Amanda and I have been friends since we were 8 and in addition to being awesome, she's also seen every stage of my religious development, from devout Evangelical Christian all the way to Atheist. We've had countless discussions about religion over the years, slowly shaping our beliefs and opinions, and I have to commend her for sticking by me through all of my crazy Christian talk. No seriously, who stays friends with someone who firmly and vocally believes that you're going to hell? Apparently Amanda does, and I don't think anyone has been more proud of my deconversion than she has. Today she's here to present her version of theism, one that I'm more than happy to promote.
The original idea when Val and Mike started this blog was that I would be a regular guest-poster. Since I’m starting graduate school in a couple weeks, this might not pan out the way we had hoped. But I’d still like to introduce myself, and give you a little background information. This way, when I do manage to post an entry here or there, you have some idea of where I’m coming from.
I think I’ll start with my grandpa on my dad’s side of my family, which is the Jewish side. I’m sure when you try to imagine what they were like culturally, there are a number of Jewish stereotypes that come to mind: loud, abrasive, food-loving, warm, argumentative, soulful, quirky. And many of these are entirely true. But there’s an important component to my upbringing puzzle that I think you will find particularly important, especially in the context of this blog.
You see, my grandfather was a militant atheist.
I loved him dearly. He and my grandma were terribly eccentric. No one really understood their relationship. They argued constantly – often in Yiddish – and frequently went out of their way to get on each other’s nerves. It was fun to watch, but only if you understood that the whole conflict was rooted in a profound compassionate love for one another. Somehow, argument was their way of showing that love. It’s something I’ve grown to appreciate as I get older.
As you can imagine, a constant source of conflict was the topic of religion. My grandma insisted that my brother and I (their only grandchildren) be raised Jewish. As such, my grandpa was to be present at all holiday celebrations, and he wasn’t allowed to complain or get in the way. But he always found a way around this. So, we would all sit together at the table for a nice Passover meal, with my dad leading the Seder, pointing out each food in order and telling the story; “And this, the bread of affliction, which our ancestors brought forth from Egypt-“ always interrupted by a constant background of denial. My grandfather would elbow his way in with snide comments like “But it’s meaningless! It’s just symbol, it’s empty! Religion is a crutch!” Okay, so maybe they weren’t so snide as blatantly rude.
My parents remember these stories fondly. They giggle about my eccentric atheist grandfather and his refusal to participate in the Seder, year after year. And although I don’t remember these episodes myself, I have to believe that he had an influence on my thinking. Allow me to explain.
You see, I am a deeply religious Jew. I’ve discussed God and the Torah with Val and Mike for years now, and the deeper we delve, the more convincing arguments they provide for the non-existence of God, the stronger my faith becomes. I’ll write an entry on the nuances of these conversations another time, the important part for now is that you understand that I, personally, am religious.
But whenever I try to describe the tenants of Judaism to someone else, somewhere I always go off track a little bit. I stop describing the bearded father figure in the sky that many other Western Monotheists envision, and I move into a territory where people honor the Covenant with God while still questioning his nature. About a year back, I realized I wasn’t describing any traditional form of Judaism, I was describing the Judaism I was raised with. A Judaism where a symbol is presented to us – a story is told – and immediately after, we are challenged to question it. It may have been a mistake, something not necessarily calculated by my parents’ childrearing, but I think there’s a certain beauty to it. I am urged to read the Torah and understand its teachings, but only on my own terms. Only after I have thoroughly questioned every assertion it makes. Only then will I feel comfortable and grounded in my beliefs.
Frankly, I plan to raise my children this way. And I won’t have to work too hard at it. My boyfriend Brandon (whom I seriously hope to marry) is agnostic. He’s quiet about his non-belief, and he respects my religion and my need to raise my children Jewish. But still he is careful. He questions everything, and doesn’t allow me to take any religious assertion for granted. He carries on the legacy of my grandfather well, and I hope he can be a positive influence in my future childrens’ lives in that same way.
Furthermore, if my children, after examining and questioning the tenants of Judaism, were to deconvert, I would not be upset. So long as they continue to acknowledge Judaism as their cultural and racial background, I would be happy to see them critically examining the universe around them, and coming to what they find to be the logical conclusion - and a conclusion I can respect, at that.
On the other hand, were they to convert to Christianity (in any form), I would be devastated. I don't feel that Christianity is a logical conclusion when one critically evaluates Judaism. And I don't consider it to be a healthy lifestyle. Indeed, I would be deeply concerned for my child's well being, were they to convert from Judaism to Christianity.
I can shed some light on this in another post, when I discuss my personal beliefs - which digress slightly from traditional Jewish beliefs - in greater detail.
Theists think too,