Sunday, March 2, 2008

Dana Jennings' Journey

3/2/2008--The Sunday New York Times contained an opinion piece by Dana Jennings that perfectly illustrates the inter-religious movement documented by the PEW Forum Report that was released this week. Jennings was born a Protestant, married a Jew, raised Jewish children, experienced powerful longing for “wisdom and meaning” in his 40’s and finally converted to Judaism.

His journey illustrates the power of Hallowed Secularism and its most significant shortcoming. The power is simply this. When people convert, they do not satisfy their religious longings, as much as still them. The convert is the last person who can challenge boundaries because the convert is a guest still learning the way.

Jennings illustrates this in his piece. Despite his Christian learning, he has no intention of bringing Judaism into contact with the new Jewish movement that Christianity began as. For someone like Jennings, who knows Christianity well, Judaism is a straitjacket. And the “arguments with God” reference that he describes in the piece as what Jews do, suggests a simplistic God-model more in keeping with a Jewish stereotype of religion than the real thing. The question is not, why did God do this or that? The question is, what is God?

Jennings would have been better off religiously if he had stayed out in the cold, which is what Hallowed Secularism is.

But that is the problem with Hallowed Secularism. How can a person just stay outside everyone and everything? To put it another way, that 12% figure of religiously interested unaffiliated people in the PEW report—how do they live? Or, I should say, how do we live, since I am now a member of this grouping. There is no life, and especially no common life, yet for Hallowed Secularism.

This problem goes way beyond what to do at Passover time. Jennings writes of resisting the “empty cultural whirlwind”. No one can do that alone and no one can do it without structures of worship and ritual. Actually, no one can really do it at all, even with those things. But without them, the search for the meaning of human life becomes impossible.

This is why Jennings converted. This is why the rest of us need secure moorings we do not yet have.

On the other hand, Abraham had no moorings either. He was forced into something new. Perhaps the sloshing around shown in the PEW Report is the harbinger, the messenger, of this something new.

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