Fr. Shawn P. Tunink

Homily Podcast



A New Declaration of Independence

January 21st, 2009, by Fr. Shawn P. Tunink


One of the most famous lines from the Declaration of Independence includes the following familiar words:

“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.”

In yesterday’s inaugural address, President Obama restated the text this way:

“The time has come to…carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.”

Though subtle, there are major differences between these two citations that I think tell us some very important things about our new President, but also about the spirit of the age in which we live.

  1. In the Declaration the principles being affirmed are called self-evident truths. Notice that there is no mention of truth in the President’s restatement. Instead, we have a “noble idea.” Self-evident truth implies an objective reality that is clearly known by all. An “idea” exists in subjective reality. It is not self-evident and true in itself. Rather it must be “passed on from generation to generation” to be accepted or rejected as people see fit.
  2. In the Declaration we are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable Rights. In the rewrite there are no rights that are given by a higher power. Rather what is given is a “promise” that we already are equal, free etc. We need to really look hard at the differences between the two texts here because they show some very critical differences in world views.

    For one thing, notice that the idea of a Creator is removed from the rewrite. If we are created then this implies that we are inferior to and dependent upon the one who created us. It is much more comfortable for our modern independent mindset to reduce the Creator down to “God” who can remain as a distant and merely observing power.

    Look carefully also at the difference between a “right” and a “promise.” The Declaration says we have rights that are inherent in our creation. This is a statement of fact that does not depend on anyone’s opinion. What does it even mean to say that God would “promise” that “all are equal?” Notice the omission again of the notion of creation. Either people are inherently equal or they are not; either they have rites or they don’t. There is no such thing as a “promise” of truth.

  3. Finally, let’s compare the lists of rights/promises:

    Declaration – “All men are created equal” / Obama – “All are equal”
    Declaration – “Liberty” / Obama – “All are free”
    Declaration – “Pursuit of happiness” / Obama “…pursue their full measure of happiness”

    Let’s see…equality…liberty…pursuit of happiness…
    What’s missing?

    The right to LIFE!

Don’t think that the changes made in President Obama’s rewrite of the Declaration of Independence were done casually. Each change reflects a diliberate rejection of the world view espoused by the founders. Most especially, don’t think for one minute that the right to life was accidentally left off the list of “promises.”

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