Thursday, January 03, 2008

When It Comes To Religion, Select Smart

I took the SelectSmart religion questionnaire a few days ago. I wanted to start out the new year in fine spiritual form. The results would not make my family proud.

On a scale of 1 to 100, I scored 100% Unitarian Universalist. Liberal Quaker came in second with 94%. Reform Judaism, the faith in which I am ordained, tied with Jainism for seventh place at 72%, just behind Hinduism (77%) and just ahead of Secular Humanism (71%). Orthodox Judaism, the religion of my birth, came in at 19th place with 46%, five slots behind Scientology at 64%. Can it be that I prefer Hubbard to Hillel?

You might find fault with SelectSmart’s questionnaire. I don’t know enough math to investigate the accuracy of its algorithms , but I wasn’t surprised by the results. As I travel the country speaking in synagogues (a job that will, with the posting of this blog, no doubt cease to exist), I find myself more and more alienated from the official party line and liturgy. I am not the only one who feels this way. I meet lots of Unitarians and Liberal Quakers masquerading as Jews in America.

I am proud to be a Jew, but I can’t get excited about making a fetish of it. It seems to me that contemporary Judaism is all about being Jewish. To me, Judaism, indeed all religion, is a means not an end; it is about healing person and planet through justice and compassion, and not about keeping Jews Jewish. All the time, money, and creative energies put into making Judaism more interesting to Jews is a waste. What is more interesting than spiritual and social transformation? I think that if the Jewish establishment focused more on the mission of Judaism and less on the membership statistics of Jews themselves they might find more people taking Judaism seriously. But what do I know? I’m a Unitarian.

So what should I do? Retake the questionnaire and fudge my answers so I turn out more Jewish? No, I can’t pretend to believe what I don’t believe, and I don’t believe in Chosen Peoples, Holy Lands, Creator Gods, or Revealed Texts.

I suppose I could join a Unitarian Fellowship or Quaker Meeting. I have attended both many times and find the experience far less aggravating that a typical synagogue service where I have to argue with almost every word that is printed in the siddur (prayer book). Unitarians have no formal liturgy, and it is hard to argue with what is being said at a Quaker Meeting when literally nothing is being said. But I’m too guilt ridden to play for another team.

So the only thing I can do is berate myself for having started the year with the SelectSmart questionnaire. So much for 2008 being a new year. It’s already just another one.


Robin Edgar said...

"I don’t believe, and I don’t believe in Chosen Peoples, Holy Lands, Creator Gods, or Revealed Texts."

Are you open to changing your mind about some of that?

Here is some ID for you to consider. There is a little message from the Creator there for those with eyes to see. . .

Peter Schogol said...

After answering several similar questionnaires and always ending up as either a UU or a liberal Friend, I decided to put my money where my bandwidth was and see if I could keep company with either. I liked the UU principle of BYOT (bring your own theology) but not the summer camp spirit of the services. I liked the silence and the testimonies of Quakerism but was leery of the next eruption of its dormant Christianity. I ended up opting for Friends (after discovering a Google group called "Jewish Friends"). I don't regret my decision, but sometimes regret that I had to make such a decision at all.

AaronHerschel said...


Did you have to make that decision?

I am, quite possibly, the worst Jew I know. I never attend synagogue, I don't keep sabbath or kosher, I'm forgetting what little Hebrew I knew, etc. And yet. I could never give up Judaism. I feel/ deeply and permanently Jewish in a way I can't begin to explain.

At the moment, however, it's the the stories--the literature--that engages me most. I love talking about the stories, debating them, stretching them, interpreting them, retelling them. The point I want to make is that, for now, this literary obsession (which I flatter myself is my way of wrestling with god) is my best way of being Jewish. And, hinneni, what the hell, that's enough.

I think, as Jews, we spend far too much time defining Jewishness. The boxes we create for each denomination and sub-denomination grow ever smaller. No wonder none of us fit! A friend of mine once told me about a girl she was dating who was constantly worried about looking too butch. She identified fem, a lipstick lesbian, and so she took careful, compulsive note of the dress code.

There's a dress code for Jews, as well. But it's not peyos and tallit. When Moses approached the burning bush, the bush told him to take off his sandals "for you [Moses] are on holy ground." When Adam and Eve revealed their fig-leafed bodies to God in the garden, God asked "Who told you were naked?"

I once suggested to a Hillel friend that these stories meant we ought to hold services in the nude. Tonight, I'd like to suggest that we encounter Jewishness similarly stripped. That is, without a whole lot of concern over the accessories.

Peter Schogol said...

Hello Aaron Herschel,

Did I have to make that decision? Well, I had to make some kind of decision. I need the company of fellow seekers and in Lexington, which is less cosmopolitan even than Nashville, my choices are few and they are influenced by my work schedule.

If I had Saturdays off from work I could have made community with the study group at my local Reform temple. They too wrestle, stretching and tossing text like a pizza, and I've enjoyed the atmosphere. But I work Saturdays so that's out.

I'm off Sundays, however, and Sunday options are many. From that bunch I chose Quakers.

To be a Jewish Friend doesn't obligate you to stop being a Jew. Granted, your community will not be focusing on midrash, but then again sometimes even a kosher person has a yen for a cheeseburger.

I do envy you, though. At least you don't have to go far from the kitchen table to feed your Yiddishkeit.

Regards to your dad.

AaronHerschel said...


I didn't mean to criticise. As you say, its the need for for community that makes affiliation with one group or another such a powerful part of religious practice. How else to avoid theological solopsism?

Is Jewish Friends a formally defined denomination or a loose community of Jews? I seem to run into all kinds of trouble with formally defined denominations--maybe because I'm addicted to a certian irreverence, that (if I'm not careful) reads as sacrilege. My Hillel friends, for example, were horrified at the suggestion of naked Shabbos (or perhaps it was the idea of a naked me... I'm not exactly Jewish-America's Next Top Model).

Despite my track record though, I quite like the idea of a group of, as you put it, "fellow-seekers." What I'm wary of, however, is the delimiting aspects, the theological self-policing and pack heirarchies. In short, the politics.

I was moved by the last line in your post: "I sometimes regret that I had to make such a decision at all." I sometimes feel as if, Jewish as I am, there is little place for me in a 'proper' Jewish community. My post was written in repsonse to that feeling, and perhaps also as a minor apologia for my kitchen table yiddishkeit. No personal criticism was intended.

All the best,


Peter Schogol said...

Hello Aaron Herschel,

No worries. If I'm in the right mood I can take offense at "hello." You've said nothing wrong.

"Jewish Friends" is a mailing list for those who self-identify as Jews who also self-identify as Quakers (a/k/a Friends). Here in Lexington there are a number of people who attend the Quaker Meeting who are Jews but it's not something we rally around. I have to agree with Rami that too many Jews spend too much time contemplating their Jewishness as if that's what being a Jew is all about.

I like the idea of naked Shabbos, but I don't think many straight guys would be comfortable naked around an equally naked gay guy. I can't convince my straight coworkers that just because they stand to pee doesn't make me want to jump their bones. Sheesh!

A long life and a peaceful end,

Unknown said...

Ah, now those were fun tests. I ended up 100% St. Augustine and the lowest was 27% Thomas Hobbs. I rated 1) Christian liberal followed not so closely by Reformed Jew - at number 10, and then by Orthodox Jew (the religion of my birth) at number 17.

Since I am a Messianic Jew and it is not an option, I have come to the odd conclusion that I am a Christian liberal, Reform Jew with Orthodox leadings and a follower of St. Augustine. How in the heck did this outcome result from the questions offered, particularly when I answered a whole lot of them with "I don't like any of the answers".


Lu Seraph said...

I'd like to state that I really enjoyed reading your blog first and foremost.
I know it's older but I'd like to bring to attention the debate my x-partner and I had last night over his astonishingly high scores in religions he's never thought of subscribing to.

It is not that your religion is what your highest score is by any means. Ok so my highest scores were Buddhism and UU.
For years I studied Buddhism, and am a layperson of the United Church but only because I am a Kabbalist.

Not many kabbalists in my area. Believe you me.
So looking into what the UU's believe and looking at what I've studied from Buddhism and my love of the East, I've figured this one out to the best of my satisfaction.

God Chose the Jewish people, where the Jewish people were. Awesome. But did God ignore the enslaved and suffering in other countries? Heck no. God chose the Jewish people as his people and gave them a long and beautiful history that has become muttled in our seperate houses as we attempt to define ourselves as this or that kind of Jew.
We're still God's chosen people no matter what we choose, he chose us. He chose to give love and freedom to those who suffered.
Not only in the Holy Land, but wherever people cried out for the Lord.
Now that we are in a day and age where there are so many religions on the table one has to wonder where they all came from. If there's only one God, then that's where they came from. Different cultures, different interpretations, different ritual and circumstance. Now in the Global Age. All God.
That is why though I practice the Kabballah, I am United.
I love everyone like God would and God willing I've had to use the language of Christians to speak about good news through Christ, but not because I agree with it, knowing the Christ is just another one of the popular messiah figures these people come up with all the time, it's because when the message is good, it's most likely from God. Maybe it was a mistake on the part of the Jewish Temple way back when to be spiteful toward other faiths that forced non-Jews to Need a savior because the Jews weren't sharing.
Place nice, be fair,share your faith but never impose your doctrine. You learn more that way it's what we teach in kindergarten it still applies even to every Rabbi, Bishop, Adept, Buddha, whatever.
Be nice to everyone.
With Love and Blessings from every corner

Lu Seraph