I am still asked from time to time why Judaism wasn’t “good enough” for me to keep it as my religion. A common misunderstanding when it comes to religious conversion is that it’s all about what fulfills me at a personal level, or makes me happy. I did not leave Judaism because it wasn’t making me happy. In fact, I often say that if I were searching for a religion that would make me happy, Christianity would have been my last choice.
What ended up happening was that I discovered truths about humanity that I did not see reflected in the Judaism I was raised in (my fascination with the Incarnation notwithstanding).
One thing that told me I wouldn’t make a good Jew wasn’t just that I failed at keeping kosher. It wasn’t just that I couldn’t get used to the idea of not using electricity on the Sabbath. It was when I read The Diary of Anne Frank, and came across the part where Anne says, “In spite of everything, I still believe people are good at heart.”
I can’t say I ever agreed with that.
One of Judaism’s basic principles is that humans are fine as they are, and do not need a savior. Over time, I could no longer agree with this. I am convinced that humanity needs redemption more than it needs anything else.
While I’ve never experienced anything nearly as horrific as Anne did, I have seen just how easy it is for “good people” to do terrible things; to gloss over their own micro-aggressions toward others without realizing the full extent of the damage done.
This is what systemic racism and the concept of “white privilege” are about: the fact that white people benefit, however unintentionally, from systems of oppression that were designed to favor us and put us ahead of people of color, many of whom lack the same opportunities afforded to us pretty much from birth.
The more I learn about these injustices our country was founded on, the more I see it as an apt example of how Original Sin works. Our intentions are not what matter here: it’s about impact. And good intentions do not cancel harmful impact.
I see humans fall into harmful impact with the best of intentions all the time. I do it myself almost every day.
The fact is, even the most well-intentioned of humans will end up making decisions that contribute to the capitalist machine, systemic oppression, and the destruction of our environment. Empathy alone cannot redeem that. Just because we have the capacity to do good things does not make us inherently good.
Simply realizing that I believe humanity is intrinsically flawed – starting with myself – was one of the first Jenga blocks of Judaism to fall for me.
And that, long before I learned to embrace a human messiah who is also God (the most anti Jewish concept of all), was what started the ball rolling toward eventual conversion. Only through Christ’s redemption and righteousness do I have the ability to accomplish more good than I ever could on my own.
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1 thought on “Humanity is not all right”
Interesting insight into your thought process.
That line from Anne Frank makes people feel good, but I’m not sure that it is an accurate summary of the Jewish view. Last year, I heard a lecture by Anne’s posthumous step-sister Eva Schloss (her mother married Anne’s father, who was the only member of the family to survive, after the war). Eva was the same age as Anne and had a similar experience, except that she and her mother were liberated from Auschwitz instead of going on the death march to Belsen, and she survived. Eva is pretty cynical about that quote, pointing out that Anne wrote it while still in hiding, before going to Auschwitz. She doubted that her optimism would have survived.
What I’ve been taught from a Jewish POV is a bit different. We aren’t born sinful, but we have the capacity to do both tremendous good and tremendous harm. There will always be a tension between competing drives and inclinations. Neither we nor our world is perfect, but we have to keep striving to fix it (tikkun olam, as they say in Reform Jewish circles).
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