When I returned to Texas, my husband and I first settled in Austin. We tried a few different congregations, but we were never able to agree on one. The big irony is that our congregational preferences were the opposite of our political preferences: I’m more progressive politically but feel more at home in a Conservative congregation, while he’s more conservative politically but preferred a Reform service. A few years later, we divorced for reasons unrelated to Judaism or any other religion, for that matter. Fortunately, we’ve been able to remain friends, and he’s found a church where he’s happy.
Oddly enough, I didn’t immediately run to my nearest Conservative congregation and resume my studies. I was trying to do something different at the time, and before too long, I found myself identifying as an atheist once again. I’d just had it with all forms of religion.
But in the long term, it was not to be. This is another one of those instances where I can’t explain why the fit just wasn’t there. I suspect that if I lived in a more progressive part of the country, my experience might have been different. More diversity might have provided more opportunities for me to feel truly at home. But my experience of the non-religious movement in my area is that it’s very focused on opposition to Christianity, and that’s not how I’m interested in spending my time.
Also, embracing a “rational” view on supernatural matters doesn’t mean that spirit of inquiry is extended to other areas. There have been the same issues with discrimination and other disgusting forms of human behavior that society in general faces. And if I’m honest, I don’t believe deep down that if you somehow could rid the world of religion, the world would suddenly be better. In countries where religion is repressed, people still find a way to divide themselves into oppressors and oppressed. So I think people would just find another way to be nasty to each other if religion were somehow abolished. Even many so-called religious wars are ultimately about other things, like political power, or control of land.
At the same time, I don’t think even the vast majority of believers are in their particular houses of worship because they’ve reasoned out the intellectual merits of what their belief system teaches. They’ve just found something that works for them. Could I reframe my idea of what God meant in a way that made sense?
In my initial Judaism class, Rabbi Dryer taught us about the work of Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, who founded Reconstructionist Judaism, a small niche movement. One of Kaplan’s major theological contributions was the idea that we don’t have to think of God as anything supernatural. Here’s an interesting article placing Rabbi Kaplan’s ideas in the context of process theology, most commonly associated with Alfred North Whitehead.
I was also introduced to a series of podcasts by Rabbi Brad Artson, the Dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, a Conservative rabbinical seminary, at American Jewish University. Rabbi Artson is also very interested in process theology and talks about it in an articulate way. Also, just the fact that there’s room for different interpretations of these ideas gave me hope that there would be room for me, wherever I was.
So after everything that had happened, could I make it work with Judaism after all? Would I still feel at home walking into a service? Could I find a rabbi I felt comfortable with? Stay tuned.