Have I ever told you about that time in my life when I considered converting to Judaism? A question was posed not long ago on the twitters asking how folks who self-identify as atheist/agnostic/nonreligious/etc arrived at that identification. My path went like this:
no faith at all => potential convert to Judaism => Wicca => general paganism (Discordianism, specifically) => atheism
So you read that correctly. There was a time in my life when I contemplated converting to Judaism. But why Judaism? It’s not a proselytizing religion, as Jews generally become Jewish through matrilineal heritage, not through conversion. I knew more Christians than Jews. If I was looking for community, I could have very easily found it through Christianity but for the small fact that I found Christianity utterly contemptible and did not want any part in it. What little I understood about Judaism made more sense to me than the great deal I knew about Christianity.
I took it upon myself to begin studying the Hebrew Bible and Jewish history and traditions. I kept kosher. I observed the High Holydays. I wasn’t shomer shabbos, though. Nor did I pray. While I understood the rationale behind the traditions, nothing I did really felt like it meant anything for a couple of reasons. First off, I didn’t have anyone else to practice being Jewish with. I was doing all this stuff on my own. In my desire to find a community which I might be welcomed into, I neglected to actually connect with people in the community. This was mostly because of the other reason my Jewish practice didn’t feel like it meant anything: I wasn’t Jewish.
No matter how much I studied the Torah, or Jewish history, philosophy, or theology, the unalterable reality was that I was not Jewish. Ethnically Jewish. My ancestors were not Jews. They were viking pagans, and Irish Catholics, and English Episcopalians, and other assorted northern Europeans. Aside from the coincidence that my mother’s maiden name is Samuel, there’s really nothing at all Jewish about me. I was merely a goy pretending to be Jewish. I’d probably never really be taken seriously as a Jew.
So I quit trying. I still kept a kosher kitchen even if I didn’t keep a kosher diet, and I continued to observe Jewish holidays until as recently as 2009. But I never fully learned the essentials of Judaism, nor did I ever connect with members of the Jewish community. Instead I turned inward, focusing on a connection to nature and became a solitary Wiccan. That lasted about two years when I began to discover that the rituals and dogma of Wicca reminded me too much of Catholicism. So I branched out, discovering Discordianism in a brief passage mentioned in Margot Adler’s book Drawing Down the Moon. Discordians were all about the ancient Greek goddess of discord and strife, Eris, modernizing her as a deity of mirth and silliness. Discordianism allowed me to have something resembling a religion without being bogged down by dogma or theology which shunned intellectual inquiry.
My studies in biblical history and archaeology have taught me much about the development of the Hebrew Bible. These studies along with a graphic novel I’m currently reading called The Rabbi’s Cat by Joann Sfar have been provoking almost nostalgic memories of that time in my life when I studied in solitude in my quest to become a Jew. I don’t consider myself eligible for conversion anymore (as if I ever was), largely because I no longer believe in any sort of deity at all, whether it’s called Eris, or Yahweh, or something else entirely. These nostalgic memories are of a golden age in my life which actually never happened. I was never Jewish. I was never even a serious candidate for conversion. I was just a lost little critter desperately seeking community by trying to be someone I really wasn’t.
But as it turns out, that’s kind of the story of my life.