03 November 2015

'Nostra Aetate' Opened Up Catholic, Jewish Relations 50 Years Ago & Sanders Could Be The First Jewish President, But He Doesn't Like To Talk About It & Poll Finds Americans, Especially Millennials, Moving Away From Religion 1,2&3NOV15

BERNIE SANDERS is a Jew. Most people probably don't know that. For the ignorant, that will be enough of a reason not to vote for him. For others it will be reason for concern. After all, we are a Christian nation, aren't we? (A visit to his campaign website Bernie 2016 and +Bernie 2016 will expose you to a political platform that sounds much more Christian than all other presidential candidates.) He is a secular Jew, only he knows why, and that is between him and God. But his platform, if one takes the time to read his positions on the issues, reflects the teachings of Judaism and Christianity regarding economic inequality, poverty, family, workers rights, social justice and more. His politics have been compared to the teachings of Pope Francis.  Here are three articles from +NPR  on the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council's (Vatican II) 'Nostra Aetate' (In Our Times), Sanders' Jewishness, and the declining numbers of people in the U.S. claiming any faith. Click the links to listen to any of the stories.

The facade of the church San Gregorio Ai Quattro Capi, with an inscription in Hebrew and Latin. The quote comes from the Old Testament Book of Isaiah, complaining about the obstinacy of Jews. By placing that quote there, Catholics distorted the meaning and used it to scold Jews for not converting to Christianity
The facade of the church San Gregorio Ai Quattro Capi, with an inscription in Hebrew and Latin. The quote comes from the Old Testament Book of Isaiah, complaining about the obstinacy of Jews. By placing that quote there, Catholics distorted the meaning and used it to scold Jews for not converting to Christianity
Sylvia Poggioli/NPR
Thursday marked the 50th anniversary of the issuance of the most radical document by the Second Vatican Council.
It's called Nostra Aetate, or "In Our Times," and it opened up relations between Catholicism and non-Christian religions. The landmark document repudiated anti-Semitism and the charge that Jews were collectively guilty for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
The history of relations between Jews and Christians started in what is today one of Rome's trendiest neighborhoods, where chic cafes line a pedestrian area and where people can stroll and admire an ancient Roman portico. Restaurant waiters assure tourists that their fried artichokes are the best in town.
This was once Rome's most shameful neighborhood — a flood-prone area of four cramped blocks where, for more than three centuries, the city's ruling popes confined the Jews. It's still called the Ghetto.
"You breathe history here, your hands touch it, and you walk on layer after layer of history under these cobblestones," says Georges de Canino, painter and Ghetto resident.
Memories of past suffering are still vivid as he points to a church at the end of the street, Sant'Angelo in Pescheria.
"That's where on Saturdays, friars preached sermons Jews were forced to hear. If you plugged your ears with wax," says de Canino, "they beat you."
The ancient Roman Portico d'Ottavia. i
The ancient Roman Portico d'Ottavia.
Sylvia Poggioli/NPR
On the San Gregorio Ai Quattro Capi church, de Canino points out an inscription in Latin and Hebrew about "stubborn Jews." And pointing toward Santa Maria del Pianto, he says the Ghetto was encircled by churches, "a sign of Catholics' obsession with trying to get us to convert."
The Jewish community in Rome is the oldest outside Israel — Jews settled here before Christianity. Their history is illustrated in the Jewish Museum of Rome along the Tiber River. Tour guide Ursula Dattilo says Jews lived relatively well in antiquity.
"[The] trouble starts in 1215, when a pope decided Jews have to be recognized by their way of dressing," she says. "It's a special hat for the men with a cone in the middle, and a scarf with blue stripes for the women."
With the Counter-Reformation, the church cracked down even more. In 1555, Pope Paul IV locked Roman Jews in the Ghetto. It wasn't demolished until 1870, when Rome was liberated from papal power. But it was an additional 100 years before the church reassessed its relations with Jews.
During World War II, Angelo Roncalli was the Vatican's ambassador to Turkey. There, he helped many Jews escape the Nazis by issuing false baptismal papers. When he became Pope John XXIII and convened the Second Vatican Council to bring the church into the modern world, he wanted an end to what had been called centuries of "contemptuous" church teaching about the Jews.
There was much obstruction — some bishops even handed out anti-Jewish leaflets in St. Peter's Square. But in 1965, Nostra Aetate was finally issued.
Rabbi David Rosen, interreligious affairs director for the American Jewish Committee, says it was truly a revolutionary document.
"That took us from a situation where the Jewish people were seen as cursed and rejected by God, and even in league with the devil, to a situation now where popes say it is impossible to be a true Christian and be an anti-Semite, and that the covenant between God and the Jewish people is an eternal covenant, never broken."
In Nostra Aetate, the Catholic Church acknowledged for the first time that Jesus is the link between Christianity and Judaism, says church historian Massimo Faggioli.
"In this document, the Catholic Church accepted the idea that Christians don't own Jesus," Faggioli says. "That is theologically revolutionary, because in the Catholic mindset, Jesus was a Catholic."
The Rev. Thomas Reese, senior analyst for the National Catholic Reporter, says Nostra Aetate recognized there are positive elements in other religions and that through interreligious dialogue, stereotypes and prejudices can be overcome.
"For us, religious freedom is a matter of church teaching," he says. "We have to observe it, we have to respect it; whereas before Vatican II, we were not very respectful of religious freedom."
At first, interreligious dialogue was not easy, remembers Lisa Palmieri-Billig, the American Jewish Committee's representative in Italy and liaison to the Holy See.
"There was so much diffidence on both sides," Palmieri-Billig says. "On one side, the Christians said, 'How come you Jews don't recognize Jesus with all the miracles that he made?' And the Jews say, 'All you want to do is convert us.' And you couldn't get people really to participate. But gradually it opened up."
While there have been some misunderstandings, great strides have been made in Jewish-Catholic ties. Celebrating the 50th anniversary, Pope Francis said, "From indifference and opposition, we've turned to cooperation and goodwill. From enemies and strangers, we've become friends and brothers."

Bernie Sanders speaks at conservative Christian college Liberty University in September, on the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah. He quietly joined an observance at a nearby home after the speech.
Bernie Sanders speaks at conservative Christian college Liberty University in September, on the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah. He quietly joined an observance at a nearby home after the speech.
Steve Helber/AP
The conservative Christian college Liberty University is the last place you'd expect to find a Jewish politician on Rosh Hashanah. But that's exactly where Bernie Sanders was on the first day of the Jewish New Year.
As the campus band sang about the resurrection of Jesus, Sanders stood at the back of the stage. Then he delivered a speech about social justice. And when it was over, without any publicity or fanfare, he went to the home of Michael Gillette, the mayor of Lynchburg, Va.
Gillette says he and about 25 others were wrapping up a tashlich service, casting bread into water, symbolically shedding the sins of the year.
"He showed up just as that was being finished," says Gillette. "But then he joined us for a kiddush and a motzi [blessing said over bread]. So we drank some wine and had some challah, some bread together."
Gillette wanted to make sure Sanders could at least get a taste of the holiday after a morning spent at a Christian university, though he says they didn't talk about religion.
"The one thing he did say is how much he appreciated getting some fresh air and having some relaxing time on the back porch in the middle of a busy schedule," says Gillette.
If elected, Sanders would be the first Jewish president. But religion is something the independent Vermont senator rarely talks about. That is what made his remarks last week at a college town hall stand out.
"Let me be very personal here if I might. I'm Jewish," he said to cheers. "My father's family died in concentration camps."
Sanders was responding to a question from a young Muslim woman about Islamophobia, and he quickly shifted the conversation away from himself to more comfortable territory, talking about economic and social disparities.
Sanders grew up in the 1940s and '50s in a predominantly Jewish part of Brooklyn, N.Y. Sanders' older brother, Larry, told the publication Seven Days they went to Hebrew school to prepare for their bar mitzvahs but were basically secular.
"I'm proud to be Jewish," Bernie Sanders said in response to a reporter's question at a breakfast earlier this year hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. "Not particularly religious."
Sanders said Adolf Hitler's election, and his family's losses in the Holocaust, taught him about the power of politics.
"He won an election and 50 million people died as a result of that election and World War II, including 6 million Jews," Sanders said at the breakfast. "So what I learned as a little kid is that politics is in fact very important."
One of Sanders' best friends of 40 years is a professor of religion and philosophy at the University of Vermont. Richard Sugarman, an Orthodox Jew, says his friend is a secularist, a humanist — with no connection to organized religion. Above all, Sugarman says, Sanders is a pragmatist.
"Let me give you a phrase, and this comes from Levinas," Sugarman said referring to Emmanuel Levinas, a 20th century Jewish philosopher. "To know God is to know what must be done. He doesn't talk much about divinity. But he does talk about what needs to be done."
Sugarman said he can see much of what Sanders talks about in the Jewish tradition — the need for equality and economic opportunity, valuing workers. But he doesn't expect Sanders to spend much time talking about being Jewish.
"He's not into identity politics, and I don't think the course of this campaign is going to change him," said Sugarman.
Later this month Sanders is expected to give a big speech explaining a piece of his identity that some voters are struggling with. In the past, candidates including John F. Kennedy and Mitt Romney have given similar addresses about their religion. But Sanders' speech isn't about Judaism. It's about Democratic socialism.
A woman prays at Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. The shift away from religion among Americans has taken place in a relatively short period of time.
A woman prays at Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. The shift away from religion among Americans has taken place in a relatively short period of time.
Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images
Religion is apparently weakening in America. A new report from the Pew Research Center shows that the percentage of Americans who say they believe in God, pray daily, and attend church regularly is declining.
Among the findings:
  • The share of Americans who say they are "absolutely certain" that God exists has dropped eight percentage points, from 71 percent to 63 percent, since 2007, when the last comparable study was made.
  • The percentage of adults who describe themselves as "religiously affiliated" has shrunk six points since 2007, from 83 percent to 77 percent.
  • The shares of the U.S. adult population who consider religion "very important" to them, pray daily, and attend services at least once a month have declined between three and four percent over the last eight years.
The shift is small but statistically significant, according to the authors, given that the changes have taken place in a relatively short period of time, and the survey sample is large enough (about 35,000 U.S. adults) to be considered reliable.

Poll: Small Decreases In Religious Affiliation And Participation

Religious identity
Religiously affiliated 83.1% 76.5% -6.6
Religiously unaffiliated 16.1% 22.8% +6.7
Don’t know/refused 0.8% 0.6% -0.2

100% 100%
How important is religion in your life?
Very 56.3% 53.2% -3.1
Somewhat 26.5% 24.5% -2.0
Not too/not at all 16.3% 21.6% +5.3
Don’t know/refused 0.9% 0.7% -0.2

100% 100%
How often do you pray?
Daily 57.8% 55.1% -2.7
Weekly/monthly 22.4% 21.2% -1.2
Seldom/never 18.3% 22.8% +4.5
Don’t know/refused 1.5% 0.9% -0.6

100% 100%
How often do you attend religious services?
Weekly or more 39.5% 35.7% -3.8
Once or twice a month 15.0% 14.2% -0.8
A few times a year or less 44.8% 49.6% +4.8
Don’t know/refused 0.7% 0.6% -0.1

100% 100%

Skepticism about religion is especially evident among young people. The Pew study found that barely a quarter of "millennials" (born between 1981 and 1996) attend church services on a weekly basis, compared with more than half of U.S. adults born before 1946. Only about 4 in 10 millennials say religion is important in their lives, compared with more than half of those who are older, including two thirds of those born before 1946.
The Pew researchers acknowledge that some young people may become more religious as they grow older, but their data suggest that the generational differences in religiosity could well endure. "The oldest Millennials, now in their late 20s and early 30s, are generally less observant than they were seven years ago," the authors write. "If these trends continue American society is likely to grow less religious even if those who are adults today maintain their current levels of religious commitment."
The weakening of religious beliefs and practices has clear political overtones. The growth in the number of religiously unaffiliated people is largely benefiting Democrats, for whom "nones" are now the single largest religious constituency. Evangelicals, meanwhile, constitute the largest religious group in the Republican Party, and the share of evangelicals who identify with the Republicans has grown since 2007.
Indeed, the Pew report suggests that polarization along religious lines may be increasing in the United States. While the percentage of Americans who say they don't affiliate with any religious tradition is growing, those people who still identify with a religion are becoming even more devout. A growing share of the "religiously affiliated" say they regularly read scripture, participate in prayer groups, and share their faith with others.
Correction Nov. 3, 2015
A graphic on this post initially stated that 6.7 percent of recipients answered "Don't know/refused" to a question about religious identity in a 2007 survey. The correct number is 0.8 percent.