Tonight is Kol Nidre, the beginning of Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. It is known as the Day of Atonement but it is, in a larger sense, a time of reflection. As I am Jewish by birth and certainly maintain a strong sense of my cultural identity as a Jew, I find myself about to engage in familiar and traditional rituals despite the fact that they no longer reflect my spirituality.
After receiving extensive religious training prior to my Bar Mitzvah, I ultimately found that Judaism, and organized religion in general, no longer made sense to me. It took me many years on a very circuitous path to lead me to where I am today... a person of faith who believes in a non-denominational higher power that has no preference for any specific doctrine or region. I guess you could call me an egalitarian humanist hanging onto the hope of that which I maintain can neither be proven nor disproved.
So it shouldn't be surprising that I spent this afternoon at a showing of Bill Maher's important new film "Religulous". I call it important not because I agree with Mr. Maher's opinions, but because I find his fundamental mission to call into question the certitude of the practice of all organized religions monumentally necessary. I'd even say it was God's work.
This exploration needs to be in public discourse right now if we are to continue to evolve as a people and a democracy. (Yes, I said "evolve".) Since moving to the south, I have formed close relationships with quite a number of Christians down here in the Bible Belt. These are people I love and respect. However in this election season, without fail, their political views support the philosophies of George Bush and Sarah Palin. Their faith has led them to believe that we are a Christian nation and that our laws and policies should reflect their religious beliefs to the dangerous exclusion of all other points of view.
In their defense, I believe they are earnest in their convictions that they are trying to save us. However, the irony of supporting a war against religious fundamentalists by adopting policies of religious fundamentalism seems lost on them. On the other side, my atheist friends have become just as strident, asserting that they cannot believe in anything not proven by science. They feel the need to disabuse people of faith of their beliefs with a level of furor that is beyond condescension.
My truth lives in that very gray area in the middle called "I don't know" and I resent anyone who comes to my door proselytizing. So tonight I will light a memorial candle in my father's memory and fast for the holiday as my father did. Are these rituals nonsensical? Probably. But they connect me to the memory of my father and the traditions he valued and observed. And that gives me comfort, makes me happy and is ultimately my business and mine alone.