Category Archives: Reason to Live

The Right Time to Start Talking About Gun Control

Now is not the right time to start talking about gun control. The right time to talk about it was probably September 7th, 1949, after 13 died in the Camden, New Jersey shootings. So, if we’re late to the conversation, we should still have it.

The Second Amendment was created not for national defense or for personal defense, but to allow states to have their own militias to suppress slave rebellions, out of fear that a federal army made up of troops from states opposed to slavery would not assist in suppressing slave rebellions. Following the Civil War, the emphasis shifted to maintaining White control of economics and politics through exclusive access to firearms. Whenever Blacks or Hispanics defended themselves from White mobs with firearms, they were swiftly and surely prosecuted and punished by Whites for daring to disturb the White supremacy.

At its roots, the Second Amendment has always, always been about racial oppression and inequality. There is mythology and propaganda placed around it to obscure those roots, but let us deal in truth. It is a legacy of America’s slaveholding past. It continues to be a right that has a “Whites Only” ring to it all too often for it to be a truly universal right. The solution to America’s gun violence problem is to first acknowledge that we no longer have any danger of a slave rebellion and that we want all people to live in freedom, safety, and equality. Then we acknowledge that it is still possible to have personal weapon ownership, but with restrictions. There are dozens of examples around the world of democratic, peaceful nations that have both regulated personal weapon ownership and murder rates much lower than in the USA.

That’s not to say that murders and gun violence are non-existent in nations with regulations. It’s that the gun violence is at a much, much lower rate. Imagine what it would be like here if, instead of having 17 mass shootings in the last 10 days that took 33 lives and hospitalized 76, we had only one? I’d rather none, but one instead of 17 is a start. In the last 10 *years*, Germany has had only 21 killed and 65 hospitalized as a result of mass shootings, and they permit regulated personal weapon ownership.

When, in our nation, we have lost more in 10 days than another has lost in 10 years, we have to confront our present with a realization that we have built up walls of illusions about weapon ownership that prevent us from seeing the truth and the better place we can be if we begin to have the conversation that should have started 73 years ago… or even before that… but we need to have the conversation and we need to be willing to compromise from all-or-nothing stances to find a solution that will work for reducing America’s gun violence. We have to believe in and have hope that such a solution can be found, and that it can be lasting. We have to be ready to shed our idols and happy illusions so that we can be comfortable with the truth as our chief tool that will build the future we want to live in.

I don’t want to exclude anyone from the conversation: even if you’re a White Supremacist, it’s time to have the discussion about reasonable regulations on personal weapon ownership, along the lines of any of the dozens of other democratic nations that have implemented them with success. We can look to Australia, Germany, Canada, Norway, Switzerland, Israel, Japan, UK, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, and many others. When we make peace our path, a better world is our destination.

The Poor Shall Never Cease

“For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore, I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thy hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land.” – Deuteronomy 15:11

In the New Testament, Jesus underlined this teaching of Moses’ many times. Since then, men have made excuses for not observing this commandment. Many of these excuses are ultimately connected to an addiction to money.

An addiction to money is a serious and real thing. The addict wants to gather up as much of the stuff as possible, more than could be used sanely by any one person in life. That excess is seen as necessary, and the addict makes up all manner of falsehoods to justify not giving away freely what is not needed to sustain life.

If you make excuses or reservations or qualifications about how to fulfill the command to open your hand – and not just barely open, but wide – to the poor and needy, who are equated as brothers to you, then that is the addiction to money speaking. You need to find help so that you have a healthier relationship to money that does not involve a dependency. There are people at all levels of means who are able to open wide their hands to their brothers. As we heal ourselves of addictive behaviors towards money, we join with them in healing the world.

The Doctrine of God

There is a passage of scripture: “Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but behold, this is my doctrine, that such things be done away.”

In a culture in which online behavior that arises out of aggression and conflict is rewarded, we have to be willing to forgo the likes and comments that result from aggression and conflict, for such things are not of God, and therefore not of either Truth nor Love.

Truth and Love compel us to do away with anger, one against another. Truth and Love compel us to allow our hearts to be moved with compassion, one towards another. Truth and Love compel us to allow our hearts to be moved with forgiveness, one towards another. Truth and Love compel us to allow our hearts to be moved with peace, that our words and actions also bring peace. That is how “such things be done away.” Not with silent death, but with peaceful life.

Suffering in Righteousness

In my reading this Sunday morning, I encountered the idea of righteous suffering with no reward on earth for it. In other words, the answer to the question, “Does God grant every wish of the righteous in their lifetimes?” is no. God does not.

So then why be righteous? It is because of something unseen, something much bigger than what our eyes can perceive now and something our hearts and minds are not ready for without preparation. We learn from both Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that suffering in righteousness is an act of devotion. It is an act of love. It is an act of purifying the soul.

True righteous suffering, however, is not suffering alone. There is a peace and an understanding that comes with it, a forgiveness and a love for the persecutors that is hard to explain to the unprepared. But, as one prepares in faith and deepening understanding, it becomes known and part of one.

An Eternal Thought

What we term tragedies and terrible losses here on earth… how many of them will prove to be critical to our souls as we strive to attain one-ness and unity after our mortality ends?

There is more than what we see or live through. Peace teaches us to understand beyond the senses or the living experience. Therefore, seek peace.

Anger Without a Cause: A Misplaced Phrase

“But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment…” – Matthew 5:22, KJV

Biblical scholarship has determined that the phrase “without a cause” is an incorrect translation and should not be there. Some scholars, like Jerome, caught it very early on in terms of New Testament history. Nevertheless, the phrase persisted in some translations, such as the King James Version. Someone involved in compiling and composing the New Testament must have felt strongly that there has to be some kind of anger that could be justified.

But, if there is a cause to be angry, who serves as the gatekeeper to those causes? The victim of a crime or fraud? A judge or watchman? A committee that meets biweekly? All of these things I’ve mentioned are human sources, and I don’t trust any of them to not make mistakes. And if “without a cause” was placed there – and kept there – by someone who felt that all causes to be angry were justifiable, then I have to ask, who is actually angry without *any* cause, justified or not?

If the argument goes that only God can express anger, then we see a God who has told us to forgive others, completely and without exception. We see a God who told us to love our neighbors and to bless those who persecute us. We see a God who teaches compassion, generosity, and unconditional love in his parable of the Good Samaritan. This is a God who asks us to not be angry with our brother.

Yes, the flashes and flares of anger will arise. And then, God asks of us that we still our minds, to slow down our thinking, and find the healing calm within.

I found that being conscious about my anger has led to a rather rapid transformation in how I interpret bad driving. I used to say hard words about drivers that impeded my forward progress in one way or another. Then, I started saying “I forgive you for cutting me off” or whatever the offense was. In doing that, I noticed the offense was all in my mind. I didn’t have to be offended by what the other driver did. It may still have been a reckless maneuver, but I began to shift to think more on the lines of “I hope that driver is all right” and wonder what stress would push a person to drive like that. Was it an emergency? Deep emotional pain? Foolishness that hopefully does not result in an accident? I find that in forgetting my anger, my heart draws out to a stranger.

A Continuing Cycle

A common theme among instructors covering The Book of Mormon is that the Nephites, the main social group discussed in the book’s narrative, pass through cycles of repentance, prosperity, increasing wickedness, and then calamity that leads to repentance. But the nature of that increasing wickedness is typically left unsaid. It’s just general wickedness in most pedagogical narratives, and the instructors pass over it.

But Mormon does not: in Helaman 6, he cites the source of all the Nephite woes to those among them who seek power and wealth. The external forces of their tribal opponents can be managed, due to the defensive nature of their lands. It’s the internal threat brought on by a love of power and riches that destroys the Nephites from within. In Helaman 6:38-39, Mormon describes the Nephite state, brought under the influence of philosophies contrary to those of humility and communal sharing: “… the Nephites did build them up and support them, beginning at the more wicked part of them, until they had overspread all the land of the Nephites, and had seduced the more part of the righteous until they had come down to believe in their works and partake of their spoils, and to join with them in their secret murders and combinations. And thus they did obtain the sole management of the government, insomuch that they did trample under their feet and smite and rend and turn their backs upon the poor and the meek, and the humble followers of God.”

The last line is most telling, as it connects the Nephites to the people of ancient Jerusalem, who were denounced by Jeremiah for how they oppressed the poor and the meek. Indeed, in verse 40, Mormon says, “… they were in an awful state, and ripening for an everlasting destruction.”

In the United States, there is an increasingly disturbing trend that arises from ultra-conservative social groups towards glossing over inequalities in American history, government, and economics. These ultra-conservatives are in a group that benefits from a historical narrative that glosses over their ideological ancestors’ faults. Namely, discussions of slavery, indentured servitude, denial of civil rights, racial discrimination, and institutionalized stratification of society along racial and class lies are topics that they do not want to see discussed in schools, even though their policy agenda promotes many of those very things.

These ultra-conservative groups are no longer fringe elements in the US polity. They have been able to gain control over a major political party and continue to preach their falsehoods from multiple media channels, winning over more adherents to their philosophies that “trample under their feet and smite and rend and turn their backs upon the poor and the meek.” We see this in resistance to police reform, support of monuments to the Confederacy, refusal to engage in discussion with proponents of civil rights, mass “voter cleanup” efforts that strip huge tranches of minority voters of their rights, and further manipulation of the electoral process, from district mapping on down to polling locations, to minimize the voting impact of minorities and thereby seal their electoral victories.

I see such efforts as parallel to those that Mormon decried, and see these contributing to the USA’s “ripening for an everlasting destruction.”

In a world of increasingly technological complexity, the anti-intellectualism prominent in much of the ultra-conservative movement leaves the USA less able to compete successfully with hostile actors from outside our nation. Cybersecurity in particular is a deep and profound weakness that the USA cannot address through outsourcing or even robotic automation. It’s an area that requires more extensive technological training among home-grown resources, who are paid well enough to remain in their positions over time in order to provide adequate defense against constant attacks from abroad. That, in turn, requires an educational system that is properly funded, and that, in turn, would lead to the undermining of ultra-conservative power that depends upon a weak educational system for the twofold purpose of keeping minority populations disorganized through a lack of education and that, for their paradoxical ideologies to survive, rational thinking among the broader population must be kept to a minimum.

The lack of full civil rights for all Americans further undermines the position of the USA as a leader among democratic nations. As we take hypocritical stances towards other nations that oppress their populations, they need only point to the USA’s own oppressed peoples as giving the lie to our position. They carry on with their oppressions and we are left as hypocrites, unable to clean our own house because doing so would result in the ultra-conservative faction losing its pathways to power.

Economically, within my lifetime I have seen how home prices have gone from dear but affordable to impossible for most to finance. I have seen wages remain stagnant over the years as the nation’s rich have reaped the benefits that should have been shared with all participants in their enterprises more equitably. I say “more equitably”, as that used to be a thing in the USA – as a business profited, so did its employees, once upon a time. Now, in the name of “shareholder value”, those profits are denied the rank-and-file and sent upwards, to those who really don’t need all of them. Should someone bring up a “small businessman” shibboleth, let me assure one and all that the “small businessman” does not benefit from the economic structures that ensure the wealth of those who are rich enough to have the ears of the legislatures at their beck and call. My own children do not have the same hoped-for life trajectory that I was able to take advantage of. Wages are simply too low and house prices are simply too high. As we become a nation of renters, the economic inequality makes the USA increasingly more rigid along class and racial lines. Upward social mobility, it would seem, was an aberration of another age and not the general long-term pattern in the USA. It is an exception, not at all the rule.

For the overwhelming majority of African-Americans, it wasn’t even an exception. Slavery, black codes, Jim Crow laws, segregation, discriminatory lending practices, whites-only provisions in The New Deal and GI Bill laws, states using the 10th Amendment to fight federal civil rights provisions, and conservative manipulation of the federal court system, up to and including the Supreme Court, to vacate anti-segregation legal provisions have all served to prevent that demographic group from participating on an equal standing with Anglo-Americans. While several other European immigrant groups have been able to merge into the general Anglo-American elites in the USA, not so for immigrants from Latin America, Asia, or modern Africa. To be sure, the only non-immigrant group in the USA, Native Americans, is also kept out of the benefits enjoyed by the Anglo-American elite.

I firmly believe that while history never precisely repeats itself, it rhymes time and time again. Modern US society parallels what I see in Helaman 6 in The Book of Mormon. As such, I have to brace myself for the horrors to come, courtesy of the ultra-conservatives who forgot that the very person they claim to follow, Jesus Christ, warned strongly about allowing social and economic divisions to fester.

The Postwar Period in Alma

The major conflict between the Nephites and the Lamanites led by Nephite dissenters – an opportunistic foreign intervention into an ongoing Nephite civil war, one could say – ended in the 31st year of the judges, as noted in Alma 62:39. “And thus they had had wars, and bloodsheds, and famine, and affliction, for the space of many years. And there had been murders, and contentions, and dissensions, and all manner of iniquity among the people of Nephi.” While Mormon is quick to cite the righteous prayers and deeds immediately after that summary, he is equally quick to note that many Nephites and Lamanites had become hardened because of the length and intensity of the conflict.

Looking back at the summary I quoted, the narrative already explained the wars and bloodsheds to some extent. The famine had been mentioned in passing, but no details on how many people were impacted and when and how deep it went. Given that Mormon stated that he did not want to dwell on such things, it may well have been a significant, extended famine, and the suffering from it likely impacting the faith of the survivors. The next sentence mentions murders and contentions, which one could attribute solely to the Lamanite armies until one considers how, in times of war, the disruption in normal law and order opens up opportunities for people to commit murders and other crimes out of a desire to settle an old grudge. The Nephite polity had many cities that did not always respect each others’ borders: what happens when an overarching authority that prevents such tribal disputes is removed? Murders and contentions are what happens, and they can continue well after the resumption of civil authority, until such a time as the civil authority is able to exert itself to end the ongoing violence.

Then there is the word “dissensions.” In today’s term, we would call such people “collaborators.” Both people who were willing to switch sides as well as those forced into serving the conquerors could be seen as collaborators, and as such, would be hated by the survivors once the conquerors departed. Add in the element of famine, and there opens up a possible reference to “all manner of iniquity” – women either volunteering or being forced by their families into prostitution in exchange for food. During and following the Allied liberation of Axis-conquered territories in World War Two, there was famine and there were many women who were willing to exchange sex for food – such an arrangement is not novel to that conflict, but is as old as armies themselves.

Given the generally secondary position women have had historically, it becomes very easy to demonize and dehumanize women who slept with the enemy. They become the scapegoats that the nation can heap its emasculated shame upon and, in their punishment, forget the less obvious collaborations done by the men. And while the text is not explicit in mentioning such things, I believe it would be fair to assume that, as in other conflicts, such things did happen and that the Nephites found them to be damnable, justified in that damning or not.

The war itself saw a second wave of Nephite civil violence, with its perpetrators forced to take oaths to support the Nephite state or be killed. I’d imagine that the families of the slain along with those who were forced into supporting the rule of the judges would be in the number of those who had become hardened. Conversions made as an alternative to being put to death are not long-lasting.

Also among the hardened would be any Nephites who saw the brutality of the occupation through murdered relatives, mass graves, rapes, forced servitude, and unjust imprisonments and determined that God wasn’t there because of the sufferings endured. They were targeted in part because of their faith: so why didn’t their faith save everyone? Why didn’t it at least save a bigger fraction than it did? Why did the Sons of Helaman get chosen to survive all battles without loss of life and not the rest of the Nephite armies? There are deep philosophical and spiritual discussions to go with such questions, but the askers could also be asking rhetorically because they’ve already concluded from their doubts that God isn’t listening, doesn’t care, or doesn’t exist. And if they’re done with God, they’re likely to be done being a people who are targeted because they are lumped in with those who still believe as they once did.

I’ve cataloged a few groups of people who would be uncomfortable under a resumed rule of the judges, as it begins to be re-established in the 31st year. There are likely more nuances to the historical situation, which would produce additional groups of dissatisfied people. I’m sure the numbers grew when Moroni refortified the land after the conflict ended – people who expected the depredations of war to be over would not be happy about the mandatory labor duty in preparing for the next war.

On the ecclesiastical side, the religious leader Helaman undertakes an effort to repair the damage of war done to the faith communities of his fellow-believers. This would be no easy thing, to rebuild churches – including those that may have been used as scenes of atrocities by the invaders. In any war, but especially one targeting a religious group, there are always stories of people being forced into a house of worship which is then set on fire or collapsed. Like Mormon, I will not dwell on them here, but I will mention them as a matter for the religious leaders to consider. Does one rebuild such a building, or does one instead create a memorial? Or does one wipe the evidence out, so that future generations will not be troubled by the history? These are not easy questions.

In 62:47, the text notes that laws were made and judges were chosen. Seeing as how the judges were initially elected and then handed down their judgeship father to son, the only reason to choose new judges would be because something happened to the previous judges. Either they were killed by the attackers, they fled and failed to submit to their duties, or they voluntarily collaborated with the attackers and became tainted in the eyes of the rest of the government. But even if they fled or collaborated, they still knew the law and still likely came from aristocratic families, so they would have some claim on returning to their positions. The worst would be punished, the rest forgiven.

That kind of forgiveness would be part of an overall fatigue regarding the war. The people want it all to just end. After World War Two, such men of position were easily integrated into the postwar governments and a myth of national unity during the war developed to cloak their collaborations and crimes. Ironically, those who resisted the invaders found themselves more likely to be arrested and imprisoned after the war than those who collaborated – could that be something also happening among the Nephites?

Considering that there had been many murders and bloodsheds, consider the case of a group of Nephites that heads to the wilderness, rather than remain in a city under Lamanite rule. Such a group would survive not on sedentary farming, but on mobile banditry. They would have to learn, early on, that they cannot afford the luxury of prisoners and were compelled to strike at collaborationists and their families to destabilize the occupying authority enough to permit their survival in the bush. They justify their acts in the name of resistance and carry on with them. When the war ends, how can they be properly reintegrated into urban society? How do the victims of their attacks feel about that? What if an absent/collaborationist judge is restored to authority, do the bandits/freedom fighters decide that the war isn’t over until they’ve killed off the collaborators that the government is too ineffectual to punish on its own? And now we have another group of potential dissenters in a postwar world.

The rest of Alma 62 speaks to the urge to see everyone coming together after the conflict. Mormon speaks at length of the Nephites collectively as a more righteous people and perhaps that did happen. But I don’t think that it was universal, especially with details that come out in the last chapter of Alma, Alma 63.

Alma 63 starts in the 36th year of the judges, so the Nephites have been rebuilding and recovering for five years. The shock of the conflict would largely have worn off and people are likely beginning to think about building new instead of repairing past damage.

In Alma 63:4, Mormon describes “a large company of men… with their wives and their children” that leaves the Nephite lands and heads northward in the 37th year. They do not go South, to the Lamanites, but head out in a third way. While they do not see a future among the Lamanites as did earlier groups of Nephite dissenters, they also do not see a future with the Nephites. The number of men cited, 5400, is a fairly large group, not just a single family structure. For them to depart with their families, maybe a group of 20,000 people or so, notes that this movement is not a whimsical thing, but the result of some determined planning.

Such a move would not likely be because of a lack of available land. If anything, the depopulation of the war would open up more land and place an overall higher value on human labor. So, unless the land existed under some kind of feudal structure that kept large parts off-hands to the general peasantry, there is a different reason for their departure. Because Mormon is quick to point out economic disparities as wickedness and is not doing so here, that is another indication that this migration is not likely due to economic pressures.

So who goes north in this group, 6 years after the war ends? Are they people who simply want nothing more to do with a land and a faith that did not live up to their expectation? Are they former resisters or collaborators or king-men who can’t stand living in a land that has become something they now find foreign to them? Are they families whose women were raped and they no longer want to face a society that constantly shames them collectively?

As I ask those questions, we have room for all those possibilities as Mormon describes other migrations northward by sea routes. All through the 37th year, “there were many of the Nephites who… took their course northward.” The movements continued in the 38th year, with mentions of ships not returning and people who took provisions northward not returning indicating that the Nephites have lost contact with those migrants. While it’s possible disasters befell a number of migrant groups, overall it speaks to the idea of a people unable to abide postwar Nephite society, for whatever reasons. With a group of Nephites going over to the Lamanites in the 39th year and inciting a war against a single city, the postwar period is looking increasingly troubled.

While there were many Nephites who came together and rebuilt their lands and cities with a positive, forward-looking attitude, the migrations and outright dissension mentioned in Alma 63 point to a more complicated picture, one in which the Nephites are left questioning the system that they have and making choices to opt out of that system and to try their chances elsewhere. Given the length and severity of the conflict described in Alma, it’s quite likely that the war with the Lamanites opened up a wide range of potential inner conflicts between Nephite factions and allowed them to be expressed violently. The end of the war with the Lamanites did *not* end the Nephite inner conflicts. Those inner conflicts are the likely drivers behind the migrations and dissensions and come to a greater crisis point in the book of Helaman.