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Should the secular state legislate morality?


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#41 Rdr Daniel (R.)

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Posted 03 February 2011 - 05:29 PM

I'm sorry (not going into the whole absolute and many tiers of constitution kingships. Plus this is a little of topic but there seems to be a view favouring republics over kingdoms) but I must say that we must remember two things:

A republic are no better than a kingdom -look at the first French Republic- and dictators are a lot worse than kings and have a nasty habit of appearing when the legitimate King is disposed by his subjects in favour of a republic.

And secondary and more impotently what about kings such as King Alfred the Great, Saint Edmund the Martyr (whom I think a saint but I can not find him on my archdiocese's website) and the many Georgian saints who as kings cared for their people, helped the poor, the orphan and the widow, made sure that justice was done, defended the people and supported the Church.

#42 Antonios

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Posted 03 February 2011 - 05:40 PM

I'm sorry (not going into the whole absolute and many tiers of constitution kingships. Plus this is a little of topic but there seems to be a view favouring republics over kingdoms) but I must say that we must remember two things:

A republic are no better than a kingdom -look at the first French Republic- and dictators are a lot worse than kings and have a nasty habit of appearing when the legitimate King is disposed by his subjects in favour of a republic.

And secondary and more impotently what about kings such as King Alfred the Great, Saint Edmund the Martyr (whom I think a saint but I can not find him on my archdiocese's website) and the many Georgian saints who as kings cared for their people, helped the poor, the orphan and the widow, made sure that justice was done, defended the people and supported the Church.


While I agree that the best form of governance may be a monarchy (after all, the Trinity is structured as one!), it is not the most reliable one in consistently upholding the will of the people. For every great, gentle and merciful king there have been many more that have been less so. In a republic, the voice and the will of the people can best be heard and maintained (for better or for worse).

#43 Rdr Daniel (R.)

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Posted 03 February 2011 - 05:58 PM

But in a republic there is know check balance between the king and parliament like in a kingdom. Maybe a king but with a council and some things that he can not do and if done the king is replaced by another one from the Royal Family in order to stop terranical kings and keep the good ones, in practice it would not be that easy but it seems worth a try, and now days there needs to be a senate or parliament as it is two much work for one person. And I'm not sure if I'm all for upholding the will of the people locally yes but in the laws ect... they should be heard but to me it is the King within the guide lines of the Church who should make them

#44 Antonios

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Posted 03 February 2011 - 05:59 PM

I have to disagree with this from an Orthodox POV. The purpose of a civil government is not to protect the rights of the individual, but rather it is to create and maintain a society in which it is possible for us to work out our salvation.


First, let us praise the fact that we can disagree with each other and not have to worry about being cast in a prison or a gulag for expressing it, which unfortunately is the case in many places even now, and has also been so in countries that considered themselves majority Orthodox Christians.

Second, while the Orthodox Christian POV may be that the role of civil government is to "create and maintain a society in which it is possible for us to work out our salvation", Orthodox Christians are not the only members in society and the concerns and voice of others need to be heard and addressed if peaceful co-existence is possible. Do I wish the entire word was Orthodox Christian? Of course! Will it ever happen? I don't believe so. So we should base the body politic in a form that allows all the same rights that are inherent in the human soul, namely life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. What life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness means will be different for each person of course. Will this be abused by some, to their own perdition? Of course! But anything less would be tyranny over another, a tyranny even God Himself does not exercise against His creation (otherwise, there would be no free will, no freedom, no love).

Lastly, Christ told us that we are to be in the world, but not of the world; that we are sourjourners in this life in anticipation and preparation to the eternal life in the Kingdom. We fallen creatures will never establish the Kingdom in this fallen world whose prince is the devil. What we can do as we work out our own salvation in it is to show the same love and respect to others as we would like them to do to us. While the US Constitution is not perfect (which is why there are amendments that can be changed), it best protects the rights of the individual who is still trying to figure out what life is about and what it means to be saved.

#45 Antonios

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Posted 03 February 2011 - 06:02 PM

But in a republic there is know check balance between the king and parliament like in a kingdom. Maybe a king but with a council and some things that he can not do and if done the king is replaced by another one from the Royal Family in order to stop terranical kings and keep the good ones, in practice it would not be that easy but it seems worth a try, and now days there needs to be a senate or parliament as it is two much work for one person. And I'm not sure if I'm all for upholding the will of the people locally yes but in the laws ect... they should be heard but to me it is the King within the guide lines of the Church who should make them


What has made the US a great nation has been exactly that: the checks and balances inherent in the system and that no one (not even the president) is above the law. The balances of power have shifted which is a major cause for the degradation of this nation, namely the power of the executive arm (which would be more close to a kingship).

#46 Father David Moser

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Posted 03 February 2011 - 06:44 PM

To all participants - please remember that we are here to discuss the Orthodox faith. Discussions of national prominence or success or the comparative viability of various forms of government outside of how they relate to the Orthodox faith. Let's bring this discussion back to the Orthodox faith as it is expressed in its patristic, monastic and liturgical traditions.

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#47 Angelos

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Posted 04 February 2011 - 03:11 PM

I believe the parable of the prodigal son gives a good idea about how God gives us the freedom to Sin: The fascination of illusory freedom, the abandonment of the father's house; the extreme misery in which the son finds himself after squandering his fortune; his deep humiliation at finding himself obliged to feed swine, and still worse, at wanting to feed on the husks the pigs ate; his reflection on all he has lost; his repentance and decision to declare himself guilty before his father; the journey back; the father's generous welcome; the father's joy - all these are characteristic of the process of conversion. the beautiful robe, the ring, and the festive banquet are symbols of that new life - pure worthy, and joyful - of anyone who returns to God and to the bosom of his family, which is the Church.

The Father could have easily denied the son's request and tell him "No, I don't think you're mature enough, you're just gonna blow it"..but what the Father did is gives His sinful, immature son the chance to be tempted, fall and ultimately work out his own salvation.

In this case if the prodigal Son was not given the freedom to sin and realize how fruitless sin is, he would have never achieved such a strong communion with his Father. If God gives the freedom to Sin, and if such freedom helps us work out our Salvation, who are we to create laws that restrict people's freedom to sin?

#48 Olga

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Posted 04 February 2011 - 03:21 PM

I believe the parable of the prodigal son gives a good idea about how God gives us the freedom to Sin: The fascination of illusory freedom, the abandonment of the father's house; the extreme misery in which the son finds himself after squandering his fortune; his deep humiliation at finding himself obliged to feed swine, and still worse, at wanting to feed on the husks the pigs ate; his reflection on all he has lost; his repentance and decision to declare himself guilty before his father; the journey back; the father's generous welcome; the father's joy - all these are characteristic of the process of conversion. the beautiful robe, the ring, and the festive banquet are symbols of that new life - pure worthy, and joyful - of anyone who returns to God and to the bosom of his family, which is the Church.

The Father could have easily denied the son's request and tell him "No, I don't think you're mature enough, you're just gonna blow it"..but what the Father did is gives His sinful, immature son the chance to be tempted, fall and ultimately work out his own salvation.

In this case if the prodigal Son was not given the freedom to sin and realize how fruitless sin is, he would have never achieved such a strong communion with his Father. If God gives the freedom to Sin, and if such freedom helps us work out our Salvation, who are we to create laws that restrict people's freedom to sin?


The above ideas sound uncomfortably like those of a heretical Russian sect (whose name escapes me at the moment) whose beliefs included the idea that sinning and subsequent repentance brought one closer to God - and, the more serious the sin, the greater the effort for repentance, therefore drawing even closer to God. So, according to this sect, to sin was spiritually beneficial.

#49 Angelos

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Posted 04 February 2011 - 03:36 PM

The above ideas sound uncomfortably like those of a heretical Russian sect (whose name escapes me at the moment) whose beliefs included the idea that sinning and subsequent repentance brought one closer to God - and, the more serious the sin, the greater the effort for repentance, therefore drawing even closer to God. So, according to this sect, to sin was spiritually beneficial.


I do not agree with that sect that all sin is beneficial (if that's what they mean)...but..as in the story of Joseph and his brothers who sold him to slavery...God allows sin when it is ultimately beneficial for His people. Now obviously sin is not beneficial for everyone. Some people sin and sin and sin and keep digging deeper their trip to hell. We sinful humans have no clue what sin is beneficial and what sin is detrimental to one's Salvation. So maybe we should leave it up to the all-knowing God to judge how to ultimately help people work out their own Salvation...I don't think we are capable of doing that, especially by legislating what types of behavior are legal.

On the other hand, if we see a brother sin I think we have an obligation to give him/her our advice and support, if we think that will be beneficial. I view the role of the Christian community as one of advice, support and active love towards sinners...not as one of setting up a set of laws that try to prevent people from sinning through the fear of jail time.

Edited by Angelos, 04 February 2011 - 03:59 PM.


#50 Ivan Miletic

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Posted 27 March 2011 - 08:25 PM

There are plenty of theocracies such as Iran, Taliban controlled areas, etc. in the world today, and I personally would not want to live under any such regime in any way shape or form. This includes a Christian one no matter how benevolent it may seem on paper.

There is too much evil in such a state apparatus where people are forced to live under a certain kind of behavior. This removes their free will to choose to behave as they want to.

This idea of legislation of a moral code in effect is the biggest totalitarian evil you can invent because people cannot opt out of the choice that is made for them by the state, other than via martyrdom.

By this premise the state would eventually have the right to convert people to a certain religion based on a moral code they invent and later justify. At the very least they would act to make competing religions illegal. This is in place now in the world and is not speculation nor fiction. It’s reality. This kind compulsion and any other of the sort is disgusting to me and so is the idea of it all.

Speaking from Canada, I for one am glad people here have the right to choose abortion or not, and the right to equal rights under the law for gay marriage. It’s not up to anyone to mandate or compel any behavior including that kind. God is the one who should judge this type of thing not the state.

The state has to be inclusive of everyone not just a certain elect group. This is where a personal moral code that is rooted in Orthodoxy can thrive since it will be adopted by choice and not by force. If this is not the case the moral code means nothing at all. Keep in mind that the same tax base that pays to support abortion is the one that pays for Catholic schools, at least in Ontario.

By analogy, I personally do not want to live in the twelfth century where people were put to death for being witches, for having a mental illness, or for not agreeing with the opinion a king or potentate, or for not paying taxes to him. That is a farce almost beyond comprehension.

This kind of rampant ignorance and the kind of suffering it brings is almost dead in the world and we should act to put the nails in its coffin and to bury it once and for all, and not to bring it back based on a self gratifying world view.

#51 Rdr Daniel (R.)

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Posted 27 March 2011 - 09:10 PM

I understand what you are saying but the state does have to legislate and it does have to decide what is right and wrong to be able to do so. There is no such country that to my knowledge does not do this.

For example you speak of abortion but the legality is based on the fact that this is o.k. to do it is the mother's personal choice, the baby does not have a choice. So yes a women could say no I think it is wrong to have an abortion legal or not, but the baby cannot say I think it is wrong to have an abortion whether it is legal or not he has no choice. Also if it is legal it is therefore giving the message it is ok when instead the state should be saying it is wrong and trying to help and support the mother to cope with being with child even if this means adoption for the baby straight after birth.

Also you speak of "equal" "rights" for homosexuals but it is not at least in the U.K. the case of a legal contract between two people open to all. But it is a homosexual version of marriage which has always meant the bond between a man and woman so instead of saying no this is wrong we are saying this is perfectly o.k. way to live an "alternative lifestyle".
Also for example it is o.k. for a homosexual couple to have free will but not a hotel owner who does not want them staying at his hotel. My point is laws are not made for equality but are nearly always biased it is just a matter of what way they swing you could remove a lot of laws for the sake of equality and in the face of the modern state it would seem like a better option then having them made by a secular bias but in practice what would happen where would it stop?

Do we make multiple partner marriages like the Mormons legal? animal to human sexual relations legal? assisting suicide legal? under-age sexual relations legal? To me it is the path to lawlessness.

We also have to be careful not to judge the way people did thinks in the past there way of thinking was different but is the modern way any better? In some cases yes but in others no.

It is important for people to have free will, yes, but there still need to be laws and by making them we are not taking away someone free will. Everyone has the choice to steal but if you do then you shall go to jail ect... else we do end up in lawlessness.

God has given us free will but has said what is right and wrong if we disobey him and will not repent then there are consequences. How are we to understand that if all around us the state says you do this there is no legal consequence unless you affect someone else by doing it such as murdering someone.

Sorry for any rambling. Daniel.

#52 Kosta

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Posted 28 March 2011 - 12:08 AM

Democracy is coming to the end of the road. This form of government is reaching a tipping point. What lies around the corner we will have to wait and see. From these posts, we see an anti-christian, anti-Orthodox element built into this creature known as democracy. Such elements which have crept in such as open border policies, euthanasia, abortion (but anti death penalty) , soon to be gay marriages, seperation of state from religion and even the unchristian protestant heresy known as the pursuit of happiness. We recognize the symptoms unfortunately there is no cure for it.

#53 Ivan Miletic

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Posted 28 March 2011 - 02:40 AM

Thanks for the reply. It’s a good discussion.

I personally do not think abortion is OK, nor do I agree with certain lifestyle choices people make, nor do I support drug use etc.

I just think that it’s better to support people spiritually, to show them by example how to do the right thing, and to offer them choices and guidance, over legislation.

I believe in the fundamental good in people and that they should be given the choice to pick the right path.

in terms of legislation you are right, every state has to do this. I am afraid that in some cases this can go too far, in particular if well meaning people are left with too much power in their hands.

I was not born in Canada and I can tell you from the experiences my family has had that this can be insidious and very oppressive if not kept in check.

At the same time as freedom is given, a guiding hand should also be provided so that people can see the way. For me personally, Orthodoxy has grown to be that guide post more and more.

I hope you understand that I am not advocating any one choice over another but I do not want to see people forced to comply to something that is alien to their persons.

That is a crime that we must also take care not to commit along with others that were likely mentioned in this forum long before I posted here.

I guess if an example of this is needed, it's that Christ always asked people who they thought He was, and He never told them that He was the Son of God, at least not so to speak. He always waited for them to tell Him and then confirmed their belief instead of telling them first.

Choice was always given and never forced upon them. This was the case to the last moments when Pilate asked what truth was. He looked at Truth in the face, literally, and did not see it as such. He was never forced to see. Pilate made his choice, as do all of us.

Edited by Olga, 28 March 2011 - 10:38 PM.
changed font size for ease of reading


#54 Andrew Prather

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Posted 28 March 2011 - 03:58 AM

I see certain political perspectives being associated with Orthodoxy that aren't really necessarily Orthodox even if Orthodoxy has been associated with them in the past. We should not associate a certain political system with Orthodoxy unless it is the direct heavenly rule of Christ Himself. Humans are liable to sin and error, even in the governance of nations, even under the guise or intent of Christian rule. Whether a chain or sword or rod of wrong doing is wielded by a Christian or non-Christian makes no difference. Power corrupts. Without a check and balance, Christian rulers will fall into sin. If David fell into sin, so will any other ruler.

#55 Donna Rail

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Posted 29 March 2011 - 03:54 AM

Sometimes it is hard for the individual to protect themselves. That, I think, is where a state is supposed to come in- not too little and not too much, but to protect public safety. The state perhaps cannot force us to be nicer people inside, but it can, by way of the laws, scare most of the people into not unleashing dangerous behavior on one another. While it doesn't sound nice, in the face of the fact that we are fallen and imperfect, there is not a lot of getting around it. (This is just my opinion, of course.)

Edited by Donna Rail, 29 March 2011 - 03:55 AM.
to add clarity


#56 Bryan J. Maloney

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Posted 30 March 2011 - 06:19 PM

When the state becomes the moral arbiter, at what point does opposition to the state become automatically immoral? Is it moral for the state to demand rejection of Christ and embrace of Islam? If, as some herein have appeared to claim, we are morally bound by all laws, then we would be morally bound to repudiate Christ should the state so order. But let us not be so extreme, let us suppose a state that would not pass such a law. Instead, it passes laws in accord with "basic Christian morality", outlawing adultery, fornication, homosexuality, all with sufficiently punishments to assure adherence. Is such a state to be obeyed? What if that particular state also outlaws Icons? Many are the loudly devoted moralists in the USA who would eagerly turn around and denounce Icons as "idols". Are we, as Orthodox Christians, then bound to follow all of this "moral" state's laws? But let us not even be that extreme. Suppose that the state does not go so far as to outlaw Icons. Suppose, instead, it mandates regular confession of sins, with legal penalties for failing to do so. Suppose that it appoints all clergy as apparatchiks of the state. Of course, as they now have a dual function, as clergy and as apparatchiks (bureaucrats), they could have a dual loyalty, but we need fear nothing. Whenever state and hierarchy have worked hand in glove, has not the result always been greater morality and justice? Or has it, instead, been greater hypocrisy, less visibility of immoral behavior but no actual reduction in immorality?

I would certainly never go so far as to say that morality has no place in law. Morality is a fundamental underpinning of law, but a great deal of law has nothing at all to do with morality--I would be no less moral for selling apple juice in quarts than for selling it in liters, even though UK law mandates it be sold in liters and not quarts. Likewise, a great deal of morality has nothing at all to do with law. The government has no place drugging or torturing me until I admit every little angry or lustful thought that I might sinfully entertain.

If one immoral act is to be illegal, why not another one? I do not ask this as a petulant hedonist might, in order to undermine any moral principle, but as a fallen man living in a fallen world, with fallen legislators, fallen police, and fallen judges. Until the Legislator, the Executive, and the Judge are not fallen, I will not trust any state with absolute power.

Edited by Bryan J. Maloney, 30 March 2011 - 06:20 PM.
kuhrekt speling errerrr


#57 Bryan J. Maloney

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Posted 30 March 2011 - 06:33 PM

Democracy is coming to the end of the road. This form of government is reaching a tipping point.


Same thing was said in the 1930s. How well did the countries that embraced such claims do? Was Stalin a great friend of Orthodoxy? Were the other dictators?

#58 Evan

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Posted 06 September 2011 - 02:10 PM

Brothers and sisters,

I thought I'd revive this thread to solicit comment upon a highly influential treatise that I've had much opportunity to consult in the course of recent studies into the political and social thought of the American "Founding Fathers" and those who influenced them in setting forth, for the first time in human history, a representative government grounded in natural law-- that is, "inalienable rights,” with which we have been endowed by our Creator.

Let it be clear that these "rights" are constructive. There is no question of God having actually assigned us "rights.” The idea is, rather, that because we are uniquely created, we have a unique dignity, and we should treat each other in ways that reflect that unique dignity-- indeed, we have no authority to treat ourselves or others in ways that don’t (and for that reason we, and the state, acting through us, can stop those who act in ways that don’t). Of course, if we are to be sufficiently driven to do so, we must believe that they are of God—but we can’t force anyone to believe that, and we respect the God-created dignity of people who don’t believe that.

My question is how far such sentiments as are expressed in the treatise, written by John Locke and known to history as his "Second Treatise on Government," can be accepted as the basis for a government in which we can work out our salvation in fear and trembling. I am sufficiently familiar with Locke to know that he held thoroughly unorthodox theological and ecclesiological opinions. But when it comes to civil government, and the proper limits thereof, I find his arguments compelling. They were instrumental in shaping the thoughts of the Founders and Framers (Thomas Jefferson and James Madison in particular). I would daresay that the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution developed to secure the rights declared in the Declaration, cannot be understand without an appreciation of Locke.

"The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges every one: and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions: for men being all the workmanship of one omnipotent, and infinitely wise maker; all the servants of one sovereign master, sent into the world by his order, and about his business; they are his property, whose workmanship they are, made to last during his, not one another’s pleasure: and being furnished with like faculties, sharing all in one community of nature, there cannot be supposed any such subordination among us, that may authorize us to destroy one another, as if we were made for one another’s uses, as the inferior ranks of creatures are for our’s.


IF man in the state of nature be so free, as has been said; if he be absolute lord of his own person and possessions, equal to the greatest, and subject to no body, why will he part with his freedom? why will he give up this empire, and subject himself to the dominion and controul of any other power? To which it is obvious to answer, that though in the state of nature he hath such a right, yet the enjoyment of it is very uncertain, and constantly exposed to the invasion of others: for all being kings asmuch as he, every man his equal, and the greater part no strict observers of equity and justice, the enjoyment of the property he has in this state is very unsafe, very unsecure. This makes him willing to quit a condition, which, however free, is full of fears and continual dangers: and it is not without reason, that he seeks out, and is willing to join in society with others, who are already united, or have a mind to unite,for the mutual preservation of their lives, liberties and estates, which I call by the general name, property. The great and chief end, therefore, of men’s uniting into common-wealths, and putting themselves under government, is the preservation of their property. To which in the state of nature there are many things wanting.”

Locke believed that protection of our natural rights is God’s will. Because God has “given us” such rights, we, and the government we form in order to secure those rights, have corresponding duties. In fulfilling those duties, the government does God’s will, and by supporting the government when it does those duties (through us, who participate in free elections for those who make and enforce the nation’s laws), we do God’s will.

If this is totally outside the scope of this forum, I apologize. But it’s been preoccupying my attention of late, and I thought I’d solicit opinions from thoughtful Orthodox, whom I know I can find here.

To sum up my concerns: If I think this is a terrific way of conceiving of the role of civil government, does that indicate I’ve been made a prey of by empty deceit and philosophy?

In Christ,
Evan

#59 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 06 September 2011 - 02:43 PM

I think this is a very important contribution to the dialog. While I caution that should try not to get into a political debate or dwell on certain contemporary political trends in this forum, I think the

idea ... that because we are uniquely created, we have a unique dignity, and we should treat each other in ways that reflect that unique dignity-- indeed, we have no authority to treat ourselves or others in ways that don’t (and for that reason we, and the state, acting through us, can stop those who act in ways that don’t).

is worth exploring in more depth and has some ramification in other ongoing threads as well.

To this bear of admittedly little brain, it might be summed up thusly (understanding the danger of over-simplication): when government supports us, we support it, and when government does not support us, then it should not be surprized when we do not support it. And there should be no dishonor in working to create a government that supports its citizenry in the best way possible. That there are differing views on what this means should not be surprizing as well, but any government that provides a basis for working out those differences in a rational and fair manner seems like a good thing and we do well not to "enable" any government to act in an irrational or harmful manner, if we are, indeed, responsible citizens. Monarchies have (at best) a mixed record in this respect, and theocracies, on the whole, a poor one.

Herman the historical Pooh

#60 Antonios

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Posted 07 September 2011 - 01:26 AM

Evan, have you read the book 'The 5000 Year Leap'? I think you would like it. It is filled with quotes from Locke and of the Founding Fathers.




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