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Oh god or we'll drink a whisky sometime.

The post title is a bit of theft from musician Frank Turner. I heard about him on The World on NPR and dug his voice, style and lyrically he’s great too. You should, after reading this fantastic post, go by his new album England Keep My Bones and also The First Three Years. For one thing they're good. For another if a billion people buy using those links I'll make about $.40 from Amazon.

Back to the quote, it comes from a live performance of his song Glory Hallelujah in which he says  "if you don't agree with what I'm about to say we're still friends we'll still drink a whisky at the end of the night."

I say that because this post, like his song, is about religion and that's a subject that gets touchy for folks. I won’t however ever have a whisky/whiskey with any of you as I hate that stuff. But it’s the thought that counts... Right?

And before I get in to the meat of the post I should say I’m already bothered by the way this is going. I don’t like preambles and I already mislead. The “thought that counts” part isn’t true. I never thought we’d have whisky... I should’ve said “It’s the words, that are not true, that count”.

And that’s a perfect segue.

I'm having a bit of a struggle.  A few months signed Miloh up for the The PJ Library. It's a cool program where your kid receives a Jewish book each month. I don't think the books are technically Jewish because you never really hear about trees practicing any religion. But they say they are so who am I to argue?

We joined because we want Miloh to learn about his culture. Staci and I both grew up Jewish and want to share our experiences with him. And since we don't belong to a temple or anything, yet, the books are a good way for him to connect.

The first book he got was great. It was about Israel and the things you'd see if you visited, like camels, but sadly no falafel... Pretty secular.

The second book is the reason I felt compelled to write the post because it really made me think of what I/we should teach him as far as religion.

It's a DK board book called My First Shabbat Board Book. I was psyched we got a new book and wanted to read it to Miloh so I flipped through it.

Two pages in it talks about the Shabbat story which says that the Torah teaches that God created the Earth in seven days and then it goes through the whole spiel of that.

And so I got freaked out. I put the book away because I can’t read it to him. Maybe I took the creationism bit too literally. The PJ books come with a nice cheat with things you can do when reading. It says that if you don’t believe in that bit you can say it’s a story from the bible.

But I can’t do that. I can't mislead him. I think he's too young to understand the concept of allegory.

Of course we read fiction to Miloh, like Go, Dog. Go!. But that’s fiction that no one believes in. Fiction that doesn’t separate folks. Fiction that doesn’t offend anyone. Fiction, that to my knowledge, no one has killed anyone on their personal views of. Although if I read the headline “Man killed for his belief of Go, Dog. Go!” in the news I would be a bit amused... Sad for the dead person, but amused. Very amused, but sad. Incredibly amused and of course sad... But Amused.

And so begins my ideological struggle.

Being Jewish is weird because it’s a culture, a people and a religion. Most other religions are not tied to a culture/people so closely. So when I tell people I’m Jewish I mean I identify with the people, the history, the guilt from my mother and her mother and all the Jewish mothers of the world (which includes my wife but of course she would never throw down the Jewish guilt).

While I call myself Jewish I don’t practice Judaism. Side note; when I was at Maya Angelou’s house (yes) she made a comment that she finds it funny when people say they are Christian. She said something like “good for them, how did they do that? I’m not good enough yet. I practice Christianity.” I’m killing her words but her idea is fantastic... And that’s why she’s so amazing.

But back to me... I don’t believe in any “ism”. I do dig dadaism, which is funny on this blog because of the multiple meanings, but I mean the art movement and that has nothing to do with this post.

Damn I’m good at non-sequiturs.

Back to me again. I rarely tell people my beliefs because it’s really no one’s business. But when asked I talk. When I do I get labeled as an Atheist or Agnostic and I think that’s bullshit. I’m neither. I’m just me with my beliefs... It’s as simple as that.

I’m cool with other people having different thoughts. I don’t judge them (unless their religion was invented by a science fiction writer). I’m pretty tolerant with everyone... Unless they come preaching to me. That I can’t stand. In fact I can’t stand any preaching... Even if it’s for something I believe in.

I once came close to ordering a steak when we were at the table with someone who was preaching vegetarianism. I’ve been a vegetarian for two-thirds of my life but I couldn’t stand the preaching. I would have chewed down on a piece of meat just to piss her off and shut her up (true story).

Back to Miloh and how to raise him. We've made some decisions.

When he’s old enough he’ll go to a Jewish overnight camp (the camp's mom was Jewish and it got Bat Mitzvahed) although he'll, if he wants, also go to an action sports camp too. Not that it's a choice between religion and bikes or skateboards but it's what we discussed.

We both have strong memories of Jewish camp. The songs are awesome... When I hear certain Hebrew songs I still think of camp. One reminds me of the end of meals when we'd take a bread ball and stuff it in our mouth. Bread ball = a piece of bread that you tear the crust off and then roll it into a ball and eat... It's gourmet. Another reminds me of the last day of camp when you sit next to the girl you dig and hope that you hook up later that night but it get's drawn out so crazy long because you're an awkward kid.

And the camps aren’t super religious.

But then there’s a Bar Mitzvah. I was on the fence about it. Probably mostly about the money they cost because they can get ridiculous. However my nephew had a kick-ass one that probably didn’t break the bank.

Then there’s the whole thing about it being the transition to becoming a man. That’s a bit outdated as he won’t be able to drink, drive, vote or have sex. But he will be able to see a PG-13 movie so that’s something.

Last there’s the experience that I, and I’m sure most others, had which is I don’t speak to anyone that went to my Bar Mitzvah. I don’t know why I care about that but if it’s supposed to be a special milestone in your life shouldn’t you be around people that really matter in your life? And I know that cute girl from the other classroom and your buddies are important... But I’d have rather had one now. I’d invite folks I truly care about.

But it's a thing people do. A tradition that means more than the religious part of it. It's heritage and culture. So he'll most likely have one. But of course you can't separate the religion from that at all... Well I guess you can because I do.

In order to get a Bar Mitzvah you have to go to Hebrew and Sunday school. There you learn the culture but you of course learn the religion. You learn prayers.

The prayers are what I don't believe, including the ones that are songs from camp I mentioned earlier. And this is the root of my conundrum. I like the culture I grew up in. I don't believe in the dogma Aside from the historical bits I don't believe in the bible. I don't believe in god. 

While we'll have to get Miloh in a temple do I tell him I think it's all BS? Does Staci tell him what she thinks? Do we just let him think it's all real? I want him to decide on his own but I feel I need to give him the best... And to me the best is the heads up that I just don't dig religion or dogma of Judaism... or any ism.

He'll most likely go to a temple when we can find one we dig. But we'll be incredibly transparent about our beliefs. In the meantime the Shabbat book has been shelved, as has book three which is about the Shema which is basically talking to god telling him/her that he/she is the man/woman.

Now we can have that non-whisky drink.

Ladies and gentleman... Frank Turner


  1. Hey, Kenny. I'm a friend of Kate's and she told me about this post. Just wanted to let you know there are lots of us around asking these same questions. Many, including me, actually are members at Shir Tikvah, a synagogue in South Minneapolis -- might be worth checking out. We've been getting PJ books for 5 years and I love the program but have also had some books challenge me.

  2. Thanks Susan. I've heard of Shir Tikvah and we though of going there. We'll check it out when we're ready.

  3. This is tough for me as well. I want my son to be able to make his decision, but how do explain your own beliefs (or lack of) if you aren't even sure yourself. And how do you not influence their decision when you do? I think the main reason I struggle with religion now is because I was stuck between two very different, very religious people growing up. My father as non-denomination (also crazy man who thought he was a prophet and actually had followers) and my grandparents who are Mormon. Talk about confusing!!

    My grandmother is now 80 and still gives me a hard time about church. I have agreed to let Haeden go to their primary class in another year (he'll be 3), but only because I know they don't teach any of the stranger parts of the religion at that age. As for my Dad? Well, we just have agreed not to talk about it.

    Religion just makes me really uncomfortable. I don't want the same fate for my kiddo, but it's definitely hard to know what to do! I hope you'll share if you come to any conclusions in the future!

  4. Okay, I am not, in any way, Jewish. Just thought I'd throw that out there for starters. But I do feel similarly about religion and culture and all that and I just wanted to mention that I found the book Raising Freethinkers by Dale McGowan was an interesting read about raising secular children in a religious society. It gives some good thoughts about helping a child grow and develop their own opinions about things. Sounds like something you might be interested in, although I suppose really I don't know since I just stumbled upon your blog today :)

  5. Yeah, it's that line between teaching a child about his culture and indoctrinating him in something you only sort of believe. I don't think there's an easy answer, but I think you and Staci can be honest with him about your beliefs and, as he gets older, explain that some of it is just stories but that it's a rite of passage for him to understand the history of his culture.


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