Belief and Acceptance

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

Years ago when I first started college, I was very good friends with an ex-navy person who went by the nickname of DiDi. At the time I met her she was married to a good ole Yakima boy, but she ended up divorcing him within a few months. One factor in this divorce was that DiDi was beginning to explore the roots of her own Jewish heritage and this just didn’t find compatibility among the farmers in the area.

DiDi and I did everything together and we were trouble from the get go. We worked in the same school department – I helped her get the job as a matter of fact. We attended many of the same classes (including the sociology class given by a professor whom I eventually dated but did not marry, as he’d been married six times before, and I’m not good in a crowd).

During that time the multipart movie Holocaust was on TV, and Yakima Valley CC organized a class to go with the showing; there would be sessions during the day to discuss the issues brought up in the segment the night before, and a four hour viewing of films taken by German and American military both during and after the war. Both DiDi and I signed up for it – her because of her blossoming interest in Judaism, me because of my interest in history.

DiDi was a woman who embraced life wholly and that includes emotions, though she was the most sunny tempered woman I knew. By the time we arrived for the Saturday film showing, though, she was subdued, both by the discussions during class and the movie itself. As we sat down in the auditorium, the teacher warned us that the films were about to see were highly graphic in nature, and if we wanted to forgo them, we could and no harm to the grade. DiDi and I stayed.

The films the teacher showed were shocking, disturbing, and overwhelming. It defied understanding that any human could perform such atrocities on another human, no matter how evil they were – much less the numbers of people involved in perpetuating the Holocaust. As the film progressed, people began to leave, most shaken, and more than a few visibly sick. During a break in the film, I took DiDi outside where she completely broke down, sobbing from her heart in such a manner that my own heart beat in time to hear the grief. However, she was not an ex-navy person for naught and we returned and finished those films.

That incident was the catalyst for DiDi deciding to follow her mother’s religion and return to Judaism, having been brought up protestant by her father’s family. We made a trip to Seattle so that she could talk to a Rabbi, but when we got there, the Rabbi greeted us courteously but not enthusiastically and said, firmly, that I may wait outside for my friend. Later I found out that Rabbis were being inundated with people interested in converting to Judaism after watching the Holocaust.

I was reminded of this time from my past when I read David Weinberger’s statement about members of most Jewish faiths have little interest in converting people to Judaism. David wrote:

But I think there is a problem with Shelley’s formulation that “you still have to believe your own truth is the Truth.” While you can certainly find strains of universalism in orthodox Judaism  “Our view of God is the only true view of God ” there is also a strong sense that because God reveals Himself in history, He reveals Himself in the different ways that make sense to different peoples. That’s why Jews only rarely in history have tried to convert others, and far more commonly discourage conversions. That’s why Jews don’t expect anyone else to keep kosher; God didn’t reveal Himself to others through that particular law. Furthermore, God reveals Himself to Jews by giving us a book of laws that literally makes no sense unless and until it is interpreted by humans who converse and argue for millennia; thus the “my truth is The Truth” doesn’t hold quite so cleanly for Jews.

My understanding is that Jews work out this morass of contradictions basically by saying “We’ve got our revelation. You go worry about yours. Oh, and you can stop trying to convert us already.”

David was responding to my statement, If you believe in God in a certain way, no matter how much you respect that others may not agree, you still have to believe your own truth is the Truth..

I am not surprised by what David says, as none of the Jewish people I’ve met have been even remotely interested in converting me to Judaism. However, in my opinion, there’s a vast difference between wanting to convert someone to a specific belief, and internalizing the Truth of that belief for yourself. I’ve known hundreds of deeply religious people who have never once tried to get me to come to their services, but I’ve never met a person who has said, “I’m Christian, but I can support that there are multiple gods”; or “I’m only Jewish for the holidays”; or even, “I’m atheist, but I’m willing to concede there may be a God.” We can only go so far when attempting to understand each other’s Truth. Like Schroedinger’s cat, internalized belief – that Truth I persist, with a big capital ‘T’, causing some to wince at the absolute nature of the word – alters when pulled out of the black box of our minds. Or souls.

I can be appalled or horrified by the films I saw from the Holocaust, and I can be determined to prevent such acts from ever happening again; but I can never fully appreciate how deeply the impact this event has on Jewish people, such as my friend DiDi. My empathy can not overcome my not being Jewish.

We can reach out to each other intellectually, we can cross cultures, learn each others languages, and visit each others nations, but when it comes to spirituality, we each have our own spiritual beliefs. The most we can hope for from those who don’t share our beliefs, is that we agree to cordially and respectfully disagree on form, knowing that the capability of belief is something we all can share. We must accept our differences.

I think this is the essence of what AKMA is saying with the following:

For instance, I can’t by any means rule out the possibility that the God whose grace extends far beyond my capacity to imagine it would work with Shinto believers in a way that draws them to the Truth. I can’t affirm that, though, because first, I have no way of knowing that, and second, that’s unlikely to be the way a Shinto believer thinks about the truth, and I can’t claim to override someone else’s self-understanding. I certainly have put a lot of time and energy into explaining why a Shinto understanding of my theology misses some important points; I fully expect that any account I gave of a Shinto theology would be likewise deficient, so I’d rather not pretend to know something I don’t.

In other words, why is it better to hold to a Shinto theology of ‘gods on a shelf’ than to a Christian theology of one God—if you’re not already a Shinto? Or, in another way of posing the riddle, we could juxtapose the questions, ‘How can I profess faith in a particular vision of the Truth without deprecating other visions of truth?’ and ‘How can you appreciate mutually contradictory visions of the truth without deprecating particular visions?’ Our answer here is not that anyone ought to grab onto one of these over against the other, but that the business of resolving such contradictions gets us onto the dangerous terrain of coercing consciences…

The danger associated with spiritual belief is not that there are differences among people; it’s that some people see differences as a threat, one that must be eliminated: through law or segregation, by forced conversion, or with war.

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