I'm a Believer (But Not In the Right Things)

I'm a Believer (But Not In the Right Things)

During a wonderful conversation I had this morning it struck me (once again) why I have such trouble fitting in even with interfaith groups: I am not a believer.

I don’t believe religions are of divine origin; I don’t believe theologies tell us anything about God (though they may tell us a lot about the humans who invent and adhere to them); I don’t believe scriptures are written or revealed by God; and I don’t believe the claims a religion makes about itself are anything more than self-serving marketing slogans.

I do believe all beings are manifestation of a singular Reality I call God; I do believe that we can realize this Reality in, with, and as ourselves through a variety of contemplative practices found in all of the world’s religions; I do believe that when we realize the Divine this way we move beyond religion to a state of open-hearted compassion and hard-headed justice and reason; and I do believe each of the world’s religions and all of their sacred texts contain timeless truths, but that these truths have to be culled out from a lot of time-bound bias and religious propaganda.

My beliefs make it impossible for me to hold “the Jewish line” on anything. Certainly I can challenge misinformation about Jews and Judaism, but I cannot personally assert that the Jews are the Chosen People or that the Torah is the one true revelation, or that Israel is the Promised Land (though I can explain why many Jews do believe these things). As the only rabbi in an entire county, however, I am expected to believe things I have long since abandoned. And when I don’t it is very confusing to people.

I love Judaism as a civilization of argument and doubt; I love its iconoclasm; I love its capacity to hold multiple and conflicting meanings on issues of doctrine, practice, text, and life; I love that Judaism is at home with paradox; but what I love about my people and our civilization is so very hard to get across to those who expect all faiths to be fundamentally creedal: We Jews believe “X;” I’m a Jew therefore I must believe “X” as well, and if I don’t I am no longer a Jew.

It is difficult, perhaps impossible, for a Christian or a Muslim to deny the divinity of Christ or the authenticity of the Qur’an and still be a Christian or a Muslim. But Jews have been denying the truth claims of Judaism for centuries and still cling to being Jews. I refuse to abandon my people or our civilization, but I wish it were easier to explain the nature of the Jewish mindset.

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