The Theology of God, Life, Choice, Sex = the Politics of Creator, Life, Liberty, Property …
John C. Rankin (2013)
The language of “life, liberty and property/pursuit of happiness” is best known from the pens of John Locke, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, finding enshrinement in the 1776 United States Declaration of Independence, the subsequent Massachusetts Declaration of Rights, and finally in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. And it has a whole history in western civilization tracing back to the Magna Carta in A.D. 1215.
These rights, these gifts of life, liberty and property are necessary assumptions for a healthy social order, rooted in the Creator under the rubric of “unalienable rights.” The language of unalienable rights is of course a double negative – that which cannot be alienated or taken away. It is articulated in the face of broken trust, but rooted in that which precedes such brokenness.
The positive substance of life, liberty, property and cognate pursuit of happiness starts in the biblical order of creation. In the Prologue we identified the four primary subjects of Genesis 1-2:
God, life,choice, sex.
God is sovereign, and his purpose in creation is to give the gift of life, especially human life – man and woman as made in his image to rule over his handiwork. Then follows the gift of moral and aesthetic choice, and which serves the prior gift of human life. Finally, in the order of creation, is the gift of sex within marriage. Here we find the power to pass on the gifts of life, choice and sex through procreation to our offspring, to celebrate the height of what it means to be made in God’s image. Unless we are first alive, we cannot be free; unless we are first alive and free, we cannot hold property and thus pursue holistic happiness.
A look at the subjects of Genesis 1-2, alongside the Declaration and U.S. Constitution, yields these parallels:
God = the Creator.
Life = Life.
Choice = Liberty.
Sex = Property/Pursuit of Happiness.
The first three parallels are obvious. But the fourth? A closer look at the language is helpful. Genesis 2:24 says: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” What is being described here is the man leaving his parent’s household to form a new household with his wife.
The Hebrew term for household or family is bayith, and in the LXX, the Greek term is oikonomos. As noted earlier, this literally means “the rule of the household,” from whence we derive the English word “economics.”
Across the history of human civilizations, when a man is faithful to his wife and the raising of their children, the strongest possible economic unit follows. The power to give versus the power to take is the nutshell reality. And it is the biblical assumption here. Namely, from within a healthy family unit, we draw the power of economic activity in creating, producing, selling, buying and trading property or goods.
This is based on the prior reality in Genesis 1-2, where Adam and Eve are stewards of the good earth, which is created for them. This defines the nature and purpose of owning property, namely, for that which strengthens the family and social order. Thus, the idea of happiness is rooted in social health, not in a self-centered individualism.
Locke uses the language of “property” in his Two Treatises of Government, but in the Declaration, for which Jefferson serves as scribe, he uses “happiness.” In the culture of the time, property rights and thus the power to pursue happiness, are deeply intertwined, and hence serve synonymously given the proper context.
Thus, the parallel with the subject matters of Genesis 1-2 is complete, but at a deeper level, what we witness here is the power of assumption in the Declaration itself. Namely, these realities are viewed as “self-evident” to the signatories, the majority of whom were orthodox Protestants, along with the one Roman Catholic and the various heterodox in their midst. Self-evident as rooted in the Creator.
Practical reality also teaches them that a people can only prosper when their lives, liberties and properties are protected by “due process of law” (the very language of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments). Namely, people are fully free in their personal matters, so long as they do not violate the lives, liberties and properties of others.
This is rooted in the akol tokel and moth tamuth of Genesis 2, namely the freedom to choose freedom or slavery, good or evil, life or death – but in so doing we are all accountable for the consequences of our own choices. We reap what we sow. Thus, if personal decisions about food, drink or sex involve breaking God-given boundaries, there are consequences in the person. Gluttony produces poor health, drunkenness produces loss of self-control and ill-health, and marriage outside the fidelity of one man and one woman produces social discord at every level, sexually transmitted diseases and etc. All excesses shorten longevity and the quality of what God ordains for us at the beginning.
So, matters of law in the social order do not tell us how to lead our personal lives, but by the same token, we cannot expect the common purse, tax dollars, to pay for our consequences (voluntary charity, strongest inside the family unit, is separate and vital). But the law does tell us that we cannot injure the lives, liberties or properties of others.