Opinion – To Believe or Not to Believe
By Sara Lehmann
Inconsistencies in polling are nothing new. The glaring dichotomy between two recent polls on American values, however, seems to highlight the inconsistencies surrounding the values themselves.
Several weeks ago, The Wall Street Journal published a WSJ-NORC poll with the accompanying headline, “America Pulls Back From Values That Once Defined It.” The widely publicized poll detailed the decline in importance of Americans’ support for patriotism, religious faith, having children and other priorities that had long defined the national character of its citizens.
When asked if religion was very important to them, only 39% of respondents replied in the affirmative. This was an alarming decline from 1998, when 62% of Americans said religion was very important to them. Unsurprisingly, the poll revealed sharp divisions between political parties over this and other social trends, such as the push for racial diversity in businesses and the use of gender-neutral pronouns.
What was even more surprising was another poll released a few weeks later that pointed to an increase in young Americans who “say they believe in a higher power or G-d.” According to an annual report on the state of religion and youth from the Springtide Research Institute, about 33% of 18–25-year-olds believe in the existence of a higher power, up from about 25% in 2021.
So, which one is it? Is religious belief up or down? And why the seeming contradiction among age groups?
That religion is declining overall among American age groups is sadly unremarkable. One cannot watch the moral and cultural decay of America without concluding that religion is decaying along with it. Indeed, if Judeo-Christian values are the underpinnings of America’s moral code and accompanying laws, the rejection of those values likely prompted the present moral and cultural deterioration.
Bill McInturff, a pollster who worked on similar WSJ surveys, remarked that the decline in values from previous years is “so dramatic, it paints a new and surprising portrait of a changing America.” And he surmised that blame can be attributed to “political division, COVID and the lowest economic confidence in decades.”
Interestingly, COVID was also cited as a major contributing factor in young Americans yearning for something to believe in. The pandemic, the first crisis many young people faced — from loss of family and friends to loss of certainty in daily life — seems to have driven young Americans to seek healing in a higher being. Yet, while young adults might have searched for a higher power, the report concludes that it did not “necessarily translate into…religious affiliation.”
While COVID as a component might have boosted faith-seeking, perhaps it was not only the virus itself but the virus’s fallout. Certainly, the pandemic was a life-altering experience for many. But the past three years, with their rapid acceleration of a debased society, have uncovered an ugly underbelly of hypocrisy among America’s authority figures.
Take COVID itself. One botched misstep after another by the CDC and by medical and scientific authorities have caused a hefty loss of confidence in them. A Pew report from last year noted a 40% drop from 2020 to 2022 in the number of U.S. adults who say they have a “great deal of confidence in medical scientists to act in the best interests of the public.” State and local elected officials scored even worse, with only about 10% of Americans trusting their health recommendations.
American citizens who relied on so-called experts for guidance quickly saw through the politics and financial considerations that drove many decisions on lockdowns, masking, and lack of honesty regarding the efficacy and danger of vaccines. How could young Americans not become cynical about authority figures who demanded vaccines, with the vaccine’s proven lack of efficacy, for their age group, despite their decreased vulnerability and increased risk of adverse effects?
Two weeks ago, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, testified before the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic and tried to wiggle out of the shameful collusion between the teachers’ unions and the Biden administration that resulted in catastrophic and generational damage to America’s children. Tens of billions of dollars thrown at schools wasn’t enough to tempt the unions – supposedly children’s advocates – to keep schools open to prevent students from becoming collateral damage.
Add to this skepticism the utter lack of trust by Americans in their own media, with a recent Gallup poll showing that half of Americans believe that national news organizations intentionally mislead the public. Worse, the Twitter Files scandal has proven CIA and FBI meddling in social media’s content moderation in the highest echelons of government.
The just released Durham report proved what everybody already knew for the past several years – that possibly the greatest hoax in U.S. history was perpetrated against a president for political gain and verified corruption and collusion by the FBI, the DOJ and media figures, prompted by Democratic Party figures. In another recent shocking development, the House Oversight Committee issued a subpoena for an FBI file that a whistleblower said links President Biden to a “criminal scheme” involving “money for policy decisions” when he was vice president.
This is not just demoralizing; it’s downright scary.
Is it any wonder that young Americans may be ditching confidence in heretofore respected authority figures? The very people they looked to for guidance are the very ones who mislead them. And cancel them when they object.
It would be naïve to assume that most young Americans are not being indoctrinated by today’s woke mob. But young people have an innate ability to detect the truth. It must be bewildering and disillusioning for those who have not been sucked into the vortex of perversion and corruption that current leaders push as the norm. How does a thinking person navigate beyond the propaganda and still maintain respect for an authority figure that wants him to believe what his own eyes refute?
That gender is a social construct. That police are responsible for skyrocketing crime rates. That defunding the police will lower black-on-black crime and that releasing criminals make the streets safer. That the border is “secure” when millions of illegal aliens cross over with impunity. That increased government spending will reduce inflation rather than enlarge it. That traditional family values threaten individual liberties. That communism will work in America when it has been a deadly failure around the world.
American authorities in government, academia, media, and corporations ask America’s youth to believe in the impossible. And the impossible is becoming more absurd and dangerous. Maybe the dawning realization that their gods are not infallible is leading young adults to search for higher ones.
Orthodox Jews fortunate to believe in Hashem as that higher authority have a bedrock of faith that sustains them through the vagaries of a deviant and duplicitous society. However, as American Jews, that society sadly creeps into the Orthodox world through osmosis. The only way to ensure that the decadence is kept at bay is to double down on the core beliefs that are the demarcation lines dividing the two societies. And to accept that subservience to Hashem is the only protection gear we should don.
Unlike those who search to fill their void with something sustainable, Jews who rely on the Torah for their moral compass do not need a pandemic or proof of hypocritical superiors to affirm their beliefs. And neither do they need surveys to demonstrate that recognizing Hashem and His laws is the only way to shield them from the decline in the values that American polls reveal.
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