On this day, 246 years ago a young social theorist and philosopher jotted down a couple of remarkable lines of prose.
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.
I often marvel at these lines. They hold the core of a great many of my views on society and government and the world at large.
But I want you to focus, for a moment, not on what is said but what is not said in these lines.
You will notice the word “belief” is not contained in these lines. Rather than say that the nation was founded on any one or another “belief” it was founded, instead, on truth.
The truth, as identified by Mr. Jefferson–my hero and yours–is rather simple. We all have the same rights, whatever they may be. No one is greater than any other before the law. And that is a simple function of the fact–the real self-evident premise pinning the entire thing–that our universal Creator did not favor any one of us over any other.
That last sentence is actually the core of the entire thing.
Its the core of our entire foundation as a nation.
And it is so incredibly powerful.
The Creator–not God or god or gods, just the Creator–imbued all human beings with equal dignity.
That’s a beautiful and strikingly egalitarian concept.
Its also rather detached, unfortunately, from any religion–all of whom seem to favor their own believers with more rights and dignities than non-believers. And, of course, virtually all religions turn on a paradigm of reward and punishment based solely on conduct taken in accordance with those beliefs, whatever they may be.
And that, perhaps, is why Jefferson–who himself was famously Theist– chose to use that word “Creator” here. He was not referencing any specific creed or religion because no creed or religion of his day (or ours) had yet concocted such an egalitarian Creator.
As if to drive the point home, the one time the Declaration of Independence does mention “God” it is only in reference to “Nature’s God”–not the God of any particular religion, you see, but the God only of nature.
So Jefferson conceived of a perfect being who treated us all with perfect equality, in accordance with the “Laws of Nature”–see also the writings of J.J. Rousseau and the secular moralists of the Enlightenment–and not the laws of any religious creed or sect.
And that perfectly egalitarian creator–that doesn’t favor this set of beliefs or that set of morals–is the place we all obtain our rights from.
You’ll notice a couple of important subconcepts here.
First, our rights do not come from the Constitution. They come from our inherent nobility as human beings–again by virtue of that perfectly egalitarian non-scriptural Creator of ours.
Second, our rights are not unique to us as Americans. Any right we have is held equally by every other human being alive because–in Jefferson’s view–we all have the same Creator and the same rights accorded by Natural Law.
The Creator didn’t just bless America, you see. He blessed everyone.
(I mean, he plainly blessed me the most, but other than that–totally equal.)
Happy 4th folks.