Saturday, May 21, 2016

Give us Barabbas

Give Us Barabbas
When Pontius Pilate (fifth prefect of the Roman province of Judaea from AD 26– 36) was confronted with the problem of Jesus (approx. 33 AD) he was in the midst of political turmoil. History does not credit Pilate as a man having good character, and because of that, he was in conflict both with the Jews over whom he was governor, and also with Rome, to whom he answered politically.
The thing about Pilate with which we are most familiar is that, finding no fault with Jesus (no legal reason to conduct further proceedings) he sought to placate the Jewish leaders who we stirring the political pot, causing Pilate trouble in Jerusalem, and in Rome. According the Gospels, Pilate decided to give the complainers a choice: the customary release of one prisoner of their choosing during the Passover festival. They could choose Barabbas, or Jesus. (Matthew 27: 11-26)
It is more than merely interesting that Barabbas’ first name was also Jesus. Some ancient Syriac copies of Matthew, and a few other ancient sources, call the freed prisoner "Jesus bar Abbas" ( Here we have a case of alternatives. A choice between truth and not truth- between Jesus and not Jesus- a choice involving integrity and political expediency.
We know a little about Pontius Pilate from source outside of scripture, and his brief appearance is full of tragedy. He ignored his conscience, he disregarded the good advice of his wife, he chose political expediency over public rectitude, and he failed to recognize the truth even when Truth was standing right in front of him. (  Pilate’s life was defined by compromise, and in the end (sources vary), he either committed suicide or was killed by Nero.   
Times may change but human nature does not. Today, there are loud voices demanding compromise.  People, well-meaning perhaps, who cry out that if we do not choose this one over that one (presidential candidates), we are doomed. The reality is that if we choose “not truth” over Truth, we are doomed anyway.  When integrity is all you have, you should never gamble what you cannot afford to lose.

A problem that is caused by compromise cannot be solved by more compromise. Always seek righteousness.  Always choose truth.
John Sterling
May 21, 2016

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

What is a Law-Abiding Citizen?

What is a "law-abiding" citizen?
In logic, there is something called an unstated assumption (or premise).  If you structure a logical argument and you reach a supportable conclusion, you can still be wrong because there elements to consider that are not mentioned. For example:
(a) premise: my mother is my parent
(b) premise: my father is my parent
(c) conclusion: my mother is my father.
This is logically supportable but factually incorrect. Why? Because of the unstated assumption that we have two parents.

A law abiding citizen is one who abides by the laws. But there is a presumption that the law is good and that the process of law is legitimate and uniformly enforced.   This results in what we call "The Rule of Law". 
But what do you call person who recognizes that either the process of law, or the enforcement of law, is corrupted?  If that person does not obey that law, is he no longer a "law-abiding" citizen?
The law is not subject to "private interpretation" but neither is the law subject to government "interpretation" outside of the legitimate legislative process. At least that is true if we are still a "nation of laws" and the historically-respected "rule of law" is followed.  

If a nation's leaders become lawless, and impose upon the citizens commandments that they created out of thin air, violative of the process of law, then according to our founding principles, the "law-abiding" citizen is the one who opposes those leaders and disobeys their arbitrary "laws". 

Jefferson penned in the Declaration these words, "But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Some things never change. History will judge us, as it judged our forefathers, whether our respect for law and the rule of law will oppose the lawless government that seeks to destroy our foundations.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Deception is the Order of the Day

Bunked and debunked

I see these terms on social media in the form of an assertion of some truth.  A web site holds itself forth as a "news" source and it "reports" news that is designed to ignite (or fan the flames of) passion. Often these "news" items are repackaged tidbits from other "news" sites of varying degrees of credibility (or incredibility). 

Then, in the spirit of the game, another "news" pundit (of equally questionable integrity or reliability) will "debunk" the original "bunk" by accusing the original source(s) of being biased or outright lying. There is much caterwauling and beating of the chest, but usually very little (if any) actual facts offered as contrary evidence.

Frankly, it's exhausting.  Is there any such thing anymore as "honest" (in the intellectual as well as the moral sense) news outlet today?

Recently (for example), in the "discussion" leading up to the Iran "deal", we got very conflicting information from Russian and Israeli sources that contradicted U.S. sources (or offered glimpses into the details that were notably absent from U.S. reporting). It appears, in retrospect, that the ONLY reliable information available to the U.S. citizen was that which originated from either Russia or Israel. 

I apologize in advance for anything I post that proves ultimately untrue.  Like I said, it is exhausting trying to verify anything these days.   Deception is the order of the day.  

For what it's worth...Mat 24:24 tells us to be very alert in "The Last Days",  “For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.”

The mind (reason) is far superior to passion (emotion) in determining what is true, but ultimately all truth is spiritually discerned. 1 Cor 2:14 says "But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." Another translation says it this way " A person who isn't spiritual doesn't accept the teachings of God's Spirit. He thinks they're nonsense. He can't understand them because a person must be spiritual to evaluate them."

Whether or not these are the "Last Days" (I believe that they are) it seems pretty clear that with so much deception and so much "...spiritual wickedness in high places." (Eph 6:10) that our reason alone is insufficient to know "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth."   God help us.  

John A. Sterling, MA, JD
Dec 30, 2015

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Should We Ban Christmas Parties Because They Offend Muslims?

I was listening to a radio show today (Dec 8, 2015) and people were calling in to answer the question of whether we should ban Christmas parties.    This is following the shooting of 14 people at an office Christmas party by a Muslim man and his wife in San Bernadino, CA this week. Discussion ranged from whether the U.S. should ban Christmas, (because it offends Muslims) or just ban the office parties, or just call it a “holiday celebration”, etc. 
It’s Christmas.  Christ + Mass.   Its about the birth of the baby Jesus.  It is a celebration that is ancient in history and universal in scope. Nearly everybody on the planet that knows ABOUT Christmas, celebrates it, even if they do NOT believe that Jesus was the incarnation of God in the person of the Messiah. Believe it or not, but it is the "reason for the season".  It's a good reason to party.
It’s like: if your neighbors have a new baby and they are so happy that they invite all of the other neighbors over to celebrate the event,  you go to see them being happy.   Its not YOUR baby, and you might not even care about babies, but you’re a good neighbor so you pop in long enough to say congratulations, drink some punch and maybe eat a snack or two. Heck, you might not even really LIKE your neighbors but sometimes we participate in social activities because that is what civilized people do.   No SANE person would try to take over the party, tell the new mom what she can, and cannot serve to eat or drink at her party, or that you disapprove of someone else who showed up to the celebration.   If any of that bothers you that much, then you politely decline the invitation and you go do whatever you were gonna do anyway.  Rarely will anybody care what you do nor will they genuinely feel badly that you did not attend.

Many Muslims though, Such as  Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, the San Bernadinl shooters DEMAND that the rest of the world stop what we’ve been doing for two thousand years.   Muslims such as those who perpetrated the San Bernadino massacre are offended that our traditions are contrary to their traditions, and so, like any other self-centered, self-righteous, arrogant bigot, they demand everyone else bend to THEIR will.  But taking at yet another step further than the “run-of-the-mill arrogant bigot,  Islamists (correctly) hold that the doctrines of Islam instruct the truly faithful to KILL them if they do not change their traditions if those traditions are exactly what is taught by their “religion” because that is exactly what Muhammad would have done. (I put religion in quotes because careful study will reveal that Islam is primarily a complete system of total social and cultural control and is therefor a political system with a religious cloak)
It’s CHRISTMAS.  Yes, it is a CHRISTIAN holiday, but the gift of Jesus is for ALL men. If you don’t believe in Jesus, or you reject His claim as the Messiah, you are still welcome to come to the party.  We WANT you to come. Celebrate with us. Share our joy, be a part of our moment, even if you don’t believe.   We are INCLUSIVE that way.
John Sterling

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Flawed Firearms Research is Agenda-Driven

Response to NCVP  research on gun violence- John Sterling
Conclusion:  Poor “analysis” of facts establish clear policy agenda.
POLICY POSITION of National Center for Violence Policy
Their report is available at
(My responses in Parenthesis)
Fact: The VPC asserts that “When analyzing the most reliable data available, what is most striking is that in a nation of more than 300 million guns (Their source estimates 310 million), how rarely firearms are used in self-defense.”
(In 2012, 8,342 criminal gun homicides were recorded by the FBI.  8,342 divided by 310 million = 0.0000269097.  What “strikes” me is that this is a number so low as to be statistically irrelevant).

The NCVP researchers ask this: “While it is clear that guns are rarely used to justifiably kill criminals, an obvious question remains: How often are guns used in self-defense whether or not a criminal is killed”
“…for the five-year period 2007 through 2011, the NCVS (National Crime Victimization Survey, conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics) estimates that there were 29,618,300 victims of attempted or completed violent crime. During this same five-year period, only 235,700 of the self-protective behaviors involved a firearm.
(29,618 divided by 235,700 = 7.957% over five years. Eight % is approximately 103,000 people who DID NOT become victims during the reporting period because of having a firearm available. Apparently this 8% of intended victims of violence do not matter to the Violence Policy Center. Instead they are agitated over the claim by pro-gun advocates that the number is higher.)

In “… the five-year period 2007 through 2011, the NCVS estimates that there were 84,495,500 victims of attempted or completed property crime.
During this same five-year period, only 103,000 of the self-protective behaviors involved a firearm. Of this number, it is not known what type of firearm was used, whether it was fired or not, or whether the use of a gun would even be a legal response to the property crime. And as before, the number may also include off-duty law enforcement officers. In comparison, data from the Department of Justice shows that an average of 232,400 guns were stolen each year from U.S. households from 2005 to 2010.
(84.5 million property crimes were either attempted or completed in this five year period – an average of 169,000/year.  Note that this “analysis” contains a fair bit of speculation on the part of the NCVP. They do not know how many crimes were “completed” so they cannot know how many “attempted” crimes were thwarted by armed property owners. Since property crimes can happen inside of, or outside of, the home, the legality of using deadly force or the threat of deadly force is unknown. Therefore this piece of information is useless to any “analysis”.)
(It is completely valid to be concerned with 232,400 guns being stolen each year [0.00075% of all estimated firearms], but that is different problem, requiring a different solution. Furthermore, there does not appear any research was done as to how many of those 232,400 guns are subsequently used in violent crimes, which WOULD be an important piece of information, particularly for an organization whose interest is in violence prevention. )

CONCLUSION of the NCVP:  “The reality of self-defense gun use bears no resemblance to the exaggerated claims of the gun lobby and gun industry.”   (OK. And this important, why?)    Further, “…in 35.5 percent of the justifiable homicides that occurred in 2012 the persons shot were known to the shooter.”   (Not sure why this is relevant to the discussion. A threat is a threat regardless of whether the victim knows the perpetrator, or in what context.)
  The devastation guns inflict on our nation each and every year is clear: more than 33,000 dead, more than 81,000 wounded, and an untold number of lives traumatized…”  (It is interesting to me that these figures are NOT footnoted.  There is no citation provided to check these numbers.  But assuming they are accurate, they do not constitute evidence to prove their assertion.    They are just “out there” and the reader is left to form his/her own conclusions. Logically, the number of all people killed by firearms in the United Stated per year would be people who were (1) unarmed victims of crime, (1) armed perpetrators of crime, or (3) suicides.  Intuitively, the vast majority of those killed by firearms are people who were using firearms illegally. (i.e. criminals killing other criminals as in gangland shootings, shootouts with police, etc.. Hardly useful information if the purpose to hinder lawful gun ownership. Further, the VPC clearly is more compassionate towards criminals than towards the citizens who use firearms to protect themselves.)
“When analyzing the most reliable data available, what is most striking is that in a nation of more than 300 million guns, how rarely firearms are used in self-defense.” (Besides being irrelevant if offered in support of gun control, this fact, actually tends to support the conclusion that private ownership of firearms is more safe than a whole range of other lawful, but more deadly, liberties. It is possible-even logical- to conclude therefore that if MORE people had firearms in their possession at the time of the attempted crime, more lives would be saved and crime would be REDUCED!  Instead, this organization is focused on the claims that MORE incidents of crime were prevented by firearms than may actually be the case. Again, I’m not quite sure why THAT is their focus when their organizations stated purpose is the prevention of unnecessary violence and death.
For example, in 2012, the same year from which NCVP draws their statistics, there were 254 million automobiles registered in the U.S. In that same year there were 33,561  automobile fatalities.  I’ll not even discuss the “…untold number of lives traumatized…” by being injured in an auto accident, nor shall I speculate on the numbers of unregistered cars on the road which may, or may not, have been involved in accidents.   Statistically speaking, the number of fatalities compared to the number of vehicles registered is about 0.00013213 %, or roughly TEN TIMES the numbers of fatalities compared to guns and gun-related violence in the U.S.. Further, there are apparently no statistics available for how many automobiles were used for self-defense so there is no way to compare the number of lives saved to the number of lives lost for that particular “dangerous” activity. Since that number is likely very low, the “self-defense value” of a firearm exceeds that of the much more dangerous automobile a hundred-fold or more.)

MY conclusion:  The NCVP seems unjustifiably antagonistic towards the private ownership of firearms and the use thereof to protect lives and property, and the overall reduction of crime. Their research is incomplete, and their analysis is flawed.   It seems clear that they are agenda-driven rather than research driven. Methinks they should change their name to one that more accurately expresses their agenda.
John Sterling, MA, JD
Copyright 2015

Monday, June 8, 2015

The Balance between Liberty and Order

I awakened from the dream, knowing it was just a dream but feeling the intensity of the emotion that it produced in me. I was a policeman again, in a small office, in a small town with a couple of other officers when three people came in. They were strangers in town and as it turns out, they were activist/actors, on a mission to challenge law enforcement and to prove that police were enemies of freedom.  They had a story and each actor played their roles well.   I don’t remember what the pitch was, but in my dream, I recognized the play early in the performance and I, and the other officers, were on guard.  Other law enforcement professionals recognize the phenomenon; your mind is suddenly on alert from some subtle cue, and suddenly “things just don’t seem right”.  It’s hard to explain to the inexperienced, but it is a kind of intuition that operates deep in the subconscious. For the police, your life depends on this intuition.

The story told by the visitors was intended to cause the police to overreact and their plan was each of the “players” would be then be “mistreated” in some way that would engender sympathy and support for their “cause”. With a clarity not often present in dreams, I saw that each of these (two men and a woman) had a different view of just exactly where the line is drawn between civil order and individual freedom, but they all agreed that the status quo was too “extreme” in favor of social order and, in their view, too “hostile” to individual liberty. 

The details of the “play” are a bit fuzzy now, and probably unimportant anyway, but as I lay in the pre-dawn darkness, I was keenly aware that this dream reflected a deep truth that reflects a present reality in our culture.  There are people who understand and adapt to the notion that some individual freedom is voluntarily placed in subordination to maintain civil order based upon shared values. There are people who believe that the system favors order at the expense of liberty (in varying degrees). Then, there are those on the other hand who believe that excessive focus on liberty has threatened, and is destroying order (also, in varying degrees). The “activists” occupy the fringes at both ends of the spectrum. The three activists in my dream all felt that social order was oppressive and that the freedoms of the individual were insufficiently appreciated. I remember knowing in my dream that these actors did not all agree as to what a “perfect” society would look like but that their “mission” in life was to promote their view that police were the visible manifestation of all that was wrong with our government and our system of laws.

The dream played out with all three being arrested (which they intended) but in a different manner, and for different reasons than they had planned. The other officers and myself conducted ourselves in a manner that was completely unexpected by our “visitors” (as would happen when prior intel would permit the officers to inject an element not foreseen by the antagonists). Following some “dream-world drama”, and one of them nearly being killed in a “resist arrest” move, all three were “unarrested” after being “schooled” on philosophy and law. Some of my former students will nod knowingly, because they apprehend that this is “how I roll”. Even in my dreams (some might argue ONLY in my dreams) I am still “the professor”.

In my dream, as in real life, the failed “plan” of the activists, and the subsequent manner of arrest, and the fact that one of them was almost killed in the process, had unintended consequences.  The experience resulted in one of the actors having a complete change of heart and mind, the second one being seriously intellectually challenged as to his underlying philosophy, and the third one only hardening his heart and steeling his resolve to destroy the system;  One “win” for the good guys, one “loss”, and one “maybe”.

As I lay there deciding whether to get up or try to squeeze in another  hour of sleep, another recent memory came to mind that seemed to illustrate and underscore the philosophical content of the dream, and convince me to get up and write these thoughts down on paper. A couple of days earlier, I was on Watts Bar Lake in my 28’ sailboat with my good friend, a retired NYPD officer.  Eddie was at the helm as we motored back to the marina (the wind was calm so there was no sailing back) and I was viewing the distant shoreline through powerful binoculars. If I rested my elbows on the cabin roof, the vibration of the engine and movement of the boat on the water distorted my distant vision. Trying to eliminate all movement of my body by resting solidly on the boat only transmitted the minor (but distinct) movements to the binoculars, and as a consequence, the image of the far shore was too blurry to be useful.  But… if I stood steady on the deck, and let my brain allow my body to compensate for the movement of the boat, and absorb the vibration of the engine, then I was able to view distant objects with clarity. My body became the “buffer” between the dynamics of the boat moving through the water, and the static shoreline.

I think that the balance of order and liberty is like that. The “boat” is the firm foundation of the law, rooted in history, tradition, philosophy, and morality, and validated by the commitment of “we the people” to that morality and our traditions.  But history shows that even in the best of times, there are minor imperfections, and “vibrations” that are systemic. That is the “lake” that is life. It is dynamic, fluid, and powerful.  We try to navigate through the waters of life towards some distant objective that we know is there but that we cannot clearly see because of the instability of our situation.  We need a system to provide some steady, predictable, mechanism to get us over, across, and through, the waters but unless we are all “on board” we will not reach the destination. As individuals, we must remain flexible, and “give” a little to the demands of the water, and the realities of the boat, to get the clearest vision possible for the future safety and security for all.  The solution for clearer vision, and a safer journey is NOT to get out of (or to destroy) the boat!

In my dream, those three visitors saw “the boat” (the system of laws and government) as the natural enemy of individual liberty. The police were the visible representation of all that was wrong, and “oppressive” about the system. The visitors wanted to destroy the system in order to arrive at the same far distant shore as everybody else, but without the confining structure and limitations that the system inevitably requires. In the words of president Dwight D. Eisenhower, "A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both." Fundamental principles of liberty are balanced by fundamental principles of duty.  The system that was created and which we have struggled to maintain, is a balance between the maximum amount of individual liberty that can be achieved at the same time as the maximum amount of tolerance that must be extended to the “vibrations” of our civic duties and responsibilities. In the words of esteemed commentator and author Dr. Thomas Sowell, “"Tolerating imperfections is the price of freedom."

The media in the last few months has carried a number of stories of conflict between members of the public and the police, with whom some citizens feel a strong sense of anger and fear. The police likewise feel a sense of anger and fear at those citizens because we are caught in a classic “values conflict”.  The media capitalizes on the fear and anger by refusing (in many cases) to be “fair and balanced” in their presentation of the news. The result has been several police officers, and several citizens killed. In at least one recent case, it seems clear that there was an example of misuse of police authority and a blatant abuse of power.   In other cases, careful review has shown that the citizens acted in frenzied fury and out of (calculated?) misrepresentation of the facts. The issue for everyone is whether, or to the extent, that the machinery of government (the system) has pushed so hard for social order that it has lost all tolerance for the individual rights of the community. The “balance” between social order and individual freedom has been seriously compromised in some communities. The great danger is that such a condition, if handled poorly, will escalate to a national problem.  Every time the issue is approached from passion rather than reason, the players resemble those in my dream: someone with a personal “axe to grind” whose notions of individual liberty trump the necessity of lawful order. I fear that without wise leadership, and a deeper understanding of, and appreciation for, the dynamic tension between order and liberty, we will lose both. The “activists” need to acquiesce to the ruling of the majority as to our national (historic) values and the limitations of our tolerance of disorder.
-JAS- 2015