Early July brings to mind images and thoughts of 1776, the Continental Congress, Founding Fathers and the Declaration of Independence. We cherish the words that define America:
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. …
Thomas Jefferson originally wrote “property” — not happiness. Property ownership is a pillar of free societies, guaranteeing economic mobility and prosperity, personal security and is the guarantor of all rights (protecting people from government prohibitions on the practice of religion and speech, for example). It’s a basis of enlightenment thinking and Jefferson borrowed it from John Locke who wrote about “the right to Life, Liberty and Property.” However, allies such as Ben Franklin argued that northern colonies would construe “property” to include, if not outright mean, “slaves.” Yet another unfortunate consequence of that treacherous institution.
Including “happiness” in our founding document has, regrettably, given everyone from liberals, secular leftists and self-styled libertarians — even some conservatives — the false impression that we have the natural right to pursue anything that makes us happy. Thus, the genesis of movements for the legalization of same-sex marriage, for example, which really are infringements on others’ rights. But that’s another story.
More appropriately, and accurately, the definition of freedom is not the absence of control enabling one to act in any way any individual sees fit to meet his or her tastes or inclinations. Rather, true freedom is more accurately defined in a way such as stated by Saint John Paul The Great:
Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.
The Founding Fathers did not mean the “happiness” part of the Declaration to be misinterpreted to the point of cultural chaos. Their writings verify that. But today, we are paying the price for one of the rare instances the Founders failed to foresee: That in the modern age, Truth would be hard to accept.
Saint John Paul The Great defined the true essence of freedom. It’s hard to defend. It’s hard to practice.