- - Wednesday, October 31, 2018


Authentic religious faith teaches nothing if not the lesson that God breathes into every person a spark of the divine. Some master the core of that authentic religious teaching eagerly, some accept it in stages over a lifetime of experience and, a few, like the man of pure evil at the Pittsburgh synagogue, never get it at all.

An appreciation of the essential sameness within the human family seems more and more overshadowed by both indifference to faith and by “religiosity,” the mawkish and ostentatious display of a religion like that of the ancient Philistines. All show, and no actual faith.

A gunman yelling “All Jews must die” cut down nearly a dozen persons and wounded a half-dozen others gathered for a Sabbath service in a suburban house of worship. At the scene, police arrested Robert Bowers, 46, a rabid hater of Jews. The suspect has been charged with 44 federal counts of criminal acts in addition to 34 charges brought by Pennsylvania authorities. He is now subject to paying for his crimes with his life.

As President Trump traveled to Pittsburgh on Tuesday to comfort the families and friends of the slain, Stephen Collinson, writing on CNN online, questioned whether “President Donald Trump’s deliberately divisive politics may be giving license to extremists.” Painting a suggestive accusation with such a broad brush is sloppy work. It’s an abuse of logic to suggest that the most pro-Israel president in American history, whose daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren are Jewish, is to blame for a madman’s attack on the Jews.

Religious intolerance targets virtually every faith, but the descendants of Moses and Abraham seem to suffer intolerance more than any of the others of faith in the United States. The FBI counted 684 offenses against Jews in 2016, and incidents compiled by the Anti-Defamation League rose by 57 percent in 2017. By comparison, the FBI recorded 307 such acts against Muslims and 77 against Christians. At the same time, the proportion of Americans identifying as Christians has declined from 83 percent in 2003 to 72 percent in 2017, according to an ABC/Washington Post poll. The portion of Protestants, the largest subset of American Christians, fell from 50 percent in 2003 to 36 percent last year.

A Pew Research Center survey, published on Monday, found a sharp difference among Europeans over whether religious affiliation is a central component of their national identity. Western Europeans say their Christian heritage plays a diminishing role in their national heritage. In Britain, 34 percent say Christianity is very or somewhat important “to truly share in their national identity,” and 65 percent say it is not very or not at all important. In Sweden, only 15 percent think it important.

Eastern Europeans, who were forced to purge religious practice from their daily lives during Soviet domination, say their religious affiliation is an integral part of their national identity. None feel it more so than in Armenia, where 82 percent stress the role of their Christian faith. Only 16 percent disagree.

Religious intolerance in the modern era is less militaristic, except in the Middle East, but no less harmful. White House Counselor KellyAnne Conway has given a name to the brand that plagues the environs of Washington and other “progressive” redoubts of the elites, “anti-religiosity.” She laments the oft-callous treatment of faith by the voices of big media: “The anti-religiosity in this country, that it is somehow in vogue and funny to make fun of anybody of faith, to constantly be making fun of people who express [religious] faith, the late-night comedians, with the unfunny people on TV shows, it’s always anti-religious.”

This gets the language slightly wrong. The true enemy of religious faith is “religiosity,” the appearance but not the essence of religious faith. But her point is the right one.

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