As I write this my neighborhood is awash in the sights and sounds of fireworks as Americans here and across the nation celebrate the anniversary of our independence and, by extension, the principles enshrined in the Declaration of Independence.
This is as it should be, of course, and yet there are two propositions in the Declaration that modern, secular Americans are implicitly celebrating but whose celebration makes no sense, at least not for them.
The first is the claim that all men are created equal and the second is the claim that all men are endowed with the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
I say that these make no sense in a secularized, post-Christian nation because both of them are nonsense unless, as Thomas Jefferson insisted, we really have been created by a Creator. The only reason I can think of that would explain why so many who've abandoned the notion of a Creator nevertheless still cherish these ideas is that few people are willing, thoughtful, or consistent enough to follow their secularism to its logical endpoint.
Suppose we accept the prevailing view among our cultural elite that we're not intentionally created beings but rather the product of purely material forces acting randomly and blindly over long periods of time. Upon what, then, would we base a belief in the equality of all men or a belief in human rights?
Why should we think that all men are equal? The only sense in which people could be equal is in the eyes of God. If we're simply a product of chance and the laws of chemistry the idea that we are somehow equal, even under the law, is risible.
Moreover, where does the notion of inherent human rights come from? Why should we think that a human being has any rights at all other than what the state arbitrarily deigns to give him? Where do inherent rights come from? Why is any government, or indeed, anyone who has power, obligated to respect them?
Once the Creator has been banished to the nether regions of historical fantasy people will eventually come to believe that equality, dignity, and rights are all just as mythical and superstitious as the God in which they were grounded.
In other words, the belief in human equality, human dignity, and human rights cannot be supported and sustained by any worldview other than one that sees man as the purposeful creation of a personal God who deliberately endows us with those rights.
We can choose to abandon this God if we wish, as much of the West seems happy to do, but we do so at great peril. Let's not pretend that the choice to push God out of our public life will be free of consequences. Ask anyone who lived under communism or nazism in the 20th century what happens to equality and rights when a state seeks to live consistently with its atheism.
Such states always promise to replace the heaven in the hereafter with a heaven on earth. What they deliver, however, is almost always much more like hell.