In a popularity contest among U.S. religious groups, Jews would win, according to a newly published book.
That finding – that “Jews are the most broadly popular religious group in America today” – is contained in “American Grace: How Religion Unites and Divides,” and is based on the book’s survey of 3,000 Americans of all religious backgrounds.
“The most popular religious group in America today is Jews…What’s so interesting about that is that it was only a generation ago or two generations ago when Jewish-Americans would have been viewed as at the bottom of the heap,” said one of the book’s co-authors, Notre Dame political scientist David Campbell, in a radio interview on “The Marc Steiner Show.” “They are the ones who were viewed as being alien or foreign. That’s no longer the case, and that gives us hope that those at the bottom now can actually climb.”
Despite the ostensibly good news, leaders of the Anti-Defamation League and Simon Wiesenthal Center greeted the findings with skepticism, though they didn’t dispute them. Both Abraham Foxman of the ADL and Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center pointed to recent anti-Semitic statements by prominent journalists – Rick Sanchez of CNN and former White House correspondent Helen Thomas – to show that anti-Jewish sentiment remains a threat.
“Today there’s more anti-Semitic discourse than there’s ever been,” Hier claimed in the Jerusalem Post. “The statistics have changed, but does that mean we’re going to close shop?”
Robert Putnam, a Harvard sociology professor and the book’s Jewish co-author, acknowledged that some Jews might raise an eyebrow at the book’s findings. Jews “have every right to be really cautious and really even skeptical [about] someone who’s claiming that anti-Semitism is declining,” he told the Jerusalem Post, noting that “Jews over centuries have experienced enormous persecution.”
At the same time, he noted, American Jews have become associated with generally positive characteristics. “The stereotype in America now is that Jews are rich, smart and funny – so what’s there not to like?” he said.
““Anti-Semitic attitudes among American people are much less than they were 30 or 40 years ago,” he said. “I’m not saying it can’t change in the future – but, honestly, it’s hard for me to see what would trigger that in America.”