In the United States we are guaranteed certain unalienable rights, which have been endowed by our Creator. That is what the Declaration of Independence says, and it is a belief that many have fought over, died over, and gave great sacrifices over. No doubt we all have rights, but just because they are our right does not make it always right to exercise them.
We have the rights to free speech; bear arms, vote, and many more. However, we have made the mistake of thinking because they are our rights; they are always right and proper to exercise. Now I am in no way saying that we need to somehow create laws to limit these freedoms.
Laws always muddy the waters, and never eliminate the problem. In fact, a friend of mine pointed out the absurd, yet true notion, that “if you have no laws, then you have no crime.”
This idea of rights is that they are there to use when we need to. However, we have interpreted rights as something we should practice despite their consequences. Just because you have the right to free speech does not mean there are not times when it may be best to keep your mouth closed. Just because you have the right to bear arms, does not mean there is never a time when you should lay down and surrender all your guns to humility and peace.
The Declaration of Independence was written to declare independence from an outside governing body. Unfortunately many of us approach the document thinking that it means we have complete individual independence to do what we want. As a result we see many exercising their “freedom” in complete disregard for others or consequences. We hear people say “it is my yard and therefore, it is my right to put up an electric fence even though you have 5 year old kids running around in the background. We see people drinking themselves to death because it is their body and frankly there is no law limiting alcohol consumption over the age of 21 (unless you are driving). We see people running their mouth with hateful words and inciting accusations because it is again their “right.” But just because it is a right does not make it right.
We need a better ethic, an ethic that is not simply based on following laws or rights. We need an ethic that is based on love. This was Jesus’ point when he pointed out the greatest commandment was
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these. – Mark 12:30, 31
We also see the importance of love in 1 Corinthians 13. If we exercise our rights, and do not infringe on others rights, but have not love, we have failed to keep the purpose of the laws. Love is how we define everything we do as good or bad. The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, Hammurabi’s laws, and Aristotle’s virtues are all meaningless because love of God and others defines where our heart stands.
Do not make the mistake because all you do is considered a right and you have no criminal record that you are righteousness. Sometimes the worst crime we can make is doing the right thing for the wrong reason. Follow not manmade laws our rights, instead follow the way of love which is found in Jesus Christ.
“Everything is permissible”-but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible” -but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others. – 1 Corinthians 10:23, 24