Converting from Christianity to Judaism

In a compelling first person account in the Sunday NY Times Dana Jennings writes of his journey from Christianity to Judaism. Citing recent Pew research on religious affiliation, Jennings says his journey may not be so different from many others (see my previous post) and recent research by The Barna Group supports his claim.

Jennings says he became “ravenous for wisdom and meaning” when he reached middle age. His hunger took him to both the writings of Rabbi Abraham Heschel and Thomas Merton.

What won me over to Judaism was the insistence that our sacred texts were still vivid, still alive,” Jennings writes.

He found the living dialogue that is nurtured in the Jewish community more satisfying and engaging than the reverential but dogmatic use of sacred text that prevails in some Christian communities. Eventually he took the step of affiliating with the synagogue and becoming part of the community of people who find meaning in the Jewish tradition.

There is clearly a search for spiritual meaning today and seekers are moving into unfamiliar religious terrain. The Barna researchers found participation in multiple forms of corporate and individual religious practices from house churches, to marketplace churches, to cyber communities and interactive web communities.

Because the religious practices of the “churched” and “unchurched” are much less distinctive today, Barna says new methods of measuring religious participation are needed in order to understand and analyze the religious journey. The case will seem radical to some.

Popular measures such as [those] based on attendance at a conventional church service – are out of date,” Barna claims.

Traditional participation in conventional church activities does not capture the full range of religious experiences in which people engage today. Membership does not tell us much about the quality or practices of religious life. Yet, the sole measurement for oldline traditional denominations was affiliation by membership and this was further buttressed by measuring participation in worship. Using this data assessments have been made about the health or demise of Christian denominations for the past two hundred years. And Barna says it’s out of date.

The spiritual journey today appears to be less about rejecting familiar institutions than yearning for more meaningful connection and for spiritual grounding that helps us to make sense of the world in which we live, and the life we are living. It’s a movement toward more profound spiritual knowledge and experience.

It’s relational and exploratory, often described as a journey. It’s also innovative, finding meaning in tradition where it is helpful and casting it off when it isn’t functional. It’s about spiritual values that are transformative–that meet the “ravenous hunger for wisdom and knowledge” that begins to overtake us in our middle years.

As noted in an earlier post here, this is also the age of greatest depression according to recent studies.

The spiritual quest is about a deeper relationship with the sacred, whether we call it God, Yahweh, Allah, or the great mystery. What it is not about, apparently, is dogma or an agenda.

It’s a significant challenge to traditional institutions because we’ve moved from conventional congregations as the sole source of religious knowledge and experience to multiple sources of spiritual information, experience and relationships. The open source model is eclectic, innovative and portable. Seekers are demonstrating, as Jennings makes clear in the title of his essay, “religion is less a birthright than a proper fit.”

The claim is often made that this is an extension of the marketplace of religion. We look at religion as we look at commodities and buy into that which we like. However, Jennings’ experience doesn’t confirm this. He reports movement toward a community of faith with a deep tradition that he reveres and that gives him the meaning he was missing.

The journey isn’t easily characterized as yet another form of consumption and individualism. Something else is at work and it may be a few years before we can properly assess it. But a movement toward spiritual depth is taking place and it’s likely our religious communities and our religious life will be different as a result.

Join the conversation!

Post a reply in the form below.

Leave a Reply:

Gravatar Image