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The Beliefs That Drive Us

August 21, 2004

Re "Holy Terror," Opinion, Aug. 15: I've been waiting and hoping for someone to put it right out there: The world's greatest enemy today (or ever, for that matter) is religion. Our greatest enemy is the person or the people or the nation whose actions are driven solely by beliefs instead of facts, by blind faith instead of informed knowledge.

Our seeming willingness to base our entire existence upon divine revelations that may or may not have been passed on to one, single, handpicked human -- Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, Joseph Smith, Jim Jones, David Koresh, doesn't matter -- is a lunatic abrogation not only of our (some would say God-given) ability to think for ourselves, but of our duty to do so.

As long as we allow 4,000 years of wildly disparate and forever unprovable beliefs to decide who is good and who is bad, who is friend and who is foe, there will never be peace on Earth.

David Butler

Los Angeles

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In a concluding section of his article, Sam Harris writes, "As a man believes, so he will act." This is as true for atheists as it is for those who are religious. Capitalism is composed of a set of beliefs that influence actions as much as any religion; nationalism too is an overarching structure that influences beliefs and actions.

Sometimes these sets of ideas are used to lay off thousands of people in order to guarantee profits for shareholders and corporate executives, or to create reasons for national defense that may not leave a nation safer.

The point of this is to say that any belief system can be interpreted to do good or bad things, that religion is not a problem; it is individual believers and those who teach these faiths. The lack of awareness of this basic fact by Harris leaves his claim to be one who speaks of "reason" a bit suspect.

Bob Untiedt

Los Angeles

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Laced among the lofty admonitions to love in the sacred scriptures of world religions lie passages that recommend intolerance and violence toward outsiders. It's a credit to the decency of most people that they do not act on these "sacred" passages. In this sense, you could say that most people are better than their religion.

Unfortunately a few people, rare and deviant (but arguably faithful to their scriptures), allow such passages to fuel religious ferocity. To restrain this indecent minority, the decent majority of religious people should make explicit what they accept tacitly, i.e., that parts of their sacred scriptures are not sacred, are not revelatory and are indeed sub-ethical and immoral by present-day standards. If religious people admit this and religious leaders preach it, then perhaps religious violence will cease.

Joe McKenna

Irvine

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Harris states the obvious when he says religious beliefs have consequences. Does he believe nonreligious beliefs do not? Is he ignorant of the persecution of homosexuals in atheist (Marxist) societies? Has he compared the number of killings by governments avowedly anti-religious (Soviet Russia, Communist China, Khmer Rouge Cambodia) with those done by governments professing belief in religion?

I fail to understand the point of Harris' piece.

Samuel F. Rindge

South Pasadena

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Congratulations to Harris for saying what not only needed to be written but needs to be discussed nationally.

Religious texts should be given no heed when directing social policy and lawmaking in this country. If you've any doubt, try convincing the majority in this nation to use the Koran, Tenfold Path to Divinity or the writings of Robert Ingersoll as a legislative guide and watch the melee ensue.

In America all beliefs (and nonbelief) are to be respected equally in the eyes of the law. That's what's made us great.

Believers in this nation should be grateful that they are free to do whatever their faith teaches, and that their neighbor has been given that same right. Let them work within their own faith communities to teach what they hold as true, and respect others' right to do the same.

Are some so uncertain of their beliefs that they must see them passed into law for them to feel good about themselves? What ever happened to the Golden Rule?

Ellen Brown

Americans United for Separation of Church and State

San Diego

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Harris rightly points out the dangerous dimensions of much religion but ignores the profoundly humane side of many religious traditions, both ancient and modern.

Harris acknowledges that "there are very real and consequential differences between the major religious traditions," but his article makes it appear that all religions -- except perhaps Tibetan Buddhism and Palestinian Christianity -- are equally problematic.

To the extent that Harris offers a picture of religion that is uncritical and undifferentiated, his attack on religion is as much a part of the problem as the irresponsible side of religion he wants to expose.

Richard T. Hughes

Malibu

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