Sunday, April 8, 2012

My Conversion, Part 2: College and My Spiritual Awakening

One year ago today, I converted to Judaism! Below is part two in a series detailing my religious story. Please start at the beginning.

Part 2
If you don't leave college with a better understanding of yourself, then you missed a major part of college. College is great because it throws you into a bubble with brand new people from all over the map and that's bound to cause cultural and social learning opportunities without even entering a classroom.

I didn't go to a religious school, but I got an excellent religious education starting almost right away. In my required first year course the discussions were usually dominated by two students - a devoutly Christian man and a woman who was raised atheist. Their arguments really crystallized the religious limbo I had been in for the last five years. I couldn't agree with the religious perspective advanced in class which excluded non-religious people from being moral. At the same time, I instinctively rejected the idea that God doesn't exist. This was the first time that I felt certain about anything religious in a long time. It took me another year to actively seek out a new religious identity, but having one clear belief that I could stick to, even something as simple as "God exists," was a good place to start.

My sophomore year, I gave Lutheranism another chance, this time with a slightly more progressive brand of Lutheranism than the sect that I was raised in. It was better at first and I thought maybe I could be this forever, but something still felt off. I tried a few different Protestant denominations to see if I felt at home in any of them. Finally, I decided Christianity wasn't for me.

*Side note: Before I explain why Christianity isn't for me, I want to emphasize that this is not an attack on Christian beliefs. Just because I found these aspects of Christianity religious deal breakers doesn't mean others can't find faith and meaning in them.*

I wanted a religion that required me to be more thoughtful. All I heard at Christian services were lines about giving my life over to Christ and pure faith is not an answer to the theological questions that still nagged me. I wanted a religion that would challenge me to think about my beliefs on an intellectual level, a religion that would answer my theological questions with something more than, "because."

I decided to start from scratch. You have to know what you want before you can find it, so I enlisted my boyfriend's (now fiance, Marc) help in talking out what I believe. He was raised Jewish and was going through a religious search of his own at the same time. He had tried church with me and decided it wasn't for him either. We spent an entire summer just talking out what we believed and what we wanted to find in a religious community. We covered everything from the nature of God to our purpose on Earth and the afterlife. I didn't have defined beliefs about everything we talked about, but just talking it out gave me some direction. Marc mostly listened while I tried to explain what I thought and posed the occasional question for clarification. It was incredibly helpful. By the end of the summer, Marc was somewhat surprised to find himself saying, "Erin, what you believe sounds a lot like Judaism."

Then we found the "Belief-O-Matic," which asks you a series of questions about your religious and social beliefs and then tells you which religions most match your answers.  Judaism was my highest match.

Next week, watch for Part 3: my introduction to Judaism! Happy Easter and Happy Passover.

UPDATE: Part 3: My Introduction to Judaism