Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Learning (even more) from the Pilgrims

As a follow up to the previous post I should point out that the Pilgrims abandoned their forced experiment in communism only by degrees. When they gave each family a plot of land to farm and to enjoy the fruits thereof, they did not give the land for a perpetual holding, but rotated each parcel of land by yearly lot. This naturally caused problems.

In order that they might raise their crops to better advantage, they made suit to the Governor to have some land apportioned for permanent holdings, and not by yearly lot, whereby the plots which the more industrious had brought under good culture one year would change hands the next, and others would reap the advantage; with the result that the manuring and culture of the land were neglected. It was well considered, and their request was granted. Every person was given one acre of land, for them and theirs, and they were to have no more till the seven years had expired.

The move had the intended effect and the colony prospered all the more.

Learning from the Pilgrims

One of the books I had my students read this semester was Of Plymouth Plantation by William Bradford, who was elected governor of Plymouth Colony in 1621 and continued to serve in that position for more than 30 years.

There is much we can learn from the Pilgrims, and not only about the value of courage, hard work, and faith in God. There's a valuable economic lesson we can learn as well. By the terms of their contract with the London Company who put up a large portion of the funds to establish the colony, they were required to hold their lands and produce in common. This was an early experiment in communism. And how did things go, you ask? Here are Bradford's words:

So they began to think how they might raise as much corn as they could, and obtain a better crop than they had done, that they might not still thus languish in misery. At length, after much debate of things, the Governor (with the advice of the chiefest amongst them) gave way that they should set corn every man for his own particular, and in that regard trust to themselves; in all other thing to go on in the general way as before. And so assigned to every family a parcel of land, according to the proportion of their number, for that end, only for present use (but made no division for inheritance) and ranged all boys and youth under some family. This had very good success, for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been by any means the Governor or any other could use, and saved him a great deal of trouble, and gave far better content. The women now went willingly into the field, and took their little ones with them to set corn; which before would allege weakness and inability; whom to have compelled would have been thought great tyranny and oppression.

The experience that was had in this common course and condition, tried sundry years and that amongst godly and sober men, may well evince the vanity of that conceit of Plato's and other ancients applauded by some of later times; and that the taking away of property and bringing in community into a commonwealth would make them happy and flourishing; as if they were wiser than God. For this community (so far as it was) was found to breed much confusion and discontent and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort. For the young men, that were most able and fit for labor and service, did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men's wives and children without any recompense. The strong, or man of parts, had no more in division of victuals and clothes than he that was weak and not able to do a quarter the other could; this was thought injustice. The aged and graver men to be ranked and equalized in labors and victuals, clothes etc., with the meaner and younger sort, thought it some indignity and disrespect unto them. And for men's wives to be commanded to do service for other men, as dressing their meat, washing their clothes, etc., they deemed it a kind of slavery, neither could many husbands well brook it. Upon the point all being to have alike, and all to do alike, they thought themselves in the like condition, and one as good as another; and so, if it did not cut off those relations that God hath set amongst men, yet it did at least much diminish and take off the mutual respects that should be preserved amongst them. And would have been worse if they had been men of another condition. Let none object this is men's corruption, and nothing to the course itself. I answer, seeing all men have this corruption in them, God in His wisdom saw another course fitter for them.
This might be well worth keeping in mind as we take a huge leap leftward.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Gulliver's Lawyers

It’s not just in our own days that people have had a low opinion of lawyers. In his biting satire of early 18th century English life, Jonathan Swift has Gulliver tell his hosts in the land of the Houyhnhnms:

I said, “there was a society of men among us, bred up from their youth in the art of proving, by words multiplied for the purpose, that white is black, and black is white, according as they are paid. To this society all the rest of the people are slaves. For example, if my neighbour has a mind to my cow, he has a lawyer to prove that he ought to have my cow from me. I must then hire another to defend my right, it being against all rules of law that any man should be allowed to speak for himself. Now, in this case, I, who am the right owner, lie under two great disadvantages: first, my lawyer, being practised almost from his cradle in defending falsehood, is quite out of
his element when he would be an advocate for justice, which is an unnatural office he always attempts with great awkwardness, if not with ill-will.

The second disadvantage is, that my lawyer must proceed with great caution, or else he will be reprimanded by the judges, and abhorred by his brethren, as one that would lessen the practice of the law. And therefore I have but two methods to preserve my cow. The first is, to gain over my adversary’s lawyer with a double fee, who will then betray his client by insinuating that he hath justice on his side. The second way is for my lawyer to make my cause appear as unjust as he can, by allowing the cow to belong to my adversary: and this, if it be skilfully done, will certainly bespeak the favour of the bench. Now your honour is to know, that these judges are persons appointed to decide all controversies of property, as well as for the trial of criminals, and picked out from the most dexterous lawyers, who are grown old or lazy; and having been biassed all their lives against truth and equity, lie under such a fatal necessity of favouring fraud, perjury, and oppression, that I have known some of them refuse a large bribe from the side where justice lay, rather than
injure the faculty, by doing any thing unbecoming their nature or their office.

“It is a maxim among these lawyers that whatever has been done before, may legally be done again: and therefore they take special care to record all the decisions formerly made against common justice, and the general reason of mankind. These, under the name of precedents, they produce as authorities to justify the most iniquitous opinions; and the judges never fail of directing accordingly.

“In pleading, they studiously avoid entering into the merits of the cause; but are loud, violent, and tedious, in dwelling upon all circumstances which are not to the purpose. For instance, in the case already mentioned; they never desire to know what claim or title my adversary has to my cow; but whether the said cow were red or black; her horns long or short; whether the field I graze her in be round or square; whether she was milked at home or abroad; what diseases she is subject to, and the like; after which they consult precedents, adjourn the cause from time to time, and in ten, twenty, or thirty years, come to an issue.

“It is likewise to be observed, that this society has a peculiar cant and jargon of their own, that no other mortal can understand, and wherein all their laws are written, which they take special care to multiply; whereby they have wholly confounded the very essence of truth and falsehood, of right and wrong; so that it will take thirty years to decide, whether the field left me by my ancestors for six generations belongs to me, or to a stranger three hundred miles off.

“In the trial of persons accused for crimes against the state, the method is much more short and commendable: the judge first sends to sound the disposition of those in power, after which he can easily hang or save a criminal, strictly preserving all due forms of law.”

Here my master interposing, said, “it was a pity, that creatures endowed with such prodigious abilities of mind, as these lawyers, by the description I gave of them, must certainly be, were not rather encouraged to be instructors of others in wisdom and knowledge.” In answer to which I assured his honour, “that in all points out of their own trade, they were usually the most ignorant and stupid generation among us, the most despicable in common conversation, avowed enemies to all knowledge and learning, and equally disposed to pervert the general reason of mankind in every other subject of discourse as in that of their own profession.”

Ouch!

Friday, November 14, 2008

A Suprisingly Strong Stand

Kudos to Rev. Jay Scott Newman of St. Mary's Catholic Church in Greenville, South Carolina. What if more churches took a stand like this? Well done, Rev. Newman, well done!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Election Reflections

Here are a few things to remember regardless of whether or not the presidential election went the way you thought it should.

First, the outcome is not the absolute disaster that many people think it is. God remains sovereign over all the affairs of men, even of powerful political figures. “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will” (Prov. 21:1). God is able to prevent whatever evil or whatever folly a leader may intend to do. “He frustrates the devices of the crafty, so that their hands achieve no success” (Job 5:12). And even that evil and folly which he permits them to achieve, he is able to turn to the good (Gen. 50:20).

Second, the outcome is not the unrivalled blessing that others imagine it to be. Politicians are notoriously pitiful saviors. The best of them too often leave behind a trail of broken promises, dashed hopes, unfulfilled expectations, and betrayed trusts. To build one’s hopes on getting the “right” man in office is like building a castle on a foundation of sand. “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes” (Ps. 118:9).

Third, it is God who gave us the results of the election. “Not from the east or from the west and not from the wilderness comes lifting up, but it is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another” (Ps. 75:6-7). This may seem a bitter pill to swallow, but the Scriptures are emphatic on this point. “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever…He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings” (Dan. 2:20).

Some will foolishly conclude from this that whoever is elected is elected because he has God’s approval. After all, why else would God elevate him? But this isn’t necessarily so. God blesses a good people with good and wise rulers; and he curses a disobedient people with foolish and wicked rulers. God not only raised up David to be a blessing to his people (Acts 13:22), but he also raised up Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar to chasten and afflict them (see Ex. 9:16 and Jer. 25:8-9).

Fourth, the Lord requires governing officials to bow in submission before him and to serve his Son. “Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way” (Ps. 2:10-12). Jesus Christ is the King of kings and the Lord of lords, the ruler of the kings of the earth (Rev. 19:16; 1:5). All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him (Matt. 28:18). Any measure of authority which any human being has, he has on loan from him—and must answer to him.

Fifth, any return of our nation’s government to its biblical foundations will be the result of a moral and spiritual revival, and not the cause of it. In other words, the kingdom of God is not advanced by the exercise of raw political power. This is not to say that politics is unimportant or that the Christian faith is not concerned with good government. On the contrary, government has to do with the administration of justice, which is something every Christian ought to be concerned about (Deut. 16:18-20; Amos 15:5; Hab. 1:4). My point is, the kingdom of God advances from the bottom up, not from the top down. In a republic such as ours, godly rulers are a reflection of a godly people.

Finally, though there have been varying degrees to which different administrations have conformed to the reign of Jesus Christ, the Scriptures teach us to look forward to a time when all the nations will bow before him (Ps. 22:27-28; Dan. 7:13-14; Phil. 2:9-11).