Return Of The Hedgehog

Angry hedgehog

Recently I have been pondering whether Donald Trump, in the parlance of philosopher Isaiah Berlin in his famous essay “The Hedgehog and the Fox”, is a hedgehog, one who, in words of the Greek poet Archilochus, “knows one big thing,”or a fox, which knows many things. The thrust of the essay (and a later book) is that history teaches that the hedgehogs tend to prevail over the foxes.

In 2019, I announced that I had figured out that Trump was indeed a hedgehog, and that the one big thing he knew was that

“Despite decades of indoctrination to the contrary, most Americans are proud of their country and do not believe it has been a force for evil in the world. They recognize that capitalism has been responsible for the much of the nation’s success, and they do not want to emulate the European nanny states. Most Americans also regard the office of the Presidency as an inherently good institution. The Four Horsewomen of the Apocalypse, as the President now calls them, do not believe these things, and by clearly opposing a group that is deep, deep in negative territory on the scale, the President is certain to derive a net benefit. Although I have heard the Stage 5 Trump Deranged argue that he does not love his country and does not have its best interests at heart, that is an unsupportable position fueled by dislike alone. Nobody becomes President who isn’t a patriot, and no President wants to go down in history as a bad one. Now the entire Democratic Party is tying itself to these four repulsive, anti-American extremists, which is the equivalent of the party tying itself to an anchor on the [Cognitive Dissonance] Scale.”

For the record, I’m still not completely convinced that Trump isn’t a fox in spiny clothing.

Now the “Fox or Hedgehog?” game has emerged again in an essay by Lance Morrow in The Wall Street Journal. He attributes Critical Race Theory to hedgehogian reasoning. The One Big Thing: slavery was bad. He writes in part,

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Why Is Banning The Teaching Of Critical Race Theory In Schools Ethically Justifiable When Banning The Teaching Of Evolution Is Not?

Critical Race ban

On this, the 96th anniversary of the beginning of the Scopes Trial in 1925, let’s consider attorney Clarence Darrow’s opening statement. Here is the crux of it:

“…Along comes somebody who says ‘we have got to believe it as I believe it. It is a crime to know more than I know.’ And they publish a law to inhibit learning. This law says that it shall be a criminal offense to teach in the public schools any account of the origin of man that is in conflict with the divine account in the Bible. It makes the Bible the yardstick to measure every man’s intellect, to measure every man’s intelligence and to measure every man’s learning. Are your mathematics good? Turn to Elijah 1:2. Is your philosophy good? See II Samuel 3. Is your astronomy good? See Genesis 2:7. Is your chemistry good? See – well, chemistry, see Deuteronomy 3:6, or anything that tells about brimstone. Every bit of knowledge that the mind has must be submitted to a religious test. It is a travesty upon language, it is a travesty upon justice, it is a travesty upon the constitution to say that any citizen of Tennessee can be deprived of his rights by a legislative body in the face of the constitution.

Of course, I used to hear when I was a boy you could lead a horse to water, but you could not make him drink water. I could lead a man to water, but I could not make him drink, either. And you can close your eyes and you won’t see, cannot see, refuse to open your eyes – stick your fingers in your ears and you cannot hear – if you want to. But your life and my life and the life of every American citizen depends after all upon the tolerance and forbearance of his fellow man. If men are not tolerant, if men cannot respect each other’s opinions, if men cannot live and let live, then no man’s life is safe, no man’s life is safe.

Here is a country made up of Englishmen, Irishmen, Scotch, German, Europeans, Asiatics, Africans, men of every sort and men of every creed and men of every scientific belief. Who is going to begin this sorting out and say, “I shall measure you; I know you are a fool, or worse; I know and I have read a creed telling what I know and I will make people go to Heaven even if they don’t want to go with me. I will make them do it.” Where is the man that is wise enough to do this?

If today you can take a thing like evolution and make it a crime to teach it in the public school, tomorrow you can make it a crime to teach it in the private school, and the next year you can make it a crime to teach it from the hustings or in the church. At the next session you may ban books and the newspapers. Soon you may set Catholic against Protestant and Protestant against Protestant, and try to foist your own religion upon the minds of men. If you can do one you can do the other. Ignorance and fanaticism are ever busy and need feeding. Always they are feeding and gloating for more. Today it is the public school teachers, tomorrow the private. The next day the preachers and the lecturers, the magazines, the books, the newspapers. After a while, Your Honor, it is the setting of man against man and creed against creed until, with flying banners and beating drums, we are marching backward to the glorious ages of the sixteenth century when bigots lighted torches to burn the men who dared to bring any intelligence and enlightenment and culture to the human mind.

As mentioned in the post earlier today, the issue of whether a state could ban the teaching of evolution was never settled in Scopes, but many years later in the Supreme Court case of Epperson v. Arkansas (1968), which struck down a state law that criminalized the teaching of evolution in public schools. Epperson, however, was narrowly decided on the basis that the First Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits a state from requiring, in the words of the majority opinion, “that teaching and learning must be tailored to the principles or prohibitions of any religious sect or dogma.” It was not based on freedom of speech, or as Darrow termed it, “freedom of thought.” The Theory of Evolution and “Critical Race Theory” are both theories, though one is based in scientific research and the other is a product of scholarly analysis. Though the latter seems to carry the heft of religious faith in some quarters, freedom of religion is not the issue where banning critical race theory is involved. Nor, realistically speaking, is freedom of speech as Darrow describes it.

School districts, which are agents of the government, have a recognized right to oversee the content of what is taught in the public schools, within reason, and when the purpose is defensible. Teachers are not free to teach whatever they choose, though their controversial choices cannot be made criminal, just grounds for dismissal. The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals made this clear in Evans-Marshall v. Bd of Ed of Tipp City Exempted Village Sch Dist. (6th Cir. 2010), a case involving a high school English teacher who was fired for using classroom assignments and materials without following the appropriate steps for approval. The court stated, “Even to the extent academic freedom, as a constitutional rule, could somehow apply to primary and secondary schools, that does not insulate a teacher’s curricular and pedagogical choices from the school board’s oversight.”

School districts still can’t define a curriculum so narrowly that it violates students’ constitutional rights. In Board of Island Trees v. Pico (U.S. 1982), the U.S. Supreme Court held that the school district could not remove books from the school library without a legitimate pedagogical reason, because doing so violated students’ free speech rights of access to information.  Districts and schools are also limited to what they can require children to study, though most cases in this realm again involve religion. However, once school districts and schools have defined a legally permissible curriculum, courts will give them broad discretion to implement it even over community and parental objections. For example:

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Jesus’s Wife: A Depressing Example Of Why American Institutions Are Not Trusted And Don’t Deserve To Be

Who do you trust 3

Most people younger than me don’t know (or care) that before he was the king of late night TV on “The Tonight Show,” Johnny Carson was the young, engaging host of a pseudo-quiz show called “Who Do You Trust?” I think of that show’s title when, as is increasingly the case, I encounter stories like this one, which is described in excruciating detail in a plaintive article in the Chronicle of Hight Education.. The main facts are these:

—A 2014 Harvard Theological Review article by Harvard Divinity School professor Karen L. King purported to have uncovered an ancient papyrus fragment in which Jesus refers to “my wife.” This, coming after the sensational best-selling novel “The Da Vinci Code” by Dan Brown and its subsequent film version starring Tom Hanks, both of which were based on a fanciful conspiracy theory regarding Mary Magdalene’s alleged relationship with Jesus Christ, understandably caused quite a stir in academia, theological circles, and the popular press.

–King’s article was deemed unlikely to the point of absurdity by many scholars from the moment it was published. “Almost everything we know,” one expert wrote, “about the nature of historical evidence points to forgery.”

—King had failed to take basic steps to vet the manuscript, which she’d provocatively named “The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife.” Worse, two of the journal’s three peer reviewers had decided the papyrus was a fake. Only one had not: an acclaimed papyrologist named Roger Bagnall. Bagnall, however, had helped King draft the very paper the journal asked him to review. This is called a conflict of interest, indeed a screaming conflict of interest. Not only had King identified him in the paper as her primary adviser, but Bagnall had been filmed declaring the papyrus’s authenticity for a forthcoming Smithsonian Channel documentary.

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From Garry Wills, A “Bias Makes You Stupid” Cautionary Tale

aristotle-at-university-of-thessaloniki-greece

                                     Abortion authority, Aristotle…

“Bias Makes You Stupid,” an Ethics Alarms slogan so perpetually relevant that it has its own topic category, has seldom been so tragically demonstrated than by Garry Wills’ embarrassing op-ed in today’s New York Times titled “The Bishops Are Wrong About Biden — and Abortion.” Wills is one of America’s most prolific and provocative public intellectuals. Now an emeritus professor of history at Northwestern, he has written more than 50 books on such diverse topics as Richard Nixon, John Wayne, and the Gettysburg Address. I’ve read those three and a couple of others; he’s an unusually good writer for a historian, rigorous in his scholarship and fair in his selection of references. But Wills is also a Roman Catholic and an academic liberal and progressive, so he is apparently plagued by guilt and cognitive dissonance. It is most depressing to watch this man whose analysis I have so often admired descend into the most hoary of logical fallacies, rationalizations and worst of all, intellectual dishonesty in order to defend, of all people, Joe Biden, who in a game of Scrabble with Wills would be placing words like “CAT” on the board while the historian was laying down SYZYGY on a triple word score.

Progressives feel they have to defend abortion to stay on “the team,” and frequently get themselves into the worst logical traps when they try to do so. Here’s how desperate Wills is: he actually wrote this: “The opponents of abortion who call themselves “pro-life” make any form of human life, even pre-nidation ova, sacred. But my clipped fingernails or trimmed hairs are human life.” A lie AND a ridiculous analogy! Only the most extreme and radical of “pro-life” activists argue that a fertilized egg that fails to adhere to the uterus is the equivalent of a human life; that is not a mainstream position of opponents of abortion, since such pre-fetuses are self-aborting. And as Wills well knows, his fingernails and hair will never develop into a human being if nature is allowed to take its course. That argument is signature significance for a biology ignoramus or a con artist, yet Wills is neither…or wasn’t, until his pro-abortion bias made him stupid.

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Comment Of The Day: “Comment Of The Day: ‘Ethics Heroes: The US Conference of Catholic Bishops’”

Socrates

We have a veritable Comment of the Day chain. Sarah B.’s COTD yesterday on the Ethics Alarms post applauding the U.S. Catholic Bishops for preparing to hold Joe Biden accountable for his open support of abortion had inspired two excellent questions, in sequence, from reader Curmie. Both were answered with brio by Ryan Harkins.

We’ve never had such a Socratic Comment of the Day exchange before, and maybe I should have a separate category for such delights, but I don’t. So I’ll just introduce this by saying, “Here is Curmie and Ryan Harkins collaborative Comment of the Day on the post,Comment Of The Day: ‘Ethics Heroes:The US Conference of Catholic Bishops.” (Curmie plays Socrates.)

Curmie: One question, or rather series of related questions, for Sarah B, from a long-lapsed Protestant:

As respects “grave matter,” is there an inherent element of volition in the act itself (it wasn’t an accident), and if so, is there a distinction between literally not knowing the sinfulness of an act (had no idea the Church forbids a certain action) and deciding for oneself that the act is innocent, despite Church doctrine? And, assuming any of these distinctions are relevant, are we talking about a disjunctive yes/no, or something along the lines of a continuum?

I’m thinking of the Ancient Greek and Shinto (to name two) concepts of pollution (as opposed to sin), and wondering if Catholicism is closer to the former than I had hitherto believed.
In a pollution-based theology, Oedipus is still guilty of incest despite his active attempt to avoid it. In today’s world, according to this idea, a driver who hits and kills a child who ran out into the street is still guilty, although the event was entirely accidental, and the driver did everything possible to avoid hitting the child.

Ryan Harkins: In backing up, the Catholic Church teaches that a sin is mortal if it meets three requirements: first, that it is grave matter; second that the sinner knows that it is grave matter; and third, that the sinner consents, or intends, to commit that act. Grave matter is grave because of the extent of damage it does, and this is regardless of intent. Killing someone is grave matter; they are just as dead if you didn’t intend for them to die. I think St. Paul encapsulates this idea in his letter to the Romans when he writes, “Sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses (Rom 5:13-14).” The point is that even though you don’t know that what you are doing is wrong, because the act itself is inherently wrong, it will still cause harm. So the gravity of an action is not a matter of volition.

Where volition enters the picture is in the second two conditions. A person might not know that an act constitutes grave matter, but this could either be an unintentional state, in which he is not culpable for his ignorance, or it could be willful ignorance on his part. One aspect of being Catholic is the assent to the Church as authoritative, infallible on matters of faith and morals. A Catholic then has an obligation not just to follow the Church’s instructions, but to learn what the Church actually instructs. This touches on what Sarah B was saying on primacy of conscience: we should follow our consciences, but we have a duty to properly form our consciences as well. On some matters where the Church has not made any official pronouncements, the faithful are allowed flexibility of opinions. But on many issues that are hot topics today, the Church has made pronouncements, and those are, as far as any Catholic is concerned, infallible and made so through the protection and guarantee of the Holy Spirit.

A Catholic does not evade culpability by concluding privately that an action the Church condemns is actually innocent. His rejection of Church authority would actually be itself grave matter, on the order of the great sin of the Devil, who said, “Non serviam.” The sin of pride has long been held as the father of all other sins. It is the sin by which we seek to supplant God as the arbiter of good and evil. For a Catholic, who ought to know that the Church claims infallibility on matters of faith and morals, to reject Church teaching, he either has to deny the Church, or he has to believe he has some higher authority than the Church.

As for whether we are speaking of a disjunctive or a continuum, my answer is both. When it comes down the end of the day, either you have committed a mortal sin or you haven’t. But because of the third condition for a sin to be mortal, the question of whether one actually committed a mortal sin can become murkier. Take an addict, for example. It is a sin of gluttony to engage in debilitating drug use. So the use of hardcore, recreational drugs like meth, cocaine, and heroin is grave matter. (The use of lesser drugs like caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and a few others do not fall into this category because the impact of moderate use is not very large. Drugs that have practically no “moderate” dosage are the ones that would constitute to grave matter.) But an addict has lost a great deal of his capacity to resist temptation. As he tries to quit, his falling of the wagon and using is of lesser severity than someone taking those drugs the first time. As he progresses, and he regains control over his appetites, then his culpability in slipping up and using again increases.

So there can be debate over whether a sin was actually mortal, due to the degree in which a person consents to a wrong. If someone resists temptation for a long time, but is eventually worn out by the struggle, did he really consent when he finally gave into temptation? However, this line of questioning can be destructive. Overly scrupulous people can argue themselves into condemnation over the slightest of offenses, and any of the rest of us would really like to rationalize our sins into the venial category, given the opportunity.

Of course, any of this is tangential to the question of public support of abortion. On this the Church is very clear. Abortion is a grave evil, perpetuated against the most defenseless and the most innocent members of the human race. Any Catholic politician who advocates for expanding access to abortion is defending an intolerable evil, and any excuse of being personally opposed is insufficient. A politician is to be held to a higher standard in this regard than a private citizen because of his capacity to influence legislation one way or another. Since the Church has expressed all this, there should be no excuse for any Catholic politician.

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Satire Ethics: Carrying A Joke Too Far

Unethical!

The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster’s Australian wing applied to be formally recognized as anon-profit charitable entity, but was rejected on the grounds that the purported religion is nothing more than a “hoax.” Ya think? This is the deliberately ridiculous parody religion devised to mock all organized religions and those who believe in them. Pastafarians, as “believers” call themselves, have extended a gag web post ridiculing the logic of every other religion to the point of diminishing returns. Its “heaven” has a Stripper Factory and a Beer Volcano; its argument for the existence of the deity with noodely appendages involves the world distribution of pirates. Very funny. Now stop wasting everyone’s time. Ethics Alarms discussed two abuses of process by Pastafarians here and here, but as with the career of Jimmy Kimmel and the persistence of tofu, I assumed that this joke would have run its course by now. Sadly, no.

Adelaide, Australia’s Tanya Watkins is a self-described “captain” of the church (like on a pirate ship, see) , has made repeated attempts to have the “church” be granted incorporated association status. After her latest attempt was scoffed at by the Corporate Affairs Commission, Watkins sought a review by the South Australian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (SACAT), claiming the movement was formed for a “religious, educational, charitable or benevolent purpose”, thereby meeting the criteria of South Australia’s Associations Incorporation Act.

Hilarious! She should be fined.

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Ethics Heroes: The US Conference of Catholic Bishops

Bishops

It is unusual to call an organization’s decision to follow its own rules heroic, but I have low expectations of the Roman Catholic Church. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops voted 168-55 to draft a document on “Eucharistic coherence,” because the Church has been anything but coherent regarding the status of allegedly devout Catholics who support abortion.

Catholics are forbidden from participating in the ritual of the Eucharist if they are in a state of sin. Abortion is considered a very serious sin in the Catholic Church, which holds that life begins at conception. Thus a public figure, indeed an elected official, indeed a President, who openly supports abortion cannot take holy communion, because he is endorsing and enabling a serious sin. This isn’t hard. The much publicized “controversy” over the Bishops’ decision to follow their own Church’s ancient rules ( and those of the New Testament: “Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.” — 1 Corinthians 11:27-30 ) resembles the current controversy in baseball over the MLB decision to enforce the hundred-year-old rule against pitchers doctoring the ball.

I know, everything reminds me of baseball, which has played a much greater role in my life than religion. But this is the same situation at its essence. The Catholic Church ducked, weaved and looked the other way while many U.S. politicians professed their belief in Catholicism as they openly and directly contradicted and actively undermined the Church’s core beliefs. They sought to have the benefit of appealing to the religious while simultaneously advocating a practice that their own Church condemns.

The New York Times—my wife keeps asking me why we pay 80 bucks a month for this shameless propaganda device, and I am running out of reasons—says that the Bishops’ vote is a “move to target a president, who regularly attends Mass and has spent a lifetime steeped in Christian rituals and practices, is striking coming from leaders of the president’s own faith, particularly after many conservative Catholics turned a blind eye to the sexual improprieties of former President Donald J. Trump because they supported his political agenda.”

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 5/20/21: Happy Birthday, John Stuart Mill!

Mill

John Stuart Mill (1806–73), was born on May 20, not merely the most important figure in ethics to have a connection to this day, but also the most important human being born on this day in the history of civilization—yes, even more than Cher, who turns 75 today. Mill’s refined the concept of liberty that required the freedom of the individual in opposition to state control. He was the most influential proponent of utilitarianism, the crucial ethical theory developed by Jeremy Bentham. He helped reform scientific inquiry and research, recognizing the pervasive risks of confirmation bias, by clearly explaining the premises of falsifiability as the key component in the scientific method.

Mill was also a Member of Parliament and a towering figure in liberal political philosophy. You have certainly heard or read his most famous quote: “A society that will trade a little liberty for a little order will lose both, and deserve neither.”

A thorough biography and analysis of his work is here.

1. Justice Breyer doesn’t care about making sure the Supreme Court doesn’t get more conservative. Good. That’s not his job. Democrats realize that their control of the Senate is hanging by a thread, “thread” defined as a few superannuated Senators who could drop dead any second, giving the GOP a majority. Thus they are increasingly pushing Justice Stephen G. Breyer, 82, to retire now so Joe Biden can name an appropriately liberal replacement (who will also have to be female and black, vastly limiting the pool of possible choices without concern for actual legal competence.) “Breyer’s best chance at protecting his legacy and impact on the law is to resign now, clearing the way for a younger justice who shares his judicial outlook,” wrote Erwin Chemerinsky, the hyper-partisan dean of the law school at the University of California, Berkeley in The Washington Post this month. Got that? The 80+year-old Democratic Senators have to hold on to their jobs like grim death, but Breyer is being lobbied to retire. Hypocrisy, they name is Democrat! But it isn’t Breyer:

The Justice has been particularly vocal about the importance of not allowing politics to influence judges’ work, including their decisions about when to retire. “My experience of more than 30 years as a judge has shown me that, once men and women take the judicial oath, they take the oath to heart,” he said last month in a lecture at Harvard Law School. “They are loyal to the rule of law, not to the political party that helped to secure their appointment….If the public sees judges as politicians in robes, its confidence in the courts, and in the rule of law itself, can only diminish, diminishing the court’s power.”

I wonder if he’s read (or seen) “The Pelican Brief”…Meanwhile, research suggest that retirement tends to kill Supreme Court Justices. A paper in The Journal of Demography studied the effects of retirement by Supreme Court justices on their future longevity, and found that the effect of retirement was about the same as smoking two packs of cigarettes a day. The Democrats don’t care if Breyer dies sooner than later, though, as long as he does it when they can pick his successor, or after he’s quit.

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One More Time: Conservative Personal Liberty Faces Off Against Enforced Progressive Cant

Shawnee

This time, personal liberty won.

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Shawnee State professor Nicholas Meriwether, who had been reprimanded and disciplined because he “refused to refer to students by their ‘preferred pronouns. ‘” The small Ohio state school had issued a 2016 order that that any professor who “refused to use a pronoun that reflects a student’s self-asserted gender identity” would face discipline. When Meriwether asked if his own beliefs affected what he could call students, the official response was that he must call students what they demanded “regardless of” his own “convictions or views on the subject.” The student in question was male in appearance but identified as female. Meriwether maintained that his Christian faith forbade him from referring to a male in female terms; the student, according to Meriwether, threatened him if he refused to comply with the pronoun edict.  The court over-ruled a lower federal district court and held that university officials had violated the professor’s First Amendment rights to free speech and to the free exercise of his religion, thus attempting to“wield alarming power to compel ideological conformity.”

Normally, as in the Christian baker scenarios, I would take the position that, law aside—ethics, you know!—, this is an “asshole meets asshole” situation. How hard is it for either party to just yield a bit, respect the other’s sensitivities, extreme or not, and be accommodating? It is a Golden Rule opportunity. This time, however, it seems clear that the professor was willing to be reasonable, and the woke, non-binery, transitioning or whatever he or she was student was determined to go to extreme lengths to bend the professor to “her” will.

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Ethics Exclamation Points, 3/16/21: Duh! Whoa! Yay! Gag! Asshole!

1 Duh! The competition for most incompetent host on CNN continues to be neck and neck, with Chris Cuomo, Brian Stelter and Don Lemon threatening a photo finish. Lemon rounded the turn and made up some ground by visiting “The View” (Lemon coming to the idiot-infested ABC uninformed opinion fest is the very definition of “carrying coals to Newcastle”) and, when asked to respond to the Vatican’s announcement that Roman Catholic priests cannot extend a sacramental blessing to same-sex unions, set a new high for egomania and presumptuousness. Lemon answered in part,

“I think that the Catholic Church and many other churches really need to reexamine themselves and their teachings because that is not what God is about. God is not about hindering people or even judging people… do what the Bible and what Jesus actually said, if you believe in Jesus, and that is to love your fellow man and judge not lest ye be not judged.”

Gee, thanks Don for answering the question that theologians have been debating for centuries: “What is God about?” And nice mangling of that quote, though even if you got it right, it still doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t make judgments about people. The New Testament passage carrying that message (Matthew 7:1) holds the we should be prepared to be judged by the same standards we use to judge others. In several other places the Bible specifically instructs us to “judge,” and God repeatedly reserves the right to judge human beings, so to say He “isn’t about judging” is an eccentric interpretation at best. Meanwhile, the Ten Commandments, like all laws, are about “hindering people.” Lemon isn’t competent to discuss politics; who cares what he thinks about theology?

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