Political parties on religion: It's not so black and white

The Sept. 1 article "Matters of Faith," with the subheadline, "Survey: Political Parties in Trouble on Religion," demonstrates a grave misunderstanding Americans have about faith and politics. It seems Americans perceive their choices to be between "conservative Christians" and "nonreligious liberals." Most people fall somewhere in the middle. In fact, it is because of my own faith as a practicing Roman Catholic that I am most worried about the rise of a religious influence on American politics.

My faith teaches the underlying principle in social ethics should be human dignity, not religious piety, or black-and-white categories of "nonreligious liberal" and "conservative Christian." People can make their own choices to practice religion according to their own conscience. They do not need the government to lead prayers for them, alter science classes so they fit into a specific worldview, or decide who they should commit themselves to in a lifelong relationship.

When people start practicing morals and stop preaching about them, we will find that we have a lot more in common with each other than we were led to believe. If the political parties want to join in, let them put social ethics into practice, not just preach and point fingers.
Brock H. Jones
Spokane, Wash.

Can US be friendly and secure?

I disagree with John Hughes's suggestions that increasing the exposure of foreign visitors - particularly Middle Eastern visitors - to the United States will operate to create a more favorable impression of this country abroad (Sept. 7 column, "Put friendly face on tighter borders").

When I attended Ohio University in Athens as a graduate student during the late 1980s and early 1990s, I lived in a student housing facility in which American citizens were a distinct and small minority. Most of the international students were very friendly (although many of them were highly critical of the United States). Not so the Palestinian students, who treated everybody (not only Americans) with emphatic unfriendliness if not outright hostility. They refused to have anything to do with the other students and made clear that they despised the culture in which they found themselves.

Some students at Ohio University had also attended university in the Soviet Union. Their impression was that Middle Eastern students tended to return home with considerable contempt for whichever superpower they had visited.

Many of the 9/11 terrorists had considerable experience living and working in the United States, yet this did not mitigate their hatred. I suspect that Mr. Hughes may suffer from the common American delusion that to know us is to love us. Particularly in the Middle East, where we are commonly perceived as depraved and self-indulgent - not to say rich on account of their poverty - this simply is not the case.
Derrick Smith
El Paso, Texas

When my father arrived in the US from Germany in 1923, he had to have, in hand on arrival, the following: a US visa (and a clean record in Germany to get it);proof of a sponsor; his ship passage paid for; $125 (the last $50 of which cost him 43 billion marks - remember, it was high inflation in Germany at that time); a clean medical record (exam); and a US address. As he used to say, "I stepped off the boat fully trained as a journeyman cabinetmaker with my tools in hand, 20 years old and speaking some English, ready to go to work."

Why is the US demanding less and checking less nowadays for persons entering this country?
Fred Weber
Chula Vista, Calif.

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