We’re not being tested. We’re being taught.

For years I’ve struggled with the western perspective that we are being judged or given a test by a divine being. A test where passing means heaven and failing means eternal damnation. A test for which we are (all) wholly unprepared. 

Indeed, those who adhere to their religions will say that we are taught through the scripture. But, I hope these adherents understand that all of us who have not received the calling through divine inspiration are left wanting. Which scripture is “The Scripture”? Whose interpretation of “The Scripture” is correct (if, indeed, any scripture is correct)?

Imagine a math class taught by half a dozen teachers. Each has a degree in mathematics, though from a different university.  And all of them give you different answers to “what is 2 + 2”? 

2+2 = 6

2+2 = 25

2+2 = 99,323,233.324224225

2+2 = 33,333

2+2 = 432

2+2 = 948,499

All of these are wrong. But, that doesn’t stop some from proclaiming an answer of such ridiculous precious that only the most delusional among us would accept it. 

While the correctness of a math problem is objectively provable, the desire or intent of a divine being is not (I’ll not dive into the question as to whether there is or is not a divine being.)

So, in the absence of absolute certainty in the desire of what God wants, I find it implausible that She would allow our ignorance to be so great as to render our chances of going to heaven or hell simply a matter of which religion we chose to follow, or even worse, to which we were exposed. In other words, She would not allow our entry to heaven to be a crapshoot.

The journey

The feeling that today’s western religions don’t have the answer is just one stop on a lifelong journey to understand why we are here. I wouldn’t aggrandize it to say finding the “meaning of life,” but to try to understand the great disparities in the lives I see. Why am I so privileged, and so many suffer so greatly (I don’t have a clue.)

The answer of “it’s all part of a grand plan” that is commingled with “God is a merciful and compassionate God” just rings hollow. An omnipotent being capable of absolute power and compassion simply wouldn’t allow such a random distribution of benefits. 

Not that I don’t think this disparity is part of something bigger, but I don’t think it serves the purpose of a deity. I simply do not understand.

Jumping into the deep end

Sometimes, however frightening it may seem, the best way to learn is by doing, or in our case, living.  If we keep our eyes and hearts open, we can see when our words or actions hurt or truly help others. We can learn if we are open to it. 

But to learn, we must admit we don’t know everything and become comfortable with our ignorance. Ignorance is not a permanent state of being if you are aware and willing to learn.

Sometimes I feel like we swim in water too deep to touch the bottom. We can learn. We must learn. But as we do, it is scary. 

It makes more sense that we are here in the process of learning to swim, not to swim or drown.

The Fallacy of “In the Name of”

What is fascinating is the institutional control over what it means to be a good ______(fill in your blank.)  Across patriotism, fanaticism, religion, you name it, there is an organization of people telling you what it means to be a good _________, while insisting that it is a higher being whose ‘word’ they are sharing.

In the world of western religion, we find the interpreter’s role to be acutely controlling. After all, failure to accept their word as the “Word” will result in internal damnation. 

Blindly following the dictates of some mortal authority in the name of a deity ensures that we remain in perpetual ignorance. So long as our actions align with their direction, all consequences can be justified, all responsibility removed.

Over millennia, we see unspeaking pain imposed on others being justified in the name of “saving soles” or the “greater good.”  It is amazing how ferociously, in the name of the “Prince of Peace,” people have inflicted unimaginable violence and pain. 

Today, “developed” nations continue to inflict pain in the name of a higher power. We justify discrimination, sexism, and racism, all of which impose pain on others.  We justify it through a faulty interpretation of a faulty text people wrote over a thousand years ago. 

Following institutions that wield authority “in the name of” is the surest way to shortcut rational considerations and to justify cruelty. 

Where does this leave us?

Is your next word, or action, going to hurt someone now? 

Forget everything else. Just answer the question. 

Is shunning someone because they are gay going to help them or hurt them? 

Is alienating a teenager, struggling with all the normal teenage angst compounded by gender identity questions going to hurt them?

Is your vision of the afterlife so certain that you can justify inflicting pain on someone who does not share your visions or who really needs help? 

I don’t know what will happen tomorrow. I certainly don’t know what the afterlife holds. But, I do know that, here, now, we have the power to help someone or hurt them. 

We should choose help.

Paths that come together

Your happiness depends on no other; the responsibility is yours alone.

But recognize when your path to happiness joins the path of another, that is when the magic happens.

The highs are much higher and the lows are much softer.

Where these paths join together is where love happens.

Firearms and the legislation

In view of the discussion around gun control, I looked back a bit to see what some of the milestones regarding gun control were.  Today we argue about our founding fathers being of the mind to allow anything, we argue about the “new push” for gun control, we argue about what people 50 years ago believed (popular are quotes from Reagan on personal responsibility).


Militia Acts of 1792

The 1792 federal law mandated every eligible man to purchase a military-style gun and ammunition for his service in the citizen militia. The weapon types were explicitly outlined. Such men had to report for frequent musters—where their guns would be inspected and registered on public rolls.

1866 march to the 14th Amendment – the real gun ownership amendment.

Following the civil war, there was a glut of firearms in the north. There also remained an intrinsic threat to black people. President Lincoln pushed for individuals, including and especially black people, to be allowed to retain their weapons from the service. This was seen as necessary for their personal defense in view of the threat still posed by racists.

In the south, blacks were barred from owning guns. Laws were implemented following a concept of the  “Black Code”, which explicitly denied blacks the same rights as whites, and more specifically, with regards to ownership of property; guns were a deniable properly. This left blacks in the south more vulnerable to the continued threats of their white neighbors.

Congress pushed for and passed the 14th amendment, which codified every free person’s rights to equal access to the benefits granted by the Constitution. While guns were not explicitly identified, they were intended to be and in fact covered under the concept of property.

This was the first recognition of the individual’s rights to own a gun. It was not granted under the second amendment but under the 14th. In the view of the leaders of that time, the issue was not access or no access to firearms, but if there was access to firearms, the same access must be granted to all.

 “too much freedom?”


National Firearms Act of 1934, the first federal gun-control law, which levies a restrictive $200 tax on the manufacture or sale of machine guns and sawed-off shotguns. All sales were to be recorded in a national registry


Roosevelt wins approval of the National Firearms Act of 1938, which requires the licensing of interstate gun dealers, who must record their sales. It prohibits sales to individuals under indictment or convicted of crimes of violence.


Governor Reagan told reporters that afternoon that he saw “no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons.” He called guns a “ridiculous way to solve problems that have to be solved among people of good will.” In a later press conference, Reagan said he didn’t “know of any sportsman who leaves his home with a gun to go out into the field to hunt or for target shooting who carries that gun loaded.”

This was in response to the Black Panthers using “civilian patrol” to counter police brutality. The patrollers were armed and openly challenged the police with threats of counter-force should the police use their weapons. The Republicans lead the charge for gun control.

Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 and the Gun Control Act of 1968: federal laws regulating firearms. It prohibits all convicted felons, drug users and the mentally ill from buying guns; raises the age to purchase handguns from a federally licensed dealer to 21; and expands the licensing requirements to more gun dealers and requires more detailed record-keeping.


Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986. Limits ATF inspections of gun dealers. And it banned civilian ownership of machine guns manufactured after May 19, 1986. Guns made before then were allowed.


The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act : The law specifies 19 weapons that have the features of assault rifles, including the AR-15, certain versions of the AK-47, the TEC-9, the MAC-10 and the Uzi, several of which had become the preferred weapon of violent drug gangs. The act also bans large-capacity ammunition magazines, limiting them to 10 rounds. The law does not apply to weapons that were already in legal possession, and there are easy ways to adapt new weapons to avoid the prohibitions.


Congress passes the Tiahrt Amendment to a federal spending bill. The amendment, proposed by Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.), prohibits law enforcement from publicly releasing data showing where criminals bought their firearms.


Asault weapons ban lapses and is not renewed by congress.



Look to fight for something, rather than seek something to fight against

For two months I have seen and heard a lot of despair. People are upset in the extreme because of the election and they are gearing up to fight against Donald Trump.

I think this is a mistake.

Eight years ago, when President Obama took office, and again four years later, there was an equally aggressive stance against him. We had 8 years of right wing politicians whose primary goal (and stated by some) was to oppose President Obama at every turn. Their position was supported by a boisterous body of hardliners who accepted no compromise.

Over that time there were areas of national interest on which both parties could have compromised. But it didn’t happen. We spent eight years with Washington tied in knots and a public frustrated by ineffectual governance.

To “fight against” President Trump is an effort that will reap no fruit; he will remain president, have the bully pulpit and continue to be who he is.

Rather than go forth with blanket opposition to President Trump, we need to select those areas about which we are passionate, involved, or deeply invested, and focus our energy to improve them.

“Fight for…”

Education, healthcare, poverty assistance, eldercare issues, childcare, defense, race relations, the environment … there is a nearly endless list of issues our country must address. Pick one, or two… if you are really energetic, pick three.

Learn deeply about the issue, research, listen openly to others, form opinions, then write and call legislators or local politicians.

Rallying against something is easy, especially when the target is so clear. But it is also ineffective. Focus energy constructively to create something better locally, regionally or nationally.

Commiseration is a short term placebo. It’s time for the real cure. Act in support of something.