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 my stomach starts growling only an hour after breakfast, for example, both faiths remind me to be grateful that at least I know when my next meal is coming. I appreciate that both religions share a tenet of gratefulness and appreciation for what we have over longing for what we don’t have.
The reality is, no religion will ever make complete sense to me. I’m sure all religions contain parts I either wouldn’t understand or would be greatly disturbed by. All religions have their easily likeable parts, and other parts not so much.
I’m not sure if viewing the Bible as inerrant is mostly an evangelical thing, or something that Christians of all stripes do—my entire Christian experience has been within the realm of evangelicalism. Judaism, on the other hand, gives us the Talmud, a collection of arguments and disagreements from scholars over ancient texts. Would they, like evangelicals, have called the Scriptures “perfect”? Perfectly imperfect, maybe. More than that, I’m not entirely certain that Judaism needs the texts to be perfect in order to consider them important, even sacred.
What exactly do Christians mean when they call the Bible “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? Are those examples of “perfect” morality?
Most people, religious and nonreligious alike, condemn rape and genocide. The “good guys” in the story who committed those crimes would no longer be good guys. How hard would it have been for God to add an additional, specific 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 on Twitter.” “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 the 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.
There’s a great deal of ugliness in religious history, to be sure. But there are stories of great glory, too, as well as smaller, private moments of conviction that won’t convince skeptics en masse, but are enough to convince me. Faith, for me, is a lot like love: I couldn’t understand it until it happened to me.
Excerpted from Confessions of a Prodigal Daughter.