Beyond Good and Evil

Dr. Ronnie J. Hastings

Archive for the tag “Franklin”

For Your Consideration, I Give You…….Tom Paine

The U.S. Presidential election of 2012 was believed to be won by the candidate receiving the greater amount of money, not by the candidate better qualified to be the next President. A price has been placed upon public office. One political party blatantly tries to reduce the number of voters, not expand it. Part of that same group has usurped the good title of the Boston Tea Party and besmirched that good name by behaving like the British political merchants against whom the historical Party was held; instead of champions of freedom and liberty, they are champions of limited citizenry and of disfranchisement, especially of those of differing skin color and/or culture.

Most of our Founding Fathers must be “spinning in their graves.” One such “spinner” is not commonly recognized in the illustrious group that includes George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams. This is a call to add the name of Thomas Paine to the list of Founding Fathers in our common discourse.  He has been needed as an addition since the beginning of our marvelous republic.

Tom Paine is the author of Common Sense, the pamphlet whose reading, according to Washington “worked a powerful change in the minds of many men” during the dark days for the colonists in the American Revolution.  During America’s struggle for independence, he was a volunteer aide-de-camp for Gen. Nathanael Greene.  From The Crisis, a series of inspiring tracts by Paine, came the immortal words, “These are the times that try men’s souls.”  For his service in the American Revolution he was awarded a 300-acre farm in New Rochelle, New York.  He was one of the first to call for a national convention to remedy the ineffectual Articles of Confederation.  Unlike his friend Thomas Jefferson, Paine leaned in his later political philosophy toward a strong union rather than the primacy of states’ rights.  But he was no Alexander Hamilton; his views evolved from advocating minimal government to government mandated as a beneficent agent to the people executing a program of positive humanitarianism.  He helped pioneer political ideas such as a progressive income tax and provisions for the helpless and the aged.

His human foibles were no worse than those of the other Founding Fathers, in fact to me more forgivable than the indiscretions of Ben Franklin, George Washington, or Alexander Hamilton.  Paine’s ideals were as lofty as those of Franklin’s and Jefferson’s, but he was not as patient as he probably should have been dealing these ideals to his fellow human beings; he spoke and wrote out when Franklin and Jefferson held their tongues and pens in discretion.  He was not willing to “fight another day.”

He was a missionary in the best tradition of the Apostle Paul.  In 1787 he went to England, and then to France, to work toward both places becoming a United States-like republic!  He was an apostle of liberty, freedom, human dignity, and humanitarianism — a true child of the Enlightenment.  His “missionary journey” is the stuff of legend; it transcends the legendary stories of the other Founding Fathers, in that it is one of lethal adventure as well as of penning great words, and, apparently, all true.  At the very least, it is “right up there” with Founding Father stories such as chopping down the cherry tree, throwing a dollar across the Potomac, or flying a kite-with-key during a thunderstorm.

In England he wrote Rights of Man, a hard-hitting rebuttal of Edmund Burke’s critique of the French Revolution, Reflections on the Revolution in France.  Paine not only defended the early events of the French Revolution, he promoted the principles of republicanism so well Pitt’s government had him indicted for treason against England, fearing French-style rebellion erupting there.  Paine fled to France to a hero’s welcome — Rights of Man was a natural big “hit” among the French revolutionaries — and was immediately elected to the French revolutionary Convention.  But, he gravitated toward the more moderate revolutionaries, the Girondins, rather than to the more radical revolutionaries, Robespierre’s Jacobins.  He was among those who advocated not executing King Louis XVI; he favored exile instead.  This put him at odds with the Jacobins, and when the Terror ensued, he was imprisoned and scheduled for execution via “Madame Guillotine.”  Those to be guillotined for a given day had notices nailed to or marked upon their cell doors the night before.  On Paine’s scheduled day of execution, he was ill with typhoid and a physician was summoned to attend him in his cell, whose door was left open, hiding the deadly notice against the wall of the hall of cells, or hiding the deadly mark on the door facing when the door was closed for the night.  Those who gathered the unfortunates with a notice or mark on the door to the carts for the public be-headings the next day passed by Paine’s cell, whose notice was hidden from them either by an open or a closed door.  The bureaucracy of the Terror apparently was such that if you missed your day of execution, it was a long time until your re-processing cycle was completed.  A few days later,  when Paine’s cycle was completed, if it ever was, Robespierre was out of power, and Paine was released and readmitted to the Convention.  However Tom Paine’s notice of death was hidden (He was so sick he knew no details of how he was overlooked.), his head was salvaged by a doctor’s “house call!”

Why, then, is there any need for my appeal?  Why, by the time he died back in America in 1809 was he not “ushered into the ranks” alongside Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, and Adams?  I think the answer is linked with the problems of our nation today, with the reasons he is sorely needed today in the ranks of the Founding Fathers (FF).  And the link is summed up in one word — religion.

Born in England (Country of birth no barrier to being listed with the FF; Hamilton was born in the British West Indies.) a Quaker, Tom Paine became, like Gen. Greene, a patriot who renounced his pacifism, a “fallen Quaker,” if you will.  Like so many of the FF, he was a deist and falsely accused, especially by the clergy and by the Federalist political party, of being an atheist (The atheist charge was a political action executed as part of a similar attack by the Federalists on his friend Thomas Jefferson).  Only decades after his death, many of his religious principles and beliefs had profoundly changed the religious landscape of the United States, in the form of the Unitarian movement.  A major part of his enlightened humanitarianism was and is individual freedom from political and religious bigotry.  Such freedom as it exists today is indebted in no small measure to Tom Paine. Yet, ironically, what set him at cross purposes with the orthodox Christian Church at large proved he was more familiar with Christian Scripture than most believers!

About the time he was going into prison at the hands of the Jacobins, he wrote Part i of Age of Reason, a scathing critique of Christian theology and of the Church in general, using the Scriptures themselves as his argumentative tool.  The accuracy of Part i referencing the Bible is nothing short of remarkable; not many had the familiarity of God’s Word to write Part i.  Two years later, after he was released, he wrote Part ii of Age of Reason.  Part ii was a wonderful continuation and supplement to Part i.  Together, both parts make up what I would call a “must read” for every believer and non-believer alike.  Age of Reason and Thomas Jefferson’s The Jefferson Bible together make the most disturbing case by Americans against Christianity as passed down to us by the Apostle Paul as I’ve ever run across.  If it were up to me, I would make these two publications required reading for every public, parochial, and private high school graduate in the nation.  (Also, see my Sorting Out the Apostle Paul [April, 2012] and The United States of America — A Christian Nation? [June, 2012] on this website Beyond Good and Evil, .)

Through politics, then, the same kind of religiously-motivated power struggles we see today in big-moneyed, Tea Party, fundamentalist conservatism, Tom Paine was made an anathema and died in obscurity in New York City, his enormous contributions to the birth of our nation conveniently forgotten by most of the nation.  He was not helped by the fact he ad hominum criticized George Washington for not doing more for him while he was in the French prison, admittedly, but that seems small potatoes compared to Common Sense, Rights of Man, and Age of Reason.  Nor was he helped by his tactlessness and drunkenness during bouts with depression in the last seven years of his life, but these foibles seem forgivable in light of how he stirred the hearts and minds of the American cause during the dark days of Valley Forge.

On MSNBC Chris Matthews quotes Tom Paine regarding a people’s power to “change the world” by changing their government, and President Obama quoted Tom Paine in his first inaugural address.  Paine’s words still stir what Jefferson and Adams called the “spirit of 1776.”  We need his words again in our hearts and minds; we need Tom Paine’s courage to stand up for the revolutionary principles upon which our country was founded.

Moreover, we need Tom Paine to remind us of Franklin’s observation — if the Founding Fathers had lost, they would have been hung as treasonous criminals.  We need Tom Paine to remind us that in the day of the Founding Fathers, the group to which he rightfully belongs, the conservatives of the day wore red military coats and spoke with a British accent.  We need a Paine Memorial comparable to that of Jefferson’s.



Sticks and Stones May Break Our Bones, But Words We Don’t Know Can Also Hurt Us, or, Jesus Was a Liberalist

The Long List of names I have been called and of labels directed at me for attempted attachment keeps growing.

Beginning as far back as high school, I have been called or labeled a progressive, a liberal, a pinko, a communist, a socialist, a fascist, a Nazi, a Democrat, a secular humanist, a scientific revolution freak, a political revolution freak, an agnostic, an atheist, a Christian, a Texas-phile, a Texas Aggie, a Marxist, a liberation theologian, a Southern Baptist, an anti-cleric, a nuclear physicist, an arrogant high school teacher, a great teacher of math and physics, an unqualified math teacher, a painter of Texas flags on barns and sheds, a history freak, an American Civil War buff, an unintentional expert on Cretaceous fossil fish teeth, a barbed wire artist, a country redneck, a designer and builder of porches and decks out of composite materials, a male chauvinist pig, a land owner, a student of comparative religion, a gadfly, a Teutonic freak, a Napoleonic freak, a lover of ’66 red Mustangs, a coon hunter, a rock mason using only unaltered, natural-shaped rocks, an optimist with rose-colored glasses, a member of a sneaky group of pranksters, an amateur dinosaur track hunter, a militaristic war-hawk, an Obama-phile, a dinosaur freak, a rock-and-roll freak, a painter of the Lake Cisco dam, a heavy metal music freak, a cancer survivor, an anti-creationist, an evolutionist, an anti-intelligent designer, a hippie, a PhD, an absent-minded professsor, an empiricist, a philososphy-phile, an epistemology freak, an incurable screamer of rock songs in karaoke bars, a beer connoisseur, a protester of stupid rules, a feminist, an insatiable reader of non-fiction books, a war gamer, a lover of all things Cisco, Waxahachie, or College Station, an astronomy teacher, a fanatical football and baseball fan, a driver of tractors and trucks, and a writer of “improbable histories.”

To this, since the latest of my Facebook postings and the formation of my website, have been added 1) an intellectual, and 2) an idiot (This last one brings me full circle, so to speak; this is exactly what I was called as a freshman in high school!). I must be doing something right!

Let’s see, today is Wednesday, so if I were to call myself something for the day (for it would change each day, you see), I would say I am a dealer of ideas. (Some of you are old enough to remember the old black-and-white movie and TV series “Dr. Fu Man Chu” — “They say the Devil deals in men’s souls; so does Dr. Fu Man Chu!” They say the Devil deals in ideas; so does Dr. Ronnie J. Hastings!

Let me take one of the ideas suggested by the list above, say, “liberal.” Problems occur right off the bat, because what Americans mean as liberal and what Europeans mean as liberal are slightly different things, and the difference, I think, is crucial. The word “liberal” was first used in reference to the Whig political agenda in Britain in the early 1800’s. It was not incorporated into American politics through the American Whig party, necessarily, but, rather, through American suffrage, grassroot, and populist movements of the 19th centrury.

The original political definition of “liberal” grew, in my opinion, out of the successes of the American Revoluton and the French Revolution, both in the 18th century. There was nothing conservative about these two revolutions! What I would suggest as “liberalism” was actually born out of these two pivotal events, embodied by the words “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” in the case of America, and “liberte, egalite, and fraternite” in the case of France (liberty, equality, and brotherhood). The Reformation ,the Renaissance, and the Enlightenment had combined to spark the minds of America’s founding fathers (Franklin, Jefferson, Adams, and Paine) and to set up the political landscape of revolutionary France just prior to 1789, defining the terms “liberal” — those who sat on the “left” side of the chambers in France — and “conservative” (aristocratic) — those who sat on the “right” side of the French chambers. Liberalism, as I will call it, is the equal balance of all three (liberty, equality, and brotherhood [humanity-oriented]) and is the political ideal to which I think history is showing us to aspire. Liberalism has existed in this ideal form in America only in the short interval from Washington’s first term to Jefferson’s first; it existed in France only from the moment the Revolutionary government was formed to the institution of the Terror.

I am not sure we’ve witnessed any equal balance since, at least not in the USA. We have not truly reaped the benefits of liberalism. All systems of government seem to have the three words out-of-balance in some way. Some easy-to-see examples will suffice: the French Terror exalted equality at the expense of freedom and brotherhood; Marxist-Leninist communism exalts an inequality at the expense of freedom and brotherhood, ironically the same as monarchies, fascist-regimes, and “Christian” regimes such as the Papal States and Cromwellian England. Modern-day socialism makes a similar mistake as did the Terror: pushing equality at the expense of individual freedom and of genuine brotherhood – only without the beheading; unfortunately, in my opinion, that is what most Americans today call “liberal.” It is essentially a misnomer. So, to be clear, I am pushing “liberalism,” not whatever is labeled “liberal,” like socialism. Perhaps, to avoid being mired in the prevailing view of “liberal” today, those who are of the persuasion of “liberalism” should be called “liberalists” instead of “liberals.”

The original definition of conservatism was to work for no change, to keep and defend the status-quo. Those already with power and wealth, the aristocrats, and later, the capitalist rich, had no need for change, for they deemphasized equality and brotherhood; they paid attention only to the “liberty” part. Today American conservatives interpret “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” as “my freedom, my entitlement, and who-gives-a-shit about my neighbors.” American conservatives whitewash over this “official” OK for selfishness, greed, and inhumane treatment by appealing to the myth that we are a Christian nation, which, in their myopic minds, means the poor, needy, and working have-nots will be taken care of by Christian charity (remember the solicitors of Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, and his response to them?) (Incidentally, Christian charity through the organized churches cannot begin to meet the growing need of social services in our country.) Conservatives, as a result, are champions of some form of elitism: the smarter, the richer, the powerful, etc. etc. are better than the others. I know the book was about communism, but the conservatives of today remind me of the pigs in Orwell’s Animal Farm, remember? — “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.” Conservatives, in my opinion, give only lip service to liberte, egalite, and fraternite, covering up their treason to the liberalist ideals that our forefathers ingeniously envisioned with feigned Christian piety, which is another treason — the treason betraying separation of church and state and the freedom to worship and the freedom from worship.

The progressive march of history is clear: conservative political philosophy cannot be sustained. With the price of the blood of millions since the 18th century, the imbalance of monarchies has failed and been dismantled, the imbalance of fascism has failed and been dismantled, the imbalance of communism has failed and been (almost everywhere) dismantled, and the imbalance of Latin American regimes of tyranny against personal liberty has failed and been dismantled. Guess what is going to happen in future to the imbalance of dictatorships, kingdoms, and sectarian states that still survive!

Look at this progressive march in the United States: universal suffrage finally became a reality, but it took into the 20th century to achieve it (Now, white males are joined by females and descendents of slaves at the voting polls.). The privileges of US citizenship are given without the shackles of discriminatory qualifications. (It doesn’t matter if you are blue, covered with green polka dots, and worship an anthill in your back yard, you have the same rights, privileges, and opportunities as the rich, powerful, and influential in this country.) For all this, you must pay a price, but a price well worth it, I believe: US citizenship means you have to work, you have to pay taxes, and you have to be a patriot in your new country — and, conservatives tend to overlook this, your freedom is qualified — you cannot climb the ladder of success at the expense of others! Your gain should not be someone else’s loss.

The three-pronged revolution of the 60’s (anti-war movement, Civil Rights movement, women’s movement) is all liberalist in spirit: perpetrated to extend (instead of restrict, as the conservatives want to do) all of the following — 1) power over your personal affairs, 2) influence in the leadership of your country, 3) your rights as a working, tax-paying citizen, 4) your rights not to be victimized by any form of discrimination, 5) your rights to educate yourself as far as your mind will take you, and 6) your grasp upon the promise of the liberalist, revolutionary agenda of our Constitution and Declaration.

So, when I go to the polls to vote for President, I vote for the candidate closer to the ideals of a liberalist, closer to the ideas upon which our country was founded. To vote for a political conservative is to me tantamount to voting against the ideals of the American Revolution; it would be literally un-American!

And, incidentally, to me it would be anti-Christian. Note that all the unflattering references I had above to Christians and Christianity had to do with church and those who attend church. They had nothing to do, in my opinion, with the teachings of Jesus. All those years I sat in Sunday School and in the church pews revealed to me how little emphasis, in the long scheme of things, was placed upon the teachings of the one supposed to have founded the church in the first place! Turns out, when you read the “red letters” of the four Gospels, or, better, the Jefferson Bible, what Jesus is supposed to have said doesn’t have much to do with the church, with organized religion. Jesus spoke in liberalist terms. The Sermon on the Mount translates almost verbatum into liberalist philosophy. Laws were made for people, not people for the laws. What is best for your fellow man trumps all other needs. The Golden Rule — so universal! Principles that can only be called humanistic are our guides, not some theology propping up some social class of clergy and a string of fancy buildings. He was a revolutionary in the truest sense of the word. Jesus’ adversaries were the representatives of the established religion of his day. Any Son of Man can become a Son of God. I have discussed all this with minister friends of mine (names withheld here for obvious reasons), and in private they cannot disagree with me on most of these points.

Jesus was a forerunner of the liberalist principles of our founding fathers. He was a liberalist way before the liberalist “time” in the 18th century. The American Revolution was fought for purely secular, not sectarian reasons; when the French aristocracy fell under the blade of the guillotine, so did the Church and its clergy. One of my favorite quotes from a French film was “There can be no church in a true republic.” I don’t think we should burn down all the churches — I think we should stop giving Jesus credit for them; such credit insults Him.

If all or part of this moves you to do so, get back with me. All I ask is that you try to do a little more than just add to the Long List of names and labels.


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