At a time of year when faith is celebrated by most Americans, it may surprise some to learn that many students of faith and history believe we are living in a post-Christian age. It is not apparent at the local malls now so festively decorated, but it can be seen in some telltale cultural indicators. One of those is the number of attacks on people of faith, particularly Jews.
Throughout much of the world today, where Christianity is in decline attacks on Jews are on the rise. In post-Christian Europe, Jews are often victims of a deeply entrenched anti-Semitism. Synagogues and other Jewish institutions are regularly vandalized. Jews are sometimes beaten in the streets. Combative anti-Israel rallies are commonplace.
There were hundreds of incidents of anti-Semitic behavior in France and England during the three weeks of the Gaza war a year ago. The world collectively yawned during months of Hamas attacks against Israel. But when Israel did what any sovereign state would do under the same circumstances — striking back at those responsible for the aggression — it was met with a chorus of condemnation led by the United Nations and the European Union.
It is true that the citizens of the U.S. are more pious than those of many European countries, where the decline of faith has been much reported. Still, in the U.S., legal attacks on Christmas have become as much of the tradition as the holiday itself, and church attendance among American youths has reached all time lows. Those are only a few of the signs of declining faith.
Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life survey earlier this year found that “the number of Americans who say they are unaffiliated with any particular faith today is 16.1percent, more than double the number who say they were not affiliated with any particular religion as children.” Research by authors Robert Putnam and David Campbell finds that young Americans are dropping out of religion at 5-6 times the historic rate (30 – 40 percent have no religion today versus 5-10 percent a generation ago).
America’s secular momentum coincides with an increase in persecution of American Jews. The Federal Bureau of Investigation recently released 2008 hate crimes statistics showing that 65.7 percent of religion-motivated hate crimes were anti-Jewish. There were 1,013 cases of hate crimes motivated by anti-Semitism last year, the most since 2001.
Although you might not know it by following the reactions of our political and journalistic elites, aggressive anti-Semitism is a much greater problem in America than attacks on Islam. According to the FBI statistics, there were only 105 reported cases of anti-Islamic hate crimes in 2008.
This is part of a trend. Sixty-eight percent of the nearly 7,000 religion-based hate crimes reported between 2002 and 2006 were committed against Jews, while just 11 percent were committed against Muslims. Similar numbers were reported for 2007.
It’s not all bad news for American Jews. An October survey commissioned by the Anti Defamation League found that 12 percent of Americans polled hold views defined as “anti-Semitic.” That’s down from 29 percent in 1964.
But the 12 percent is still unacceptable, representing more than 30 million Americans with anti-Semitic views.
The relationship between America’s Christians and Jews has often been defined by distrust and skepticism. But many Christians and Jews have found solidarity in their mutual support for the beleaguered Jewish State, as well as for each other’s right to freely and openly practice the traditions of faith. In today’s America, there is no greater alliance against a culture that seeks to expunge religion from public life, not to mention the mounting domestic Islamic threat.
Theologically, Christians believe God came into this world through the Jewish people and that the Jewish faith is the foundation of all that was to come. That God has directed Christians to love His people is a great counter weight to increasing anti-Semitism in the U.S.
There are a lot of what Jews call “righteous gentiles,” Christians and others who feel a moral obligation to speak out against anti-Semitism and assaults on Jews to prevent the kind of violent anti-Semitism evident in Europe from becoming widespread in the U.S. It is vital for such defenders of their fellow man to speak and act boldly. The courage of our convictions has never been so needed.
These are anxious times for Jews across the world. Iran announced this week that it had successfully test-fired an upgraded version of its longest-range sold fuel missile, making its leader’s threat to “wipe Israel off the map” even more credible. The new missile has a range of approximately 1,200 miles, which puts not only the Jewish State but also U.S. military bases in southern Europe well within range.
We are in the midst of an important time of the year for both Christians and Jews. Jews are celebrating Hanukkah, a time to commemorate the rededication of the holy Temple in Jerusalem and their victory over the anti-Semitic Hellenic empire. Christians meanwhile are observing Advent, a time of penance and of anticipation and preparation of the birth of Jesus Christ, a Jew.
Christians and Jews have also reached an important time in their relationships with one another. In an increasingly hostile world, Christians and Jews must stand together to defend against attacks on Judeo-Christian values. It is a friendship as old as Abraham, as new as a baby in a manger.