Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) rattled many liberal cages by talking about God during his presidential announcement at Liberty University.
Of course, we’re supposed to forget that Democrats, most definitely including Barack Obama, frequently drop God’s name in their own speeches. That’s not supposed to matter, because they know Obama doesn’t really mean it – he’s the guy who cheerfully sat in churches and lied through his teeth about his position on same-sex marriage in order to win an election.
However, no one who disagrees with Obama is supposed to notice that he doesn’t take religion seriously – that kind of rude talk gets you skinned alive by a pack of rabid news hounds. It’s all very confusing, childish, and tiring, and it comes as no surprise that so many Americans are weary of it. Obamanism is exhausting. (Spoiler for anyone who doesn’t remember the Nineties: Clintonism is even more tedious.)
What makes liberal invocations of the Almighty acceptable, while conservative invocations are supposed to produce horrified shrieks about “extremism” and “exclusion,” is that liberals use religion as altar dressing for the Church of the State.
When Obama talks about religion, he’s cherry-picking Scripture for divine authority to support collectivist power, equating Judeo-Christian ideals of charity with government force. Anything God might have said that countermands Obama’s ideology is to be ignored, of course. That signal from Heaven is a bit shaky, you know. Divine pronouncements on matters such as the right to life tend to get lost in the static on Obama’s spiritual radio.
Cruz, on the other hand, spoke of divinity as a limit on government power, an authority higher than the State.
That’s how the Founding Fathers saw things, too, but we’re not supposed to remember that, or think about why. When Cruz spoke of “the God-given liberty of every American,” and asserted “our rights don’t come from man – they come from God Almighty,” he spoke in the highest tradition of the American Revolution. Naturally, modern enthusiasts for imperial power and royal privilege recoiled in horror, just as their redcoat intellectual ancestors had. The one thing we all agree on is that two and a half centuries later, the concept of God-given rights is still revolutionary, and still intolerable to those who believe the power of government should be limited only by current political reality, rather than timeless principle.
A true liberal, in the classical sense of the term, should understand that the notion of God-given rights is the most inclusive, tolerant, fair idea the human race has ever had.
It’s a good idea for each new generation to unpack this idea, beginning with the understanding that it doesn’t rely on Christian faith, or any religious faith at all. Having said that, it’s no coincidence that the Judeo-Christian tradition and the long revolutionary process of British law were essential ingredients in America’s founding. The Magna Carta said that no one is above the law, while the American revolutionaries said that everyone is.
Those aren’t paradoxical notions – they describe the proper limits of power in a legitimate government. Magna Carta began a powerful idea, and centuries later, the American Constitution completed it. There are places law, politics, and power cannot reach, rights that cannot be stripped away by any ordained monarch or elected official. There are laws not even the strongest, most passionate majority may pass. Within the domain of law, it must apply to everyone equally.
We don’t do very well on any of those points in America today, having grown accustomed to an exponential growth of government power, combined with endless special exemptions for the Ruling Class and their special friends. The most powerful American aristocrats can hardly be said to recognize any legal authority at all, not even when the laws ostensibly binding them are simple, clearly spelled out, and duly enacted.
The Ruling Class would argue that strict obedience to the law would unacceptably dilute its power – for example, ObamaCare would be long dead if Barack Obama wasn’t able to rewrite the Affordable Care Act by fiat, on the fly. They’re correct in this belief. Universal law is inherently a check on power. A great deal of raw power flows from the ability to shape society, and reward allies, by granting special exemptions.
God-given rights are also a crucial check on power… and that’s what makes them inclusive, tolerant, and fair. If those rights are inherent in all men and women, conferred by an authority older and higher than any parliament of man, then they make us essentially equal. We don’t have to submit to value judgments from temporal leaders to keep those rights.
On the other hand, if our rights are all gifts from the State, granted or rescinded by whoever won the last election, then we are not absolutely equal. Your rights exist at the indulgence of others, who claim moral and intellectual superiority when they infringe upon those rights. You can hear such thinking every time totalitarians argue for suppressing speech they disagree with. Sadly, such totalitarians are a dime a dozen these days. Free people are constantly on the defensive, facing angry demands to justify every scrap of liberty and property that hasn’t been taken from them. “Fairness” has been twisted into the prosecution of people who have committed no crime… without evidence, trial, or hope of appeal.
Governments do not become just and righteous merely because some of the rulers must face election every few years. In fact, tyrants who believe their power sanctified by elections turn out to be far more ambitious than hereditary monarchs ever were, in part because there are so many of those little tyrants, and they network effectively.
Nothing could be more “fair” than universal recognition of essential rights, which cannot be erased at the discretion of others, no matter now many supporters they have. “Tolerance” doesn’t require approval – in fact, it’s meaningless to speak of “tolerating” what you embrace – so there has never been an idea more tolerant than the conception of rights that cannot be destroyed by anyone’s disapproval. Fairness and tolerance logically depend upon the existence of an authority higher than mere politics, which will always be a messy affair subject to error and corruption, even when practiced with the best of intentions. Look at the revolutionary rhetoric of civil rights leaders in the Sixties. They invoked God-given rights with gusto, and were correct to do so.
If we don’t acknowledge an authority higher than politics and bureaucracy, we’ll never have an inclusive, tolerant, fair nation, because those virtues will always be subject to the flawed and fickle judgment of imperfect men and women, who are always influenced by personal passions and ambitions, no matter how loud their claims to the contrary. It’s not necessary to give that higher authority a name, or believe in divine will.
The important thing is to recognize the limits of human political will. With all due respect to those who have invoked “God-given rights” across many American generations, the term is an oxymoron, because there are no “rights” other than those bestowed by divine authority. Everything else is a privilege or benefit, subject to revocation by people who only imagine themselves to be gods.