Opinion | America’s Shift Away From Religion

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To the Editor:

Re “Americans Are Losing Their Religious Faith,” by Nicholas Kristof (column, Aug. 24):

Mr. Kristof writes that Americans’ loss of faith results from religious scandals and the bad behavior of “charlatans” such as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. The trend is a problem, he argues, because religion is central to our country’s social capital. While I generally share his diagnosis, I would add two points.

First, Americans are also becoming less religious because there is zero evidence to support any of the central claims religious institutions make about God and the supernatural.

And second, what worries me is not that people are less religious, but that they transfer their blind faith in religion and religious leaders to charismatic politicians like Donald Trump.

Mark K. Cassell
The writer is a professor of political science at Kent State University.

To the Editor:

Nicholas Kristof rightly describes how Christian churches are losing members. But Americans aren’t losing their underlying spiritual and religious beliefs; they are defining and seeking connections to “higher powers” in other ways.

Americans are now finding new sources of meaning, purpose, hope and connections beyond themselves. According to the Pew Research Center, 68 percent of religiously “unaffiliated” Americans still believe in God and 38 percent pray at least monthly. Many join and form online communities of like-minded individuals.

While Mr. Kristof decries the loss of benefits that religion has offered, such as “providing companionship, food pantries” and “increased happiness,” some of these benefits are now being accrued through other means.

Historically, Christianity and other religions have evolved over time, and they continue to do so. We should recognize, rather than ignore, these new shifts and the benefits they are providing.

Robert Klitzman
New York
The writer is a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University and the author of the forthcoming book “Doctor, Will You Pray for Me: Medicine, Chaplains and Healing the Whole Person.”

To the Editor:

Nicholas Kristof’s excellent column touches on a dangerous trend in American politics: the politicization of Christianity.

When the United States was founded, references to Judeo-Christian values and quotations from the Bible littered the speeches of nearly every United States politician. Thomas Jefferson edited his own version of the Bible. But some prominent Christians’ responses to crises such as the AIDS epidemic and Sept. 11, as Mr. Kristof pointed out, have left people disenchanted with the church.

This association between the extreme religious right and all of Christianity is what presents the real threat to America’s spirituality. For religion to truly return to the place it formerly held in the hearts of the American people, it must become bipartisan again.

The hypocrisy of some politicians who feign faith to score political points may be etched into the minds of many young Americans. Taking off the partisan blinders and making religion about religion again can help erase that image.

George Willmott

To the Editor:

Nicholas Kristof’s column “Americans Are Losing Their Religious Faith” could more precisely be titled “Christians Are Losing Their Religious Faith,” since it deals almost exclusively with American Christians.

While it may be true that the number of Americans who say that religion is “very important” to them has declined, that statistic fails to take into account the many ways synagogues and mosques, and many churches as well, still foster a sense of meaning and community.

As just one example, my synagogue, Har Shalom in Fort Collins, Colo., sponsors a strong Jewish education program for children and adults, a highly praised preschool and a volunteer program to help homebound congregants, along with outreach programs to immigrants and minority groups in our city.

There are religious communities like mine all over the country who welcome Jews, Christians, Muslims and even agnostics who may not see themselves as deeply religious, but who pursue the values of love and care that have traditionally been at the heart of progressive American religion.

Rita Kissen
Fort Collins, Colo.

Driverless Taxis Aren’t Inclusive

To the Editor:

Re “Bumpy Ride for San Francisco’s Driverless Taxis” (California Today newsletter, nytimes.com, Aug. 22):

As a parent and a Google Maps engineer, I’m hopeful that self-driving electric taxis will mean safer, cleaner cities for future generations. But as a wheelchair user, I’m dismayed that the standard Waymo and Cruise cars on San Francisco’s streets don’t have the basic fold-down ramps that let me ride alongside my kids.

The gee-whiz excitement is understandable, but regulators like California’s Public Utilities Commission can make this moment about more than tech wizardry by requiring every for-hire vehicle to have disability-inclusive features that are already standard in cities like London, like ramps, hearing loops and audio cues. They wouldn’t allow taxis without headlights or seatbelts.

In order to ensure intelligent vehicles are truly a step forward, we must demand that they work for everyone.

Sasha Blair-Goldensohn
New York

Awful Conditions at Fulton County Jail

To the Editor:

The reports about the Fulton County Jail in Atlanta, where former President Donald Trump and his 18 alleged co-conspirators were booked, describe it as horribly decrepit, overcrowded and dangerous, with four fatalities in just the past month.

Why aren’t Fulton County officials like District Attorney Fani Willis and Sheriff Patrick Labat, among others, devoting significant time, expense and resources trying to alleviate those awful conditions, instead of preening for the cameras, attending political fund-raisers and other digressions?

They should be ashamed that they are incarcerating human beings in an environment that makes Rikers seem like a summer camp.

Marshall H. Tanick

My Patients Are Good People

To the Editor:

As someone who is also a psychologist/psychoanalyst, I read Jamieson Webster’s “The Case Against Being a Good Person” (Opinion guest essay, Aug. 27) with some dismay. While sympathetic to the author’s argument about the vitality of pleasure, I am troubled by the suggestion that what makes us good is not a central issue for therapy.

Most people I see care deeply about living with integrity, with the potential to care for others in ways that matter. This appears with increasing urgency with our further descent into a world marked by massive inequality.

People in my practice also bring a need for meaningful community in a time of atomization, and a longing to shape reasons for hope in the face of an unprocessable degree of destructiveness toward one another and the planet.

The struggle with what it means to be “a good person” need not crowd out the capacity to experience pleasure; but for most people, pleasure is not the sole measure of a meaningful life.

Rachel Kabasakalian-McKay
Bala Cynwyd, Pa.
The writer is a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst at the Institute for Relational Psychoanalysis of Philadelphia.

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