Tuesday, May 21, 2024

JOSEPH C. PHILLIPS: The Property of God

April 7, 2007 by  
Filed under Religion, Weekly Columns

      (Akiit.com) This past weekend, I watched the film “Amazing Grace.” This marvelous film tells the story of the battle abolitionist William Wilberforce waged to end the slave trade in the British Empire.  While watching the film, I pondered the fact that our understanding of the origins of our liberty has changed very little since 1807.

      There is a great deal of discussion about the cruelty of slavery in the film.  During an especially poignant moment, a former slave, played by the musician Youssou N’Dour, opens his shirt displaying the brand burned into his chest when he reached the West Indies from Africa, a mark that in his words, let him know that he no longer belonged to God, but to men. This moment in the film is striking not because it affirms the cruelty of slavery.  Slavery was/is not evil because of its cruelty, but because it violates the natural state of man by reducing the divine to the profane. 

      It is the assertion of divine ownership that is the basis upon which we claim our liberty.  God made man free and independent. As free men, we must own our bodies, our ideas, and the fruits produced by same.  It is upon this concept that we properly define rights and upon this rock America was founded. 

      Rights are those things to which we claim by virtue of simply being human — by belonging to God – and are therefore things that cannot be granted by other men.  Hence the removal of chains is not the granting of freedom, but the return of liberty to its rightful owner.  Property taken from you doesn’t cease being yours simply because it is in another man’s possession.  And when it is returned, the thief grants you nothing but that which has always been yours. 

      Critical to our understanding is that rights also come with corresponding duties to respect the rights of others.  My neighbor has a duty to respect my right to life, liberty and private property and I have a duty to do the same.  Of course, men regularly violate that duty, which is why men compact with government to secure inalienable rights from the devilment of human nature.

      Sitting in the theatre, I wondered that here in America, the only nation built upon these principles, we have largely lost our understanding of rights and in fact diluted them so that increasingly they are indistinguishable from privileges, those advantages that government grants or denies certain groups that meet or fail to meet certain requirements. 

      For instance, we hear about our right to health care, social security and a host of other government, or more accurately, taxpayer funded entitlements.  If men are in fact born with these rights, there must be a corresponding duty that falls on our neighbors to provide it.  Does your neighbor have a duty to pay for your doctor’s visits and medical care?  Do your neighbors have a duty to pay for your retirement?  What about housing? Food and clothing?  One can argue that these are things God fearing neighbors ought to cheerfully do for one another. However, that is wholly different from politicians that want to use the power of government to force munificence.  The administrative state along with its corresponding schemes of wealth redistribution are wrong because the equal right to liberty means no man should be made to work for the benefit of another. Slavery practiced with kid gloves is slavery still.

      William Wilberforce gave his life fighting for the revolutionary idea that the equal right to life and liberty derives from the “laws of nature and of natures God”.  Alas, the idea seems as sour to our contemporary ears as it was to so many in the late 18th and early 19 th centuries. 

      By Joseph C. Phillips

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