At the Democratic convention this week, a video was played containing a statement that reminded me of the slang, rhetorical question, “Who’s your daddy?” The statement was “the government is the only thing we all belong to.” On just how many levels could one statement be so wrong coming out of the mouth of an American?
Before I answer that, let me begin by saying that the fact the statement was made at a political convention is of no great significance to me in the sense that it may “help” one political party or “hurt” another political party, depending on your political persuasion. To me, this is not just a political statement, just one among many that politicians will use for and against each other. Rather, as an American, I find it to be the expression of a fundamentally wrong understanding of the foundation upon which America was built.
First, as American citizens we created the government we have, making “we the people” the creator and civil government the creation. For us to “belong” to the government is to exalt the creation over the creator. That’s flat out backwards. It is the potter who has power over the clay, not the clay that has power over the potter.
Second, and related to the first, the people have reserved to themselves the right and power to abolish or change the very form of government they have created. Fundamentally, it seems to me that if I have the power to abolish or destroy something, then that something — in this case the civil government — “belongs” to me, not the other way around.
But let’s give the benefit of the doubt. Maybe all that was meant by the statement was that those of us who are here legally are all citizens of the United States, and as such, we all live under the laws of the government we created. That statement would be correct as far as it goes.
But as I pondered what was said in the video and even this charitable interpretation of what was said, I couldn’t help but wonder what our Founding Fathers would have thought. Would such a statement be all of the truth?
James Madison, often referred to as the “Father of our Constitution,” acknowledged in his famed Memorial and Remonstrance that there is a “belonging” that even precedes our place as citizens:
Before any man can be considered as a member of Civil Society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governour of the Universe: And if a member of Civil Society … do it with a saving of his allegiance to the Universal Sovereign.
In other words, there is One to whom we “belong” and to whom we owe an allegiance that transcends even our status as citizens.
In my opinion, the loss of this understanding, which was held by our Founding Fathers, helps explain why politicians with views like those expressed in the video would also think that our “success” in business is owed to the strength and provision of civil government.
These views – we belong to the civil government and our success depends on the provision made by civil government – are cut from the same cloth. They flow from the same worldview and they share the same god.
You see, we, as a nation, will have a God. To that God we will belong, and to that God we will give our allegiance and our gratitude for success.
That God can be either be the civil government that provides for us or the God recognized by President Lincoln whose “gracious hand … preserved us in peace” and who blessed us with “the choicest bounties of Heaven.” It can be that Creator who gave us inalienable rights to be protected by civil government or that civil government who decides what rights we will have.
Which one will it be?