Regarding Marc Cooper’s May 7 Commentary page column “To replace John Paul Stevens, why not an atheist?” it would probably be a good idea for an atheist to sit on the Supreme Court.

However, I have to take issue with Cooper offering Thomas Jefferson as a model of atheism and opposition to religion.

The fact that Jefferson espoused reason and freedom and took a dim view of the more mystical aspects of Christianity did not make him an atheist, or opposed to religion.

Jefferson said or wrote that if he belonged to any religious tradition, he would be a Unitarian. In fact, he predicted that in time, the country would become predominantly Unitarian. He was wrong.

Unitarianism is a religion, and in Jefferson’s time, it was a liberal branch of Christianity, of which reason and freedom (which Cooper frequently mentions) are two basic principles.

By the way, the term “Unitarian” is now often used (semi-incorrectly) to refer to Unitarian Universalism, the result of the 1961 merger of those two church bodies.

As for being an atheist or non-believer, Jefferson wrote in reference to the evil of slavery (a paradox, as he owned slaves), “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever.”

So, he did mention God as a reality. He was not an atheist.

Jefferson has been described as a deist, that is, one who believes that a supreme being exists but is not involved with the world in an ongoing way.

Cooper indicates that Jefferson might well have appointed an atheist to the Supreme Court. The closest we’ve ever gotten to that, says Cooper, is “a handful of Unitarians.” I’d guess Jefferson might have been more likely to appoint one of that handful than an atheist.

Karen Lewis Foley

Topsham

In his column “To replace John Paul Stevens, why not an atheist?” Nation magazine writer Marc Cooper wrote, “We’ve recently been humiliated by a spate of fundamentalist Christians. …” This leads me to believe that one group in particular Mr. Cooper takes issue with is the religious right.

I am a Christian myself, but I choose William Penn, William Wilberforce and William Booth as my role models, not Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell.

If you think atheists take issue with the extreme religious right, try being a Christian who strives to follow Jesus’ words about loving one’s enemies, turning the other cheek and giving to the poor.

The quote that caught my attention in Mr. Cooper’s column, however, was when, referring to Thomas Jefferson, he wrote, “Jefferson liked what Jesus, the man, stood for, but could definitely do without the rest of the bunk.”

This is impossible. Jesus, the man, said there was no other way to God but through him (John 14:6); he taught that he would rise from the dead (Matthew 17:23); he encouraged people to give up everything to follow him (Luke 9:57-62); and he said true blessedness was to hear God’s word and obey it (Luke 11:28).

As C.S. Lewis said, to make these claims and demands on people, Jesus must either be truly the Lord, or a liar or lunatic. How can an unbeliever “like what Jesus the man, stood for,” when most of what he stood for had to do with God, eternal life and his own resurrection?

Either what Jesus said was true, and he was the Messiah, or he was a maniac or a menace. The idea of accepting Jesus as a merely a “good man,” while trendy, is impossible, based on Jesus’ own claims.

So, Mr. Cooper, be an atheist if you choose, but don’t patronize believers with the notion that you can accept Jesus the man and reject him as the son of God. To do so is bunk.

Richard Hagerstrom

Bridgton

In current politics, it is hard not to notice the presence of religion. Politicians running for office gain and lose support based on their religion.

Our current president, Barack Obama, is getting heat because he has yet to join a church in Washington, D.C. At first glance, I concluded that religion is having a growing impact on politics.

It seems that the separation of church and state is growing smaller all the time as a result of the growing power of religion.

After thinking about it, my perception changed a bit. I still believe that there is a growing presence of religion in politics, but we cannot ignore the fact that there is a growing presence of politics in religion.

Religion’s presence grows as religious politicians take office. It is not unnatural that politicians translate their political drive into their religious practices. So, what will be the relationship between religion and politics in the future? It seems that both are being corrupted by the other.

Religion is losing its purity, and politics is losing its objectiveness. But the idea of religion having a political base is not a new one. According to Mahatma Gandhi, those who say religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion is.

The only question is, at what point will they no longer be two ideas connected, but one complete idea? And who will hold the power when that happens?

Dexter L. Jenks

Gorham

Criminals, not guns, cause crimes here and elsewhere

Maine Citizens Against Handgun Violence told us in a fine column May 26 (“Maine needs to tighten handgun laws to prevent illegal sales”) that 113 Mainers die each year from firearms.

But what the author didn’t tell us is how many of those deaths are accidents or suicides (in which any connection to “violence” is spurious at best).

This strikes me as a bit disingenuous, as does the concept that we are somehow responsible for crime in states to the south.

No — the criminals are responsible.

And how about those “open carry” gatherings, anyway?

There were lots of people, and lots of guns, and no violence. That peacefulness is rather indicative of the state of Maine in general, where there are millions of firearms in private hands.

But wait. What’s that sound? Breeze … birds … crickets

That is the sound of those millions of guns not being used in crimes.

Ted Wilcox

Gorham