Sometimes it's hard to see the larger trends when we're inundated with life's daily battles. A newly released scientific study on American's growing religious tolerance exemplifies this.
It wouldn't be hard to think that the world is getting worse in so many ways, including a rise in religious intolerance. Judeo-Christians and Muslims seem to be at war across the globe while fundamentalist religionists in America seem ready to do battle against virtually everyone who doesn't agree with their biblical interpretations. And some of the fastest growing religious movements -- evangelicals, Mormons, Scientologists -- hold very exclusive beliefs about their own piety and sanctity compared to non-believers. Perhaps worst of all, the manner in which we converse with each other seems to be growing more shrill and dismissive with every passing year.
Yet for all this, the truth is that Americans are actually growing more religiously tolerant, not less. And more respectful of other people's beliefs, not less. Most interesting of all, the rate of this positive change is happening very quickly.
According to the study:
When asked about mutual respect for all religions, one-third of PALS participants in 2006 said they respected all religions equally. By 2012, 58 percent said they did.
"A major shift has occurred among Americans in just six years," Emerson said. "We have become far more respecting of the diversity of religions than we were in 2006. Very much unlike in 2006, the majority of Americans no longer single out a religion that they disrespect."
Despite what many of our doomsday prophets and politicians might claim, the reality is that ever so slowly, the world becomes a better place with each passing year. Of course, this isn't an automatic process that we should take for granted. A lot of hard work and effort goes into making this progress. We can't rest on our laurels. But we also can't overlook the fact that world is far better place than it was 1000 years ago, or a 100 years ago, or maybe even 10 years ago. Social change is not only possible, it's happening. Social change is made up of millions, if not billions, of us individuals changing our hearts and minds. That's the bottom line: the world can get better, is getting better, and it all starts with each one of us.