Bravo! Two rays of hope are shining through the dark shadow cast by President Trump, whose rhetoric and policies have uncorked geysers of xenophobia at best against Jews, Muslims, Mexicans and other minorities.
One dim ray is that finally, after the president declined on three occasions to say anything about the dozens of bomb threats against JCCs, he spoke out in condemning anti-Semitism and racism during his address to Congress.
Though not taking the lead, he was responding to what the majority of Americans are feeling.
That is the second ray of hope. Apparently, the majority of Americans weren’t waiting for presidential statements. They were plugging those geysers of hate on their own. I refer to the recent Pew Research Center Report finding that, when compared with just a few years ago, Americans express warm and positive feelings to many religions other than their own.
Pew uses the convenient imagery of a “feeling thermometer.” Americans are feeling increased warmth towards almost all religious groups. Predictably, religious groups tend to rate their own group most positively. Beyond that, based on a survey of 4,248 adults conducted between January 9 and January 23, and compared with similar feelings reported just three years ago, these are some of the findings:
– Jews top the chart of the feeling thermometer: at 67 degrees, up from 64 degrees in 2014. Only one in ten rates Jews at 33 degrees or cooler.
– Catholics are rated at 67 degrees or higher by non-Catholic respondents, up from 62 percent in 2014. Only 11percent of respondents put Catholics in the coldest temperature below 33 degrees.
– Mainline Protestants are consistently at 65 degrees.
– Muslims have a mean thermometer rating of 48 degrees, an increase from 40 degrees in 2014. Still, 30 percent of respondents view Muslims in the coldest range below 33 degrees
– Buddhists, Hindus, Mormons ratings are somewhere in the middle of the thermometer. All have risen sharply .
-Atheists have jumped to 50 percent, up from 41 degrees three years ago.
-Only evangelicals have remained even: 53 degrees now and in 2014.
Most importantly, the numbers jump even higher when a respondent is personally familiar with someone from a particular group. For example, the mean thermometer rating when someone does not know a Jew is 58 degrees but jumps to 67 degrees when knowing a Jew. The jump is similar with atheists – 38 to 50 degrees; and with Muslims 42 to 48 degrees.
So how to explain this warming trend when the Southern Poverty Law Center records over 100 anti-Semitic incidents since the beginning of 2017, putting the nation on track for a record high year? Lots of recent local outbreaks in my home state of New Jersey chill these warmer temperatures. Four of the bomb threats against JCCs were in New Jersey. As anti-Muslims incidents increased nationwide, a Bayonne pastor’s home was sprayed with anti-Muslim graffiti and a poster calling for “Muslim-free America ” was found hanging on a Rutgers University building used by Muslim students for meeting and prayer.
Religion is local. Pew found that the bulk of us locals are breaking down the psychological walls between religions. Even without encouragement from the presidential bully pulpit, we are apparently more influenced by our local clerical pulpit and personal moral soapbox.
The Pew survey reveals a personal theology which increasingly morphs away from “us versus them.” Religion is not a zero-sum game. There is enough God to go around. I prefer mine for me, but yours is fine for you. And temperatures are even warmer when we know someone from another faith group.
So those of us who feel that way should be vocal. We should be saying “Stop the anti-Semitism; stop the Islamophobia. If you won’t, I will shout over you. And I am determined to get to know better someone whose faith is different than mine.”