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Slaves to Greatness

We often say in this country that the United States of America is the greatest country in the world. As an American, I believe it is too.

But I don’t see this as a fact, but as a matter of opinion. It’s more like the USA is my favorite country.

But when we say it’s the greatest country in the world, what are we measuring its greatness by? Here are some reasons that people say the US is the greatest country.

  • diversity
  • freedom
  • government system
  • opportunity
  • military might
  • power
  • achievements and advancements we’ve made and our contributions to the world in terms of inventions, technology, exploring uncharted territory, and science
  • Some say it’s because we’re the most important or influential country.
  • standard of living and wealth
  • capitalism
  • economy
  • culture
  • natural beauty
  • people
  • principles
  • resilience
  • the nature of our revolution
  • patriotism
  • adherence to religion
  • American dream
  • drive

Out of all these things, most people tend to focus on the idea that we are the world’s “superpower.” And God forbid anyone tells us that we’re not the best, especially if that person is an American. Then they are a traitor. Because in America we don’t just want to be the best, we have to be the best. And to most Americans being the best ties in heavily with being the most powerful or the most important or the most prestigious. And we are terrified of the idea of not being the best. And to many Americans, our country is the greatest as a result of this desire.

But this isn’t just true of our country as a collective whole. The reason that our country as a whole has this attitude is because so many individual people have this attitude. Oftentimes parents’ social status are dependent on what kind of grades their kid is getting in school, or what college their kid is going to, or whether or not their kid even goes to college, or what profession their kid chooses, or if their kid has an internship by their junior year of college or not.

Or people are often defined by what kind of stuff they have. We always have to have the latest technology. Recently in September the iPhone 6 came out. And there are always people who when something like that is released CAMP OUTSIDE THE STORE SO THEY CAN BE ONE OF THE FIRST TO BUY IT. The iPhone 5S came out a year before that around the same time, and iPhones have a pretty good lifespan. The iPhone 5S could certainly last you more than a year. But nope gotta have the iPhone 6 because everyone else is going to have one and you don’t want to be left out. Samsung releases a new phone in their Galaxy S series every year, but for each phone in the series sometimes as soon as one month they will release a new version of that phone and every few months will release a new version of the phone. And of course people can’t have their current phone anymore; they have to have the newest thing. For those who are a bit more well-off, go out and buy a home theater system. I guarantee you within the same year your neighbor buys one too. And it will be a better home theater system than the one you bought.

This attitude even is in the heads of younger children! A kid gets a new toy (or these days maybe even a Kindle or an iPad or a tablet) and if they’re kind of a rotten kid they rub it in the face of all the kids that don’t have it to show how much better they are. It gives the kid a sense of superiority because they has a thing that the others don’t. Some of the kids are just like, oh wow that’s cool, but then move on with their lives. Other kids go home and ask their parents if they can have the thing that the little flaunty Francis has and their parents say no because they either can’t afford it or don’t want to spoil their child; some of these kids will just be like, oh okay, whatever, and move on with their lives, other ones whose view of themselves is dependent on social status will throw tantrums. Some of the parents of the kids that throw tantrums will cave, others won’t. Other kids go home and ask their parents if they can have the toy and the parents realizing that the other kid has something that their child doesn’t have to make their kid equal to this other child so they go out and buy it for him.

When people get ridiculously rich, such as professional athletes, some of them buy like 10 cars. Now maybe I’m wrong, but I can only imagine that they would do this for one of two reasons: either they are a car collecting enthusiast, or they just want to be able to say I’m so rich; look how many cars I have. Somehow to them this makes them better than other people.

When someone is engaged to someone, oftentimes others’ opinion of their choice is judged on what they do for a living or what socioeconomic class their family comes from. Or how big the diamond on the ring is.

We even sometimes judge people’s intelligence by what they do for a living. For whatever reason, it seems that many in our society don’t look at people who have blue collar professions such as mechanics and plumbers as smart, even though those jobs require a lot of problem solving skills. Yet we call them “unskilled laborers.”

With all this in mind, I think we really need to take a look at how we define greatness.

One disturbing fact is that the reason we give Alexander the Great his “Great” epithet is because of how he conquered so many lands. Is that what makes someone great?

We give Peter the Great, one of the czars of Russia, “the Great” because he brought many elements of Western culture to Russia, ignoring the fact that he murdered his oldest son Alexei after brutally torturing him for opposing his policies and also dragged Alexei’s mother from her home on false charges of adultery and tortured. His mistress also suffered a similar fate. Oh yeah he was an adulterer too. He was a horrible human being. But because he brought elements of Western culture to Russia, he’s considered “Great.”

Charlemagne (which is French for Charles the Great) is another revered historical figure in Western culture because he conquered and united lands and became King of the Franks and Emperor of the Romans and ruled over most of western Europe. Oftentimes in his conquering of these lands his armies would massacre people and he would order people to become Christian or else face the penalty of death. But yeah, great guy.

Another son of a bitch who is a revered historical figure is none other than American President Andrew Jackson! This guy owned hundreds of slaves, killed a man in a duel over a matter of honor regarding Jackson’s wife, and ordered many indigenous Americans who refused to “assimilate” to be removed from their homes and be relocated to land west of the Mississippi River that would be known as Indian Territory in a supervised, on-foot exodus that resembled a Nazi death march where over 1,000 indigenous Americans died. But he was president and a famous war hero in the War of 1812 for winning many battles against indigenous Americans and against British soldiers and for the Battle of New Orleans, so we decided to put him on the 20!

Sounds like we have a pretty screwed up definition of greatness if these guys are viewed as great men and heroes in our culture. What do all these figures have in common? They were powerful. Both in the sense of being able to best people and being in positions of power. So in this country it seems that more than anything greatness=power. So when we say we are the best, we are saying that we are the most powerful. So as a country, we want to be the most powerful. And as individuals, we want to be of the highest status. Why? Because status=power. So as a collective whole we want our status to be the most powerful country in the world and in turn the best.

We are slaves to this desire, this deep desire to fulfill our self-esteem by achieving the highest status. But is that really greatness? After all, slave is a pretty low status. When you are a slave to a desire, it becomes a need.

In his State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama said that as a nation it is not whether we lead, but how we lead.

A few days ago was Martin Luther King Day, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a man who truly understood the meaning of greatness. He also understood the existence of this innate American desire to be first. My favorite speech ever delivered by Dr. King isn’t his “I Have a Dream” speech, but a sermon he gave called “The Drum Major Instinct,” which was played at his funeral. In this speech he demonstrates both his understanding of greatness and his understanding of the American ideal of and need for greatness. Here are some excerpts from that sermon.

“If any of you are round when I have to meet my day, I don’t want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to talk too long. Every now and then I wonder what I want them to say. Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize, that isn’t important. Tell them not to mention that I have three or four hundred other awards, that’s not important. Tell them not to mention where I went to school. I’d like somebody to mention that day, that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to give his live serving others. I’d like for somebody to say that day, that Martin Luther King Jr., tried to love somebody. I want you to say that day, that I tried to be right on the war question. I want you to be able to say that day, that I did try to feed the hungry. And I want you to be able to say that day, that I did try, in my life, to clothe those who were naked. I want you to say, on that day, that I did try, in my life, to visit those who were in prison. I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity.”

“And…Jesus goes on…to say [to James and John], ‘”But so it shall be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your servant: and whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all.”‘ The setting is clear. James and John…had dreamed as most of the Hebrews dreamed, of a coming king of Israel who would set Jerusalem free and establish his kingdom on Mount Zion, and in righteousness rule the world. And they thought of Jesus as this kind of king…and they were saying, ‘Now when you establish your kingdom, let one of us sit on the right hand and the other on the left hand of your throne.’ Now very quickly, we would automatically condemn James and John, and…say they were selfish…But before we condemn them too quickly, let us look calmly and honestly at ourselves, and we will discover that we too have those same basic desires for recognition, for importance. That same desire for attention, that same desire to be first…And there is deep down within all of us an instinct…kind of a drum major instinct…a desire to be first. And it is something that runs the whole gamut of life…we all have the drum major instinct. We all want to be important, to surpass others, to achieve distinction, to lead the parade.”

“Now the presence of this [drum major] instinct explains why we are so often taken by advertisers…they have a way of saying things to you that kind of gets you into buying. In order to be a man of distinction, you must drink this whiskey. In order to make your neighbors envious, you must drive this type of car. In order to be lovely to love you must wear this kind of lipstick or this type of perfume. And you know, before you know it, you’re just buying that stuff.”

“…the drum major instinct is real. And you know what else causes it to happen? It often causes us to live above our means…Do you ever see people buy cars that they can’t even begin to buy in terms of their income? You’ve seen people riding around in Cadillacs and Chryslers who don’t earn enough to have a good T-Model Ford. But it feeds a repressed ego.”

“…you see people over and over again with the drum major instinct taking them over. And they just live their lives trying to outdo the Joneses. They’ve got to get this coat because this particular coat is a little better than Mary’s coat. And I’ve got to drive this car because it’s something about this car that makes my car a little better than my neighbor’s car. I know a man who used to live in a $35,000. And other people started building $35,000 houses, so he built a $75,000 house. And then somebody else built a $75,000 house, and he built a $100,000 house. [(Keep in mind that this sermon was given back in 1968, so inflation has increased the dollar amount that houses cost nowadays. Back then houses worth this much were not exactly super cheap.)] And I don’t know where he’s going to end up if he’s going to live his life trying to keep up with the Joneses.”

“There comes a point where the drum major instinct can become destructive…if this instinct is not harnessed, it becomes a very dangerous, pernicious instinct…if it isn’t harnessed, it causes one’s personality to become distorted…you will end up day in and day out trying to deal with your ego problem by boasting…And then it does other things to the personality. It causes you to lie about who you know sometimes…the other thing is that it causes one to engage ultimately in activities that are merely used to get attention. Criminologists tell us that some people are driven to crime because of the drum major instinct. They don’t feel that they are getting enough attention through the normal channels of social behavior…the great final tragedy of the distorted personality is that when one fails to harness this instinct, he ends up trying to push others down in order to push himself up. And whenever you do that, you engage in the most vicious activities…the great issue of life is to harness the drum major instinct…when you don’t harness the drum major instinct–this uncontrolled aspect of it–is that it leads to snobbish exclusivism…that can happen with the church…I’ve been to churches, you know, and they say, ‘We have so many doctors…teachers…lawyers, and…businessmen in our church.’ And that’s fine, because doctors need to go to church, and lawyers, and businessmen, teachers–they ought to be in church. But they say that…as if the other people don’t count. And the church is the one place where the doctor ought to forget that he’s a doctor…a Ph. D. ought to forget that he’s a Ph. D….the…teacher ought to forget the degree she has behind her name…the lawyer ought to forget he’s a lawyer.”

“…let me rush on to my conclusion, because I want you to see what Jesus was really saying…One would have thought that Jesus would have condemned [James and John]…But that isn’t what Jesus did; he did something altogether different. He said in substance, ‘Oh, I see, you want to be first. You want to be great. You want to be important. You want to be significant. Well, you ought to be. If you’re going to be my disciple, you must be.’ But he reordered his priorities. And he said, ‘Yes, don’t give up this [drum major] instinct. It’s…good…if you use it right…if you don’t distort it and pervert it. Don’t give it up. Keep feeling the need for being important…for being first. But I want you to be first in love. I want you to be first in moral excellence. I want you to be first in generosity. That is what I want you to do.'”

“And so Jesus gave us a new norm of greatness. If you want to be important–wonderful. If you want to be recognized–wonderful. If you want to be great–wonderful. But recognize that he who is the greatest among you shall be your servant. That’s a new definition of greatness. And this morning, the thing that I like about it: by giving that definition of greatness, it means that everybody can be great, because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.”

“…if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. I won’t have any money to leave behind. I won’t have the fine luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind.”

When we ask ourselves what the greatest country in the world is or why America is the greatest country in the world, why are the first thoughts in our head not how happy our people are, or how righteous we are? Why do we not measure our greatness by how much we love each other or how our people treat each other? Why do we not measure our personal success or greatness or status this way?

The true way to be great is not to be slaves to greatness, but to be servants of love. And to make ourselves happy. What’s the point of achievement if we are never satisfied? It seems like in this country our people are insatiable and in turn our country as a whole is insatiable. Yes we should always strive to be first. But why is anything other than first a failure? Why do we have the mindset of Ricky Bobby when it comes to success? Why can’t we ever be satisfied with just doing a good job or with what we have? Why is everything in life a competition for us in America?

We value the wrong things when it comes to greatness. Dr. King showed us what real greatness really is. He showed us the power of service and sacrifice and love. And that’s why we admire him so much. We just don’t realize it. If we put the kind of greatness that he valued on a higher pedestal than the kind of greatness our country currently values, we would be a much happier country. Many wise people through history have taught us that love of others and love of self is the true way to happiness, not love of power and wealth and status, men like King, Jesus, Lao Tzu, the Buddha Siddhartha Gautama, Gandhi, the Dalai Lama, Confucius, St. Francis, Mother Theresa, etc. Yet we still choose the latter as the one we strive for. Let’s change our definition of greatness. Like the President said, it’s not whether we lead but how we lead. What’s the point of being the world’s leading power if we’re not a nation that the world want to look up to? I’m not saying that other countries around the world are any or much better than we are when it comes to this type of thing, but there are countries out there that seem to value power less and happiness and communitarianism more than we do. But as a country once again in 2014 we failed to crack the top 10 happiest countries in the world list. Maybe we would be happier if we worked together more, were less competitive, and changed our definition of greatness. Maybe this would help us live more fulfilling lives. Instead of being slaves to greatness, let’s be servants of love.

Here is a link to the written form of “The Drum Major Instinct.”

Here is a link to an audio version of the sermon on YouTube.


Productive Prisons

Around 95% of all prisoners in the United States of America will eventually be released. In a study conducted by the US Bureau of Justice Statistics that tracked over 400,000 offenders in 30 states after their release from prison in 2005, the study found that around 68% of these offenders were arrested again within 3 years of their release and that around 77% of them were arrested again within 5 years of their release. Out of the offenders who were arrested within 5 years after their release, around 57% of them were arrested within 1 year of their release. What does this mean? It means that our prison system is failing. For the most part, our prisoners are not coming out of prison better off or better people. There are two main reasons I care about this issue. One of them is that I always like to see people improve themselves and turn their lives around. Nothing warms my heart more than redemption. The other is that it means our streets aren’t getting any safer.

Why isn’t our prison system working? Because it focuses too much on punishment and not enough on rehabilitation. When Tupac Shakur was interviewed when he was in prison, the interviewer told him how people were speculating how him being in jail was going to give him a lot of inspiration and possibly lead to his best album yet. Tupac replied, “Prison kills your spirit…There is no creativity, there’s none of that.” This is not true for everyone. If you watch the show Lockup on MSNBC you will see many examples inmates’ creativity. But for many inmates, prison does kill their spirit. In fact, there’s a modern saying that prison is “criminal college.” Oftentimes what inmates learn in prison is just how to act like even more of a degenerate.

But should prison be a completely happy and positive experience? Is punishment what is crushing the spirit of many prisoners?

Should prison be a place of punishment? That’s an interesting question. The answer at Bastoy Prison in Norway seems to be a resounding no. In Norway the maximum prison sentence is 21 years. The only possible exception to this is the perpetrator of the 2011 Norway attacks Anders Behring Breivik who killed 77 and injured 319 who was sentenced to 21 years but with the possibility of an extension of his sentence as long as he is deemed a danger to society. The prison is located on Bastoy Island in Norway, and the only punishment for the inmates is their loss of freedom. It holds Norway’s most serious offenders. Some of its inmates include drug smugglers, rapists, and murderers. There are no bars at the prison, the guards don’t carry guns, and the prison resembles a summer camp. The inmates live in extremely humane conditions. They live in houses in what resemble cozy self-sustaining villages rather than cells. The prison is run by Arne Kvernik Nilsen, who calls the prison the “first human ecological prison.” There are many fun activities for the prisoners to do there and they are given responsibilities and jobs to do. The guards act not only as guards but as social workers. The premise behind all of this is that these strategies will help the inmates reenter society as reformed, better people and functioning and perhaps even valuable members of society. The craziest thing about this prison is that the strategies seem to work. The recidivism rate among people released from Bastoy Prison is only 16%, compared with around 70% for prisons across the rest of Europe and the U.S.

I’m not suggesting we adopt the strategy of Bastoy Prison across the United States. But it is clear from the example of Bastoy Prison that rehabilitation is more effective than punishment. But does that mean there should be no punishment?

I think there should be punishment. I think that prisoners need to pay for their actions. But our prison system needs a complete overhaul because it is failing our prisoners and our citizens/taxpayers.

Here are some of my ideas for changes to the prison system.

  • Make only the first half of an inmate’s sentence punishment. Put them in a facility much like the ones that exist now.
  • After they finish the punishment period, transfer them to a facility completely dedicated to rehabilitation. Build facilities or replace existing facilities with or convert existing facilities into facilities that use similar strategies to Bastoy Prison to rehabilitate prisoners and help them prepare for reintegration into society as better people and better citizens. These facilities will not be a place of punishment. Make rehabilitation programs that cater to the needs of different types of offenders. (Although Bastoy Prison is a very big complex and very extravagant so it would be very expensive to build a bunch of facilities like that. So not all of these facilities would have to be nearly as elaborate or extravagant as Bastoy Prison.)
  • Change policies for repeat offenders. People should never get life in prison for burglary or drug charges due to three strikes laws. That is ridiculous.
  • Make drug charges less severe. Drug crimes are based on personal choices that affect no one directly but the people who make those personal choices. The severity of drug laws in this country is ridiculous.
  • Make sentences less harsh for first offenders. First offenders are in a very vulnerable place. They are at a crossroads where they will either learn from their mistake and won’t go back to prison again or will learn bad things in prison have their spirit crushed and become repeat offenders and lifelong criminals.
  • Require every inmate to take courses that help them reintegrate back into society. It can be very hard for a prisoner to reintegrate back into society, especially for those who have served long term sentences. Oftentimes they become institutionalized from living in prison so long and don’t know how to function on the outside world anymore. This may lead them to offend again just so they can go back to prison life which they have actually become more comfortable with.
  • Have every inmate serving a sentence longer than 1 year who do not have their high school diploma be required to take educational courses toward helping them get their GED. Education will save this country. And a high school diploma or GED equivalent will make it much more likely for a prisoner to get a job or even have a shot at higher education down the road.
  • Outlaw private prisons.

There also need to be more ways that we help offenders reintegrate back into society. One idea I have to help them get jobs is for there to be a government program much like the one where companies get tax breaks for hiring people with disabilities only using the same idea with offenders. The employer would be given a full report and background on the potential employee so they could judge if they are too dangerous to hire. Much of the reason that people turn back to crime is because they can’t find an honest living after they get out of prison because no one will hire them.

Unfortunately, prisons are a business, and there are people that make a lot of money off of prisons in the state they are currently in. And some of these changes I have proposed would cost a fair amount of government money. But perhaps spending a little bit of government money now to overhaul our prison system might lead to lower costs for taxpayers down the road due to less people being in prison because of new, more successful policies. So why don’t we make a sacrifice in the short term to lead to lower taxes and safer streets in the long term and also the bettering of troubled people’s lives. Prisoners are people too, and we often forget that. And they are just as much a part of this country as we are. This is an issue we should care about, because it affects everyone across the nation. Let’s make our prisons productive.

Other Sources

James, E. (2013, September 3). Bastoy: The Norwegian prison that works. The Guardian.

Retrieved from


In the last few months, a terrorist group that calls itself the Islamic State (IS), or as the US government refers to it by its most recent former name, ISIL (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant), commonly known by their less recent former name, ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) has emerged as a dangerous threat in the Middle East. This might be the most dangerous Islamic terrorist group the world has ever seen. A United States Special Forces official has been quoted as saying, “They’re incredible fighters. ISIS teams in many places use special operations [tactics, techniques, and procedures].” Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has said, “They’re beyond just a terrorist group. They marry ideology, a sophistication of strategic and tactical military prowess. They are tremendously well-funded…This is beyond anything we’ve seen.” The organization has assets worth $2 billion. They use social media to recruit members and get their message out and are very resourceful. Not only do they have membership from the countries that they reside in, but a significant portion of ISIS members are people who come from European countries, especially Britain and France, who leave their lives in those countries to fight with ISIS. It even has a notable number of Americans in the group. This is a group that was disowned by al-Qaeda for being too extreme. They are a Sunni group that forces people to convert to their faith by any means (or if you are Christian you have the option to pay a “religious levy”). Some theorize, however, that they are not really Sunnis but actually Kharijites. They may adhere to Islamist or jihadist or Wahhabist principles. No one is safe from them. Men, women, children, nuns, everyone is in danger. They especially have harmed non-Arabs, Shia Muslims, Christians (especially indigenous Assyrian, Chaldean, Syriac, and Armenian Christians), Druzes, Shabaks, Mandeans, and especially Yazidis. They have also been accused of ethnic cleansing of minority groups in northern Iraq by Amnesty International. The Islamic State has even recruited child soldiers. Some of the horrible acts they commit are the kidnapping and raping of women as well as other forms of sexual violence, the torture, mutilation, and killing of people who refuse to declare Islamic creed, crucifixions, the beheading of journalists, etc. The current goal of ISIS is to create an Islamic state or caliphate based on Islamist or sharia law all throughout the Middle East. They want to conquer all lands in the Levant. And why do they want to do these things? They claim it’s because it’s what God wants them to do.

And therein lies the problem. There is a huge problem in the Abrahamic faiths in that we cannot seem to stop breaking the third Commandment. Here are a few different translations of this Commandment: “You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not acquit anyone who misuses His name,” or “Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain,” or “Do not use My name for evil purposes, for I, the LORD your God, will punish anyone who misuses My name.” Misusing God’s Name is an act known as blasphemy. Essentially what this means is that when we invoke the Name of God we need to make sure that we are very careful with how we are using it and not to disgrace it with our actions that we plan to commit in His Name. So let’s take a look at some things that people have done in God’s Name and why these actions have disgraced His Name. And let’s also come up with some rules to figure out what kinds of things we should avoid doing in God’s Name.

I think one general rule should be this: if what you are about to do involves intentionally harming someone else, you should probably not invoke the Name of God. For example, if you decide to go on a violent jihad that involves harming civilians, maybe you should double check what your Quran says about that. Muhammad instructed Muslims to never harm “People of the Book” (people of the Abrahamic faiths such as Judaism, Christianity, Islam, etc.). Members of ISIS are killing and torturing scores of Christians and Shia Muslims. If you believe Muhammad was the last prophet of God and the most important prophet and the last person to deliver God’s Word, why wouldn’t you listen to it? Also, another verse in the Quran states, “…fight in the way of Allah against those who fight against you, but begin not hostilities. Lo! Allah loveth not aggressors.” When ISIS members kill civilians, people who have done nothing to them, they are going against this teaching. In fact, not only are they disgracing God’s Name, but according to their own faith they have lost God’s love by doing so. There are a few reasons that I think people fight for ISIS. One is that they are uneducated in the ways of Islam and simply listen to what others say and perhaps have hate and anger in their hearts. Another is that they know the teachings and just ignore it and use their faith as an excuse and vessel for their hatred and violence. A third is that they are just plain stupid. By their actions they are disgracing their faith and giving Muslims a bad name. They are also giving God a bad name.

A second rule about invoking God’s Name should be that if what you are doing in God’s Name involves judgment, you should in most cases avoid it. Westboro Baptist Church is the prime culprit of this crime. They are a church that goes around protesting people’s funerals or really anything they can think of that in some way they can link to homosexuality, which they believe is pretty much the single greatest evil and scourge that humanity faces. They picket military funerals because soldiers fight for a country that repealed “don’t ask; don’t tell,” holding signs up that say things like “Thank God for dead soldiers.” They picketed the funerals of the Newtown shooting victims because they believed the Newtown shooting was God’s retribution for America’s increasing acceptance of homosexuals. They also believe 9/11 was God’s retribution for the same thing. They picketed Nelson Mandela’s funeral because they claimed he was an adulterer. But perhaps the most horrible display of judgment and hate they ever committed was their reaction to the death of Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming. They picketed the funeral of Matthew Shepard as well as the trial of Shepard’s assailants, holding up signs that said things like “AIDS kills fags dead,” “Matt Shepard rots in Hell,” “God hates fags,” etc. But worst of all, they had so much hate in their heart towards Shepard that the leader of the church, Fred Phelps, attempted to get city permits in Cheyenne, Wyoming and Casper, Wyoming to build a monument between five and six feet tall that had a bronze plaque with a picture of Shepard on it and these words: MATTHEW SHEPARD, Entered Hell October 12, 1998, in Defiance of God’s Warning: ‘Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind; it is an abomination.’ Leviticus 18:22.” This amount of hatred is clearly not Christian. In the Bible Jesus says that the two greatest commandments that sum up the teachings of the 10 Commandments are these: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And the second is like it: you shall love your neighbor as you love yourself. On these commandments hang all the law and the prophets.'” The way that the members of this church hate gay people is horrifyingly unbiblical and goes against the Bible’s greatest teachings. The members of this church have also broken the biblical teaching known as the Golden Rule: “‘In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.'” Would you want someone to picket your funeral or the funeral of someone you loved? They also broke this teaching of Jesus: “‘Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?…You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” By acting like it is fact that Matthew Shepard entered Hell, Fred Phelps is making a judgment that only God can make. These people are judging what kind of person Shepard was when they never even knew him and judge all gay people. I’m a Christian, and I know that there is a lot of debate over the morality of homosexuality within my faith. My view is I don’t know how God feels about it, but it’s not my job to judge people. Judgment is God’s job. God will judge whether someone should enter His Kingdom or not. So let’s leave the judgment up to God and just love our neighbor and treat all people with respect and kindness.

The third and final rule about doing things in God’s Name, and perhaps this rule sums up the other two rules: make sure if you do something in God’s Name, it’s an act of love. God is Love. Therefore, why would he want us to commit acts of hatred in His Name? Let’s use what our religions teach us for good. God made us in His Image, so it is our job to make sure we make His Image look good and not disgrace it or make Him look bad. Let’s end all this blasphemy so we can stop all this evil and make our religions blessings, not curses. Then and only then will we stop seeing groups like ISIS.


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