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H . The Rules of Distinctions

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Knowledge may be gained by an individual acting alone. Wisdom can never be recognized as wisdom without the consent of a majority of others qualified to comment upon the alleged wisdom. The attainment of wisdom is far more important than is the attainment of knowledge. Wisdom is a prerequisite to the proper use of knowledge, and it is thus improper to give knowledge where wisdom is lacking.39

A central dilemma of any society is how to deal with individuals who do not abide by the rules which society has established. Each violation of rules must be measured in several different ways to establish the level of guilt of the individual(s) involved. The first scale is the seriousness of the violation on an absolute scale, measured in increasing severity from a very minor social affront on one end of the scale, up to the unjustified, intentional, and genocidal killing of a group of individuals on the other end of the scale. Having decided that value, a percentage of fault is then assigned to the individual, the family leaders, the tribal leaders, or any other individuals responsible for the moral guidance of the individual up to the time of the violation. Percentage fault values may also be assigned to society as a whole (based upon a determination that "the system" had somehow failed to act to prevent the violation) and to inadvertence (or "accidental" occurrence of the violation). A third scale should measure the criminal history of each individual, assigning some appropriate value(s) to the propensity of the individual for repeated violations. Having determined each of those values, an individual judgment should be made as to whether the individual(s) in question should be rehabilitated (first choice, except for instances of more serious violations and/or prior record of failed rehabilitation), punished (with the central goal of punishment being restitution to the victim(s), in some form or another),40 eliminated (permanent incarceration or capital punishment, with the eventual goal of using "brainwashing" techniques rather than actually killing the individual), or some combination of these results. The key concept is that, at some point, an individual who commits some kind of major violation, or some quantity of minor violations, has reached the point at which society declared that the individual has forfeited the civil rights which are usually granted to all individuals. Also, the Agnostic Church will have no need to motivate individuals to obey the laws by preaching that hellfire and brimstone awaits such individuals after their death if the criminal justice system can promise a much more immediate Hell right here on Earth. The basic outline stated herein has the purpose of widening the range of responses which are available to deter and/or punish criminal activity, allowing more lenient treatment in those cases which justify leniency and more harsh treatment in those cases which justify a harsher treatment.

Each intelligent individual inherently understands the concept of the individual "self" as opposed to "others." The "family" of each individual consists of those other individuals to whom the individual "self" is related by acts of conception, birth, marriage, adoption, or other equivalent acts. An "extended family" is a group of individuals and/or families who have agreed with one another to form this kind of larger family unit which binds the members of the extended family to treat all members of the extended family as if they were members of their own family.41 A "resident family" consists of those individual family members who have elected to share some form of residence. A tribe is a group of resident families who bind themselves together for their own common good, which includes various kinds of mutual protection, development, etc. Ideally, each individual should belong to (and live within) a functional resident family,42 which should, in turn, belong to (and live as part of) a functional tribe. For the purposes of the Agnostic Church, the "tribe" is also the "congregation" of the church, and while the term "tribe" is always more correct to use, there may be situations in dealing with outsiders where use of the term "congregation" would be more appropriate.43 Various other kinds of organizations may also exist, each for a specific purpose (including all of the governmental units which are now recognized by our present society, but only to the extent that such organizations have continued usefulness).

The agnostic dogma defines the true belief of the Agnostic Church about the existence of God. Most other religions define God (or a set of Gods) in anthropomorphic terms. Doing so is erroneous because it tends to promote irresponsible acts by individuals who are then prone to ascribe various acts and omissions to "God's Will," which properly translated means "I'm not responsible, so don't blame me." This is fine, so long as the acts and omissions are truly not the responsibility of some individual (such as a weather disaster or an earthquake).44 This concept fails, however, when it allows the individual to (mentally) escape personal responsibility for the acts and omissions of the individual. To conceive of God as an entity who may be blamed for the failures of the individual is to promote the further occurrence of such failures. Only when an individual takes responsibility for the acts and omissions of said individual can said individual grow into a responsible member of society. Numerous twelve step "self-help" programs have avoided the use of the word "God" in their programs in order to make themselves less religious, and therefore more universal, in nature. Instead, they use the term "higher power" in lieu of the word "God." Nonetheless, they encourage individuals who believe (or who were raised to believe) in the anthropomorphic God to think of that concept of God as the "higher power" for the purposes of the twelve step program. This actually tends to promote the failure of the twelve step program for the very reasons explained above, in that it allows the individual to not feel responsible for the conduct of said individual. In fact, the true "higher power" is the sense of responsibility one feels towards self and others. It may also be seen as a sense of duty towards self and others, and both the sense of responsibility and/or the sense of duty are directly related to the concept of that individual's self esteem. Only when a "higher power" is conceived of in this way will the concept be useful for promoting the healing process which is the objective of all twelve step programs. It has been shown that the most successful drug resistance programs for young people are those programs which concentrate on promoting self esteem. Thus, the healing process will occur when the individual takes responsibility for the acts and omissions of said individual, and sees the duty and responsibility to not harm oneself or others as the motivation for acting and omitting to act in the fashion demanded by society, and by acting in a responsible manner, promotes and reinforces the defenses of said individual against wrongful conduct by promoting and reinforcing that individual's self esteem. (However, it should be remembered that the concept of "harm upon self" is limited by the Freedom Dogma, in that society does not have a right to compel an individual to cease or desist from a course of conduct which is only harmful to that individual. With drug abuse and similar problems, however, it is virtually impossible for an individual to become addicted to that sort of conduct without eventually harming others, and it is this virtual certainty of eventual harm to others which gives society the license to intervene with compulsion in what would otherwise be a personal problem where society is limited to "remonstrating" the individual.)

There are many kinds of conduct which are proscribed by society. Some conduct is merely impolite. Some conduct goes beyond impolite and becomes annoying. Some conduct inflicts minor to major harm upon property of an individual. Some conduct inflicts minor to major harm upon a single individual. Some conduct inflicts minor to major harm upon a group of individuals, which group may vary in size from two individuals to a very large number of individuals. The response of the society to any offense (proscribed conduct) should be measured by (and should be proportional to) the offense committed. It is wrongful in the extreme to inflict great harm in response to a merely impolite word or phrase. Each individual should always first contemplate the level of the offense before there is any contemplation of an appropriate response.

One of the great distinctions is the difference between the morality which may be taught (as being representative of morally correct behavior) and the morality which may be compelled (by using the forces available to the society for compelling compliance with its moral code). This distinction is best represented by the Freedom Dogma, which need not be repeated. To summarize, however, society may compel an individual to follow a course of conduct which avoids harm to others. However, so long as an individual has the requisite sanity and maturity, society may only attempt to teach the individual to follow a course of conduct which avoids harm to self, and may not compel such a course of conduct.45

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39 See the Dangerous Knowledge Dogma.

40 With the goal of punishment being restitution to the victim(s) or to other individuals who are affected by the loss to the victim(s), the focus of punishment must be shifted away from mere incarceration, which provides no source of restitution. Each case must be analyzed on its own facts, but many forms of punishment (such as slavery, torture, etc.) currently prohibited by Western Civilization ought to be examined for their application in our own civilization. For example, the perpetrator could be sold into slavery or the right to inflict non-permanent tortures on the perpetrator could be sold to the general public. In each case, the revenue would go to the victim(s) as a part of restitution. Another option would be to declare the individual to be an involuntary organ donor. However, that option has the potential for being taken too far. There is a somewhat famous science fiction story about an individual who was subject to that punishment for accumulating a "criminal record" consisting of several traffic tickets.

41 The "family" which is referred to here is the family in a larger sense, and does not include any support obligations. Support obligations fall only on parents and grandparents by blood or by adoption.

42 As opposed to the now more common "dysfunctional" family.

43 Whenever a member of the Agnostic Church sees the word "congregation" used with respect to the Agnostic Church, an automatic translation should occur to the proper word of "tribe," because the "tribe" is the "congregation," and vice versa.

44 However, it is wrong to attribute damage due to a weather disaster or earthquake as being the result of an act of God unless the particular weather or earthquake could never have been expected to occur and/or to cause that particular damage. If you live in the coastal regions of California, you should expect earthquakes of varying degrees to occur on a regular and random basis. Accordingly, it is negligent for an individual to build or occupy a home or business which is not fully designed, built, and maintained so as to withstand the most severe earthquake and/or weather which can rationally be expected to occur within the next 100 years.

45 Some of the moral issues are very complex. If a young woman has an infant child, but refuses to work to support herself and the child, what are the proper steps which society may consider to intervene on behalf of the child? Should she be compelled to work and provide child support? Should the child be placed for adoption? Should she be compelled to choose one of those two alternatives?

Copyright 1994-1999 by the Agnostic Church

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