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The declaration of dependence

June 30, 2008

by Fr. Michael J. Miller, Delano Catholic Community

In 1941, the future Archbishop Fulton Sheen wrote a book entitled “A Declaration of Dependence.” This clever title expresses a great truth that we, as a nation, should never forget.

As we celebrate Independence Day, and the freedom that we enjoy, we must not lose sight of the source of our freedom and what it really means.

We are plagued in our country by the idea that freedom means the right to do whatever we want, so long as it does not hurt anyone else – a condition which, itself, is frequently ignored.

Abortion hurts the one aborted, and others who do not consent; pornography hurts the young, women, men, marriages, and society as a whole. Countless things are said and done that are harmful to individuals, families, and the larger community in the name of “free speech.”

The false idea that freedom means independence from restriction is at the root of the problem. The Declaration of Independence, and later the Constitution of the United States, are often thought to be the source of the idea that the individual’s freedom is not dependent on others – including God. Therefore, any restriction of that freedom, be it by law or custom, is seen by some as an assault on our independence. But that was not what the founding fathers of our country had in mind at all.

This departure of understanding is not that recent. Archbishop Sheen wrote about it in 1941: “In these days when everyone talks of rights, and few of duties, it is important for us Americans to recall that the Declaration of Independence is also a declaration of dependence. The Declaration of Independence asserts a double dependence: dependence on God, and dependence on law as derived from God.

“Whence comes the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? Read the Declaration of Independence and there find the answer: ‘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.’

“Notice these words: The Creator has endowed men with rights and liberties; men got them from God! In other words, we are dependent on God, and that initial dependence is the foundation of our independence.” (A Declaration of Dependence, pp. 121-122).

For many years, there have been those who have worked to banish God from the public domain in the name of freedom. Archbishop Sheen warned, “The day we adopt in our democracy the already widespread ideas of some American jurists that right and justice depend on convention and the spirit of the times, we shall write the death warrant of our independence.” (p. 123).

Since God is the source of our freedom, He is the only one who can tell us how to use it. “The more one does what is good, the freer one becomes. There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just. The choice to disobey and do evil is an abuse of freedom and leads to ‘the slavery of sin’” (Catechism, 1733).

Our country’s greatness is founded on the truth that we are dependent on God for our existence and freedom, and that no man or government can take that away from us. Thousands have died to protect that truth.

Let us never forget that justice and liberty for all is only guaranteed by the truth that we are one nation under God.