Archive for the ‘Politics & Religion’ Category

I’ve been putting off commenting on the whole GZ mosque thing for awhile. There’s just so much to include and respond to and comment on, and only limited time. (Plus, I have other things I’m reading/researching/writing on.) But, I finally decided to make one, relatively brief post, so here goes….

To borrow a phrase, “let me be perfectly clear,” no one is challenging any Muslim’s constitutional right to worship or to build a house of worship on private property. (Of course, this right is still subject to certain basic human rights, e.g., the right to Life, which is why we try to prevent and prosecute ritualistic killings and terrorist attacks in the name of any religion.) To state or imply that this is a “freedom of religion” matter is disingenuous and misleading. The real issue is the place of the proposed mosque — 2 blocks north of where the WTC used to be — and the date on which it is to be opened — September 11, 2011.

No Mosque signTo build a mosque on or near that particular site — Ground Zero for the 9/11 attacks by Islamist terrorists — is, at the very least, inappropriate and insensitive to patriotic Americans, New Yorkers, and especially to those affected directly by the attack. The date in question would just add insult to injury. It would be an affront, deliberately provocative, and just asking for trouble. Finally, there may be many peace-loving Muslims who would take advantage of the proposed, 15-story “Cordoba House” Islamic cultural/community center — complete with mosque, auditorium, swimming pool, etc. But, there is the distinct possibility of it also becoming a base for jihadist recruitment, indoctrination, and operations. Yes, that is a possibility no matter where the mosque/center is built, and it’s a risk we have to take.

But, there’s more to it, because of what happened in that section of Manhattan on that fateful day by Islamist radicals. There is already historical precedent for Muslims building mosques wherever they have conquered an enemy. The fact that jihadist leaders like the idea of this “community center” being at this specific site is a tell-tale sign. A mosque on that site, even if it doesn’t serve as a base for the jihadists, would serve as inspiration to them. The symbolism is just too great to ignore. Those who are pledged to conquer or annihilate us certainly won’t.

That’s it. I’ve said my piece.

For additional worthwhile posts on the subject, see America’s Watchtower here, here and here.  Also, at NoOneOfAnyImport’s blog here.

UPDATE 8/23/2010:  I have been asked to elaborate on my statement about “historical precedent for Muslims building mosques wherever they have conquered an enemy.” It’s not just building on conquered territory but first tearing down a temple/church/cathedral and building a mosque at that location. (It has been said that, in Islamists’ eyes, the WTC was seen as America’s church/temple to decadent materialism, or some such thing.) It is a reminder to the locals of who’s more powerful, who’s in charge. The practice started with Mecca and continued with such notable cities as Jerusalem, Damascus, and Cordoba (in Spain). I had heard/read of this before writing my post, of course, but I will direct you to an amazingly sensible article over at the Huffington Post that was just posted today.

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She was a Christian.
Then she wasn’t.
Then she was.
Now, she isn’t again?

OK, that was the (very) short version.

Popular novelist Anne Rice grew up in a thoroughly Roman Catholic home and community. She struggled with some doubts as she got older but stayed faithful. Once in college, though, a combination of factors led her to reject her faith. She remained an avowed atheist until her late 50’s. Feeling “Christ haunted,” and following a serious health scare in Dec. 1998, she found herself drawn back to the faith tradition of her youth.

Anne Rice smiling

Anne Rice, famous novelist & controversial figure

But, apparently, she’s never really felt completely comfortable there, feeling “an outsider”. This was largely because of a lot of hypocrisy that she saw both in the R.C. Church (e.g., sexually-abusive priests) and in the larger Christian community. She also disagreed with several teachings and of how certain matters are handled (e.g., birth control and homosexuality). She tried for years to ignore the disagreements, the debates, the scandals. But, she finally decided she could no longer be a part of it.

So, this past week Rice announced via Facebook that she is renouncing her Christianity.

In the name of Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian.”

I suppose the cynic/skeptic might claim that Rice never really converted to Christianity in the first place, that it was all a “stunt”, a marketing ploy to help her sell books. Perhaps this de-conversion is, as well. Some of my fellow-Christians will say that, while she may have thought she was “Christian”, such a renunciation puts into question whether she was really “saved” or not. But, as far as I can tell and for purposes of this post, I am going to assume that her return to Christianity — specifically, to the R.C. Church — 10+ years ago was at least sincere. (Judgement of her heart, of course, must be left to God.)

But, let’s look more closely at what she said (on FB) before and after the above announcement. (Re-nouncement?)

On Tuesday, Rice posted a link to a news article with a very disturbing, anti-gay statement by the leader of a punk-rock youth ministry, noting:

No wonder people despise us, Christians, and think we are an ignorant and violent lot. I don’t blame them. This kind of thing makes me weep. Maybe commitment to Christ means not being a Christian.”

She then linked to a news item about the infamous Westboro Baptist Church and commented:

This is chilling. I wish I could say this is inexplicable. But it’s not. That’s the horror. Given the history of Christianity, this is not inexplicable at all.”

Later, she sympathized with Gandhi’s quote about liking Christ but not Christians (because they don’t follow Christ’s example), wondering:

When does a word (Christian) become unusable? When does it become so burdened with history and horror that it cannot be evoked without destructive controversy?”

Rice followed up on Wednesday with the controversial announcement, saying:

For those who care, and I understand if you don’t: Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being ‘Christian’ or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to ‘belong’ to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.”

And, a few minutes later:

As I said below, I quit being a Christian. I’m out. In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen.”

(I’m most curious about the “anti-secular humanism”, “anti-science”, and “anti-life” references. The last may be war-related, I suppose. The second may be a reference to creationism. But, I really am curious what a theist can find to be “pro” about secular humanism, since it is by definition an atheist worldview.)

On Thursday, amidst her usual Bible quotes and posts about TV shows and news items on various topics, she added:

My faith in Christ is central to my life. My conversion from a pessimistic atheist lost in a world I didn’t understand, to an optimistic believer in a universe created and sustained by a loving God is crucial to me. But following Christ does not mean following His followers. Christ is infinitely more important than Christianity and always will be, no matter what Christianity is, has been, or might become.”

From all of this, all I can conclude is that Anne Rice has NOT renounced her faith in the God of the Bible, nor has she stopped following Jesus Christ. What she HAS given up is her identification with those who call themselves “Christian” and certain practices & beliefs of (modern) “Christianity”, all of which she sees as being mostly contrary to the teachings of Jesus Christ Himself.

I have to admit, I both agree and disagree with her.

I can see where she’s coming from. I cringe every time I read or hear about some “Christian” leader in the news, ‘cuz it’s usually not good news. (Pun intended.) There are many out there who are just not good examples, and many who are called “Christian” are not true followers of Christ, when it comes to what they actually believe and teach. (I’m talking doctrinal orthodoxy.) Some (e.g., Benny Hinn) are well-known and have huge followings. Others are fringe groups & churches (e.g., Westboro Baptist) that are just plain weird, or hate-filled, or both. Again, they have been fed false teachings, bad interpretations about what the Bible really teaches. And, I sympathize with Rice’s repulsion toward all the revelations of sex-abuse among Catholic priests.

Then, there are just your average Christians behaving badly or stupidly. Even those of us trying to live righteously have our weak areas.

Sacred Heart R.C. Church

Sacred Heart R.C. Church, Cucomonga, CA

On the other hand, Rice cannot blame it all on the “organized” part of the church, or any particular denomination. And, she needs to realize that, like it or not, a follower of Christ is a part of a larger community, both historical and contemporary. One can dislike one’s brothers & sisters, even avoid them whenever possible, but they are still part of one’s family. They cannot be disowned. The best that Rice or any of us can do is remember that we human beings are all weak, selfish, etc., and try to be better “ambassadors for Christ” ourselves.

Maybe Rice doesn’t like the term “Christian” because of certain negative “baggage”, but she can’t totally reject it, because the label still applies. (The original Greek term meant “little Christ”, a pejorative used for followers of “The Way”.) “Christianity” is not simply the name of some religious club one can just opt out of when certain (supposed?) members act rudely or loudly disagree with you. Rather, it is the name of the religious belief system centered around the historical person of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ (or “Messiah”). She still seems to identify with that. Still, I suppose she could simply refer to herself as a “follower of Christ” and a member of the historical “Body of Christ”, as long as she is clear about what it is in the contemporary Church that she is disassociating herself from.

Which brings me to my last point…

It is a known fact that those who are more theologically liberal typically lean more liberal/progressive in their socio-political views, as well. All indications are that Rice has some rather liberal/progressive ideas, when it comes to politics and social policy (which I, of course, would disagree with). So, it makes me wonder if she leans liberal theologically, as well. I don’t know for sure, since I haven’t read/heard her positions on the basic tenets of the Christian faith. (Oops, there’s that word!) Whether she is theologically liberal or not, I truly hope that her Biblical and theological studies lead her to see that conservatism in both realms is the way to go. It makes better sense of Who Jesus was (and is), the way the world works, and the way things really are.

I considered holding off posting this until September 11th but decided that it was equally apropos for July 4th. It may be a bit idealistic, but I hope you will find it as affirming and inspiring as I do.

If the immediate horror of 9/11 has dissipated, the attack nevertheless served as a profound reminder that buildings, however symbolic they might be, are nothing more than concrete and steel. The precious human lives they contained testified, by their loss, that what remains are ideas. Intending to shatter the ‘materialism’ of the United States, Osama bin Laden’s terrorists merely reminded the world of the supremacy of the intangible over the physical, of the spiritual over the temporal. Focusing Americans’ thoughts once again on freedom — and its enemies — terrorists united a nation seriously divided by an election and elevated a president under fire to a position of historical greatness.

Scene from Sept. 11, 2001

Scene from Sept. 11, 2001

The fatal flaw of bin Laden — like Hitler, Stalin, and even the nearsighted Spaniards of five hundred years ago — was that they fixed their gaze on the physical manifestations of the wealth of the West, failing to understand that wealth is a mere by-product of other, more important qualities: initiative, inventiveness, hope, optimism, and above all, faith. The people who had set foot in Virginia and Massachusetts almost three centuries ago often arrived poor, usually alone, and certainly without lofty titles or royal honors. After they plowed the fields and founded their enterprises, it was not the farms alone that made Benjamin Franklin’s Philadelphia flourish, nor trade alone that breathed life into the Boston of John Adams. Mere plantations did not produce George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, nor did a legal system spawn Alexander Hamilton and Abraham Lincoln. American determination and drive, vision and commitment came not from acquisition of material things — though the freedom to acquire things was a prerequisite. Rather, greatness came from an all-consuming sense that this was, after all, the ‘city on a hill,’ the ‘last, best hope for mankind.’ The United States was, and is, a fountain of hope, and a beacon of liberty.

American democracy flowed from the pursuit of opportunity, governed by respect for the law. American industry burst forth from the brains of Carnegie and Weyerhaeuser, Vanderbilt and Gates, most often coming from those owning the least in material goods. And American strength came from the self-assurance — lacking in every other nation in the world by the twenty-first century (or what Bush called liberty’s century) — that this nation uniquely had a charge to keep, a standard to uphold, and a mission to fulfill. In the end, the rest of the world will probably both grimly acknowledge and grudgingly admit that, to paraphrase the song, God has ‘shed His grace on thee.’ Knowing perfection is unattainable, Americans have not ceased in its pursuit. Realizing that war is unavoidable, Americans have never relented in their quest for peace and justice. But understanding that faith was indispensable, Americans have, more than any other place on earth, placed it at the center of the Republic. The American character, and the American dream, could never be disentangled, and ultimately the latter would go only as far as the former would take it.

—  Conclusion to A Patriot’s History of the United States (2004), by Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen

Statue of Liberty with fireworks

Statue of Liberty with fireworks

To my fellow Americans, Have a Safe and Blessed Independence Day Weekend!!

“[E]ven more disturbing than the threats from foreign terrorists is a second threat that is right here at home. It is an ideology so fundamentally at odds with historic American values that it threatens to undo the cultural ethics that have made our country great. I call it ‘secular-socialism.'”
— Newt Gingrich
New Gingrich speaking and pointing

Newt making a point (Photo by Rick Diamond/WireImage)

A few weeks ago, I was having a conversation with a family member who is politically conservative and religiously agnostic. He was complaining about a video clip he had recently watched (from the Southern Republican Leadership Conference (SRLC) in New Orleans) of Newt Gingrich discussing the need for Republicans & conservatives to unite against what he has dubbed the “secular socialist machine”. My relative was annoyed & offended, because he felt that Newt was demonizing secularists, as if they couldn’t be anything but socialists. “Does he really think that only Christians (or religious people or non-secularists) are true Americans? Or that those who don’t believe in a Higher Power can’t be legitimate conservatives? I usually like and respect what Newt has to say, but he’s disappointed me, and I’ll think twice about trusting him now.”

Not having seen the clip, I wasn’t sure what to say. I know Newt is a professed Christian, and as one myself, I understand his concerns about secularist influences. So, I decided to watch the video clip myself and try to understand what Newt was getting at. If you’re interested, here it is:

Newt does mention “secularism” a couple times in the beginning, but doesn’t mention it again until near the end. For the bulk of the spliced-together clip, he defines and elaborates on the corruption, incompetence, and arrogance of Obama’s radical-Left administration and their comrades in Congress. He emphasizes their determination to ram through transformational legislation, often without even reading (let alone fully understanding) what they are voting for, and against the desires of the majority of the American people. By the way, the “machine” consists not just of those in the Executive and Legislative Branches, but also certain Federal judges, many labor union leaders, tenured faculty and news media on the hard left, and other groups who put Obama in office.

The clip ends with Newt saying:

This is a fundamental fight over the core definition of America, and it is going to require us to talk, I think, in a very different language than normal politics. I think it requires us to talk about the American culture, not American politics. Does work ethic matter, or is redistribution the alternative? It’s very central. Are we endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, among which are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness? Or, does Government define who we are?… And I believe the radicalism of this administration and the incompetence of this administration make it possible to have a decisive choice for every American. And we need to make sure it’s a choice of two positive versions, not Obama versus anti-Obama, but America versus a secular socialist machine.”

I really don’t think Gingrich was implying that only Christians (or non-secularists) are true Americans. Nor do I think he was implying that secularists in general are bad people or… whatever. Even if he believed it, he’s savvy enough not to say it in public… repeatedly.

Perhaps I’m being charitable, but if I were to guess, I’d say Gingrich’s purpose for specifying the secular aspect of “the machine” is twofold. First, it distinguishes a certain brand or branch of socialism from another (i.e., “religious socialism”, as with those that hold to a “liberation theology”). If this is accurate, then I see no problem with calling it as it is. It isn’t meant to unfairly label all secularists as socialists any more than referring to “Islamist” (or “Islamic”) terrorists is meant to unfairly label all Muslims as terrorists. (Of course, that’s what the PC crowd tries to tell us it does.) Or, all terrorists as Muslims, for that matter.

Secondly, I think the “secular” term is a reminder that the “progressives” that are pushing our nation Leftward are the same ones that most often try to remove all religious symbols and expressions from the public arena or to silence “religious” people, while brandishing their “separation of church and state” slogan. Not only is it a gross misrepresentation of what Thomas Jefferson was promoting in his letter to the Danbury Baptists, but it is a slap in the face to — and, in some cases, a denial of — the Judeo-Christian principles upon which this nation was founded, as evident in the writings of our Founders and Framers. (I’m not denying some Enlightenment ideas were involved, but that’s a different discussion.)

[Aside: Of course, there are also “secularists” (i.e., atheists & agnostics) on the political Right who would like to eliminate all religion and symbols thereof from the public square (even from society at large) — e.g., Christopher Hitchens. But, I think more of them are like my relative, who recognize the good that religion can & does have in society — some, at least — and who personally have a more “live and let live” attitude, as long as no one tries to “force” religion on them or punish them for not believing as they do.]

Scene at the Signing of the Constitution

Scene at the Signing of the Constitution (painting by Howard Chandler Christy)

It is precisely those principles that inspired the (Protestant) “work ethic” that Gingrich mentions. It was the understanding that basic, human rights can ultimately only be granted by a Higher Power and not by some government that can take them away at the whim of whomever happens to be in power. I would also add that America is much more accepting and tolerant of various religions, worldviews, & ethnicities than any other nation, whether secularist (e.g, N. Korea or Soviet Russia), theocratic (e.g., Iran), or whatever. The ideology that recognizes these things is what America was founded on, it is what makes it unique, and THAT is the America that Gingrich says is at war with the “secular socialist machine”.

I’ll finish up here with an illustrative excerpt from the transcript of the full SRLC speech that did not make it into the above video:

Let me give you an example that I find absolutely amazing, and it explains part of why I have ‘secular’ in the term ‘secular socialist machine.’ Rick Tyler, who runs Renewing American Leadership, at my request left Los Angeles and drove three and a half hours out U.S. 15 and turned south and drove eight and a half miles on a two lane road in the middle of the Mojave Desert. He came across a cross which had been erected in the desert in 1934 by the Veterans of Foreign Wars on behalf of the American dead in World War I. That cross today is surrounded by a plywood box because a government employee decided they were offended that this cross was on Federal land, and the ACLU has filed a lawsuit.

Now, from my personal perspective, a secularist who is terrified of a cross in the middle of the Mojave Desert is a totalitarian. They are so frightened of any choice, of any freedom, of any option that I think they verge on being deranged. [Applause.] And I think a country which was founded on the premise that our rights come from our Creator has some right to decide that our Creator can appear in public life.”

It’s not just any secularism, and not just socialism, per se. The big threat is the combination of the two, which is taking over our nation. “The Left has thoroughly infiltrated nearly every cultural commanding height of our civilization,” he says. “That is, they hold power, influence and control of academia, the elite news media, Hollywood, union leaders, trial lawyers, the courts, the Congress, and the bureaucracy at all levels of government.”

Now, of course, Newt has just released a new book titled To Save America: Stopping Obama’s Secular-Socialist Machine.  So, I guess we can all read it to find out what exactly he does mean.

Any Right-leaning secularists want to weigh in with their thoughts on Newt’s term-of-choice?

In Parts 1 and 2 of this series, I examined and reacted to several sections of Jenny Hwang’s recent guest column in Christianity Today titled “Arizona’s Border Crisis“. Specifically, I focused on those issues raised and hypothetical scenarios given that could impact not only the illegal immigrants themselves but their families and the churches/organizations who minister to the needs — spiritual & otherwise — of the illegals and their families. In this third post, I wanted to say a bit more about the concerns raised and address the larger issue of the proper Christian response in these matters.

Columbian children playing games

First, let’s return to the article — specifically, the very first paragraphs, which say:

In January, I ate at the home of an immigrant family in Phoenix in which the dad recently became a Christian because of the hardships he has endured while living in the U.S. The undocumented immigrant father has been attending church every week to draw closer to God because he lives in fear of being separated from his two young children, who are U.S. citizens. He feels torn about living in the United States illegally, but he also feels that God has called him to stay in the United States for a reason and struggles every day to reconcile those two feelings.

This man considered moving his family back to Mexico because life was so hard in Phoenix, but was concerned about his two young children who would go back to a country they never knew. They fed us generously with freshly made tortillas and pulled pork as the children ran around the yard, yelling at each other in a mix of Spanish and English, much like the children of any immigrant parents who grow up blessed by knowing two cultures.

During the same visit, my colleague met an undocumented immigrant woman named Maria whose son was killed by a drunk driver; she cannot press charges because of her undocumented status.”

The first thing one thinks is, “Oh, those poor souls. They are good people, just trying to make it through their already difficult lives. These terrible laws that make them hide their illegal — I mean, undocumented — status just add to the stress and threaten them and their families.”

Maybe the father left an even more dangerous or difficult situation back in Mexico, maybe not. Either way, he knew what he was getting into, or at least had a good idea, when he decided to cross the border illegally. So did Maria, who tragically lost her son. They knew the risks. They must, therefore, be prepared to deal with the difficulties of living where they are not supposed to be. Because they did not seek citizenship through legal channels, they do not get the benefits and privileges of living here as legal residents or naturalized citizens.

Of course, Ms. Hwang and others use these kinds of stories to pull at the heartstrings, stir the readers’ emotions, so that they are primed to “stand up for the oppressed” against those who would cause them pain. This is the rhetorical technique called “pathos”. Don’t let yourself be manipulated by it.

You may think I’m being cold, that I’m insensitive to the plight of many immigrants who flee to the U.S. for any number of reasons, but mostly to make a better life for themselves and their loved ones. But, I’m not. I understand it very well, and if I were in their shoes, I might decide to risk it, too. Nevertheless, if you do the crime, you should be willing to do the time, pay the fine, endure hardship on you & your loved ones, or some combination thereof. It’s the price you pay. We are all responsible for our actions.

Immigrants caught climbing border fenceI think part of the difficulty some people have in taking this seriously is that the crime in question seems so harmless by itself. In fact, people take great risks and pay all they have (usually to “coyotes”, who smuggle them in and often demand more payment once here) to come over. They just want a better life, after all. But, there are good reasons for a sovereign state to want to monitor and limit those whom it lets in, especially for permanent residence and to partake of the freedoms and protections and other benefits in a democratic, free-market nation like the United States. Even if the immigrant in question is not guilty of past crimes, it seems to me that the first step in proving s/he is ready to assimilate and abide by the laws of the nation they want to become a part of is to follow the laws for getting in. (As my soon-to-be sister-in-law is doing.)

I understand the desire to help these people — i.e., those whose only crime was to cross the border without proper documentation. (I’m ignoring any minor violations of traffic safety or civic regulation, for now.) And, I especially understand the desire of churches who feel they have a duty to help those in need, etc. But, what if it was a different crime? What if the individuals in question were all guilty of theft? Or, fraud? Would you still feel obligated to help them avoid the authorities? Should a church help such individuals become integrated into the local community? (In fact, one could argue that illegal aliens living & working in the U.S. are guilty of fraud & theft, since they often obtain fake identities and take advantage of things like free healthcare and education, which are funded by taxpaying citizens.)

One might be tempted to bring up the biblical example of the Hebrew midwives who lied to Pharaoh about why they wouldn’t/couldn’t kill newborn Hebrew boys, because it served a higher purpose. Or, similarly, Corrie Ten Boom and her family hid Jews in their home and lied to the Nazis. In both cases, they were breaking the law in order to help the “oppressed”. But, these are not good analogies or valid excuses. Remember, the laws in question were by evil & corrupt rulers/governments and demanded that the babies/Jews be put to death (or, possibly, sent to horrible concentration camps, in the latter case).

Or, one might refer to New Testament instruction to love your neighbor, minister to others, etc. (Even to your enemy, to some degree.) Don’t these illegal immigrants qualify for this humane treatment? Shouldn’t good Christians help them out, too? Well, yes and no. It’s one thing to provide someone with a hot meal, treat wounds and/or sickness, maybe even give them a blanket or clothing. Those are immediate needs for basic survival. But, ongoing aid would be wrong. To my mind, it would be akin to aiding & abetting a fugitive. (Do churches get special privileges when it comes to giving aid & comfort? Something classified under “sanctuary” or some such thing? I don’t know.)

Church buildingUltimately, I suppose, it’s a matter of conscience, but that conscience also needs to be properly informed and prepared to pay the penalty. If someone knowingly shelters illegal aliens in their basement, or transports them somewhere with the intent of helping them stay longer as undocumented residents in the U.S., for example, they have no right to cry foul if they get caught, fined, jailed, and/or their vehicle impounded. We are a nation of laws, and those laws must be heeded, whether you think they are stupid or unfair or whatever. For Christians, I think the N.T. makes it clear that we are to obey the laws of the land unless those laws require doing something clearly contrary to God’s moral laws. It would have to be pretty clear and pretty serious, and I don’t think helping illegal aliens to remain here illegally meets those conditions. The better course of action is to work within the system to improve the laws and make it easier for decent, hard-working people who want to become Americans (and not just take advantage of living here) to immigrate here legally.

Then, we can greet our new neighbors with open arms, open hearts, and open homes.

—–

Agree? Disagree? Think I’m an uncaring clod? Am I thwarting the Gospel? Care to add something I left out, or posit a different argument? All (civil) comments welcome…