Title: Confessions of a Jewish Skeptic
Author: Sarahbeth Caplin
Genre: Spiritual Memoir
Release Date: May 20, 2016
For the first time since converting to Christianity several years ago, I was forced to reconsider what Judaism meant to me after my failed attempt at seminary, and after my father died on the eve of Rosh Hashanah. This is not a story about finding God, but about what happens when doubt threatens to break the faith of your own choosing – and how one seeker chooses to confront questions that don’t have easy answers, if any answers at all.
I feel safer by living on the fringes of faith, where grace and humility are clearer to me than ever before. For now, this is the safest place to be. It’s messy, it’s sloppy, it’s anything but organized. But I’m learning to make it a home.
If I look back on my life from a psychologist’s perspective, it makes sense why Christianity appealed to me so much. The person with OCD likes everything neatly arranged and in impeccable order (at least this person does). From the outside looking in, Christianity seemed to fit this bill with its clear definitions of right and wrong, moral and immoral, holy and unholy.
It’s not so much that I agreed with everything most denominations have in common, so much as I admired the organization of doctrines. Judaism by comparison (Reform Judaism, obviously) allowed far too much room for making up my own mind about things, and that, to me, was its fatal flaw.
Well, the joke is on me now, isn’t it? I had no idea that churches have split, and continue to split, over doctrinal disagreements. The black and white ideas I thought were so clear are actually anything but, depending on the subject. Needless to say, this is all very frustrating for someone who thought she was signing up for a religion of easy answers.
The most adamant teaching from my college ministry was the necessity of having an answer for what we believe and why, per the instructions of 1 Peter 3:15: “Always have an answer ready for the hope you have in Christ.” Because we never knew when a crazed gunman might come to campus and attempt to make us martyrs, like what supposedly happened at Columbine (what do you expect from a group that calls itself Campus Crusade, after all?).
Except no one got martyred while I was in college. Instead, students claimed to be asked from time to time, “Why are you always so happy? What’s your secret?” And that would be the platform for witnessing.
Well, few people would ever look at me and think, “Gosh, isn’t she happy!” so I don’t think that tactic works for me. I can’t remember a time I’ve ever had anyone randomly come up to me and ask about my “secret” for which Jesus would be the answer. Actually, the only people who have ever gotten in my face to ask about my beliefs were street preachers, the angry kind who just want an excuse to tell me why I’m wrong and that I’m going to hell. And then a radical thought occurred to me…
This pressure I feel to have answers, to know exactly which box represents my beliefs so I can put a check mark next to it, now mostly comes from me. Reality doesn’t actually work that way. I don’t owe anyone an explanation of my faith journey and the shaky place I find myself now. That story is much better explained with a friend over coffee, in which the goal is to share our struggles and understand each other, because that’s how relationships work. And I think this is why I’m able to have friendships with people who aren’t Christian, because admitting “I don’t know” comes much easier to me than “This is why I’m right.”
Still, the Bible itself continues to be a source of pressure for me. It claims you’re either “on fire” for God or “lukewarm” and will be spit right out. You’re either for Jesus, or against him. You’re a True Christian, or you’re lost. For all the narratives and parables about men and women who emulated the paradox of faith and doubt, there’s plenty more that keeps me up at night, praying for grace and humility for all the things I could be wrong about.
I’ve met Christians who are absolutely confident that hell is not a literal place; that Jesus is one of many paths to God. My own belief insecurities are too great for me to condemn anyone who strays from Orthodox teachings. More than that, deep down I hope those beliefs are right, even if I never confess them with confidence. Perhaps it would be easier to reject the things I don’t like, but I feel safer by living on the fringes, where grace and humility are clearer to me than ever before. For now, this is the safest place for me to be. It’s messy, it’s sloppy, it’s anything but organized, and drives my OCD crazy. But I’m learning to make it a home.
Sarahbeth Caplin is an author, blogger, editor, and freelancer with a degree in English Literature from Kent State University and is working on an MA in creative writing at Colorado State. Her memoir Confessions of a Prodigal Daughter ranked #1 in Amazon’s top 100 bestselling books on personal growth in the summer of 2015, and her novel A Stunning Accusation ranked #6 in New Adult fiction that fall. Her essays have appeared in xoJane, Feminine Collective, and the Stigma Fighters Anthology (available from Booktrope). She lives in northern Colorado with her husband and kittens. Follow her blog at www.sbethcaplin.com.