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The Bible, freedom, and the public square

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By Nathan L. McBroom

One of my favorite things to read in this newspaper is the letters to the editor on the opinion page. Just in case you didn't know, the letters to the right of this column are written by local folks who do not necessarily represent the views of the Sentinel-News.

The topics of these letters vary from disagreements over zone changes and decisions by local politicians to expressions of thanksgiving and outrage. Some letters are cheery and positive. Some are downright angry. Either way, the letters we print are almost always interesting to read. I don't always agree with the opinions expressed, but I am grateful that the authors have the freedom to express themselves publicly.

One of the more frequent - and sometimes controversial - topics that folks write in about is matters pertaining to religion and the Bible.

In these letters, phrases such as, "God says," or "The Bible says..." are often used as conclusive proof of whatever point the author is trying to make. Whether the issue is immigration or taxes, the Bible is used as the final authority for proper private and public policy and practice.

With 85 percent of the county's population identifying themselves as Christians and local churches outnumbering schools almost 9 to 1, it is not surprising that matters of faith would come up in such a forum.

And while I do not always agree with the authors' interpretation of the Bible or their religious stance, I am glad that folks in the community still feel the freedom to bring the Bible into the public square for discussion.

In a time when absolute truth claims are increasingly looked down upon by the society at large, letters, which try to give "God's view" of a particular issue, can be extremely controversial and divisive. In several countries in the world today, writing such letters would be illegal and labeled as hate speech.

For some, having a conversation about religious beliefs tops the list of things most taboo to do in public. But if we are ever going to make any progress in understanding each other, we have to learn to talk about the most fundamental things in life - our view of God and the meaning of life.

While I am glad to see such letters in our publication and happily participate in conversations and debates about religion with folks in the community, it is important that we communicate our opinion with respect for those of differing opinions.

In the past, some of the letters we have received have portrayed those of opposing opinions as lacking in intelligence. This is completely unacceptable.

Whether a person is Baptist or a Buddhist, their religious belief needs to be heard and understood on their own terms. It is important to understand what a person believes because what they believe about God and meaning of life is always inseparable from their views of government, education and the economy. Thus Mennonites and Muslims live the way they live and relate to government they way they do because of their view of God.

Our worldview will always dictate the way we live. And as long as we refuse to discuss the things most basic to us, then we will never understand the people in our community.