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Margaret O'Brien Steinfels June 8, 2014 - 12:09pm
In the Spirit of the day [Pentacost], here is a fascinating and unusual account of religious conversion and insight.
From the Jewish Daily Forward
Thank you for this story - it is very interesting.. Stories of religious conversion are almost always fascinating. Catholics are mostly familiar with the stories of those who have become Catholic. I am fascinated with the stories of those, like this young man, who make truly dramatic breaks with the religion of their home and community. I once worked with a man who was a devout Hindu, who makes a 3 week retreat in India every year. He was raised as a mainstream, white, American Protestant and is among the most "devout" people I know. Catholics hear stories of Catholics who have left for another church. Usually Catholics are told to pray for them - the "fallen away" or "lapsed" Catholics, terms that imply that they left the church without much thought - it was an accident (fallen away) or just laziness (lapsed). Those involved with the "bring them back" campaigns of the "new" evangiliization never seem to consider that many former Catholics may have actually put a great deal of prayer and.or reflection into their decision to leave the Catholic church.
What of those who leave christianity all together? Many are attracted to Buddhism (the Dalai Lama is as charismatic as Francis). Most American converts to Buddhism come from Catholicism and Judaism. It would be interesting to find a study about why Buddhism has such strong appeal to them.
This young man became Jewish, a religion I am very attracted to. I have lived more than 50 years of my life in Jewish majority communities (the first 10 years before we moved away, when my "best" friend was Jewish, and the last 40). I have gone to more bat/bar mitzvahs than confirmations, more bris and baby naming ceremonies than baptisms. I can sing Hava Nagila and dance the hora. I love the services at the conservative and reform temples that I have been part of - there is no "homily" in the sense of the christian homily, where the rabbi talks at the congregation and it's all a one-way lecture. The rabbi talks, but the rabbi also leads a discussion, with members of the congregation participating, a dialogue instead of a monologue. I love their religious rituals and the strong sense of family. Since I'm not terribly confident about christian teachings on the Trinity, I sometimes consider studying with a local rabbi. I know that the orthodox Jews do not consider converts to be "real" Jews because they don't have the maternal lineage. But in the US, in the conservative and reform congregations, this is not an issue.
AC: Yes, there is a good deal to love about the U.S. Jewish community and its practices. One dicussion group to which I belong is ever-enticing because the discussion is never ending. From one meeting to the next, there is never the need to come to a conclusion. What a gift!
Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages and blogs at dotCommonweal.
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