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?