This is the opinion of Patrick Henry, who has lived in Central Minnesota since 1984 and is the retired executive director of the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical & Cultural Research.

Age-old philosophical questions — about rights and responsibilities, individual desires and the common good, church and state, conscience and democracy — are the stuff of daily debate these days.

Terms often bandied about as though their meaning is self-evident are actually loaded with assumptions and should be challenged, particularly as they have been employed in arguments about the marriage amendment and insurance coverage for contraceptives. I want to examine "people of faith," "Judeo-Christian ethics," "religious freedom" and "secularism."

'People of faith'

I am not aware that anyone has done what a March 11 Your Turn complains about: "questioned the right of people of faith to have a voice in matters of public interest." But I do question the usefulness of "people of faith" when set against an implied "people of not-faith," as though the "people of faith" are of one worthy mind and the "people of not-faith" are less serious or less admirable in motives.

Update: Dr. Forschler's talk can be seen in its entirety on our YouTube channel

Do moral values have their origins only in religious doctrine or can they arise from the purely physical, naturalistic world? Come and hear one philosopher's view on the origin and justification of moral values and his belief that they are created naturally by animal brains using two fascinating capacities: representation and recursion. De-mystify your view of moral reality.

Dr. Scott Forschler, a philosophy instructor at St. Cloud Technical and Community College, will be giving a talk on Monday, February 20th, at 7:00 pm, at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Hall in St. Cloud entitled "Morality De-Mystified". The program is open to the public and is free of charge.

Dr. Forschler has been teaching and writing about ethics for almost a decade and is working on a book on the foundations of morality. He has spoken on secular ethics to student groups throughout the Midwest, and at professional conferences both in the United States and internationally.

Tom Stavros, past president and CMF member-at-large, wrote to the St. Cloud Times recently regarding a piece that portrayed atheists negatively:

I found the (Page 3A, Jan. 8) story on religion and atheism interesting in that so few people who are “spiritually apathetic” won’t define themselves as atheists. While that is their choice, when one looks at the root of the word, all atheism means is “without” and theism means “belief in a god or gods.” It does not require that one believes there is no god (although some atheists do).One aspect of religion not mentioned in your story is identifying those I call “Pascal Christians.” (Google “Pascal’s Wager.”) If you could get a count of people who go through the motions just to be on the safe side, but don’t really believe, the atheist totals would be much larger.

People avoid the atheist label because of the negative connotation of the word. That baggage stems from religion drumming into people from the time they are toddlers until death that unless one believes in their god, that person can have no morals and is destined for hell. And the media reinforces it continually (i.e. the canard that there are no atheists in foxholes even though there are many who have come forward to make a lie of the statement) while whitewashing religious leaders.