Saturday, April 26, 2014


Wednesday this week, Nathan Deal, the Governor of the state of Georgia, signed a bill into law.  It was known in Georgia's state legislature as House Bill 60, or the Safe Carry Protection Act of 2014.  Opponents of the bill nicknamed it the "Guns Everywhere Bill".  An organization called GeorgiaCarry heavily lobbied Georgia's legislature, resulting in the bill passing 112-58 in the House and 37-18 in the Senate, sending the bill to Governor Deal's desk.

The bill defines where individuals may carry concealed weapons, provided they have a concealed weapons permit.  In the United States, people have the right to own firearms.  In some states, carrying a concealed weapon is allowed, even in public, again, provided the gun owner has a state-issued concealed carry permit.  That, in and of itself, may or may not register high on your societal radar.  What makes this law so shocking are the places that are included where one may carry a concealed weapon.

The law allows for weapons to be brought into such places as airports (although only in certain sections), bars, churches, government buildings, and school zones.  Not every single one of those in the state of Georgia, but all of those types of locations are now fair game for weapons.

Let us look at each of those types of locations briefly:
Airports -- You cannot bring firearms past TSA checkpoints, but all the way up to a TSA checkpoint is apparently legal.  The law allows guns at airport areas like drives, parking lots, walkways, and various other areas outside of the screening section.  Hey, no problems can arise by allowing firearms in those areas ... right?
Bars -- Haven't there been too many shooting incidents at bars and other alcohol-serving locations?  Now, it will be legally okay for firearms to be brought into some locations where people go to get impaired.
Churches -- This one probably befuddles me the most.  While there have already been shooting incidents at churches, what kind of theology says it is just fine to bring a firearm to worship and other church function?  What kind of God are you worshiping?  I understand that the law is a legal function, not a religious one, but the two previous questions are applicable to those who bring firearms to church.
Government buildings -- While some might say they would like to go into government buildings to get government working properly via a scare tactic involving a firerarm, merely expressing their frustration, how many shooting incidents  have there been in Georgia's legislative body's buildings and other government buildings?  Is it that high of a number?  Even more specifically the law allows for weapons in government buildings that have no security personnel operating on alert (i.e. screening or preventing access).  Do those government employees, "non-essential government personnel", feel safer now?
School zones -- All of the hub-bub about having guns in schools since the Sandy Hook shooting a year-and-a-half ago was used as a catalyst by the NRA has been completely out of proportion.  This seems to be an NRA-reasoned motivation.  However, my question is what does the state of Georgia consider as a school zone?  Doesn't a school zone include high schools?  Since you have to be at least eighteen years of age to own a firearm in the state of Georgia, would a high school senior who is eighteen still remain in compliance with the law if he/she brought a firearm to school?  It, then, would be illegal to kill students and faculty, but legal to bring the weapon used into the school in the first place.

I am reminded of the following quotations.  One from the biblical texts, namely the gospel of Matthew, and the other two other ways of expressing the same idea.  (The last one is attributed to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.)
"Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword."
"He who lives by the sword, dies by the sword."
"Violence begets violence."

What does all of this "more guns" rhetoric and action say about us?  Is it that we are being proactive to the ills of society, specifically gun violence?  Is it that people are standing up for freedom?  Or is it something else?

Since it seems as though the second amendment of the U.S. Constitution is kicked around like a soccer ball, but it is, after all, germane to this issue, let us look at the amendment:
"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State,
the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

Let me say right up front that I have no problem with responsible individuals who are not mentally challenged to own a gun or a rifle.  I am a pacifist and I would prefer no one had guns, but I respect a person's right to own a firearm and to protect him/herself.  I would also add hunting for food, not for mere sport.

Does protecting yourself require or mandate owning a firearm?  Absolutely not.  That is just one way to do so.  There are ways to go excessive, such as using semi-automatic/automatic firearms or chemicals (i.e. saran gas, acid), or continuing to harm someone once you have stopped them. 

Getting back to the second amendment, does it, in and of itself, deal solely with the right to own firearms?  Well, yes and no.  It clearly includes the phrase "the right of the people to keep and bear arms".  That means individuals, doesn't it.  Yes.  Where the "no" comes in is why.  What was the reasoning for the inclusion of this amendment by the founders of the country and the wording used?  That leads to a division regarding the why.  

To consider the reason behind the amendment, it is necessary to consider the reasons behind our forebearers coming to this country.  In short, very short, they were oppressed in their native lands: religious intolerance (As the King goes, so goes the kingdom), inequitable and unreasoned taxation, imprisonment, and violence, among other things.  King George III was no ball of laughs, on European and North American soil.  I would venture to say that our forebearers knew from experience that uprising against their government when it is being unfair or oppressive to its people was not only good, but necessary for a truly free State.  If they were unable to defend themselves as a people in the land where they had been brought up, then they were certainly going to establish being able to do so in the country they were forming from scratch.

That leads us into the intent behind the amendment.  I would suggest that our forebearers did not feel the mere possession of firearms was a singular done-deal in the pursuit of forming "a more perfect union".  Look at England, for one example, today.  Their gun violence is incredibly lower than ours and its citizens are not marching in the streets, taking to the Internet, or trying to overrun Parliament for the right to bear arms ... or to have more firearms among the population.  A mere coincidence?  I do not believe so.

While "the right of people to bear arms" is highlighted over and over again when citing the the second amendment in gun debates, the phrase "A well regulated Militia" tends to get grossly overlooked.  I see the amendment as an affirmation of the right to bear arms in response, if it goes that far, to an oppressive government.  We have a passive passing of the torch from the loser to the winner with every political election, but our forebearers felt this new country's citizens had the right to rise up against its government, which they felt they did not before.  

"A well regulated Militia" is not the same as every individual, or as many individuals as possible, owning firearms.  Thus, it is also not the expanding of how many people have firearms, or where firearms can be allowed.  

And that leads us -- there's a lot of leading us today, isn't there? -- to what the amendment covers.  It is the division that, quite honestly, doesn't get a lot of attention.  Does the second amendment cover solely individual rights (the mere possession of a firearm) or does it cover society at large (used for the greater good)?  While I believe in the individual's right to protect him/herself or to hunt for sustenance, I do not believe the second amendment is the fully appropriate ground on which to base gun debates.  I have heard no one publicly claim, clearly and succinctly, that the second amendment relates solely to the greater good.  What I hear is it's all about individual rights.  If, for example, every individual in a city owned a firearm, then that is not a well regulated militia.  It is simply a bunch of individuals who own weapons.  Nothing more, nothing less.

In the 2008 case District of Columbia v. Heller, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the amendment was about individuals' rights, although it said specifically that it was to protect "a personal right to keep and bear arms for lawful purposes, most notably for self-defense within the home."  In 2010, it affirmed that state and local governments do not have the right to supersede or impinge on its earlier ruling.  

I am yet to be convinced how the right to own a firearm to protect yourself is the same thing as the right to overthrow an oppressive government.


Sunday, April 13, 2014


If you have been paying attention to the news for the past ... oh, say ... few decades, perhaps you have heard the arguments on both sides, pro and con, good and bad, etc., that fall under the umbrella of the "science versus religion" debate.  In the past few decades that debate has really heated up.  An example of the latest fanning of the flames is the Fox Television miniseries Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson, which is a reboot of the 1980 miniseries Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, which was hosted by Carl Sagan. 

In both miniseries, the science that explains our humanity, its place in the cosmic space/time continuum, and the cosmos itself take center stage.  Sagan's elucidation thirty-four years ago spawned a renewed interest in the scientific world.  Of course, it is too soon to see what effect Tyson's rebooting will have.  However, to hear the chorus of voices on the religion side of the religion vs. science argument, you would think the mere presence of this program on television is detrimental to all of society.  Apparently, the power of the channel-changer and "Off" buttons still eludes some folks' comprehension.  (Do those same folks label that same power as myth?)

On the website, the following question was posed: Can science and religion coexist?  A number of comments were about one being better than the other, some to the point of putdowns and even condemnation of the other.  Obviously, such divisive comments are unhelpful.  However, here is what I found so interesting (and amusing): it was split down the middle -- 50% saying yes and 50% saying no.

To be fair, in understanding the human condition, it is both easy and normative to side with one side of an argument, especially if that side appeals to you on some level (i.e. makes more sense to you, holds more credence).  That doesn't seem so unusual, does it?  After all, that is the nature of the debate.  There are also times when neither side of an argument is one with which someone can agree or align ... because neither side holds a lot of weight or because both sides hold equal weight.  Additionally, there are those who say they have no interest in the debate itself.  (Sometimes, this is expressed in an American idiom: I have no dog in that fight.)

I would describe myself as having an interest in both sides of the debate, science and religion, but not in the debate itself.  I will explain later.

I mentioned that the science vs. religion debate has been heating up in the past few decades.  While true, it has been going far, far longer.  One example, for starters, reaches back more than eighty years.  Bishop Fulton J. Sheen was a Roman Catholic priest and a master communicator.  In 1930, he began hosting a radio program titled The Catholic Hour, which ran for two decades and had an estimated audience as high as four million listeners.  Most of his talks centered around two World Wars, the evils of communism, and turning away from God.

In 1951, Bishop Sheen began a weekly program on a new medium called "television" called Life is Worth Living, which ran for six years.  Bishop Sheen returned to television in a syndicated series The Fulton Sheen Program, which ran for seven years from 1961 to 1968. Bishop Sheen was conservative in his religious views -- keep in mind that is "conservative" 50's and 60's style -- but he was popular with a mass viewership. 

In fact, one of television's first and biggest stars was Milton Berle, who hosted Texaco Star Theater on NBC, and was known by two nicknames "Mr. Television" and "Uncle Miltie".  When Bishop Sheen's program, did far better in the same time slot as Texaco Star Theater, Berle was noted as saying that, if he would be edged out of top spot in the ratings, "it's better that I lose to the One for whom Bishop Sheen is speaking."  Bishop Sheen responded by saying that perhaps people should start calling him "Uncle Fultie".  Upon receiving an Emmy Award, Sheen quipped, "I feel it is time I pay tribute to my four writers -- Matthew, Mark, Luke and John."

He was prolific, with works on television, on audio, and in nearly eighty books.  His second book, Religion Without God, originally published in 1928, included the following quote:
Wow! A radical interpretation, indeed, considering it was more than eighty-five years ago! Would many twenty-first century conservatives say, or agree with, that?

For decades, I have heard this science-versus-religion debate and I have been confused by it time and time again; I truly do not get it.  The question that has come to mind time and time again is What's the point?

Does there need to be a paradigm of opposition between the two?  Is it really a matter of right versus wrong?  Can there truly be an absolute to be found in a one-is-better-than-the-other inquiry?

Let me take another recent example: Higgs boson, or "The God Particle".  I won't go into all of the details here, mostly because much of it is above my understanding, but it is, in the simplest (but not fully descriptive) terms I can find, the presence of creating something from nothing (mass from non-mass).  Imagine that, something from nothing.  In the biblical text, the same idea is expressed: 
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
And the earth was without form, and void;and darkness was upon the face of the deep.
(Book of Genesis 1:1-2a)

A book that was written back in the fifteenth century B.C. expresses the idea of creating something out of nothing.  Fantasy, you say?  Religious babble, you argue?  Just a lucky guess?  (That one is easy to say in hindsight.)  Okay then, let us assume that position for a moment.  The Higgs boson, which was first theorized in the mid-1960's, was discovered to be real last year, roughly three-and-a-half millennia after the book of Genesis was written. A silly little one-liner could be: "Hey, science, what took you so long?" or "It's about time!"  

On a serious note, however, a deeper look, using a science-versus-religion template, could reveal the following scientifically-leaning responses:
"Science actually did what was claimed to have been done by God."
"It is not real if it cannot be done or proven using science."
"Science is God."

Some in the religious community were actually up in arms about this pursuit and eventual discovery.  Religiously-leaning responses could be:
"Humanity trying to prove it can do what only God can do."
"Humanity trying to be God."

These types of responses, and others similar to them, stem from both scientific and religious absolutism.  The scientifically-leaning responses mentioned above likely come from a place inside that is governed by a "no proof, no good" sensibility.  The religiously-leaning responses likely stem from a sense of feeling authoritatively threatened.  There is literally nothing wrong with putting a high value on science or on religion, or even for both to be held in high regard by the same person.  However, when one is purported to be better than the other in the absolute, and that absolutism is purported to be right for everyone, then that stems from arrogance.

Religion will sometimes speak of awe and wonder.  Many times, stories in the Bible of people experiencing those things are examples for the religiously faithful.  Many times, it is extolling the power of experiencing the world itself and experiencing those things that take place.  

Science has awe and wonder, too.  Imagine the scientist or scientific team making an unexpected discovery or forming a new branch of science.  Imagine those of us who see the fruits of scientific labor (i.e. slowing or stopping the progression of disease) and, if not filled with awe are, at the very least, filled with wonder.  When my mother was in the hospital last year, the attending nurse took her temperature by rolling a device that resembled a pen across her forehead.  (I believe the same device is available publicly.)  I just stood there in awe.  The nurse was young and when I commented on that thermometer, she said she, too, was amazed at "what's out there".  I responded by saying she will likely be taken aback at what's out there in another twenty years.

I have felt awe and wonder in religious settings and I feel awe and wonder, like my example above, at what science can do and how far it has come.  Am I "wrong" or "odd" for feeling that?  Am I just making that up?  I can only tell you from experience, and my answer to both of those questions is no.  

It has been said that religion "fills in the gaps", albeit without quantifiably filling them, of things we don't understand ... and religion views what is unknown, most often linked or attributed to God, as being sometimes okay to not be known.  It teaches how to live not just with awe and wonder, and not even just respect and reverence, but also how to live with mystery.  Science attempts to seek answers and to fill in the gaps with quantifiable answers.  Science is okay with not having answers, but it will seek the answers.  Thus, while also having awe and wonder, science is not comfortable with mystery.

Typically, religious responses to scientific questions or pursuits are not always welcomed by the scientific community or by scientifically-leaning individuals.  The same can be said about scientific responses to religious questions and pursuits within the religious community.  Two questions come to mind, one is only slightly sarcastic and the other is more serious: "So what?" and "How often do the answers from different disciplines match up exactly or very closely, anyway?"

The answer to all of this, in short, is that one community commenting on another is fine, but it is imperative to keep in mind that different communities, cited here as the religious and the scientific communities, are not meant to fully address the actions of the other.  In addition to that, it needs to be kept in the forefront of our minds that different disciplines are meant to have different answers. Their various answers are just that -- their various answers.  There is no one-size-fits-all ... never has been, is not, and never will be.

Religion, if it is done right, provides a sense of community and togetherness to its adherents, and its pursuits must be to benefit not only themselves, but the world at large.  Science's togetherness is more among those in the scientific community, while its pursuits, if done right, benefit both those in and outside of the scientific community.  Notice any similarity?  Two different means, one similar end.

Both religion and science are human creations with their own sets of pursuits and truths.  For me, it can be equally argued that God gave us the ability to create and to pursue because that it what we are meant to do, and we are simply using those innate abilities. One type of argument resonates with some people and the other argument resonates with other people. That is just fine.  If done right, both religion and science, even if not compatible in some aspects, need not be at odds with one another.

And that leads me back to my original premise.  The argument is null ... the debate is non-existent ... the opposition is manufactured.  The debate is nothing more than a way to label, limit, and divide us.

And what's the point of that?