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Do You See the Matrix?   Leave a comment

I don’t generally watch TED Talks. They just seem slick and superficial to me. I prefer to read and the only visual media I really interact with is long-form discussions similar to what Jordan Peterson, Dave Ruben and Joe Rogan do. But Brad enjoys visual media, so sometimes I’m in the room when he’s consuming them.

Thus, I watched this TED Talk by Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist at the University of Virginia who has researched morality and culture for 30-odd years. He’s spent a large pat of his career trying to understand and explain the foundations of human morality. Not too surprisingly, he’s noticed that humans often struggle to agree on what morality is. It’s to his credit that he hasn’t thrown up his hands in disgust and walked away from the topic.

During a TED Talk that I think is a few years old, Haidt shared his discovery that human beings don’t begin as a blank slate. I know … that’s contrary to common mythology, which Haidt calls “the worst idea in all psychology.” According to Haidt, humans are born with a “first draft” of moral knowledge, possessed of innate but malleable sets of values “organized in advance of experience.”

If the slate isn’t blank, then something is on it. What?

These are not new concepts to Christians. The Bible has asserted for time immemorial that mankind is created in the image of God. Since God is a Spirit and doesn’t have a body, this is not a physical image, but a spiritual or moral one. So, this Ted Talk didn’t surprise me in the least, though it may have come as news to Haidt and his team.

To find out what is on our moral template, Haidt and a colleague read the most current literature on anthropology, cultural variations, and evolutionary psychology to identify cross-cultural matches. They found five primary categories that serve as our moral foundation:

1) Care/harm: This foundation is related to our long evolution as mammals with attachment systems and an ability to feel (and dislike) the pain of others. It underlies virtues of kindness, gentleness, and community. (As a Christian, I suspect it’s part of the innate code God gave us before the Fall).
2) Fairness/reciprocity: This foundation is related to the evolutionary process of reciprocal altruism. It generates ideas of justice, rights, and autonomy. Fairness included concerns about equality, which are more strongly endorsed by political liberals. However, when Haidt reformulated the theory in 2011 based on new data, his team emphasized proportionality, which is endorsed by everyone, but is more strongly endorsed by conservatives.
3) Loyalty/betrayal: This foundation is related to our long history as tribal creatures able to form shifting coalitions. It underlies virtues of patriotism and self-sacrifice for the group. It is active anytime people feel that it’s “one for all, and all for one.”
4) Authority/subversion: According to Haidt, this foundation was shaped by our long primate history of hierarchical social interactions and it underlies virtues of leadership and followership, including deference to legitimate authority and respect for traditions. (I attribute it to our original relationship with God, now damaged by the Fall.)
5) Sanctity/degradation: This foundation was shaped by the psychology of disgust and contamination. It underlies religious notions of striving to live in an elevated, less carnal, more noble way. It underlies the widespread idea that the body is a temple which can be desecrated by immoral activities and contaminants (an idea not unique to religious traditions…just ask vegetarians and athletes).

Haidt found that both conservatives and liberals recognize the Harm/Care and Fairness/Reciprocity values. Liberal-minded people, however, tend to reject the three remaining foundational values—Loyalty/betrayal, Authority/subversion, and Sanctity/degradation—while conservatives accept them.

I was so stunned by overhearing that as I wrote in the living room while Brad listened to the video, that I watched it again — twice. That’s a striking difference, which helps explain why many liberals and conservatives in America think “the other side” is delusional.

Now, a lot of liberals will contend that the three extra values are not proper morals at all but base human traits responsible for xenophobia and religious oppression. Haidt rejects this thesis. Through a series of historical illustrations, psychological studies, and cross-cultural references, he explains that many liberals often fail to appreciate a timeless truth that conservatives usually accept: order tends to decay. (If that sounds familiar, google the Second Law of Thermodynamics.)

Haidt isn’t suggesting conservatives are superior to liberals. He’s actually pointing out that conservatives tend to value order even at the cost of those at the bottom of society, which can result in morally dubious social implications (or, as Brad pointed out, more robust church charity programs). In contrast, liberals often desire change even at the risk of chaos and the associated damage that accrues from it. A friend I shared the chart with pointed out that it makes conservatives look like the more open-minded ones, which is an interesting take on the usual condemnation.

If your head is exploding, you might want to reach for the duct tape. You can certainly refuse to accept Haidt’s explanation of moral reality. The human inclination is to believe in one’s own understanding of morality, and many people will live their entire lives without seriously attempting to understand their ideological counterparts, but of course Haidt (and I) don’t recommend living in reality bubbles.

“If you think that half of America votes Republican because they’re blinded… then my message to you is you’re trapped in a moral matrix,” Haidt said. “You can either take the blue pill and stick to your comforting delusions. Or you can take the red pill, learn some moral psychology, and step outside your moral matrix.”

So what to make of all this? I found Haidt’s explanations pretty insightful, but I already knew it. He was just catching up to writings from Francis Schaefer I read 30+ years ago or with the Bible itself which was written millennia ago. But for those who like their cultural and philosophical analysis to be more timely, it certainly helps explain America’s  current contentious culture. Intelligent and reasonable people will have a difficult time agreeing on anything if they view the moral underpinnings of society through vastly divergent lenses and it is no stretch to contend that American liberals have largely abandoned the latter three values (exceptions exist, of course), or that conservatives are highly influenced by them.

If you really hate this theory, it may just be evidence that you’re living in a moral matrix of either stripe and you might need to take the red pill to wake up and see your neighbor as he truly is rather than in the role your worldview has cast him into. And, maybe, having done that, we can sit down to coffee and have a pleasant conversation in which we discover that we can find common ground if we’ll just stop totally rejecting what the other person sees and believes about reality.

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Price of False Witness   2 comments

I don’t know who is lying and it doesn’t matter. I’m just going to point out what God has to say on the subject.

Related imageYou shall not give (answer as in a court of law) false witness against your neighbor. Exodus 20:16

The faithful witness tells what is right, but a false witness speaks deceit. Speaking recklessly (rashly) is like the thrusts of a sword, but the words of the wise bring healing. The one who tells the truth will endure forever, but the one who lies will last only for a moment. Deceit is in the heart of those who plot evil, but those who promote peace have joy.  Proverbs 12:17-20

A false witness (a witness of lies) will not go unpunishedand the one who spouts out (breaths out lies) lies will not escape punishment. Proverbs 19:5

(Jesus said) “I tell you that on the day of judgmentpeople will give an account for every worthless word they speak. For by your words you will be justifiedand by your words you will be condemned.” Matthew 12:26-27

Blessed are those who wash their robes so they can have access to the tree of life and can enter into the city by the gates. Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the sexually immoraland the murderersand the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood! Revelations 22:14-15

So, whoever is lying — and they know which they are — might want to pay close attention to what real judgment on their behavior will look like because God promises there is punishment not just for lying, but for the disruptions caused by lying.

Posted October 7, 2018 by aurorawatcherak in cultural divide, Uncategorized

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Angels Unawares   5 comments

October 1, 2018

What is the nicest thing someone has ever done for you or said to you? Why did this mean so much?

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We live in a pretty uncivil world these days. People just treat each other badly, often … in traffic, on social media, in the grocery store … it would be easy to get discouraged with the current state of affairs.

CoolerBut I’ve had lots of people do kind things to me and for me. Once when our family was going through a really rough time, I came home from work to find a cooler of Alaska wild-harvest products (jams, jellies, crabapple butter, and a raspberry and rhubarb pie) sitting on my front porch. Under the sweets was a caribou roast and a bag of potatoes with the dirt still on them. Twenty-four years later, I have no idea who did this. It wasn’t that we needed the food so much as someone knew we were having a hard time and they took the time to show me they cared. If you’re reading this, thanks for the cooler. We still use it on picnics.

I am an Alaskan woman which means I can change my own car tires and do simple auto repair because people (male or female) who can’t do that here end up dying of hypothermia waiting for rescue. Triple-A comes from Seattle, so that’s three days at 60 mph if the tow truck driver doesn’t sleep. We have cell phone service these days, but not everywhere. So skills are a necessity here. But that doesn’t mean I don’t like it when young military guys pull up behind my car on the highway and offer to “change that tire for you, ma’am?” I’ll compliment him on his skill and pull over at the nearest gas station to check those bolts are tight enough. Be grateful, but verify.

When I worked for an agency that was going through a rough re-organization, the Executive Director (who was not known for handing out compliments) said to me one day that he appreciated that I always kept a good attitude and never said “No, I can’t do that” without a good reason. That compliment meant a lot of me because I knew I’d earned it.

Hitch HikingI was one day sharing my concerns about my daughter’s gypsy musician lifestyle and one of the women in our Bible Study group apparently misunderstood what I was saying because she said “Isn’t it marvelous that she’s so brave and what a incredible testimony to how you and your husband raised her?” It was a different way of looking at the situation and changed my attitude toward Bri’s adventures. I am partially responsible for them because my husband and I raised her to be fierce and independent and comfortable with hiking in the wilderness with bears, so she’s not frightened by the highways and byways of America. I still worry about her (you never stop worrying about your kids, I think), but I now see her life as an adventure and believe that God has her back and will see her through many of the dangers associated with the life she’s chosen.

But the most heart-touching compliment I ever received wasn’t really a compliment. It was more like a prophesy. Several years ago, events caused me to decide to leave the church I’d been a member of for decades. I loved that church. That spiritual family had seen me and my family through some wonderful times and some hard times. It is still my heart-home. But the pastor at the time was insufferable and the other members were backing him up, so it was time to go. I made that decision on a Sunday morning just before church service. I was literally in the parking lot when I decided I couldn’t go in. So, I went to a gas station to buy a coffee and decide what church I would go to that day. My heart was breaking as I waited for the man in front of me to fill his coffee vase so I could fill my cup. He turned around and I smiled because I have a commitment to being civil with people in public and it wasn’t his fault I was sad. And these words came out of his mouth:

Bless you, my sister in Christ, for your value is far above rubies and you have come into this world for just such a time as this. Your feet are upon the mountain path and it looks scary now, but don’t you worry because He has your hand and will lead you home.

He was right. I did find another spiritual home. Ironically, I went to the church we are currently members of that first morning, but because we had several friends already at that church, we didn’t want to just make an easy choice. We wanted to be where God wants us to be. So we visited about 10 churches over the next couple of months, but we finally returned to the first church I went to that morning of the prophesy. And, while it isn’t like our old church in so many ways, the feeling of spiritual family has gradually grown so that when we were asked if we would come back to our old church after the insufferable pastor left, we decided it was best for us not to do that.

But how he knew my situation that morning — it was a pure God thing. I’ve since met him again. He’s a deacon at a local church and he says God gave him those words many years ago and he’s felt called to say them a couple of dozen times to various people for no reason that he has ever known. He has another one for men. It’s a prophesy of foresaying – speaking God’s word into the life of someone at that moment rather than some future event (foreseeing). It draws from four different Bible passages — it’s not new revelation. I probably already knew what he said, but I needed to be reminded of God’s word and he was there to deliver the message. He was quite blessed when I was able to tell him that his message was delivered to the right person at the right time that day. It gave him hope that he’s not just a crazy man spouting forth Bible verses to random strangers in gas stations. And here’s the rub — two seconds before he said those words, I had decided I was going to go home and not attend church that morning. Maybe that would have been a fateful decision. How that would have turned out, only God knows, but I suspect it wouldn’t have been healthy for me, which is why God arranged for me to encounter this angel unawares.

Storm Clouds Rainbow

We live in a divisive world full of people who backbite and strive to outdo one another, where civility is a limping, bleeding sacrifice to the tyrannical attitudes people hold toward each other. But there are a lot of bright spots if we keep our eyes open for them. Sunlight shines through the clouds and, even now, still creates rainbows.

Posted October 1, 2018 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop, Uncategorized

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Why Does Separation of Church & State Grow Churches?   2 comments

Image result for image of a anglican churchHave you ever noticed that Europe is largely a non-Christian society while in the United States, we value freedom of religion and have relatively higher levels of faith?

It’s sort of interesting how that works because in Europe, most countries have a state religion that is subsidized by the government while in the United States people have to dole out their hard-earned money if they want to support a church.

Seventy percent of young people in Europe identify with no religion. But almost every country in Europe has a state religion. In the UK, only 7% of young adults identify as Anglican, which is the government-sponsored religion of the United Kingdom. In Germany, where the state church is Lutheran, about 45% of young people never attend church. I’m told by a friend who is from Germany and attends our church here in the States that there is a growing independent evangelical movement in Germany.

“And we want nothing to do with the state. We’d rather meet in someone’s home than take a dime from the government because it appears the government is a killer of faith.”

His view echoes a friend from England who says the same thing — that non-subsidized evangelical churches are growing while the government-supported Anglican churches are mostly empty.

I read an article a few days ago about how the Church in the Czech Republic is almost non-existent. Meanwhile, small evangelical and charismatic denominations are thriving. These are the churches that never used the State to compel them to come in and now the faithful are willingly coming into their sanctuaries.

Of course, church attendance was declining in the United States for a long time even without government interference and I’m not convinced it has stabilized. But I just find it interesting that churches without government support do better than churches with government support.

Not Living Up to the World’s Standards   1 comment

A new post on Christian Creative Nexus.

https://deliatalent.wordpress.com/2018/06/18/not-living-up-to-the-worlds-standards/

What makes a Christian creative a Christian?

I had to ask myself that question recently when someone with an axe to grind posted a review of one of my books that said, in essence, that I wasn’t a Christian because I don’t think the Army would walk on water and hand out flowers during the Apocalypse.

Sigh.

Image result for image of christian vs worldly standardsI grew up and now live in a very military town. About one-quarter of my friends and family are either in the military or were once in the military. I know some lovely military people. I also have had plenty of experience with jerks who were jacked up on the power of being in the military. There’s that dichotomy in human nature that doesn’t go away if you ignore it. The Transformation Project series focuses on how ordinary people, including military and civilian authorities, react in an apocalyptic situation where their command structure has been fractured. I don’t show all individuals with military authority acting in a heroic manner because I personally know people who wouldn’t act honorably in a situation where they’re given that kind of power and no oversight.  The news has covered some of these people. I believe there would be more of them if the command structure that is in place no longer existed. I have other military characters who do act honorably … and some of them die for that stand. That’s the only defense I’m going to offer.

Circling back to my original theme of “in the world, but not of it” … must Christian creatives stand for certain secular societal norms or be deemed “not Christian”?

Being a Christian is defined by one thing. You can discover it in Romans 10:9-10.

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.

Do you believe that Jesus Christ is God, Savior of mankind and your soul and do you confess that publicly? Your lifestyle should adhere to that and your politics are part of your lifestyle. Whether you support the military, love policemen, eat apple pie, or spend Mother’s Day with your mom isn’t really addressed in the Bible, therefore, they are personal decisions that each of us make individually.

“Art, though, is never the voice of a country; it is an even more precious thing, the voice of the individual, doing its best to speak, not comfort of any sort, but truth. And the art that speaks it most unmistakably, most directly, most variously, most fully, is fiction; in particular, the novel.” ~ Eudora Welty in On Writing.

Writing a novel is about addressing truth as the author sees it. A lot of Christians are very supportive of conservative political causes that I can’t find anywhere in the Bible. There’s nothing wrong with that – most of the time. We live in this world and the politics of the secular world affects us. When my taxes go up, I have less money to give to the church, which I feel spends social welfare funds much more wisely than the government does. I vote accordingly. We should all care if a politician believes it is okay to kill babies in the womb. We should pray for people caught up in the cycle of drug addiction or alcoholism, pornography or polyamory. The Bible is clear on many issues that Christians ought to have an opinion on and the Bible tells us what that opinion should be.

Image result for image of christian vs worldly standardsThe Bible is less clear on our involvement in those secular programs designed to address some of the world’s evils. I harbor doubts about how Jesus would feel about some secular programs American Christians are expected to support simply because we’re expected to support them. As a Christian creative who wants to reach a larger audience than just Christians who read religiously-oriented literature, I have given serious thought to which subjects for which I’m willing to fall on my authorial sword. I made a commitment to show Christian characters as human … with flaws, while showing their beliefs respectfully. I have every admiration for our Savior, not always the same feeling toward His followers. I try to show the world as I see it and not as I would like it to be, recognizing that it is fallen and so are the people in it. And, yet, I struggle with where the lines are because it’s not so simple as the Christian publishers make it seem. Because I’ve rejected those made-up constraints, I have to set new ones of my own – ones that I hope are Biblically-based, but not ignoring this world as it really is.

What about you? If you’re a Christian creative trying to reach a secular audience, do you find it difficult to push the “Christian” boundaries in a Christ-centric way without upsetting the “standards” people have applied to Christian creatives?

My Empire of Dirt   Leave a comment

Johnny Cash was a reprobate saved by a forgiving Savior and he never forgot that, even while he always remembered where he’d been when Jesus lifted him out of the muck he’d made of his life. The term “my empire of dirt” SOOO typifies the life we build outside of God.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vt1Pwfnh5pc
Lyrics
I hurt myself today
To see if I still feel
I focus on the pain
The only thing that’s real
The needle tears a hole
The old familiar sting
Try to kill it all away
But I remember everything
What have I become
My sweetest friend
Everyone I know
Goes away in the end
And you could have it all
My empire of dirt
I will let you down
I will make you hurt
I wear this crown of thorns
Upon my liars chair
Full of broken thoughts
I cannot repair
Beneath the stains of time
The feelings disappear
You are someone else
I am still right here
What have I become
My sweetest friend
Everyone I know
Goes away in the end
And you could have it all
My empire of dirt
I will let you down
I will make you hurt
If I could start again
A million miles away
I will keep myself
I would find a way
Songwriters: Trent Reznor
Hurt lyrics © Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd.

It’s Not Freedom if You Can’t Exercise It, Pt 3   Leave a comment

“When the government fails to act neutrally toward the free exercise of religion, it tends to run into trouble.” Neil Gorsuch, Supreme Court justice

Gorsuch wrote a concuring opinion in Masterpiece Cakeshop v Colorado Civil Rights Commission and Justice Alito joined him.

Image result for image of wedding cakeGorsuch stated that the decision hinged on the hostility of the Commission toward Phillips’ beliefs and on their failure to show that their “restriction on religion both serve(s) a compelling interest and (is) narrowly tailored” (Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye v Hialeah (1993)).

The Colorado Civil Rights Commission failed to “act neutrally toward Jack Phillips’ religious faith.” It allowed three other bakers to refuse a customer’s request that would have required them to violate their secular commitments, “yet it denied the same accommodations to Mr. Phillips when he refused a customer’s request that would have required him to violate his religious beliefs.” The Commission’s reasoning was the Phillips’ religious beliefs are “offensive”, in its judgement.

Gorsuch admits that he wrote this opinion mainly to address his two colleagues trying to suggest that the Commission could have acted neutrally toward Phillips’ faith when it treated him differently from the other bakers in a way consistent with the First Amendment.

“Respectfully, I do not see how we might rescue the Commission from its error.”

Mr. Jack argued that the cakes he requested reflected his religious beliefs and so the bakers could not refuse to make them just because they disagreed with his beliefs. The Commission ruled that the bakers didn’t refuse on the basis of his religious faith, but because his message was “offensive” to their own moral convictions.

How is that different from what Jack Phillips did when he refused to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex wedding? Phillips too offered to make other baked goods, including cakes, celebrating other occasions, but he would not design a wedding cake for a same-sex wedding regardless of the sexual orientation of the customer. He subsequently refused the request from the mother of one of the partners. The undisputed factual record shows that Phillips would not make a cake celebrating a same-sex marriage for a heterosexual customer and that he was no unwilling to sell other products to a homosexual customer.

“In both cases, the effect on the customer was the same: bikers refused service to persons who bore a statutorily protected trait (religious faith or sexual orientation). But in both cases, the bakers refused service intending only to honor a personal conviction. … the bakers knew their conduct promised the effect of leaving a customer in a protected class unserved. But there’s no indication the bakers actually intended to refuse service because of a customer’s protected characteristic. … all bakers explained without contradiction that they would not sell the requested cakes to anyone, while they would sell other cakes to members of the protected class (as well as anyone else).”

Gorsuch notes that Colorado law allows that “businesses are entitled to reject orders for any number of reasons, including because they deem a particular product requested by a customer to be “offensive”.  The Commission ignored that and judged Mr. Phillips’ intentions in denying service were “inextricably tied to the sexual orientation of the parties involved” and essentially “irrational.” But, somehow, the intentions of bakers in the Jack case were not “inextricably linked”.  The Commission presumed Mr. Phillips habored an intent to discriminate against a protected class in light of the foreseeable effects of his conduct, but it didn’t presume the same intention toward the bakers’ conduct in the Jack’s case.

“The Commission cannot have it both ways. [It] cannot slide up and down the mens rea scale, picking a mental status standard that suit its tastes depending on its sympathies. Either actual proof of intent to discriminate on the basis of membership in a protected class is required … or it is sufficient to “presume” such intent from the knowing failure to serve someone in a protected class.”

But no, the Commission appeared instead to condemn Mr. Phillips for “expressing just the kind of “irrational” or “offensive” message that the bakers in the Jack’s case refused to endorse.  You can agree with the Commission and consider Mr. Phillips’ beliefs to be irrational or offensive, or consider that he has misinterpreted the teachings of his faith. The Supreme Court has ruled same-sex marriage is a matter of constitutional right and various states have enacted laws that preclude discrimination on the basis of sextual orientation, but those bureaucratic judgments do not survive strict scrutiny under the First Amendment.

“In this country, the place of secular officials isn’t to sit in judgment of religious beliefs, but only to protect their free exercise. … Just as it it is the proudest boast of our free exercise of jurisprudence that we protect speech that we hate, it must be the proudest boast of our free exercise jurisprudence that we protect religious beliefs that we find offensive (Matal v Tam (2017); United States v Schwimmer (1929).”

Gorsuch goes on to say the Commission has tried to maneuver around its failure by claiming Jack asked for a cake with text while Craig and Mullins (the plaintives) sought a decorated cake and then has insisted that the Phillips’ case involved a wedding cake like any other, suggesting there’s no substantive difference between a wedding cake celebrating a heterosexual wedding versus a homosexual one. It’s all a means to deny the neutrality Jack Phillips was due under the law.

It’s irrational to argue that a cake with words conveys a message, but a cake without words does not. Wedding cakes are symbolic baked goods, signifying approval of a “specific system, idea (or) institution.” (West Virinia Bd of Ed v Barnette (1943). “That was precisely the approval Mr. Phillips intended to withhold in keeping with his religious faith.” In denying Mr. Phillips that choice while affording the bakers in Mr. Jack’s case the same choice, the Commission displayed a gross lack of neutrality. Gorsuch insists that the only reasonable course of action is both bakers to be treated the same. To some, all wedding cakes may appear indistinguishable, but to Mr. Phillips, that is not the case — his faith teaches him otherwise “and his religious beliefs are entitled to no less respectful treatment than the [other] bakers’ secular beliefs.”

Gorsuch further relies on the case of Smith, a Jehovah’s Witness who worked in a steel mill, accepting that the sheet steel he worked on might be used in munitions, but objecting to working directly on tanks. “The Court didn’t try to suggest that making steel is just making steel [or] that to offend his religion the steel needed to be of a particular kind or shape. Instead it recognized that Mr. Thomas alone was entitled to define the nature of his religious commitments … not a bureaucrat or judge ….”

Gorsuch confirmed that it is not appropriate for the US Supreme Court to tell Mr. Phillips that a wedding cake is just like any other without regard to the religious significance his faith may attach to it than it is for the Court to suggest that “for all persons sacramental break is just bread and a kippah is just a cap.”

That leaves only one way forward. The SCOTUS will reverse the judgment and hold the Commission’s order set aside. The Commission ought to think about this and use the SCOTUS reasoning in future cases to offer neutral reasons for their rulemaking. Gorsuch also stated that Phillips is entitled to judgment for the past six years facing unlawful civil charges.

Ouch! The State of Colorado may get hit in their pocketbook. And that might be what is necessary to make it clear that government cannot do these sorts of things to law-abiding citizens they happen to disagree with.

Part 4

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