LESSONS LEARNED #18: “Man-given rights are only privileges allowed by the privileged elite.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 17th, 2010

GOD WAS HERE before the Marine Corps. So you can give your heart to Jesus, but your ass belongs to The Corps.

(From the movie Full Metal Jacket, 1987.)

In Roman Catholicism, this is the doctrine of the two swords.  The spiritual sword is the Church.  The temporal sword is the state.  Martin Luther had the doctrine of two kingdoms.  The religious and civil.  Going back to the source, Jesus Christ put it this way:

Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s 

The original separation of church and state.  Of course, back then, this was all intended to limit the state’s interference into spiritual matters.  Today it’s reversed.  It’s the state that is trying to hold the spiritual sword at bay.

THE FOUNDING FATHERS were gentlemen of the Enlightenment.  This makes them complex.  The Enlightenment was the Age of Reason.  And guess what we did during the Age of Reason?  We thought.  Rationally.  There was a philosophical revolution going on in Europe.  Simply put, things weren’t what they were because the Church said so.  There were other explanations.  Other laws.  And the Church could be wrong.

So, if the Founding Fathers had lived in the 20th century, they would have probably been fans of the rock group Rush.  And Ayn Rand.  Who influenced Rush.  Thomas Jefferson probably would have an iPod filled with their songs, including Tom Sawyer:

No his mind is not for rent
To any god or government

They questioned ALL authority.  And some may have been Deists.  But they were not atheists.  Even Jefferson.  He may not have believed in the Trinity or Christ’s divinity, but he still believed in God.  And he worshipped Jesus in his own way.  As the world’s greatest philosopher, with his Sermon on the Mount being the best philosophy man could ask for.

THE FOUNDING FATHERS were gentlemen of the Enlightenment.  Now the other part.  The thing that makes them complex.  The gentlemen part.  What did this mean in the 18th century?  Here are some adjectives that describe a gentleman.  Honorable.  Virtuous.  Reputable.  A gentleman strived to achieve moral excellence and righteousness.  He was ethical.  His life was a steadfast adherence to a strict moral code.  And when he served in public office, it was with selfless disinterest.  He would go out of his way to NOT gain personally from his time in public office.  Some did it better than others.  But all tried.  And when they fell short, they at least put on an appearance of disinterest.  It was that important.  And expected.

In a word, restraint.  This is what a gentleman practiced.  George Washington exercised this restraint to such a degree that many found him cold and aloof.  Few saw him smile.  Few saw public displays of emotion.  What they did see was an exemplary life of virtue, honor and moral excellence.  And they would forever look at him with awe and reverence.  We do to this day.

These students of the Enlightenment, then, espoused Judeo-Christian ethics.  They questioned all authority oppressing man, whether it be Church or state.  But they did not throw out the baby with the bath water.  They remained religious.  They just wouldn’t yield to it unconditionally.  Not to the Pope.  To a bishop.  Or any other tyranny of a minority, privileged elite.  Even after their Revolution.

And they would extend this restraint to the new nation they would found.  It would be a government that would govern with the consent of the people.  But it would not be mob-rule.  Not a true democracy.  It would be representative government.  The idea was to restrain the extreme passions of the people.  They would not exchange one tyranny for another.  There would be no tyranny of the majority.

FRANCE HAD PROBLEMS in the late 18th century.  The toll of war was bankrupting the country.  Their financing of the American Revolution didn’t help either.  Food was scarce and expensive.  Famine and malnutrition were commonplace.  Among the Third Estate (the poor).  The First Estate (the Church) was doing well.  The Second Estate (the nobility), too.  Unemployed and hungry, the poor looked at the clergy and the nobility who were not. 

The Church was largely exempt from paying taxes. And the Church was the largest landholder in France.  The Church levied a 10% tax (i.e., a tithe) on the general population.  A lot of that was collected in-kind (food crops).  So the Church had more land, money and food than the starving, suffering masses.  Who became an angry mob.  That demanded democracy.

The people stormed the Bastille.  Confiscated Church property.  Overthrew the monarchy.  And sent the king and queen, and many others, to the guillotine.  Maximilien Robespierre and the Jacobins unleashed the Reign of Terror.  They executed political enemies, including priests, and displayed their severed heads to the angry mob.  They de-Christianized France, destroying churches and religious symbols.  They tried to do away with the Church altogether and replace it with civic and community events and organizations.  It was a revolution against Church and state.  Against law and order.  Against restraint.  They would send Robespierre himself to the guillotine at the end of his terror.  Then another terror followed to avenge the previous terror. 

There’s more to the French Revolution.  But that should suffice for now. 

FRANCE WAS IN the epicenter of the Enlightenment.  Some of the great minds of the Enlightenment were French.  But France was older than America.  And more populated.  With centuries of wrongs to right.  It was anything but a blank canvas.  Egalitarianism soon devolved into angry mob rule.  Democracy.  They went from the tyranny of a minority to the tyranny of the majority without stopping in that fertile middle ground.  As was the case in America.  Why?

It’s that blank canvas thing.  We weren’t overthrowing our history to start anew.  We had little history.  Maybe a century or two of English colonists who literally started with raw earth.  There wasn’t a rich and privileged Church.  So there wasn’t a festering resentment against the Church.  No, the early colonists escaped religious oppression and came here for religious freedom.  Which they found.  And enjoyed.

The American Revolution was more restrained.  There were no bloody reprisals after the War.  There were isolated instances of mob violence during the War, but the ‘mob’ was never in control.  The ‘gentlemen’ were always in control.  Gentlemen steeped in Judeo-Christian ethics.  From the Declaration of Independence to the Constitution, the Founding Fathers built a new nation upon the Rule of Law.  And at its heart were the God-given rights enumerated in those documents.  That no man, or minority, or majority, or mob, could take away.

GOD WAS HERE before the United States.  So we can give our heart to Jesus.  But our ass belongs to the Rule of Law.

Or something like that.  We are a secular nation with a de-emphasis on the religious part.  Yes, legal punishment may dissuade you from doing wrong.  If you think the cops can catch you.  But it’s our morality that will keep us from doing wrong in the first place.  And the people at our founding were moral.  And Christian.  Or deists with Judeo-Christian ethics.

And to those who fear antidisestablishmentarianism, don’t.  I doubt the Catholics and the Protestants could agree on what an established church would be, let alone the myriad other religions peacefully coexisting with each other.  No, more religion would not result in an established church.  It may, though, result in government leaders who fear God and, maybe, they would be better leaders for it.  It sure beats us living in fear of them.

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FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH #18: “Man-given rights are only privileges allowed by the privileged elite.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 15th, 2010

JESUS CHRIST!  You’ll hear that in a foxhole.  When hunkered down as bullets and shrapnel fly thick overhead.  By theist and atheist alike.  Of course, one is most probably in prayer while the other in vain.  Considering the circumstances, though, the Lord would probably forgive the latter. As long as you’re fighting on the side of good, that is.

When emotions are running high, people tend to say things.  Sometimes bad things.  Sometimes, even philosophically inconsistent things.  What’s that joke?  At the height of confusion someone shouts out, “Thank God I’m an atheist!”

People tend to get more intimate with God when they are about to personally find out the answer to that age-old question – is there an afterlife?  Can’t blame them.  Your own mortality can be a scary thing.  And no one wants to rush that.  That’s why, in the age of the Enlightenment, people thought of government not as a force of coercion, but as protection from coercion.  People wanted to live as long as they could.  And as free as they could.  So people made governments that would function within the Rule of Law.  To better their lives.

England made great strides in protecting its citizens from the arbitrary use of force.  After some un-English-like treatment in the New World, the British America colonies broke from the mother country.  But they would build on the English ideals.  The Declaration of Independence stated:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed….

The key here is that rights are God-given.  That meant kings could be wrong.  As well as Parliament.  Even the Church.  Kings, aristocracies, bishops, etc., are positions created and held by men.  Nature/God did not grant them this power.  They granted it to themselves.  And once some have power, it’s not long before some use it to oppress those who don’t.

So when it comes to determining the origin of rights, the atheists should thank God he or she is an atheist.  For if God gives them that right (to be an atheist), no man can take it away.  But if rights are not God-given, then they must be man-given.  And whatever man giveth, he can taketh away.  Especially if you piss off the powers that be.

DRUNKEN FARMER JONES was oppressing the animals on Manor Farm.  Having had enough, the animals rose up and seized power.  They renamed the farm Animal Farm.  The pigs Snowball and Napoleon were the leaders of the revolution.  They created a new political doctrine called Animalism.  It rested on the following 7 commandments painted on the side of the barn:

  1. Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy.
  2. Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend.
  3. No animal shall wear clothes.
  4. No animal shall sleep in a bed.
  5. No animal shall drink alcohol.
  6. No animal shall kill any other animal.
  7. All animals are equal.

Snowball wanted to do good.  The new farm started out as an anarcho-syndicalist commune.  Sort of.  Then Napoleon seized power.  He and his pigs became the ruling elite for the benefit of animal kind on Animal Farm.  And life was good.  For the pigs.

Napoleon fabricated lies about Snowball.  With the animals turned against him as planned, Napoleon had his dogs chase him off of Animal Farm. 

The animals worked harder.  But there were setbacks.  And at every setback, Boxer, the old workhorse, lamented that he would have to work harder.  And he did.  Until his strength failed him and he collapsed while working.   The pigs then sent him to the vet.  Only the side of the vet’s wagon said ‘Horse Slaughterer and Glue Boiler’.  Most of the animals couldn’t read.  Benjamin could.  He told them what the van said.  But it was too late. 

Benjamin, Boxer’s friend, was an old donkey.  And wise.  He saw a lot in his long life.  Little good, though.  Life was no different under the pigs than it was under the humans.  But he wasn’t surprised.  For that was life.  “Life will go on as it has always gone on—that is, badly.”

The pigs started to act more humanlike.  They started to walk on two legs so they could carry riding crops.  They began wearing clothes.  Slept in beds.  Drank alcohol.  And sent off Boxer to his death for some whiskey money.  The pigs slowly revised the 7 Commandments to agree with their new behavior.  Until, one day, there was but a single commandment remaining.  “All animals are equal.  But some animals are more equal than others.”  And life was good.  For the pigs.

GEORGE ORWELL WAS a socialist who volunteered to fight for the Loyalists in the Spanish Civil War.  He got shot in the throat and was declared medically unfit for further duty.  While healing, the political climate was deteriorating.  His socialist group, the Workers’ Party of Marxists Unification (or, in Spanish, Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista (POUM)) fell out of favor with the pro-Soviet Communists.  They accused the POUM of being affiliated with Joseph Stalin’s archenemy, Leon Trotsky.  So the Communists outlawed the POUM.  It’s complicated.  Suffice it to say that Orwell made it back to England.  And had no love for Stalin or Soviet Communism.

Then, of course, came World War II.  And the Hitler-Stalin Pact of Nonaggression, further increasing the love between Orwell and Stalin.  And by love I mean hate.  For Orwell hated totalitarianism.  And for all the Utopian talk, Communism had devolved into nothing more than an oppressive totalitarian regime. 

This is the story of Animal Farm.  Napoleon is Joseph Stalin.  Animal Farm becomes the police state of Soviet Communism.  At about a hundred pages, it’s the biggest little book you will ever read.  If you haven’t yet, do so.  And then pick up Orwell’s 1984.  It’s a little longer and a little darker but, wow, what a story.

SO THERE’RE TWO revolutions.  The American and the Russian.  Both ended up on ‘top ten’ lists.  One for liberty.  The other for genocide.  Can you guess which? 

As an ideology, Communism has killed more people than any other in history.  It killed more than the Nazis.  More than the Christian Crusades.  More than the Black Death even.  No other ideology (or plague) comes close. 

So why was one revolution so much bloodier than the other?  Well, the Americans were Christian.  The Russians were Orthodox Christians.  But the Soviets were atheists.  There were no God-given rights in the Soviet Union.  Only privileges allowed by the privileged elite.  And fear.  For people could disappear at someone’s slightest whim. 

That’s the down side of atheism.  And secularism.  It removes the fear of God from a people’s rulers.  And if they aren’t worrying about the afterlife, there’s not a whole lot to dissuade them from doing unspeakable things in the here and now.

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