Tag Archives: changing religion

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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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?

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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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