Religious Right leaders are excited that Rep. Paul Ryan, in accepting Mitt Romney's invitation to be his running mate, said that our rights come from nature and God, not from government.
I can be moved to tears by the ideals included in our founding documents. My wife and I sent an original printing of the Declaration of Independence on a 10-year road trip around the country to let Americans have the thrill of reading these words in our nation's birth certificate, and in their own home towns: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal and are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights...."
Now, am I crazy to suspect that his "God not government" usage is less an homage to Thomas Jefferson or John Locke than it is a rhetorical boost for the right-wing project to claim a divine mandate for the Tea Party's radically restricted view of the role of government?
This wasn't the first time that our new Republican candidate for vice president used that formulation; several weeks ago he cited nature and God as the rationale for repealing health care reform too, criticizing the law's supporters for believing that health care was a government-granted right.
Other politicians and Religious Right leaders use the notion that our rights come from God to justify their opposition to legal equality for those who they believe displease God, particularly LGBT Americans -- the way some once argued that it was God's will or the natural order for certain people to be enslaved, or for women to subordinate their legal rights to their husbands. Or the way some people believe that wealth and success are signs of divine blessing (or simply of natural superiority à la Ayn Rand) so that we as a society shouldn't be too worried about those born into positions of want and restricted opportunity.
Some even argue that the Constitution was meant to create a government of, by and for Christians. They are demonstrably wrong. The authors of the Constitution explicitly considered and rejected proposals to insert Christianity into the Constitution, and they chose not to. The framers chose the more radical path of separating church and state and creating a country in which one's religious beliefs or lack thereof were no bar to citizenship or public office. Of course, on this as on many other issues, the reality is that in life and in law, at the nation's founding our society was far from the ideal. We struggled for the progress we have made and that struggle continues. So let's do celebrate the legacies from our founders, and at the same time maintain a healthy skepticism toward those who use the rhetoric of nature and God to deny the government's role in promoting the general welfare or securing the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.