The View From 1776
Monday, July 31, 2006
Spiritual Religion is Essential to Freedom
Liberals are not really pushing for separation of church and state; there has never been an established spiritual religion. Their goal is no less than to destroy spiritual religion and to impose socialism as the secular state religion under the banner of social justice. They call it scientific progress, the same terminology employed in the French Revolution’s bloody Reign of Terror and in Adolph Hitler’s Holocaust.
Survival of our formerly inalienable individual liberties is now purely a matter of chance, of public-opinion-of-the-moment. That?s why liberal intellectuals place such a high value on ?evolving? public opinion, as a sort of Darwinian creation of successive new species of acceptable government powers. If the public can stomach it, the government can do it, no matter what the Constitution actually says.
Under our present-day secularity and moral relativism, there can be no such thing as inalienable individual liberties of the kind intended when the Bill of Rights was written. Liberal secularism contends that the Federal government has no limits on the powers it may assert or the areas of individual life that it can bring within the ambit of its regulation. All three branches of the Federal government have long since discarded the original Constitutional limit on arbitrary government power that was based on natural law and individual morality.
That?s what the New York Times calls ?mainstream? thinking. Like a river, it has no permanence and can spill over its former boundaries, drowning formerly secure places.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, our first socialist Supreme Court Justice, became a liberal icon by adopting the standard of public opinion to justify ?implied? powers of government. Justice Holmes advocated the theory of ?legal realism,? declaring that there was no such thing as natural law that supported the concept of inalienable rights. The law, he said, is nothing more than whatever a judge rules in a specific case.
Within the past seventy years the Supreme Court has interpreted the Bill of Rights to mean that some rights are subordinate to others. The Court has also adopted an interpretation of the ?establishment of religion? clause of the First Amendment that documentation from the Constitutional Convention proves to be completely false.
As Alexander Hamilton warned in The Federalist papers, written words alone, in a Bill of Rights or any other document, can readily be distorted to the ends of a person intent upon doing so. Liberties can be preserved only by an aroused public that knows and understands traditions and is prepared to defend them. American voters today qualify in neither respect, because public education has failed them.
Religion has been under attack in Europe since around 1750, in America, since the 1880s. Liberals in the United States today have sensors far more efficient than any airport bomb detectors. Every whisper of religion is instantly dragged into the interrogation room and given the third-degree to extort a confession that the intent was to establish an unconstitutional, official national religion.
No rational person can sustain a case that expressing moral values and connecting them with religion amounts to any such thing, and it is barely credible that liberals themselves actually believe it. Why then is voicing opinions about religion and morality absolutely forbidden, but attacking such opinions and indeed expressing anything else, however gross and revolting, protected by the First Amendment?s right of free speech?
The answer lies in the long skirmish between liberals aiming to institute socialism and traditionalists hoping to protect the original intent of the Constitution. Traditionalism stands for individual liberty, that is, a society in which natural law restrains government from arbitrary exercises of power that infringe the rights of individuals. Liberalism stands for state-imposed equality and welfare-state security in Big Brother?s sheltering arms.
Liberals think that only Federal technocrats have the smarts and the capacity to improve people?s lives. Liberals prefer the bureaucrat whom they know to the individual whom they can?t control, as former Senator Bill Bradley observed. In theory, after the United States has been fully transformed into a secular and amoral nation, liberal social engineers will be free to perfect humanity and create heaven-on-earth.
Our political ancestors were of a very different mind. For them, religion was an essential element in their political liberties. Understanding that requires a brief excursion into history and some basic concepts.
The Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay colonies were founded in 1620 and 1630 to escape political and religious persecution in England under the absolutist kings James I and Charles I. Town governments in Puritan New England were operated through the local church congregations. But early on, individualism and political liberty repeatedly were asserted. The church was the town governing body, but the church members appointed the minister. Members who disagreed with what was preached in the pulpit or who disagreed with political and economic decisions of the church congregation pulled up stakes, moved elsewhere, and formed new towns built around their own new churches. Most of the early New England towns were established in this manner. The large number of those towns makes clear that religion was no barrier to personal liberty.
Whatever their disagreements about specific church doctrine, they all were in agreement that pursuit of moral conduct was the essence of good government. This understanding, while elemental within Christianity, dates from Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Western European tradition called for governments to craft laws and to support religion and traditions that fostered moral conduct.
Political societies can be organized on one or the other of two fundamental premises about human nature. One imposes order from above by decree of the all-powerful sovereign government. It assumes that people are amoral beings who respond only to pleasure or pain. The other depends upon social order flowing upward from individuals who are voluntarily self-restrained by codes of morality and civic virtue. The first says that people follow society?s rules only because they fear punishment if caught. The second says that most people follow the rules, even in the dead of the night when all others are asleep, because their consciences tell them that they should do so.
Our present-day liberal government is based on collectivized rule by regulatory decree. The Constitution was based on expectation of individuals? behaving responsibly and doing their duty voluntarily.
Spiritual religions, especially the Protestant Christianity predominant in colonial times, place responsibility for personal conduct and duty to others squarely on the individual. One can not escape moral responsibility for reprehensible acts by claiming that he was just following orders or executing the collective will of the people. He is obliged by religion to consult his conscience and strive to do the right thing, from the view point of others, as well as himself. This ethos promotes independence of judgment in political and social life. And it coincides exactly with political liberty, the axiom that government may not infringe arbitrarily on an individual?s conscience or his inalienable rights.
A constitution establishing a government of limited powers can not survive if its citizens are not similarly constrained in their conduct by the higher authority of moral law. One is a counterbalance to the other. Morality, the vital component, has always been the domain of religion, from which morality originates, in which morality is preserved, and by which citizens are instructed in morality.
The French Revolution of 1789 offers a compelling illustration. As Alexis de Tocqueville (“The Old Regime and the Revolution,” 1859) noted, the brutal mass murders of the Reign of Terror came, not when mobs stormed the Bastille, but four years later in 1793, only after the French revolutionaries had debauched the church and confiscated its properties. The authority of the monarchy a shambles, destroying religion removed the last restraint on systematic, barbaric, state-controlled terrorism.
Uniquely in the United States, there was to be no established national church, partly because so many different Protestant denominations had already taken root. But everyone took for granted that those religious denominations would be the principal agencies to preserve and teach the codes of morality and civic virtue.
Religion in this sense is vital to political governance, but is not part of the political power structure. Its realm is with its followers, as individuals. For that reason alone it is absurd to claim that discussion of religion and morality in schools or anywhere else amounts to establishing an official state religion.
The First Amendment says, ?Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion,?? That phrase, ?establishment of religion,? was clearly understood to refer to the English Test Act, when the Bill of Rights was written. Indeed it was so spelled out several different times in the debates at the Constitutional Convention. Under the Test Act, English public office holders were required to be members of the Anglican Church. Additionally, English citizens, regardless of their personal religious faith, were taxed to support the Anglican Church. Though some American states had established official religions on the English model, no one wanted that at the Federal level.
Trusting that a citizenry ignorant of history won?t know the difference, liberal commentators now go so far as to assert that the First Amendment guarantees Americans freedom from religion. They are offended by hearing public figures proclaim their religious faith, and they maintain that people of religious faith threaten the alleged wall between church and state (a fiction that appears nowhere in the Constitution).
Squaring First Amendment guarantees of free speech with this liberal thesis would, in the past at least, have been difficult. It makes freedom of speech a one-way street, available only to secular liberals. Religious believers presumably must endure continual legal attacks and ridicule from the media without rebuttal. Their rights of free speech are trumped by the sensitivities of agnostics and atheists.
In addition to specious use of the First Amendment, liberals attack religion and morality as unscientific value judgments. Yet clearly liberals hold very definite value judgments under the rubric of social justice.
Were they actually concerned about the progress of science, they would not object to open classroom discussions of both socialism and traditional values. For liberals, however, the issue was settled by what they regard as revelation of absolute truth in the French Revolution ? end of story, no further discussion.
That revolution gave birth to socialism and in time to liberalism, its American sect. Thus forces driving American liberals? crusade against spiritual religion can best be understood in light of the parallel phenomenon of the Revolution?s secular religion.
Tocqueville noted that, while the Revolution consciously aimed to destroy traditional religion, ??? the French Revolution, though ostensibly political in origin, functioned along the lines, and assumed many of the aspects, of a religious revolution.??the ideal the French Revolution set before it was not merely a change in the French social system but nothing short of a regeneration of the whole human race.??It would be truer to say that it developed into a species of religion, if a singularly imperfect one???
Yet another point of attack by liberals is the charge that religion both oppresses people and causes vicious strife and wars. Many feminists, for example, see religion as a male-dominated institution to keep women subjugated. Liberals point out that Islam was a motivating force behind the savagery in Bosnia and Serbia, as well as the World Trade Center destruction on September 11, 2001.
Aristotle?s answer to similar charges regarding private property rights was that the unavoidable source of anti-social behavior is human nature itself. People are born with the potentiality for both good and evil. Religion calls upon the individual to do unto others as he would have them do unto himself. It doesn?t always work. Neither does the existence of a code of criminal law and police forces, but no sane person would call for their abolishment just because some crimes continue to be committed.
No evidence exists to support the idea that religion and morality were to be wholly excluded from public life when the Constitution was ratified. To the contrary, all the daily practices of government involved deferences to Divinity, from opening sessions of Congress with a chaplain?s prayer, to formal references to God in most public speeches.
Religion in the United States has been, since the Mayflower?s voyage, the citadel of individual liberties and individual responsibilities. Early New England community governments were centered on the local churches. Their town meetings were the model for self-government and the exercise of political freedom. It was not by chance that opposition to George III was first organized in Puritan New England.
Liberals? contention that public education should be secular has no basis in history. Colleges such as Harvard, Yale, and Princeton were established expressly to train ministers of the Gospel. Horace Mann, the founder of free public education in the 1830s, became chairman of the nation?s first state board of education. In his address to the Massachusetts legislature, he stated that the justification for expenditures of public funds on education was the vital need to instruct young people in the commonly-accepted core of religious morality and civic responsibility.
Not until John Dewey?s progressive education theories gained acceptance among intellectuals and academics in the 1920s did this begin to change. A life-long socialist and the most influential intellectual of his era, Dewey taught that public education should dispense with the ?dead? past and inculcate the ideology of socialism. He aimed to restructure the whole of society on the Soviet model that he and his fellows at Columbia University?s Teachers College praised so lavishly.
?Freedom from religion? would have voided the Declaration of Independence, which based the colonists? right to independence specifically upon ?the Laws of Nature and of Nature?s God? that applied to a people ?endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.?
The abolition of slavery, our nation?s greatest single moral act, was not a liberal social-justice program, but the product of forty years of religious campaigning by Protestant ministers that began during the Second Great Religious Awakening in the 1820s. It was these preachers who organized the first abolition societies. People of the Northern states stood fast during the bloodiest war in history to that date, because preachers, Sunday after Sunday, called upon them to live up to the precepts of Christian morality.
The Battle Hymn of the Republic projected the Civil War with majestic clarity as a Christian moral cause. Lincoln?s Gettysburg address immortalized the ultimate sacrifice of so many for ?this nation, under God.?
As recently as 1953, President Eisenhower said in his first inaugural speech, ?In our quest for understanding, we beseech God?s guidance.?This faith is the abiding creed of our fathers. It is our faith in the deathless dignity of man, governed by eternal moral and natural laws. This faith defines our full view of life. It establishes, beyond debate, those gifts of the Creator that are man?s inalienable rights, and that make all men equal in His sight.?
Humans? instinct for spiritual religion is hard-wired in our genetic makeup. Every society documented by historians or studied by anthropologists and archeologists has had some form of religion as its fundamental ordering principle. Historically, the collapse of a religion-based moral consensus has led to a greatly weakened political state, riven by internal dissension and vulnerable to a domestic tyrant or a foreign foe.
The Etruscans became an irreligious people who, like present-day Americans, were obsessed with hedonistic sensual gratification. The disciplined Roman Republic crushed them, leaving their tombs as the only evidence that Etruscan society had ever existed.
France was the most powerful nation in Continental Europe before the 1789 Revolution wiped out its religious and political institutions. The bloody Reign of Terror was followed by Napoleon?s seizure of imperial power and his brutal military subjugation of Europe. France then collapsed into political instability that has involved more than a dozen different constitutions, five different socialist republics, a restoration of the Bourbon kings, the institution of the royal House of Orleans, the Second Empire under Napoleon III, and the collaborationist Vichy government during the Nazi occupation in the 1940s. France is now a third-rate nation under its most recent constitution imposed when General Charles de Gaulle seized power in a 1958 military coup.
Germany, after World War I, sank into a cesspool of irreligion and hedonism so gross that even the Parisians were shocked. The struggle between the socialist Weimar Republic, which rejected religious and moral codes, and those who longed for a return to stability and decency was ?resolved? in 1933 when President von Hindenburg asked Adolph Hitler, the winner of German public opinion, to become Reichs Chancellor.
President Lyndon Johnson?s socialistic Great Society in 1965 promised government-imposed equality of economic and social status, based on class membership. Instead it produced riots, burning cities, soaring crime rates, plummeting educational standards, the highest illegitimate birth rates in history, and four generations of ever-growing welfare dependency.
Liberals are undeterred by such empirical facts. Their zealous faith in secular socialism?s ultimate worldly redemptive power is impervious to experience.
Historical experience also appears to have had little effect on the voting public, who remain committed to the welfare state. One is compelled to admit that the promise of a free lunch has a powerful appeal to a public ignorant of history. They love the benefits, but don?t understand their cost
After more than seventy years of efforts to inculcate secular socialism in public education, liberal educators have formed a nation of people who know almost nothing about what the Constitution stood for when it was written. Like people in boats drifting with the tide on a dark night, we no longer know where we came from, nor where we?re headed.
Since 1932, Americans have been willing to sacrifice political liberty for the servility of womb-to-tomb welfare-state security. Otto von Bismarck, creator of the German Empire, knew what he was doing when he imposed the world?s first welfare system in 1881. His purpose, Bismarck declared, was to make Germans servile and dependent upon the national state, so that they could be herded like cattle.
Tocqueville?s description of France under socialism in the 1850s applies equally well to the United States since 1932. ??the passion for equality, first to entrench itself in the hearts of Frenchmen, has never given ground; ?? while the urge to freedom is forever assuming new forms, losing or gaining strength according to the march of events, our love of equality is constant and pursues the object of its desire with a zeal that is obstinate and often blind, ready to make every concession to those who give it satisfaction. Hence the fact that the French nation is prepared to tolerate in a government that favors and flatters its desire for equality practices and principles that are, in fact, the tools of despotism.?
Today, our collectivized Federal government regulates an ever-widening spectrum of actions and thoughts. Our socialist regulatory state permits, even encourages, individuals to look out only for themselves, to do whatever they can get away with. The Federal government certainly does nothing to encourage or teach religious moral values that would lead people to heed their consciences and to do the right thing.
Our secular educational system teaches ?tolerance,? i.e., moral relativity, along with the liberal philosophy of pragmatism, which says that the only guide is whatever works for the individual. In pragmatism, the end of socialism justifies any means, so there is no longer a limit on government?s arrogation of power or abrogation of individual rights. Since 1937, provisions of the Bill of Rights have been selectively discarded by the courts, as owners of private property repeatedly have experienced. Our government routinely grants special benefits based solely upon membership in favored social classes, making a mockery of ?equal justice? under the law.
All of this is in direct opposition to the government of limited powers instituted by the Constitution. And all of it is contrary to individual liberty supported by the precepts of morality and instructed by religion.
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Sunday, July 30, 2006
Stem Cell Nihilism
Editor Paul Greenberg flays the sacred cow of fetal stem cell research.
In a Washington Times op-ed essay, Paul Greenberg, the Pulitzer-Prize-winning editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, strips away the hypocritical pretensions of those who advocate unrestricted use of fetal stem cells for medical research.
A few excerpts:
“It’s a juicy prospect for a fast-developing industry: billions in federal grants for experimentation on human embryos….
“...But for the moment this rush to experiment on human embryos has been thwarted by a presidential veto, which the House failed to override. But only for the moment. This is but a pause in the march of scientism, not a stop. After all, it’s just one more slight little ethical boundary to be crossed on man’s march toward physical and mental perfection, a k a “The Abolition of Man.” That was the title of C.S. Lewis’ percipient essay on the subject more than a half-century ago….
“The case for embryonic experimentation isn’t dubious just ethically but scientifically. To quote Robert P. George, a law professor at Princeton who served on the President’s Council on Bioethics:
“Researchers know that stem cells derived from blastocyst-stage embryos are currently of no therapeutic value and may never actually be used in the treatment of diseases…. In fact, there is not a single embryonic stem cell therapy even in clinical trials. (By contrast, adult and umbilical cord stem cells are already being used in the treatment of 65 diseases.) All informed commentators know that embryonic stem cells cannot be used in therapies because of their tendency to generate dangerous tumors.”
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The Worshipful Spirit
Religious worship is more than going through the motions. Your heart and soul must be engaged.
Happily our minister Bob Childs was back in the pulpit of the Long Ridge Congregational Church this Sunday to continue his exposition of the Book of Ecclesiastes.
Before getting to the message of the sermon, let me invite everyone to visit us for Sunday morning services at 9:30 and for Bible study sessions on Wednesday evenings at 7:30.? We are in Stamford, Connecticut, on Old Long Ridge Road, about four miles north of the Merritt Parkway, via Exit 34 (Long Ridge Road).? Just follow the signs.? You may wish in the meanwhile to visit our website at http://www.longridge.org/ , where you can download the full sermon.
You will also want to know that we are a Bible-based church, no longer affiliated with the UCC, which has drifted away from Christianity and into moral relativism and rationalization of too many non-Biblical doctrines.
The sermon text was Ecclesiastes 5:1-7, which begins:
“Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong. Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.”
The points drawn from these verses by our minister are well nigh impossible to convey to a pure rationalist who has never experienced the reality of spiritual religion. For that person, who believes that only what is accessible to his own senses of sight, hearing, touch, taste, or smell is real, spiritual religion is all mumbo-jumbo; it doesn’t exist in reality.
But even for many people who profess faith in Jesus Christ, there is no reality within their reach. They have not prepared their hearts and minds for worship of God in reverence and awe.
Our minister described the Old Testament joy and anticipation of Jews, in many thousands, traveling to Jerusalem for the Passover feast and for being in the presence of God on the temple mount. It is in that spirit that we must prepare our hearts and minds to enter the church sanctuary for Sunday worship.
Only then may we be in the proper relationship with God to hear the whispers in the back of our minds telling us what we ought to do to help others in need. From my own experience and many conversations with my fellow church members, I can attest that prayerful worship must be as much listening for the voice of God as asking for one’s own desires.
Liberal rationalists will scoff at this and dismiss it as nuts “hearing voices in their heads.” Christians and religious Jews know the reality, however. Call it inspiration or intuition, if you prefer, but prayerful experience will teach you to be awake to sudden impulses suggesting the you “ought to do” a certain thing that will solve a problem or help someone else.
Prayerful worship is a life-transforming experience that will bring peace of mind, pull you out of self-centered pursuit of materiality, and bring the ultimate gift of God: true joy and happiness in the blessings you already have.
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Saturday, July 29, 2006
Theocracy: the Origin of American Democracy
The nature of theocracy in the New England colonies is widely misunderstood. Few recognize that the New England town meeting, the prototype of American institutions of democratic self-government, was nothing more than the governing process of each Congregational (Puritan) church community.
Theocracy is a broad term encompassing many different degrees of religious influence in civil government. Critics of New England Puritanism focus on two aspects: exclusion of non-church members from civil government, and reprobation of moral laxity.
Looking back at Puritanism only through the lens of present-day cultural standards leads most people to conclude that Puritans were repressive and anti-democratic. H. L. Mencken in the 1920s summed up liberal intellectuals’ judgment when he declared that Puritanism was a form of neurosis. This is the view taught in public schools and in our colleges and universities.
If one’s values extend no further than the adolescence of the Roaring 20s and today’s New York Times’s advocacy of rudeness, crudeness, and sexual promiscuity, that may be an understandable assessment.
If, however, one looks at fundamental matters the picture changes dramatically.
The foundation of our constitutional government ? the concept that the source of civil power is the people of the nation, not the king ? originated in the 17th century with the English Puritans and their Scottish confreres, known there as Presbyterians. Both groups opposed the luxury and elaborate ritualism of the episcopalian Church of England, along with its levels of hierarchical authority that dictated to the church members. In civil government they opposed the related doctrine of divine right of kings.
In “Democracy in America,” Alexis de Tocqueville noted :
“Puritanism was not merely a religious doctrine, but corresponded in many points with the most absolute democratic and republican theories. It was this tendency that had aroused its most dangerous adversaries. Persecuted by the government of the mother country, and disgusted by the habits of a society which the rigor of their own principles condemned, the Puritans went forth to seek some rude and unfrequented part of the world where they could live according to their own opinions and worship God in freedom.
“....The general principles which are the groundwork of modern constitutions, principles which, in the seventeenth century, were imperfectly known in Europe, and not completely triumphant even in Great Britain, were all recognized and established by the laws of New England: the intervention of the people in public affairs, the free voting of taxes, the responsibility of the agents of power, personal liberty, and trial by jury were all positively established without discussion.”
When James I succeeded Queen Elizabeth in 1603, he brought from his native Scotland an antipathy for Presbyterianism and vowed to suppress Puritanism in England. He also brought his Stuart family’s insistence upon the divine right of kings and loathing of “interference” by Parliament.
His harassment of Puritans led some of them to flee to Holland, whence came in 1620 the founders of the Plymouth colony in Massachusetts. Other Puritans, centered in Cambridge University, elected to remain within the Church of England and to work for reforms that aimed to return the church to the simplicity of its founding era under the Apostle Paul, a period without a hierarchy of bishops in which the church members elected elders and deacons from among their local members to administer each church’s affairs.
James’s son, Charles I, succeeded to the throne in 1625 and became even more abusive of religious and civil liberty than his father. Forced by Parliament to accept the 1628 Petition of Right, one of the fundamental documents of the British constitution, he simply refused to call Parliament into session for eleven years beginning in 1629. During this period he permitted Anglican Archbishop William Laud to employ crown troops to imprison and execute Puritans, making the Court of Star Chamber synonymous with arbitrary injustice.
Puritans led by John Winthrop and others in Cambridge University sorrowfully determined that the possibility of reforming the Anglican Church was too remote for them to remain in England and suffer Archbishop Laud’s depredations. They managed in 1629 to purchase the royal charter for the Massachusetts Bay Company, assembled a group of fellow Puritans, and sailed on the Arbella to establish a new church community in more tolerant circumstances.
The English political expression of Puritanism, after the end of Cromwell’s Protectorate, was the Whig Party that emerged in opposition when James II became king in 1685 and resumed the earlier civil and religious suppressions of his father Charles II. James II’s deposition in The Glorious Revolution of 1689 produced the English Bill of Rights, another fundamental document of the British constitution, and the model for our own Bill of Rights. It also most notably produced the “Second Treatise of Civil Government” by Puritan John Locke, the philosophical foundation, down to the borrowing of phraseology, for our own Declaration of Independence and Constitution.
The concept of the Biblical covenant is essential in understanding the civil and religious government in Puritan New England. Just as God established through Moses a covenant with the tribes of Israel making them His chosen people, so the Puritans en-route to found Boston solemnly instituted a covenant between themselves and God to establish a church community in the new world that would follow the Ten Commandments and be a “city upon a hill” serving as a model for reversion to the righteous simplicity of the original Christian churches.
As endlessly proclaimed by Old Testament prophets, the covenant between God and his chosen people was a two-way street. God would bless them so long as they remained faithful to His commandments, but would visit His wrath upon them when they strayed. So was the understanding and intent of the Puritan covenant entered upon with the founding of the Massachusetts Bay colony in 1630.
From this flows what 20th century hedonists construe as repressive intolerance. What they forget is that the peoples of Plymouth in 1620 and of Boston in 1630 voluntarily and gladly accepted the pledge of their covenants, as did all towns (Congregational churches) subsequently founded in Massachusetts and Connecticut.
Putting this into a current-day framework, few people would describe General Motors or Citibank as intolerant or repressive because they require all people accepting employment also to accept their rules of conduct or be fired for breaches of those rules.
The Massachusetts Bay Company was in fact a corporation whose charter was owned by John Winthrop’s group, the founders of Boston. Thus they had both civil and religious authority, subject to the will of each church congregation, to set their own rules of conduct. Church members became shareholders in the chartered corporation.
For those early Puritan communities, adherence to their solemn covenant with God was regarded literally as a matter of life or death in the harsh conditions of wilderness in the formative years of each church community.
For that reason, when church members were deemed by their local church fellows to have engaged in conduct conflicting with the founding covenant, they were excluded from fellowship until they repented and reformed their conduct. No person coming into a church community was permitted membership in the church without satisfying the church members of his faith in Jesus Christ and his commitment to Godly conduct.
What must be stressed is that, within each church community, subject only to their covenant, the democratic wishes of all members of each congregation was the sole source of religious administration and civil authority. The 1648 Cambridge Platform, the product of the General Court, the colony-wide gathering of elected representatives of each local congregation, affirmed this in explicit detail.
Ministers undoubtedly exercised great influence on both church and civil administration, but that was a consequence of their having been selected and hired by each congregation and their subsequent satisfactory performance in office. No Puritan minister had independent authority to impose any doctrine or judgement upon any New England community. Ministers who attempted it were summarily dismissed by their congregations.
When congregants irreconcilably disagreed with their fellows, they departed and founded new churches. What few people know is that New England towns in the early 17th century were simply church communities. My home, Stamford, Connecticut, founded in 1641 as a split-off from the Wetherfield, Connecticut, church, was the last of those founded in New England.
The Cambridge Platform affirms that the people within each church community were the sole source of authority, subject to the Word of God. They elected their own preachers, teachers, elders, and deacons, each member having an equal vote. There was no external or overriding hierarchical body with the power to gainsay each church’s will.
These Congregational meetings became in subsequent years the celebrated New England Town meeting. Puritan Congregational Churches thus were the origin of American concepts of democratic self-government.
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Tuesday, July 25, 2006
Establishment vs Separation
So-called separation of church and state is not what liberals would have you believe. Warner Todd Huston gives us the historical facts.
Does ‘Separation of Church and State’ Really Exist?
-By Warner Todd Huston
Secularists today have a catch phrase that they use like a club against religion in America. That club is named “The Separation of Church and State”. So many Americans have heard the phrase that they think it is one actually written right into the Constitution of the United States. Those who are more learned on the subject realize it is not. In fact, those who are learned on the subject know that it wasn’t mentioned in any law, or even in the halls of Congress, until long after the Constitution was written. In fact, there was not much attention paid to the phrase at all until after Thomas Jefferson, the originator of the phrase, was long dead.
Not even the Supreme Court paid it much attention until the 1940s, so this ?wall of separation? issue is not one that hails from the early Republic with the same meaning as it does today. Our Founders had very different ideas about religion and government, ideas that were not nearly as simple as the stark black or white assumptions of the activists of today.
The Danbury Letter
The man who initially wrote the phrase, Thomas Jefferson, wrote it in an 1802 letter to a congregation of Baptist churchmen from Danbury, Connecticut. Only elected president of the United States but two years preciously, (1800 ? 1808) Jefferson was responding to a letter sent him by the Danbury church members who were attempting to get his support for their struggle against the state’s somewhat oppressive religious requirements for certain rights in that state—not an unusual practice in the states at that time. While Jefferson’s letter only obliquely addressed the Baptist’s concerns, more importantly it addressed the Federal position on establishing a national religion because Jefferson?s reply was focused on the Federal issue, not that of the states.In his short letter, Jefferson said, “... I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church and State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, ...”
(See full text HERE )
Jefferson used the words “act of the whole American people” and “supreme will of the nation” for a very specific reason. While he obliquely seemed to be supportive of the Baptist’s plight, he did not give them direct support for overturning Connecticut’s state laws just on his say-so. Jefferson restricted his response to the Federal (or National) position, distancing himself from being seen to talk badly about the state’s laws. After all, as president of the United States, Jefferson had no power to alter a state?s Constitution. Worse, should a letter he had written attacking a state?s Constitution on an issue that was commonly extent in most of the Union become public, it could lead to a messy backlash that Jefferson did not need after the tumultuous and vicious presidential campaign of 1800.
Lastly, it should be remembered that Jefferson already had an unsavory reputation as an irreligious, heathen as the charge was leveled against him during the contentious 1800 campaign. Jefferson knew that every state in the Union (except Rhode Island) had a state sponsored religion since before the days of the Revolution, so by, relegating himself to the settled national issue, he could not easily be accused of more atheist sentiments. So, what does this mean to the issue of “separation of church and state” for today’s argument? It means that Jefferson’s letter should not be used by anti-religionists to support their position. Jefferson was clearly saying that religious issues were in the various state’s area of influence and control, not his as leader of the Federal Union. Unfortunately, today?s anti-religionists who wish to eliminate religion in the states as well as the Federal Union illegitimately use Jefferson?s words in their cause misconstruing Jefferson to say that all religion should be eliminated from government. A true reading of Jefferson?s letter would tend to undermine the secularists who imagine that Jefferson was saying in the Danbury letter that all government should be separated from religion because he made no effort to say that the states should emulate the Federal government’s separation. After all, an “act of the whole American people” refers to those acts made concerning rules for the Federal Union, not those of the individual states.In summation, Jefferson was addressing the separation of powers as much as he was of that of the Federal government and religion.
Jefferson?s Danbury letter, of course, was just one man?s opinion and, to be sure, it was one made more to get someone off his back with a short address than one of any detailed discussion of the issue. But he was far from the only Founder to have considered the issue of religion, society, and the state.
Their own personal religious practices aside, the Founders had an intense desire to see religion observed by the people, but where the Founder?s brilliance lay was in an insistence for freedom of religious expression, not in a squelching of same. James Madison, who addressed that subject many times, wrote that, “Among the features peculiar to the political system of the United States, is the perfect equality of rights which it secures to every religious sect.”
Of course, Madison was quite explicit in his thoughts that government should not operate or directly run a religion, yet he was equally as insistent that religious observance was a very important aspect of republicanism. To expect that the same man who would say such things would advocate a total elimination of public religion just doesn’t logically follow. The Founders were as worried about virtue in the people as they were for their liberty and freedom as it turns out. Here are just a few more quotes as grist for the mill for discussion.
“I proceed…to enquire what mode of education we shall adopt so as to secure to the state all the advantages that are to be derived from the proper instruction of youth; and here I beg leave to remark, that the only foundation for a useful education in a republic is to be laid in religion. Without this there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty, and liberty is the object and life of all republican governments.”
“Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that National morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”
And one more from James Madison:
“The belief in a God All Powerful wise and good, is so essential to the moral order of the world and to the happiness of man, that arguments which enforce it cannot be drawn from too many sources nor adapted with too much solicitude to the different characters and capacities impressed with it.”
With these few quotes (and there are many, many others) we see that the Founders desired the people to be led by religion. And, to be sure, the religion they assumed would play a leading role were the various forms of Christianity as existing in the Union at the time. So, we can easily establish that the Founders weren?t anti-religion, that they desired religions to be included in American life, and that Christianity served as a necessary foundation upon which to build a civil society. But what did it all really mean for the Constitution? For a fuller discussion of the issue we can turn to Supreme Court Associate Justice Joseph Story’s writings.
Associate Justice Joseph Story
Justice Story was born in 1779 and became an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court in 1811 after having previously been a distinguished politician from Massachusetts. He figured prominently later in the era of the John Marshall Court as the Supreme Court solidified its position as presumed final arbiter of Constitutionality of laws passed by Congress. One of the things he is remembered for the most by posterity is his exposition on the Constitution. Story’s “Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States” (3 vols., 1833) is still widely looked upon as the standard treatise on the subject of the Constitution of the United States. This treatment has been standard reading for law students, Constitutional historians, and students of civil government for 173 years and has served as a chief reference in some of the best schools for generations. There is no question that Story’s work is considered authoritative and widely accepted.
It should be noted that Story?s able commentaries on the Constitution were published in 1833 and were used as an authoritative textbook for study of the law and the Constitution all the way until our own times. As a measuring stick, it should be noted that the last of the Founders, James Madison, wouldn?t pass away until 1836, three years after the publishing of Story?s work. So, Story?s era was still intimately connected to that of those who framed the Constitution. Story?s commentaries were not viewed as revolutionary, or radical in any way.
1st Amendment to the Constitution:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
To set the stage, we must first ascertain what Mr. Story and the Founders before him envisioned what the role of religion in society, as well as in government, should be. We must review more than their thoughts on the place of religion and the Constitution to get an informed idea of what the Founders desired. Should we concern ourselves solely with their thoughts on religion and the Federal Constitution we give ourselves an incomplete picture of their thoughts on the matter and this tends to horribly skew the debate in too simplistic a direction. That in mind, we find that Mr. Justice Story went on at great length about the place of religion in government arriving at a point far from saying religion had no right or place to intermingle with government. In one of his first few paragraphs on the First Amendment and the religion clause therein, Story said, ?Indeed, the right of a society or government to interfere in matters of religion will hardly be contested by any persons, who believe that piety, religion, and morality are intimately connected with the well being of the state, and indispensable to the administration of civil justice.? This straight forward paragraph reveals that Story was hardly a man who imagined government and religion should be alienated one from the other! Story began with the basic assumption that the Christian religion was indispensable to a good society, echoing the thoughts of the Founders.
??the great doctrines of religion, the being, and attributes, and providence of one Almighty God; the responsibility to him for all our actions, founded upon moral freedom and accountability; a future state of rewards and punishments; the cultivation of all the personal, social, and benevolent virtues;—these never can be a matter of indifference in any well ordered community. It is, indeed, difficult to conceive, how any civilized society can well exist without them. And at all events, it is impossible for those, who believe in the truth of Christianity, as a divine revelation, to doubt, that it is the especial duty of government to foster, and encourage it among all the citizens and subjects. This is a point wholly distinct from that of the right of private judgment in matters of religion, and of the freedom of public worship according to the dictates of one’s conscience.?
After setting this basic groundwork, Story went on a brief review of the history of religion in the colonies and young states as it directly affects the Constitution and the American system—turning to history as the authors of the Federalist Papers did in their own exposition on the Constitution.
In so doing, he observes that every state had a state sponsored religion.
?In fact, every American colony, from its foundation down to the revolution, with the exception of Rhode Island, (if, indeed, that state be an exception,) did openly, by the whole course of its laws and institutions, support and sustain, in some form, the Christian religion; and almost invariably gave a peculiar sanction to some of its fundamental doctrines. And this has continued to be the case in some of the states down to the present period, without the slightest suspicion, that it was against the principles of public law, or republican liberty.?
This all led Story to the conclusion that Christianity was never imagined to be detrimental to the health of the state or Federal government.
?Probably at the time of the adoption of the constitution, and of the amendment to it, now under consideration, the general, if not the universal, sentiment in America was, that Christianity ought to receive encouragement from the state, so far as was not incompatible with the private rights of conscience, and the freedom of religious worship. An attempt to level all religions, and to make it a matter of state policy to hold all in utter indifference, would have created universal disapprobation, if not universal indignation.?
Story was not insensible to religious oppression, of course, and his next several sections dealt with the religious oppressions of western history up to the time of the Founding of the country. Again, history was his guide.
With his historical investigations revealing the all too common religious oppressions by past governments concluded, Story assured his readers that the issue of religion belonged properly with the states where the people had the most ability to affect it—As did the Founders before him.
?Thus, the whole power over the subject of religion is left exclusively to the state governments, to be acted upon according to their own sense of justice, and the state constitutions??
In the final analysis, Story observed no stark separation of church and state, but a practice of delegating a regulation of religion that rested with the various states. There was no expectation by the Founders or any language placed in the Constitution whereby religion would be banished from the public sphere. So this mythical ?Wall of separation? does not really exist but in the minds of later day anti-religionists.
The reality of the Founder?s intent for the roles of government and religion were far more nuanced and complicated than modern religion banners pretend. Unfortunately, they are presenting an incorrect picture of history and Constitutional law that is damaging the system that the Founders created and materially altering our culture for the worse.
In closing, I?d like to quote one more Founder, Elias Boudinot, delegate from New Jersey to the Continental Congress from 1777 to 1778, and 1781 to 1784. Then President of the Continental Congress, 1783.
?Our country should be preserved from the dreadful evil of becoming enemies to the religion of the Gospel, which I have no doubt, but would be the introduction of the dissolution of government and the bonds of civil society.?
Religion was not something the Founders necessarily feared and wanted distanced from society and government, but one that must be closely held and carefully regulated for the health of both society and government.
Unfortunately, anti-religionists today forget that our nation was based on and intimately connected with, religious freedom. Not freedom from religion.
Warner Todd Huston’s website is Publius’ Forum
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Monday, July 24, 2006
Lebanese Civilian Casualties
Liberals in Europe and the United States, which of course includes most of the news media, cry crocodile tears over civilian casualties in Lebanon.
We must pray for and sympathize with innocent women and children caught in the crossfire. But we must also remember three points:
First, Hezbollah, a part of the Lebanese government, started the fight by crossing a UN-mandated international border between Israel and Lebanon and attacking an Israeli army unit.
Second, by deliberate design, attacking terrorists like Hezbollah and Hamas without killing and wounding innocent civilians is impossible, because terrorists intermingle their weapons and forces with civilian populations.
Third, as reader Errol Phillips notes, a significant portion of “civilian” casualties reported by the press are actually Hezbollah fighters, who are not uniformed army troops, but technically civilians.
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Sunday, July 23, 2006
Christian Service Is Not Theocracy
If religious Jews and Christians are true to the Bible, liberals need have no fear of theocracy. We are instructed to think of helping other people, as individuals, not to create a police state that compels behavior.
Yesterday I posted an article dealing with the paranoia of liberals, who fear the imposition of a rigid theocracy should Christians and religious Jews gain sufficient political power. Recent books published by liberals detail horrific expectations of a United States in which only Christians would be eligible to hold public office, a state in which Christians would be given preferences for all public funding, etc.
To allay their fears, let me revert to a sermon delivered last April by our Long Ridge Congregational Church minister, who is away this week.
Before getting to the message of the sermon, let me invite everyone to visit us for Sunday morning services at 9:30 and for Bible study sessions on Wednesday evenings at 7:30. We are in Stamford, Connecticut, on Old Long Ridge Road, about four miles north of the Merritt Parkway, via Exit 34 (Long Ridge Road). Just follow the signs. You may wish in the meanwhile to visit our website at http://www.longridge.org/ .
You will also want to know that we are a Bible-based church, no longer affiliated with the UCC, which has drifted away from Christianity and into moral relativism and rationalization of too many non-Biblical doctrines.
In the April sermon, our minister Robert Childs used Philippians 2:1-11 as his text, under the rubric of Our Vision of God.
Philippians is one of the letters written by the Apostle Paul, in this case to the members of the church that he had founded at Philippi. The letter is written by Paul from his jail cell in Rome and is both one of his last epistles and one of the oldest texts in the New Testament, composed within 30 years of Jesus’s crucifixion. Thus everything Paul says regarding Our Savior was a matter of personal, eye-witness experience of his fellow apostles, as well as of Paul’s transforming vision of Jesus on the road to Damascus.
To emphasize the point of the hands-on relationship with Jesus, the books of the New Testament were written so soon after Jesus’s crucifixion that they do not mention the deaths of apostles other than Stephen. We know from later accounts not part of the New Testament canon that eight years later Paul was executed by the Roman authorities. In contrast, the gnostic gospels mentioned in the DaVinci Code were composed about 200 years after Jesus’s crucifixion.
A central message in Paul’s epistle to the Philippians is the need for all of us to humble ourselves in service to others. Humility, not the pridefulness of theocracy, is called for, and Paul reminds us that Jesus is our model.
In Philippians 2:1-4 Pauls admonishes us:
“If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
Continuing in verses 5-8, Paul reminds us that each of us must do something, must answer the call of Jesus to help others; self-interested indifference to the troubles of others won’t cut it:
“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!”
Verses 6-9 conclude:
“Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
The same message, in essence, applies to religious Jews, whose religion is the source of Christianity.
Isaiah, arguably the greatest of the prophets, writing in the 8th century BC, warns the stiff-necked, rebellious people of Israel who had strayed once again from God’s law:
Isaiah 1: 10-11
“Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom; listen to the law of our God, you people of Gomorrah! “The multitude of your sacrifices? what are they to me?” says the LORD.”
And in verse 17:
“learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.”
Note that Isaiah was addressing both Jews as individuals and their rulers, long before the advent of the welfare state when we could ignore the troubles of our neighbors and say, “I paid my taxes; let the government take care of it.”
The Judeo-Christian tradition thus does not call for a dictatorial theocracy. It calls to each of us as individuals to ask for God’s guidance to do the right thing, one-on-one, for the people suffering around us.
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Saturday, July 22, 2006
Theocracy and Liberal Paranoia
Liberals express fear of an imagined conspiracy to impose a brutal Christian theocracy upon the nation. Ironically, Christians and religious Jews are subjected to a real liberal jihad that claims the prerogative to ban expressions of their faith outside the closed doors of homes and religious meeting places.
Liberals see themselves as entitled to regulate public discussion, because they have conflated their own religion of socialistic atheism with the supposed objectivity of the physical sciences. This combination of historicism and scientism leads them to the unquestioning certitude that they alone represent political and social truth.
Liberals are offended and feel threatened by all expressions of spiritual religious faith, which they perceive as evidence of a theocratic conspiracy and therefore sufficient grounds for banning Judeo-Christianity from all public discussion.
Opposition by Christians and religious Jews to abortion, fetal stem-cell research, same-sex marriage, and the hedonistic license of sexual promiscuity is equated by liberals with medieval ignorance and abolition of modern science.
Robert Reich, President Clinton’s Labor Secretary, wrote: “The underlying battle will be between modern civilization and anti-modernist fanatics; .... between those who believe that truth is revealed solely through scripture and religious dogma, and those who rely primarily on science, reason, and logic. Terrorism will disrupt and destroy lives. But terrorism is not the only danger we face. “
Randall Balmer, a professor of religious history at Columbia, is sure that Christian conservatism ?hankers for the kind of homogeneous theocracy that the Puritans tried to establish in seventeenth-century Massachusetts.? (see Ross Douthat’s essay).
Liberals contend that spiritual religion is fictional ignorance, Karl Marx’s opium of the masses imposed by the rulers to oppress the workers, which must have no role at all in political life. They fail to recognize the uniform lesson of history that societies survive only when they are united by common traditions and common precepts of morality. As Abraham Lincoln noted in 1858, a house divided against itself cannot stand.
Atheistic materialism, unfortunately, is not a unifying set of traditions and morality. It is merely the Darwinian doctrine enunciated by Thomas Huxley that there is no such thing as sin, that human life is merely survival of the fittest, with no meaning beyond self-indulgence. A world dedicated to nothing more than every-man-for-himself, in-your-face “doing your own thing” is inherently Thomas Hobbes’s war of all against all, in which life is nasty, brutish, and short.
Traditionalists merely wish to sustain the ethos that underlay the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution from the 18th century until the 1930s. They may attempt to persuade liberals of the error of their ways, but that is hardly the liberals’ imagined theocracy.
The liberal jihad, in contrast, leaves traditionalists no choices but to surrender their faith or fight. The jihad seeks to impose atheistic religious doctrine upon all of public education and politics and to scourge all expressions of of Judeo-Christian religious belief that are not confined to the closed quarters of churches, synagogues, or private homes. As under the sharia of Islam, Christians and religious Jews are tolerated, so long as they keep their faith private and pay their taxes to support teaching atheistic materialism in the public schools.
The liberal jihad also has the full backing of the Federal and most state judiciaries and the benefit of unending propaganda from the self-designated mainstream media, including taxpayer-financed NPR and PBS.
Quietly keeping religious faith as a personal matter is not an option for traditionalists. With public education controlled by the doctrines of atheistic materialism, we already have three generations of citizens who have been thoroughly indoctrinated in the gospel of materialistic social-justice. It’s as if the body snatchers of the 1978 movie were replacing the souls of our children with alien, amoral sensuality.
The gray-beards of today’s liberalism were, in the 1960s, the anti-establishment rebels on college campuses who perceived the entirety of existing society ? from New Deal liberals to Republican conservatives ? in C. Wright Mills’s expression, as the power elite. Student anarchists of that era added a guerilla-tactic edge to the normal rebelliousness of youth. Even Tom Hayden’s Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) became too tame for the violent wing, who split off into the Weatherman underground of bank robbers, murderers, and bombers.
From the perspective of those rebels, who are today’s politicians, judges, and educators, even the bland society of the 1950s had to be obliterated, under the impetus of solidarity with the “black colony” in the United States and Vietnamese freedom-fighters in Southeast Asia. That militant spirit remains the subtext in today’s paranoid reaction against any questioning of the gospel of atheistic materialism.
Ross Douthat in his essay on the First Things website concludes:
“What all these observers point out, and what the anti-theocrats ignore, is that the religious polarization of American politics runs in both directions. The Republican party has become more religious because the Democrats became self-consciously secular, and the turning point wasn?t the 1992 or the 2000 elections but the putsch of 1972, when secularist delegates?to quote Phillips, quoting Layman?suddenly ?constituted the largest ?religious? bloc among Democratic delegates.? ...... it?s the second half of the story, the Republican reaction against the Democrats? decision to become the first major party in American history to pander to a sizable bloc of aggressively secular voters….. So the rise of the Religious Right, and the growing ?religion gap? that Phillips describes but fails to understand, aren?t new things in American history but a reaction to a new thing….. The hysteria over theocracy, in turn, represents an attempt to rewrite the history of the United States to suit these voters? prejudices, by setting a year zero somewhere around 1970 and casting everything that?s happened since as a battle between progress and atavism, reason and fundamentalism, the Enlightenment and the medieval dark.”
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Friday, July 21, 2006
Profundity on the Left
If you want to know what occupies the interest and rationality of Manhattan liberals, read this.
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Why Joe Lieberman is Behind in the Democratic Primary Polls
Hendrik Hertzberg, the far-left radical editor and columnist of The New Yorker magazine, gives us his analysis of why Connecticut liberals despise Senator Joseph Lieberman. Unfortunately for Senator Lieberman, the Connecticut Democratic Party is overwhelmingly populated with left-wingers.
My take on the matter is that liberals in general, and Connecticut liberals in particular, can’t tolerate anyone who professes a belief in God. Senator Lieberman, a religious Jew, does exactly that, even though he has one of the most liberal voting records in the Senate.
His opponent’s grandfather was a darling of the Greenwich Village intellectuals and one of the best known socialist atheists of the 1920s. What more could a Connecticut liberal want?