Thursday, October 29, 2009

Secular Faith?

“The world’s largest Jewish population now resides in the United States – about 6.5 million people, representing close to half of all Jews on the planet. Contemporary Judaism has its roots in the ancient Middle East but its heart in the postmodern West.” (The Seven Faith Tribes, by George Barna, p. 55)

I was quite interested to see what Barna’s research would have to say about Judaism in America. I had a hunch that a lot of how Christians see Jews would prove to be as inaccurate as how Christians view Muslims is. Indeed, that’s what his research suggested. (In fact, all seven of the "faith tribes" feel misunderstand by the others, he says).

It’s quite possible to go through life without meeting Jewish people. Jews make up only about two percent of the US population.

In spite of centuries of deplorable anti-Semitism - still continuing today - many American Christians are fascinated by their Jewish roots and look on Jews as sort of like their older brothers in the faith. It’s not uncommon for followers of Jesus to emphasize and romanticize his (and our) Jewishness, to eagerly probe the Jewish roots of Christian traditions, and to take it for granted that Jews and Christians worship the same God.

Well, I’m not going to throw out that whole rich vein of thought. But it has been my experience that - like a large percentage of those who call themselves Christians, I hasten to add – a majority of Jews may not worship God at all.

That may sound like a judgmental statement, but stop and think about it. While the majority of the people on the planet believe in a god of some sort, how many of us would see ourselves as God’s worshipers? And beyond that, how many of us do it, regularly and passionately worship God?

Research for The Seven Faith Tribes showed that being Jewish is more about belonging to a community than adhering to a faith. Globally and in America, the Jewish experience is rooted in the themes of continuity, survival, adaptability, and triumph over oppression. Jews are family-oriented people who enjoy controversy and debate, but recognize that people are frail, and diverse; they are prepared to accept each other no matter what.

Not only do everyday American Jews not see themselves as “people of the Old Testament,” they show relatively low confidence in and commitment to the stories and teachings of the Bible – or what are often called Judeo-Christian values. They aren't the ones rallying to get the Ten Commandments posted in public places, or keep them there.

Only a minority see themselves as spiritual people.

“When asked to describe their highest priority in life, only 2 percent mentioned their faith – the lowest level among the tribes.”

What this says to me is that if we want to understand where people are coming from, we need to get to know them as they are, not as they are “supposed to be” according to tradition, official teaching, or someone else’s expectation or decree.

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