Free Willy

In 1993, “Free Willy” erupted on the movie scene.  It was a story about a young boy who befriended a killer whale, who was going to be killed by the aquarium owners.  The boy risked everything in order to set the whale free.

Free will is something that we all have.  We sometimes take it for granted.  Many times, we misuse our free will.  Sometimes, we even forget we have free will and we just march along behind the crowd without giving any thought to our reasoning behind the choices we make.  So, it is time that we risked everything and freed our will.

It is only when we recognize and fully appreciate our choices in life that we are truly free.  The majority of people get stuck in a rut of everyday work and everyday home life.  They become robotic in their movements and thinking, if you want to call it thinking.  A better phrase is “mind numbing.”

In the big cities, most people just follow the crowd into the subway going to work, walking along the busy sidewalks, pouring into crowded elevators, and sitting down at an office chair in a cubicle with harsh lights overhead.  In smaller cities, most people grab a cup of coffee, drive the same streets to work, park the car in the same spot, and greet the same people the same way in what may be termed a “Groundhog Day.”  Do any of these people appreciate their choices in life?

Even when the light bulb comes on and we make conscious decisions, what is good and what is bad?  Ethical enlightenment shines brightly on free will, but we still will make decisions that may be considered as bad by society or by laws or by family and friends, or even by us.  If you are simply following guidance from others, including parents, peers, or society, you are not making personal choices.

Although this statement may be controversial, I believe that we must commit sins and sink to a depressed state as part of the process of attaining freedom.  Certainly, being trapped in a lifestyle of evil and regret or even being trapped in society’s drudgery and daily grind is like being a slave to sin.  Freedom is a personal decision to stop making bad choices.  In order to do this, we must think outside the box without even touching the box.  Your thinking must belong to you and you alone.  Your decisions must belong to you and you alone.

Since I have never met anybody who hasn’t sinned, everybody has made poor decisions.  The first step is to admit that you have a problem.  Leave your excuses in the box that you are not touching any more.  Now that you are outside the box, face your frailties and weaknesses with a stern self-discipline that will not give in to temptations.  It is the awareness of sin and the appreciation of your control and power to make good choices that leads to exercised free will.  It is when you free your will.

We make decisions based on many things:  peer pressure, society, laws, family, how we were raised, our experiences, our personal desires and needs, and our personal moral fabric.  Many professionals argue that we make decisions based on genetics, while others maintain that we make our choices based on our experiences.  Nature vs. nurture.  As a practical matter, it doesn’t matter.  It is probably a little of both, but the bottom line is not nature or nurture.  The bottom line is you choosing what you want to do and then doing it.

Now, the tougher question is:  What is good and what is bad?  And who makes this call?  Well, I believe the answer is that you do.  Your peers, family, and society can go to hell.  It is your call based on what you think is right and wrong.  Now, it may be true that some people are so mentally disturbed that they truly don’t know the difference between right and wrong, but you do know the difference.  So, you should be held accountable for your selections.

What do I mean held accountable?  Do I mean by police and society?  Well, in some cases that is true, but I am talking primarily about how you think about yourself and your decisions when you look in the mirror at the end of the day.  And not all people will react the same way.  Some criminals have hardened their hearts to making bad choices.  But, they too will be held accountable some day.  But held accountable by whom?

Well, society and its laws may provide consequences if they are ever caught.  But I am talking about significant punishment after death.  How do I know there will be consequences?  Well, I don’t, but I do know that there must be a reason why we are the only animal on the planet with free will.  It would be absurd if we were provided free will and there were no consequences.

We have little control over the objective world, but we can make good decisions in the subjective world.  The journey to understand our inner self is very important because that may be all we take with us if we are still thinking after death.  Your free will may be put to the ultimate test in the afterlife.

For example, what would you do if you were offered a pain-free afterlife if you participated in torturing other souls?  You might even justify this based on your belief that the other souls committed worse sins than you did.  But if your conscience allowed you to do that, you might find yourself in Hell.  In order to travel through the afterworld, you will have to unify your self-discipline and thinking with the Creator.

Even if you die and that is the end (in other words, you are not thinking), making good choices will improve your life and the lives of others in the world.  It is a good thing no matter what, so there is no downside to making good decisions.

Focus on God

Our species appears to be the only animal that thinks about the afterlife.  The majority of humans think that there is an afterlife or there is not an afterlife or they simply don’t know one way or the other.  But most of us do think about the afterlife.

And we think about the Creator or God in the same manner:  there is a God or there is no God or we just don’t know.  But most of us do think about God.  Our focus is on God.

Even atheists need God to believe that He does not exist.  So logically, they must have thought of God first in order to decide that He does not exist.  Because how could you introduce a negative thought about something that you didn’t think or know about?  The concept of God had to exist before atheists could argue that He did not live.

Thus, our focus is on God and the afterlife.  And since we are human, we will do stupid and cruel and mean and horrible things during our lifetimes.  Everybody has something they can feel guilty about and most of us have something we feel guilty about every day.  So, we are sinful creatures who have been given free will to commit sins.

Do we resign ourselves to this sinful nature or do we try to do better?  Those who give in to our humanness and never attempt to improve themselves typically are those who don’t believe in God.  And who could blame them?  If you accept sin as your natural state during life, then you would not want any consequences after death.  You would not want God to be your judge.  Your preference would be to die and that would be the end.  The only problem with this belief is that choices without consequences make no sense.  Life would be absurd without consequences.  Life would be absurd without God.

Yet, those who believe in God are not necessarily any better than atheists.  Many followers of God believe that they will have a free ticket punched, eliminating all consequences for their sins.  This makes no more sense than atheism.  Clearly, the Bible speaks of judgments and consequences based on what we did during our lives.  Of course, believers want their sins to be washed away, typically so they can go sin again.  The only problem with this belief is that there must be consequences or life would be absurd.

And those who do not know if God exists or not cannot win by default.  You have heard the rule of law: ignorance of the law is no excuse.  The same applies to those who say they don’t know if God lives.  When they sin, there will be consequences whether they know God or not.  There must be consequences to prevent life from being absurd.

In conclusion, atheists, believers, and agnostics, who represent the majority of Homo sapiens, all focus on God in one fashion or another.  And that focus is on there being or not being a judge who will provide consequences for all our poor choices made during our lifetimes.  But remember: life is absurd without consequences.

Insanity Should Not Be a Defense

The insanity defense drives some members of the public insane.  In fact, one of these members of the public, claiming temporary insanity, might run out and shoot a murderer who used this defense.  This example points out the absurdity of the insanity defense.  The problem is that many murderers are, at a minimum, temporarily insane when they kill.

Even though a small percentage of criminals are found not guilty by reason of insanity, this controversial defense needs more scrutiny.  Let’s examine the rules of law that apply to this defense.

There are five tests of criminal responsibility involving insanity:  (1) M’Naghten Rule in 1843, which states that the accused must prove that he didn’t know what he was doing or didn’t know it was wrong, (2) the irresistible impulse in 1897, which means that the charged could not control his conduct, (3) the Durham Rule in 1954, which is mental illness caused the criminal act, (4) the Model Penal Code in 1972, declares the he lacked the substantial capacity to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct or to control it, and (5) the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984, which currently requires showing the lack of capacity to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct.

The evolution of the insanity defense has followed the public’s concern that a murderer will get back out on the street because a high-paid psychiatrist told the jury that he was insane.  Prior to 1843, if you proved that when you committed a murder, you did not know what you were doing; you could be released.  When Daniel M’Naghten killed Edward Drummond, M’Naghten claimed he believed that Drummond was the Prime Minister of Great Britian, so he got off.  The public was incensed.  Quite frankly, M’Naghten intentionally killed a man.  It shouldn’t matter whether he mistook Mr. Drummond for the Prime Minister.

The M’Naghten Rule soon came into existence, which is used by several of the states even today.  In short, the rule is that if at the time of the act you are laboring under a defect of reason, from disease of the mind, so as to not know the nature and quality of the act you are doing, or if you do not know the difference between right and wrong, then you could use the defense of insanity.

As we learned more about mental disorders, some professionals have argued that some people may be able to distinguish right from wrong and still be insane.  Some states allowed defendants to argue that even though they knew that what they were doing was wrong, they were unable to control an urge to commit the crime, which was termed the irresistible impulse rule.  This test is problematic because murderers could argue this quite frequently.  It opens up a big exit door for the defense.

Then the Durham Rule came along.  Monte Durham had a long history of both criminal activity and mental illness.  The court held that Durham was not guilty because his criminal acts were the product of a mental disease or defect.  This rule provided that insanity was caused by many factors, not all of which need to be present in each criminal case.  This rule was very controversial since it did little to define mental disease or defect.

All the federal courts and many state courts adopted Model Penal Codes by 1982.  These codes stated that if at the time of the conduct as a result of mental disease or defect, the accused is not responsible if he lacks substantial capacity either to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law.  In effect, this broadened the M’Naghten and Irresistible Impulse rules, by focusing on the individual’s substantial capacity.  This gets away from the black and white of being able to distinguish right from wrong.

When John Hinckley attempted to assassinate President Reagan, his defense team showed that Hinckley was insane, so he was acquitted.  This created a public backlash, leading to several states abolishing the insanity defense and twelve states changing the law to provide a verdict of “guilty but mentally ill” leading to a prison sentence with psychiatric treatment.

The Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984 modified the federal rules regarding the insanity defense, shifting the burden of proof from the prosecutor to the defendant.  The test for insanity was a lack of capacity to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct.  This gives a professional psychiatrist plenty of leeway to testify that a murderer was insane.  A person found not guilty by reason of insanity would be committed to a mental hospital until that person would no longer be dangerous to society.

Today, the insanity defense is just too confusing for jurors and they are at the mercy of the psychiatrists who are paid well for their opinions.  The best approach is to allow the case to be prosecuted without the insanity defense.  Then, the court would allow evidence of mental defect or insanity in the sentencing portion of the trial.  The jurors could even require prison with psychiatric assistance during the prisoner’s sentence.  If the prisoner is really bad and needs full time psychiatric care, then that could be arranged.  When the prisoner is better, he would be returned to prison.  There are many possible options under sentencing to deal with insanity, but giving a killer a free pass is not one of them.

What about a murderer who does not have the capacity to defend himself in court?  A friend of the court could be appointed to represent that individual’s interest, separate and apart from his attorney.  It would be similar to a civil court appointing a representative for somebody who is being declared incompetent.

What about the element of intent in murder?  In order for an accused to be charged with murder, there typically has to be malice aforethought.  This requires a deliberate, premeditated, and willful killing of another human being.  Many states determine if the accused knew his behavior had a strong chance of causing death or was reckless in conduct that caused death.

If the accused had a mental defect, such as being a paranoid schizophrenic, then the facts of the case have to be examined.  If the individual was on medications that made them normal, but they stopped taking the medications, then this provides evidence that the accused was criminally negligent and when he stopped taking the medications, he showed indifference to life and recklessly engaged in conduct that caused death.

Each crime must be examined on a case-by-case method to determine whether murder or manslaughter is involved.  Insanity should only be examined as a mitigating factor in the murder trial.  In some cases, it may lead to a manslaughter indictment.  In most cases, it would lead to mitigation in the sentencing phase of the trial.  But the bottom line is that insanity should not be a defense that erases the crime.

If Nobody LIkes It, It Is Good

I remember a story told by a controversial judge.  He said that when he rendered a decision that neither plaintiff nor defendant liked, he knew he had done the right thing and had provided a just verdict.

Life sometimes seems like a taffy pull with everybody wanting things to go their way, so that they get most of the taffy.  In my law practice, especially in divorce trials, both parties lied or embellished their stories in order to get a better judgment.  When a witness was sworn in, the bailiff asked them to tell “…the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help you God.”  In all my years of working with clients, I never ran into an honest person who told the whole truth and nothing but the truth.  In fact, most of my clients didn’t believe in God.  Perhaps that was a big part of the problem.

When that controversial judge, mentioned above, discounted both accounts provided by the parties and rendered a judgment that neither party liked, he rendered the best possible judgment in a world full of dishonest litigants.

I suppose that since lying has few bad consequences, many people do it.  Nonbelievers have no fear of consequences during life or afterlife.  Police and detectives must be the most negative people in the world since they are lied to around the clock.  These officers, based on their experiences, would have a tendency to believe nobody.  Even when suspects or people of interest provided information about a crime, they would probably not trust it.  This is not a good comment about our society.

One of the rules of evidence that permits hearsay is a dying declaration, which gives more credibility to a comment made just before death.  However, I am not certain that this should be an exception to hearsay anymore.  I think even when they are dying they are lying most of the time.  The old rule was appropriate when the majority of people was religious and would be less likely to lie right before meeting their maker.  However, this is not the case today.  Most people will lie anytime during their life.

I go back to what that judge said, and I use that in any decision process involving analyzing statements of witnesses.  If nobody likes my decision, then it is a good one, probably very fair and impartial.

This also can be applied to speeches, articles, books, or any other form of communication.  If my comments are not well received by anybody, then I know that I am headed down the right path.  In fact when people congratulate me for my reasoned opinion, I go back and look at that decision again.  I reevaluate it because it was probably wrong.

Who Commits Murders and Why?

Murders are committed daily.  There are murders for hire; there are murders for revenge; there are murders for money; there are murders for love; there are murders for hate… the list goes on for quite a distance.  So, who commits all these murders?

We all do.  All of us are fully capable of committing murder.  Anybody will commit murder under the right circumstances.  It is foolish to deny it.  If you had to protect your family, wouldn’t you kill an armed burglar?  If you were in the military, wouldn’t you kill the enemy before they killed you?  I could provide hundreds of scenarios where even the most ethical and highly religious individuals would still kill.

I suppose that legally, not all killings would be adjudged murders.  If you kill somebody in self defense or you are serving in the military, you typically would not be charged with murder.  However, for the purposes of our discussion, we are defining murder as the killing of another human being, no matter what the reason.  In other words, there is no defense for killing a human being.  Taking another’s life, no matter what the reason, is considered murder in this article.

So why do we murder?  Is it because we had a bad childhood?  Is it because we were sexually molested when we were in grade school?  Is it because we were socially deprived?  Is it because we were poor?  Is it because we got hooked on drugs?  Is it because we mentally deficient?  Some or all of these things may be ingredients leading up to the final recipe of committing murder, but the final decision to kill is very intentional.  It is quite possible that your murder was a crime of passion, but you still decided to kill.  It doesn’t matter that you made the choice to murder two months ago or two seconds ago.  It still was your decision.

When murderers were interviewed by a writer whom the convicts trusted, he discovered that all of the killers made a conscious decision to murder.  None of them denied that murder was a choice that they made.  It is possible that you could be in a drug or alcohol stupor and not know what you were doing at the time of the murder, but you intentionally put yourself in that condition and must accept the consequences.  Even drunks make choices… just usually bad ones.

The only difficult area is somebody who has a mental illness who commits murder.  If they do not have the ability to understand what they are doing, do they decide to murder?  My answer may be controversial, but I believe those who are mentally incapacitated also choose to murder.  The mental deficiency may impair their decision making process, but it does not stop it.  They still decide to kill.  A mental patient may think that he is killing the devil when he shoots a priest, but he still makes a conscious decision to pull the trigger.

So, like I said earlier:  all of us are capable of committing murder.  And we commit murders after we decide to take a life.  The reasons for murder vary from individual to individual.  But all murders are committed because of choices that were made by these individuals.

Twin Murders

See attached comments from reader at the end of this article.

Hugh “Pete” Bondurant Jr. and his brother, Kenneth Patterson “Pat” Bondurant, known as “The Bondurant Boys,” were over 300-pound twin-brothers from Lawrence County in southern Tennessee, who each committed two brutal murders.  The twins were equally brutal in the murders and both were convicted of double homicides, but Pete is scheduled for release in 2018 and Pat in 2070.  But why was there a 52 year difference in sentencing?

Pete and Pat were both convicted in 1991 and were sentenced to 25 years for the murder of Gwen Dugger after they drugged and raped her in 1986.  Gwen Dugger of Ardmore, Alabama, a 24 year-old mother of two, was an innocent victim.  After doping her up, Pat beat her unconscious with an ax handle and then Pete finished her off with two shots from a 22-pistol.  The initial arrest of the twins in 1990 shocked residents in Giles County, Tennessee, and Limestone County, Alabama.  The details of Gwen’s murder were horrific, and local citizens said that the twins had a “Manson-like” following of young people who came to Pat’s farmhouse in Elkton, Tennessee, for drugs.

Pat’s wife, Denise Bondurant, testified that the brothers raped, tortured and shot the young mother before burning her body in a 55-gallon drum and dumping the ashes in a creek near Pat’s rented farmhouse near the Shady Lawn Truck Stop.  The twins stuffed Gwen’s body upside down in a burn barrel and set it on fire.  Then they dumped her charred remains in the Elk River.  Gwen’s body was never recovered, which is one reason why the twins only received a 25-year sentence.

Pete is scheduled to be released in 2018 after serving his time for this murder, but Pat will probably spend the rest of his life in prison.  Both have been denied parole several times.  Why was there such a disparity in sentencing of twins with the same propensity for violence who committed similar crimes?  Did our judicial system fail again?

Once the twins had the taste of blood, they couldn’t stop with just a single murder.  They both committed another murder.  In 1986, Pat was convicted of beating his co-worker Ronnie Gaines to death, while Pete was charged with helping his brother dismember and burn Gaines’ body.  Charred bones were unearthed in the front yard of their parents’ Giles County home.  The brothers went to trial individually for the murder of Gaines with Pat being sentenced to death, while his brother only received a sentence of a few years because he didn’t actually commit the murder.

According to Denise Bondurant, who testified at trial, the defendant had confessed to her both the killing of Gaines and the burning of the victim’s house.  Denise testified that the defendant had been angry at Gaines for some time because the defendant suspected that Gaines had stolen his wallet containing money from the monthly social security disability check belonging to the Bondurants’ disabled son, Matthew.  During this time, the defendant had made veiled threats against anyone who stole “from him or little Matthew.”  The defendant told Denise that on the evening of October 17, while at Gaines’ house, he caught Gaines cheating while playing cards.   At this point, the defendant “just went off,” and beat Gaines to death with a small rocking chair because he “could not allow anyone to take anything from little Matthew.”  The beating, which continued for thirty minutes after Gaines had died, was of such force as to leave only a small piece of the rocking chair intact.  The defendant and his brother, Pete, dismembered the victim’s body, cleaned the house so that no trace of blood or hair remained, and transported the body to their parents’ home in Westpoint, Tennessee, where they burned the corpse.

In May of 1990, relying upon information provided by Denise Bondurant, law enforcement officials obtained a search warrant and returned to the Westpoint house where, with the help of a team of forensic anthropologists, they located seven burned human cranial fragments.  Dr. William Bass, the leader of the forensic anthropologists, testified that he was 100 percent certain that the bones were human, 75 percent certain that they came from a male, over 50 percent certain that blunt trauma had been applied to the skull before it had been burned, and 90 percent certain that the bones had been in the ground no less than one nor more than fifteen to twenty years.

Other proof also supported Denise’s testimony and the forensic evidence.   For example, a child’s rocking chair that had been in the front left bedroom of Gaines’ house was missing after the fire.  The defendant had also made several strange or incriminating statements around the time of Gaines’ disappearance.  These statements ranged from the defendant’s remark that Gaines had joined the Foreign Legion to the defendant’s outright admission to one co-worker that he had “killed the son-of-a-bitch.”

Pat Bondurant appealed his conviction of premeditated first degree murder and arson. Upon finding that Tennessee had proven two statutory aggravating circumstances beyond a reasonable doubt and that there were no mitigating circumstances sufficiently substantial to outweigh the aggravating circumstances, the jury sentenced the defendant to death by electrocution on the conviction for first degree murder. On the arson conviction, the trial court sentenced the defendant to ten years consecutive to the death penalty.  The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the trial court’s judgment.

The state Supreme Court concluded that the defendant’s convictions of first degree murder and arson should be reversed and the case remanded for a new trial. The defendant offered clear proof to establish that the statutory procedures governing selection of a special jury venire were totally disregarded and that the jury, which was required by law to remain sequestered, was allowed to separate twice daily to drive between their lodgings and the courthouse. No evidence was offered by the prosecution to refute the defendant’s claim regarding the selection of the special venire or to rebut the defendant’s prima facie showing of jury separation. Under clear and longstanding Tennessee precedent a new trial was required if the State did not offer proof to negate prejudice once the fact of jury separation has been established by the defense.

Furthermore, in a highly publicized capital murder case it is particularly important that trial courts scrupulously enforce the statutory directives governing selection of a special venire and the law requiring jury sequestration. Otherwise, the risk is great that a jury will base its decision on extraneous information. Here, the trial court failed to utilize the selection procedures prescribed by the statute and also allowed the jury to separate twice daily during the course of the trial. In the absence of countervailing proof from the State to show that the jury’s decision was not influenced by extraneous information, the court was unable to conclude that these serious errors were harmless.  Accordingly, the defendant’s convictions were reversed and the case was remanded for a new trial.

One of the problems with our judicial system is that it schizophrenic when it comes to dealing with really evil criminals.  In the lower court, the judges and prosecutors are emotionally and politically invested in ensuring that the hardened criminal gets the maximum sentence, usually the death penalty if available.  Then the higher court will find some reason to reverse the lower court.  In effect, the truly evil criminals many times end up getting a better deal than those criminals who got caught up in a passionate moment.

In the new trial, the jury sentenced Pat to life in prison amounting to about 50 years.  So, how did Pete, who also murdered a second person, receive such a light sentence?  Well, part of the problem was that Pat’s wife, who sealed his fate, was not able to testify in Pete’s case for the murder of his girlfriend.  And there was no body.  The evidence was skimpy in the beating of his girlfriend, Terry Lynn Clark, in 1986, but the lower court again was motivated to put away a callous criminal and sentenced Pete to 15 years in prison.  But he was able to get the sentence reduced through appeals.  There just wasn’t sufficient evidence to justify the sentence.

In our judicial system, sometimes emotion and politics interfere with the normal course of a trial.  When that happens, it can cause reversals by higher courts of verdicts and sentences.  If the cases are remanded back to the lower courts, it can make it difficult for the prosecutor, because the defense has a second chance, knowing exactly what the prosecution will do.  And many times, witnesses lose their resolve the second time around.

The lower courts should not only follow the judicial system rules carefully to prevent the sentence from being overturned by a higher court, but they also should take a moderate position even in extreme murder cases.  There is no reason to deviate from our judicial rules based on extreme emotions of the public or court  relating to the trial.

The Bondurant twins are serving their time at Riverbend Maximum Security Prison in Tennessee with different sentences even though they should be the same.

NOTE FROM READER:  Being from the area where these murders occurred, touring the home, and having correspondence with Pete Bondurant personally, I feel the need to clarify a few errors that you have made.
Terri Lynn Clark was not beaten, and her dead body was actually discovered in the Bondurant home by TBI investigator. He had an appointment with Clark to verify Pete’s alibi. Upon arriving at the Elkton farmhouse, Clark was found in Pete Bondurant’s bed dead of an apparent drug overdose. The reason he was sentenced to only 15 years is because he was convicted of manslaughter because prosecution couldn’t prove the drugs were injected by Bondurant, only obtained from him. The reason that Denise Bondurant didn’t testify in the murder trial of Ms. Clark was due to her not being present as she had moved from the residence at that time.
The brothers were originally incarcerated together at Riverbend, however Pete Bondurant was transferred to Northeast Correctional Complex in Johnson City, Tennessee. His release date is also 2017, not 2018.
The parents’ home in West Point, Tennessee is located in Lawrence County, not Giles county.
Lastly, while you are accurate that Pete Bondurant has been denied parole, Pat is serving a sentence without the possibility of parole. He will in fact die behind bars because he will not be released until 2070.
Please forgive my corrections, but as a fellow author, I would want the same courtesy extended to me should my publications contain errors.

 

 

Morality vs. Societal Values in the 21st Century

Introduction

Morality is no different in the 21st century than it was in any of the centuries past.  Morality has always been based on the right thing to do.  The right thing to do has remained the same over the millennia.  It is embedded in our conscience.

However, societal values and laws relating to ethics interpreting the right thing to do are different today than they were centuries ago because these moral guidelines fluctuate with the government, ruling class, free time, and the education of the citizenry.

Let’s start with determining what “the right thing to do” is.  Whenever you feel that hiccup before you take an action or whenever you feel a tinge of guilt while taking an action, you know this is not the right thing to do.  Remember Jiminy Cricket in the Walt Disney movie, Pinocchio, and how he and Pinocchio were instructed to always let their conscience be their guide?  Even when we know the right thing to do, we can rationalize or talk ourselves out of doing the right thing with little difficulty.

But society interprets “the right thing to do” through laws and ethical codes.  So how does society determine what the right thing is?  I believe that a fair and just society can use either one or both basic methods for making this decision.  The first is what individuals think, and the second is what others think.  Ideally, the law should coincide with one or both of these ethical perspectives, but that is not always the case.[1]  Many governments, including totalitarianism, impose arbitrary and capricious laws and codes on citizens.

Subjective ethics are relative to the individual.  This theory is common in America, a country of immigrants from a variety of cultures with differing ethical values; however this subjective theory has inherent weaknesses because of our humanness.[2]  Objective ethics, also called rational ethics or moral absolutism, deems actions right or wrong based on a consistent objective test.  It imposes a duty on all citizens to refrain from violating the rights of others.[3]  Sometimes, it is the better approach.

The closest objective test in law I could find was included within the elements of negligence.  A legal duty must first exist between the parties to establish liability through negligence.  As mentioned above, the duty in objective ethics is to refrain from violating the rights of others.  The next element is a breach of that duty.  This requires the actor to meet the standard of care, which in many cases is what a reasonable person would or would not have done under the same or similar circumstances.[4]  In other words, would a reasonable person believe this was the right thing to do?

For example, you are shopping at Kroger’s and you haven’t eaten for five hours, so you are tempted to take a grape and pop it in your mouth.  Nobody would miss one grape.  What is the right thing to do according to 21st century society?  Well, let’s apply the subjective test.  The majority of people in today’s society would not have a problem with this.  Most would rationalize that nobody would really be hurt by the loss of a one grape.  The store would still sell the bunch of grapes, and the purchaser would never know the difference because each bunch of grapes had a different amount of grapes anyway.

In earlier centuries, stealing a grape would have been different from stealing a horse only by the value of the item taken.  But clearly, the moral and right thing to do would be to not take the grape no matter what century you lived in at the time of the decision.

What happens when we utilize the objective test in the 21st century?  Let’s employ the quantum of proof required for negligence just like we learned in law school.  In a civil case, the burden of proof is by a preponderance of the evidence also known as “more likely than not” and “greater weight of evidence.”[5]  A case under the Civil False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. 2729, somewhat analogous to our determination whether an act is the wrong thing to do, also uses this burden of persuasion.[6]

Let’s first examine the preponderance of the evidence test.  If the scales are just a little lower with the weight of evidence on the side of this being the right thing to do, then it is the right thing to do.  We would have to examine all the evidence and place it on the scales of justice to see where the scales tip.

In this case, we have evidence indicating that taking the grape would be good for the decision-maker because it would stem the hunger until the groceries paid for get home.  We also have evidence that there will be little to no harm to Kroger’s or the ultimate purchaser of the grapes.  The theft of a grape would not be worth prosecuting since the value is so low.  Where do the scales tip in this instance?  A reasonable person would not consider the taking of a grape as the wrong thing to do or, in other words, the decision to take the grape was the right thing to do after examining all the circumstances.

In certain situations, you may find that the scales seem fairly balanced.  That is when we examine the “seven steps.”  These seven steps should be taken to determine if any of them tip the scales.

The magnificent seven are:

  1. Examine your “gut” feeling.  The NCIS “Gibb’s gut” is used.  If your “gut” tells you that the action is not right, then more than likely it is wrong.  This “gut” feeling could tip the scales for you on the side of deciding not to take that action.
  2. Take the “CNN test.”  You can substitute any newspaper or television news report for CNN, but you need to determine if the action could create “bad press.”  If you fear the action could lead to a problem with the media, you should, at least, run it by your public affairs experts.
  3. Examine the pragmatic angles.  If the action is not practical, then why gamble with it?
  4. Res ipsa loquitur – “the thing speaks for itself.”  This is an evidentiary rule that permits some degree of evidence from an inference of a breach by the outcome.
  5. Burden of persuasion is on proving that it is the right thing to do.  A tie goes to proving that it is the wrong thing to do.
  6. Err on the side of avoiding gray areas in the law.
  7. Avoid even the appearance of impropriety.

In this case with the single grape, how would the application of the seven steps work out?  Examine the seven potential tipping points.

  1. Your “gut” may be telling you that there are no real consequences to third parties.
  2. There will be no “bad press” because there is no potential for this being a violation of criminal law.
  3. Practical value of eating this grape to satisfy hunger is greater than problems encountered even if caught.
  4. A single grape makes little noise for itself.  It carries little significance in the scheme of things.
  5. The preponderance of evidence is that a reasonable person would do this and consider this the right thing to do.
  6. There is no legalistic gray area.
  7. If this appears to be a problem, then it is a problem.  This is where the 21st century ethics will not find this as even appearing to be a problem, while earlier centuries would find that the theft of anything would create the appearance of a problem.

And here is the tough part.  Even if the scales are level, the burden of proof has not been met, and you cannot take or recommend taking that action.  In other words, you cannot say that it was a “tie,” allowing you do nothing.  It doesn’t work that way.  Even if the scales are barely tipped to the side of not taking the action based on your “gut” feeling, the decision has been made, and you must argue to not take that action.

Who Makes the Final Ethics Decision?

Is there a judge or jury to decide the case for you?  Or is the decision entirely up to you?  Wouldn’t that be great if you could decide what the wrong thing was?  You could rig it so that you could never do the wrong thing.  All your choices would be spot on, dead center, right on target.  But if you “ain’t the king,” you are going to be second guessed by everybody.  Do I really mean everybody? Yes, I do, including: your supervisor, your co-workers, your secretary, your friends, your parents, your wife, your kids, and even your dog on bad days.

If your supervisor came into your office and asked you to change your opinion because it went against what the company wanted to do, how would you handle it?  Would you comply or would you refuse to change your opinion?  Would you apply the subjective test and rationalize that it wasn’t that big a deal to cave in to the boss?  Live to fight another day.  Or would you examine the situation using the objective test and present a logical argument to take to higher officials within the company, including checking with Public Affairs on their take on the issue?

When I was teaching the Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC) as an Air Force JAG to combat pilots, I always asked them to make their decisions after employing the “CNN Test.”  You can insert any news media in place of CNN, but CNN was big back during Desert Storm.

What did I mean by the “CNN Test”?  Any choices by pilots to fire or not to fire would be examined under the scrutiny of world opinion or the “CNN Test.”  What would the world think about this decision?  How would it appear in the newspapers tomorrow?  There was always the thought that in war, “you gotta do what you gotta do.”  We wanted the pilots to return safely from every mission, so if somebody were attempting to obtain a firing solution on them, they needed to fire immediately.  But if they had time to think through situations like in selecting targets, they should think about the consequences of world opinion.

Now, why should we care about what other people thought?  We are number one aren’t we?  We are more important than other people.  Who cares about other people’s opinion?  Well, we should care because society benefits from people doing the right thing.  We should place a high priority on doing the right thing and following laws.

 21st Century Decision Making

An eighty-year-old grandfather told his grandson that there was a battle going on between two wolves inside us all.  One was an evil wolf, filled with anger, jealousy, hate, greed, resentment, lies, and a huge ego.  The other was a good wolf with joy, love, peace, kindness, humility, truth, and empathy.

The grandson asked which wolf would finally win.  The old man leaned back and smiled, “The one you feed.”

I present 21 questions for the current century.[1]  I will first give the societal value answers of this century and then I will provide what I believe the moral answers should be.

  1. Why be good?
    21st century: There is no good reason to be the good wolf, so do what you want.
    Morality: Your conscience is a moderate, moral compass, telling you to be good.
  2. Is it ever permissible to lie?
    21st century: Yes, lying is permissible in many cases.
    Morality:  Your conscience permits lying only in moderate amounts, when it is beneficial to the listener.
  3. What’s wrong with gossip?
    21st century: Nothing.
    Morality: Your conscience tells you it is wrong when it is not done in moderation and harms others.
  4. Do you have an obligation to be healthy?
    21st century: No, you can do what you want.
    Morality: Yes, your conscience lets you know that you should live a temperate life and remain healthy so you are not a burden on others.
  5. May I take a grape while shopping?
    21st century:  Yes, because it doesn’t hurt anybody.
    Morality: No since quantity is not the issue in morality; moderation does not permit murdering of an infant because of their size; theft is theft and murder is murder.
  6. Is it wrong to make as much money as I can?
    21st century:  No, although this is changing as capitalism loses out to socialism in this century.
    Morality: you should live modestly and make as much money as you need to survive, avoiding greed.
  7. What are my obligations to the poor?
    21st century: None, although this is changing as capitalism loses out to socialism in this century.
    Morality: You should take care of the poor by teaching them to fish rather than giving them fish.
  8. Can we do better than the Golden Rule?
    21st century: Do unto others before they do unto you.
    Morality: Do more for others than you would do for yourself.
  9. Why can’t I just live for pleasure?
    21st century: You can.
    Morality: Your living for pleasure must be moderated by your conscience.
  10. Why can’t I date a married person?
    21st century: You can as long as the relationship is consensual.
    Morality: Because adultery runs afoul of your conscience and is not temperate sex.
  11. Are jealousy and resentment always wrong?
    21st century: No, these are human emotions that should be accepted.
    Morality: They are wrong when they are not controlled and you keep feeding them.
  12. What are the rules for respecting privacy?
    21st century: You have little privacy under capitalism and no privacy under totalitarian rule (socialism generally degrades into totalitarianism); both extremes in government take away your privacy.
    Morality: The Golden Rule applies to rules of privacy.
  13. What do I owe my aging parents?
    21st century: Nothing.
    Morality:  Your conscience will guide you to providing what your parents reasonably need.
  14. Should I help a suffering loved one die?
    21st century: Yes, if it means one less person on social security and an early inheritance.
    Morality: No, find a way to relieve their suffering other than killing them; murder is murder.
  15. Is “genetic enhancement” playing God.
    21st century: There is no God.
    Morality:  No, it is playing Hitler; genetic enhancement is a dangerous tool that extremists could misuse.
  16. Is conscientious objection a moral right?
    21st century: Yes, anybody can claim this right.
    Morality: It is a reasonable right based on our freedom of religion and convictions, but this right cannot be claimed for spurious and disingenuous reasons; conscientious objection must be done in moderation, following the conscience.
  17. Is it always wrong to fight back?
    21st century: You have the right to fight back as long as you aren’t going against the government.
    Morality: No, you can even go against the existing government if it is a bad government that does not support the citizens of that country; non-violent revolution is permissible.
  18. Should the death penalty be abolished?
    21st century: It should be permitted, especially for revolutionaries and crimes against the state.
    Morality: Yes, it is murder and thus is not permitted by our conscience.
  19. Is torture ever acceptable?
    21st century: Yes, it allows the government to obtain important information.
    Morality: No, it goes against the very fiber of our morality.
  20. Do animals have rights?
    21st century: No, humans are more important than animals.
    Morality: Yes, humans are animals, and your conscience tells you that all animals have rights.
  21. Why should I recycle?
    21st century: Because it is what everybody else is doing.
    Morality: Because it is the right thing to do.

 Conclusion

Have you ever looked for a book on moderation?  There aren’t many.  Have you ever wondered why?  My guess is because the extremists are the squeaky wheels who are always getting the grease to get their books published.  Extremists also have better sound bites for television interviews.  Furthermore, extremists make better headlines and will sell more newspapers and books.  Extremists excite you, energize you, and win you over to their powerful magnetic force.

Moderates are boring because all they want to do is stay in the middle of every argument.  They are the weak force.  But have you ever thought about how difficult remaining neutral really is?  When you have two extreme forces tugging at you, it is actually extremely hard not picking a side.  As the magnetic field strengthens, you generally are drawn to either the north or south poles.  No wonder the world is becoming more polarized with moderates becoming an endangered species.

When we make decisions, we are generally influenced by extreme positions.  Our two-party political system is an example of how two opposite sides polarize America.  Moderate parties generally do not win elections.  However, my conclusion is that people should utilize moderation in making choices in life.  The “Golden Mean” of Aristotle, the “Middle Way” of Buddha, and the “Balanced Order” of Confucius are the heart of virtue ethics.

The 21st century societal value answers to the 21 questions were not moderate.  But the morality answers tended to be more balanced.  That is not to say that the morality answers were perfect.  Any human answers are flawed by humanness, which is found in us all.  But moderation is perhaps the best goal that we as humans can utilize to achieve a heightened sens of morality.

Unfortunately, a revolution generally does not lead to the reinstatement of morality.  Typically, it leads to a new government with new laws, which more than likely will be based on something other than morality, subjective ethics, or objective ethics.  The new leadership will have its own self-interests to serve.  Even communistic revolutions, promising power to the people, have ended up with totalitarian governments taking away everything from the people, including their lives.

Perhaps, this is why morality should be the choice of the people rather than societal or governmental values.



[1] Gordon W. Brown, Paul A. Sukys, and Mary Ann Lawlor, Business Law with UCC Applications, 8th Ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1995), 3 and 8-9.

[2] Brown, 4.

[3] Brown, 7.

[4] Richard A. Mann and Barry S. Roberts, Smith and Roberson’s Business Law, 9th Ed. (New York: West Publishing Company, 1994), 175.

[5] Roger C. Park, David P. Leonard, and Steven H. Goldberg, Evidence Law, A Student’s Guide to the Law of Evidence as Applied in American Trials, 2nd Ed. (St. Paul, MN: Thomson West, 2004), 93.

[6] Brian C. Elmer, et al., Fraud in Government Contracts (Washington, D.C.: Federal Publications Inc., 1993), 3-15.

[7] Many of these questions are found in “Moral Decision Making: How to Approach Everyday Ethics” by Clancy Martin, a professor of Philosophy at the University of Missouri – Kansas City.  The answers are my own.

Individual Freedom or Society’s Common Good?

Although we have had third parties in America, we typically have two major political parties, representing opposing sides, usually the conservative and liberal side to issues.  As a general rule, we could say that today’s Republicans champion individual liberty and the Democrats protect society from greedy capitalists whose selfish ambitions take priority over what is best for our country.

Even though this is a contemporary political debate, the origin of this dichotomy dates back to Plato who, hating Athenian democracy, destroyed the individual to create a perfect state.  On the other hand, many early Greek philosophers were Sophists like Gorgias, Hippias, Protagoras, and Prodicus, who looked inward for answers rather than out upon the materialistic world.  Many of these early philosophers believed that individuals were more important than man-made governments and laws.

So since these issues have been around for about two-and-a-half thousand years, surely one side has proven itself through experience and usage.  But that is not the case.  And you might think that Americans clearly land on the side of individual freedom over social restraints, but that is not true either.  In fact, Americans talk out of both sides of their mouths.  They indicate that they believe in a free market and the importance of individual rights, but they also want to promote the welfare of society as a whole.

It seems this dichotomy is more complex when you actually attempt to apply it to a society.  For example when Hurricane Katrina battered New Orleans in 2005, there were some businessmen who overcharged for products and services since the residents had nowhere else to go.  Was this a case of a willing buyer paying a fair price based on the market or was it a buyer under duress who was being fleeced by a greedy seller?  In other words, should the seller be able to charge whatever the market bears or should there be a law that prevents a seller from taking advantage of somebody in distress?

Quite frankly, it would be a mistake to argue that the rights of an individual are more important than the rights of society or vice versa.  A more pragmatic approach utilizes both doctrines as needed based on the circumstances at hand.  Such a blended government will permit the flexibility to adapt to the needs of society.  For example after Katrina, the government was needed to respond quickly and efficiently to the needs of the people in New Orleans.  Allowing businesses to take advantage of people in dire conditions would have gone against the grain of our notions of right and wrong.  But after getting past the emergency conditions, then the free market would return.

So which is better:  individual freedom or society’s common good?  My answer is:  it depends.  But don’t eliminate either one of them from your box of political tools.  

Origin of Morality

There are two main theories on the origin of morality:  (1) manmade legalistic morality – moral codes created by man, defined by laws of society and religions and (2) holistic morality – moral values known instinctively through reason, a priori, since our consciences were created about 13.8 billion years ago, imprinted as a living part of the entire universe.

These two moral origins may coexist, but only one stands the test of time.  The moral codes created by man are temporal.  Since they are not controlled by a common denominator, they are unpredictable and chaotic.  The holistic approach embraces true moral values found in the subjective test dating back to the creation of our universe. 

The objective test of what society or leaders want is not a fair evaluation of pure morality.  This legalistic morality is contaminated with prejudices of the creators and leads to rules designed to make members of society conform to “cookie cutter” moral standards.  However, the holistic morality goes beyond the parts of a moral code fabricated to address only a section of anthropocentric life.  The entire universe is unified and connected so that we can infer moral understandings that are incorporated into the whole, and thus are more than the sum of all legal moral codes created over the short history of mankind.

The first law of thermodynamics and the law of conservation of matter and energy can be united to show that in a closed system, the total amount of matter and energy in our universe has remained constant since the Big Bang.  Matter and energy can be transformed from one form to another, but can neither be created nor destroyed in our universe.  In effect, our conscience and everything else in our universe was created during the Big Bang and have been in existence in some form or another for about 13.8 billion years.

The imprinting event occurred during the Big Bang, so that the control that exists in our universe was created simultaneously and thus incorporated into the matter and energy.  The alternative is that the universe would remain in chaos forever.  We know that control exists in our universe; otherwise we would not be alive.  The approximately 4% of observable matter in the universe looks like filaments and the remaining 96% of the universe, which is invisible, appears to be connected like glue forming one holistic organism.  The original creation may have changed over the years, but it still has the Big Bang imprint of control.

So the imprint is the mark of control provided by the creator of our universe.  This control can be as powerful as dark energy and dark matter or it can be as simple as self-control from the conscience of man.  Our moral restraints can be learned through experience, a posteriori, so that you know that if you commit murder, then you can be punished under society’s laws.  But the holistic moral code is something you were born with, but actually goes back further than that.  It goes back to the origin of our universe because if it exists now, it existed in the very beginning.

I don’t even need to argue whether there was a creator or not because that is proven by the definition of creation, itself.  If our universe, including all matter and energy, were created in the Big Bang, then something had to create this outside our universe.  In effect, there had to be a creator or there would have never been a creation.

And the creator stamped a conscience in our brains that we can either use or avoid, depending on how independent we feel at the moment.  If we are confident that there will be no consequences for violating manmade laws, then we might become a lawless society.  So, society’s laws can be good by providing control.  However, they do not always match the holistic moral code.  If we are confident that there will be no consequences from the creator, then we might ignore our conscience and do whatever we wanted.

But there is another consequence, rarely considered for hardening your heart to your conscience.  In a closed universe, when you die, your thoughts and conscience may not be destroyed.  Your thoughts may be stuck in a perpetual motion machine for infinity.  If you are stuck within yourself, thinking about what you have done over your short term of life, you might be your own worst enemy.  Your conscience would not be distracted by all the sensory satisfaction that you enjoyed during life.  Your conscience would now have to examine all the sordid details of what you accomplished or failed to accomplish during your life.  You might be harder on yourself than a loving creator ever would be.  That would be hell!

 Thus, holistic morality may offer the best opportunity for control during your brief life, but more importantly, during the period after life.  For it is likely that your conscience and thoughts will not be destroyed at your death.  Holistic morality stands the test of time and can accompany us through the unknown world that awaits us.  These imprinted controls may follow us wherever we travel.      

God Is Not Gray

Most religions have something in common:  they teach moderation.  It is very unusual for a religion or philosophy that has survived the ages to advocate extreme positions.  Moral codes typically have been structured to prevent excessive behaviors of members of society.  Criminal and civil laws have used balancing scales to measure right or wrong actions, and there generally can be mitigating circumstances or gray areas. 

For example, negligence might be defined as the doing or failing to do that which a reasonably prudent person would do under the same or similar circumstances.  But there might be situations where even if a person were negligent, the next person who had the “last clear chance” to prevent the accident might be considered primarily at fault.  And the negligence must be the “proximate cause” of the accident.  Different circumstances can create different judgments.  The laws and rules of societies are not always black and white.   

But God’s judgment may not be gray, at all.  Both the Old and New Testaments take some very extreme positions, indicating that God’s final judgment is black and white with no gray areas.  In the Old Testament, God was quick to mete out judgments against those who did not follow His law.  There are many examples, best known being the Passover, the closing of the Red Sea, Sodom & Gomorrah, and the Great Flood.  In the New Testament, Jesus, although virtuous beyond compare, stated clearly, “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me, scatters.”  Luke 11:23.  There is no gray area here.  You either are with Jesus or you are not.  There is no neutral zone.

Jesus also told us to “fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell.”  Luke 12:5.  The Greek word for hell was gehenna, which was the final destination for those who did not pass the final judgment at the end of days.  Hades, the underground abode of the dead in Greek mythology, has been associated with the location where believers and nonbelievers are separated under the earth after they die.  This may have been the area where Jesus descended for three days after His death before being resurrected.

Jesus described Hades as a place in our earthly world where all people go, which is separated by a great chasm with the righteous dead on one side and the wicked dead on the other.  Luke 16:26.  Those on the unrighteous side complained that they were in agony in the fire, while the righteous were comforted.  Luke 16:24-25.

Then Jesus stated, “Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.  Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered.”  In other words, God is aware of and does not forget even the smallest details of our lives.  It would be interesting if God forced us to watch a video of our lives, humbling us as we watched in great detail all the bad things we had done, but had forgotten.  It reminds me of a scene in the movie “A Clockwork Orange,” when the British gang member was forced to watch a movie, including evil events throughout history, hoping to make him a better person.  

One of the more striking statements by Jesus is found in Luke 12:51: “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth?  No, I tell you, but division.”  What does this mean?  Well, Jesus continues on to describe the end of times as being similar to the American Civil War.  It will divide brother against brother and father against son.  There will be two clear sides:  the believers and the nonbelievers.

There are several judgments, but the most important are (1) the judgment made at death and (2) the judgment made at the second coming of Jesus (end-of-times judgment).  It is interesting to note that the bases for these judgments appear to be similar, but the judgments levied appear to be distinguished by the severity of their judging.  By this I mean that the tests for both judgments may be based on your faith in God/Jesus and your acts of faith thereafter.  However, the judgment at death seems to be described as merely a separation between believers and nonbelievers, while the final judgment or end-of-times judgment appears to be a much more difficult test that only a few pass. 

There are many provisions in the Bible referencing this final judgment, but Jesus emphasized it in Luke 13:24, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.”  Jesus told about the man who in preparing for a great banquet had invited many people.  Many accepted the invitation, but on the day of the event, they made excuses for not attending.  Luke 14:16-20.  Jesus concluded that the master exclaimed, “I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.  Luke 14:24.  My interpretation of this passage is that although many will enter Hades, accepting God’s invitation on the side of the righteous, not many of these will taste God’s kingdom in the final judgment.      

I am not a prophet, but I was lucky to receive a message from Jesus one time.  The message was provided in my mind, not a voice from above.  But I am quite certain that it wasn’t me providing the answer to my own question, because it was not an answer I would have given.  My wife and I had been studying the Bible, and we were both struck with how strong the verses proclaimed that “works” were extremely important in God’s judgment.  We knew that many Christians believed that if you confessed your sins and accepted Jesus as your savior, then you were immediately saved and you would enter heaven.  I asked Jesus to explain “works” to me as I prayed one night.  He said, “It’s in the Bible.” 

Like I said, I was surprised at the answer.  After giving it some thought, I came to believe that He had a dual meaning: (1) works are clearly required in the Bible and (2) I was not entitled to a definition, but had to work for it.  Many Christians believe that they are entitled to heaven once they claim belief.  I am not so sure.  Works may be required to prove that you truly believe in Jesus and God.  It really does not matter how works are weighed in God’s judgment, the point is that they are extremely important if you want to enter God’s kingdom.  Faith, by itself, is not enough.  Works are also required.

Now, I understand the reasoning why preachers do not want to address this issue.  They might lose many from their congregation if they explained the complexity of Judgment Day.  Especially, in today’s world when everybody is looking for simplicity, a “free lunch,” and entitlements.  Another reason might be that religious teachers do not want their followers to think too much or to be too anxious at the point of death.  In other words, your thoughts upon death should not be cluttered with regret for your sins or concern whether your works had met God’s “pass-fail” grade.  You should be relaxed in order for Jesus to lead you to heaven without any worry about consequences from your past activities.

The only problem with this approach is that it ignores “works.”  Jesus talks about “works,” using parables.  One is the parable of the fig tree.  A man had a fig tree planted in his backyard that had not produced fruit for three years.  He decided to see if it would bear fruit on the fourth year and if it did not, he would cut it down.  Luke 13:6-9.  My interpretation of this provision is that God and Jesus expect to see fruit from the fig tree after it is planted.  Once you believe in Jesus as your savior, you need to produce fruit or do good works.  There are many versus in the Bible, referencing “works” that are required to enter God’s kingdom.  The Book of James may be the best source if you want to read more about it.

So, the final judgment day will employ a difficult test as both your faith and works are combined and examined.  Again, God is not gray.  He and Jesus both are black and white in their judgment.  You can pretend that you have a “Get out of Jail Free” card based on when you accepted Jesus as your savior twenty years ago, but God knows each and every sin that you have committed over that time.  Perhaps, a certain amount of sins could be forgiven because we are “miserable wretches,” but at some point, God knows that you were not a true believer.  You may be tossed into hell as a miserable wretch who lied to himself when he professed to be a believer.

The parable of the shrewd manager carries the same message.  In this story, a manager was fired for mismanaging his master’s assets.  The manager called all his master’s debtors in and gave them all discounts on what they owed so that they would owe him a favor after he left this job.  His master commended him for acting shrewdly since he looked up to people who thought like him and used worldly wealth to gain friends.  Luke 16:1-9.  Some people interpret the action of the manager as a good thing because he was forgiving payments since his master had overcharged the debtors.  However, I link it to Jesus’ final comment, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts.”  Luke 16:15.  In other words, even if the manager did the right thing for the debtors, he did it primarily for his benefit to obligate the debtors to him for future services.  God knows your heart.

God is not Gray.  His kingdom also is not gray.  This is one reason why so few enter His kingdom.  In Luke 17:21, Jesus said, “…the kingdom of God is within you.”  This is one of His most important statements.  My interpretation is that the kingdom is spiritual and internal.  In the external universe, it is very gray.  For every rule, there are many exceptions to the rule.  The external world has opposite poles or extremes that balance each other. 

This external universe is full of impurities, lacking perfection except in sanitized laboratories.  This world is very gray.  In Luke 14:34-35, Jesus was describing the cost of being a disciple, ending with an interesting comment:  “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?  It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out.”  My explanation of this is that Jesus was saying that salt, which came primarily from the nearby salty seas, was impure and it lost whatever saltiness it had as the impurities increased.  Weathering could have diluted the salt content.  If it could not be made salty again, it needed to be thrown out as no good.  This is analogous to the judgment at heaven’s gate. 

But the internal universe of God is black and white.  Your mind which has impure thoughts should be cleansed so that you can enter God’s kingdom.  You seek His kingdom with only your thoughts, so if they are not pure, then you will not find the kingdom.  If you seek the spiritual benefits of His kingdom, then the worldly things will be given to you as you need them.  Luke 12:31.  There is no room for gray or impurities in God’s kingdom.