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Theodore Dalrymple: The Veneer of Civilization. Utterly removed.
The Manhattan Institute / National Review ^ | September 26, 2005 | Theodore Dalrymple

Posted on 09/16/2005 7:49:26 AM PDT by Tolik

The French socialist philosopher who was much ridiculed by Marx as a sentimental petit-bourgeois moralist, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, is now remembered mainly for his aphorism, so good that he repeated it many times, “Property is theft.” But in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the reverse of this celebrated but preposterous dictum has actually become true: Theft is property.

Pictures of the looting that followed the devastation in New Orleans have been flashed around the world. Everyone is, or at least pretends to be, shocked and horrified, as if the breakdown of law and order couldn’t happen here, wherever here happens to be. Smugness is, after all, one of the most pleasant of feelings; but for myself, I have very little doubt that it could, and would, happen where I live, in Britain, under the same or similar conditions. New Orleans shows us in the starkest possible way the reality of the thin blue line that protects us from barbarism and mob rule.

Of course, an unknown proportion of the looting must have arisen from genuine need and desperation. Who among us would not help himself to food and water if he and his family were hungry and thirsty, and there were no other source of such essentials to hand?

But the pictures that have been printed in the world’s newspapers are not those of people maddened by hunger and thirst, but those of people wading through water clutching boxes of goods that are clearly not for immediate consumption. There are pictures of people standing outside stores, apparently discussing what to take and how to transport it, and of men loading the trunks of cars with a dozen cartons of nonessentials. They are thinking ahead, to when the normal economy reestablishes itself, and the goods that they have stolen will have a monetary value once more.

Moreover, desperation for food and drink hardly explains why rescue helicopters should have been fired at, and a pediatric hospital attacked by a gang on the lookout for whatever it could find. The fact is - or perhaps I should more modestly say that it is likely - that the conditions brought about by Hurricane Katrina actually suit a ruthless element of society that wants to prolong them a little, to protect its unaccustomed power and freedom to extort. In conditions of anarchy, a crude and violent order, based upon brute force and psychopathic ruthlessness, soon establishes itself, which regards philanthropy not as a friend but as an enemy and a threat.

Is it enough just to sit back and sigh that human nature was ever thus, and that what has happened in New Orleans is exactly what any attentive reader of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies would have predicted? In that book, you might remember, a group of English schoolchildren, all from good and civilized homes, is cast ashore on an isolated tropical island without adult supervision. Before long, a kind of savage order exerts itself, with the most ruthless rising to positions of leadership. In other words, take external constraint away from even the most civilized (as the English still prided themselves on being in 1954, when the book was published), and savagery results because raw human nature decrees that it should.

Yet this is perhaps a little too easy and falsely comforting. After all, even in New Orleans, most of the people left in the city after the hurricane had devastated it were not looters, at least not of items carried off wholesale for future sale. The roaming gangs that so complicated the rescue effort, and that preyed on people more unfortunate than they, were a comparatively small proportion of the population. While it is true that all of us who were born with original sin (or whatever you want to call man’s fundamental natural flaws) are capable of savagery in the right circumstances, by no means all of us immediately lose our veneer of civilization in conditions of adversity, however great. A veneer may be thin, but this makes it more, not less, precious, and its upkeep more, not less, important.

Moreover, there is a very uncomfortable question that we have a duty to ask: Is the kind of behavior seen in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina inevitable after a natural disaster of such proportions? If it isn’t, what does this tell us about New Orleans, the United States, and any other place - such as, I believe, Britain - where the same conduct would have made itself evident?

The experience of foreign survivors of the tsunami that caused such fatal damage throughout coastal Southeast Asia, and that of those who survived the hurricane in New Orleans, have been very different, or at least very differently reported. I suspect that the difference in reported experience is real rather than a journalistic artifact.

The survivors of the tsunami reported their terror at the size and destructive force of the wave, of course, but in no instance that I recall did they mention having been robbed by other survivors, let along going in fear of armed gangs. And there were no reports after the recent floods in Bombay, which produced destruction of homes and caused death on a scale not so very different from the hurricane in New Orleans, of looting or other forms of public disorder.

It goes without saying that the population of Bombay is very much poorer than that of New Orleans, incomparably so, in fact. Raw poverty, therefore, cannot explain the disorder in New Orleans and its absence in Bombay. Nor can comparative poverty, that last resort of the liberal who is eager to find an economic explanation of human frailty and wickedness, and who is aware that raw poverty per se will not do the trick. But the gulf between the rich and the poor in Bombay is, if anything, greater than the gulf between them in New Orleans, probably much greater. The ostentatious opulence of the rich in India exceeds that of the rich in America, while anyone who has walked through a Bombay slum will know that nothing remotely comparable exists, or indeed has ever existed, in America. So relative poverty does not explain the disorder in New Orleans, either.

How, then, are we to explain it? What is the underlying social pathology that accounts for it?

Most of the looters look bitter, angry, resentful, and vengeful as they go about what British burglars are inclined (in all seriousness) to call their “work.” The gangs are reported to have used racial taunts during their depredations. In all probability, the looters believe that, in removing as much as they can from stores, they are not so much stealing as performing acts of restitution or compensatory justice for wrongs received. They are not wronging the owners of the stores; on the contrary, the owners of the stores have wronged them over the years by restricting their access to the goods they covet and to which they believe they have a right. The hurricane has thus given them the opportunity to take justice into their own hands and settle old scores.

If this surmise is right, it is a terrible indictment of all the efforts undertaken in recent years by government welfare programs and institutions that practice affirmative action, such as universities, to ameliorate the condition of underclass blacks. It implies that the nihilistic alienation of the looters and gang members is as great as that to be found in Soweto at the height of the apartheid regime. Far from ameliorating the situation, then, the billions spent on welfare programs, and the intellectual ingenuity expended on justifying the unjustifiable in the form of affirmative action, have resulted in a hatred that is bitter and widespread enough among those condescended to in this manner to result in the scenes for which New Orleans will now long be remembered.

If Hurricane Katrina had struck New Orleans in 1950, when the black population could justly have complained of severe oppression and injustice, would we have witnessed what we have witnessed there in recent days? I cannot prove it, but I think the answer is no. And if this is the case, then we must ask ourselves what has lit the fire in the minds of men that they are prepared to shoot at their neighbors’ saviors.

Dr. Dalrymple, the Dietrich Weissman fellow of the Manhattan Institute, is a prison psychiatrist in Britain, and the author most recently of Our Culture, What’s Left of It: The Mandarins and the Masses.


TOPICS: Culture/Society; Editorial
KEYWORDS: anthonydaniels; culturalentropy; dalrymple; katrina; neworleans; theodoredalrymple
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1 posted on 09/16/2005 7:49:26 AM PDT by Tolik
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To: Lando Lincoln; quidnunc; .cnI redruM; Valin; King Prout; SJackson; dennisw; monkeyshine; ...

Very Interesting!

This ping list is not author-specific for articles I'd like to share. Some for the perfect moral clarity, some for provocative thoughts; or simply interesting articles I'd hate to miss myself. (I don't have to agree with the author all 100% to feel the need to share an article.) I will try not to abuse the ping list and not to annoy you too much, but on some days there is more of the good stuff that is worthy of attention. You can see the list of articles I pinged to lately  on  my page.
You are welcome in or out, just freepmail me (and note which PING list you are talking about). Besides this one, I keep 2 separate PING lists for my favorite authors Victor Davis Hanson and Orson Scott Card.  

2 posted on 09/16/2005 7:51:08 AM PDT by Tolik
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later read/ping.


3 posted on 09/16/2005 7:53:09 AM PDT by little jeremiah (A vitiated state of morals, a corrupted public conscience, are incompatible with freedom. P. Henry)
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To: Tolik

Outstanding. Pouring the water of Big Government into a culture whose foundations are rotting already is a sure way for the culture to collapse.


4 posted on 09/16/2005 7:56:26 AM PDT by untenured (http://futureuncertain.blogspot.com)
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To: Tolik
New Orleans shows us in the starkest possible way the reality of the thin blue line that protects us from barbarism and mob rule.

The veneer of civilization really is thin. Christianity plays a vital role in keeping us civilized. Those that continually seek to weaken and discredit Christianity do so at their own peril.
5 posted on 09/16/2005 7:58:09 AM PDT by Jaysun (Democrats: We must become more effective at fooling people.)
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To: Tolik


I love this guy's work. His observations and the way he puts them into writing are just extraordinary. Anyone who hasn't read Dalrymple's book, "Life at the Bottom" would be doing themselves a favor by picking it up.


6 posted on 09/16/2005 7:58:30 AM PDT by clearlight
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To: Tolik

The civilized veneers are much thinner on some than on others.


7 posted on 09/16/2005 7:59:14 AM PDT by snarks_when_bored
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To: Tolik

Dalrymple is excellent.

If you want to know what's happening in Britain, his books are a very good read.

I heard he could not get published in Brtain.


8 posted on 09/16/2005 8:00:43 AM PDT by squarebarb
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To: Tolik

Bump.


9 posted on 09/16/2005 8:02:51 AM PDT by auboy
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To: squarebarb; clearlight

Yes, he is excellent, but very depressing in his honesty.


10 posted on 09/16/2005 8:05:49 AM PDT by Tolik
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To: Tolik

bttt


11 posted on 09/16/2005 8:06:04 AM PDT by Tax-chick (Start the revolution - I'll bring the tea and muffins!)
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To: Jaysun
Christianity plays a vital role in keeping us civilized

OK, but why does Christianity weaken?

12 posted on 09/16/2005 8:11:24 AM PDT by cornelis
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To: stylecouncilor

ping


13 posted on 09/16/2005 8:12:27 AM PDT by windcliff
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To: Tolik

Bump for later.


14 posted on 09/16/2005 8:14:04 AM PDT by Constitution Day
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To: untenured

Sounds divine. Isn't that part of what Christianity is about? I wonder if Bush mentioned faith-based initiatives the other night.


15 posted on 09/16/2005 8:14:59 AM PDT by cornelis
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To: Tolik

The culture described had been covered with a burlap bag for decades. It took 150 mph winds to blow the bag away. When it did, everyone saw what had been growing underneath.


16 posted on 09/16/2005 8:17:01 AM PDT by Crawdad (I cried because I had no shoes, until I saw Kathleen Blanco on TV.)
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To: Tolik
Far from ameliorating the situation, then, the billions spent on welfare programs, and the intellectual ingenuity expended on justifying the unjustifiable in the form of affirmative action, have resulted in a hatred that is bitter and widespread enough among those condescended to in this manner to result in the scenes for which New Orleans will now long be remembered.

The fruit of liberalism is bitter.

17 posted on 09/16/2005 8:23:09 AM PDT by teawithmisswilliams (Question Diversity)
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To: teawithmisswilliams

What about the billions spent on arms? Similar results? So war and poverty are the jack in the box. Can´t forget that.


18 posted on 09/16/2005 8:25:04 AM PDT by cornelis
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To: cornelis
OK, but why does Christianity weaken?

For one thing, there's an active campaign to weaken it. For another, the Christians still gather and worship as always, not much changes for them. I hear them say things like, "I don't need a monument to know the ten commandments.", or "My child doesn't have to be asked to pray in school." Christians have been too docile and have allowed others to attack them with impunity.
19 posted on 09/16/2005 8:29:28 AM PDT by Jaysun (Democrats: We must become more effective at fooling people.)
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To: Tolik
Most of this article is built on a false premise which I'm surprised the auther ignored, given how intelligent he is.  Drawing conclusions on human nature as a whole from what happened in New Orleans is to make an arguement out of context:  the people who stayed and misbehaved in New Orleans were not a cross-section of New Orleans as a whole - they were a concentrate of the worst the city has to offer.

Certainly not all but a great many were the drug dealers...the drug users....the thugs....the homeless...the mentally ill....people who had neither the resources nor the intelligence to leave the city.  People who had no where to go nor the motivation to go there.

In other words, the people who were left in New Orleans were the minority whose behavior is normally kept in check by the people who left.  When the grown-ups left, the children got to ransack the house.

It is also an informal fallacy to compare the poor of the US with the poor of Bombay.  Those two groups of people live very different lives in very different circumstances.

By and large, this article is pure intellectual dishonesty.

20 posted on 09/16/2005 8:30:06 AM PDT by Psycho_Bunny (If you snit at the hand that feeds you, you're probably a leftist.)
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To: Psycho_Bunny
pure intellectual dishonesty

One important point made which you don't need to be a pure intellectual for: evil is a jack in the box and it shows its face once in a while.

21 posted on 09/16/2005 8:37:02 AM PDT by cornelis
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To: Psycho_Bunny

The picture that was painted in my mind by all this more resembles that of an isolated household comprised of many pets and an old lady who suddenly dies, cutting off all the deliveries of the pets' needs.

After a few days the pets have trashed the house, messed the floor and are fighting over the sparse meat left on the corpse of their once mighty queen.


22 posted on 09/16/2005 8:42:16 AM PDT by Old Professer (Fix the problem, not the blame!)
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To: Tolik

Anyone remember the blackout of New York about 1965?
there was almost no crime or looting.

Remember the blackout of New York years later when Carter was president? Mass looting in black areas. Carter said it was just hungry folks looking for food. How a man looting and carrying a 300 lb. couch on his back is related to hunger I don't know.

I think the problem really bagan with the various riots of the late 1960's when the governments refused to put them down, just cordoning off the areas and letting them burn themselves out. Perhaps it's time to start shooting back.


23 posted on 09/16/2005 8:48:04 AM PDT by Ruy Dias de Bivar (ISLAM. The religion of the criminally insane.)
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To: Psycho_Bunny

"By and large, this article is pure intellectual dishonesty."

In my opinion, he said precisely what you said his essay was missing...but he did it with intellectual incisiveness, grace, stunning language and a great logical probity. Maybe it's just me.


24 posted on 09/16/2005 8:58:05 AM PDT by John Robertson (Safe Travel)
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To: Tolik
""Pictures of the looting that followed the devastation in New Orleans have been flashed around the world. Everyone is, or at least pretends to be, shocked and horrified, as if the breakdown of law and order couldn’t happen here..."

Anyone who is old enough to have lived through the 60s, or was paying attention during things like Rodney King and the LA riots, should be laughing at this assertion.
25 posted on 09/16/2005 9:01:38 AM PDT by Jackson Brown
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To: zot

Ping


26 posted on 09/16/2005 9:04:41 AM PDT by GreyFriar (3rd Armored Division -- Spearhead)
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To: Psycho_Bunny
It is also an informal fallacy to compare the poor of the US with the poor of Bombay. Those two groups of people live very different lives in very different circumstances.

Dalrymple, who has searing intellectual honesty, imho, notes exactly that. The poor of Bombay have not been funded with state-provided welfare for generations, and have not been subjected to the intellectual dishonesty of affirmative action and race-baiters, as Dalrymple notes.

27 posted on 09/16/2005 9:09:20 AM PDT by teawithmisswilliams (Question Diversity)
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To: John Robertson
comparative poverty, that last resort of the liberal who is eager to find an economic explanation of human frailty and wickedness

intellectual incisiveness - absolutely.

28 posted on 09/16/2005 9:16:25 AM PDT by agere_contra
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To: Tolik
The survivors of the tsunami reported their terror at the size and destructive force of the wave, of course, but in no instance that I recall did they mention having been robbed by other survivors, let along going in fear of armed gangs.

He is wrong. I remember reports of gangs of outlaws after the tsunami, although I would have a hard time tracking down the specific articles.

29 posted on 09/16/2005 9:21:29 AM PDT by 6ppc
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To: Tolik

bump


30 posted on 09/16/2005 9:23:13 AM PDT by wildcatf4f3 (Putin 2008!!)
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To: teawithmisswilliams

I don't admit the premise "absence of disorder in Bombay."


31 posted on 09/16/2005 9:24:41 AM PDT by cornelis
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To: Tolik

Oh no, first we lose the veneer of civilization, then goes the patina of good manners.


32 posted on 09/16/2005 9:26:23 AM PDT by durasell
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To: teawithmisswilliams; Psycho_Bunny
The poor in Bombay and in the Tsunami acted very differently after the catastrophes in their midst than the "poor" in NO. Clearly the behavior is hard to correlate with wealth, so it must be something else.

Could it be the "culture of entitlement" mentality that has been foisted on and sold to these people by the idea of welfare and by the race/poverty pimps? What other explanation is there?

schu
33 posted on 09/16/2005 9:30:32 AM PDT by schu
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To: Jaysun
In part you are right, but Bombay is not "Christian", and there wasn't this type of looting.

Part of it is opportunity (how much there was to loot) and part is just the mindset of the people. As the old song says, give a man a house, and he will break out the windows.

Or in this case break into the stores.
34 posted on 09/16/2005 9:33:56 AM PDT by redgolum ("God is dead" -- Nietzsche. "Nietzsche is dead" -- God.)
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Comment #35 Removed by Moderator

To: Tolik
Re: The Veneer of Civilization. Utterly removed.

"Pictures of the looting... Everyone is, or at least pretends to be, shocked and horrified, as if the breakdown of law and order couldn’t happen here, wherever here happens to be.

Dalrymple misses quite a bit. Criminals don't represent civilization. The govm't and law abiding citizens do. He failed to note that govm't forces broke into homes, detained and cuffed law abiding citizens and ransacked their homes searching for their arms, their means of protection from the criminal element. Vocal opponents were arrested. If Dalrymple wants to ponder civilization, he should be focusing on the barbaric, illegal actions of those claiming to be civilized, but are only pretending.

36 posted on 09/16/2005 9:41:50 AM PDT by spunkets
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To: Tolik

His explanation of why folks would shoot at rescuers makes a lot of sense.

Good post.


37 posted on 09/16/2005 9:48:06 AM PDT by jocon307
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To: spunkets
If Dalrymple wants to ponder civilization, he should be focusing on the barbaric, illegal actions of those claiming to be civilized, but are only pretending.

I've always had a sense that some of this behavior is always lurking round about wherever I have lived.

38 posted on 09/16/2005 9:54:10 AM PDT by cornelis
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To: Psycho_Bunny

The Mayor of NO said that drugs flow freely in NO, and the looters were druggies jonseing out there for anything to cut the unease of sudden withdrawal.


39 posted on 09/16/2005 9:58:24 AM PDT by RightWhale (We in heep dip trubble)
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To: snarks_when_bored
The civilized veneers are much thinner on some than on others.

Exactly. Many, if not most, in this country would remain civilized even under the most extreme circumstances, because those are the values they live by. The problem, even in a fully-operating civilized society, has always been how to contain those who are uncivilized. All that Katrina did to NO was remove that threat for a while.

I think a better analogy than the "thin veneer" would be one where civilized society is holding a tiger on a leash. We're OK as long as the leash doesn't break.
40 posted on 09/16/2005 10:04:23 AM PDT by fr_freak
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To: fr_freak
holding a tiger on a leash

Yes, and the tiger isn't particular to any class.

41 posted on 09/16/2005 10:10:48 AM PDT by cornelis
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To: clearlight

It was a great book IMHO.


42 posted on 09/16/2005 10:13:19 AM PDT by Chickensoup (Mmmmmmm! Mmmmmmm! Good!)
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To: cornelis

OK, but why does Christianity weaken?

Godless leftists.


43 posted on 09/16/2005 10:13:53 AM PDT by Chickensoup (Mmmmmmm! Mmmmmmm! Good!)
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To: Ruy Dias de Bivar

Perhaps it's time to start shooting back.


It is absolutely time to start shooting back. In all civil disturbances that lead to looting and rioting.


44 posted on 09/16/2005 10:15:55 AM PDT by Chickensoup (Mmmmmmm! Mmmmmmm! Good!)
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To: Tolik

It's called, in 'Christianeze" a spirit of Lawlessness and it is spreading across America like wildfire. One woman said the looting and crime in New Orleans was an every Tuesday night occasion. Didn't need a flood! Christians need to pray against this spirit or it WILL overtake all of us eventually.


45 posted on 09/16/2005 10:23:41 AM PDT by Marysecretary (Thank you, Lord, for FOUR MORE YEARS!!!)
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To: Jaysun

Amen, Jaysun. You are absolutely correct. The Holy Spirit in Christianity holds back the darkness but one day, when Christians are no longer here, lawlessness will be the law of the land. It's getting there now.


46 posted on 09/16/2005 10:24:48 AM PDT by Marysecretary (Thank you, Lord, for FOUR MORE YEARS!!!)
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To: cornelis

Christianity weakens because Christians weaken. Some on the front lines are burned out. Many churches, who call themselves Christian, are teaching a watered down gospel (I call it the Gospel of the NY Times!). I do believe in these end times that the Church will ARISE and you will see a new anointing on those who are the Bride of Christ (Christians who choose intimacy with God). There will be healings and deliverances and those we consider to be the bottom of the heap will be saved and serving God in the final revival before His appearing. Don't count the church out yet, my FRiend.


47 posted on 09/16/2005 10:28:23 AM PDT by Marysecretary (Thank you, Lord, for FOUR MORE YEARS!!!)
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To: Tolik

bookmk ping for later , and thanks


48 posted on 09/16/2005 10:37:33 AM PDT by Dad yer funny
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To: fr_freak; snarks_when_bored

>>Many, if not most, in this country would remain civilized even under the most extreme circumstances, because those are the values they live by.

As a great example of that, in the last few days I saw some footage from the wake of the 1989 San Francisco earthquake. I noted a group of 6-8 civilian volunteers in street clothes deploying a large firehose to a large building that had caught fire in the wake of the quake.

Contrasted with the looters we'd seen from NOLA, it was a striking image.


49 posted on 09/16/2005 2:16:23 PM PDT by FreedomPoster (Guns themselves are fairly robust; their chief enemies are rust and politicians) (NRA)
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To: redgolum
They're not Christian but more than 80% of those in Bombay (now named Mumbai after a Hindu goddess) are Hindu, which is a peaceful religion.

And Christianity is to America as Hinduism is to India. I also mentioned Christians because I am one.

I'd bet my liver that the looters and snipers weren't Christians, but I could be wrong.
50 posted on 09/16/2005 3:03:51 PM PDT by Jaysun (Democrats: We must become more effective at fooling people.)
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