Readers of our Nov. 13 cover story on evangelicals drew a line between public and personal morality. "It is deplorable to involve religion in politics," one said. Another noted: "The problem is not God. The problem is ungodly people using the church to pursue their self-centered agendas."
As a European agnostic, I find the rise of religiosity in the United States appalling because of its conflict with reason ("An Evangelical Identity Crisis," Nov. 13). I see no distinction between religious beliefs and superstition. Yes, God has given us a compass for life: it is called "reason." Like everything else, reason can be abused, as can religion. A South Dakota judge, for instance, ruling that a girl who has been raped cannot have an abortion is cruel. And doctors have been murdered in the name of pro-life beliefs. Is that Christian? I am appalled equally by the precipitous rise of Islam in Europe. The Muslims have brought with them primitive and cruel traditions, which our governments allow because these are said to belong to their religion. And we happen to grant freedom of religion to all who live here. Our elected officials are ignorant in matters of Islam and are unable to separate outdated tribal habits from the contents of the Qur'an. The increasing tensions between Muslims and Europeans might lead to a new holocaust in, say, 20 years' time, unless the Muslims relax the rigidity of their beliefs to the same degree of flexibility as European Christians have developed over the last couple of centuries. There is no sign of that as yet.
Hans Van Den Berge
Lisa Miller's excellent article "An Evangelical Identity Crisis" unwittingly perpetuates what I call the "abortion myth," the fiction that the U.S. religious right galvanized as a political movement in response to the Roe v. Wade decision of 1973. As I demonstrate in "Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America," the Southern Baptist Convention adopted a resolution in 1971 that called for the legalization of abortion. The Roe decision was met largely with silence from evangelical leaders; a few registered mild disagreement, but a significant number, including the redoubtable fundamentalist W. A. Criswell, actually applauded the decision for marking the appropriate distinction between public policy and personal morality. Despite the recent efforts of Richard Land and other leaders to style themselves the "new abolitionists" and align with the 19th-century opponents of slavery, the religious right organized in the late 1970s to defend Bob Jones University, the fundamentalist school in South Carolina, against the efforts of the Internal Revenue Service to revoke its tax-exempt status because it banned interracial dating and marriage. (The Internal Revenue Service had determined that any organization that engaged in racial discrimination was not, by definition, a charitable organization and was not entitled to tax-exempt status.) Only after evangelical leaders had organized to resist the IRS on the Bob Jones matter did they look to address other issues. Abortion was cobbled into the political agenda of the religious right in the late 1970s in preparation for the 1980 presidential campaign, not as a direct response to Roe v. Wade . Compounding the "abortion myth," the leaders of the religious right anointed Ronald Reagan--a divorced and remarried man who, as governor of California, had signed a bill into law legalizing abortion--as their political savior in 1980.
New York, New York
It was a hopeful sign that you dared to deal with the problems of Christian faith in the United States. That this is a problem has been fully shown by the president's foreign policy and his primitive views in moral matters. But instead of getting to the core of the problem--why so many have chosen to believe in a god, an illusion with so many deplorable consequences--you confine yourselves to a historical survey of American believers, presidents or not. Since life in its construction is tragic, I can understand why people, afraid of death or otherwise in need, take refuge in the religious faith they were taught by parents, churches and some schools. But damage occurs when religious illusions are allowed to influence political and social issues, such as education and the various other questions where common sense, reason and concern for our fellow beings are needed. That belief in religions such as Islam can lead to disastrous dreams of a paradise is something we witness daily. But the most disquieting thing is all the primitive beliefs in the United States, the world's stronghold of economics and science. However shocking such an article would be to many Americans, when will NEWSWEEK write about this abyss of ignorance?
NEWSWEEK's cover reveals a deep bias against an inherent truth about mankind: that mankind has a "God complex." The problems of the world are not solved by taking God out of the picture, but by asking ourselves: "Who is this God, how has he revealed himself and how does he want me to live in the light of his revelation?" The problem is not with God. The problem is not with the church. The problem lies with ungodly people who use God and the church to pursue their self-centered agendas.
If a man like ted haggard, a true believer with so much to lose, cannot turn away from his biological nature, how should any gay person be expected to? It is time for Christians to take a closer look at their belief in the sin of homosexuality. Conservative theology allows leaders to cherry-pick which Bible passages will be held as sacred dogma and which will be considered antiquated rules of a bygone culture. The Bible offers no internal guidance to tell the difference. Declaring homosexuality a sin ought to be as morally outmoded as the Biblical prescription to keep slaves (Lev. 25:44-46) or to stone your wife on your wedding night if she is not a virgin (Deut. 22: 20-21). A more compassionate and truly moral theology could have saved Haggard years of self-hatred, embarrassment and suffering.
Colorado Springs, Colorado
I am very happy for evangelicals and other conservative Christians to practice their beliefs. I also respect their right to follow leaders who live in wealth and privilege while others struggle to survive. But I do not respect their unrelenting, obsessive need to force their beliefs on others. My mind, body and personal beliefs are mine, not theirs. If all that wealth and time could be used in true Christian charity instead of in attempts to change the U.S. Constitution or to deny equal rights to other Americans, the amount of good that could be accomplished would truly be a miracle.
Pollock Pines, California
Thanks for your cover story on evangelicals, what they have sown and what they have reaped. It is deplorable to involve religion in politics in order to change the world, and then become corrupted by power, money and abject immoral behavior ("A Pastor's Fall From Grace"). Have they all never heard Jesus say, "My kingdom is not of this world"?
Since the early 1990s, numerous studies have shown that the population of the Philippines could increase by as much as 150 percent by the year 2050, with its inevitable consequence: more poverty ("Wagging the Buffalo," Sept. 25). Solutions such as the two-child policy, use of contraceptives and family planning have been suggested for this problem, much to the dismay of the church, which firmly maintains its pro-life position and champions the right of every couple to have as many children as it wants. With the highly influential church opposing these measures, not one concrete plan on solving overpopulation has passed. Poverty has already become widespread, and an exponentially growing population will drain the resources available to them, leading to worse economic conditions. The government must act quickly to stamp out this problem by exercising the powers granted to it by the citizens themselves in order to provide a higher stand-ard of living for the future. The government needs to salvage its credibility as the fighter for common people even if traditions and beliefs are at stake.
Byron Lendl Ong
Our nation's wealth is slowly being depleted, and the cause of it boils down to population growth. Without due attention and immediate action, the mistakes of the past and the apathy of the present will result in suffering in the future. Because the need for family planning has not been truly addressed, the population of the Philippines continues to grow. The vulnerability of disaster-prone areas has increased because of degradation of the environment for human development and settlement. In areas along the coastline, mangrove forests have been depleted to accommodate the needs of the people. These forests are essential to humans as protection against floods, and to three quarters of the fish that are caught as a link to the food chain. In higher lands, forests are also being cleared to give rise to urban and industrial development, leading to an increase in flash floods and landslides. Urban and industrial development in turn has significantly contributed to air and water pollution. The most common contributors to air pollution are the standard modes of transportation, while water pollution poses the problem of shortage and an increased risk to health.