What Do Those Words Mean?

Given the overheated rhetoric coming from all sides in our current iteration of culture war, it’s tempting to dismiss the introductory paragraphs of a recent column originally published by Open Democracy as more of the same:

Any schoolchild in the United States knows that the US Declaration of Independence guarantees individuals’ rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Now, imagine what these principles mean for right-wingers and religious fundamentalists: where “life” refers to fetuses; “liberty” includes the prerogative to discriminate against LGBTIQ people; and “the pursuit of happiness” is reserved for straight, white patriarchs.

Dismissal, however, would be a mistake.

The concerns addressed by the column were triggered by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s announcement of a new government body: The Commission on Unalienable Rights.

According to its statement of intent, the Commission is needed as human rights “discourse has departed from our nation’s founding principles of natural law and natural rights”.

 In case you’re wondering how to distinguish “natural” rights, they’re the ones bestowed by God (at least according to Pompeo’s commissioners). One of them, Peter Berkowitz, argues that Christianity is the source of all human rights. Another, Shaykh Hamza Yusuf Hanson, sees marriage equality for LGBTIQ people as a sign of the “End Times”

Pompeo has raised eyebrows at the State Department and among America’s (increasingly concerned) allies by his efforts to conjoin America’s foreign policy and his religious fundamentalism.

An article in The New York Times noted Pompeo’s willingness to connect foreign policy to his religious beliefs.

No secretary of state in recent decades has been as open and fervent as Mr. Pompeo about discussing Christianityand foreign policy in the same breath. That has increasingly raised questions about the extent to which evangelical beliefs are influencing American diplomacy.

The Times listed Pompeo initiatives prompted by his religious beliefs, including the move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, and the expansion of Trump Administration anti-abortion policies–effected by terminating financial support for international organizations that support reproductive rights.

In speeches, Pompeo has expressed his belief that mankind is in a “never-ending struggle until the Rapture.” He told a reporter for The New York Times Magazine that the Bible informs everything he does.

His interpretation of Biblical mandates, needless to say, is not universally held even among Christians. But the fact that other people hold beliefs that differ from his hasn’t dissuaded him from his obvious belief that his is the Truth that must be imposed on everyone else.

As Open Democracy reports,

In an op-ed published by the Wall Street Journal, the Secretary of State attacks “politicians and bureaucrats [who have created] new rights”, and thus “blur the distinction between unalienable rights and ad hoc rights granted by governments”. He also asserts that “rights claims are often aimed more at rewarding interest groups and dividing humanity into subgroups”.

Women, non-Christians and gay people are thus categorized as “interest groups.”

The new commission’s initial assault is against abortion and the rights of LGBTQ people, but as the article points out, that’s only the opening salvo.

Unless you are part of the narrow demographic of rich, white men deemed to have rights in 1776, they’re coming for you too. In fact, their ideology threatens the vast majority of people – which is one reason it must be justified as “natural” and God-given.

I can think of few things more terrifying than people in positions of power who are convinced that their God has told them how He (and believe me, for these “Christians” God is always a “He”) wants them to interpret “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.”

This Administration cannot leave soon enough.


  1. Unalienable rights can, of course, always be taken from individuals by their governments.

  2. “According to its statement of intent, the Commission is needed as human rights “discourse has departed from our nation’s founding principles of natural law and natural rights”.

    Can’t Pompeo’s “Commission on Unalienable Rights” be applied to the Israeli/Palestinian conditions into which Trump has inserted himself and our tax dollars due to his family holdings? What do those words mean in other countries where this country is an active part of their governments and their military? What will Trump’s tariff war bring about in China with Hong Kong protesting by the thousands FOR democracy (life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness) and carrying American Flags? When one person’s or government’s version of democracy reduces another person’s or government’s version; ALL democracy is lost for ALL.

    What does that one word, democracy, mean in the United States of America today with religion deeply embedded in the current administration with a person of no religious affiliation leading the country?

    In the Declaration of Independence which “guarantees” those “unalienable rights”, there is a following declaration: “But when a long Train of Abuses and Usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a Design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their Right, it is their Duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their further Security.” “absolute Despotism” is the key phrase here as it describes the entire Trump administration. Trump’s words keep us continually off balance; his mental imbalance leads him and his supporters forward and leads us astray. His words regarding his actions against DACA on September 6, 2017, “There are no mixed signals in contradictory statements.” is upheld by his supporters who are probably still trying to figure out what he is saying. Trump’s Republicans, guided by the NRA, are upholding only half of the 2nd Amendment, “…the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” resulting in mass shootings and deaths of hundreds of innocent Americans. “What Do Those Words Mean?”

    Best explained long ago by W. C. Fields; “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.”

    Vote in the 2019 November elections!!!

  3. Pompeo, pence and their evangelical ilk give no consideration to the fact that the people they discriminate against are being forced to pay taxes just like everyone else. They twist and bastardize the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to suit their religious beliefs and expect their victims to obey the laws that they themselves refuse to obey.

    They demand the right to force their evangelical fundamentalist beliefs onto the rest of the citizens of this country without regard for the true meaning for inalienable rights contained in the Declaration of Independence.

    Wasn’t the First Amendment created due to the Puritans in those times trying to force everyone else to follow their religious beliefs and wanting their beliefs to be part of this country’s laws? Please correct me if I am wrong about this.

  4. For Len: (spillover from a late comment from Friday) There was nothing intended to be cute about the correct spelling of James Carville’s last name. I have heard him on TV explaining the connection between his name and that of the town of Carville, Louisiana. The town indeed has/had a hospital for people with leprosy. Nothing cute about that ancient disfiguring and deadly disease either. Genealogy could take the Carville name back to Canada and still further back to France.

  5. As theocracies form, extremism lurks not far behind; as extremism eventually takes over other religions have no choice but to become more extreme to even the competition.

    Anyone paying attention to the history of our times sees that being played out now. As we pursued military oil adventures in the Middle East Islamic extremism grew and flourished and we eventually responded with TrumpPencePompeo. Clearly that could foretell our War of the Gods like the Crusades of the previous Dark Ages.

    Though the Bible is properly considered a history of the Middle East culture of two thousand years ago apparently people who read it don’t often read other history books as well.

    As foretold by numerous real news sources in 2016 things aren’t going well for the worlds of any of the gods.

    We have next year in which to decide between Armageddon and adaptation of our population to our population numbers and technology.

  6. “What Do Those Words Mean?” What do Trump’s latest words mean regarding Russia’s return to G8? What if others in G7 decide they would function much better as G6 rather than a dangerous return to G8? Our words have consequences; Trump’s consequences effect this nation and the world at large and all of us would be better off without his words…verbal or Tweeted.

  7. If only we could have a conversation with God today and get its opinion of our current affairs, especially how we’ve treated our planet. What would God say?

    “The Commission on Unalienable Rights” sounds surprisingly Fascist to me. Keep those people in order…or keep the Lower Class in order. Too many are getting the idea that a major screwing is taking place, so they need more talk about Jesus and God. LMAO

  8. O.K. What’s next? The sacrifices of virgins on top of the Jefferson Memorial? Anytime a democracy starts invoking God or some version of some religion as its basis, the game is lost. Pompeo, curiously, graduated first in his Annapolis-based Naval Academy. Even though he is from Kansas, how could someone so (presumably) intelligent fall for this divisive bullshit?

    Oh. Right. He’s gotta please the boss by keeping the mindless minions in line. I forgot.

  9. “You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”

    “Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor.”
    Quotes by Anne Lamott

  10. The question is, does it matter if TrumpPencePompeo are motivated by religion or fascism if the end result is the same?

  11. Alas, the Declaration of Independence does not guarantee anything. It is not law.

    But spot on analysis of these dangerous ideologues.

  12. Thank you Sheila, very much. Mike Pompeo was a poor choice as SECSTATE from the get-go anyway due to his temperament and over-the-top ambition. This adds still another example to ponder as to his unsuitability for that hugely important office. The Founders were adamant about the separation of church and state in this country and this is likely still another one. American foreign policy formulation has to be based on hard facts and analysis and while there has always been an element of wishful thinking in it having pre-conceived religious notions as part of that formulation is unacceptable and I key this as a Christian myself.

    Quadruple duh!!!!!

  13. Bob; you are correct in that The Declaration of Independence, as attested to and signed by the Representatives of the United States of America in General Congress assembled, on July 4, 1776, is indeed not law. The current Democratic Representatives need to find a copy of the Declaration and read the list of “repeated Injuries and Usurpations” by the then King of Great Britain. It contains the full list of “Injuries and Usurpations” we have suffered under Trump for more than 2 1/2 years. It would be the basis for impeachment they cannot seem to find…that list plus a few Republicans with morals and who lack cowardice keeping them silent, would move things along quickly. Never thought I would be saying this but; almost any other Republican would be a viable replacement for Trump.

  14. Betty; read a copy of the Declaration of Independence…the term used in it is “UNALIENABLE”. Just sayin’

    You frequently find it necessary to edit and correct our typos, grammar, punctuation and spelling; it is your turn to correct your incorrect correction. Again, just sayin’

  15. Show me a person who speaks with god and I will show you a visitor from La La Land. What’s fundamentally wrong with religion is that it encourages and condones unmoored people to act in accordance with their delusions. That usually includes the right to tell the rest of us how to think and live our lives. Pompeo is a man with unquestionable academic credentials, yet he speaks like an idiot child who can’t distinguish between reality and the gobbledygook he’s been spoon fed. Only religion and diseases of the brain have this power to overcome an otherwise functioning mind. By exploiting the infantilism of his boss, he uses the world’s loudest microphone to explain to the rest of us how we are unworthy of the brilliance he deigns to share. He is more dangerous than the airheads waiting for the spaceship to deliver them to the promise land. He has the advantage of working directly for his savior, a man even more unbalanced than he. He’s a disgrace to book learning.

    People with strong values and morals don’t need shamans to tell them what is right and what is wrong. The shaman’s chief skills are picking your pocket and abusing your children. In the end, that’s all the church – any church – has ever produced. The sooner we leave such nonsense in history’s rear view mirror, the better our chances of crippling the authority of crazy people who converse with the creator of the universe and who are thus superior to those of us who know it’s all bull shit.

  16. So many and so little time. . .but I digress. Civility reigns supreme here.

    Inalienable vs. unalienable
    “English has changed since the founders of the United States used ‘unalienable’ in the signed final draft of their 1776 Declaration of Independence (some earlier drafts and later copies have ‘inalienable’). ‘Inalienable’, which means exactly the same thing–both mean incapable of being transferred to another or others–is now the preferred form. ‘Unalienable’ mainly appears in quotes of or references to the Declaration. Inalienable prevails everywhere else.” Source: Grammarist

    It’s a draw and both are winners. Most importantly, civility carries the day. Done here! Jus’ sayin’.

  17. ‘Women, non-Christians and gay people are thus categorized as “interest groups.”’

    It never fails to amaze me that among the endless categories of “interest groups”, there’s one that’s conspicuous by its absence: “white heterosexual men”. I guess they don’t have any interests?

  18. Good post, Shiela. A thought provoking piece for the Sabboth. Then read all the responses … Holy Mackeral!

  19. The Declaration of Independence, while an important document, is neither law nor a constitution.

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