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Religion and spirituality not the same, say readers

Re: A liberal's discussion of spirituality overlooks religion, by Charles Krauthammer, June 7.

Charles Krauthammer makes the common mistake of authoritarian religionists of equating spirituality with religion. They are not the same, however. For instance, religion can be taught, spirituality cannot. This is why saying prayers, memorizing the Ten Commandments, and going to church does not make a person spiritual. A person can be deeply spiritual and never set foot inside of a church, another can attend church regularly, and pray and recite creeds, while remaining one whose life expression is the antithesis of spirituality. Religion is something we do, and not doing it is not necessarily a great loss. Spiritual is something we are, and if we don't grow spiritually we do not grow at all.

Spirituality is not a concept that lends itself to a simple explanation in a newspaper column or a letter. But its importance to our human experience cannot be overstated. While I can't teach you to be spiritual, I can help you to understand what spirituality is. Then, if you work at it, you can become spiritual on your own. In America, each of us can pursue our spiritual path in whatever way we find meaningful. Being able to do that is not accidental. The separation of church and state may be a passion of Norman Lear's "People for the American Way," but more important it was a passion of the people who founded this country and wrote its Constitution. We must never forget that state religions do not make spiritual states, but state religions do make dangerous states.

In America there is a great misunderstanding of what spirituality means: Krauthammer's column exemplifies that fact. Polls suggest that America is a nation of seekers, that Americans work hard to find spiritual meaning, particularly the generation we call the "baby boomers." Many find comfort through involvement with religious institutions, but many, about half, do not. Both groups can find spiritual peace, however, because spirituality is not bestowed by religion, it is not found in church. It is, for each of us, our own sacred gift to ourselves.

Jim Leavy, St. Petersburg

Charles Krauthammer's witless equation of spirituality with religion must be disputed. Though in some instances they may coincidentally interface, they share no factual relationship.

Bud Tritschler, Clearwater

Charles Krauthammer has spirituality mixed up with dogma in his June 7 column. He offers faint praise of Norman Lear's call for spirituality and then bashes liberals for "undermining" religion in American life. Having common ideals and moral standards doesn't depend upon organized religion or belief in God. There are many societies in Asia that manage to be spiritually united without much in the way of formal belief. Atheists and humanists are generally conscientious citizens and often satisfy deep spiritual needs without belief in a deity.

If belief in God is such surefire proof of our spiritual togetherness, why is our country having so many problems when 94 percent of us are with the program? If public prayer and the display of the Ten Commandments are so important, how is it that our institutions are in such poor shape given the fact that nearly every leader in government, business and religion grew up when these practices were common? Perhaps public displays of religious belief have little to do with social cohesion.

Our society is diverse and growing more so every day. Our choices for belief and worship need to remain private and personal. On the other hand, all of us are seeking similar truths and have spiritual needs. We ought to focus on our common quest, rather than trying to force one answer for everyone.

Jim Moir, Clearwater

Why is approval needed?

Re: Personal security business booming, June 6.

Doesn't it seem rather ridiculous that items of defense for innocent victims must be approved by federal officials before being used in defense of one's life and/or property?

I would rather see permanent damage to the perpetrator of a crime instead of just chasing the criminal away so he may look for a victim less primed for an immediate defense.

Royal R. Redmond, New Port Richey

Lacking courageous politicians

Re: Barbed wire and empty hours are no recipe for rehabilitation, letter to the editor from Jack Eckerd, June 3.

I wish to thank Jack Eckerd for his excellent letter. It should be required reading for all taxpaying citizens of Florida.

Eckerd sums up the problem very well in his last sentence: "All that's required are courageous politicians"

We don't have any of those in Florida. Now what do we do?

Don Ruppel, Clearwater

Addiction vs. willpower

Re: Lives ended prematurely, June 2.

I am pleased that the letter writer has not missed out on 23 years of happiness with his wife and children, a fact he attributes to quitting smoking. His statements, however, reflect a lack of understanding of both the disease of addiction and of the U.S. Constitution.

Addiction has nothing to do with "willpower." The problem reaches far deeper than that. If mere willpower were involved, then drug addicts and alcoholics could "quit" once they decided to. So, for that matter, could overeaters, problem gamblers, even serial-killers.

The solution to addictive behavior entails an understanding of the inner self _ something which requires exploration by and of the individual. What does the particular substance, or act, provide that is so difficult to give up, and why? Frequently a professional in the medical-social-psychological community must be consulted for a successful transition from "user" to "nonuser," from "abuser" to "nonabuser."

As for the $5-a-pack cigarette tax the letter writer suggests, the Fourth, Fifth and 14th Amendments protect Americans from those who would impose their self-righteous beliefs on others "for their own good."

Valerie Greathouse, R.

N., Dunedin

"Companion animals'

Allow me to correct the recent animal breeder's misstatement that PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) is against "the confinement of pets" (Trainer's death mourned, letter to the editor, May 25).

Since we humans have built our concrete jungles and domesticated dogs and cats, they can no longer survive on their own, so we must take care of them. Most PETA staff members have companion animals, as we prefer to call them. Many even accompany their guardians to work. If you ever visit our headquarters, you will find at least a dozen or more dogs, a cat or two, and an occasional rabbit or gerbil, hanging out in our offices.

We are also in favor of humane obedience training for dogs, to protect them from harm and give them more freedom than dogs who constantly must be restrained or punished for antisocial behavior.

PETA members have even been accused of releasing show dogs, but we would never do this and so endanger an animal. Further, PETA offers a $500 reward to anyone who supplies information leading to the identification of any person who harms a dog in this way.

Now here's where the letter writer is right: PETA totally opposes all breeding of companion animals. Such breeding is inexcusably selfish and inhumane when millions of healthy animals are languishing and being put to death in U.S. shelters. This fact would come home fast to breeders if they would volunteer on a regular basis to euthanize the trusting, hopeful animals at their local shelter or pound.

That's when looking into a pair of questioning brown eyes becomes very personal. I know. I've been there.

Carla Bennett, Staff Writer, PETA,

Washington, D.C.

Care not available to all

Re: Early detection saves lives, letter to the editor, June 2.

I agree with Sen. Connie Mack regarding his concern about us all being checked early for possible prostate cancer to save lives.

However, not everyone has access to the excellent medical care and income that he has available in Washington, and not everyone can afford the costs.

Dennis H. Gamble, Pinellas Park

We, the people

On Memorial Day, America honored its veterans, remembering the brave men and women who fought and died for freedom.

We would like to celebrate that freedom on the Fourth of July, and we hope that you will assist us. We are asking you, our readers, to tell us your thoughts about freedom, to share your memories of growing up in the United States or abroad, to elaborate on what it means to be an American in today's complicated world.

Please send your letter, (no poems please) no longer than 250 words, to July Fourth Celebration, Letters to the Editor, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, Fla. 33731-1121. We will print a selection of the letters in the July 4 Perspective section.

Cathy Cordone, Letters editor

Share your opinions

We invite readers to write to us. Letters for publication should be addressed to Letters to the Editor, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731, (FAX number, 893-8675). They should be brief and must include the handwritten signature and address of the writer.

Letters may be edited for clarity, taste and length. We regret that not all letters can be printed.

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