"Jesus is intolerant: He does not tolerate anything wrong." So wrote Thomas Martin (Midlands Voices, December 1) to bolster his claim that gay marriage would lead to legalization of incest. Philosophy Professor Martin has a history of using religion to enforce views that I consider theocratic, for these reasons

First, in reaction to an article that the World Herald ran on December 17, 2004, he claimed that a secular holiday celebration of the season of peace by members of Rationalists, Empiricists And Skeptics Of Nebraska (REASON) was "a threat" to the Christian side "in the American cultural wars," and that peace is not possible without Christ. Peace "is not an idea that belongs to rationalists or empiricists and surely not to skeptics."

He's dead wrong. Rationalists advocate the use of reason, empiricists rely on the evidence of the senses, and skeptics think you should use as much common sense in buying into belief systems as you would in buying a used car. None of these positions contribute to the mindset of war, while the role of religious enthusiasm in wars throughout history, right up to the present religious conflicts in Ireland, Israel, and elsewhere, is too obvious to need pointing out. Professor Martin's excuse, that Christ came to be divisive and bring a sword, is a reminder of that shameful record.

In addition, on November 2, 2001, Professor Martin argued in another op-ed in the World Herald that atheists can't be true Americans, real citizens. In my book this makes him a theocrat. The fact that many share this view shows us how real is the threat of tyranny of the majority, which the Founding Fathers took seriously enough that they wrote the First Amendment to protect minority opinions from the majority.

Reversion to theocracy threatens everything mankind has accomplished over the past several centuries.

During the European Enlightenment, critical reasoning became a valued tool for uncovering what was wrong with the world. The "Enlightenment Project" to banish superstition, intolerance, exploitation and ignorance began.

But there has been a reaction building up ever since. Tolerance threatens moral absolutists, science challenges superstition, and reason frightens those with insecure beliefs. The Project has never been universally embraced, and the social change it brings is enough reason for some to oppose it, especially those who value stability and authority above all else. If they couldn't win the argument by logic, they would resist the Project by force. Josef de Maistre, b. 1753: "All society rests on the executioner's ax."

Francis Wheen wrote "Over the last 25 years or so, after two centuries of gradual ascendancy, Enlightenment values of reason, secularism and scientific empiricism have come under fierce assault from a grotesquely incongruous coalition of [postmodernists], New Age mystics and Old Testament fundamentalists."

We see this assault all around us, in the flood of stories about alien abductions, psychics, astrology, prophecies, ancient astronauts, apocalyptic cults, fundamentalist conspiracy theories, creationism in schools, religious extremism in politics, attacks on separation of church and state, religious terrorism, and in modern quackery in the form of "alternative medicine," all topics you can examine through our website.

By encouraging gullibility, all of these beliefs make us more vulnerable to whichever snake-oil peddler has the best sales talk. If you're willing to believe things regardless of evidence, then it doesn't matter what you believe, it just matters who gets to you first. If it's William Pierce who first exploits your gullibility you join the National Alliance, whose followers exist in Omaha, if it's the Rev. Jim Jones you drink poison Kool-aid at Jonestown, if it's L. Ron Hubbard you become a Scientologist, if it's Ayn Rand you become an Objectivist, and if it's Marshall Applewhite you join Heaven's Gate and seal a plastic bag over your head for a trip on the Hale-Bopp comet.

It's all easier than thinking, and, after all, as the New Age postmodernists say, we "create our own reality," don't we? So go ahead and believe whatever you want, right?

Followers aren't skeptics, but surely ought to be. After all, the worst-case scenario for being excessively skeptical is you're late in jumping on the bandwagon, but the worst-case scenario for being excessively gullible is you're dead.

Or else you find yourself trading democracy for theocracy, as some World Herald letter writers are so eager to do --and even educated persons who should know better, and who might fit more comfortably into an American Religious Right equivalent of a madrassah instead of a public university.