About half of American adults have changed their faith during their lifetimes, a switch that often occurs as young adults move away from their parents, according to Pew Research Center studies. This week’s clergy discuss why some choose to explore and adopt a different faith.
The Rev. T. Abigail Murphy
Priest-in-Charge, St. Elisabeth’s Episcopal Church, Floral Park
I could answer with what is gained if you convert to my religion (Christianity), but you’ve heard it all before. From the theologically orthodox “salvation from sin and eternal life” to the questionable “God will be on your side” to the morally detestable “more votes for your political party,” this perspective is overrepresented. It is much more intriguing to think in general terms of what any individual gains by leaving the religion of birth or choice to join a completely different expression of faith, or to decide to join a religious organization when raised with no religious background, or to choose instead secular humanism, agnosticism, atheism, or a personal expression of spirituality without any formal religious affiliation.
The first benefit would likely be a fresh perspective on life, what has happened in the past and how to live in the future. Then, depending on the expression chosen, there might be a new, energizing community, some new areas of study for making meaning out of events both good and bad, and a new appreciation of self as someone valued by others. Comfort from the hardships and confusion we all experience from time to time might also be a benefit, or, alternatively, freedom from a sense of guilt or a way to distance ourselves from the priorities and expectations others insist must be ours as well. Ultimately, I believe what is most sought when converting in any direction is peace, joy, hope and a deeper connectedness with other people and, just maybe, with God.
Media representative, Baha’is of Long Island:
The question of what can be gained by converting to a new religion has many answers, including an infusion of spirit, renewed sense of community and increased clarity of understanding. However, I think that the question really comes down to an understanding of the meaning and purpose of religion. Fundamental to the Baha’i teachings is the independent investigation of reality. Thus, every individual has the right and duty to investigate and decide what he or she believes without blindly following the beliefs of his or her ancestors. This freedom from the traditions of the past frees the mind from prejudices and opens it to seeing unity in the fundamental teachings of all religions. Baha’is believe in the essential oneness of all the world’s great faiths. We believe religions are part of a single system revealed at various stages by manifestations of God such as Buddha, Krishna, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, and, most recently, Baha’u’llah. This concept of progressive revelation links the religions in one unbroken chain of guidance for humanity and confirms that the purpose of religion is to bring about unity and an increase in love, peace and kindness. It should never be the source of conflict, hate and war. If converting to a new religion comes after investigation of truth, and that religion increases unity and spiritual qualities that result in service to humanity, it brings wonderful things to the individual and our world. If, however, it leads to separation, conflict and hostility, it is better to have no religion at all.
Rabbi Janet B. Liss
North Country Reform Temple, Glen Cove
I have found that people who convert to Judaism do it for many different reasons. Some convert because they want one religion in their household and feel that this is important for themselves and their future offspring. Some find Judaism compelling in ways that their childhood religion is not. Some opt for Judaism because not only is it a religion, but it is a way of life and offers a culture, a history and community. Converting is extremely personal. In my experience, most people who choose to convert were not raised in religious homes or were never able to accept the teachings they were exposed to in their youth. Judaism does not have dogmas that one must follow or believe other than a belief in one God. Many converts to Judaism find a warm, welcoming community that appreciates their wanting to be part of our faith. They are embraced and guided through their own personal journeys. In many congregations, converts often get very involved in synagogue life and eventually become board members and temple presidents. I have worked with a number of candidates through the years who, while members of congregations, embrace Judaism after being married and raising children. They then are more able to fully participate in their family’s Jewish life. People who choose to convert are seeking something spiritual in their lives. I am happy to help people make this choice when they are ready.