Burke Vs Paine, Part V–The Triumph of Thomas Paine

How Thomas Paine Lost the Battle, but Won the War

One of the abiding failures of Thomas Paine has to do with his ardent support for the French Revolution.  This was not the first revolution he championed.  That sobriquet falls upon the American War for Independence or the American Revolution.  But being on “the right side” of history with respect to America shaking off English imperialism was due to a deep sense of mistrust of government on the American side and the the need to keep a measure of  control over those who rule.  Hence the development of the “American system” of limited government, its division of powers, and being bound to a constitution.

When it came to the French Revolution a few years later, Tom Paine was, once again, in boots’n all.  Human rights, human freedom–and the power of a just state to command both at will, justified by appealing to a “higher law”, namely, “the will of the people”.   But without the checks and balances of American colonial society, the whole enterprise soon turned bloody.

Tom Paine was consequently discredited.  Yet, now we find him resurrected and the ideological victor in our day.  The West has largely followed in Paine’s train.  We do not mean that the West has descended into an orgy of totalitarian bloodletting, abortion notwithstanding; rather, we refer to Paine’s latter day view of the state as a welfare institution.  In later life, Paine developed the idea of a state with vastly expanded powers, existing to satisfy the “demand rights” of humans.

His old debating foe, Edmund Burke had a much more cautious position.

In a short essay titled Thoughts and Details of Scarcity . . . Burke expresses a profound mistrust of government interference in the economy, especially on behalf of the poor:  “My opinion is against an over-doing of any sort of administration, and more especially against this most momentous of all meddling on the part of authority; the meddling with the subsistence of the people”.

The needs of the poor are of the utmost importance, he argues, but they should be addressed by charities, which should be amply supported by the wealthy and the noble.  Government cannot take that care upon itself, as doing so would never work and, in the process, would disrupt the social order.  Care of the poor is not in this sense a public obligation, but a private one.  [Yuval Levin, The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left (New York: Basic Books 2014), p. 119.]

By contrast, initially Paine had agreed with Burke, and argued for a very much constrained and limited role for the state.  As time passed, however, he moved more and more to argue for a vastly expanded role and responsibility of the state.  Levin describes Paine’s position in later life as follows:

But by 1791 . . . Pain was writing with eloquent passion of “the moral obligation of providing for old age, helpless infancy, and poverty.  Meeting this obligation . . . is a key purpose of government.  “Civil government does not exist in executions; but in making such provision for the instruction of youth and the support of age, as to exclude, as much as possible, profligacy from the one and despair from the other.”  He calls for provisions for poor parents when a child is born, for government support in paying for elementary education, for pensions to the elderly who cannot work, and even for public help with funeral expenses for those who cannot afford them.  “This support,” he then argues, “is not of the nature of a charity but of a right.”  Public assistance to the poor turns out to be a true social obligation.  [Ibid., p. 121.]

Following Paine, Western states have grown into Leviathans before whom citizens are subjugated and dependant.  For the present, at least, Paine has won.

President Nixon once said, with respect to economist John Maynard Keynes, as the United States was moving away from the gold standard, “We are all Keynsians now.”  Far more historically accurate and true would be the aphorism, “We are all Paineans now.”  Well, most of us.
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Comparisons and the downgrading of harm

It is human nature to compare and it is also common to want sympathy. As such it is common to compare our experiences or our situation to other situations, especially situations that evoke agreement and concern. If our friends and colleagues are sympathetic to, or affirm, a specific scenario, they are likely to affirm a related one.

Everyone acknowledges that Fred was unfairly dismissed from his job. If my dismissal had similarities to Fred’s then there will be agreement that my dismissal was also unfair. If renal colic is seriously painful then my renal colic was very sore. If Jane had all her money stolen and struggles to pay the bills then others may empathetic with my privation.

Whether or not a comparison works (or should work) depends on the validity of it. Are similar circumstances involved? Similarities to Fred’s dismissal may be largely superficial. An episode renal colic may have been treated with effective analgesia early on. Poverty may be due to laziness and frivolous spending.

So not all comparisons are valid. The problem with invalid comparisons can be greater. This can occur when we share an experience with our interlocutor. If I share a experience with the person making a comparison then I compare his experience to mine. Let’s say that John, Steve and Fred all got fired. Steve thinks his situation was unfair and in talking to John, Steve likens his situation to Fred which was clearly unfair. But if John thinks that his own situation was predominantly his own fault, and John works with Steve and not Fred, then rather than agree that Steve was unfairly dismissed like Fred was, John is more likely to think that Fred probably deserved it.

Equating the serious with the less serious often does not make people think that the less serious is more serious than it is. Rather they downgrade their opinion of the more serious. If you ran so hard you had a serious cramp that felt like you had broken a bone, and say so, someone else may think that that cramp is all part of hard training and perhaps broken bones are not as painful as he had been led to believe.

This is the principle of extreme comparisons. When we compare the less extreme to the more extreme in order to invoke passion about the less extreme, our listeners may depreciate the more extreme. Further, subsequently less passion may be elicited for the more extreme.

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Worthy of the Gospel a Prayer of Thanksgiving and Confession…

This Prayer is based around Paul’s imperitive to the church at Philippi to live worthy of the gospel (Philippians 1:27). It gives thanks to God for all he has done for us and offers a prayer that we might live our lives in a way that is an expression of God’s grace and love.

Lord God we come today to thank you for your great Love
Shown in all the wonderful things you have done for us.
We thank you for all you have made
Diverse environments and the Immense splendour of the night sky,
The delicate and intricate, the beautiful and awe inspiring
For the unique individuals, you have made each of us
We praise you for your loving craftmanship
And pray you would help us to care for, and treat it wisely
And treat each other as fearfully and wonderfully made in your image.
Loving God, full of mercy and grace
 We thank you for your redemptive love shown in Jesus Christ
Jesus stepped humbly down in to our world
proclaimed good news to the poor freedom to captive, sight to blind
He healed the sick, welcomed back the outcast
Died on the cross for the forgiveness of sin, and rose again to life.
We praise you that in this we who were lost in the dark, are found in the light,
And we pray we would live worthy of that great love
That we may show the same grace and love to all around us
Holy God, who choses to dwell in your people by the Holy Spirit
We thank you that you have poured out your Spirit on us all
You comfort us and council us on how to live for Christ
You fill us with  the power we need to witness to Jesus as Lord
You enable and equip us to love and serve as Christ did.
Walking with the Holy Spirit you produce Christ honouring fruit in us
We praise you for your abiding presence with and within us
We pray that we may know more of you each day
We pray as the spirit moves we may grow to maturity in faith and love 
Gracious Lord, we come today aware of our need for you
Full of thanks and praise for you and your love for us
Fully aware of our failings and brokenness
We acknowledge that we have done wrong
That we have left undone the good you call us to do
That we have not loved as you have loved us
We thank you that you are  just and faithful and hear our confession
We pray that you would forgive us and wipe the slate clean
We humbly hear you gracious words “you are forgiven”
Father God, who sent us your Son, who sends the Holy Spirit
In response to your love we dedicate ourselves afresh today
We open ourselves up afresh to you
Fill us we pray with your Holy Spirit
Lead us and teach us to walk in your ways
Reenergise our love in Christ and witness to Christ
We praise you Father, Son and Holy Spirit for hearing our pray
We ask that you would help us to live worth of your gospel
All glory and Honour to you God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

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until the end


devotional post # 2058

Luke 21:37-38

Luk 21:37 And every day he was teaching on the temple campus, but at night he went out and lodged on the mount called Olivet.
Luk 21:38 And all the people came to him early in the morning in the temple campus to hear him.

until the end

A few months ago, I found out that my ministry in the country where I was sent was going to end, and my wife and I were coming “home” and would have to transition to new jobs. I felt angry, and at times I considered just quitting, because I felt unappreciated and betrayed. But, we stayed at it until the end.

Jesus made a choice like that too. He knew the people in Jerusalem would crucify him, but he kept teaching them until the end. His faithfulness was to God.

LORD, give us all power to remain faithful no matter what.


A Case That Screams Out for Appeal

The Philando Castile Verdict Was a Miscarriage of Justice

David French
. . .  a Minnesota jury acquitted St. Anthony, Minnesota, police officer Jeronimo Yanez of second-degree manslaughter charges in the shooting of Philando Castile. In considering the rightness of the verdict, pay close attention to the transcript of the fatal encounter. 

Here it is, via CNN: 

9:05:00 p.m. — Castile’s vehicle came to a complete stop. 

9:05:15 – 9:05:22 p.m. — Yanez approached Castile’s car on the driver’s side. 

9:05:22 – 9:05:38 p.m. — Yanez exchanged greetings with Castile and told him of the brake light problem. 

9:05:33 p.m. — St. Anthony Police Officer Joseph Kauser, who had arrived as backup, approached Castile’s car on the passenger’s side. 

9:05:38 p.m. — Yanez asked for Castile’s driver’s license and proof of insurance. 

9:05:48 p.m. — Castile provided Yanez with his proof of insurance card. 

9:05:49 – 9:05:52 p.m. — Yanez looked at Castile’s insurance information and then tucked the card in his pocket. 

9:05:52 – 9:05:55 p.m. — Castile told Yanez: “Sir, I have to tell you that I do have a firearm on me.” Before Castile completed the sentence, Yanez interrupted and replied, “Okay” and placed his right hand on the holster of his gun. 

9:05:55 – 9:06:02 p.m. — Yanez said “Okay, don’t reach for it, then.” Castile responded: “I’m… I’m … [inaudible] reaching…,” before being again interrupted by Yanez, who said “Don’t pull it out.” Castile responded, “I’m not pulling it out,” and Reynolds said, “He’s not pulling it out.” Yanez screamed: “Don’t pull it out,” and pulled his gun with his right hand. 

Yanez fired seven shots in the direction of Castile in rapid succession. The seventh shot was fired at 9:06:02 p.m. Kauser did not touch or remove his gun. 

9:06:03 – 9:06:04 p.m. — Reynolds yelled, “You just killed my boyfriend!” 

9:06:04 – 9:06:05 p.m. — Castile moaned and said, “I wasn’t reaching for it.” These were his last words. 

9:06:05 – 9:06:09 p.m. — Reynolds said “He wasn’t reaching for it.” Before she completed her sentence, Yanez screamed “Don’t pull it out!” Reynolds responded. “He wasn’t.” Yanez yelled, “Don’t move! F***!” 

If you read carefully, you’ll note that it appears that the officer shot Castile for doing exactly what the officer told him to do. Yanez asked for Castile’s license. Castile told him that he had a gun, and the officer – rather than asking for his carry permit, or asking where the gun was, or asking to see Castile’s hands – just says, “Don’t reach for it then.” 

At that point, Castile is operating under two commands. Get his license, and don’t reach for his gun. As Castile reaches for his license (following the officer’s orders), and he assures him that he’s not reaching for the gun (also following the officer’s orders). The entire encounter, he assures Yanez that he’s following Yanez’s instructions. He died anyway. 

Yes, the evidence indicates that Yanez was afraid for his life. He thought he might have been dealing with a robber (a fact he apparently didn’t tell Castile), and he testified that he smelled marijuana. But Castile was following Yanez’s commands, and it’s simply false that the mere presence of a gun makes the encounter more dangerous for the police. It all depends on who possesses the gun. 

If he’s a concealed-carry permit-holder, then he’s in one of the most law-abiding demographics in America.  In recent months we’ve seen a number of cases where courts have excused police for shooting citizens even after the police made mistakes — and the citizens were doing nothing wrong — simply because these citizens were exercising their Second Amendment rights. 

This is unacceptable, and it represents the most extreme possible deprivation of civil rights and civil liberties. I understand the inherent danger of police work. I also understand the legal responsibilities of men and women who volunteer to put on that uniform, and the legal rights of the citizens they’ve sworn to protect and serve. 

I’m aware of no evidence that Yanez panicked because Castile was black. But whether he panicked because of race, simply because of the gun, or because of both, he still panicked, and he should have been held accountable. The jury’s verdict was a miscarriage of justice.

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Daily Meditation

Lest We Forget

TO JULIE HALVORSON, possibly the daughter of a correspondent

C. S. Lewis

March 1956

Thank you for the most charming letter I have received in a long time. It made me very happy.

I am also glad that your class has been enjoying the Narnian stories. But especially am I happy that you know who Aslan is. Never forget Him.

From The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume III
Compiled in Yours, JackThe Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Volume III: Narnia, Cambridge, and Joy 1950-1963. Copyright © 2007 by C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. All rights reserved. Used with permission of HarperCollins Publishers. Yours, Jack: Spiritual Direction from C. S. Lewis. Copyright © 2008 by C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. All rights reserved. Used with permission of HarperCollins Publishers.
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A Lone-Wolf Killer Is Never Alone

Vigilantism and Lawlessness

A lawless society is one where, ironically, people take the law into their own hands.  We have seen yet another example, in this case from the United Kingdom.  A man from Wales, father of four, decided to be judge, jury, and executioner on his own account, and used his van as a weapon, running down an entirely innocent person.  He committed murder.  The great, eternal indictment of God now stands against him: “Thou shalt not kill”.

It’s early days, and we don’t yet know enough about the individual involved.  Initial reports indicate that he was a troubled individual, estranged from family and friends, acting bizarrely at times.  It is possible that he was becoming progressively unhinged and manic.  For whatever reason, he determined that he would kill some Muslim people, despite having Muslim acquaintances with whom he was on friendly terms.

Somewhere along the line he decided to take the law into his own hands.  He would “set things to right”.  He would help relieve Britain of the lawless, murderous terrorist attacks inflicted upon it almost daily by Islamic insurgents.  He would exact vengeance and murder some Muslims on his own account.

Why do people take the law into their own hands?
 Most often, somewhere along the line, they have determined that the state is failing to carry out its divine responsibility to be a terror and punisher of evildoers.

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgement. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. [Romans 13: 1-5.  Emphasis, ours.]

It is incumbent on the governing authorities to be implacable and resolute when it comes to apprehending and punishing evildoers.  When the state fails in this fundamental duty to God, people are tempted and provoked to take matters into their own hands and do what they believe the state is failing to do.

The government cannot prevent all unhinged, mad ideas entering into the heads of its citizens.  But it can and must be responsible for preventing conditions where people come to believe the government is failing in its fundamental duties to apprehend lawbreakers and punish them appropriately.  When people reach that conclusion, rightly or wrongly, they are ripe for vigilantism.  They, themselves, then become lawbreakers, even murderers.

Darren Osborne needs to face the magistrate for his murderous actions.  Thankfully he will.  But to help prevent the Osbornes of this world becoming lawless outlaws the state has a bounded duty to ensure that it enforces the law persistently, fairly, and “blindly” throughout the entire country, across all social classes, races, ethnicities, and faiths.

These days many police forces appear to have fallen into the trap of being more concerned about how communities think about the authorities, and so calibrate their enforcement of the law and their actions according to how various community groups will view the police, rather than according to what the law stipulates and requires.  Thus, the Rotherham debacle–which is not an isolated case by any means.

The failure to address the abuse was attributed to a combination of factors revolving around race, class and gender—contemptuous and sexist attitudes toward the mostly working-class victims; fear that the perpetrators’ ethnicity would trigger allegations of racism and damage community relations; the Labour council’s reluctance to challenge a Labour-voting ethnic minority; lack of a child-centred focus; a desire to protect the town’s reputation; and lack of training and resources. [Wikipedia.  Emphasis, ours.]

When the state authorities and the police are implacable and relentless towards crime and lawbreaking in general, people will be far less likely to take the law into their own hands.   When the state’s message to citizens warns them there will be zero tolerance if any are tempted to lawbreaking, whether in the name of some political cause or because they think they can take the law into their own hands, vigilantism will be choked off.

The state has a duty to ensure that there is no room for a vacuum of power to develop where the police and courts and failing in their God-given duties.  If not, into that vacuum the vigilante will step.

When men start taking the law into their own hands, government and society itself are likely to have already been showing symptoms of lawlessness on their own account.
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staying awake and standing tall


devotional post # 2057

Luke 21:34-36

Luk 21:34 “But pay attention to yourselves or else your hearts might be weighed down with intoxication and drunkenness and worries belonging to this life, and that day spring on you suddenly like a trap.
Luk 21:35 Because it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole land.
Luk 21:36 But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand tall in the presence of the Son of Man.”

staying awake and standing tall

There are some Christians who have drawn the conclusion that the signs of the second coming do not really matter — that the best thing to do is ignore the question of the nearness of the second coming and get on with their lives. Not so. The signs are our Lord’s way of reminding us how important it is for us to not be distracted by self-indilgence or this world’s anxieties. He encourages us to stay awake to what is happening so that we are not caught in the trap that the world will be caught in. For us, the terrible events of the cataclysmic return of Christ will be a time to stand tall in his presence, ready for the things that are going to take place.

Come, LORD Jesus.


Letter From America: At Last–Some Sanity From the Left

Let’s Not Get Carried Away

David Brooks
New York Times

I was the op-ed editor at The Wall Street Journal at the peak of the Whitewater scandal. We ran a series of investigative pieces “raising serious questions” (as we say in the scandal business) about the nefarious things the Clintons were thought to have done back in Arkansas.
Now I confess I couldn’t follow all the actual allegations made in those essays. They were six jungles deep in the weeds. But I do remember the intense atmosphere that the scandal created. A series of bombshell revelations came out in the media, which seemed monumental at the time. A special prosecutor was appointed and indictments were expected. Speculation became the national sport.
In retrospect Whitewater seems overblown. And yet it has to be confessed that, at least so far, the Whitewater scandal was far more substantive than the Russia-collusion scandal now gripping Washington.
There may be a giant revelation still to come. But as the Trump-Russia story has evolved, it is striking how little evidence there is that any underlying crime occurred — that there was any actual collusion between the Donald Trump campaign and the Russians. Everything seems to be leaking out of this administration, but so far the leaks about actual collusion are meager.
There were some meetings between Trump officials and some Russians, but so far no more than you’d expect from a campaign that was publicly and proudly pro-Putin. And so far nothing we know of these meetings proves or even indicates collusion.
I’m not saying there shouldn’t be an investigation into potential Russia-Trump links. Russia’s attack on American democracy was truly heinous, and if the Trump people were involved, that would be treason. I’m saying first, let’s not get ahead of ourselves and assume that this link exists.
Second, there is something disturbingly meta about this whole affair. This is, as Yuval Levin put it, an investigation about itself. Trump skeptics within the administration laid a legal minefield all around the president, and then Trump — being Trump — stomped all over it, blowing himself up six ways from Sunday.
Now of course Trump shouldn’t have tweeted about Oval Office tape recordings. Of course he shouldn’t have fired James Comey.  But even if you took a paragon of modern presidents — a contemporary Abraham Lincoln — and you directed a democratically unsupervised, infinitely financed team of prosecutors at him and gave them power to subpoena his staff and look under any related or unrelated rock in an attempt to bring him down, there’s a pretty good chance you could spur even this modern paragon to want to fight back. You could spur even him to do something that had the whiff of obstruction.
There’s just something worrisome every time we find ourselves replacing politics of democracy with the politics of scandal. In democracy, the issues count, and you try to win by persuasion. You recognize that your opponents are legitimate, that they will always be there and that some form of compromise is inevitable.
In the politics of scandal, at least since Watergate, you don’t have to engage in persuasion or even talk about issues. Political victories are won when you destroy your political opponents by catching them in some wrongdoing. You get seduced by the delightful possibility that your opponent will be eliminated. Politics is simply about moral superiority and personal destruction.
The politics of scandal is delightful for cable news. It’s hard to build ratings arguing about health insurance legislation. But it’s easy to build ratings if you are a glorified Court TV, if each whiff of scandal smoke generates hours of “Breaking News” intensity and a deluge of speculation from good-looking former prosecutors.
The politics is great for those forces responsible for the lawyerization of American life. It takes power out of the hands of voters and elected officials and puts power in the hands of prosecutors and defense attorneys.
The politics of scandal drives a wedge through society. Political elites get swept up in the scandals. Most voters don’t really care.
Donald Trump rose peddling the politics of scandal — oblivious to policy, spreading insane allegations about birth certificates and other things — so maybe it’s just that he gets swallowed by it. But frankly, on my list of reasons Trump is unfit for the presidency, the Russia-collusion story ranks number 971, well below, for example, the perfectly legal ways he kowtows to thugs and undermines the norms of democratic behavior.
The people who hype the politics of scandal don’t make American government purer. They deserve some of the blame for an administration and government too distracted to do its job, for a political culture that is both shallower and nastier, and for fostering a process that looks like an elite game of entrapment.
Things are so bad that I’m going to have to give Trump the last word. On June 15 he tweeted, “They made up a phony collusion with the Russians story, found zero proof, so now they go for obstruction of justice on the phony story.” Unless there is some new revelation, that may turn out to be pretty accurate commentary.

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Daily Meditation

Grace Is Pardon — and Power!

By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored harder than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God which is with me. (1 Corinthians 15:10)

John Piper

Grace is not simply leniency when we have sinned. Grace is the enabling gift of God not to sin. Grace is power, not just pardon.  This is plain, for example, in 1 Corinthians 15:10. Paul describes grace as the enabling power of his work. It is not simply the pardon of his sins, it is the power to press on in obedience.

Therefore the effort we make to obey God is not an effort done in our own strength, but “in the strength which God supplies, that in everything God may get the glory” (1 Peter 4:11). It is the obedience of faith.  Paul confirms this in 2 Thessalonians 1:11–12 by calling our acts of goodness “works of faith” and by saying that the glory this brings to Jesus is “according to the grace of God” because it happens “by [his] power”:

To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his call, and may fulfill every good resolve and work of faith by [his] power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

The obedience that gives God pleasure is produced by the power of God’s grace through faith. The same dynamic is at work at every stage of the Christian life. The power of God’s grace that saves through faith (Ephesians 2:8) is the same power of God’s grace that sanctifies through faith.
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