Wissot: Our worst prejudices are more political than religious now
I’m a Jew. A non-religious Jew. I was raised in a secular Jewish culture and stopped observing the tenets of Judaism soon after my bar mitzvah.
Religion has not played a persuasive role in my life as an adult. I’m not an atheist. I’m not opposed to the possible existence of a deity and have no desire to actively campaign against those who believe there is one. It’s just that the existence or non-existence of a god isn’t important to me the way it is to billions of other people in the world.
When my youngest daughter introduced me to new boyfriends in her 20s, I didn’t care whether they were Jewish or not. Some were. Most weren’t.
As a father, I cared more about the young man’s character and his ability to be kind and caring towards my daughter. I would have no sooner quizzed him about his religion that I would have his support for a particular baseball or football team.
I tell you this because I know my reaction would be entirely different if my daughter was dating in her 20s today and brought a young man home to meet me wearing a MAGA hat. The tolerance I felt for religious differences would not be extended to believers in Trump and his brand of politics.
I don’t think I’m alone in my intolerance towards politicians and their political practices. They bring out the worst in us. Religion doesn’t arouse our primal instincts and irrational impulses the way politics does. We don’t hate each other’s religion the way we hate each other’s politics.
I don’t see us going to war tomorrow, as we did in the Middle Ages, trying to prove that my God exists and your God doesn’t. The Middle East and smaller parts of Africa and Asia are the exception to the growing trend of tolerance towards religious differences worldwide.
More and more people aren’t troubled by the fact God is called Jesus or Jehovah or Allah or Buddha by different groups living in close proximity to one another. They may want to gain converts to their religion, but the ancient need to kill or expel people for holding unpopular religious beliefs is fading and headed towards oblivion.
In this country now, Jews marrying non-Jews, Catholics marrying non-Catholics, Protestants marrying non-Protestants, doesn’t mean as much to families as it did 100 years ago. But a marriage which involved families divided by their loyalties to Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump would rival in discord a reunion of the Hatfields and the McCoys.
Several times in my life when I was teaching graduate students at universities, a student would ask to speak to me after class. The topic they wished to discuss had nothing to do with the subject I was teaching. It was about my soul and the concern they felt for me if, as an unsaved Jew, I refused to accept Jesus as my savior before it was too late.
I was not offended by their attempt to convert me. I believed that in addition to their own mission in spreading the gospel, they really worried that I would burn in hell when Judgment Day came. I listened respectfully, and at the end of their pitch thanked them for caring about me.
I can’t imagine having that kind of tolerant exchange with a diehard Trump loyalist today. I lack the patience and tolerance to give them their shot at convincing me that Trump was/is good for the country. My mind is far more open to the possibility of a second coming of Jesus Christ than it is a second coming of Donald Trump.
Where I was willing to allow someone to try to convince me that I was very mistaken in not believing in the truth that is found in the New Testament, I would not now allow a Trump believer to try and prove to me that the election was stolen, that Jan. 6 was not a violent insurrection, and that voter integrity legislation being passed all around the country today is not really voter suppression in disguise.
The difference is I don’t think believing in Christ is bad and do think believing in Trump is. Even though I don’t believe in its truth, I don’t think the gospel is a deliberate set of lies designed to deceive the faithful. I do think Trump deliberately lied to his followers and deceived them in order to gain their loyalty and trust.
There is a certainty to my thinking which troubles me. I’m beginning to suspect that my contempt for Trump has elicited a certainty in me about how bad he is for the country that rivals the certainty felt by the many people who voted for him because they felt he was good for the country.
If I think they are close-minded in their blind loyalty to him, then I must be equally close minded in my blind despisal of him. What I don’t like in them bothers me when I find it in myself.
Voltaire famously said that, “doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.”
I plan on taking his words to heart and stick with my long-held doubt about religion but shake off my predilection for political certainty.
Jay Wissot is a resident of Denver and Vail. Email him at email@example.com.