The expression "our God given rights" might seem innocuous since it's used almost as regularly as "God bless you" when somebody sneezes. But in truth it also reflects the current attitude in the Western world, more specifically in the US, towards the rights and freedoms enjoyed by their citizens: They are taken for granted. The expression implies that these rights have always been, like fruit in a tree, there for the taking.
My intention with this article is not to debate the existence or non-existence of God, but as any person that is or has been involved in a struggle for rights can tell you, these are hardly ever just given away to people and, even less so, by heavenly intervention.
Many of the most violent and heartbreaking episodes in our modern history revolve around the oppression of groups of people and their eventual uprising where through blood, fire and tears they finally force their oppressors to grant them the rights they have earned after years of work and servitude.
What would have happened if people through history had laid back and said: "Well, right now all I can expect from life is to live and die in utter misery while working for a rich lord, and my children and grandchildren will probably fare no better. However, I know at some point God will do something about it, so I won't worry." Not much in history would have been done. The World would be a very different place, and not in good way.
In fact, quite a few people, just in the history of the US, would respectfully disagree with the "God given right" notion. Starting with the founding fathers of this country, secular men who understood that Church and State should never mix, knowing that through history the Church has seldom taken the side of the poor and oppressed.
Would there have been a Declaration of Independence and a Revolutionary War if the colonists had felt that it was okay to continue submitting to the will of a distant king, because God would intervene when he saw fit?
Did God end slavery? Or did the lives of hundreds of thousands of soldiers and slaves and the tireless work of abolitionists have to do something with it?
If God was going to grant women the right to vote, it hardly seemed necessary then for Alice Paul, Lucy Burns and others to be arrested for protesting outside the White House then forced fed in prison when they went into a hunger strike.
The arrest of Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King's work and his assassination, the lives of the Freedom Riders and the deaths of the 4 little girls in Birmingham were all a huge waste of time then because it was already in God's schedule to grant civil rights to African-American citizens.
Watching the uprisings throughout the Middle East from the comfort of our living rooms, it's hard to think that their struggle has anything to do with us. True, people in Libya and Yemen are fighting for basic rights that we already possess, such as the right to vote for our government, but the only real difference is that their enemy is clear and life threatening, while contentment is our more subtle enemy. In the Middle East there is a sense of urgency that drives people to the streets to fight, while most of us, well fed and clothed, have seldom experienced that feeling. The truth is that unless something happens that threatens our individual livelihood, we don't feel compelled to react. Our social conscience has become increasingly atrophied from lack of exercise.
If "God giveth and God taketh away", are GOP legislators then working in God's name when they try to pass bill after bill that threatens the reproductive rights of women in the US and the welfare of children from low income families?
Should workers in Wisconsin have stayed home and not fight against legislation that seriously hinders their right to collective bargaining? If a working class American can't even bargain for basic benefits, but billionaire corporations get away with dodging taxes, does that mean God is against unionized workers, but is "BFF" of CEOs that make 344 times what their employees make? Is the increasing social and economic inequity in the US divine design?
Theodore Roosevelt said: "Behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people". A country never ceases to learn or grow. Part of that growth requires us as citizens to speak out and defend the hard earned rights that we enjoy today from that invisible government, whether you believe these were provided by God or by people who decided to not sit and wait for their rights to rain down from the sky.