rules to live by

I'm writing this in the wake of the Pulse club shootings in Orlando.

If you're reading this, I'm aware that you probably know or like me (because who else would care about my blog?). I realized that I know and love a lot of people who regularly attend religious services. And in the coming weeks, the sermons in their services are going to address this shooting.

Some sermons will approach the topic with love and compassion and say that no one should commit such an evil act. However, some will say that it was God's will, or that being gay is evil, or gays deserve to die. I'm mostly writing this to explain why I disagree with the latter. Within this explanation is my basic stance on life.


I try to do less harm than good. To remember to do that, I've created a few rules for myself, and I try to adhere to them while going about my life. Some of these rules are straightforward and practical, like "Don't wear high heels while drunk". But the majority of these rules all center around one main one.

The main rule is to not be terrible.

Over the years, I've had to define what "terrible" means. My definition of terrible involves impinging on living beings' happiness without their consent. There are different degrees of terrible acts, depending on:

  • How many living beings are affected
  • How long they have been/will be affected (a proxy for how deeply they've been hurt)
  • How much they can experience being affected
  • How terrible the affected beings are themselves
  • Whether the act is deliberate or consequential

Some of the factors that determine how terrible a person is include:

  • How aware they are of doing the terrible thing
  • How long they have been doing the terrible thing
  • What forces compel them to do the terrible thing
  • What forces prevent them from stopping doing the terrible thing
  • Whether that terrible thing is isolated/stoppable or systemic/hard to stop
  • Whether that terrible thing is to prevent something worse, or is in the service of something good

Thinking about this rule has made it easy to prioritize what to care about, because the things that matter most are the ones that actively prevent terrible things.

Helping people when they need it? Ok.
Keeping house? Nope.
Money? I guess having it can help someone.
Praying? Not really.
Writing a local representative? Maybe. Do they even read those?
Stopping an active shooter? Probably worth it if I don't get killed immediately.
Meeting deadlines? Is someone literally gonna be dead because I don't make a deadline? If not, then no.

Sometimes I care about some of this other stuff because other people care or are affected by it. But when all I really want to do is prevent the most terrible things-- suffering and death-- from happening in the known universe, the other stuff is small beans.

This rule has had some remarkable repercussions. I was raised Catholic and fairly conservatively. Because I care about life, I agree with the church's harsh stance on issues like guns and the death penalty, and I recognize that they're the largest non-governmental provider of health services in the world.

And because I care about life, I disagree with their stance on issues like abortion. I do agree that life begins at conception. But as someone who studied biology, I know that a clump of cells has less life in it than a mosquito, which is much less life than a full-grown woman whose life potential would be unduly taken away from her if she were forced to carry a child to term. In this case, I would rather be terrible to the clump of cells-- it doesn't have a fully developed nervous system, so it can't feel or remember pain and suffering to the extent that a woman can.

As someone who studied biology, I also take issue with the church's stance on sexuality, gender, and gender roles. Homosexuality does occur in nature. It may be unusual in mammals, but it's natural. (Flowers get really freaky with each other. And themselves.)

As someone whose own marriage would have been illegal less than a century ago, I'd like to point out that the things people claim are unnatural and that God finds disgusting have changed and will continue to do so. So if people want to do something to increase their happiness or ease their suffering and it won't harm anyone else, no matter how weird it might be to me, it's not my place to voice an opinion about it.

I generally disagree with having social norms, such as some forms of organized religion, normative whiteness, and heteronormativity, because they create a culture that not everyone fits into. That leads to the rejection of whatever and whoever doesn't fit those norms, which leads to the existence of outsiders to that culture. Being an outsider can result in discrimination-- in some cases, even death.

I still try not to be a terrible Catholic. But more importantly, I'm trying not to be a terrible person. I don't condone being terrible to someone because they don't fit in, or because they don't follow arbitrary rules about how to look or act. They must have participated in harming another living being for me to even consider being terrible to them.

Anyway, if you're trying not to be terrible, and are maybe even trying to help others, I personally believe that God is pretty accepting and doesn't have strong opinions on what you do otherwise. I just wish more humans could be like that. And, if nothing else, I wish we could agree on what being terrible means.