The concept of the rights of man is one that I don't believe people in our country really understand anymore. The concept itself is critical to the nature of our government and it's operation. But ignorance of this, ingrained by modern humanism, and fear of it, for sounding "Laodicean", are it's enemies from the left and from the right. Because of these things, the point which is the very foundation of our government is undone. As the psalmist said:
Psa 11:3 If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?
I will attempt to reflect that which I read by Thomas Paine on this topic. He certainly is not the only founder to have something to say on it, and arguably he is not the most authoritative. But it is a starting point and he makes a good case.
In the days of the founders they had a task that few have ever had before them: to create a government from the ground up. They could have copied a more well known form from Europe- noone would've blamed them. They could have set up the Kingdom of America and elected Washington their first monarch. They could have instituted a Greek-style pure democracy. But instead they reasoned from the very beginning of humanity: what is government? What is the purpose of government? Who is government for and what are the best means whereby it's goals may be attained?
They began their reasoning like an engineer would begin analyzing a complex system, by looking at it's original state. Paine, though not a believing Christian, quickly turns to the Biblical creation account, at least as a point of history. From this he clearly notes "the unity of equality of man". He quotes the Creator, "Let us make man in our own image. In the image of God created he him; male and female created he them." He notes, there is no distinction between men and that this "...shows that the equality of man, so far from being a modern doctrine, is the oldest upon record."
Our modern, Christian-fear to discuss rights are addressed when he says: "By considering man in this light, and by instructing him to consider himself in this light, it places him in close connection with all his duties, whether to his Creator or to the creation, of which he is part; and it is only when he forgets his orgin, or, to use a more fashionable phrase, his birth and family, that he becomes dissolute [indifferent to moral restraints]."
My impression of modern Bible believers is that they fear to discuss having any rights because they don't want to be associated with the church of Laodice. This is as much an overreaction as fearing to talk about the Holy Spirit because of foolishness done in the charismatic churches. Like any other concept, we shouldn't fear to address it and frame it in a proper context and hold it in a proper balance: we should only fear holding it in imbalance, or holding to falsehoods or ignorance altogether. Paine implicitly addresses this by equally discussing duty- and specifically duty towards our Creator- in the same context. Duty is what balances a discussion of rights, for the "rights" we have from our Creator are given to us that we may serve him and each other, and not ourselves.
On another note, his observation about people becoming less moral when they forget their "origins" is prophetic! This statement was writtin in the 1790's, seventy years before Darwin published On the Origin of Species.
This really just introduces the topic and sets it in a right context. Knowning the short attention span of certain persons, I will cover the rest of this discussion in my next post.