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John Key on Religion and Public Life

September 30th, 2008 by Matt

A few weeks ago someone gave me a copy of this interview with John Key. Now the first thing to note is that the article was published by are not a terribly reliable media outlet, and Madeleine would say that they are beneath the term “media outlet”. Hence, much of what is written may be highly inaccurate. Despite this, if John Key did say these things, how should one respond to them? I will endeavour to do this in this post.f

Key states he voted against civil unions because the majority in his electorate were opposed it. This is clearly an inadequate stance, suppose that same-sex sex is wrong, contrary to the laws of God. If this is the case, Key is suggesting that he would follow the beliefs and will of the majority over the beliefs of an omniscient, all knowing, perfectly-good God. This is irrational to say the least. The mistaken views that are popular are more authoritative than the decree of God.

On the other hand, suppose there is nothing wrong with same-sex sex. Suppose that discriminating against such unions is on par with discriminating against inter-racial unions. Then Key is suggesting he would follow the racial prejudices of the majority even though he abhors this prejudice himself.

Such a position is bizarre. For my part I expect legislators to be people of integrity and have the courage of their convictions to stand against evil and injustice even when it is unpopular to do so.

Key dismisses the argument that “civil unions undermine marriage” in a far too cavalier manner. Though I myself do not endorse this argument, I believe a critique of it should be based on an accurate and fair interpretation which must also be a valid argument. Key’s is neither. Key responds by saying, “I have been married for 22 years and the fact that a gay couple may choose to have a Civil Union would have absolutely no impact on my marriage to my wife”. But that is not the issue. Opponents of civil unions claimed it would undermine the institution of marriage not that it would under mine one particular person’s marriage.

Of course Key is not alone in dismissing the arguments of others simply by a cavalier caricature, but this fact does not alter the spuriousness of doing so.

Key states “I don’t care what people’s sexual preferences are” and states that a persons sexual preference “is their business and their business alone.” Several things can be said here; first whether Key cares about an issue is irrelevant. The issue is whether certain actions are right or wrong and this is not determined by Key’s personal feelings.

Second, if a person’s “sexual preferences” are “their business alone” why does he have no problem with the State solemnising and legally recognising a person’s sexual union. If it is no one else’s business then why is it the states business?

Thirdly, contrary to what Key says, a person’s “sexual preference” is relevant. Some people prefer little children; by definition this is a sexual preference. If Keys’ trite sounding slogan were correct, this is their business alone and no one else’s.

Similarly Key notes that “We have friends who are gay and lesbian, just as we have dozens of friends who are heterosexual.” This may be true but it is beside the point. The fact that you know people who do something does not mean the State should endorse their activity through recognising and solemnising it. I have had friends who sleep around and regularly get intoxicated. Does that mean that the government should set up state funded clinics for those who want casual sex or provide tax payer funded alcohol?

In discussing the origins of same-sex attraction Key states “I believe it is innate. I am not an expert in these areas but I have had all these religious groups in my electoral office trying to argue that this is learned behaviour, personally I believe that is crap.” It is not just religious people who make that claim (and not all religious people do anyway). Socially liberal New York University Sociologist, Dr David Greenberg, in his book “The Construction of Homosexuality” concluded that homosexual conduct is socially learned. He based this on a huge survey of cross-cultural studies. This work may be mistaken, but I think Key is reaching if he thinks his credentials warrant writing off such research as “crap” because of what his consciousness tells him.

Key goes on to note: “I think we largely live in a secular society, I think there are many religions operating in NZ and it is in the best interests of the state to make decisions that are on a secular basis so they don’t discriminate. I’m no supporter of these hard right religions. [For instance,] I was never offered, I would never have accepted any financial support from the Exclusive Brethren. I met them as a constituency MP, as I would meet anyone as a constituency MP on constituency issues as I believe it’s wrong to discriminate.”

There is so much here it is hard to know where to begin.

Key states “we live in a secular society”. This mantra is trotted out by politicians of the left and right continually, but it is spurious. The fact that society currently displays a trait does not mean it ought to display that trait, we currently live in a Labour led society, does Key think that means Labour ought to continue to lead?

Key goes on to state he does not believe in discrimination. However, he then immediately notes that he does not “support hard right religions.” His position is contradictory; unless Key does not support any groups at all (which is clearly false he supports National) he is discriminating against these groups as he is supporting some but not others.

Moreover, legislation by its nature discriminates. A law regulates human conduct, it states that people who engage in certain actions will be censured (incarcerated or fined) while people who do not engage in those actions will not. This is discrimination. Contrary to what Key states discrimination in and of itself is a morally neutral concept. Some types of discrimination are wrong i.e. depriving people of their life on the basis of their race, and others are not, depriving people of liberty because they have committed murder. The fact that such an elementary and obvious point is lost on someone who seeks to lead the country speaks volumes for the intellectual and moral acumen of today’s politicians.

However, Key’s core argument is “I think there are many religions operating in NZ and it is in the best interests of the state to make decisions that are on a secular basis so they don’t discriminate.” The argument here seems to be that because there are many differing religious groups in NZ, it would be discriminatory to base the laws on moral principles taught by only some of these groups. Hence legislation should be based on secular (i.e non-religious) values and ideals.

The problem is that if this argument is not sound. If it were, there is an equally sound argument for the claim that we should not base laws on secular values and ideals.

Consider, there are many secular philosophies operating in NZ. They disagree on all sorts of matters. Compare the Socialist Workers Party with the Objectivist Society, or both with the New Zealand Association of Rationalists and Humanists. Hence, if we follow Key’s logic, to avoid discrimination we need to base laws on “non-secular aims”.

In fact one can push this silly argument further, there are numerous different political parties in NZ, hence to avoid discrimination we should not base laws on the aims or values of any political party. Which means that if elected Prime Minister, Key will not support any National Party policies being implemented.

Does any of the above mean that people should not vote for National? Not necessarily. While Key is clearly mistaken on these issues, it does not follow that he is mistaken on every other issues. Moreover, it could be (lets face it, it is probably the case…) that the alternative to National will contain people who are more mistaken on more issues. John Key has a lot of faults but he has one big tick in his favour, he is not Helen Clark.

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21 responses so far ↓

  • I stopped reading when you said that John Key voting based on what his electorate wants was wrong. What planet are you on – thats the definition of a perfect politician! Why would you want someone who pushes their own views across on behalf of the voters?

  • The thing is what option is there ? make decisions that please Christians ? .

    Which then means we are all governed by Christian beliefs .

    Or make decisions which Christians can still CHOOSE to not take part in or be a part of.

    Which seems more fair to you .

  • Making the decision that is right and standing by it regardless is the standard our politicians should aspire to.

  • Anon

    I see you as providing a false dillemia. You suggest that either laws are based upon Christian beliefs or people are free to take part in decisions. This assumes that if we based laws on Christian beliefs people would have no freedom , I fail to see why this is the case.

    To repeat the line of critique in my post. If laws are based on secular values does it follow that secularists cannot choose to be part of the decision making process. If the laws a re based on national party policy, does it follow that national party members cannot choose to be or not be part of the process. No. So why when its Christianity do people suddenly make this assumption?

    In many liberal assumptions such as the equal dignity of the individual, inalienable rights, governance by consent were in fact advocated on theological grounds by Christian thinkers. And some secular regimes ( following Marx and Lenin) have denied them.

    To equate religion with oppression and secular with free is not accurate.

  • Hi Java Monkey.

    I live on planet earth.

    Your definition of a perfect politican is mistaken. A perfect politician seeks what is just. Not what is popular.

    If your definition were accurate then if majority of people were prejudiced against an ethnic minority and wanted to oppress that minorities rights. And a politican knew what they were doing was unjust. The politican would be required to side with the majority and do what was unjust.

    Hence the just thing to do would be to do the unjust thing. That is a contradiction and hence can’t be true.

  • Well thank heavens we will never have a Christian ruling .Their votes dedicated towards rules are about force not towards freedom of choice .

    Unlike the book they read which allows for choice and freedom of thinking , they seek to rule and control by a earthly power .

    Then these closet dictators foolishly bring up the likes of Stalin ,a dictator who was harassed and taught dictatorship by those who haunted him in his childhood a religious priest whom he named the black spot .Childhood it is well known these days has such a great effect on ones life , good or bad that is .

    Quote:Father Abashidze, whom Stalin nicknamed “the Black Spot”—harassed the rebel students through student informers, nightly patrols and surprise dormitory raids.

    Oh the joys of youth learnt within Georgian Orthodox Seminary of Tiflis , judgement and damnation laced with such blatant bigotry ! no doubt .One wonders why he never developed into a lovely balanced loving person .Surely with such devine loving religious guidence he should have ! yes ?.

    Java monkey dont bother arguing with these rightious christians being so wonderful they just no it all even if they cant see past the end of their own snobby noses.Politicians should make policy from listening to the ranting of the very few religious idiots .

    We could breed a country full of messed up Stalin dictators .L.o.L!!

  • Quote :Karl Heinrich Marx was born in Trier,His father, Heinrich Marx (1777–1838), born Herschel Mordechai (the son of Levy Mordechai (1743-1804) and wife Eva Lwow (1753-1823)) was descended from a long line of rabbis but converted to Lutheran Christianity,

    Oh dear ! sounds awfully like he might have received a good dose of christianly dictatorship teaching in early life too ! hmmmm .Full of judgement and rules ??.

    Funny how childhood can effect people huh !.

    Such bigotry though that Christians try to take any high ground on such matters …One can only sit and wonder what their heavenly father would think about it .

  • Oh wise anonymous if everything bad done by atheist adults is the fault of Christians they encountered in their youth, what then do you say to me?

    All through my childhood I witnessed violence in the home, I was on the receiving end of it too regularly sporting bruises and welts. My parents divorced. Things were ugly. After the last violent incident I was on the receiving end of I ran away from home and never returned. I did drugs, I picked up a criminal conviction, I fell pregnant in my teens. I had zero self-worth.

    I have since become a Christian. As an adult, I don’t do drugs. I don’t commit crimes. I don’t beat my kids. I pay my taxes. I give to charity, etc.

    Hence, everything that I say and believe as a Christian, that you object to as bigoted and intolerant, is by your logic the direct fault of atheists.

    I now expect to see you trolling atheist blogs berating atheism for all the bigotry espoused on this blog.

    Further, I expect to see you spear-heading a campaign calling for more atheists to commit spouse and child abuse in the home. After-all I am not a mass-murdering monster, so this must be the result of my model atheist child-hood (it can’t possibly be the result of my ideology as an adult – Stalin’s wasn’t).

    BTW Marx’s parents were Jews in his formative years. Therefore, by your logic, the atrocities committed in his name were all the fault of the Jews.

    Where have I heard this logic before?

    …a book called Mein Kampf springs to mind.

  • L.o.L ,yes i`d say your upbringing has more to do with who you have become than you realize Madeleine .

    Extremes from both sides that provide unhappy experiences tend to lead down these paths .Where the abused completely change paths looking for something else their mind in mental breakdown dreams to be in a better place .

    You sadly had a bad experience with parents of no belief and so some wires have shorted out within your brain matter ,that has led you to come to blame it all on a lack of faith and now to have become a champion for religious rule.

    Which is sadly total madness and not at all intelligent , because the fact is well known its the extremes which cause the problems .You suffer the same problem of madness that Stalin and Hitler and many others within extremes suffered .We see the problems of these extremes everywhere .With Bush or with the jews or within Islam , it doesnt matter where we look its the extremes that cause problems .

    Unless you in your sad state of mind would like to suggest all families with no faith have the same sad experience you had .And in such bigoted madness would like to suggest all who lead a life of faith experience happiness .I believe you would like to suggest the latter to appease your haunted mind of the childhood experiences you had .In a childish need of looking for something to lay blame on .Yet if i was bothered i could produce plenty of data to prove it is a false belief , as so many suffer within religious faith.Some for instance in fact are even hopefully going to receive compensation for sexual abuse they received within the realms of religious faith.This is but one instance of the very many available that suggest your thoughts of the goodness of rule by faith actually holds little merit of definitive intelligence.That stuporous age old thought has long proved itself to be a total fallacy ,time and time again.

    I have as much right to choose to enter blogs where i wish , yes ?.That is for now unless you religious dictators get into power and try in future to rule otherwise .

    Thankfully that is not likely to ever happen .

    Thanks for providing such a fine example Madeleine , of how extremes can effect peoples thoughts and beliefs .You being brought up within the abusive extremes of a family of non belief have jumped ship thrown all of your dollys out of the pram ,and now in one tracked mind see faith as the only answer .

    Thanks you have proved my point, neither extremes lead to any good.

    We need to be ruled by no particular belief!.I mean where would it end if the religious got power to rule ,for instance it could become law maybe that adulterers were to be burnt at the stake L.o.L ! .

    Or maybe thieves would once again need to be stoned to death .Church attendance might become law .

    No my vote goes along with the majority of sensible people ,for separation of politics and belief .
    Within that system there is choice for all ,and we need not fear being savaged by some religious mindless fanatic .

  • Anon

    Actually the only person proving other peoples points is yourself.

    You state

    *Unless you in your sad state of mind would like to suggest all families with no faith have the same sad experience you had .And in such bigoted madness would like to suggest all who lead a life of faith experience happiness .I believe you would like to suggest the latter to appease your haunted mind of the childhood experiences you had .In a childish need of looking for something to lay blame on .Yet if i was bothered i could produce plenty of data to prove it is a false belief ,*

    You are quite correct: 1. it is bigoted madness to suggest that because *one* person has had a bad secular upbringing it follows that all non-believers have this upbringing. and 2. it’s “childish” to blame the bad upbringing you receive on the beliefs held by the parents in question.

    Where you err is in your bizarre suggestion that this somehow refutes Madeleine. Seeing you missed the sarcasm 1. and 2. were the very points Madeleine’s was making.

    The person refuted by because in the discussion above you both. Attempt to blame Marx and Stalin’s bad upbringing on the religious beliefs of their parents. (Contrary to 2.) And you suggested that all Christians “seek to rule and control by a earthly power” that “We could breed a country full of messed up Stalin dictators” because Stalin ( that is one person) had a bad Christian upbringing. (contrary to 1)

    By your own logic then your posts are bigoted madness and childish, thanks for confirming her point.

  • Ok two points

    First, on what basis do you suggest that “the religious” support, stoning thieves to death or burning adulterers at the stake, or making church attendance legal. I don’t support any of these things, I don’t know of any contemporary Christian theologian who does? In fact all of these were also rejected by a good number of important theologians historically. ( I don’t for example know why you talk about (thieves “ once again” being stoned to death as though this was once an accepted practise in Christian thought?). This sounds to me like you are simply engaging in slander and stereotyping.

    Second, if this argument is sound then I could offer an analogous argument which would also have to be sound: here it is

    We need to be ruled by no secular belief!.I mean where would it end if the secularist got power to rule ,for instance it could become law maybe that infanticide and paedophilia is permitted L.o.L ! .

    Or maybe Christian’s would once again need to be sent to Gulags’ for re-education. Union membership might become law.

    I support ,for separation of politics and secular belief . Within that system there is choice for all ,and we need not fear being savaged by some atheist mindless fanatic .

    If your argument is sound then so is this one. This one clearly is not sound, so neither is yours.

  • Hey matt you were the one that tried to equate marx and lenin with whats secular .I pointed out you had like many religious quite conveniently overlooked certain aspects .

    Your analogous argument is flawed matty boy.Unlike religious beliefs with their written rules of madness , the secular is not based on religious spiritual or sacred mindless crap.Dreamed up long ago by some fool who thought he spoke to some space daddy .It has no dark age (written) beliefs that are set in stone that never change that one must adhere to and keep following forever.

    Yet within the secular rule even the religious idiots have some room to practice their beliefs .Ie you do not need to have an abortion should you believe its not for you.You need not be gay or have a gay marriage .etc.In fact should you feel it compromises your crazy belief you could even personally choose to not fart ,should it worry you of your personal future salvation.

    What you tossa`s want to do is control other peoples choices as well.

    Secular rule is based on (common sense) and majority rule !.Has no sacred dreamed up written sacred rule and not being set in stone can change.It evolves often .

    Which is why when you mention this crap “for instance it could become law maybe that infanticide and paedophilia is permitted L.o.L ! “.

    I realise you just are to religious and dont have any common sense L.o.L .

    I posted the thoughts regarding stoning and burning people to point out the book of beliefs you would like society and government to be based around carried some of these mindless types of barbaric thoughts.Not exactly but pretty close.

    Maybe instead of just copying out of spite you can be more creative and provide me with some modern secular writings that suggest these crazy types of things .

    Might seem strange to you but speaking for myself i prefer to avoid abortion which happens well before birth,i can choose that but dont need to try to rule others in their choice .Im not gay and not interested in a gay marriage i in secular rule can choose not to , but see no reason in common sense that it hurts anyone who does choose it .See these things amount to secular common sense unlike the infanticide and paedophilia you suggest which would by far be much more likely to be accredited to some age old religious barbaric belief than anything modern and secular.

    Within your book you read there were even chapters that suggested it was ok to rape the woman of your enemy .And a whole lot more.

    These are all supposedly beliefs of your omniscient, all knowing, perfectly-good God too.

    One thing good and safe about majority secular rule is we will certainly not be allowing the rape of any enemies women.

    Call me atheist i dont mind at all, but i think of myself as a humanitarian and spiritual.

    Good luck with dreams of ever ruling by minority religious belief base , but whether you be John key or anyone else .We the majority will vote and give you the boot mighty quickly.

  • Madd, Matt,

    It is good to see Christians providing good arguments and refutations while the secularists on your blog just huff and puff. Quite pathetic really.

    Given their moral relativism, I would love to know upon what basis they could criticize Hitler.

  • So basically your argument is:

    If someone turns out bad its because they had an encounter with a Christian in their childhood.

    If someone becomes a Christian as an adult, it is because they had an bad childhood.

    All Christians want to rule the world and suck the fun and freedom out of life.

    All Christians generalise and are irrational.

    If you meet someone who does not meet the above criteria this is impossible, check your premises because Christians = bad.

    Gotta ask why is Matt a Christian? He was raised by non-Christian parents who loved him and supported him.

  • Trends

    Generally, the proportion of New Zealanders who identify as Christian is declining — the figure now stands at around half the census respondents, whereas in the 1991 census, it stood at around three quarters. If the decline continues at a similar rate, Christians will cease to be a majority within a decade.

    Different denominations are experiencing different trends. Anglicanism and Presbyterianism are both losing adherents, while Catholicism is gaining them, although not fast enough to match population growth.

    The stats speak very clearly Christians = Dodos and in 10years even less given that its likely a higher proportion of census respondents numbers were from people like christians who might be more likely to respond . They soon will all in the distant background become a faint whisper of ancient sky daddy fads, still clutching at their tattered books with no real evidence of proof in hand after thousands of years.

    Their coffers will become quite empty as dilapidation takes its toll, society will vote that it will no longer afford any incentive schemes to that what is in decline and no longer wanted.Monies being better spent elsewhere .

    Still bleating that politicians should have policy based on conscience of supposed moral religious beliefs rather than serving the general public overall,the religious will become an embarrassment even to their own children more and more .

    A withered up old Mcas will stand in the background still thinking that its all just huff and puff his foggy wee mind still not able to comprehend the reality of matters even though its daily slapping him right in the face.

    Ahh its a beautiful thing that the religious are such blind idiots.Its really the good news of today ,we wont be dogged by them forever.

    Im smiling .Im happy .

  • Well if Wikipedia says so then its all over.

  • Hi Anon

    Actually my argument stands.

    First, your argument and mine are identical in form hence if one has a valid form so does the other, similarly, if one has an invalid form so does the other.

    Second, the only difference between them are the content of the premises. Your contains some horrible things you allege some Christians might do if they got into power. Mine contains some horrible things some secularists might ( and actually would) do if they got into power. The two then are on par.

    You demur you suggest

    *Your analogous argument is flawed matty boy..Unlike religious beliefs with their written rules of madness , the secular is not based on religious spiritual or sacred mindless crap.Dreamed up long ago by some fool who thought he spoke to some space daddy .It has no dark age (written) beliefs that are set in stone that never change that one must adhere to and keep following forever.*

    This suggests two things, first the secular beliefs I proposed are not “mindless crap” and secularists have no beliefs that are set in stone that never change and people must keep adhering to forever.

    I see, so the claim “you should not have sex with children” is not one you are obliged to obey for ever. Future secular societies will allow it. And the idea that you can kill infants or throw Christians in Gulags is not mindless crap, apparently its something we should seriously consider.

    I put to you that this in fact confirms the premises of my argument.

    In fact if what you say in this paragraph is correct the claim that you should not burn adulterers or stone thieves is not a moral principle that remains forever but it can be altered at a latter date. So, in fact, secularists might do the very things you are scared Christians might do.

    Your second claim was to ask *Maybe instead of just copying out of spite you can be more creative and provide me with some modern secular writings that suggest these crazy types of things .*

    Gladly, Try Michael Tooley’s Abortion and Infanticide. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983.). Tooley is one of the worlds leading atheist Philosophers and only a few months ago co-published a book with Alvin Plantinga where he argues that belief in God is unjustified. He notes in this book that the belief that infanticide is wrong is simply a hangover from Christianity. I could refer you to the writings of Princeton Ethicist Peter Singer who supports infanticide, he bases his conclusions on Utilitarianism one of the leading secular ethical theories today ( see for example his book Practical Ethics )he suggests that opposition to infanticide is a hangover over ‘religious mumbo jumbo’ and is inappropriate in a secular society James Rachel’s Created from Animals is another. Rachel’s argues that when we reject the notion that people are Created and replace that with a Naturalistic Darwinian account there is no basis for the prohibition against infanticide. Rachels is the author of the widely used ethics text book (the Elements of Moral Philosophy. I could also mention numerous other contemporary secular ethicists who endorse infanticide, its actually fairly common in the literature on abortion, Mary Anne Warren, Joel Feinberg, Jonathan Glover have all defended abortion rights on grounds that entail and infant has no rights and is not a person and all of them endorse this implication. I could dig out some more examples if you want.

    As to re-educating Christian’s in Gulags, that was actually advocated by various Marxist regimes. Marx as you know was an atheist and his Philosophy thoroughly materialistic. Moreover, many Athiests are on record suggesting that teaching religion to your children is child abuse. Dawkins, Hitchens etc which would suggest that the Children of Christians should be children should be taken out of their care. Daniel Dennet has taken flak for suggesting that Baptist be put in ‘cultural zoos’ (Darwin’s Dangerous Idea).

    Compulsory Unionism was advocated by left wing political parties in my life time and is still advocated by many left wing secular activists ( I know when I was student president I attended their conferences) Its still practised and supported by Labour in the Tertiary sector. As to pedophilla, well Jim Peron a leading atheist libertarian commentator, who worked for the Institute for Liberal Values in NZ and also was a regular writer and commentator for Gaynz is on record defending it. Fitz Bernard a Dutch psychologist has defended it and the North American Man Boy Love Association have defended it. I could name other people who have defended this, in each case its typically sexual liberationists of some sort, i.e secular liberals not Christian fundamentalists.

    You see anonymous unlike you, I don’t make up positions (like stoning thieves) and then attribute it to others. Nor do I actually read what secularists write and base my assessment on that.

    Hence what I said was correct, some secularists might advocate these things, precisely because some do.

    Hence, just as you can find crazy things some Christians might advocate I can find disturbing things some secularists do advocate. If you finding this proves ‘religious beliefs’ should be excluded from public life. My argument proves secular beliefs should be as well. Obviously this is an absurd conclusion, hence your argument did not prove anything at all. Except that your an ignorant idiot who shoots his mouth off without thinking.





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  • This is actually what is so disturbing about the whole Christian vs secular debate. People like anon actually just want Christianity to be gone, even when his arguments and reasons are completely wrong.

    Clearly displaying intense dislike/hatred, but when confronted could not really give sound arguments.

    I mean, what does declining number of Christians to do with such discussion like this one? I guess the seculars would accept murder and rape to be okay if the number of people who oppose such things are declining?

  • "Open Parachute" linked to a nice little chart that divides people into four groups: allies, embarrassing friends, crackpots, and worthy opponents.  I'd love to see some blogging software that would allow me to not only vote "like/dislike" on a given comment, but that would let me put the author in one of those four boxes.  If I could, I'd put "Anonymous" in the "Crackpot" column–not because he's totally out to lunch, but because his standards of reasoning embarass me and he's not my "friend," in the sense that he does NOT agree with my beliefs.

  • Hey look, if God had a vote in Helensville, maybe Key would give a damn?
    But he’s Jewish, so it’s not like you should worry. Does he get into heaven under your rules?