David Hegg | Rights, Responsibilities, Privileges

David Hegg
David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church and a Santa Clarita resident. "Ethically Speaking" runs Saturdays in The Signal.

By David Hegg

Since the beginning of our great nation, a fundamental conviction has been that our Creator endowed us with the essential “rights” of all humanity. 

Further, the preamble to the Declaration of Independence declared them to be “unalienable,” that is, they are “impossible to be taken away,” according to Merriam-Webster. And while the framers of this foundational document chose not to enumerate the whole armor of “rights” endowed by our Creator, they did specify these three: the right to life, the right to liberty, and the right to pursue happiness.  

It is crucial to understand the phrase “the pursuit of happiness” as the framers intended. If you research it, you’ll discover they weren’t envisioning an individual chase for happiness but a collective endeavor to promote and enjoy it. After all, they founded a nation, not a collection of independent, self-seeking individuals. Their passionate declaration of independence from England arose from a more excellent vision. It spoke of a nation of individuals united in their “dependence” on one another.  

The “pursuit of happiness” was meant to foster community welfare. This “unalienable right” was every citizen’s charge to think and act so as to see the “happiness” and well-being of all as the foundation of the nation’s prosperity. Simply put, “the pursuit of happiness” was “loving your neighbor.” From the outset, the American experiment in democracy was rooted in the conviction that, since all are created equal with the same rights, the welfare of all must be the goal. To make this a reality, the government would be held accountable for using the power invested in it by the people to strive consistently to maintain life and liberty and seek the best for the nation.   

Yet, the framers also rightly understood that sin and selfishness would be a barrier to the collective welfare of the people. The remedy was the rule of law. That is, given every person had the obligation to pursue the welfare of all, everyone would be held responsible for how they went about it. Behavior that harmed corporate welfare was deemed illegal, and those who failed in their responsibility to the common good were to be arrested, tried, and sentenced. In this way, those who abrogated their right to pursue corporate “happiness,” and so failed to act responsibly as citizens, were deprived of the privileges of life and liberty temporarily, for a season, or in the most severe cases, forever,  

So, what is my point? The experiment we call a democratic republic only works when those governing and those being governed subscribe to the same story and its shared fundamental ideology as presented in our nation’s founding documents. But what we see today is a radical revolution that pits competing ideologies against one another in – excuse my having to use an over-used phrase – a literal battle for the soul of America.  

There are several examples of this ideological battle. One position sees “free speech” as the freedom to destroy public and private property, disturb the daily lives of fellow citizens, and generally endanger the welfare of their community. Another position believes rights prescribe specific responsibilities, such as obeying the laws and regulations, protecting private and public property, and promoting the general welfare of the community. This position is also adamant that those who do not fulfill their responsibilities should, through due process, lose their rights and the privileges that go along with them.  

Another example is the subjective use of executive orders by governors and presidents. In the past, this means of top-down power exercised to further an ideological narrative has been used to unilaterally raise fuel prices, increase regulatory fees, forgive billions in student loans, and generally increase everyday living expenses. All of this and much more has been accomplished without due regard for the welfare of the many. Instead, it has been used to maintain and grow political power while decimating the economy, weakening national defense, even as it has created division and deep-seated anger in the hearts of too many.  

Today, we have front-row seats to this clash of ideologies. And it boils down to some simple questions: Do rights prescribe certain responsibilities or not? Are we a nation of laws or not? Are our elected officials duty-bound to consider the welfare of every citizen, or are they free to enact orders and regulations without regard for the health and welfare of the people who elected them? 

Joseph de Maistre, the late 18th-century Savoyard philosopher, writer, lawyer, and diplomat, is credited with saying, “Every nation gets the government it deserves.” In a democracy, it simply means we get the government that most voters want. And if most people are fooled by political promises and rhetoric, we will get a government that continues to fool the people. But if most people are wise and research the propositions and referendums, as well as the ideology and integrity of the candidates, we will get a government that understands its accountability to the people.  

And if we do, maybe we can recover lost ground and once again become a people who celebrate human life rather than promote a culture of death, who understand liberty demands responsibility, and most of all, realize the pursuit of happiness is a team sport. Pursuing personal well-being at my neighbor’s expense is not only wrong, it is also foreign to what it means to be “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Local resident David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church. “Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays. 

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