right to do whatever we need to do try to find happiness.

Again, this is a noble political ideal. I wouldn’t prefer to live under a government that didn’t grant us this right. Yet as Kingdom people we must notice the massive negative effect this cultural value has had on people, both inside and outside the Church. Precisely because we give such emphasis to our right to pursue our own happiness, the highest authority for most Americans is their own personal preferences. Almost every decision is made solely on the basis of whether we thing it will make us happy and whether we can afford it. And this simply means that, for most Americans, the pursuit of happiness – or, in starker terms, “hedonism” – is the ultimate lord of their lives.

As Kingdom people this is obviously something we must passionately revolt against. We are called to seek God’s will above our own happiness. For Kingdom people, it’s not enough to ask, “Is this what I want?” and “Can I afford it?” If God indeed reigns over our life, we must allow him to reign over all the major decisions we make. Our most fundamental question, then, is not “is this what I want?” but “Is this what God wants?” This is what it means to seeks first the Kingdom of God, as Jesus commanded.

As we do this, we manifest something far more beautiful than the pursuit of earthly happiness; we manifest Kingdom joy. In Christ we can be free from the addiction to trying to find happiness. In Christ, we have access to the beautiful Life of God that is characterized by fullness of joy, even when our circumstances are unhappy.”

– Greg Boyd (‘The Myth of a Christian Religion‘; also the author of ‘The Myth of a Christian Nation‘, and ‘Letters from a Skeptic‘)

An older post of mine: ‘Christians and the 4th of July’




One response

24 09 2010
broken boy soldiers « On ElijahMountain…

[…] about tenacity.  this is the feverishness with which we, as christians, are called to seek the †LORD.  therefore much of my motivation in creating and keeping these […]

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