Joseph Backholm is senior fellow for Biblical worldview and strategic engagement at the Family Research Council. This article appeared in WORLD Magazine on February 26, 2024.

Secularists resist the idea that our rights come from God

What was intended to be a takedown of Christian nationalism turned into an object lesson in the way secularism is making Americans ignorant of their own history.

During a broader conversation about the threats posed by Trump supporters, Politico reporter Heidi Przybyla appeared on MSNBC to define what a Christian nationalist is. She said, “The thing that unites them as Christian nationalists … is that they believe that our rights as Americans, as all human beings, don’t come from any earthly authority. They don’t come from Congress, they don’t come from the Supreme Court, they come from God.”

She delivered her comments in a way that suggested she was breaking news about a dangerous new idea that had only recently emerged from the shadows of right-wing extremism. But not even the fine folks on MSNBC, leftward though they may lean, could muster the outrage she seemed to be expecting.

Perhaps the words of the Declaration of Independence were running through their minds also. “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 them are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” Ms. Przybyla got the same response she would have received had she broken the news that Kroger was founded to sell groceries.

Even Joe Biden, not considered by many to be a Christian nationalist, shares the sentiments Ms. Przybyla warns us about. As senator, he said, “I believe all Americans are born with certain inalienable rights. As a child of God, I believe my rights are not derived from the Constitution, my rights are not derived from any government, my rights are not derived from any majority. My rights are because I exist. I have certain rights. They’re given to me and each of my fellow citizens by our Creator, and they represent the essence of human dignity.”

Ms. Przybyla’s inability to make the connection between the idea that rights come from God and the Declaration of Independence can only be described as ignorance. So how can someone who holds herself out as a thought leader be that ignorant? The answer is secularism. Secularists don’t simply argue that secularism is a preferred basis for law and civil society, they also claim religion is a source of evil rather than good. History is a massive problem for this argument.

Knowledge of America’s founding unavoidably leads to awareness of the religious—albeit imperfect—nature of America’s founding.

While religious organizations have produced plenty of harm, the theist assertions enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and embraced by everyone from Thomas Jefferson to Joe Biden have also produced the greatest respect for human dignity, most freedom, and highest standard of living humanity has ever seen. If your goal is secularism at all costs, acknowledging the unrivaled success of civilizations build on religious ideas is highly problematic.

So, instead of giving honor where honor is due, they choose ignorance. We can be confident that, if the Declaration of Independence declared that our country was founded on ideas of equity, feminism, and DEI, it would be hanging on the wall of every classroom in America and recited by non-binary four-year-olds. But it doesn’t, so they hang Pride flags. Otherwise intelligent people don’t recognize the Declaration of Independence when it’s being recited to them.

This is more than just embarrassing for our nation, it’s suicidal. The historical norm for human rights is represented by Rome, where women and poor people had no rights. Christianity punctured the worldview of “might makes right” and introduced the idea that every person has value because we are created in the image of God. Frustratingly slow though the progress may be, the world is undeniably better because of it.

In significant ways, America stands atop that mountain because it asserted in ways never done before that the job of government was not to protect itself but to protect the rights God gave to individuals. The result has been the freest, most prosperous, most benevolent civilization to ever exist.

But if you’re a secularist, this story must not be told. Knowledge of America’s founding unavoidably leads to awareness of the religious—albeit imperfect—nature of America’s founding. The risk for secularism is that this knowledge might also lead to an appreciation of the ideas that created the most prosperous nation in the history of humanity. So, to avoid this risk, they choose ignorance and that ignorance has now been revealed to all.