Toward a Religious Truth

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My third book will be published in just a matter of weeks. This one’s called From Nothing to Confusion: My Religious Odyssey. It’s never been a better time to talk a bit about some serious religious topics. The first one I’d like to address is missionaries.

A Mormon Truth

First, a couple of stories. Way back when in, my Cornell days, we received a knock on the door one Shabbat afternoon. It was a couple of young Mormon girls who came to teach us some facts about the one true religion. The girls were polite and sweet from start to finish of their visit. And it was a delight to have them join us in our humble home.

However, at some point our pleasant conversation needed to come to an end. And it was fairly obvious when that moment came.

We inquired how they knew theirs was the one true religion. Like a couple of programmed bobble heads, they nodded enthusiastically and told us, “Because it’s written in the book.”

OK, not a great answer. Fine. But we pushed further, and questioned how they knew the book spoke of truth. The happy nodders exclaimed, “Because it’s written by the Prophet.”

Alright. We were finally inching toward the one-two punch that would have us moving to Utah the very next day. We wondered how they knew the Prophet was real. And we were told, “Because it’s written in the Book.”

Thus the circle was closed. And our delightful conversation had come to an end. I escorted our new friends to the door, and bid them a lovely and enjoyable afternoon of door knocks and theological rigor.

Ultimately, my vistors were harmless. If not wonderful guests. However, not everyone who knocks on the door is always so peaceful. Not everyone’s intentions are noble or praiseworthy.

A Washington Square Park Truth

I had another experience, early on in my days exploring Judaism, when I attended a yeshiva in Crown Heights for a couple of weeks. On Fridays we would head off to Washington Square Park for an exhilarating afternoon of finding Jewish males to put tefilin on.

The experience was always fun. And always meaningful. However, it’s New York. There’s always a surprise or two lurking behind every corner.

At one point I was accosted by a group. One of the ladies in the group, a young girl wearing large, dangling Star of David earrings, started chatting with me. During our small talk, I discovered that she was from some city in Middle of Nowhere, USA.

I got very excited. It’s one thing to be proud of being Jewish. It’s a whole other world to brazenly show off your love of our people way off in the schticks, in a place where the Jewish population is likely less than one percent.

We talked some more. In the conversation she mentioned the name of her college, which I thought had a curious title. I asked her what type of school it was, and she said, “It’s a theological seminary. I’m a Messianic Jew.”

An Isaiah 53 Truth

So, knowing what I know now, I would have realized the group was Messianic immediately, since the first words spoken by one of them to our crew was, “Have you read Isaiah 53?”

For the uninitiated, these are code words for: I’m a Christian missionary. I believe that everyone alive must believe what I believe. And I’m now about to pull all stops to aggressively try and convert you to my belief system.

And thus began (and concluded) my first exposure to a world I would later become all too familiar with. The world of the missionary. Robotic Christian conversion trolls, sent to all four corners of the world to persuade and argue and flatter their way to your heart. All in the hopes you will come to understand the one truth.

A Religious Truth

Now, I have a love of all religions (or at least all the ones I’ve studied and been exposed to). However, I cannot say the same for all religious practitioners.

I think it’s mandatory to call everyone on their nonsense, even if they’re hiding far behind walls of good intentions or righteousness. But there is a qualitative difference between these two groups I need to address.

The two Mormon girls may have not been ready for the task ahead of them. They weren’t masters of knowledge, supremely capable of dealing with challenging questions. I think some sincere person in a dusty room somewhere in Utah sent these girls out with zero training, hoping the simple folk of the world would see the truth. I bear them no ill will. And I wish them only luck in their journey.

However, the group that approached me in Washington State Park had an agenda. They were trained manipulators, willing to do whatever it takes to get others around them to see their point of view. This could include anything from using sources very out of context to straight up lying.

Present me with facts and information and I will passionately explore them and draw my own conclusions. Provide me with experiences and I will sincerely evaluate them. I will see if and how they could become a part of who I am. And it might be that ultimately I disagree with you. But I will always politely respect you.

Try and manipulate me, and you are nothing to me. I have zero tolerance for lies and bastardizations of the truth. You poorly represent your faith. In fact, you’re an embarrassment to both your religion, and to religious people in general.

Misusing Faith

And just so I’m clear: I do not discriminate in this regard. If someone misuses my faith to justify throwing rocks at a car on the Sabbath, or in any way deceives people so they conform to another’s way of practicing, their dishonesty disgusts me.

So we’re left with a bit of a problem. What’s truth and what’s fiction? Who speaks with us with positive intentions? Who is truly being intellectually honest with us, and who is bending the truth for their own gain, for their own agenda? We should all be so lucky to know at every turn.

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