What has led me to Judaism, and why am I leaving the Catholic church?
I converted to Catholicism in 2000. The Catholic church, at the time, offered me something: stability. I was in college, and my parents were divorcing. I had been alone for much of my life, and college was no different. The church was very welcoming, and I latched onto it. I accepted all of it: the divinity of Christ, the trinity, the communion of saints, the Blessed Virgin, the holiness of priests — I was the poster child for conversion.
I moved to Indianapolis. I joined St. Christopher parish and became a member of the music ministry. I sang in the choir. I accompanied on piano and organ.
With time, I slowly fell away from the church. The more and more self-professed Christians were in the news, the less I wanted to be identified as a Christian. The more the Catholic hierarchy protested against women’s ordination and homosexual recognition, the less I wanted to counted among them.
I didn’t believe in the same God as these people. I didn’t believe in a judge.
Slowly, with time, I tore myself away from the mythos of Christianity. The entirety of the mass lost its reverence. It transformed from a religious service to a lecture.
Fast Forward to 2014
Something inside me is changing. I no longer believe in virgin births. I do not believe that water can be turned into wine. I do not believe that mud and spit can restore the eyesight of the blind. I do not believe that a man can be scourged, beaten, crucified, and stabbed in the belly, only to live again after three days. I do not believe that a devout Jew would say, “This is my body. This is my blood.”
If you find yourself in a room, and you don’t agree with anyone else in the room, maybe it isn’t everyone else. Maybe you are just in the wrong room.
I do not believe in original sin. I do not believe we are a flawed creation. I do not believe there is any number of Hail Mary’s or Our Father’s that can undo a bad deed. I believe the stumbling block to forgiveness is not God (or a priestly absolution), but our own self-torture.
When I do attend mass, I listen now to a parent scolding his children. “You are a sinner. You do terrible things. I will forgive you, but it is because of my holiness, and not because you are not worthy of this forgiveness.” Is this really how so many of us are to see God? Is this really how so many of us to see ourselves?
Early in 2015, I discovered Reform Judaism, and the words ring true, deep within me. The old stories are retold as allegory and metaphor. The stories have meaning that belongs to all humans, not just a subset of believers. Even more, it doesn’t really what we believe as long as we keep wrestling with what the very idea of God means. How do we resolve a meaning of God with our understanding of science and nature, and how do we accept that scientific knowledge and God are not antagonistic?
I do not believe that Noah really spent 120 years building an ark and collecting all the animal species. Instead, I believe that humankind has the power both to destroy the earth and to save it.
I do not believe that God parted the waters of the Red Sea, saving the Israelites from Pharaoh’s army. Instead, I believe that getting to some place new is incredibly difficult, no matter how terrible the condition that you may be leaving.
I do not believe that Jonah was swallowed by a big fish. Instead, I acknowledge that it is easy for us to manufacture time-consuming, artificial challenges that prevent us from dealing with the real problem at hand.
I do not believe in God-as-Superman — that God is like us, but more: more loving, more forgiving, more listening. Quit assigning superhuman properties of being to God.
I believe in the yetzer hara and the yetzer hatov, the drive to do evil and the drive to do good. At all times, we feel the pull of these forces on our actions. Whether you believe in God or Judaism or any religion at all, you can understand this pull.
I believe we are called to continue the work of tikkun olam, healing the world. I believe we accept this responsibility by fulfilling the mitzvot, commandments. I believe that, at any time, we are capable of teshuvah, returning to that which we are called to do.
I do not believe the Messiah is one person. Rather, mashiach, Messiah, is the fulfillment of the utmost ideals of humankind. I believe that, should we ever achieve this, that the prophecy will be fulfilled. There will be no more suffering, no more war, and no more hunger.
As Jews, we are called to question God. We wrestle with the meaning of God. Our understanding of God is an understanding of ourselves and our humanity. To wrestle with God means to wrestle with our humanity and our relationship to each other.
After months of reading on the internet, some introductory books, and talking with my wife, I had my first conversation with a rabbi. I am currently a few months into the process of Jewish conversion. There certainly are struggles. I have told my parents. I have told a few of my friends. This usually comes as a shock to most, especially since I have attended mass almost weekly for several years as an accompanist and member of the music ministry.
I do not believe that Jesus of Nazareth was or is the Christ. I believe he was a devout Jew who had some excellent ideas about the mitzvot. If we look at the words attributed to Jesus (and not the words attributed to Paul) and the words of Reform Jews, they are really very similar. It is not the number of mitzvot that you keep, but the spirit in which you fulfill them.
I am trying to focus on healing our world, trying to identify a theology that liberates us, that calls us to be our greatest selves. I want to find the God within us. I want us to free our minds from archaic ideals where religion rejects basic science.
I want us to realize, as all of humankind, both the freedom and responsibility of conscience.