Editor’s Note: The letter in the left-hand column was a rebuttal to an article I wrote about the relationship between free speech and freedom of religion. After I spent half my article defending Christian newman Britt Hume’s right to say what he did about Christianity and Buddhism, I thought I’d inoculated myself from criticism from overzealous religious types, but evidently not. I didn’t want to get into a argument in the pages of the newspaper, so I haven’t responded in print. However, being me, I couldn’t just leave her accusations unanswered, so I’m placing my response as a concordance here (the blue type on the right side of the page), where presumably only three or four people are likely to see it. It’s all part of that freedom of speech I was talking about. Later on, a second letter writer decided to continue the argument in the newspaper, and did so quite eloquently. Nice work, Joseph M. Russo.

A retort

To the editor:

Mark Drought, in his column “Freedom of religion requires free speech” on January 28, made several statements and innuendos that need to be addressed:

1. He incorrectly implied that Christians have “disdain for another’s religion” and are disrespecting all religions other than their own. Choosing to embrace one religion does not automatically mean disdain for other religions. Obviously, all of the world’s religions cannot be true, because they conflict each other. For instance, Christianity’s claim that there is only one God, and Hinduism’s claim that there are many gods, cannot both be true. As a Christian, I do respect Hindus, but I certainly don’t embrace their beliefs. I can’t be both Christian and Hindu!

Embracing one religion doesn’t automatically mean disdain for other religions — it just means that a choice has been made.

  I implied no such thing. What I said was that Britt Hume’s statement about Buddhism showed his “dismissive” attitude toward someone else’s religion. I used the phrase about disdain, which Ms. Welborn quoted in the first sentence to the left, to point out that disdaining someone else’s faith doesn’t make one a bigot, because your religion is a choice, for which you are responsible and for which you can always be criticized in a free society. I never said that embracing one religion automatically means disdaining another; however, this is often a characteristic of the triumphalist religions, which believe, for example, that “He [Jesus] is the only way to heaven” (as Ms. Welborn stated it). I defended attitudes like Ms. Welborn’s, because, in a free country, she’s entitled to feel that way and to express that feeling whenever she feels like doing so.

Christians aren’t monolithic anyway. Liberal Protestants aren’t always triumphalists, and many Buddhists and Hindus believe you “can be both Christian and Hindu,” because they view all religions as different paths to the same goal. For example, Gandhi, a Hindu, also considered himself a Christian, at least in a spiritual sense. Hindus believe metaphorically “that there are many gods” but that they’re incarnations (i.e., avatars) of the godhead, in the same way that the Father, Son and Holy Ghost (i.e., the Trinity) are all aspects of the one Christian god. Based on her letter, my guess is Ms. Welborn’s grasp of Hinduism is comparable to Mr. Hume’s understanding of Buddhism.

2. The columnist, however, seems to have a disdain and disrespect for Christians in that he declares Buddhism to be “far superior ethically, spiritually and intellectually.” Although I am a Christian, I don’t consider non-Christians to be unintelligent or inferior to me.   Considering one thing superior to another doesn’t imply “disdain and disrespect” for the other. I consider filet mignon superior to flounder, but I’m actually quite fond of flounder. And I’m guessing Ms. Welborn considers Christianity superior to Islam, because she’s chosen to embrace Christianity. Although I’m not a Christian, I don’t consider Christians to be “unintelligent or inferior to me.” Nothing in the article I wrote implies a lack of intelligence among Christians. Physicist and Nobel Prize winner Stephen Hawking is quite possibly the smartest human being on the planet, and he’s Catholic. On the other hand, the late Dr. Carl Sagan, who was a total atheist, was also one of the world’s most prominent scientists ... religion and intelligence are unrelated.
3. Mr. Drought’s statement that it is a true believer’s “duty” to witness for his religion, reflects a misunderstanding of Christianity. If I believe Jesus’s claim that He is the only way to heaven, and that this salvation is offered freely to anyone who chooses to receive it, how could I not share that message with others? Compassion and concern, not a sense of “duty,” compels me to share this life-giving message with everyone whom I meet. Whether they embrace or reject Jesus is their choice, but I am certainly compelled by compassion to present the choice to them!   As to my “misunderstanding of Christianity,” I beg to differ. I was raised a Baptist, and we were taught that it was our duty to witness for our religion. And I defended this witnessing in my article as perfectly appropriate for believers. I think Ms. Welborn is splitting hairs here when she says that it’s not the result of a sense of duty, especially since she twice uses forms of the word “compel” to describe her Christian obligation. Duty vs. compulsion can best be described as a distinction without a difference. If the motivation compelling her is compassion and concern,” that’s nice. I ventured no guesses in my article about what motivates this sense of duty among Christians as a whole ... I don’t pretend to be a mind reader.

As for Ms. Welborn being “compelled by compassion to present Jesus to everyone she meets, I have no way of looking into her heart to see her motivations. However, the sentiments expressed in her point No. 4 below concerning homophobia tend to make me question her compassionate nature. I have the feeling that it’s one of those cases in which religious fanatics say they hate the sin and love the sinner ... a disingenuous statement that I’ve always found suspicious and basically dishonest.

4. Racism and homophobia are incorrectly lumped together. The columnist correctly states that a person’s skin color is a genetic trait over which he has no control. However, homosexuality is a chosen behavior, not a genetic trait. No scientific study has proven otherwise. Furthermore, he casually uses the term homophobia, a deception coined by homosexual activists attempting to silence those who declare the immorality of homosexual behavior.

Karen Welborn
Stamford, Connecticut

  Of all the wrong-headed things in Ms. Welborn’s letter, this section is the worst. First, I never said homosexuality is a “genetic trait”; in fact, I never mentioned the word “genetic” at all. It’s true that “no scientific study has proven anything” about the cause of homosexuality — quite simply, no one knows why it happens — but the idea that it’s a “chosen behavior” is moronic. Does Ms. Welborn honestly think that gay people just wake up one morning and decide, “You know what, I think I want to be a homosexual. I want to be bullied in school, discriminated against and hated by a good percentage of the population.” It’s not the same thing as choosing to be a Republican, a vegetarian or a Mormon.

I don’t know about Ms. Welborn, but I never chose to be heterosexual; it was out of my control. Once I hit puberty, I just started to like girls. I couldn’t have chosen to be gay if I’d been offered a million dollars. And I’ve never met a gay person who chose to be that way ... all the gay people I’ve ever talked to about it knew they were “different” from a young age.

And, finally, since when does merely “casually” using the term “homophobic” silence those bigots who enjoy screaming their prejudices against homosexuals. I have no idea what sort of misguided hatred causes officious religious fanatics to crusade against other people whose behaviors are doing them no harm, but I’d like to think that Jesus, who never once mentioned homosexuality anywhere in the New Testament, would have disapproved of people acting so uncompassionately in his name.

When this letter ran in the newspaper, I got phone calls from several friends (as well as my wife and my mother) to let me know that some woman was implying in print that I’m a homosexual. I’ve looked carefully at that last sentence, but I’m still not sure if that was Ms. Welborn’s intent. Regardless, given my choice, if the options were homosexuality or — and here I’m not writing “casually,” but choosing my words very carefully — fundamentalist Christian bigotry, I’d opt for being gay.

Evidently, I wasnt the only person to find Ms. Welborns comments hateful and lacking in compassion.
For another view,
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