Dallas and Wichita: This Is The Post You Are Looking For

This was not the blog post I was going to write today, but Steven Barnes asked me to write something up about what I saw and experienced, so here it goes.

I don’t often say that I am proud to live and work in Wichita, Kansas. I grew up here, and have lived most of my adult life here, as well. It isn’t and never will be a tourist destination. But yesterday, I was proud of my city.

Black Lives Matter, in the form of a local group called IGYB (I Got Your Back) had planned to hold a protest here on Sunday. Rather than oppose it or warn people, our new Chief of Police, Gordon Ramsay (really!) spoke with IGYB and decided to hold a public cookout for any and all who wanted to come and play and talk and eat together. I have to credit my wife for our participation: I would never have seen that the event existed without her.

At first, when Mr. Barnes asked me to write this essay, I was unsure of what I was going to say. I wasn’t able to really join in the discussion or listen to the speakers. By the time people were speaking, my children, who are seven, five, and three, were up past their bedtime and were starting to melt down. I would have done nothing by staying except frustrate them (and doubtless the people around us). Nothing earth-shattering happened, either in general or to me and my family. I didn’t make a new friend, sadly. I’m not the kind of person that easily begins conversations with people I don’t know. And I didn’t say or hear anything life-changing. I didn’t have a conversation that opened my or anyone else’s eyes.

But as the conversation on Steven’s Facebook page grew, I could see how much people wanted to know about this event, and how very, very basic the questions were. So this is what I saw:

I saw my White and my Black neighbors there. I’d say that the races were pretty evenly present. Maybe about 45/45 Black/White and 10% Other.

I saw dozens, if not scores of Wichita Police officers (and Kansas Highway Patrolmen, and Firemen and EMTs) mixing in with the community, smiling, and glad to be there. I saw them speaking with people with Black Lives Matter shirts on. I saw both groups speaking with men who looked like bikers. Everyone was greeting one another. No one looked afraid.

I listened to a young Black singer while we ate. He had a good voice. I regret I got caught up in my children and didn’t find out his name.

I had a brief discussion with an officer who seemed optimistic about the way the city was headed, and he’d been on the force since 1988, when I was entering high school.

I saw my children jumping through bounce-houses with my Black neighbors’ children, with huge smiles on their faces.

I watched my children enthralled by a couple of eight-week old puppies that were being carried by a pair of Black men who were a little older than I am. They let the puppies down on the ground to play with my enthralled kids. I thanked them for their time.

As we left, I heard a speaker. I don’t know who he was and I don’t know exactly what he was saying, but he was saying it to a crowd of all ages and races, several hundred strong, who were giving him their undivided attention. And he called on them to become more active in their community, and to be involved in the political process. He had faith in our democracy, and our people, that we would be able to come together and to do what is right.

And this morning I saw photos posted by a young Jewish officer holding Black children and dancing with them. Ten years ago, that young man was sitting in my history classroom. And I was proud of him, and grateful to have had the privilege of seeing him grow into his dream of serving our community, and doing it well.

And today I am remembering Dallas, and how easily Wichita and Dallas might have changed places. Because right before the terrible act of violence that seared Dallas across our minds, they, like we, had come together — White, Black, Police, and Civilian — to talk to each other, confident that they could make peace.

Today, because of the leadership of our police chief and our Black community leaders, I have new faith that we here in America can make peace with one another. No people on God’s Earth ever had a better chance.  Things are really and truly getting better in our nation, despite the terrible things that some choose to do. I am a history teacher, and I can tell you that this is not usually the way that things go. When a nation has a history of conquest and enslavement, it’s much more common to see increased separation leading to violence, oppression and revenge. And all those things are still with us, yes. But the pain that we are now going through is in may ways because our expectations of ourselves and of others are rising. I can tell you from living in them that many other countries do not go through this pain — but it is not because they are less oppressive than we. It is because prejudice and concepts of race superiority are so entrenched that they are not even questioned.

I know there are those who will think that I only say such things as a justification for maintaining a status quo. I do not. I say it because I see the good that began in Dallas swallowed up and lost in the horror of its ending. And I know that while Mr. Barnes had no need to ask me or anyone else about the terror in Dallas, he needed me to show him the good in Wichita. If we do not believe that good is possible, then how will we ever invest our fortunes in it, much less pledge our lives and our sacred honors?

The last thing I said at the cookout was to exchange greetings with a Black family that I don’t know. I think it was probably a father, his children, and his mother. We said hello, and the older woman said, “God bless you.” Yes, ma’am. May His blessing be upon us all. And I hope to see you again, at another cookout. There’s talk there may be more of them. I do hope so. If we can, we’ll be there.

 

Space Trek: Into Derpness (A Fisking)

I actually had something profound to say this week, but what with a number of things, I was not able to get my thoughts into any coherent order by my self-imposed and oft-violated deadline of Blog Wednesday. Then, suddenly, a golden opportunity for a fisking was bestowed upon me. I’ve never done one of these before, so I thought I’d start with an easy one: A Guardian post that is either clever parody or mind-bogglingly stupid. I’ll let you take your pick. Rules for the fisking: The fisked article is in italics, and my responses are in bold.

What if the mega-rich just want rocket ships to escape the Earth they destroy?

Jess Zimmerman 

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is the latest tech billionaire to invest his money in spaceships: on Tuesday, he debuted his space travel company Blue Origin’s newest rocket. Now, those who want to cruise the galaxy can choose between the sleek new rocket and the stubbier model Bezos announced in April – or they can opt to ride with Tesla founder Elon Musk on a SpaceX ship, or hop on Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic.

Well, yes, if by “cruise the galaxy” you mean “achieve Low Earth Orbit,” and in the case of Virgin Galactic, fail to do even that. This is not a promising beginning for any article that wishes to be taken seriously about the possibility of people destroying planets, if you can’t tell the difference between orbital craft, sub-orbital craft, and galactic cruisers.

At this rate, would-be space travelers will be able to choose their favorite tech company, find its richest guy and buy a ticket on his craft of choice. Why does everyone who achieves economic dominance over the planet immediately turn around and try to get off it?

Everyone? Three companies is “everyone?” This whole quantitative reasoning thing is a challenge for you, isn’t it? A better question would be, “What’s got you so obsessed with people who are reinvesting money into companies that are advancing our engineering knowledge and employing clever people?” Somehow, I’m guessing (re: The Ominous Title) we’re going to find out that this isn’t okay with you for various reasons.

The “boys and their toys” explanation is the obvious one – once you’ve bought all the cars and boats and planes you want, why not buy a rocket? (We don’t have a “girls and their toys” ethos yet because the cards are stacked against women getting to this level of obscene wealth, but I suspect a lot of us would want to buy rocketships, too.)

What? GIRLS wanting to buy rockets? I’m shocked. I thought that womyn were far too responsible and caring to want to go to space with “boys and their toys” since that’s how you dismiss the whole enterprise (no pun intended). But, I’ll give credit for some honesty. I really like women who think rockets are awesome.

Space is inherently cool, and even if it weren’t, space is inherently other – which matters a lot to the man who has everything terrestrial. By the same token, someone who already has a watch that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars can buy a watch that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars but comes from space.

Okay, I have to agree with you on that one: those watches are damned stupid. On the other hand you just compared someone who is spending millions of dollars to develop the capability to launch spacecraft with someone spending several hundred thousand to own a toy. Is it possible that these men are more interested in capability than they are with ownership? Or is it possible that you really don’t understand the difference between the two? (HINT: That says a lot more about you than it does them).

Of course, uber-wealthy tech entrepreneurs aren’t just buying rockets for their personal amusement. They’re founding or investing in space travel – they want to get you off-planet, too. Well, not you-you, but someone like you with much, much, much more money.

Well, um yes. The development of new vehicles has always, ALWAYS been for the rich to do. What’s that? You don’t believe me? Okay, you are free to prove me wrong. Go out into the wilderness — any wilderness you choose — and make me a vehicle used by poor people today. Like a passenger train. No? A city bus, then. Still no? Well how about a bicycle. Can’t be hard, peasants in developing nations use them. No? Okay, how about a dugout canoe. People in STONE AGE tribes use them.
(pause)
Well, of course you’ll need an axe. Get to making one.
(pause)
You would need metal for that. Or stone, it’s all over the place.
(pause)
I know you don’t know how. That’s the point.
No vehicle to carry humans has ever been developed cheaply, unless it was already being done by an advanced society and the vehicle was a variant on an existing design. You have to pay for the R&D, the failures, and the sucky prototypes, and all that costs money, so it gets done by the relatively rich, i.e. the people well-fed enough and with enough disposable time and energy to make tools, break tools, make more tools, and go on living.

And that’s where the vogue for billionaire space travel magnates gets a little weird –and maybe even sinister. It’s already very true that money expands your world; the person with the funds to have a car is less restricted in her movements than the person without one, and the person with a huge plane and the money to fly it is less restricted still.

Yes. Money is good. It expands your range of choices. Not sure why that’s sinister, unless you believe that richness is de facto suspect, which of course, you do.

The expansion of rich people’s travel horizons comes at a price for everyone, both rich and poor. With the exception of America’s weirdly-expensive Amtrak system, cost and luxury scale with fossil fuel consumption; travel that costs more and feels more indulgent is also travel that has a cataclysmic effect on the environment. The faster and further you can afford to travel, the greater your environmental footprint. And often, the people less able to travel are the ones left holding the toxic-chemical and pollution-filled bag.

Yes. The expansion of rich people’s travel horizons comes at a price for everyone, both rich and poor. AND IT BENEFITS EVERYONE, BOTH RICH AND POOR! I’m sorry, but there’s no way to get around this. Governments concerned with helping the poor didn’t invent trains. They didn’t invent buses. They didn’t invent cars. They did make those trains and buses run badly and they did make the cars unaffordable, but all of those things were invented and owned by rich, rich people, who wanted to make more money and found that transporting the poor (and their goods) did that quite efficiently. The poor generally liked this, and got cheaper and cheaper transportation.
And excuse me, but “cost and luxury scale with fossil fuel consumption?” I know you’re talking about leaving the planet, but have you ALREADY LEFT? How much fossil fuel do luxury yachts burn? Or are you talking about cheap, non-fossil fuel nuclear submarines? Or aircraft carriers? Oh, you don’t think those are fair comparisons? How about this: I didn’t buy a hybrid last time I went car shopping, because I calculated that gas would have to stay a steady $5.00/gallon for it to be worth the extra up-front costs.
The only reason that argument holds together long enough to be even vaguely deceptive is because people like you have made sure it stays that way by denying us the possibility of building cheap nuclear plants because too many people saw Godzilla and THEM! in the theaters in the fifties and got scared of THE RADIATIONS!
Still, it’s good there are socially conscious people like you who walk and bike everywhere you go.
I mean, I assume you don’t own a car, because that would make you, comparatively, a rich person leaving toxic-chemical and pollution-filled bags in the hands of the approximately 88% of the poor you seem so concerned with. And that link is to a leftist source, so I’m sure it’s reliable enough for you.
And I’m sure you’re not that kind of hypocrite.

Companies like Blue Origin are using money and resources to push outwards, to expand the worlds of their rich customers all the way into space.

Their money and their resources, yes, but all property is theft except mine, right?

But those same customers – and some of the owners – are making their terrestrial money in the classic capitalist terrestrial way: by working around any obstacle to profit, including environmental regulations and conservation efforts. Almost all industry is environmentally disastrous, after all; truly prioritizing earth-friendliness would destroy most companies.

Oh, I see! It’s INDUSTRY that’s the problem, because it’s all “environmentally disastrous.” Hey, you know what’s MORE environmentally disastrous? Trying to feed seven billion people without industry. We’d have to feed the world on organics then, baby, because no evil industrialists would be there to make the Bad Chemicals that kill insects and weeds. But of course, I’m missing your point. Your point is we shouldn’t have seven billion people at all! We should go back to when the human race WASN’T overpopulating the planet! Of course, we didn’t have birth control then, because there wasn’t any industry to create cheap, reliable condoms or hormonal birth control.
Oh, wait: we DID have reliable population controls.
They were called “infant mortality” and “death in childbirth.”

Some people with a great deal of money care more about the fate of the world than others, but they’re all willing to cut corners if it affects the bottom line. You can tell because they have a great deal of money; you can also tell because they’re willing to spend it on a ride in a spaceship.

Yeah, those colossally selfish jerks. It’s almost as bad as those selfish bastards driving their cars. Or spending their precious working hours using computers instead of growing food for the poor.

Which raises the question: are they just gearing up to wash their hands of the planet and leave the rest of us to clean up? By pushing outward while ignoring the problems it causes back on the home turf, are they effectively creating a galactic upper class that rests on the backs of the earthbound? Even if that’s not literally the plan, it may be the ultimate outcome.

Wow. You really just shoved the whole premise of your article into the last paragraph as an airy supposition, didn’t you? Did you get that idea off watching Elysium? Where would these rich people go? Do you expect them to build giant space habitats and leave us all here to rot (despite the fact that life in space is bad for you and uncomfortable on a number of levels that we haven’t begun to solve). Or do you expect them to go to Mars? (HINT: It’s NOT HABITABLE. “The Martian” is NOT A DOCUMENTARY.)
What kind of person leaps ahead to those kinds of implausible, and hence unproven (hell, except for her, unalleged!) generalities? This is like watching a spoiled rich girl addicted to soap operas who runs to her mother when she finds an ENVELOPE in DAD’S POCKET with a WOMAN’S HANDWRITING… which turns out to be a birthday card from his mother.

Oh, wait, I know what kind of person does that.
It’s the kind of person who confuses three with everyone and uses “galactic” to describe things in near-Earth orbit.

From Somewhere In Orbit The Galaxy

A Christian Case For The Legality Of Gay Marriage

So much has been said on the subject of the recent Supreme Court ruling that it is nearly asinine even to mention that much has been said. And yet, in all that has been said about love, and all that has been said about justice, and all that has been said about fairness and all that has been said about hatred and bigotry and hypocrisy and force, I have yet to hear anyone address an issue that, in my opinion, the Church must acknowledge. That issue is whether or not we, the Church of Christ, are obligated to be honest to the world about what we want out of our government.

Despite some of the histrionics that I have seen from scaremongers on the extreme left, most of the Christians that I know and fellowship with do not want a theocracy in America. I have lived in enough places in this nation and spoken with enough Christians that I can say with assurance that most Christians do not want this. They do want their faith, and the right to practice it protected, and like all people, they get scared (despite the Lord’s command that they should not) and overreact. But the vast majority of them don’t really want a Church State.

I am going to speak, then, to those in the Church who agree with this principle. If we really do agree that Church and State should be separate, and that the State should have nothing to do with the Church, it is difficult for me to understand why the Church should consider it relevant what definition the State places on “marriage.” “Marriage” to the State denotes a legal arrangement that allows for special privileges between the married parties, most of which have to do with parental and property rights. What do we have to do with what the State says, unless it directly challenges our rights to be the Church of Christ?

I submit that it is dishonest of the Church of Christ to both want and not want the State to do our bidding. If we wish to seize the power of the State to make laws (which I think would be a grave mistake) then we should at least be honest enough to proclaim that this is what we want, and work openly for the establishment of a theocracy, which would make laws along Christian principles. I trust that such laws would include making divorce and the remarriage of the divorced illegal as well. But I have not seen the part of the Church that campaigns against the legalization of gay marriage waging a campaign against laws that recognize these other practices of marriage. All of them are practices which the State permits and Christ condemns.

The Muslim faith does, under certain conditions, permit and encourage its adherents to lie to unbelievers in a practice known as taqiyyah. Some Muslims have interpreted this to justify any lie to a non-Muslim. Others stress that taqiyyah only allows Muslims to lie about their Muslim identity to escape torture and death at the hands of persecutors. This is a difference between the Muslim faith and the Christian faith. As Christians, we are charged in the strongest terms to openly avow our faith in Christ when asked. We cannot be honest with God if we are dishonest with the world.

Thus, when we as Americans take offices that require us to execute the laws of the State, and consider ourselves as citizens whose rights are protected by the State (not, please note, granted by the State), we are obligated to make and interpret the laws of the State in a spirit of honesty. And I cannot see how, honestly, we can deny the State the right to define legal marriage as long as we assent to the State’s right to grant changes in married couples’ right to hold property and raise children. If we deny it this right, then we are essentially lying. We are trying to make the State into the Church. I see nothing Biblical in this. It would be just the same as if I, in my capacity as an employee of a private business, took money from my employer and then used my time and effort to preach the Word of God. That would not glorify God. That would be fraud, and sin.

If we assent that a secular State is good, and that we, as the Church of Christ can partake of it, then we must assent to the State the right to make its laws, and its right to, within those laws, enforce them. Otherwise, we are committing fraud, and this we cannot expect the Lord to honor. Note that this applies to Christians regardless of whether you believe that the Bible teaches that homosexual acts are sinful.

If the Church is not honest about its contracts and its obligations as a citizenry, it is not really being the Church. It is being a den of liars and fraudsters. This cannot be a good witness. This cannot glorify God.

Things Fall Apart. The Center Cannot Hold These Rights

I have been reluctant to respond in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to declare marriage rights constitutional rights. I do not feel the need to retread ground that others, more intimately connected to these issues and the conflict surrounding these issues, have covered more adequately and better than I can. However there was one post that has stuck with me. Rachel Held Evans a popular Christian and political blogger, said on her Facebook page (6/27):

“Civil rights aren’t up to a vote. They aren’t up to public opinion. Civil rights are part of what it means to be an American citizen. Theological arguments around marriage set aside for another day, I simply cannot find a single compelling argument in support of denying civil rights to LGBT people that does not rely on an unhealthy marriage (sorry!) between church and state.”

I suppose Ms. Evans may have meant that civil rights are not up for an ordinary vote. If so, then what she said was a bit sloppy, but essentially correct. However, I suspect that what she meant was that Civil Rights are not up for a vote at all. Certainly it’s what was meant when Gay Rights activists in the seventies marched behind a banner reading “Human Rights Are Absolute,” quoting Jimmy Carter. His quote thus takes its place at the end of a long line of ideas that sound like wonderful affirmations of the human spirit until they are subject to five minutes’ thought.

Historically, of course, the idea that Civil Rights are not up for a vote is utter and complete nonsense. The very meaning of Civil Rights is “the rights you have as a citizen.” Do people really not understand the way this works? The Civil Rights we enjoy in the United States were created by a process of voting, from the Articles of Confederation to the Constitutional Convention, up through the Civil Rights Acts of 1964-68. All of those were done by voting. Some were prefigured in the English Bill of Rights of 1688, also passed by vote of Parliament.

To be sure, the Constitution itself declares that it is not the source, but rather the instrument, of the rights. The simple enumeration of these rights, declares the Ninth Amendment does not disparage the others retained by the states or the people. It points to a principle that the rights exist, but are merely codified by the Constitution, or the laws.

However, one of the very rights the Constitution protects, and explicitly enshrines, is the right to alter the Constitution itself, and that includes the Bill of Rights. Which of course, implicitly makes the claim that some rights are more absolute than others. The most important, in this case, would be the right to edit the codification of rights.

So when we say that human rights are absolute, do we mean they are morally absolute, and belong to us no matter what the State might say? Or do we mean that they are legally absolute: that we have a right to laws codifying and supporting our exercise of our human rights?

Historically, of course, we have meant the latter. This very process that we have seen last week meant the latter, except that the courts, rather than the vote direct, were the lever of choice. And when those Civil Rights have not been left up to (or enforceable by) the vote, both our American and British ancestors have fallen back on the other guarantor of Civil Rights: the sword. Which of course, is an even more dangerous precedent to build your human rights upon than the vote, although it is ultimately the same, because never, in the whole history of humanity, has there been an expression of popular will (or legal ruling) that did not ultimately depend on the possession and willingness to use force.

However, if the legal battle is merely over the power to express human rights that permanently exist and are, as Jimmy Carter said, absolute, then where do those absolutes come from? It certainly does not come from “science” or “nature.” A thorough study of science and nature will not lead to the least idea that “human rights” — certainly not rights to “life, liberty and happiness” — exist in nature or because of laws that can be derived.

See, I know Jimmy Carter and his religious background, and I keep coming back to one inescapable source for that absolute. The same one that the Declaration of Independence referenced, right after its 18th-Century Enlightenment appeal to “Nature:”

“Nature’s God.”

The Enlightenment thinkers, the Founding Fathers among them, may have had a lot of problems with their philosophies of life. Unthinking racism, sexism, an acceptance of chattel slavery as the cost of doing business, and a blind trust in a “Nature” they barely understood (hence “natural” rights), but one error they didn’t fall into was believing that an absolute was not required.

The idea that human rights — much less Civil Rights — are not up for a vote presupposes that they are grounded in an absolute truth. This must be clearly understood, because if it is not, then the whole idea that they are in any way special is founded on a lie. Moreover it is founded on the worst kind of lie: the lie that knows it is a lie, and does not care that it is a lie. It is the treacherous lie of the mob to itself that says, “We have created our own absolute, which we know is not an absolute, but we will call it one anyway because it makes us feel better.” Like the treacherous spouse that swears “Until death do us part,” all the while knowing they can call the divorce lawyer if ever they are dissatisfied, rights founded on this lie have no permanence and deserve no respect. At best they are a sort of mass-mysticism of human passion, liable to turn on their present beneficiaries in the next crisis. If we do not see this, we are blind. We can hold to no rights.

If we wish to reclaim our sanity, and to claim our rights are based on an absolute authority, we must identify that authority and its claims. And then we must submit to it. And if there is one thing I see in our nation that frightens and disheartens me, one thing that all sides in our present political morass share, it is the utter unwillingness to submit. Submission is only for our foes to do to us. Which will lead us inevitably back to the Absolute of the Sword.

It is, of course, those who are winning legal support to express their rights that should be most aware of the danger here. They are the ones who were most recently that target of laws that favored others’ expressions of rights above their own. They will feel most keenly the fear that tempts them to use their new power to suppress their old foes. To take revenge. To silence and destroy them. And this is a very real and complex conflict: just how far do we dare press some rights at the expense of others? We have seen above that we cannot treat them as equally absolute. In our present law, the right to change our legal rights reigns supreme. This is perhaps wise, as it allows that we may have erred in the past. But we could make laws immutable, favoring other rights. Legally, anyway.

What right will be favored? The right to express our feelings? Or the right to the feelings themselves, enforced by the binding of expression? Choose carefully. And admit to your absolute. The hypocrisy you avert must be your own.

From Somewhere In Orbit

The Unbearable Heaviness of Being Grouped

In her excellent novel, Dawn, Octavia Butler shows us a small group of humans struggling to adapt after having been rescued from a nuclear war on Earth by an alien species called the Oankali. One of the aliens says that humans have two attributes that doomed us to destroy ourselves. We are intelligent, and we are hierarchical. The hierarchies we seek to establish are the cause of our violence, and intelligence used in service of this violence gives us the ability to destroy our species.

I would add a third quality, however, that Ms. Butler may have overlooked,* and this is our tendency to groupishness. In some ways, this can be a strength. One of my favorite characters in all of science-fiction, Ambassador Delenn of Babylon 5, said, “Wherever humans go, they form communities.” Yes. We form groups. We form them because they are fun. We form them because we learn from them. We form them because they are essential to realizing certain dreams. And we form them because they make us feel safe. We form them because they reassure us that we are righteous. That we are sane. That we are not trapped in the hell of loneliness.

We are born into certain groups, whether we like it or not. Physical gender. Levels of physical abilities. But the fact is that we humans will make up groups to sort people in any number of ways. Some are real. Some are imaginary. And it is this tendency of humans that truly makes me fear for our species.

It isn’t just that we place ourselves in these groups. It is not even just that we seek to exclude others from our own groups. It would, in some ways, be impossible to have groups that did not exclude. It is our desire to group other people, whether they are willing to be so grouped or not, and then to rank them in an hierarchy according to what groups they have been melded with.

We’ve all played the game: “If you are this, you can’t be that.” “If you are this, you must also be that.”
You cannot be a loyal American and a Muslim.
You must be a racist if you fly the Confederate flag.
You cannot be scientifically knowledgeable and a Republican.
You cannot be a pacifist and a patriot.

What else is the current debate over the Confederate flag about? It’s about the ability to put people in groups. The Confederate flag was originally flown over the desire to put people in groups. To have a symbol for the people who wanted to ensure that the white race would always be superior to the black race. To have a symbol for those who believed that the federal government had no authority to order the sovereign states to obey it.

For those who believed the former, but not the latter, there was no special symbol, but the American flag did well enough. After all, most white people in the 1860s were quite openly convinced of white superiority. As for those who currently believe the latter, but not the former, they have no symbol. They want to use that symbol because it is potent and rich with history. Their opponents are just as concerned with the potency of the symbol, and are determined to deny its use, because they fear that it secretly means a determination to subjugate and destroy them, just as it openly did 150 years ago.

The common thread here, as I see it, is that people want absolute freedom to group. Of themselves they wish to say, “I and I alone, determine what groups I join and what they mean to me, and only we, the People of the Group, may have an opinion on the worth of the Group and the ultimate meaning of the Group.” Of others, they wish to say, “I will determine your worthiness to be admitted to my group, and what other groups you belong to, whether you acknowledge your membership in that group or not. Whether you know those groups exist or not.”

Obviously, these freedoms cannot coexist. No two people can have that kind of power over themselves and over the other. At the core of this groupishness is a terrible fear that we may be left alone with no group, and a willingness to disrespect others’ agency to form groups, lest they expel us from our group, or tear our group apart. The more a group feels itself attacked, the tighter it hangs together, because a group is in many ways a spiritual home. A place where we can escape form loneliness and be understood by the Group. Threaten that, and you threaten something very close to family. People will kill for it. Some asshole just did, because he thought that members of the Group of Black Americans threatened his Group (what he called it in his mind, I neither know nor want to) by their insistence on being fully included in the Group of Americans. Now the Groups are on the march. Active. Angry. Defending their Groups from perceived attack and mobilizing to attack Groups they perceive as potential threats. Groups they perceive as the source of this asshole.

I feel I have spent a lot of time saying little that is profound. What, after all, can I recommend, here? I don’t have much of an answer except “awareness.” Awareness that leads to love. When you see people passionately defending a group or a symbol that stands for something you hate, be aware that they are probably being honest in their claims that they are defending a love, and a home. Don’t assume they must be cherishing a hate because they know or dress like, or like the same symbol as THOSE PEOPLE. It’s true not everyone is honest. Some are monsters, I will grant, who lie about what groups they are part of and what those groups mean. Most are not. Be aware of what you are doing when you assign people to groups, and that you may be wrong. Be aware that if your Group is threatened, you may overreact. Ask yourself if that’s possible. Try to allow people the same freedom to form Groups and determine their meanings as you would want for yourself.

It’s the only lesson, or hope, that I can see.

*I say may. Steven Barnes, who certainly knew Ms. Butler better than I did (having been her student for only a week) says that Ms. Butler said that humans were hierarchical and tribal. I prefer “groupish” because it implies a more fluid construct than a tribe, which is usually something you are born into, or at least choose for the long term. However, I’m happy to give both Ms. Butler and Mr. Barnes credit for noting the really important parts of this phenomenon before I did.

Theology vs. The Memes #2: The Emperor’s New Quote

I have seen this meme passed around a whole lot by certain types of atheist whose primary source of comfort is how much smarter they are than Christians because they can face the truth. Allow me, therefore, in the name of truth, to point out the first little problem with it:

That’s right. Marcus Aurelius never said it in the first place. The whole meme is a lie. There’s a quote that it may be loosely based on, but we’ll review that at a more appropriate time. Still, I’m sure that there are those who will claim that, regardless of the source of the quote, it’s still a good message. So let’s examine the whole thing and see what parts stand up to any rational interpretation of “good.”

1) “If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by.”

First, does anyone else wonder what the original author meant by “devout?” The people who pass this around probably don’t because the first rule of Meme Club is that you DO NOT talk about what memes MEAN. Memes are self-congratulation masquerading as critical thought. They work by giving the reader the illusion of having had an insight. They are philosophical porn. So in the absence of any definition I’m, going to guess that “devout” means how much you sing, dance, pray, sacrifice and wear cheap T-shirts extolling your deity, because this is the behavior atheists enjoy mocking.

The funny part is that Jesus rather enjoyed mocking it, too: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding of the blood of the prophets… Therefore I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town.” (Matthew 23:29-31, 34). The fact is that even if Marcus Aurelius had said this, Jesus would have anticipated him by nearly a century. Jesus and the Jewish prophets agree wholeheartedly with the spirit of the quote. “He hath shown thee, O man, what is good; and what the LORD doth require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (Micah 6:8). Further, “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” (James 1:27).

What the atheists and the “spiritual-not-religious” folk are missing here is that we all fail miserably at doing these things. They fail to consider what it might mean to be judged by a just God “on the virtues you have lived by.” The whole reason for “devoutness” is an acknowledgement by us that we have indeed failed to practice these virtues, time and time again. God’s standards are higher than ours. They have to be. If God’s standards are not better than our own, He has no claim to be God at all. This is why Jesus said, “You give a tenth of your spices… But you have neglected the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” (Matthew 23:23-25). Devotion is part of the virtue God expects, and what a Christian must mean by “devout” is something more — not less and not other — than living virtuously.

On to part 2 of the “quote:”

2) “If there are gods but unjust, you should not want to worship them.” This is the easiest part of the quote to agree with. But the inherent assumption here is that you know exactly what justice is. Even among good people there are disagreements about this. In the real world, the circumstances in which we find ourselves can not only make living justly a good way to get yourself killed, it can make justice literally impossible. And sometimes, people can be conditioned to think that behavior that would horrify most of us is perfectly normal. Men in prison have a strict code: don’t bump into each other. Don’t pick up another man’s matches. Don’t sit in another man’s chair. “Justice” for these infractions, in that context, can mean a beating or stabbing.

Are we so sure we are different? Killing for honor is still considered justice in many parts of the world. But we call it unjust in my part. If we call God unjust… how are we certain we are right?

And now for the biggest and most subtle lie of all:

3) “If there are no gods: then you will be gone. But you will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.” Except that’s a lie.  The only true part is the first: “You will be gone.” From your perspective, the story ends here, if there are no gods. Now, your loved ones, they will live on. But you will not know it. They could all be put to death by torture the second you cease to breathe, and you would not care. You could not care. This is one of the greatest lies that atheist thought believes, that there is a state called having lived. That state does not exist in any meaningful fashion. Nonexistence is at the root of it. You will be gone. You will be as utterly gone as if you had never been. Nothing will matter, because you will not exist for it to matter TO. In that nonexistence, the greatest saints and sinners are equal to each other, because they are equal to nothing.
There are only two ways to get around this, and in my experience, most atheists will not do it: admit that morality is a complete and utter illusion, because there is no evidence anything aside from human preference for certain behaviors exist, or admit the existence of something resembling an afterlife (or at least an afterthought), which must be taken on faith.

I cannot live in a universe that is governed by the former admission. And I do not greatly care, for reasons that should be obvious by now, for anyone who impugns my reason or intellect for refusing so to live. Why should I care what that person thinks? By their own admission, they will shortly not exist, and their moral judgments are but present constructs of taste and fashion. I will shortly not exist, and will care for nothing.
This is why I will continue to live by faith. For only if there are gods, and they are just, is life possible. This is why I will raise my voice with Peter, saying, “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68).

I will leave you with some actual words of Marcus Aurelius, who did know better than this. Ironically, this may be the quote on which the above drivel is based:

“But to go away from among men, if there are gods, is not a thing to be afraid of, for the gods will not involve thee in evil; but if indeed they do not exist, or if they have no concern about human affairs, what is it to me to live in a universe devoid of gods or devoid of Providence? But Gods there are, undoubtedly, and they regard human affairs; and have put it wholly in our power, that we should not fall into what is truly evil. “

I’m a lot closer to agreeing with that.

In Slavery to Freedom

I was brought up in the American nation, and I was brought up in the Christian faith. And I quickly learned the two lessons you are supposed to learn growing up in those two traditions. They are not hard lessons to grasp; my five year-old son can do it:

1) A follower of Christ loves God’s people (that means “people,” by the way. Not “people I approve of,” or “my co-religionists.”)

2) Americans, and all people, are of right and should be free.

Now that is very, very simple, and I find it incredible, really, that American Christians seem to have lost our way on what really should be the very beginning of Christ’s teaching here. This week I see examples of that failure all around us. Who could possibly miss them? The Church, no less than the nation, has erupted into rage and outrage, cries and outcries. We see outward condemnation and smug self-righteousness everywhere. So maybe we have to go back to two very simple points, one about love and one about freedom:

Point 1: If you will not love a person that you can love, then you are doing evil.

I will not backtrack on this statement, though I know a lot of people will want to call me on it. They are going to say that I have no right to tell them to love. They will say that they cannot love anymore. They are going to say that they will love once they have justice.
Well, the first one is right on; I do not have the right to tell anyone to love. I can only point to Christ, who does have that right because he earned it in the only way that kind of right can be earned: by showing just how far his love would go, and He took it very far indeed. As for those who truly cannot love anymore, I will not judge them, but I will say that if you truly cannot love, then you are as close to powerless as a human being can be. The power of a human soul is nothing other than the power to love, and if that has been taken from you, then I can only counsel that you try to do no harm and pray for God to change you. But the idea that you are going to love only when you have justice, or worse, freedom, is truly a perversion. For one thing, it creates the terrible delusion that justice could ever be anything other than love. And this, of course, is what the protests in Ferguson, in New York, and in Cleveland have got to be about, or they are nothing but bloodlust.
Justice is about restitution, both to the person injured, and to the one who has done the injury. We may do harm to the offender, but it is in the name of (at best) turning him or her from an offender back into a free citizen. At worst it is about stopping him or her from injuring others, because we cannot do what is best.
Now if these protests are about anything meaningful, they are about the perception that White America does not love Black Americans. That we are more interested in doing what is worst: controlling, suppressing, and eliminating them than we are in taking the risk involved in doing what is best, and relating to them like we would to other human beings with different skin colors and voices and cultures. And love entails taking risks just as surely as justice entails love. Law enforcement should understand this more than anyone, and while I don’t want to dump on the police here, who face a lot of risk daily over the dumbest things imaginable, the fact of the matter is that the very reason we respect the police is because they are willing to take risks. They signed up for the awful privilege of taking those risks, not because they are good at avoiding them. And that does mean putting themselves in harm’s way to avoid killing.
But likewise, when we demand justice from the police and from the state, we must remember that the police and the state are in the end human constructs of human beings. Society itself is nothing more than individual human beings.
Now, if our goal is to engage that society with the hope of changing it for the better, then it must be in love. Either that, or we might as well go all the way and admit that we do not want to better our society or our neighbors, that we are two societies at war, and start fighting in earnest, so that the horror of it might be spilled out, and show the survivors how not to do it.
But if our goal is to be free and claim power for ourselves, then it is even more vital that we love. When we fight, do we not fight for the right to be safe enough to love our families and our friends? And when the “enemy” whoever it is, has been defeated, how then do we treat our families? Which of my readers has never been involved in the terrible wars that families wage, or the bitterness of broken friendship?
This is the terrible and painful truth: If we will not claim the power to love our enemies, we will never be able to love anyone as we must. We cannot pretend that the injustice done to us gives us some “right” to withhold love, or justice, from our oppressors, as if that were a strength. It is a false strength. Which brings me to my second point:

Point 2: If you cannot love until you have a thing, you are a slave to that thing.

When you deny that you can love, because you have not received enough justice, or enough safety, or enough equal treatment, or enough respect, you are effectively ruled by that thing that others have the ability to deny you. And yes, you can really be ruled by that thing. It would be stupid for a man held at gunpoint to pretend there is no gun. I am not one to recommend non-violence in all situations. Hold a weapon on me, or God help you, one of my children, and you will see what violence I can do.
And I do have sympathy (for reasons I will not go into here) for those who find it difficult to get out of that type of thinking. Who really have been traumatized to the point where they have difficulty believing they can ever really be out of danger. It takes for them great courage to love. It is not their fault that they have been wounded. But this is not really about fault. This is about healing, and all healing requires the act of courage, at the last, to say to oneself, “I will go out into the world that has hurt me, even though the danger is not past, and live again.” Anyone who cannot do this is not really healed, but wounded. Anyone who is wounded is not really strong yet.
We have accepted a lie in this nation, which is that strength is the ability to take what we want by force, and ignore our enemies. This is a powerful illusion, but it ends up with us treating everyone like an enemy, and being the slaves of our wants: safety, respect, and possessions, and even freedom itself. Only when we learn to love like followers of Christ will we be truly free.

We Hold These Rights, Part III: What Is Our Right to Property?

Preface: In three weeks, I’ll be going to a conference on the Bill of Rights, sponsored by The Bill of Rights Institute, on Civil Liberty and the Constitution. As part of this conference, I have been asked to read a number of historical documents, written by the framers, their mentors, and those who lived, legislated, and worked within that Constitutional frame. This resonates deeply with me, as I have been struggling for some time now with concepts such as “rights,” “freedom,” and “justice.”  What follow are my thoughts.

As I read further into the documents of our founders and their influences, I find myself compelled to broaden my definition of the term “property.” All my life, I have been taught by my family, my church, and my schools to think of property as mere objects. Things. To treat a person as property is tantamount to slavery, and nothing — literally, no thing — could be as important as a human life.

This was not the mindset of our founders:

“This term in its particular application means “that dominion which one man claims and exercises over the external things of the world, in exclusion of every other individual.” In its larger and juster meaning, it embraces every thing to which a man may attach a value and have a right; and which leaves to every one else the like advantage. In the former sense, a man’s land, or merchandize, or money is called his property. In the latter sense, a man has a property in his opinions and the free communication of them. He has a property of peculiar value in his religious opinions, and in the profession and practice dictated by them. He has a property very dear to him in the safety and liberty of his person. He has an equal property in the free use of his faculties and free choice of the objects on which to employ them. In a word, as a man is said to have a right to his property, he may be equally said to have a property in his rights.”

— James Madison

Note that Madison did not consider his thoughts as unimportant as his property. He considered his property as important as his very thoughts: “every thing to which a man may attach a value and have a right; and which leaves to every one else the like advantage.

The italics are not mine. The implication is vast: If you have a right to it and value it, it is your property, so long as your possession of that property does not deprive anyone else to their right to 1) value such a thing and 2) have a right to such a thing. At first glance, that seems contradictory. If I own an apple and eat it, you can’t eat it too. But that’s not the statement. The statement is that if I own an apple and can eat it, it must be possible for you to own and eat apples as well. I have no right to own all the apples everywhere.

Further, the implication for the legitimacy of any sort of market manipulation is not good. I don’t know all of Madison’s opinions on everything, but we do know as a matter of historical record that one of the primary motivations behind the American Revolution was the British homeland’s systematic refusal to allow the American colonies to sell and buy freely on the international market, using their own ships and setting their own prices. Jefferson complains of laws being passed denying the American colonists the right to manufacture their own goods.

I am uncertain what the founders’ arguments would be, but I question seriously whether we can differentiate between a government that passes laws preventing us from the use of our own property, and a business interest that makes it impossible to acquire or use property. If it is immoral and unjust to pass laws that establish monopolies and exclude others from them, then it seems to me equally immoral and unjust to allow such monopolies to exist without passing laws against them. The founders seem to be upset that they are being excluded from, as it were, the democracy of money, the idea that my money is just as good as yours. Yet monopolies and market manipulators regularly exclude others from this democracy by price-manipulation. I myself have little patience for the corporate-phobia that runs rampant through popular culture, but one hardly needs to believe in vast, shadowy corporate conspiracies to dominate the world to see this process. When speculators drive up the price of oil (or anything else) simply because they believe (or fear) that the price will rise, their money is better than ours, because they will pay less today than they will force us to pay tomorrow. They never intend to use this property. They intend merely to sell it to us again when we need it, and at a higher price.

I suggest that this cannot be the right to property. G.K. Chesterton, at the opening of the 20th century, spoke of those who denied rationality as purveyors of “the thought that destroys thought.” In the same manner, those who advocate the right to speculate and manipulate prices wholesale are trading in the property that destroys property. It is, ethically, theft disguised as property. It is a counterfeit of property, just as sure as the thief is the counterfeit of the producer of wealth. It denies the right to own property just as surely — more surely, if the drug trade is any example to us — as the most draconian laws.

I have more to say on property in rights, but this post is long enough.

Somewhere In Orbit

We Hold These Rights Part II: What Rights Do We Hold?

Preface: In four weeks, I’ll be going to a conference on the Bill of Rights, sponsored by The Bill of Rights Institute, on Civil Liberty and the Constitution. As part of this conference, I have been asked to read a number of historical documents, written by the framers, their mentors, and those who lived, legislated, and worked within that Constitutional frame. This resonates deeply with me, as I have been struggling for some time now with concepts such as “rights,” “freedom,” and “justice.”  What follow are my thoughts.

In my last post, I discussed my lack of surprise at encountering the general tenor of John Locke’s work. But I was surprised to encounter many of Locke’s thoughts on what constituted what might be called The Big Three Rights. The Big Three are: Life, Liberty, and Property.

For John Locke, these three rights are all very much of a piece, for as he says:

And hence it is, that he who attempts to get another man into his absolute power, does thereby put himself into a state of war with him; it being to be understood as a declaration of a design upon his life: for I have reason to conclude, that he who would get me into his power without my consent, would use me as he pleased when he got me there, and destroy me too when he had a fancy to it; for nobody can desire to have me in his absolute power, unless it be to compel me by force to that which is against the right of my freedom, i. e. make me a slave. To be free from such force is the only security of my preservation; and reason bids me look on him, as an enemy to my preservation, who would take away that freedom which is the fence to it; so that he who makes an attempt to enslave me, thereby puts himself into a state of war with me.

In a later passage, Locke extends this statement to include even those who take property by force. Such men “justly expose (themselves)” to the hazard of death. Locke thus establishes the three ideas as something very close to a continuum: Property, being the means whereby people sustain liberty and life, is thought of as being not very far removed in importance from it. And while I and I hope most of my readers are somewhat horrified at the idea of taking a man’s life over a theft, I find it difficult to argue with Locke’s main thesis, here: The man who holds me in such contempt that he would take away my means to live is surely not very far from holding me in the contempt necessary to deprive me of life itself.

Locke even defines property, and the definition is elegantly simple: Property = a resource taken from the common (in this case, the earth) by the expenditure of one’s own labor. The expense of the labor produced, for Locke, effects the transfer of property from the collective of the species as a whole to the individual. And yet Locke then goes on to make a statement that sounds almost Marxist: “As much as any one can make use of to any advantage of life before it spoils, so much he may by his labor fix a property in: whatever is beyond this, is more than his share, and belongs to others. Nothing was made by God for man to spoil or destroy.” And so for Locke, there are strict limits to what a person may lay hold of as property for consumption. However, this leaves us with two problems:

1) Locke does not extend the limit on wastage to include any limitation on hoarding durable goods. It seems that it either did not occur to him that this could cause much human misery or he did not care: But since gold and silver, being little useful to the life of man in proportion to food, raiment, and carriage, has its value only from the consent of men, whereof labor yet makes, in great part, the measure; it is plain, that men have agreed to a disproportionate and unequal possession of the earth, they having, by a tacit and voluntary consent, found out a way how a man may fairly possess more land than he himself can use the product of, by receiving in exchange for the overplus, gold and silver,
which may be hoarded up without injury to any one; these metals not spoiling or decaying in the hands of the possessor.” Therefore, strictly speaking, I am doing more harm to the collective good of humanity when I throw away a pizza crust than, say, the Fisk and Gould brothers did when they tried to corner the gold market, a conclusion that seems rather absurd.

2) Locke seems not to have considered how the taking of one good from the common might, in a sense, waste or destroy another. Locke avoids the necessity of a collectivist economy by arguing that a person has the right to life, and implies that no collective can or should be consulted to decide whether a person may eat from a common store, thus fixing the moment of possession at the moment of harvest. In fact Locke goes further and points out that some private uses, such as the cultivation of land, actually produce wealth, in the sense of productive capacity, and therefore cultivating common land may be more in the nature of giving to the common than taking from it. Yet Locke does not consider that the harvesting of wood from an apple tree prevents any further harvest of apples from it, or that mining a hillside for coal prevents further use of it as, say, a vineyard. How may we decide ethically then, what mode of use to make of natural resources when they are mutually exclusive?

And yet the collectivist model does not offer much of a solution, because inasmuch as the implication of Lockean economics seems to be that people are ethically entitled to hoard as much as they please, regardless of the consequences to others, the collectivist model implies that all use of common resources be left, at best, to the tyranny of the majority, who might fairly decide to starve nonconformists to death rather than allow them property from the common. On the level of common sense, property is inevitable, but the implications of that seem to defy common sense all around.

So I conclude this examination with many more questions than answers, but one thing appears certain. Even from this very earliest stage, the concept of ownership and property was never conceived as the absolute right to do any and allthings with whatever property a person might have in his or her power. And that is something we might do well to reflect upon.

We Hold These Rights, Part I: Of Whom Do We Hold?

Preface: In four weeks, I’ll be going to a conference on the Bill of Rights, sponsored by The Bill of Rights Institute, on Civil Liberty and the Constitution. As part of this conference, I have been asked to read a number of historical documents, written by the framers, their mentors, and those who lived, legislated, and worked within that Constitutional frame. This resonates deeply with me, as I have been struggling for some time now with concepts such as “rights,” “freedom,” and “justice.”  What follow are my thoughts.

If the Declaration of Independence had an author other than Thomas Jefferson, it was John Locke. This, we all learn in History class. Okay, we learn it in MY history class. But I’ll be honest, I’d never actually sat down and read John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government, which I imagine puts me in company with 99.9% of my readers.

After getting over my relief at finding that actual contact with the text didn’t contradict my years of learning from others what “Locke said” about government (and better yet, that it didn’t contradict my years of TEACHING what other people had told me “Locke said” about government,* I began to truly come to grips with the text, and began to realize just how derivative from Locke our founding document is:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal,”

I have heard these words since before I really knew what they meant. Almost every schoolkid in America would come out with at least that if you asked him or her what the Declaration said.*** Fewer would be able to go on:

“that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these rights are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

This derives directly from Locke, who wrote:

The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges every one: and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind… that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions: for men being all the workmanship of one omnipotent and infinitely wise Maker; all the servants of one sovereign master, sent into the world by his order, and about his business; they are his property, whose workmanship they are, made to last during his, not another’s pleasure: and… there cannot be supposed any such subordination among us, that may authorize us to destroy another, as if we were made for one another’s uses, as the inferior ranks of creatures are for ours.

Of course, Locke is not basing his argument for equality nearly as much upon that which we would today call “reason,” in the scientific sense, as he is basing it upon theistic and Christian principles. Locke did not, as modern atheists do, think of reason and religion as being naturally opposed, but as natural allies of one another. And lest I be mistaken, the intent of this entry is not to contend that America was founded by Christians or that it should as a matter of policy endorse Christianity, still less that it should impose Christianity (or any belief of conscience) upon its citizens. But the evidence should be enough to assert that the principles upon which this nation was founded (if we take the Declaration to be the founding) are principles which explicitly take their justification from a theistic and a Christian foundation. “We hold these truths,” say the founders. Hold them based on what? Scientific reason, divorced from scripture makes a mockery of the idea that all people are created equal. It would be scientifically ridiculous to maintain such, both then and now. How are they equal? They are not equal in physical strength, command of wealth, social fluency or mental faculties, or anything that explicitly serves the state or community.

Now, what science most definitely shows us is that trying to sort people into superior and inferior classes based on broad identities of race, gender, wealth, ethnicity, ancestry or any number of chauvinistic nonsense is ridiculous, but that is a far cry from the dictum that thunders into our souls the equality of man with man, and man with woman. In contrast (and increasingly) we see inequality governing our relationships until the day we all die.

That, perhaps, is the indisputable equality, though the poor are certainly “more equal” than the rich in the rate at which they meet that fate.**** Certainly they suffer more along the way to it. And my atheist friends would likely say that this is enough to make people equal: that they all suffer and die the same. Certainly I agree that this makes them feel equal to each other, but then, I already agree with Locke that people are equal as children of God. I don’t have to come up with additional justifications for equality. But as true as this fact is, it hardly makes people of unequal abilities equally valuable to a human society in the present, unless the very act of treating all people equally strengthens society in some concrete way. If any studies have been done on this, I am not aware of them, and would appreciate being enlightened.

However, regardless of whether such studies have been done, and regardless of their results, it is surely obvious that Locke and his disciples were not using them. Their rationale for founding a nation upon the ideal of equality was a recognition, however flawed and however badly realized, of the equality of humanity before a Divine Creator. Of course, it was a completely hypocritical recognition. The image of Thomas Jefferson looking up from the Declaration and watching his slaves trudge home, broken in body and spirit, while considering himself the champion of equality forces us to either laugh or weep. But the words he wrote, however hypocritical, became, inexorably part and parcel of freeing the grandchildren of those slaves, and became the great “promissory note” which Martin Luther King presented to a complacent white America, who had then no alternative but either to admit their hypocrisy, or to grant equal civil rights to their black American brothers and sisters.

Of course, full equality is not yet here, but perhaps we can see now that it is more than fitting that the man who presented that promissory note held the title “Reverend,” and dared to claim that equality was not only politically wise and morally right, but a divine command. But why do I bring this up? Do I mean to say that one must be a Christian, or even a theist, to be a “real American,” or to claim, defend, or advocate for rights? Not in the slightest: I’m not anyone’s morality police. You do what you do because you have chosen to do it. You don’t owe me an explanation until you violate someone else’s rights. But if we want to know where our rights come from, in the minds of those who articulated them, we should look with our eyes open, whether or not we agree with them. And from Martin Luther King back to the very oldest of American principles, preceding even the independence of the American states, we see a strong belief that the rights we hold, we hold of God.

*this happens more often than history teachers would like to admit. Relying on secondary sources** has occasionally resulted in me inadvertently “teaching” bad facts. In my defense, I have also caught actual history textbooks teaching bad facts. Not just “leaving them out” but teaching positive untruths.

**yes, I know, I should never do this, but the thing about teaching history is, well, there’s a lot of it. Even those of us who teach have to skim and read the summaries at times.

***hell, a lot of them would come out with this if you asked them what the Constitution said, but that’s an all-too-common confusion.

****I always sigh when I read somebody who claims that the poor are “more likely to die” than the rich. How ridiculous: they’re equally likely to die.