While Judaism made me aware that everyone suffers, and Christianity taught me how to persevere through suffering, most of the time I really don’t suffer – I’m just uncomfortable. And the things that cause this discomfort are really kind of silly. When there’s grime in the shower again, and I can’t enjoy my book knowing that it’s there, both faiths remind me that at least I have a place to live. When I find myself sitting next to someone I don’t like, both faiths help remind me of his or her inherent value (I wish I could say this drastically changes my attitude, but at least I’m reminded of it).
The reality is, no religion will ever make complete sense to me and not have parts that I either don’t understand or feel greatly disturbed by. I have greater appreciation now for the ritual prayers of Judaism, but most of them being in Hebrew makes it difficult to reflect on their meaning, and reciting them in English just doesn’t have the same rhythm.
The closest ritual system I’ve found in Christianity is that of the Catholic Church (it even operates by a lunar calendar!), using rosary beads as focal points much like Jews use teffillim, and the prescribed prayers in English are much easier to understand. But I don’t think I could ever call myself Catholic because I don’t know how much I can untangle the beauty of Catholic tradition from the Vatican politics. I don’t believe the pope is infallible. Not to mention that I use birth control and am leaning towards not having children, both of which are frowned upon.
I’m not sure if viewing the Bible as inerrant is mostly an evangelical thing, but it doesn’t seem very popular to question it. What exactly do people mean when they call the Bible “perfect”? Is it grammatically perfect? How do they not feel the same stomach-churning that I do when reading the parts about genocide ordered by God, and laws about rape victims being forced to marry their assailants? Why are those things included if they contradict the morality that most people, religious and non-religious alike, condemn as evil? How hard would it have been for God to add an eleventh commandment, “Men, don’t rape or hit women. This is detestable”?
Actually, I wish that God had thought to add a few more commandments: “Treat homosexuals like human beings.” “Don’t bomb abortion clinics.” “Don’t try to turn America into a theocracy.” “Don’t tell your congregants how to vote.” “Don’t cry ‘persecution’ because someone disagreed with you.” “Never use an evangelism tract in place of a tip.”
I know, I know. If I’m so smart, why don’t I be God? And if religion causes me so many problems, why not abandon it altogether?
Believe me, I’ve considered that last possibility. But religion speaks to my desire to be part of something bigger than myself. It speaks to that part of me that believes we are more than just accidents of nature. I’ve always believed there was some kind of higher being out there, and religion is the tool to try and know him, as opposed to making up my own ideas about him. There’s a great deal of ugliness in religious history, to be sure. But there are stories of great glory, too, as well as the smaller, private moments of clarity that won’t convince skeptics en masse, but are enough to convince me.
People we love may be hard to understand at times, and have aspects of their personalities that bug the crap out of us. Honestly, I think the same of God.