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Secretary of State John Kerry made a revealing observation on his trip to Africa this week.

Here’s what he said: “This is a time here in Africa where there are a number of different cross-currents of modernity that are coming together to make things even more challenging. Some people believe that people ought to be able to only do what they say they ought to do, or to believe what they say they ought to believe, or live by their interpretation of something that was written down a thousand plus, two thousand years ago. That’s not the way I think most people want to live.”

I know. It’s obtuse. Hard to follow. Not very poetic. Stilted and awkward. Not what you would expect from someone with his educational background.

But, remember who John Kerry is.

He came to fame in the 1970s by labeling U.S. soldiers in Vietnam as war criminals, comparing them to Genghis Khan, which he pronounced “Jenghis.”

But I think it’s fairly simple to grasp the key point Kerry is trying to make here.

He’s talking about the rules by which people live, the guideposts we follow, the moral bearings of a society that keep it from disintegrating – whether it’s in Africa or Asia or America.

On the one hand, he suggests that some people believe in top-down command-and-control rule of a society. That’s what I deduce he means when he says: “Some people believe that people ought to be able to only do what they say they ought to do. …” It’s certainly true that some people believe they should be able to dictate the behavior of others. In fact, I was under the impression that was the modus operandi of the administration in which Kerry serves. I thought that’s what his party believed. I know they don’t say that’s what they believe, but it’s certainly how they act – witness Obamacare, the Internal Revenue Service scandal, the scorched-earth policies they take toward their political adversaries and the way they use the judicial system as an oligarchical hammer against the expressed will of the people.

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Next, he suggests there are people who want to control thoughts, he suggests: “or to believe what they say they ought to believe …” Again, he appears not to like this alternative of holding society together through mind control and coercive thought policing. But isn’t this exactly what the Obama administration does with its efforts to regulate so much of our individual behavior and choices? Isn’t this the very picture of the Democratic Party today in its “progressive” form? Don’t they preach their values with all the intensity of fire-and-brimstone fundamentalists? Don’t they even attempt to use the force of government to indoctrinate the population into their ideas about morality through the schools, the press, the entertainment industry and academia?

And then Kerry offers one more choice, apparently equally unappealing to Kerry: “or live by their interpretation of something that was written down a thousand plus, two thousand years ago.” We all know what he means here. This is religion. It is indeed another way societies can hold themselves together. In fact, America’s founders believe it was an indispensable component of self-governance. If citizens don’t have internal controls on their behavior, there must be external controls. America was founded on the concept that an informed and moral citizenry could, by and large, be capable of governing itself, without the strong arm of a coercive police state to keep the population in line.

Interestingly, Kerry rejects all the options: “That’s not the way I think most people want to live.” At least I think he does, based on his surprisingly unrefined ramblings.

That begs the question: How then should we live?

If not by the moral compass of a Supreme Being and Creator, does every man do what is right in his own eyes? Who then decides what is right and wrong? Is it John Kerry? Is it Barack Obama? Is it just a matter of consensus with no protections for minority opinions and values? He doesn’t say.

Maybe he doesn’t know.

But how is a guy who doesn’t know – or won’t say – supposed to fix problems in Africa, Asia or America where transcendent values vary so greatly? He doesn’t say.

Maybe he doesn’t know.

One thing is certain from Kerry’s disjointed and somewhat incoherent statement: He betrays a hostile contempt for the very idea that there are sacred and inspired writings that proclaim the true nature of human beings and how we are to live and prosper.

That’s not surprising, knowing Kerry. But it is more candid that one might expect.

It also raises the question of how anyone can know right from wrong – if indeed there really is any such thing as right and wrong.

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