History

Now Are The Times That Try Men's Souls! (Wasn't Paine an Atheist?)

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Over at When Falls the Coliseum, Scott Stein conjures up the ghost of Tom Paine and recalls this quote, which seems muy appropriate as the Herculeses and Atlases and Athenas of Congress plow toward completion of health care reform that is not only stupid but wildly unpopular with those of us who will pay for it and suffer it:

Men who look upon themselves as born to reign, and others to obey, soon grow insolent; selected from the rest of mankind their minds are early poisoned by importance; and the world they act in differs so materially from the world at large, that they have but little opportunity of knowing its true interests, and when they succeed to the government are frequently the most ignorant and unfit of any throughout the dominions.

Stein glosses:

Paine's words describe the entire political class — career politicians and bureaucrats of both major parties with enough ego to want to govern….Think of members of Congress who voted for a thousand-page bill that they have not read (and even if they have) confidently explaining how this will improve the lives of people subject to their whims, subject to the votes they cast in an act of party loyalty or as a political trade in order to receive funding for their home state or support for their own pet projects.

Whole bit here.

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  1. The absance of alt-text on that photo is racist.

      1. I see now. Those tricky squirrells.

  2. the world they act in differs so materially from the world at large, that they have but little opportunity of knowing its true interests, and when they succeed to the government are frequently the most ignorant and unfit of any throughout the dominions.

    Wow.

  3. I like to point out that anyone who lives/works in DC is out of touch, but this states it more eloquently.

    Much of this also applies to the news media.

    1. Unfortunately, today most people cannot parse the sentence, so it is just a bunch of blahblahblah to them. Need shorter sentences. And easy words.

      And brief paragraphs.

      1. Hope! Change!

  4. More guns. More ammo.

  5. Where the hell are the morning links???

    1. I second that. I’ve been hitting refresh all morning.

      1. Don’t get me started on the Brickbats!!!
        DAMN YOU KIRK!!!

  6. Oh, don’t worry, the tax increase for health care will be minimal. And I live in Orlando, so the tax increase for SunRail (boondoggle commuter rail) will be minimal. And tax increases for stadiums will be minimal. And increases in gasoline taxes will be minimal. So why are you complaining? Minimal+minimal+minimal still equals minimal right?

    1. You meant “criminal”, not “minimal”, right?

      1. I thought he meant “pimpinal.”

        1. Hey! Pimpinal ain’t easy!

    2. I believe the process has been referred to as “being nibbled to death by ducks.”

      1. Pecked to death. The quote is from Mark Twain, who compared marriage to being pecked to death by ducks.

        He was right.

  7. So, all this means is that very little has changed in over 200 years. In fact, it may have actually gotten worse.

    Some fucking enlightenment.

    1. Of course it’s gotten worse. The Social Security Act of 1935 was the tip of the wedge. The Medicare Act 30 years later drove it in farther. This current monstrosity all but finishes the work. At this point there’s no way to pull it back out, unless the Supreme Court rules favorably (for people who still believe in rights) and declares it unconstitutional.

      1. It will be argued that mandatory insurance is necessary for the general welfare of the nation and is therefore constitutional.

  8. Thank heaven for public schools; otherwise, our citizens might not be able to figure this out.

  9. We are governed by dorks and idiot sons. Seriously, if you look at our governing class few of them have ever done anything beyond trade on daddy’s name or go to the right school and say the right things. They have no idea how the real world works because none of them have ever lived in the real world.

  10. Paine was a Deist not an Atheist.

    1. Indeed, his Age of Reason is an attack on “organized” religion and its crimes and all the contradictions in the Christian bible, not on god itself.

  11. The reference to Paine’s alleged atheism may have simply been a postmodern gesture of provocation, but in case it was meant seriously:

    Paine was *not* an atheist, and his supporters are right to indignantly reject that accusation. Theodore Roosevelt once called Paine a ‘filthy little atheist,’ and Paine’s supporters did well to reply, ‘hey, he wasn’t an atheist!’

    What Paine was, was a *deist.* He believed in a watchmaker God. Of course, he didn’t come out of the closet on this subject when he was writing *Common Sense* and *The Crisis.* In fact, he used Christian (Protestant) arguments and imagery in his popular Common Sense, not mentioning that he wasn’t into Christianity.

    When he came out of the closet as a deist, Paine advocated a popular deist piety to replace the alleged superstitions and absurdities of Christianity. He was particularly concerned that the French, who were going through an anti-Christian phase at the time, didn’t overreact and become atheists.

    Had Paine succeeded in promoting a popular version of deism – had he made deism the preferred religion of the people – then modern atheists would have been denouncing him. Paine’s idea of popular deism involved all classes of people in a republic making proper acknowledgment of God and His sovereignty, expressing due wonder and humility at His great works. This is what Paine thought he would get once religion was ‘purified’ of Christian ‘superstition.’

    As it happens, deism did not catch on with the general public. It was an elite phenomenon, something which in the 18th century was of the classes and not the masses. America was a particularly disappointing case for Paine, what with Christian religious revivals among both the classes *and* the masses.

    Atheists today like Paine because he did *not* succeed in establishing a popular deism. His attacks on Christianity did not produce any superior form of divine worship, but instead gave aid and comfort to atheism, which was very far from being Paine’s intent. Poor guy, now he has to accept the praise of the atheists whose doctrines he deplored.

    1. I wonder why Glenn Beck hasn’t “re-written” the age of reason?

      1. http://www.rotten.com/library/…..eme_being/

        The problem with trying to develop a rationalized religion is that is really rather boring.

        Successful religions are about emotions and psychology. Trying to make an intellectually defensible religion is like trying to make a scientifically valid version of Star Wars; everything takes forever, the magic is gone, and there aren’t any cool laser sword fights.

    2. I found this to be interesting.

      http://science.jrank.org/pages…..uries.html

  12. Really great quote from Paine. Each of us should put it in a letter to the editor of our local newspapers. There may be a few readers left who still can understand.

  13. The danger in the self-importance that Paine speaks of is when the so-called ruling class becomes utterly convinced that their beliefs are what is best for the nation, without regard to the constitution.

    1. See also: Mao, Stalin, Castro, Kim, Ho, Hoxha, et alia.

  14. I think Paine would have been an atheist had he lived today, but the notion of a world without a “prime mover” was just not in the intellectual discourse of his time. i.e.: “The world exists, how did it come into existence without a primal cause?”

    Modern atheism recognizes that existence is a fact that does not require a creator.

    1. “The world exists, how did it come into existence without a primal cause?”

      No one beleives that now. That idea went out the window with the big bang theory. There was a time in the early 20th Century when the scientific athiestic position was that the universe always had existed as it is. Hubble put an end to all of that.

      Now atheists are left with the problem of what caused the big bang and more importantly why do the laws of physics match up perfectly to create conditions conducive to life as we know it. They don’t have to. You can imagine a universe where the laws and the constants are different and are thus completely incompatable with intelligent life. There is nothing to say such universes can’t exist or even don’t exist. Yet, ours worked out perfectly for our existance.

      The current explination is that all possible universes do exist in the “multiverse” or “foam” and thus the existence of our perfect universe isn’t a problem.

      I think the chances are good that Pain would still be a diest even today.

      1. This is called the argument from an anthropomorphic universe. It is a logical fallacy that many fall into.

        1. It is only a fallacy if you over sell it. Does the existence of what appears to be a very unlikly set of circumstances necessarily imply the existence of a God? Of course not. You can’t reasonably claim that it does. It does, however, make the existence of God much more plausible.

          Worse for atheists, the existence of such an unlikely universe makes their explination “well it just worked out that way” much less satisifying than for a universe that has always been or for a universe that could only have the laws which it has. Atheist build a straw man when they claim that the teological argument claims to establish the existence of God. It doesn’t.

          1. “It does, however, make the existence of God much more plausible.”

            No it doesn’t.

            The lack of an explanation does not make the Magic Hairy Thunderer concept any more plausible.

            1. The lack explination by either side means it is a draw and neither side can claim victory. You say the universe is there because it just is. I say it is there because of God. Neither argument is necessarily wrong or really explain anymore than the other.

              For the fifth time it doesn’t prove the existence of God. But it does prevent the atheist from disproving the existence of God or claiming that his explination is any more rational or expanitive than the theists explination.

              You can believe whatever you like. But when you wonder why the constants and laws of physics are perfectly suited for our existence don’t pretend that “it just is” is any better of an answer than “God made it that way”.

              1. It is better John, because you are not getting away from the “it just is” by adding a God to the mix. You just move the “it just is” it up a layer without justification.

                1. And why is going up a layer somehow worse? Because you say so? That is pretty thin gruel. In the end you are left with believing that we just happen to live in the most fortutious set of circumstances imaginable that allow our existence. That is certainly possible. Maybe the world is random and we won the universe lottery and got the universe that allowed us to exist. But, that seems to me to be just as faith based as any religion.

                  1. Adding a further layer of complexity is worse in metaphysical philosophy precisely for the reason that it’s worse in medicine or engineering. Occam’s Razor is a valuable concept regardless of the subject. An inelegant solution with superfluous complexity is almost never the correct one – and for good reason.

                    So say I go back to the big bang and I stop there and say, “Ok, I have no idea what precipitated that event or what caused it”. That doesn’t mean that behind it the solution is magic, it just means that I don’t know yet. Adding a magical, intelligent, immortal, superbeing to the equation is not only an unnecessary addition, it is merely wild speculation which obscures the idea that searching for truth is about evidence.

                    Lacking evidence and simply saying “I don’t know”, is perfectly fine! Lacking evidence, and then simply speculating and making wildly implausible shit up really isn’t.

          2. It does, however, make the existence of God much more plausible.

            No it absolutely does no such thing.

            Even if anything you say is indeed a problem for atheists, it is a bigger problem for theists. You can’t get away from “how unlikely is it that X is like it is” by simply saying “boy, that sure makes it look more likely that there’s a Y that made it so.” Particularly when X is plain for everyone to see and there is not a shred of evidence for Y.

            The same questions you just raised about X’s liklihood are simply passed to Y. All you’ve done is added an invisible layer of explanation without the slightest reason for doing so. Anyone can then just as rightfully ask, “how unlikely is it that there was a Y to make X look just like it does?” I suppose you can then propose a Z that created Y that created X, but we can see where this is leading. So you’re point is less of a problem for atheists than theists.

            Of course your premise that the universe is somehow unlikely is utterly unsupported in the first place. We hardly have enough evidence to say one way or the other, but either way it doesn’t make the existence of “God” or invisible fire-breathing dragons more likely.

            1. Or what Aresen said in much less space. 🙂

            2. “Of course your premise that the universe is somehow unlikely is utterly unsupported in the first place. We hardly have enough evidence to say one way or the other, but either way it doesn’t make the existence of “God” or invisible fire-breathing dragons more likely.”

              Bullshit. We have lots of evidence. YOu can solve Einstein’s filed equations in lots of different ways. There is no natural explination for the universe being as it is. And scientists have constructed mathematical models for universes with completely different sets of physical laws. That was the driving force behind the multi-verse. There just wasn’t an explination for why the universe wasn’t a put up job. How is it that the laws worked out just perfectly when they just as easily or more likely could have not? The answer currently given is that every possible universe exists and we of course live in the one conducive to our existence. The existence of other possible universes and the complete lack of necessity for our universe being as it is, is a real problem for atheists. The smart ones understand that and have created the multi-verse theory. The dumb ones go merrily on.

              1. Bullshit seems awfully strong response considering you’re misuse of Einstein. Einstein’s equations have nothing to say about this John, come on. They are essentially a theory of gravitation and say nothing of quantum theory for example. You aren’t going to get them to tell you our current universe is somehow unlikely. They are completely silent at such an existential question.

                The answer currently given is that every possible universe exists and we of course live in the one conducive to our existence.

                No, that’s just one mere speculation. That is not the “current explanation” by any means.

                And scientists have constructed mathematical models for universes with completely different sets of physical laws.

                Well, again, they’ve merely speculated that it might be possible. That is hardly a scientific theory and it hardly proves that our universe is truly unlikely.

                And besides, as I said, whether it is unlikely or not, is irrelevant as it doesn’t help your argument.

                1. “Well, again, they’ve merely speculated that it might be possible. That is hardly a scientific theory and it hardly proves that our universe is truly unlikely.”

                  Our universe is one of any number of possible universes. And it is the only one conducive to our existence. And there is currently no physical reason why it has to be this way versus the other ways.

                  And you are right, the existence of other universes is entirely speculative. There is direct physical evidence of only one universe. But, without the speculation of the existence of other universe, the atheist is left with the distictly unconfortable idea that one unvierse just happens to have a perfect set of physical laws conducive to his existence.

                  1. As I explained above, even if that is true, it is more uncomfortable for the theist.

                    1. And your explination above is bizzare. It is not unconforatable for the theist at all. The universe has all of these wonderful laws and constants that are as they are so that we can exist, which was God’s intent. You may not like that explination. But it does explain the way things are quite nicely.

                2. Strangely (and annoyingly) enough, my roommate sometimes speaks as if these ideas have moved out of the realm of “speculation”. He reads far too much quantum theory, but doesn’t really understand that it’s not provable… I regularly write off speculation in astrophysics and end up rolling my eyes a lot listening to some of those guys.

              2. The probability that our universe came into being with the characteristics it has is unsolvable without examples of other universes. Every universe may develop in the same exact way.

                In other words, for us inside it’s a one time event with no comparable. The anthropic idea is bunk.

                1. We know that it is possible for other universes to exist in different forms. We know of no reason why one universe is more likely than another. Yes, it is true that we cannot observe other universe’s forming. But we can recreate the conditions within a few trillionths of a second from the creation of our universe. And we have yet to find one thing that necessitates our univrerse being as it is.

                  Again, you just attack a straw man. The claim is not that the existence of God is established. It is only that the existence of God is consistent with what we know. The atheist is both unable to prove God doesn’t exist or offer a more compelling explination for the universe. The atheist may be right. But he may be wrong as well. Science leaves us all in the position of being agnostics, which is fine with me. But it is not so fine with the people who run around claiming that any belief in God is irrational.

          3. The physical universe must be compatible with the life observed in it.

            In other words, to a goldfish in a bowl, the fish correctly notes that if the universe were anything else, i.e. the bowl was not full of healthy oxygenated water, the fish would not exist. It is incorrect to deduce that there must be a god from this, however, because that’s how it has to be for there to be someone alive to observe how perfect everything is.

            In other words, there’s trillions of Martian lifeforms that aren’t writing about how perfectly designed the universe is to support life, because for them, it isn’t. So they don’t. Cause they never existed. The non-existence of impossible lifeforms does not prove the existence of god, which is really what the argument from design amounts to once you really look at it.

            Although, in all honesty, the argument from design suffers pretty badly anyway; I don’t know what master creator would design brains prone to schizophrenia, severe personality disorders & depression; it seems that we as a species have some serious design flaws are are far from perfectly acclimated to our environment.

            1. “Although, in all honesty, the argument from design suffers pretty badly anyway; I don’t know what master creator would design brains prone to schizophrenia, severe personality disorders & depression; it seems that we as a species have some serious design flaws are are far from perfectly acclimated to our environment.”

              I haven’t spoken to God lately so I don’t really have his opinion on the subject. However, the mere existence of less than optimal design of human beings does not preclude the existence of God. It says nothing about it one way or another.

              1. Doesn’t preclude the existence of god, sure. But it does make it more difficult to prove divine design when moral agents can be led into sin by bad brain chemistry. At least if your not content to reside forever in the Deist’s Fortress of Solitude forever.

      2. “‘The world exists, how did it come into existence without a primal cause?'”

        No one beleives that now. That idea went out the window with the big bang theory. There was a time in the early 20th Century when the scientific athiestic position was that the universe always had existed as it is. Hubble put an end to all of that.

        Yes, the primal cause argument still holds for the same reason it always did: Positing a god doesn’t resolve the issue, it just adds one more step – namely, what caused God?

        Atheists don’t need to claim to have all the answers anymore than anyone else does. The appropriate position is to acknowledge one’s current limit of knowledge, rather than invent answers such as gods. We know a heck of a lot more about the universe and our place in it from inquiries into nature than we do from mythologies. For one, we aren’t the center of the universe and its scope strongly suggests we aren’t that important to it.

        The Big Bang? Who knows. Could be a lot of possibilities. Saying God did it tells us nothing. So does the straw man of a monolithic “scientific atheistic position”. Where the hell is that canon kept?

        1. “The Big Bang? Who knows. Could be a lot of possibilities. Saying God did it tells us nothing. So does the straw man of a monolithic “scientific atheistic position”. Where the hell is that canon kept?”

          The existence of God is a plausible explination of it. It certainly is possible and worth examining. Unless and until there is a definitive explination for the big bang, you cannot rule out the existence of God. Indeed, you cannot say that God is any more or less likely that any other explination. In fact it may be more likely since there seem to be few other explinations floating around.

          1. “The existence of The Great Green Arkleseizure is a plausible explination of it. It certainly is possible and worth examining. Unless and until there is a definitive explination for the big bang, you cannot rule out the existence of The Great Green Arkleseizure. Indeed, you cannot say that The Great Green Arkleseizure is any more or less likely that any other explination. In fact it may be more likely since there seem to be few other explinations floating around.”

            This makes exactly as much sense as what you said.

            1. “This makes exactly as much sense as what you said.”

              Only because you are an idiot. We have a given set of facts. We have a given set of explinations that are consistent with those facts. Unless and until one explination is proven to be conclusive or there are facts that are presented that a given explination cannot account for, all explinations are equally likely. It is really quite simple. Just because you are an atheist, doesn’t mean you have to be stupid. It just seems to work out that way most of the time.

              1. “Only because you are an idiot.”

                And you’re an asshole with a huge fucking chip on his shoulder.

                “We have a given set of facts. We have a given set of explinations that are consistent with those facts. Unless and until one explination is proven to be conclusive or there are facts that are presented that a given explination cannot account for, all explinations are equally likely. It is really quite simple. Just because you are an atheist, doesn’t mean you have to be stupid. It just seems to work out that way most of the time.”

                My explanation is The Great Green Arkleseizure. Why is your “God” any more consistent with the “facts” than the GGA?

                And it’s spelled “explanation,” not “explination.” For you to call someone stupid when you can’t even spell one of the most common words in the English language is pretty lame. Dick.

  15. ‘I think Paine would have been an atheist had he lived today, but the notion of a world without a “prime mover” was just not in the intellectual discourse of his time’

    As he approached death, Paine was worried that some Christian would visit him and claim that Paine had had a deathbed conversion. Paine was worried that the Christians would claim him after he passed away and could no longer defend his reputation.

    But now it’s some H&R atheists who are claiming the equivalent of a death-bed conversion on Paine’s part. No, not even a death-bed conversion – they’re saying Paine *would* have converted to atheism if only he’d had, say another 100 or 200 years in which to discover the error of his ways.

    Our modern age did not invent atheism. There were atheists before Paine, including the French encyclopedist Baron d’Holbach. Paine was sufficiently worried about the influence of atheism that, as I have mentioned, this was a factor in his writing the Age of Reason.

    So, there was such a thing as atheism in Paine’s time – and Paine deliberately set himself *against* it.

    It won’t do to protest, ‘but . . . modern atheists are so much cooler than d’Holbach and those others! Paine would have *had* to recognize the truth of atheism if he had lived today!’

    1. Excellent post. I don’t understand why people can’t accept Paine for who he was.

  16. As long as we’re discussing the question of conversions between atheism and deism, please note that a few years ago there was a prominent conversion *from* atheism *to* deism. I refer of course to the case of the prominent philosopher Anthony Flew:

    http://www.deism.com/atheisttodeist.htm

  17. *shrug*

    “Deist” Paine or “Atheist” Paine is largely moot. My guess is based on what I have seen in his writings.

    Granted that atheism is not a modern invention, but the intellectual discourse 200 years ago did not have the evidence gathered since then to explain the processes going on in the world. Even 30 years after Paine, Lyell was called an atheist (he was not) for his concept of uniformitarianism, an important step leading to the modern understanding of evolution.

    The simple fact was that those who did not accept the Abrahamic faiths’ conception of the creation of earth did not have any more plausible alternative to present.

    1. “The simple fact was that those who did not accept the Abrahamic faiths’ conception of the creation of earth did not have any more plausible alternative to present.”

      Bullshit. They had lots of plausable alternatives. And the belief in a God doesn’t require the belief in a literal interpretation of the bible. That has to be the most profoundly stupid distortion of intellectual history I have ever seen. You manage to insult both theists and atheists in one fell swoop. This might come as a shock to you, but people were doing metaphysics long before Darwin. And many of them were in no way convinced that there was a God.

      1. Bullshit back at you.

        I said more plausible alternative, not that there weren’t any.

        1. Why are the explinations less plausible than bibilical ones? I don’t see it. Aristotle’s explination was of an amorphus prime moving force behind the universe. Despite later claims, it was not a “God”. It was just a first unknowable cause for the universe. That seems on its face just as convincing as any bilbical explination.

          1. I did not say it was less plausible, either, I said the others weren’t any more plausible.

            1. There are a whole lot of people in history who would disagree with you. And also Darwin didn’t even do metaphysics. The fact that man man “evolved” says nothing about the orgin of the universe. It doesn’t make true crude materialistic atheism any more or less likely or compelling.

  18. What does it matter whether he was a deist or an atheist? He was talking about the political class.

  19. I found Tom Paine EXTREMELY relevant years ago, and here we are again.

    And it damn sure wasn’t in school that I learned about him. He probably would be the first to oppose public schools as they exist today…

    1. REally? I read Common Sense in school. I heard about Tom Paine in public school no less. Maybe things have changed.

  20. In the words of Ayn Rand, noone should ever have to prove a negitive, so atheists shouldnt have to prove their beleifs to the beleivers.

    1. That is nonsense. We have a set of facts. The universe is X number of years old. It came into being in a large bang and so forth. Currently, we have no explination for it. One possible explination is the existence of a God. Another possible explination is “no explination” or chance. All plausible and consistent with the facts and none disprovable.

      We do not know in any scientific way that there is or is not a God. God is merely one plausible explination. The rest is faith. While that doesn’t deprive the atheist of any ground. It does deprive him of the higher ground.

      1. God is merely one plausible explination.

        The difference between the “God” hypothesis and current scientific conjectures is that the scientific conjectures are constrained by what has been actually observed and attempt to explain actual observation. Ourside of images on tacos, there seem to be damned few events which necessitate the existence of God. Further, the God hypothesis necessitates that we postulate the existence of an inherently immaterial and unmeasurable force that can somehow influence the material world in a way that cannot be detected. IOW, the God hypothesis is unneccessary and fails the test of Occam’s razor.

        (BTW, the ‘big bang’ hypothesis is 30 years out of date; the current favored hypothesis is the ‘inflationary universe’ hypothesis, which happens to be consistent with the recently discovered accelerating expansion of the universe. The “multiverse” hypothesis and current formulation of the infinite universe hypothesis are extensions of the inflationary universe.)

  21. Wow! what a discussion!

    Have any of you ever considered the EXTREME unlikelihood of Life ever arising by natural means such as undirected chance chemical reactions in a mud puddle?

    Consider for a minute, the DNA code.

    First,
    ALL Life is based on coded instructions.

    Second,
    There never was, and never will be any code that develops by random chance.

    Third,
    ALL codes are actually languages used by intelligent agents to describe some concept or reality in an organized way.

    Forth,
    Did it ever occur to anyone that DNA is a mathematical code in Base 4 architecture?

    Fifth,
    As such, there are less than half as many seconds of time since the “big bang” as there are ways to randomly arrange only 30 characters of this CODE?

    Finally,
    We humans have about 3,000,000,000 characters in our DNA. Even the simplest viruses have about 5,000 characters in theirs.

    It just seems that there has not been enough time for all the millions of different Life forms to have evolved by undirected chance, natural selection, and the survival of the fittest. That would require generation upon generation, not second after second!

    In light of the forgoing, I believe that an Intelligent Being designed the universe we see and the Life that resides on this planet. Some people may not believe this, but I believe that the Jesus Christ of the Bible was intimately involved with the creation of this world and the Universe in which we find ourselves.
    Check out some ancient predictive writings in a New American Standard Bible, a New King James or a New International Version: John 1: 1-3; Psalm 100:3; Romans 1:20; II Timothy 4:3

    On another subject, I also submit that ALL that Star Trek stuff is utter nonsense. Is anyone aware that the fastest spaceship ever launched, Voyager 1, got a good portion of its velocity from the slingshot effect of passing close to both Jupiter and Saturn?

    In spite of this helpful acceleration, it would require about 75,000 years to reach the NEAREST star – if it was aimed there, which it is not. Also, it has been observed to be slowing down more than theory predicts. I have not heard any explanation for his phenomenon yet.

    Have a Blessed Christmas and remember the Reason for the season!

      1. hardly 🙂

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