The May 23 front-page article "More pews empty than ever before" considered several reasons for the decades-long decline of the religious segment of society: that people today do not need a church to have faith, that there are "available alternatives for people to engage in activities traditionally led by churches," that "there's a loss of faith in institutions in general," that people are finding alternatives to churches for "milestone events" like funerals and weddings, and that churches cannot "compete with secular culture."
The reasoned rejection of belief in gods and the supernatural is, however, not considered. Over 50 years ago I concluded that belief in the supernatural could not be justified. Religion became completely insignificant to me. Beginning in the 1980s, with the rise in political activism of the religious right, my esteem for religion has fallen sharply negative. I have dozens of friends with the same opinion who have gone through a similar development. We have concluded that secular government leads to far better results than the political quest of any sect to impose religious doctrines on the nation.
George Francis Kane, St. Paul
The May 23 article about churches discussed a trend that's been taking place over the past 40 years. But it is also interesting to note that several recent peer-reviewed studies show significant benefits of belonging to religious organizations.
For example, in 2020, the Nurses Health Study II, which involved about 100,000 health professionals, was analyzed by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. And the results showed that women who attended services at least once per week had a 68% lower risk of death from despair, including deaths related to suicide, drug overdose and alcohol poisoning compared with those who never attended services. And men who attended services at least once per week had a 33% lower risk of death from despair.
Also, a meta-analysis that involved over hundreds of studies that examined the association between religion/spirituality (R/S) and physical and mental health was completed by Dr. Koenig of the Department of Medicine and Psychiatry at Duke University. And this analysis showed that about 80% of the people who were studied attributed an improved sense of hope, well-being, meaning, compassion and purpose in life to their R/S practices. Plus, improved physical health was shown to be a benefit, too.
Social media and many other factors obviously have changed the environment that used to attract folks, especially those younger, to join churches. Plus, religious involvement is not everybody's cup of tea. And while I often don't take scripture literally, nor do I make it to church many Sundays, I still do believe that being involved with faith-based organizations can be a real plus in life, as the studies have shown.
J.R. Clark, Minneapolis
On the page following the continuation of the front-page article on churches was a story about Alabama overturning a 28-year-old ban on the practice of yoga in public schools. Four state senators voted against this because of the links to Hinduism. The irony of these two stories side by side is beyond belief (pun intended). This attitude of "my way or the highway" mentality in one's faith when imposed on others in the public arena is an anathema to any reasonable person. We are a multicultural nation with deep origins from around the world. We should celebrate the depth and breath of our origins wherever we find them and not try to ban them.
Rick Sewall, Stillwater
The article examining the tumbling to historically low levels of Americans who belong to a "church, synagogue or mosque" is interesting but incomplete.
While the article cites statistics concerning those three places of worship, it ignores other congregational forums apart from those of Christians, Jews and Muslims. But even within those three major denominations, the piece only reflects the views of Christians and their "faith leaders" and disregards those who belong — or don't — to a "synagogue or mosque" and their leadership.
Taking these other religions into account would have made for a more balanced and complete overview of the decline in formal membership in religious institutions across the spectrum.
Marshall H. Tanick, Minneapolis
I don't think Abeler knows everything he thinks he knows
State Sen. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, who was quoted in "Day is coming for legal marijuana, advocates say" (May 23), said: "I don't think it makes people have a better life."
Oh my goodness, I'm sobbing. I'm sobbing because even medical marijuana has made my life better. I have many health issues. I'm also considered as having intractable chronic pain.
Abeler also commented about those who drink or smoke pot every day.
Excuse me? Oh my goodness.
Sen. Abeler, are you now an expert of who has a better life and who doesn't? Have you ever spoke to anyone living a life of chronic pain, 24/7, never a day/night pain-free?
Let that sink in, please.
Nancy Nicoloff, South Haven, Minn.
I LIKED THAT
Some thoughts on 'Some thoughts on the inhabited universe'
Michael Nesset has a gift for the written word ("Some thoughts on the inhabited universe," May 23). Yes, the universe is vast and lonely. As a child I too was amazed that my time on Earth will be nothing but a microscopic blip in history. How could this be? It was overwhelming and sad to acknowledge this prospect. Yet, I realized that this is my world and my time on this planet. Earth and the solar system are a part of me as long as I exist.
The galaxy provides an opportunity for exploration, experimentation and illuminating discoveries. It is comforting to know that I am a part of this boundless universe.
Upon gazing up into the twinkling night sky I am in awe. Maybe our connections go deeper than human relationships. May our connections are tied to the cosmos and this spectacular planet. Our physical bodies belong here, right where we are. Loneliness is forgotten.
No need for grasping onto science fiction, flying saucers or aliens.
Sharon E. Carlson, Andover
I DIDN'T LIKE THAT
Hunchback comic was just cruel
The May 23 comic strip "The Argyle Sweater," depicting a grotesquely deformed man looking into the "Notre Dame Maternity Ward" nursery window (with a similarly deformed baby in one of the bassinettes), was unthinkingly cruel, insensitive and anything but funny — even for satire. Birth defects as humor have no place in family-oriented publications and I'm aghast that this wasn't edited out and replaced when first received. Do we want our children to grow up believing that mocking someone who happens to be different is appropriate?
Bob Chepolis, Eden Prairie
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