Posted in All Things American, Religion & Politics

Freedom & American Exceptionalism: Part 3

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The American Revolution was inspired, in part, by the notion that the British Parliament looked on the American colonists as subjects dependent on the Crown for every part of their existence and activities. The Crown wanted control of their direction and choices. Charles Townsend, in arguing for the adoption of the Townsend Acts—which taxed colonial glass, paper, paints, lead, and tea—supported his argument by declaring that the colonists were children “planted by our care and nourished up by our indulgence.” Thus, Townsend believed, Britain was entitled to the first-fruits of colonial revenue, completely at Parliament’s discretion, without regarding the rights of citizens or their individual interests. He was rebuked by Colonel Isaac Barre, who said in defense of the colonies:

“Planted by your care? No, your oppressions planted them in America…they fled from tyranny…They, nourished up by your indulgence? They grew because of your neglect of them…And believe me, remember I this day told you so, that the same spirit of freedom which actuated that people at the first, will accompany them still…”

This was the spirit of freedom that Tocqueville found in his tour of America in the early 19th century. Americans, he said, will “inform you of what his rights are, and by what means he exercises them.” Every man worked to earn a living, Tocqueville observed, and expected his neighbors to do the same.

Whether in a skilled trade or agriculture, man expected remuneration and expected to earn a profit. In this there was pride in self-sufficiency and honor in labor. Since men engaged in commerce freely, consensually, and individually, most communities did not need the interference of government to conduct their affairs.

Free Enterprise

Self-preservation, Locke said, was the very definition of “reasonable behavior.” Self-preservation then, of necessity, requires the right to work and to keep the profits—whether material or currency—of that work, so one could provide the essentials of life. To that right could be extended the rights of property ownership, though Locke extended this right to mean more than simply material things. It extended to whatever a man possessed—his faculties, his abilities, his thoughts—that which he produced himself, whether with his hand, mind, or conscience.

He had the right to use these things however he wished in his pursuit of self-preservation, so long as he did not harm to his neighbor. As part of a community, he could enter mutually beneficial economic exchanges with others also engaged in those same individual pursuits.

The right to keep the fruits of his labor and freely engage in mutually beneficial economic exchanges without excessive government interference—as Tocqueville had observed—was instrumental to America’s success, Reagan said. The belief that government should somehow be the primary recipient of what individual citizens earned was contrary to our founding principles and the God-given rights of men.

Jefferson listed “cutting off our trade with all parts of the world” and “imposing taxes on us without our consent” as the two primary means by which British Parliament imposed on the free enterprise of Americans. Reagan’s criticism of government deciding how much of our earnings we could keep, and the terms on which we could do business, was simply a contemporary illustration of a two-century old argument.

Though the right to the fruit of one’s labor could also be found in Locke’s Second Treatise on Government, where he based this belief on natural rights, one can refer to the both the Old and New Testament for the divine right to do the same. The great pioneer of Western Civilization, the Apostle Paul wrote, “For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward” (I Tim. 5:18 KJV).

Here Paul cites the ancient Mosaic Law. The principle is metaphorical and illustrates a divine expectation. It need not apply just to the ox. The man who labors is also entitled to compensation for his labor. It is unjust to take from a man that which he has worked for. Government has no right to take the earnings of a laborer any more than the farmer has the right to not compensate the work of his beast—a simple illustration of a natural right. For many to be truly independent and self-governing, he must be free to pursue the relationships which best served his interests.

Conclusion

These very simple concepts of individual freedom given in Reagan’s Inaugural Address can be found with an observant walk through history. They were responsible for America’s prosperity. This is why she is exceptional. The creative energy and entrepreneurial spirit of Americans was their personal property and government had no authority to take from it or stifle it. If we remove government obstacles, Reagan said, America could be restored to greatness. This was her God-given heritage.

In his closing remarks in Democracy in America Tocqueville said that “Providence has not created mankind entirely independent or entirely free.” He was right. He is dependent and accountable, in equal station, to the “Laws of nature and of Nature’s God.” Will government lead men to servitude or freedom? Freedom. That was Reagan’s and history’s hope.

(C) 2018. All rights reserved.

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Posted in All Things American, Religion & Politics

A Time for Prayer for America

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We are at a crossroad in America. It’s time we acknowledged it. Our battle is more than political…it is also spiritual. Until we recognize that, and stop depending solely on temporal wisdom, nothing will change. It’s time we prayed, as our Founders did, for direction and strength.

“Gracious and Merciful Father, No nation on earth has enjoyed the prosperity that the United States of America has. Our blessings point to the work of Your providential hand. Our great spiritual blessings unfolded by Your remarkable design. So also our Constitution and the freedom it provides with guidance given to our Founding Fathers. Lord, you have showered on us over 200 years of blessings. As we have tried to do right, in spite of our sins, You have blessed us.

As we acknowledged and honored You , You elevated us from infancy to a place of world leadership. You have allowed America to enjoy unprecedented wealth and influence among nations. You have allowed America to lead the world in medical and technological development. Our military might has guaranteed our children safety, with the threat of foreign invasion a strange concept. It has protected the weak and vulnerable around the world.

With grateful and humble hearts, Lord, we once honored you as the Author and Guarantor of our freedoms. But we turned on You, Lord, and started thanking ourselves for the blessings You have given us. We were silent as Americans thanked themselves, their government…everyone except You.

We said nothing while You were pushed out of society and confined to our churches. We stood idly by while they took the Bibles out of our schools and told our children they could not pray. We elected men who told us, “We don’t need God anymore.” We abandoned our responsibility to influence our government with the principles of Your revelation, run for its offices, and become involved in its processes.

We once looked to Your pulpits, and the Godly wisdom we heard from them, for guidance. But today we no longer speak out because our government has intimidated us into silence. We have allowed our voice to be stricken from the elective process and we have voted for enemies of God. Forgive us, Lord, for our neglect. Forgive us, Lord, for forgetting you. Forgive us, Lord, for being afraid to speak in Your name.

Raise us up leaders, Lord, who will stand in the gap. Give us, Lord, God-fearing leadership that is not afraid to seek Your face and speak Your truth. Remind us that it is we, not our politicians, who are called to be salt and light of the earth. Remind us, Lord, that if we sow the godless, we will reap godlessness.

Give us the strength to face the adversity. Give us the strength to do what is right in the face of persecution and criticism. Give us the will to share Your wisdom with our nation. Inspire us to humbly pray for the restoration of this land so we might establish Your righteousness peacefully among men and nations.”
In Jesus’ Name…Amen

Posted in All Things American, Uncategorized

Freedom & American Exceptionalism: Part II

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Philosophical Roots of America’s Founding

America’s founding began long before 1776. Though America’s founding document, the Declaration of Independence, relied on the individual rights “…nature and nature’s God…” entitled us, the Declaration relied on the sacred and undeniable truth of natural law and self-government established by other thinkers to get to this point.

Aristotle acknowledged the existence of a divine order and first mover. Augustine of Hippo, the renowned theologian, made this “first mover” a question of theism, presupposing that this “prime mover” was none other than the Judeo-Christian God, revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. Thomas Aquinas built upon this presupposition, offering that the natural law acknowledged by Aristotle revealed the divine law and lawgiver explained by Augustine. If that was the case, Aquinas believed, we had a responsibility to reflect that truth in the laws of society.

A natural universe and its divine order were God’s gift to men, John Locke said, which gave him the freedom to pursue his God-given responsibilities, so long as he used his freedom responsibly, and government should aid that pursuit. Being a unique creation of God, the imago Dei, is what makes man exceptional. God, Reagan said, intended man to be free. Like Augustine, Aquinas, and Locke, Reagan believed that freedom came with a responsibility to help our fellow man, not just in America, but wherever she had influence. Government should aid self-governance with a noble aim, not replace it.

Individual Liberty

The right of self-governance was not something government could award, Reagan said. Self-governance was our God-given right. Even the discussions concerning the ratification of the U.S. Constitution affirmed pre-existent and historical rights. It was enshrined in the founding documents, inspired by the writers of history, and placed in the Declaration by Thomas Jefferson.

Jefferson did not seek to establish or reveal any new ideas of government. He simply affirmed what was already “self-evident.” He wrote of his authorship of the Declaration in 1822, “I did not consider it part of my charge to invent new ideas altogether, and to offer no sentiment never expressed before.” And he didn’t. It was commonly accepted, through a philosophy that acknowledged a natural and divine law that was based in history, that men were free. That freedom came from “…nature and nature’s God…” King George simply needed to be reminded.

Freedom, though self-evident, still needed to be defined and understood for it to be truly exceptional. Man was free, but what was his responsibility? If the laws of nature and nature’s God gave him “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” what did that mean? And how did men fulfill that obligation? How was the success of government dependent on the answer? Freedom, Locke had said, could not be used as license to act however one wished.

Self-reliance

In a strictly theological sense, freedom is the ability to live according to one’s conscience, with an accountability to God, as explained by the Apostle Paul in Romans, chapter two. There was no respect of persons with God, according to Paul, men would all be judged by the same standard. In a political sense, as Reagan said, it is the freedom to control one’s own destiny, so long as one looks out for his neighbors, an idea found in Locke’s Treatise’s on government. In doing so, he lives a life that will one day be judged by God, not men.

Each individual man will be judged by the same divine standard. In the legal context, according to William Blackstone, in describing the rights of Englishmen, this naturally leads to self-reliance and self-determination. Man was entitled to pursue his own interests and was entitled to the fruits of those efforts, but he was accountable to God. The government had become too overbearing, Reagan said, and was helping itself to that which it was not entitled. It dictated how individuals should exercise freedom, seeing citizens as dependent on government, and not government dependent on citizens. Freedom, liberty, and rights are not given to us by government. Government exists to protect freedom, not grant it. Any governmental system which seeks to encroach on this truth, does so to its own detriment.

Posted in All Things American, Uncategorized

Freedom & American Exceptionalism: Part I

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In his Inaugural Address the 40th President of the United States, Ronald Wilson Reagan, affirmed his belief that America was exceptional, special and unique among nations. America’s long-standing success and liberty was perceived by nations around the world as a miracle of history. That miracle, Reagan believed, was the spirit found in individual Americans, and the political system that unleashed their potential.

Reagan’s belief was not novel, nor was it political. It was found in the laws of nature, America’s history, and it was found to exist by critical observers, most notably the French political thinker and historian, Alexis de Tocqueville. America was exceptional because she was free, and this freedom was founded on timeless principles of natural law and rights which recognized the human dignity of the individual.

Reagan’s ideas were thought revolutionary when he was elected president, even inspiring a book compiling these ideas, written in Reagan’s own hand, in 2001. But Reagan’s ideas were not revolutionary, as has been offered by some critical scholars. They pre-dated America’s founding, were found in the writings of the ancient philosophers and religious sages, were embraced by the Founding Fathers, and acknowledged by the French historian and philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville in 1835 as the key to America’s greatness.

Reagan’s vision sought to restore America to her original ideals, to re-kindle them as it were, not to install something new. America’s foundation was sound and established in history. If she was going to be restored to greatness, Reagan knew, Americans needed to be reminded of their unique station in life as divine creatures, created to be free. Tocqueville had observed that many believed these principles and values were “irresistible.” They were uniform, ancient, and the most permanent tendency to be found in history. Reagan knew this, too. Today many Americans have forgotten it. Our children aren’t even taught them anymore. We cannot let these ideas die, or be forgotten.

American Exceptionalism

America’s greatness was not created in a vacuum and it was not the result of new and revolutionary ideas. It rested on those principles that were found in her heritage, a heritage not limited to the Founding Era, but could also be found in creation itself, and observed throughout history. These principles were built into American institutions and lived in the hearts of her citizens. America, Tocqueville said in 1835, possessed an almost religious enthusiasm for her ancient customs and laws, virtues and rights. In 1981, however, that enthusiasm was gone. America had lost its enthusiasm because she had lost her way. She had forgotten her heritage and institutions. Reagan’s address was the first step toward restoring it, and the timeless values that brought it. We would do well to follow Reagan’s lead.

When Reagan gave his Inaugural Address in 1981, he outlined a bold vision for America. In doing so he reiterated these timeless principles that had led to America’s greatness. Quoting Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, he reminded Americans of their government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” Self-governance was her heritage, with each American in charge of his own destiny, pursuing his own happiness, while contributing to the good of the nation.

What was the origin of this belief? It was found in the principle of equality, of men in harmony with the laws of nature, which led to an understanding of man’s responsibility in the divine order, and the God who established it. Today we have become content to accept the oligarchy that our government has become, surrendering our individual freedom to people that don’t accept those inalienable truths, and are willing to once again become “subjects” to a ruling class.

In America, though all men were equal, they contributed to America’s greatness in different ways, Reagan said, each according to the special talents of his vocation. Aristotle himself, in his renowned discourses on the body politic, had said the same, emphasizing the importance of these individual contributions in striving for a just society. In his acknowledgement of accountability to this divine order, Aristotle accepted that these various individual associations came together to form a community, and government was required to protect and encourage its pursuits.

Reagan believed Americans had been sold on the reversal of that relationship, with individuals meant to serve a pre-existent government and her aims, rather than pursuing their individual goals with a consideration toward divine accountability and purpose. It was stifling American growth and inhibiting her God-given right to pursue happiness. America was better than this. If she was ever going to reach her potential, she needed to return to the principles that first empowered her. Government should help, not hinder those pursuits. This idea, though sitting on a dusty shelf in America’s annals of history is still true, even it not taught or encouraged.

Reagan was not simply choosing to use inspiring rhetoric. He truly believed these things, with former aides noting that his Inaugural Address was simply a reflection of his personal philosophy. He believed Americans believed it to, they had just forgotten. When one considers the observations of Tocqueville, and his praising of the independent spirit and self-reliance of Americans, Reagan had a point, and his point was grounded in America’s history. These characteristics were the basis of dreaming big dreams. America could solve big problems, accomplish great things, and live in peace. It was her God-given right and destiny. What she needed was a little history lesson.

Posted in All Things American, Uncategorized

Even in Tragedy, Support the 2nd Amendment

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Evil will rear its ugly head and use whatever device is available, whether it’s a gun, automobile, knife, or bomb. We seem to be unwilling, as a society, to admit that evil will occur regardless of the availability of firearms and we should have the right to defend ourselves from it. Removing the device does not remove the evil, but our ability to defend ourselves can minimize its effect on us.

Our Constitutional Right

Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights…and that to secure these rights, governments were instituted among men. Government cannot take away these rights; it is responsible to secure them. The Preamble to the United States Constitution reads:

“We, the people of the United States in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

Outlined in that timeless document is the Bill of Rights—the first ten amendments. There you will find the 2nd Amendment—“A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

Clear & Settled

It seems pretty clear, doesn’t it? “…the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” Though the language is clear as to the meaning of that clause it continually is debated in Congress, our state legislatures, and city councils all over America whenever an incident involves a gun. Our twenty-four hour news cycles will see to it that the necessary hysteria is created, which demands swift and sweeping action on “easy access to guns.”

The argument will be made that we need to place more restrictions on firearms possession to keep us safe. This argument should be viewed with caution, if not outright hostility. It’s not about safety, it’s about restricting individual rights. The arguments that will be made will try to indict all gun owners, based on “evidence” that would not convict anyone in an American court of law. It wouldn’t even result in an indictment. Attempting to apply further gun control measures on our collective society simply violates due process and is unconstitutional.

Presumption of Innocence, Due Process, & Irrelevant Arguments

Why do I say that? The explanation is simple. Before someone can be brought into a court of law and accused or convicted of a crime, resulting in the loss of their liberty, the accuser must have evidence that a crime was committed. Our system of justice doesn’t allow a charge or a conviction without evidence. Simply opining that someone belongs in jail is not sufficient.

If credible evidence is provided, the legal system presumes the accused is innocent. It is the accuser bears the burden of showing guilt. The justice system in America requires that guilt is never presumed, it must be proven.

Since the accuser has the burden of proof, meeting that burden to establish guilt requires meeting two more burdens: 1) the burden of production and 2) the burden of persuasion. The burden of production requires that some evidence be put forward by the accuser that suggests that there is a factual basis to proceed with charges. The burden of persuasion requires that the evidence that is put forward prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Only then, according to our Constitution, can our system of justice proceed with any discussion of forfeited rights, like loss of liberty or other measures–like the loss of 2nd Amendment rights. This foundational legal truth is learned in the first year of most law schools. To briefly summarize:

  • Evidence must exist that is sufficient to accuse someone of a crime
  • We presume the accused is innocent
  • The accuser must meet the burden of proof
  • The evidence provided must establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt

But we cannot just introduce any evidence. Evidence, too, must meet certain criteria before it is considered admissible in court. Admissible evidence falls into the following categories:

  • Direct evidence (ex. eyewitness testimony)
  • Circumstantial evidence (ex. a fingerprint at a crime scene)
  • Testimonial evidence (ex. oral testimony given under oath)
  • Real evidence (ex. physical evidence like possession of the murder weapon or other physical evidence connecting someone to a crime)
  • Scientific evidence (ex. forensic evidence like DNA)

The above is the only type of evidence allowed. We call this wonderful legal practice “due process.” No United States citizen can be deprived of “‘life’ (capital punishment), ‘liberty’ (imprisoned or suspension of rights), or ‘property'” (fines or forfeiture) without there first being an accusation, legitimate admissible evidence to support it, and it persuades an impartial audience (judge or jury) of guilt.

Gun control efforts—whether those efforts seek to regulate gun or ammunition purchases, outlaw guns that are presently lawfully owned, or severely restrict firearm possession—are not based on due process. Consider any gun-related tragedy. Each incident has inspired a number of efforts to place ever more restrictions on law-abiding gun owners, gun owners–mind you–who were never involved in the tragedy. Why? Guilt by association?

Let’s just be honest. The gun control lobby in America rests its case largely on what the court system calls subjective or irrelevant testimony. Thus, gun legislation that seeks to restrict your 2nd Amendment right is based on “evidence” that would not be allowed in open court. Imagine this scenario:

“Your, Honor, this man should be prohibited from owning a semi-automatic handgun with a high capacity magazine.”

“Why?”

“Well, sir, a similar handgun was used in a mass-shooting recently at a shopping mall.”

“Was this man the shooter?”

“No, your Honor.”

“What is the legal ground to take away this man’s handgun?”

“It’s similar to the one used in the mass-shooting.”

“How is that relevant to this man’s handgun?”

“Well, your Honor, we believe that owning the same kind of handgun increases the likelihood that this man will commit the same kind of crime.”

“What is the evidence to support this?”

“We feel that possessing a handgun with a high capacity magazine increases the likelihood this man will commit the same type of crime.”

The foundation of this argument–and ridiculous circular reasoning–is based on irrelevant and subjective testimony. The law-abiding gun owner is presumed guilty in this argument based on the actions of someone else (irrelevant) and the opinion (subjective) of the accuser. The accused in this scenario (the lawful gun owner) is denied his presumption of innocence, required by our criminal justice system, and an attempt is made to deprive him of his right to bear arms based on inadmissible “evidence.” There is simply no legal basis for establishing guilt and no justification to take away his 2nd Amendment rights.

The Illegitimacy of Gun Control Efforts

You can see the ridiculousness of the argument of the gun-control advocates. A little simple logic will illustrate the absurdity of it. Premise #1 states: John Doe is an insane killer. Premise #2 states: John Doe is a human being. Conclusion: All human beings are insane killers. The conclusion does not logically follow the premise here and it should not follow when applied to law-abiding gun owners.

We don’t take away driving privileges from all drivers because some of them drive drunk and kill people. We don’t deny 1st Amendment rights to all reporters because one reporter libeled someone else. Society would not tolerate it. It should not tolerate it when it’s applied to lawful gun owners, either.

Gun control advocates, however, are not deterred by this. Instead, they try and make an end run around the court system. It’s clever, really. They use the legislative process to introduce their “evidence,” evidence which would never be allowed in open court, to pressure legislators to enact restrictive gun control laws targeting law-abiding citizens as a group. This method, however legitimate it may appear, still denies individuals their presumption of innocence and circumvents due process of law.

There is no legitimacy to a process that seeks to use the legislature to deny a citizen a right he would never lose in court. However, in the arena of politics you do not need to present evidence that meets the “burden of production.” You do not need any evidence to meet the “burden of persuasion” or “burden of proof.” Heck, you do not even need to overcome reasonable doubt. You simply need to convince individual legislators that they can determine an individual’s guilt on the basis of behavior committed by someone else or the subjective opinion of what someone thinks they might do. Shame on our elected officials who fall for it.

We must fiercely be on guard to prevent these gross violations of our rights, especially in the face of tragedy. The 2nd Amendment to the United States Constitution states the right to keep and bear arms “shall not be infringed.” The 5th Amendment states that no person shall be “deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law…” To deny a citizen’s right to keep and bear arms–even through the seemingly legitimate legislative process–is to deny them liberty. We should not surrender our rights—any rights—as citizens because someone else abused theirs.