Bravo! Two rays of hope are shining through the dark shadow cast by President Donald Trump, whose rhetoric and policies have uncorked geysers of xenophobia 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 in February to Congress. Though far from taking the lead, he was responding to what the majority of Americans are feeling.
As for 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, compared to just a few years ago, Americans express warm and positive feelings to many religions other than their own.
Pew, based on a survey of 4,248 adults that was conducted between Jan. 9 and 23 and compared to a similar study from three years ago, uses the convenient imagery of a “feeling thermometer,” with the higher temperature indicating a higher level of positive feelings. Predictably, religious groups tend to rate their own group most positively. Beyond that, here 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 10 people surveyed rated 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 11 percent of respondents put Catholics 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.
• Buddhist, Hindu, and Mormon ratings are somewhere in the middle of the thermometer. All have risen sharply — Buddhists from 53 to 60, Hindus from 50 to 58, and Mormons from 48 to 54.
• Atheists have jumped to 50 percent, up from 41 degrees three years ago.
• Evangelicals alone have remained even, a lukewarm 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 for someone who does. The jump is similar for people who know atheists, 38 to 50 degrees; and Muslims, 42 to 48 degrees.
So how to explain this warming trend when the Southern Poverty Law Center records more than 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-Muslim incidents increased nationwide, a Bayonne pastor’s home was sprayed with anti-Muslim graffiti; and a poster calling for a “Muslim-free America” was found hanging on a Rutgers University building used by Muslim students for meeting and prayer.
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.
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’ll shout over you. And I am determined to get to know better someone whose faith is different than mine.” If we can convince them to try it, maybe they’ll change their minds, as well.