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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  • Reply Arius

    December 14, 2009, 3:55 pm

    The consumerization of religion–it’s designed to exploit guilt, yet abase the trust in humanity.

  • Reply Kristen

    December 14, 2009, 4:44 pm

    Thank you so much for continuing this conversation, one that I think about so often at this time of year. I love the priceless story of your friend’s 4 year old, as well as your resolution to “eliminat[e] the shoulds” and to embrace your choice to be “a sampler of religions, not a practitioner.” The old me would have doubted the validity of such an approach, but the new me thinks that religion is really about asking questions until (if ever) we find answers. So what better approach than to sample until (if ever) you find a place to practice?

  • Reply Miche | Serenity Hacker

    December 14, 2009, 6:17 pm

    Great post and interesting statistics, too, thanks for the link! I think there’s nothing wrong with “sampling” religions, until you find one that fits… and that may not be an organized religion at all, but rather a spiritual way of life and practice that reflects your values, rather than something organized.

    Cheers, and thanks for posting this!
    Miche :)

  • Reply Rabbi Ann White

    December 14, 2009, 11:01 pm

    Great blog post. Rather than “sampling” — I like the term “Spiritual Seeker” — as a rabbi, I enjoy the spirituality of various religions and they enhance my practice rather than weaken it. Religion is what wars are fought over and what separates us. Spirituality is where we meet and find common ground and peace. All religions have spiritual components. If only we can embrace them and stay clear of those proverbial lines drawn in the sand.
    Merry Hanukkah Happy Christmas Peaceful Holidays
    and Shalom
    Rabbi Ann

    • Reply delialloyd

      December 15, 2009, 11:21 am

      Thank you Rabbi. This sounds a bit like what Miche was advocating as well (see comments) vis spirituality rather than religion per se. I need to give this some thought. Happy hanukkah to you as well!

  • Reply daryl boylan

    December 15, 2009, 1:30 am

    Well,here we all are in the post- post – modern age of religion-and-everything-else. Good to know we’re in excellent company!

  • Reply holy scriptures

    July 8, 2010, 9:02 am

    Fantastic read, I just now passed this onto a friend whom was doing a little research on that. And this individual actually bought me lunch because I found it for him laugh So i want to rephrase that: Thank you for lunch!

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