Archive | Religion

Religious Identity in Adulthood: Is It Who You Are Or What You Do?

Last week I posted about my ongoing struggle to forge a religious identity as an adult by borrowing from different faiths.

Today I continue that discussion of religious identity in adulthood – with a particular eye towards Jewish identity – over on It’s a question directly raised in a landmark decision by Britain’s Supreme Court, which ruled last Wednesday that it was illegal for a state-funded Jewish school to base its admissions policy on whether or not the applicant’s mother was Jewish.

And so the thorny question arises that bedevils all of us who struggle with religious identity, but particularly Jews:  whether our identity is determined fundamentally by what we do or by our blood.

Have a look and be sure to weigh in…

Image: Metal Menorah by Skyco via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Religion-Hopping In Adulthood: A Tale Of Guilt and Gelt

According to a new poll taken by the Pew Forum, Americans are mixing faiths more than ever before. Many attend worship services of more than one denomination, and many also blend Christianity with Eastern or New Age beliefs such as reincarnation and astrology. This follows on an earlier survey showing that Americans also change religion in adulthood with increasing regularity.

To which I say:  guilty as charged. We celebrate Hanukkah in our household and Christmas at my Mother’s. Yesterday, I went to a Hanukkah party and sang along (semi-credibly) as the candles were lit; next weekend, I’ll be singing Christmas carols in Belsize Square.

I’ve tried to resist this whole wishy-washy, neither-fish-nor-fowl approach to religion (and we all know what Jesus would prefer). Like Kristen over on Motherese, I’m also a once-religious Catholic now married to a Jew. I, too,  feel badly as I confront the inevitable December Dilemma which plagues all couples choosing a religious path for their mixed families. I worry that my kids aren’t getting the sort of firm anchoring in tradition, identity and beliefs that I had growing up.

But despite all the guilt and accompanying feelings that I *should* “figure out religion” or join a synagogue, somehow those never quite manage to make their way up the ladder of my to-do list.

And so, in the spirit of “eliminating the shoulds,” this year I’m trying to accept that for now – at least – I’m a sampler of religions, not a practitioner. I am, in fact, that dreaded “consumer of religion” which one religious studies scholar bemoaned in the Wall Street Journal. And I’m trying to embrace my dabbling tendencies where religion is concerned, and enjoy them, rather than feeling guilty.

After all, my kids seem totally comfortable with their faux-Jewish identities. They have no concept of the fact that because I’m not Jewish, they really aren’t either. They are proud to call themselves Jews, and to celebrate Christmas in a sort of ad-hoc way. As for me, for the first time in many years, I find myself actually wanting to go listen to some religious Christian music this holiday season (something I was dragged to on many an occasion in my youth.) So when I saw a sign at the local (Anglican) parish for a Festival of Lessons and Carols, I thought:  Why not?

So guilt, shmilt.

And speaking of which, my favorite holiday story this season comes from a (non-Jewish) friend of mine whose 4 year-old daughter was so eager to celebrate Hanukkah that she instructed her mother to rush out and buy some “guilt.” (She meant gelt.) To which my friend was tempted to reply “Oh, honey, I think we have enough guilt in the house already…don’t you?”

And how.

Image: Nes gadol hayah sham by techne via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Rejecting Religion in Adulthood: Atheism's Newfound Popularity

I’ve written before on this blog about changing your religion in adulthood. A recent poll found that half of all Americans change religion during adulthood. But what about abandoning your religion entirely?

Today, I’m over on talking about the rise of atheism in the U.S. and the U.K., and some of its more humorous offshoots. (Spoiler Alert: Prove the Unicorn Doesn’t Exist game…)

Come on over and have a look, and leave a comment if you dare. I’m sure I’ll be thoroughly pilloried by readers. (FYI: for those of you who are put off by the need to register with AOL before leaving a comment on the site, don’t worry. They just want to know that you have a valid email address and once you register, you can visit as much as you like.)


Image: Unicorn Cosplay by Sam Howzit via Flickr under a Creative Commons License

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Changing Religion: Bagel Brunch, Anyone?

I was struck by a new poll suggesting that half of all Americans change religion during adulthood.

Apparently, the American Catholic Church has suffered the greatest loss, and is having an increasingly hard time recruiting new members (this was of particular interest to me because I was raised Catholic).

My husband is Jewish. So we’ve given the whole issue of (my) conversion some thought over the years, ever since we took an “I’m Jewish, You’re Not” class at a university Hillel. I’ve long been drawn to Judaism (my father always said that I’d “make a good Jew,” by which he meant that I was studious and hard-working – you’d have to have known him to understand that this was his way of giving a compliment).

All of which is to say that I am very much – potentially, at least – within the demographic represented in this study.

But my husband and I remain deeply ambivalent about the whole religion thing. Before moving to London, we dutifully attended the “welcome bagel brunch” at the local synagogue in our Chicago suburb every year, never quite managing to join.

On the “con” side, neither of us is terribly religious (other than the odd genuflecting here and there on my part). And when you’re Jewish, you’ve also got to “pay to play” (as we used to say about Illinois politics). Which means that even with the Goyim discount we’d get at the local synagogue in London because I’m not Jewish, it would still cost about 500 pounds to join (approximately $750). If you come from the pass-the-basket tradition in which I grew up, you’ll balk before shelling out that kind of money unless you’re truly ready to commit.

On the “pro” side, however, we both feel that religion can be a positive form of identity for children. My husband grew up in the American South and attended a Christian high school, and so being Jewish is still a huge part of who he is. (There’s arguably no better way to solidify a minority cultural identity than to have your high school football coach gather the team around when you need to leave practice early to, quote, “send you off to Jew school,” unquote.)

And then I read this persuasive essay in Slate by Mark Oppenheimer about why going to services with his daughter has been such a meaningful experience. His basic point is that kids love rituals, religious services are a great way to spend quality time with your kids and they also allow him to continue to learn about his religion through his daughter. The essay is about Judaism, but the arguments apply more generally.

I’m not sure this article will motivate me to pony up the 500 quid I’d need to join the synagogue here, but it did get me thinking. Maybe I’ll just take a peek at the synagogue’s website and see if there’s a bagel brunch coming up anytime soon…

How about you? Have you changed religion as an adult? What was it like?


Further to last week’s post about cycling, I was delighted to discover that the first chapter of Smart Bike has started in the United States.

Image: Sesame Bagel by Roboppy via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Fear of Flying

Yesterday I wrote about the little routines and traditions we establish as we get older that give us something to look forward to at different times of the year. For example, I like to watch the Oscars (there, I’ve admitted it).

But as we grow older we also call upon routines and traditions from our youth to help us through difficult moments as adults.

I had occasion to think about this a few days ago while on an airplane. Right before the plane took off, I instinctively made the sign of the cross as if in prayer. There’s nothing odd about this – lots of people cross themselves at all times of the day and for all sorts of reasons. But I’m not a religious person. And I don’t normally pray. And yet whenever I’m on an airplane, I can’t help myself. As soon as the plane starts down the runway, I instinctively find myself as if in prayer.

I was raised in a religious family and attended religious education until I was 16 or so, so it’s not as if this action comes out of nowhere. But I stopped going to church when I went to college at 18. So I do find it odd that of all the aspects of my religious upbringing, this is the one thing I’ve clung to as a way to help me through the very specific anxiety of flying on a plane.

I also used to rock myself to sleep when I was a child by sitting up in bed and rocking back and forward. To this day, when under stress, I still draw my knees to my chest and rock back and forward (my husband affectionately refers to it as my “rhesus monkey” position, to call attention to the quite similar behavior that rhesus monkeys engage in when deprived of affection by their mothers. This image pretty much says it all).

O.K. So now that I’ve painted a picture of myself as this freakazoid neurotic – half davening, half genuflecting – I’m sure that you’d love to invite me to dinner. But I do think that there’s something universal here. When under duress, we all tend to reach back to these primitive methods of self-soothing in order to reassure ourselves that we can make it over a given hurdle. Some people make themselves a PB and J. Others meditate. My own methods are just a bit more…how to say?…motion-sickness-inducing than the average Joe’s or Jane’s.

On the upside, to counter my anxiety on this particular airplane ride, I also forced myself to stay up and watch the movie The Duchess, a fine period piece starring Keira Knightley and Ralph Fiennes. I can’t say that watching costume dramas is a holdover from any secret childhood ritual, but it did wonders to calm my nerves.

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