Friday, July 4, 2014

From the foundation of the world

The Declaration of Independence justifies separation from Britain arguing that government is created by men to secure rights given by God and when it doesn't do that "it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it." In the document there are several references to the Deity: "the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God," "...endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights..." "...appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions..." and "...with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence...." Zach Hutchins at The Christian Century in "The Genesis of the Declaration of Independence," explains where all this came from:
...[T]he concept of natural law and phrases such as “Nature’s God” had been used to signal a theistic understanding of government for centuries before Thomas Jefferson put pen to paper. Hugo Grotius and Thomas Hobbes, political theorists hardly noted for their piety, presented natural law as a code of conduct instituted by the God of Genesis, at the creation of the world. “This original law of nature,” wrote John Locke, can be traced back to the divine injunction in Genesis 1:28 when
“God and his reason commanded him [Adam] to subdue the earth, i.e. improve it for the benefit of life and therein lay out something upon it that was his own, his labour. He that, in obedience to this command of God, subdued, tilled, and sowed any part of it, thereby annexed to it something that was his property, which another had no title to, nor could without injury take from him.”
The right reason and commandments given by God to Adam in Eden were a basis for the “law of nature” that forbids one individual “to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions” in Locke's thinking.

James Otis and other colonial agitators who paved the way for American Revolution also grounded their claims in the language of Genesis. The Rights of the British Colonies (1764) popularized the doctrines that Jefferson would later incorporate into the Declaration. There Otis rejected Parliament’s attempts to tax the colonies: “There must be in every instance, a higher authority, viz. GOD. Should an act of parliament be against any of his natural laws, which are immutably true, their declaration would be contrary to eternal truth, equity and justice, and consequently void.” Government, Otis argued, is an outgrowth of God’s work in Eden:
“The same omniscient, omnipotent, infinitely good and gracious Creator of the universe, who has been pleased to make it necessary that what we call matter should gravitate...has made it equally necessary that from Adam and Eve to these degenerate days, the different sexes should sweetly attract each other, form societies of single families, of which larger bodies and communities are as naturally, mechanically, and necessarily combined, as the dew of Heaven and the soft distilling rain is collected by the all enliv’ning heat of the sun. Government is therefore most evidently founded on the necessities of our nature.”
Colonists versed in both the Bible and the natural law tradition viewed their freedom from tyranny as a right guaranteed by God during the creation in Genesis. .... [more]