A recently published survey conducted by Pew Research Center survey found that Americans have increasingly warmer feelings about different religions. Even Muslims, targeted by the current Administration and the favorite whipping boys of reactionaries, gained from 40 percent support in 2014 to 48 percent in a poll taken in February 2017.
Atheists, who are still targeted by laws preventing them in some states from being elected to any office, rose in popularity from 41 to 50 percent in the same study.
In fact, the survey found that every religion got a warmer rating than three years ago.
While the growing acceptance is heartening, what was not reported is even more significant. To begin with, Americans are more tolerant of various faiths because they are losing theirs.
|Pew survey results|
The decline in religious beliefs has become very pronounced. While this country remains a predominantly Christian nation, the percentage of people who define themselves as Christian has dropped to a historically low 70.2 percent. The trend is for further plunges as detailed historical information that undermines Christian claims become increasingly well known. Once restricted to religious historians, the research is now commonplace.
At the same time, scientific investigations have toppled fundamental religious claims about creation and origins of humans.
The findings are forcing fundamentalists to reject all science while forcefully pushing for religion classes in public schools and more funding for religion in public life. They may be adamant, but remain on the wrong side of history. At the rate support for traditional beliefs is falling, the United States will soon join Scandinavia, the Far East and much of Europe in the “don’t care” religious category.
The second half of the equation – warmer feelings toward minority faiths – arises through several sources. Prior to the 1960s, many Americans might have gone through life without meeting a Jew, much less a Muslim. After all, both groups still comprise less than 2 percent of the American population. However, the first steps toward fundamental change involved African-Americans, not newcomers.
The end of military segregation in World War II heralded huge societal shifts, including the uprooting of “separate but equal” practices, the opening of higher education to Black students and the integration of American life.
|First Black president|
As the age of red-lining that restrict movement and other racist efforts have slowly faded, neighborhoods have become increasingly mixed. That led not only to a Black president, but to the widespread acceptance of Blacks in media and daily life.
That, in turn, seems to have influenced feelings toward non-Christians. Fueled by multiple information sources, such as the internet, Americans have learned about the plethora of faiths that riddle societies worldwide. With Islam the world’s fastest growing religion, the odds of meeting a Muslim have increased. Once again, Americans are finding stereotypes don’t match up to reality.
They are finally shedding traditional biases and learning that people are all the same, regardless of their particular faith, complexion or ethnic origin. Even President Donald Trump has climbed aboard that bandwagon. In his recent speech to a joint session of Congress, Trump said all Americans are "made by the same God." That idea doesn’t hold much water with fundamentalists, but has become part of the increasing acceptance in this country of the unity of humanity.
Not everyone is as accepting. Hates crimes have increased; multiple Jewish community centers have been threatened and cemeteries desecrated. Muslims, too, have faced attacks and abuse. Nevertheless, the trend is toward a more unified and wholesome society. The most-recent Pew survey reflects that reality.
Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history with an occasional foray into American culture. He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida. He holds an ABD in American Studies from Case Western Reserve University and an M.A. in communication from Kent State University. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
He is the author of the famed novel The Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus as well as The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Comparative Religion for Dummies, among other books. His books are available on Amazon.com, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers. He can also be followed on Twitter.