|Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776|
I have in front of me a copy of the American Declaration of Independence of July 4, 1776. Firstly, I have to say I think it is one of the most significant documents in the English language, laying down as it does a fundamental framework for the basic principles of democracy, government and civil liberties; a magnificent product of the Age of Reason and of thinkers such as Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, etc, etc.
It is remarkable also in another respect: it is probably the first, and maybe the only time, a revolutionary committee (and provisional government in waiting) has not only not immediately sought to establish itself in power in perpetuity, but specifically made it constitutionally impossible for it to do so. Having taken power in the name of the people, they immediately handed power to them, including the power to remove them from office if the need arose. This is a testament to their sincerity, their honourable intentions and to their good faith with the people they served. It rightly still serves as a model for democratic government of the people, by the people and for the people.
However, my problem lies not with the Declaration but with claims that are made about it today. It is claimed by some to be based on Christian principles; a claim which is used to justify the assertion that the United States is a Christian country, founded on Christian principles.
My problem is that I just don't see the Christian principles in this remarkable document and can find no biblical justification for that assertion. I'll go though the relevant statements of principle one by one:
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
This looks very much like Deism, a belief subscribed to by many of the signatories to this document, but again I'm open to persuasion. Where in the Christian Bible is there a reference to 'Laws of Nature and of Nature's God' and their determination of an entitlement to 'separate and equal station' for different peoples?
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.
These look remarkably like Humanist principles to me but I'm willing to be persuaded otherwise. Where in the Christian Bible is this egalitarian principle established and where is this entitlement to 'Life, Liberty and pursuit of Happiness' spelled out? Nowhere in the Bible is there even a hint that 'all men are created equal'.
— That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,
This clause establishes the purpose of Governments and the principle that their power is derived from the consent of the governed. From which passages in the Christian Bible is this purpose of Governments and principle of democratic accountability and permission to govern derived? There is no allusion to democracy or elections in the Bible and without exception, all Judaic governments in it were absolute monarchies or despotisms.
— That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
This passage establishes the right (the duty even) of the people to overthrow a Government which is destroying the basic rights established above and especially if the Government is becoming despotic.
Which passages in the Christian Bible establish the right of the people to overthrow their government if it damages their rights and/or is becoming despotic? Which biblical prophets and teachers ever urged the people to overthrow a despotic government and replace it with a democratically accountable one? Indeed, which democratic states are approvingly referred to in the Bible and which despotisms are ever condemned for despotism per se? In fact, it appears to be in direct opposition to the directive from Paul in Romans 13:1-7 that all governments are ordained by God and Christians should therefore always obey and support them.
There then follows a list of grievances and outlines the measures taken to have them redressed, without success, so establishing the justification for the revolution as a last resort in the face of an indifferent colonial administration. I won't list these but a list may be found here. If there are any Christian principles as established by the Bible in this list, please spell them out and cite the relevant biblical passages.
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.
This passage is the actual declaration of independence and of the formation of a provisional government with authority to make war and peace, to make treaties and carry out trade and 'to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do'. I can see no basic principles being established in this paragraph, but if you can see any Christian principles and can show the supporting passages from the Christian Bible, please do so.
So, if the United States of America was founded on Christian principles, it should be possible to find those principles in the Christian Bible and to show how they formed the basis for this founding document - the document upon which the entire constitution and form of the United States is founded.
Conversely, if the Declaration of Independence was not based on Christian principles derived from the Christian Bible, what basis is there for claiming the USA was founded on Christian principles?