I have never been a big fan of horror movies. So I never bothered see The Silence of the Lambs (film). Nevertheless, because the film’s makers advertised and talked up their film, it became popular. So I heard a little about it.
I wondered about the title. I supposed Lector’s victims were lambs, and he silenced them. We are capable of that sort of thing, silencing the weak, the helpless, and those in the minority.
Imagine being a Jew in Nazi Germany, incarcerated in a Communist gulag, dying in Cambodia’s killing fields,…….. There is no end to the examples of persecution. Because many of the people who immigrated to America came here to escape persecution, they were familiar with persecution. At first they even persecuted those with beliefs that differed from theirs. However, many came here resolved not to do others what others had done to them. Thanks to such people, the colonists slowly established the notion that God gives us our rights, not a majority, not a government, not a king, and certainly not a tyrant.
What are our rights? In our day, the term has become almost meaningless. When demagogues run for office they promise us everything we might want, and they tell someone else will pay for it. They tell us we have a “right” to whatever we want, that we deserve it. Convenient, right? Of course, they are lying. We know they are lying, but what they offer is convenient, right? No, it is not right.
For some reason (God only knows why.) the Americans who lived about 240 years ago decided the demagogues were wrong. Perhaps that is because the king of England wanted to use their wealth to pay the bills for the promises he was making. Perhaps, they were also more discerning. Wherever the reason, in the Declaration of Independence they spoke of rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and they did not speak of rights to free housing, clothing, or food (or even to an education).
Even later, when they considered adopting The United States Constitution, the colonists did not demand something for nothing. Instead, they demanded something very strange for that day. They called it a Bill of Rights.
When we read the Bill of Rights carefully, we cannot avoid noticing a pattern. The ten amendments in the Bill of Rights have one thing in common. Each explicitly limits the power of the government, especially the power of the people who run it. What concerned the people who favored those amendments? Apparently, they wanted the right to live their lives as they saw fit, and they feared the government would take away that right.
That’s why we celebrate the formation of our nation on Independence Day. The Declaration of Independence says why the people who fought to create this country did what they did.
So what did those who lived in 1776 really think about our “rights?” There is an old quote that originated a hundred years later, before the welfare state and big government, that I think most aptly describes what they thought.
The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins.
That quote (above) is attributed to various people, but it seems to have its origin in a speech given by John B. Finch. Here is an excerpt.
This arm is my arm (and my wife’s), it is not yours. Up here I have a right to strike out with it as I please. I go over there with these gentlemen and swing my arm and exercise the natural right which you have granted; I hit one man on the nose, another under the ear, and as I go down the stairs on my head, I cry out:
“Is not this a free country?”
“Have not I a right to swing my arm?”
“Yes, but your right to swing your arm leaves off where my right not to have my nose struck begins.”
What was the point the man was trying to make? We can do what we want, but we don’t have a right to harm others.
What constitutes harm to others? When does government have the right to restrain us from harming others? That determination requires wisdom. Using the government to give us our “rights” and to brutalize others to get our “rights,” however, merely requires that in various ways we manifest seven deadly sins.
It is when we forget we are sinners, that we are all sinners, that we are tempted to abuse the rights of others. Because we are all sinners and too easily tempted, any of us may be tempted to harm another. We don’t need a government to force others to fulfill our needs or to conform to our values (and our prejudices, perhaps). We need government to protect us from each other, and that is we best we can hope that a government of the people, by the people and for the people might accomplish.