There are plenty of horrifying aspects to the new Pew poll showing that 18 percent of Americans now believe – against all the evidence – that President Obama is a Muslim, up from 11 percent in March, 2009.

The most obvious: how can democracy function effectively when proliferating new media and a gullible public mean that the crudest, most obvious examples of misinformation and disinformation dominate our political discourse?

But I’d suggest the most disturbing element is this: our growing willingness to use religion as a cipher for our rage and our biases.

A growing number of Americans really, really dislike Obama. So, prompted by bloggers and talk show hosts, they crystallize that rage in the form of a religious accusation: Obama is a Muslim, no matter how much the evidence suggests otherwise. Muslim = bad. So, the theorem goes, Obama = bad. End of discussion.

Instead of debating his economic policies, the war in Afghanistan that is now his and countless other real issues, we focus on a spurious religious accusation meant to stir up primal rage, not because of his policies but because he is allegedly a religious outsider.

I hear a lot of this from the Jewish community, which is even more distressing.

Instead of discussing his Israel policy – which, I would suggest, is a rich topic for animated debate, whether you come from the left or the right – too many of us simply dismiss him with a religious charge that, to some, trumps every other aspect of his presidency. He is a Muslim, so he can’t possibly be good for Israel or for America.

Jews, for centuries victims of bigots who used religious accusations to stir up frightened people, should know better. And we should know that this kind of manipulative religious hatred can’t possibly be good for the Jews.