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Mara Star Wars

Religion

I don't talk about religion very much. For all intents and purposes, I'm not a very religious person. I was raised Catholic. My mother was Catholic (I think Roman Catholic, but I'm not sure). My father was Protestant. My mother was somewhat religious, my father never was. When I was very young, I think we went to church with some regularity. When I got older, we only went for holidays. At some point, I'm not sure when, we stopped going entirely.

My middle sister and I went to CCD (Sunday School). My baby sister never did. As I understand it, my mother was feeling down on religion after she divorced my father after he had an affair with a woman he met on the internet. According to church rules, you're not supposed to get a divorce, no matter what.

A good measure of the decline of religion in my family is the progression with the children. I was baptized, went to first communion, and went through with confirmation. My middle sister (3 years younger than myself) was both baptized and went to first communion. My baby sister (13 years younger than myself) was baptized. Sense a pattern here?

I can't say how religion worked for my sisters - it's not something we talked about - but I know my own story, and my own falling out. When I was in high school, I was still in CCD. I was supposed go to CCD until I was confirmed. I hated Sunday School. It was boring and dry. All my friends who were there also hated it, and it's hard to like something when everyone around you also hates it. But I went because my parents (who were still together at the time) told me to.

Despite hating it, some tough questions were asked by some of my friends - some good tough questions. Like "Can't I do whatever I want until I'm older and then repent later?" to which the priest replied you could, but there's always the chance you'd die without getting a chance to confess for your sins. I always wanted to know, though I think I was to shy to voice, what happened to good people who didn't believe the right faith, or didn't believe any faith? And why could bad people just repent and be OK - go to heaven in the Christian case - when there were good people who merely had the misfortune of being raised with the wrong religion who would be sent to hell? Why didn't animals get to go to heaven - just because their souls weren't quite the same as ours? My animals were kinder to me at times than the humans in my life and I didn't think it was fair.

All of this turmoil about religion came to a boil on some sort of Religious retreat thing. I think it was a day trip. We were told to come up with one thing to pray for that we wanted more than anything else. I don't recall if we were guided towards things like family or not. But the notion I came up with was "I want my family to stop fighting for a day." The priest (I think) and I prayed, and then I went back to whatever activity I was participating in.

When I got home I remember it was late and we had dinner shortly after. During dinner my father blew up at my mother about something and they had a huge fight. I remember hating that. I always hated their fighting, but I hated that hope that maybe we could be a family for one evening and having it dashed.

I was already on shaky ground, but that was the day I really fell out with religion. Later, I'd probably amend that to be the day I fell out with the church.

Strangely, I still went through with confirmation. My mother expected me to and the adult (priest? father?) who led my CCD class encouraged us to go through with confirmation even if we weren't sure.

I can't remember if my parents separated before or after confirmation but it wasn't long after the prayer incident.

Later, I would begin to categorize myself as a Jedi or as an agnostic, depending on who asked me and how I felt at the time. I didn't know if I believed in god. I liked the idea that there was something out there, but I had a hard time reconciling an all knowing, potentially active being with my life and so many things I saw in the world. But I gravitated towards something like the Force (yes, I know, fictional creation, fictional religion - moving on). It allowed me to have the concept of something more without that something more having a distinct will that I had to reconcile with events like the Holocaust.

Jump to college and falling in love with best friend from high school and now my husband. My husband is very religious - Jewish to be precise. I had no fond memories of religion in my childhood and one actively painful memory, but religion was important to him. It wasn't important to me, but he was. So when the topic of children and religion came up, I said that we could raise our children Jewish. It meant a lot to him, I could do that.

Since then, I've occasionally regretted that discussion. I don't regret my answer, or the path that led me on. I regret how little thought I gave the topic. I thought, 'My dad wasn't involved in my religious upbringing, my husband's father wasn't terribly involved in his - I wouldn't have to be involved wither. My husband could take care of that corner of my kid's life and it would all work out.' I thought, 'Children need that ethereal thing they can have faith in sometimes and when they grow up they can decide how they feel about it.' I only thought later, 'man, I hated religious education with a passion. Am I really going to force something onto my children that I hated so passionately?' But I'd agreed. Later, I thought 'Can I support teaching my children something I don't myself believe?'

I know I gave in quickly because I loved my husband and didn't want to lose him over something so important to him. But it only became evident how hard religion would be for me to tackle when we went to get married. He's Jewish, I'm not. This turns out to be a bit of a problem when you go to find a Rabbi and a location to marry. We found a Rabbi who would marry us at a beautiful castle up on the North Shore, but not before some emotional discussions where my husband's temple's Rabbi wouldn't marry us, nor could we use my husband's temple - a site of many major milestones in his life. It took me a long time to come to terms with that - I probably still haven't come to terms with it. (On a side note, as of this year, interfaith couples may get married at my husband's synagogue which goes a long way to assuaging my feelings on the matter). I could get into that whole long aside, but that's not really where I was going with this so I'll save that for another time.

Jump to today. Still no children, so the religion for the sake of children topic is still someday off in the future. My husband and I make an effort to go to Torah study once a month (with me grumbling about the early hour to go to class before work). I've gotten the bizarre notion into my head to learn a little Hebrew to aide in our Torah study and one of my novels. I'm no more religious than I was when I fell out with the church. There are parts of the Bible and the Torah that I don't like. But I've accepted Judaism's place in my life - mostly I like how Judaism shapes my husband's life - I like that it makes him a better person and I like the ways in which it makes him a better person. Because of that, I'm OK teaching my children to be Jewish, even if religion still instinctively makes me a little nervous.

And to get to the final though of my (apparently long) essay.

After Torah study my husband dropped me off at the T-station, like he always does. I stood on the platform waiting for the next train on the platform and a thought came to me. All those years ago, praying for that one night of peace in my family. It may have taken a long time to get there, but I have it - and in more ways than one. I love my husband. We have a good home. Most of our days and nights our full of peace and love. My 'children' (that is my pets) are as happy and healthy as one could expect given their various ages. My father is off (I assume) happily married to the woman he met that split him from my mother. My mother is as happily married as she can be to my step father. When my parent split, even, my childhood house became calmer than it had been in years, even though it wasn't peaceful by a long shot.

Maybe, just maybe, someone answered. It only took me 15 years to realize that.

Comments

None of that is to say I'm suddenly 'religious' or suddenly believe in petitional prayer. I would say I've become more open to religion and it's place in my life and that maybe, just maybe, there is some one or some thing out there. Who knows? But I feel more optimistic than I have in a long time.
This sort of thing is actually why I'm still interested (and will make the effort) to convert to Judaism. It's not so much the religious rites, the going to confession or confirmation or prayers to a personal god who may or may not answer.

But there is questioning, and some room, and I like how the Jewish tradition has helped the people I know and care for feel secure with their families and loved ones, and so that's something?
I definitely like the questioning nature of Judaism (that is most definitely not there in Catholicism - at least where I'm from).

I think that's worthwhile enough logic for wanting to convert - to become a part of such a community. But at the end of the day what means 'I should convert' is intensely personal. What makes someone feel they want to say something is 'their' religion varies from person to person.

For me, I don't envision ever converting. (I won't say never). I just personally lack the conviction that I feel I need to belong to a religion, but I will continue my Jewish education and continue my outside looking in path forward. I will continue to go to classes and learn and who knows where that will lead?

I would probably also feel differently if I weren't a part of the community by virtue of marriage.
Oh, sure. It's just - for me, that was a reason, if that makes sense. And for some people, they don't feel the need to, or have their own private faith, even if it's just 'be good to others' and that's it.

But I wanted to say my winding thoughts were similar in some places.
Also, hi! We don't see much of you anymore since we all left MegaTokyo.
I'm on Trillian/AIM a lot more than I'm on LJ, nowadays. I'm also on Twitter, but... I dunno. Twitter's not very good for long posts on topics like this.

That being said, hi. How are you?

We're alright. Nothing to complain about. Most of my worry cycles are eaten up taking care of my old horsey, but she's gamely continuing on despite lots of arthritis.

How are you?
Horsey! Awww.

I am in MD now, looking for work. Health is an issue - thankfully there's a medical system here that, short of emergency hospital visits, has taken pretty good care of me for the past two months (I just transferred into it).
To begin, a sign of solidarity (it's not every day I get to pull out an entry that old!). These are topics I can go on for a good long time about... but I won't. We've got plenty of commutes to kill time on ;) Questioning is important, deciding what YOU believe is important, and figuring out how to act based on those beliefs is important. I think it's a lifelong journey (I feel like I said that earlier today or something...), and it's one very worth taking.
Very interesting, thoughtful post. Thanks for making it.

One thing that I think is worth noting, and I know this may be (a) a very touchy, personal subject and (b) something you've already thought about. But it's important and I've seen the effects it can have, so here goes:

Unless you convert, any children you have will never be accepted as Jews by a significant segment of the Jewish population.

And, I think you do need a plan (eventually) for what to do if they adamantly reject their religious education. Will you force them to go through with Bar/Bat Mitzvah, for example?

As an aside/anecdote, though somewhat relevant to this conversation: Jon's temple is actually the site of an important milestone for me, too—it's the last place I attended High Holy Day services. After that, I turned my back on Judaism completely.
Interesting. Did you turn from Judaism because of his temple in particular, or was it just a coincidence?

As for conversion for the sake of children, when Jon and I got married, I was told by the Rabbi that the solution most interfaith parents take is to have the children officially converted to Judaism after birth. Because, as you point out I'm female, and Judaism is passed down maternally, and that saves the awkward questions of why they have to convert as adults when they already thought they were Jewish without me being forced into conversion for their sakes. I thought the Rabbi told me that was sufficient.

As for what happens if children reject religion (as I ultimately did), that is a ball I leave primarily in Jon's court. I hated CCD/sunday school with a passion but looking back don't know how much of that was a hatred born purely of religion, or of my relationship with my parents who were trying to force me into it. My relationship with my parents was not healthy in any sense of the word and colors many of my opinions towards my childhood, what I disliked as a child, and why I disliked it, what's appropriate or inappropriate to force children to do, or how to raise youngsters. So it's all something I don't truly know the answer to until I am faced with it.

I've already told Jon I don't know if I could force kids to go through with religious school when I hated it so passionately, and it would probably be up to him to make it happen if he feels strongly it's a good idea. I forget the age at which he thinks they're old enough to make their own decisions about it - it might have been immediately before barmizvah age. I know there is a point where he thinks it would their choice.

It's tough because, for most purposes am not a religious person (though I fool a great many people), and I'm not into organized religion. The concept of a God will always be a difficult one that I will think differently on every day.

I still have my beefs with Jon's temple. I don't think I ever won't. But I've become much more comfortable since they took on their current assistant Rabbi, whom I feel much more comfortable with than the previous Rabbi.
I did not do well at religious school myself. I missed two years (third and fourth grade) because of this. Eventually when I was ready for it, I came back. I would have to look individually at the cause of the trouble. Is it the specific school? Maybe change temples. Is it school in general? Might be necessary to take a few years off. (Every year before 6th in religious school is basically completely redundant so that is not a big deal). Is it a specific teacher? Maybe change classes. If the problem is with the larger principle of Jewishness or religion, that's time for a bigger talk about what it is that's troublesome.