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Joining a synagogue

About a decade ago I wrote an article My Spiritual Path To Atheism, I last updated it in 2004. The too long; didn’t read version: I was put off by hypocrisy, bigotry and cruelty of the Christian church I attended as a teenager, dabbled in other religions and followed history back to learn why certain religious things exist and eventually came down with the conclusion that in my world view there was no place for God.

Now, I don’t actually have a problem with religion in general. I haven’t found a connection with it in my own life but I respect much of what it provides for others and understand that a lot of people have deep cultural ties that include religion. I am deeply offended by religion being used to justify pain being inflicted upon others, but I find that a fair amount of that is painful interpretations by people who are just looking for a justification for the cruel behavior they were going to engage in regardless.

Upon reflection, some of this is deeply cultural for me, or lack there of. While looking for “the truth” on the question of religion I checked in with my relatives and ancestors. My immediate family has dedicated secular humanists, Catholics, and Christian Protestants of all kinds. Going back a several generations they were some kind of Christian like much of Europe, go back further and my ancestors were all kinds of pagan, go back further… where do I stop? And even if I were to stop, does sheer passage of time mean something is truer than another? If so, why would my ancestors have given it up for a new belief system? Clearly this isn’t the way.

Speaking from a strictly cultural sense I have a grandfather who deeply identifies with his Irish heritage and my other grandfather went as far as working with others to publish a newsletter celebrating German heritage. I spent time going down these paths too, but as as a 3rd generation American-born child in a family that has embraced the culture here and after doing some traveling in Europe, I have learned that in truth I am deeply American.

So here I am, an American atheist. I actually have come to identify with Secular Humanism because I feel that I’m more defined by my compassion for others than the fact that my world view does not include any god(s). My moral code is quite simply “don’t hurt others” and I do a workaholic level of volunteer work now that I’m in a position in my life where I can. When looking at all this, the fact that I don’t believe in god(s) seems incidental.

Now, my fiance is Jewish, wishes to get married by a Rabbi and to raise any children we may have in the Jewish tradition.

I’ve taken a lot of time to think about how we could handle this. I’ve come to the conclusion that when it comes to values and culture, I care about American culture, helping others and advancing the freedom of information and learning. This doesn’t conflict with Judaism (indeed, it’s compatible with most religion), so as long as I’m free to express my feelings about these things in our life and to our children I’m happy to be part of a household which observes and respects Judaism as well.

This week we joined a synagogue together that recognizes and respects non-Jewish partners like myself who aren’t currently interested in conversion. I was relieved to learn that the synagogue also offers classes and tips for parents who are not the same religion because it’s so common here in California. My intellectual curiosity about Judaism abounds, and I’ll start attending Judaism classes hosted by the synagogue this fall so I can learn more about the culture and religion. I also put together a little page tracking the tools I’m using to help me learn about Torah here.

This past Saturday I attended my first Seder.

Looking forward to a whole year, and more, of firsts!


  • IdleOne

    Fantastic on so many different levels.

  • Elwing

    I too married into a Jewish family – being relatively secular humanism myself (honestly, I don’t care one way or the other). One thing I’ve learned about Judaism is that most members are taught to question what they learn and to analyze it within their own beliefs. While I refuse to join a temple for personal reasons (and my husband is OK with that) I have no objection to my daughter being raised Jewish because she’ll at least learn to think for herself. At the same time, we’re allowing my mother to take her to (Methodist) church services, and me not doing anything. It’ll be tough explaining to her our choices, but I think any intelligent person can make those choices for themselves.

  • kevix

    as someone who was raised in a conservative Jewish tradition and someone who is more a pastafarian, I like the Jewish tradition more than the default one followed by the majority of Americans. One of the things I realized after I got involved in FLOSS, was that it has a community of like-minded people that are supportive. This might have been the function of Relgion and might still be. But I prefer the FLOSS community as it is closer to the ideals that I like than most organized religion. If you need any recipies for Jewish food, let me know. I love the food! The only issue is that American Society has very little tolerance for non-catholic faiths if you try to assert your rights. One case: http://www.wtnh.com/dpp/news/fairfield_cty/woman-wins-battle-to-keep-mezuzah

    • pleia2

      I came to realize some time ago that the FLOSS community had replaced more traditional community gatherings like those found in religion in my life.

      That said, I recently picked up Religion for Atheists: A Non-believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion which seeks to analyze some of the benefits of religion. One of the more interesting things for me was early in the book where they talk about people of all types coming together in a place of equality and worship in a beautiful place. It’s outside the rat race, within those sacred confines everyone is equal and entitled to the gifts, comfort and beauty of their religion and place of worship. I find that even in FLOSS, there are ranks and you have to work hard to be recognized, so it’s not quite as removed from everything as a religious place. There is something probably valuable I’m missing in all this.

      I am a terrible cook, don’t talk to me about fried matzah :) There are a couple Jewish delis in the city that have some prepared foods and I think I’m better off going with those for now. Perhaps in the future I will take you up on the recipe offer!

      And as someone who has never sought to hide her atheism, I’m pretty used to already being on the outside when it comes to non-Christian faith in this country. I just need to make sure I keep living in cities (or at least major metropolitan areas :)) for now.


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