One of the most striking things about the Pew Research Center's new report, "A Portrait of Jewish Americans," is how amazingly diverse that roughly 5.3 million population is.
For instance, 62 percent of American Jews think being Jewish has to do with culture or ancestry, while only 15 percent believe it has mostly to do with religion.
Other contrasts, findings and puzzlements:
* Eight percent of Jews who are identified as having "no religion" are, nonetheless, raising their children to be adherents of Judaism, or religious Jews..
* Of Jews married before 1970, just 17 percent were wed to non-Jews. Of Jews married in or after 2000, the figure leaps to 58 percent.
* "Though Orthodox Jews constitute the smallest (10 percent) of the three major denominational movements (Reform, Conservative and Orthodox), they are much younger, on average, and tend to have much larger families than the overall Jewish population. This suggests that their share of the Jewish population will grow."
* Of those Jews who identify themselves as "Jews by religion," 20 percent don't believe in God, where as 16 percent of Jews who say they have "no religion" do believe in God. Perhaps we should remember that, as pollster George Barna has noted, Americans have so many different ideas about God that, in effect, Americans worship some 300 million different gods.
* When survey respondents were asked what it means to be Jewish, 79 percent said remembering the Holocaust was vital, while only 19 percent mentioned observing Jewish law. In fact, the law came in way below having a good sense of humor, which got 42 percent.
Well, there is much more in the survey, and I invite you to have a look and see how it matches your understanding of American Jews. And while you're surfing around in the study, look for the section that describes the percent of Jews who say you can believe that Jesus was the Messiah and still be Jewish. (It's exactly what the Apostle Paul thought.)
This survey, revealing an increasingly secular Jewish population whose members frequently marry non-Jews, certainly must give traditional Jewish religious leaders pause. But equally disturbing trends can be found in Christianity and Islam, too. So it seems we have lots of common ground again, including the common ground of being astonishingly diverse, which is true of all the great religions.
(The artwork here today is borrowed from the Pew Research Center.)
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IS THE POPE JEWISH?
And speaking of Jews, this piece from the Jewish newspaper The Forward suggests that Pope Francis may be the most Jewish pope yet. Fine, but the headline on the piece also calls Francis a "small-c catholic," which is the name of my column in The National Catholic Reporter. And The Forward didn't ask me about using it. Come on, guys.
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THE BOOK CORNER
Without Apology: Sermons for Christ's Church, by Stanley Hauerwas. The author is a widely known professor of theological ethics at Duke Divinity School, but here he offers sermons he has preached as a lay person at his own Episcopal Church and in other venues. Hauerwas is nothing if not engaging, challenging, insightful. And although even he acknowledges that sometimes his sermons seem like lectures they are always worth paying attention to. In an introduction, Hauerwas also shares some of his ideas about what sermons are for: ". . .preaching is the ongoing exercise that allows the Gospel to shed light on the oddness of the everyday." And this: "We live in a time when the church is losing its social and political power and this provides a rich opportunity for the recovery of the significance of preaching." And this: ". . .the task of preaching is to show that the way things are is not the way things have to be." Those who preach for a living will especially benefit from this work, but folks in the pews should find it both intriguing and provocative, too.
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P.S.: My latest National Catholic Reporter column now is online. To read it, click here.