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LETTERS

Can you believe it? Religion’s been taking a hit

Andrey Sinenkiy/Adobe Stock

Note how religion conditions believers to follow poor leaders

In warning of the dangers of “religion without religion,” Jeff Jacoby had me hearing echoes of the very case atheist writer Richard Dawkins has made (“Religion in America is fading, but true believers are everywhere,” Opinion, April 14). Dawkins argues that religion is corrosive to critical thinking and that conditioning people to accept articles on faith and to accept leaders without question makes them susceptible to manipulation. That argument suggests that America’s unusually high level of church attendance in the latter half of the previous century may actually have created the conditions for the current malaise, of which QAnon hysteria is the most extreme example.

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Jacoby suggests that American society would be better off if people returned to church. I’d argue that we’re better off teaching people to think critically, question authority, examine doctrine, and search for primary source material. Doing otherwise is simply addressing the symptom, not the underlying social problem.

Don McDaniel

North Andover


Banish religion and it will return in disastrous forms

Jeff Jacoby’s “Religion in America is fading, but true believers are everywhere” hits the nail on the head. Humans are inherently religious. If the religious impulse is thrown out the front door, it will reenter through the back door as ideology, with potentially disastrous results for everyone. The salient examples in modern times are National Socialism and Communism.

John Harutunian

Newtonville


Spiritual needs, in a nutshell

I enjoyed Jeff Jacoby’s column. Our spiritual needs are to be kind to others, to form a circle of friends and relatives, and to join a global community that strives to protect us from extinction by climate change and pollution.

Janet King

Wellesley


‘If you speak for God, then you shut out any discussion’

Fire and brimstone — religion by fear — is one of the reasons the flock is fading. I support and will defend your right to model what you believe your deity would do in living a religious life. If that belief works for you and has room for all others to be seen as valuable citizens, then I am happy for you. But if you speak for God, then you shut out any discussion. If we let the gods speak for themselves and we speak for ourselves, then we can work together.

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Contrary to the studies Jeff Jacoby cites, I am not depressed. I have volunteered in my community. I have given blood. I do not drink or take drugs. My mental health is excellent and I am happy. I AM AN ATHEIST.

Tom Morse

Merrimac


Wide-ranging debate online

Jeff Jacoby’s column generated more than 150 comments from readers on BostonGlobe.com. The following is an edited sampling:

My very favorite thing about churches in Europe: They are mostly empty. And what’s fascinating about that, in terms of this column, is that on average, when compared with Americans, it’s Europeans who “tend to live longer, to suffer lower levels of stress, to have fewer symptoms of depression, and to have better cardiovascular and immune function.” (pgerlings)

^ That most likely has to do with their diet, and not lack of religion. (Hoffenpot)

^ My very favorite thing about churches in the USA: People like you don’t attend them. (UnwokeinVT)

I’ll take my religious cues from Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Carl Sagan along with George Carlin and Lewis Black. While I find comparative religion fascinating and instructive regarding the history of the human condition, the invisible man in the sky is an artifact of a time that has long since passed. The view that we can only be moral, kind, or charitable if we believe in a supreme being is nonsense. To paraphrase Hitchens, name for me one moral act that can be undertaken by a believer that cannot be undertaken by a nonbeliever. He went to his grave and no one ever came up with an answer to that simple question he so often posed in his debates with theists. As Carlin once said, “I used to be Irish Catholic, now I’m an American — you know . . . you grow.” (NHBoundin21)

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^ Faith is about a lot more than an invisible man in the sky and a means of enforcing morality. I would suggest adding one more person to your reading list to get a broader perspective: C. S. Lewis. (Doverham)

^ “The view that we can only be moral, kind, or charitable if we believe in a supreme being is nonsense.“ Agreed. The difference, at least for me, is in thinking about the source of our desire to act morally, charitably, or with kindness. For me it is God. For some that doesn’t matter; certainly for the recipients of such grace (as in the parable of the Good Samaritan) it doesn’t matter who aids them when they are in great need and, as Jesus made clear in that story, one need not be of the same religious faith or culture in order to do good to others. The several deeply religious friends of Christopher Hitchens obviously loved him for reasons other than conformity with their beliefs. (sideflare)

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Many of us, in spite of recent events and technologies, are spiritual seekers, support good science, and have interior lives nurtured by faith. Many long to be part of something greater, beyond life, but also within life, to create a better, more just and ecological world. Most faiths allow for this, so let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Let’s instead eliminate the corrupting influences and actively question the mixing of dogmatic faith and politics. (DavidDobrowolski)

In my experience, people who choose not to belong to a church are not areligious. They tend to enjoy Christmas, Easter, and appear to be actual believers. But choosing a house of worship is just not important to them. I find it sad, but would never insist that one make that choice. The other thing I have noticed is that children coming along is usually what leads people to find a church. Many married, childless couples are detached from organized religion but never want their offspring to be so. For this reason, a child’s baptism is often the beginning of church membership. I am so happy, as a lifelong Episcopalian, that my own children have a strong attachment to our church. They actually participate in worship services, and you can tell that it is an important part of their lives. It is tragic that fewer people are doing this. (Richmond12)

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So, where did the universe come from? (eorins)

Good question. There are (at least) two ways to answer it. One is to investigate it, as scientists do. Another is to make something up. (onetimemathematician)

And Jesus said, ”Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” John 20:24-29 (user_1700434)

In the spirit of Jeff Jacoby’s column, that same bit of scripture could also apply to Trump’s followers. Ironic, yes? (FlexPat)