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Hannah’s Deconversion Story :From Cultural Judaism to Christianity to Unbelief

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Guest Post by Anonymous

I grew up Jewish in cultural identity, only never once stepping inside a synagogue for family services except to attend preschool, Purim parties, and my friends Bar/Bat Mitzvahs. I never had a Bat Mitzvah. The word “God” was never mentioned except in swear words. I knew, without my parents saying anything, that they did not believe in God.

The area in which I grew up was predominantly Jewish and Catholic. I had Jewish and Catholic friends and a few Protestants too. I also had a friend whose family was Christian Science. I noticed that her family was kind to one another. They had a framed saying in their house that said things about how to treat others that I wished my family had followed. They went around the dinner table talking about one good thing in their day. I wished my family had done that. My Protestant friends’ families were nice too. I wanted a nice family.

My entire childhood was fraught with physical and emotional abuse via the hands and mouth of my mother. She is not really my “mother” but just the person who birthed me into this world. Besides that, there was no mothering, just abuse and consequently, a lifetime of therapy.

It was from my Catholic friends that I heard about God, Heaven, and Hell. I would spend the night at their house and go to church with them the next day. I wondered what I was missing out on in life such as how to live, how to be kind, how to treat others. One day, I recall sitting in my friend’s church thinking, “When I grow up, I’m going to convert ‘cause I want to go to Heaven.”

I knew I would not be allowed to do that while still in my parents’ house since we were Jewish. My dad had a lot of pride in being Jewish. He also had animosity towards those who persecuted Jews. His own parents and siblings fled the Czar of Russia from Poland to come to the US. He was the last child and was born in the US. He was livid toward the Germans, and we were not allowed to buy anything German.

When I was 16, I got curious about Judaism and started going to a synagogue every Friday night. At 18, I moved out of the house and started “searching for the truth.” At 20, I became a Christian through my sister who also became a Christian. My parents disowned me. My dad didn’t speak to me again for the next six years — until two weeks before he died unexpectedly three days before my 26th birthday. I have hope that, had he continued to live, our relationship would have been restored.

For the next 33 years, I was a full-fledged believer. I truly surrendered my life to Christ. I felt like I had the Holy Spirit in me guiding me. I married a believer, and we had 3 kids, all of whom we tried to brainwash as well. We attended church every week and on Wednesdays. I went to all the Ladies Bible studies, circles, groups, retreats, etc. I have to say a lot of it was helpful because I truly did not know what love was and learned a lot about how to treat one another. I can’t say I ever really truly felt God’s love. It was hard for me to accept, due to my mom’s abuse. I also never truly believed in Heaven and Hell as much as I wanted to and inasmuch as that was the driving force for me to convert. Whenever someone died and everyone would be “rejoicing that person is with the Lord” and “walking on the streets of gold in Heaven” I doubted and did an internal eye roll. However, besides that, I was a tried-and-true believer.

My descent into unbelief, or should I say, ascent, is as quick as switching a light switch. But I must give a little background into my 27-year marriage for it to make some sense. My marriage was also fraught with emotional abuse by my now ex. (A common occurrence if one grows up with an abusive parent is to marry an abuser). There were a lot of criticisms, not being able to do anything right, my cooking was no good, my hair, clothes, way I decorated the house, the groceries I bought, how I raised the kids, all not good enough. He also was not there for me during some major medical incidents. Left me miscarrying all by myself so he could go play ball with his friends. Left me while on bed rest with our two other small children when I thought we might lose our third child at 24 weeks of pregnancy. It was his birthday weekend and he was furious I got put on bed rest and “ruined” his birthday so he went out to have a good time. He’d work all week and on Saturdays and then be too tired to do anything with the family. He admitted later he was gone on purpose so he didn’t have to help me with the kids.

We went to numerous Christian counselors who pointed the blame at me since I “was the one who came from the screwed-up background.” I was told I was “emasculating” my spouse if I asked him to help me. I was told to “make sure you cook his favorite meal, keep the house clean, keep the kids quiet, be more submissive.” I tried to do all that and more and nothing worked.

Finally, I went to a counselor who told me I was being emotionally abused. I was like, “what???” I started reading about the subject and listening to podcasts. I couldn’t believe it. I could have written the books. I heard the term narcissist and narcissistic abuse. I scarfed down all the information I could get my hands on. Everything was making sense now. That is exactly what I had been living in for 25 years.

I knew I had to get out before this discovery, but I also had to go back to school for a way to support myself. I got my graduate degree in counseling and still tried to make the marriage work. It wasn’t until I discovered some texts on my spouse’s phone and learned that he had been sneaking around behind my back, that it was finally over. I asked him to leave. He, of course, blamed the affairs on me. He left after trying to bully me around.

The very next Sunday after asking him to leave, I went to church by myself. I went into the sanctuary where we were singing worship music. It was at that moment it hit me like a ton of bricks that God is a narcissist too. Here we are singing praises to some creature. We are all supposed to bow down and worship this being, and if we’re lucky, he may throw us a bone or crumb every so often after begging and praying a ton. I couldn’t stomach the singing. I stopped singing and just stood there with this enlightenment.

I went to Sunday School where they followed up on the sermon. I recalled the sermon made negative mention of homosexuality. I didn’t like that. In Sunday School, it was more of the same, the judgement. I didn’t want any part of that. I didn’t like the hate. When it came time for prayer requests, I saw how all these people who are supposedly trusting in Jesus, were very anxious, asking for God to make their life go a certain way. I had already come through all of that, praying for God to save my marriage. It didn’t work. What did work for me was accepting life as it was and doing what I could to make my life better.

You would think I would not have gone back to church, but I did the following week just to be sure. I went to worship, and, again, could not stand the worship music to this narcissistic being. We all have to “lose our lives” for this invisible being. I realized this is all insane. This narcissistic God does not exist. It was an instant switch flipping for me. That was the end. I went straight home, didn’t even go to Sunday School. I never went back to church since that day more than seven years ago.

It was a rough time in my life. I had just separated after 25 years of marriage. We had to sell our beautiful family home. I went through empty nest at the same time. I lost all my friends since they were all Christians. I had to try to build my private practice cause the ex was playing games financially. I do not care to repeat any of that time of my life.

Sundays were hard for a couple of years until I got used to it. I found local Freethinker and atheist groups and also groups on Facebook. I talked to one of my Christian friends and she told me she’s not a believer anymore either but hadn’t come out yet to anyone. That was refreshing having her. I read a lot of books as well as tons of podcasts from others who didn’t believe anymore along with books discussing errors in the Bible etc. I think that’ll be a lifelong journey.

When I look back on my beliefs now, I’ve done a 180 on all social issues. I shake my head in disbelief that I was so hoodwinked into that belief system. I still have Christian friends who make sure they tell me they are praying for me, or how God is helping them. Again, another internal eye roll. They have told me I am mad at God. I tell them I can’t be mad at something I don’t believe in. They tell me the reason I am suffering so much (during that horrible time of my life) is because I don’t believe in God. I told them I don’t need to make up a God to get through this. I need to face this pain head-on and live in reality.

It’s taking a lot of time to find a new community of nonbelievers, and I’m still working on it since I just moved recently. But, I’m glad I’m free from the ludicrousness.

In case anyone is wondering, two of my three kids did not fall for the Kool-Aid. The third is on the fence and hasn’t been to church since the pandemic. She uses her brain and got vaccinated and wears a mask, and we’re aligned on all social and racial issues. She could see how Trump was a narcissist and also couldn’t understand how Christians could fall for him. I’m relieved I didn’t totally screw her up.

So, that’s my conversion and deconversion story with bits of my life scattered in along the way. Hope it was helpful to someone 🙂

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Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

The Question

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Guest post by MJ Lisbeth

Are you Jewish?”

I lied, sort of, depending on which rabbi you ask.

Almost all agree that Judaism is passed on through the female biological line. That sounds straightforward enough, but if your mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother was Jewish but nobody in any part of your family has practiced the religion or participated in any of its cultures….one rabbi might say, “You’re as Jewish as Theodor Herzl,” while another might tell you you’re as goyish as Pat or Debbie Boone.

I know: I have had exactly such an experience. As I was preparing to marry a Jewish woman of Latin American heritage, I consulted with rabbis and took classes. Since I no longer considered myself a part of the Roman Catholic church in which I’d grown up or with the Pentecostal and Evangelical churches in which I later affiliated myself, but I did not yet identify as atheist or non-religious, I was willing to participate in my wife-to-be’s religion and help raise the children we planned to have in it.

The Latin American Jewish community in which she was raised, mostly in the Miami area, was more conservative, politically and socially, than the non-Hasidic Ashkenazic Jews in whose proximity I was raised and have lived much of my life. When she went to college, she “fell away” from the religion but had returned to it, if in a more mystical and ritualistic iteration, by the time she met me. So, while she didn’t want to submit to the more severe sartorial and other regulations of some sects, she felt that prayer—in Hebrew—and other aspects of the religion were important to her life.

I would realize, much later, long after our marriage ended, that for her, her faith and “spirituality” was a way of keeping her inner torment– what some would call “demons” — at bay. She seemed to think that her faith and intense prayer were a way to deal with her extreme mood swings, some of which resulted in physical attacks on me she could not remember, or so she claimed, the following day. (Do you need more proof that prayer cannot substitute for medication and therapy?) Also, I came to understand –because I would come to the same knowledge about myself—that her religiosity was a defense (or, at least, she tried to use it as such) against desires that were not approved by her family and community.

In short, both of us were trying to deal with—or not deal with—the fact that we weren’t entirely heterosexual. Oh, and in my case, that I wasn’t the man I presented myself to be, or any kind of man at all. It would have been difficult enough for her family to approve of someone who wasn’t a mensch—which, to them, meant what some would condescendingly call a “nice Jewish boy.”

So, while I told her family and the rabbis that I am Jewish, I knew well that in the eyes of some, I wasn’t truly one of them, and never could be. And, interestingly, one of the rabbis we consulted tried to discourage me from living as a Jew. For one thing, he saw that I wanted to do so at least in part for the sake of marriage and the approval of her family. He pointed out the ostracism, persecution and worse Jewish people have faced throughout history and even warned me that no matter how fastidiously I followed the ways of his religion or how well I learned Hebrew, some “in the community” wouldn’t quite accept me.

I would later learn that he wasn’t the only rabbi who tried to dissuade people from converting to, or resuming, Judaism. So, when I heard the query, “Are you Jewish?” many years later from a young bearded man in front at a sidewalk table near Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza, I was taken aback. Unlike Christianity, Judaism doesn’t have a tradition of evangelism. At least, they haven’t tried to bring non-Jews into the fold. But that young man was part of the only Jewish community that, to my knowledge, tries to spread its words and ways –and only to other, mainly secular, Jews: the Lubavitchers, who comprise much of the Orthodox Jewish communities in Brooklyn, Montreal, and a few other cities.

I can’t help but wonder whether that young man was more successful in his “evangelism” efforts than I was in mine as an Evangelical Christian. Some would argue that I didn’t really “have the Holy Spirit within” me because I—at least to the best of my knowledge—never “brought” anybody “to Jesus.” Likewise, I can imagine that young man chastised for his lack of faith or commitment or something for not bringing “lost” Jewish people “home.”

Of course, today, as an atheist, I don’t care whether someone thinks I am, or ever was, Jewish, Christian or of any other religion. I think my ex and her family realized that I was only “going through the motions” and would be no more Jewish than I was a man. I sometimes wonder, though, what sort of discussion or argument I could have had with that young man had I told him that I am Jewish, or had I immersed myself in the religion enough to help raise the children my ex and I planned but never had.

(In case you’re wondering: My ex remarried. Her husband was raised in a conservative Jewish community and, within five years, they would have four children whom they would raise in the religion and send to yeshivas. I also heard, from mutual friends, that they were considering a move to Israel. Oh, and I’ve gone through a long process of affirming my identity as a woman.)

Now, if anyone were to ask me whether I’m a Christian, Catholic, or Jewish, the answer to the first two would be an emphatic “no.” As for the question of my Jewishness, that would depend on how much time or energy I have for a discussion or argument. After all, someone I knew in my youth told me and the rabbi of the man she married that she was a “Jewish atheist.” The rabbi said that was entirely plausible and made no effort to convince her otherwise. I could tell that rabbi the same thing: I, like her, have Jewish heritage on my mother’s side of the family (though my relatives converted to Catholicism) but don’t believe in any “supreme” or “higher” “being.”

In the years since then, I’ve had co-workers, and have friends and friendly acquaintances, who are Muslims. Interestingly, though Islam is a proselytizing religion, none has tried to “witness” (if you’ll pardon a Christian term) to me, and most Islamic states don’t encourage proselytizing. Oh, and contrary to what some religious conservatives and grandstanding politicians would have their constituents believe, neither I nor any other atheist I know makes any effort to recruit (or, if you like, proselytize) others to our way of thinking. I guess in that sense, at least, I am as Jewish as I am an atheist!

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Quote of the Day: Why I’m an Atheist by Ira Glass

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It’s not like I don’t feel like I’m a Jew. I feel like I don’t have a choice about being a Jew. Your cultural heritage isn’t like a suitcase you can lose at the airport. I have no choice about it. It is who I am. I can’t choose that. It’s a fact of me. But even when I was 14 or 15, it didn’t make that much sense to me that there was this Big Daddy who created the world and would act so crazy in the Old Testament. That we made up these stories to make ourselves feel good and explain the world seems like a much more reasonable explanation. I’ve tried to believe in God but I simply don’t.

— Ira Glass, This American Life, November 6, 2009

Why I Didn’t Help Him

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Guest post by MJ Lisbeth

Sometimes I recall occasions when I didn’t help someone.

There were the times I couldn’t, whether because I didn’t have the resources or simply didn’t know how.

Other times, I simply didn’t; the situation seemed too complicated or I just didn’t want to get involved. Or I was afraid.

That last explanation applies to the way I dealt with something Moishe told me. (Please see the post The News Makes Me Think About Him.)

He was a student in the yeshiva where I taught for a year. For months, he circled around me before he asked whether we could talk. We did, and he complained about the restrictiveness of his community. Finally, in despair, he revealed that a rabbi in his synagogue was sexually abusing him.

I expressed sympathy—or, more precisely, I channeled my anger into words of understanding. I asked whether he told anyone else. He shook his head: “He made me promise not to tell anybody.”

Were my words coming out of his mouth? I felt as if my lips were moving in sync with his. If they were, I don’t know whether he noticed.

He didn’t ask me not to tell. At least, I don’t recall that he did. But there was no way that I would, even if I could. Perhaps he understood that; I understood his fear because it was my fear.

At that time, I had not told anyone about the sexual abuse I’d experienced at the hands of a priest. Even if I had the language for it—which no kid of my age in that place and time had—I couldn’t have described it for anyone.

For the same reasons, Moishe didn’t talk to anyone besides me. Even if I’d had the words, it would have been my word against the priest’s. Moishe had the words in spite of his community’s and school’s effort to keep him from knowing them. Still, it would have been his word against the rabbi of his synagogue—and the rabbis who ran the school and surely would have sided with Moishe’s abuser. And my word, as an outsider, would have no more weight—actually, probably less than—Moishe’s.

That, of course, is another reason why he told me. He knew I wouldn’t tell, because I really couldn’t. Because I was afraid, as he was.

The News Makes Me Think About Him

orthodox jewish boys

Guest Post by MJ Lisbeth

Here in the United States, we have the same problems you find everywhere: drug abuse, domestic violence, you name it. One of our problems, though, is that we sweep it under the rug.

Such an admission would be unusually forthright, if not startlingly frank, in almost any place or time. But I recall it so clearly, more than two decades after I heard it, because of the person who uttered it.

He had hired me a week earlier—to work with children from some of the families he was talking about. It wouldn’t take long for me to realize that those problems, and others, had much to do with the very existence of that school.

The boys in that Orthodox yeshiva had been kicked out of other Orthodox yeshivas, almost invariably because of their behavior. I’d heeded the warnings of the man who hired me—the school’s head rabbi, whom I’ll call Halphen—about the “games” the boys might play. They played them, and I wasn’t surprised. (After all, I was a teenaged boy once!) I soon realized, however, that most of the boys would do no better in that school, in part because the main tool the school had for helping the boys was Halakhic law. More important, though, the boys—at least one, anyway—had problems even more serious than the ones Rabbi Halphen mentioned, and “the community,” as he liked to call it, was a cause.

Being a non-Jewish teacher (and a Catholic school alumnus) in an Orthodox yeshiva was, to say the least, an interesting experience. So was being a transgender woman—who was still living as a man—in an all-male environment. Of course, the boys didn’t know about my identity, though some thought I was gay. In any event, I was an outsider.

That meant the boys both looked down on, and even expressed hatred for me, but looked to me for what they couldn’t find from their rabbis and parents, or the other adults in their community. I think now of a dynamic James Baldwin described: whites who saw blacks as their inferiors went to those same blacks for love when no one else was watching them. When groups of boys were together, they mocked my goyishness, but when they encountered me one-on-one, they wanted to talk.

Naturally, they wanted to talk about wishes and dreams that were taboo in their community. One confessed his crush on a Puerto Rican girl. (As someone who’s dated Hispanics of all gender identities, and was married to one, I sympathized.) Others thought they might be gay or simply didn’t want the kind of family life their community proscribed for them: “You get married, start a business, have a bunch of kids, double your weight and get a heart attack,” as one boy mused. Still others wanted careers that weren’t part of the Orthodox menu. And there was the junior who wanted to know what I thought of Allen Ginsberg’s poetry.

One boy, though, haunts me to this day. I’ll call him Moishe. He seemed to circle around me for months before he finally asked whether we could talk during his lunch break. I agreed. Moishe expressed some of the usual complaints about the restrictiveness of his community. All along, I had a feeling he wanted to say something else, but not what he asked a few days later: Could I adopt him?

I explained that I couldn’t which, of course, he knew—but as I suspected, his question was a pretext to talk some more. Which we did, several more times over the weeks. Then, one sunny Spring afternoon, he came to me in tears. “I want to die!” he exclaimed.

“Have you talked to anybody else?”

He shook his head. “I can’t,” he sobbed. “They’ll never believe me.”

I knew that “they” meant any authority figure in his life: his parents, his other adult relatives, the rabbis in the school and the ones in his synagogue. Nor would anyone else in his synagogue. “They’re all in on it,” he cried.

My spine tingled. This was years before I talked about my own abuse, but I knew he wanted to talk about his. “Who?” I asked.

Moishe then told me about the rabbi in his synagogue who was always calling him in to help with one thing or another. My guess is that his parents thought the rabbi knew he was a “problem” child and they were grateful for the interest he showed. The rabbi took advantage of that trust and use the pretext of errands and chores to make contact with the boy. I am not talking merely about “face time;” I mean, literally, contact—in areas that should be touched only by medical professionals with gloved hands.

Although I would not talk about my own abuse, or name the priest who abused me, until many years later, I had an overwhelming, physically aching, sense of déjà vu. So many things I experienced felt the same way, as a Catholic school alumnus and transgender woman who was still living as a man, during the year I taught in that Orthodox yeshiva. And when I hear about sex abuse in the Catholic church or any other religious institution, I think of Moishe—and the words of Rabbi Halphen, who hired me to teach Moishe and other boys who were living with the issues that were being “swept under the rug.”

Comparing Fundamentalist Religions

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A Guest Post by ObstacleChick

What is religious fundamentalism? Typically, it is an unwavering and unapologetic belief in the absolute authority of a religious text or texts. Adherents believe their religion is the one true religion and that its precepts should govern all aspects of life. The ultimate goal is the governance of everyone’s lives under the rules and standards of the religion’s holy book(s). Rules are comprehensive, encompassing behavior, dress, gender roles, and access to information, media, and technology. Adherents believe that their religious beliefs and practices should be exempt from criticism, and any form of criticism is labeled as heresy or persecution. There are many types of religious fundamentalists throughout the world, but here in the United States we are most familiar with fundamentalist evangelical Christians, fundamentalist Muslims, orthodox and Hasidic Jews, and Old Order Amish (which are fundamentalist in their adherence to their religious text, but not with regard to forcing their beliefs on those outside their community).

As disparate as these groups may seem on the surface, they have much in common. Each group believes that its holy text is an absolute, inerrant authority for all aspects of life. It is not uncommon for these groups to separate themselves from their surrounding communities, focusing almost exclusively on staying within their religious communities with regard to their worship activities, leisure activities, and even employment. Orthodox and Hasidic Jews, for example, must be work for an employer that is flexible with regard to Jewish holy days and for leaving work early on Fridays for Shabbas. Not in all cases, but frequently children are sent to sect-approved/operated schools. In Amish communities, education is forbidden past 8th grade, and in communities that have their own schools, the teachers are young women within the community who have no education past 8th grade. For Hasidic Jews, girls and boys attend gender-segregated schools. Boys attend yeshivas where the focus of education is on studying the Talmud. Little attention is given to other subjects, and evolution is not taught. Among Evangelicals, it is popular to either home school one’s children or to send them to a fundamentalist Christian school, where, again, evolution is not taught to children. Fundamentalist Muslims often send their children to madrasas where the focus is on religious education. In some Muslim-controlled countries, girls are not educated.

Fundamentalists of all stripes give great authority to religious leaders who often dictate the rules of each separatist community. In Amish communities, there is a bishop, two or three ministers, and a deacon. Each must be nominated, but lots (similar to drawing straws) are drawn to determine which man receives which position. The leaders are responsible for the spiritual education of their congregation as well as making sure the Ordnung — the set of rules specific to each community — is followed. Each church district’s leaders set specific rules for its community, which is why there can be slight differences from one Amish community to another. In Evangelical sects and churches, great authority is given to pastors. Bruce has spoken about this a number of times, so there’s no need for me to expound on the matter here. In Orthodox or Hasidic communities, the rebbe is the authority, and he sets the rules specific to that local community. Rules may include color of stockings women are required to wear or what books are allowed in the Hasidic libraries. In fundamentalist Muslim communities, the imam is the ultimate authority, and he may issue fatwas or rules specific to his community. (Please note that all leaders are male.)

In each of these fundamentalist religions, gender roles are specifically defined in traditional ways. Men are considered to be the leaders of the family, the breadwinners, the final authorities in the household; the ones who commune most closely with their deity. Women are considered to be the nurturers, the caretakers of children, submissive to the authority of their husbands. Typically, women are not allowed to work outside the home in many fundamentalist sects/churches. Amish women are, however, permitted to sell their goods at markets or operate roadside stands for home-grown and home-baked goods. Women are not allowed any positions of leadership beyond teaching women or young children. Marriage is considered to be between one man and one woman, and these communities are not known for acceptance of LBGTQ people.

Dress codes are important among these communities. The Amish are easily identified as their clothing styles have not changed in centuries. They are referred to as “Plain People” because their styles are simple, solid colors typically limited to black, brown, burgundy, blue, purple or green (though some communities may allow other colors). Women wear dresses and aprons secured with straight pins (no buttons, which are considered vain), and they wear a white kappe (head covering) so they may pray at any time. Men wear dark suits with hook & eye closures (no buttons and no fancy belt buckles), suspenders, and a black or straw hat.

For fundamentalist Christians, there is often no exact standard of dress other than “modesty” for women, though many fundamentalist Baptist churches have complex, exacting dress codes. Many fundamentalist Christian women wear skirts or dresses at least knee length, no low-cut tops, and they typically wear sleeves. Women will be shamed for showing too much skin or wearing something too tight.

Hasidic communities have strict hair and clothing rules as well. Married women must keep their hair short and wear a sheitel wig; women wear dresses or skirts; their sleeves must be at least three-quarter length; they must wear thick, opaque stockings (often black, occasionally flesh colored though that is forbidden in some communities); and a lot of black, loose clothing, though blouses or sweaters may be colorful. Married men must sport a beard and side curls (payot) which they can never cut. Most men wear a white button-down shirt and black pants and jacket. A yarmulke must be worn at all times, and when praying, men wear a tallit, or prayer shawl, with tzitzit, or fringe, to remind them of God’s commandments.

Fundamentalist Muslim women must be covered in mixed company, and the culture determines how much covering is required. The most extreme version is the burqa with the niqab (face covering). Men may wear a taqiyah or cap when praying.

Each of these fundamentalist religions believes secularism is the greatest threat to their sect, churches, and beliefs. Access to secular libraries or media may be prohibited, restricted, or discouraged. Often, only books approved by church leaders are permitted to be read. The Amish prohibit technology altogether, though they are allowed to check out elder-approved books at public libraries. Fundamentalist Christians are generally admonished to limit their media access to “G-rated” or Christian-published format. Many Hasidic communities forbid access to secular libraries. In fundamentalist Muslim-controlled countries, all media are controlled by the religious leaders, thus preventing people from accessing any non-approved content. Each of these groups limits media access for “moral” reasons, but they also want to prevent community members from accessing any knowledge that may contradict their sect’s teachings.

While some of Amish people vote, they do not seek public office, and their pacifism prevents them from joining the military. They also are not visibly active in campaigning. Myriads of articles have been written — particularly before and after the 2016 presidential election — concerning the political activism of evangelical Christians. Orthodox and Hasidic Jews are known for their political activism for candidates sympathetic to their communities, particularly as it is an “honor” for Jewish men to collect welfare and food stamps so they can exclusively focus their time on Talmudic studies. As far as fundamentalist Islam is concerned, there are many countries in which fundamentalist Islam controls government.

In Bruce’s recent post Life After Jesus: Moving from a God-Shaped Hole to a Knowledge-Shaped Hole he talks about restrictions that fundamentalist Christian authorities put on secular influences. Indeed, venturing beyond fundamentalist-bubble-approved media is considered a temptation by Satan and demonic forces, potentially leading someone to everlasting torment in hell. Pastors try to scare their flocks into not watching the latest season of “Cosmos” or “Game of Thrones”; that rock music leads to the “Highway to Hell”; that evolution is Satan’s greatest deception. Amish and Hasidic communities threaten members with excommunication if they do not adhere to community standards. For the skeptical or curious in these communities, fear of being cut off from family and friends is a real concern. In addition, many members (particularly women) are poorly educated and lack job skills, so escaping these communities is, at best, a risky venture.  Mission to Amish People (MAP) and Charity Christian Fellowship are organizations that help Amish people leave their communities, and Footsteps is an organization that helps Hasidic Jews leave theirs. Organizations such as these offer practical and emotional support to deconverts. Those of us in the real world realize that knowledge is power, and fundamentalists do their best to limit knowledge, thus limiting the power of their flocks.

fundamentalist religion comparisonI look at all these groups and think, there’s no way I could live in one of those communities. After I graduated from high school, I did my best to escape the clutches of fundamentalist Christianity. Fortunately, I possessed a college degree from a highly ranked secular university and developed marketable skills, so I was able to support myself financially. Many in these communities, particularly women, are purposely raised without these skills, ensuring reliance on the community. It is my firm conviction that any group that purposefully restricts access to knowledge and education and discourages contact with outsiders is inherently harmful and potentially abusive. Those in power may thrive within these systems, but the systems themselves are designed to benefit those in power at the expense of the powerless.

(If you are interested in finding out more about the Old Order Amish, I recommend the book Amish Society by John A. Hostetler for a comprehensive examination. For those who have access to Netflix and are interested in deconverts from Hasidic Judaism, I recommend the documentary One of Us regarding the Hasidic community in Brooklyn and in Rockland County, New York. Both are communities with which I am familiar as I live in proximity to both).

Now, for a bit of levity: Amish Paradise by Weird Al Yankovic

Video Link

The Many Faces of Modesty by ObstacleChick

modesty check

A Guest Post by ObstacleChick

I posit that if one asked 10 different people to define “modesty,” there would be 10 different answers. Context is important, as “modesty” can refer to one’s demeanor or to one’s mode of dress. Dictionary.com defines “modesty” as follows:

the quality of being modest; freedom from vanity, boastfulness, etc. regard for decency of behavior, speech, dress, etc. simplicity; moderation.

While I know better than to engage people in controversial topics on social media, sometimes I still give in and make comments. My brother (and his wife) and I get along really well in person, as long as we do not discuss religion or politics. We enjoy watching movies, having sushi or Mexican food, or having a glass of wine together. But I avoid the topics of religion or politics with them like the plague. Why? Because we hold diametrically opposite views on those subjects. My brother and sister-in-law are more than a decade younger than I am. My brother and I were not raised in the same household – I lived with my grandparents and great-grandmother, and a few years with my mom living there too, and I would visit on weekends at my mom and step-dad’s house. I was sent to fundamentalist Christian school from 5th-12th grades, then studied at secular university and graduate school. A couple of years after college, I moved to suburban New Jersey about 20 minutes from Manhattan.

My brother, on the other hand, grew up in my mom and step-dad’s house. He went to public school after being expelled in 3rd grade from the fundamentalist Christian school from which I had graduated (yes, expelled in 3rd grade – he was considered too stubborn to be allowed to remain in the school). When he was in middle school, they moved from a suburban area about 20 minutes from Nashville to rural farmland about 45 minutes from Nashville, and he still lives in that area today. After graduation from high school, he never pursued university education and was married with a full-time job by the time he was 20 years old. My brother and his wife are evangelical Christians, though they haven’t found a church with which they agree. He is staunchly pro-Trump, anti-abortion, anti-marriage equality, and a gun collector (though he is adamantly for gun safety, he is not in favor of restrictions). He baptized his sons in the bathtub when they were 6 and 7 years old after getting them to pray the “sinner’s prayer.”

He doesn’t know that I am an agnostic atheist. He thinks I am “liberal” but he doesn’t know the extent. I think he could handle my differences in political beliefs more than my differences in religious beliefs. Eventually, my family’s lack of belief will come out because my daughter is moving to Nashville in the fall to go to college, and she has no qualms about expressing her non-religious, pro-feminist, left-leaning beliefs.

Recently my brother posted on social media this Matt Walsh piece titled The Four Terrible Things That Are Destroying Boys In Our Culture. In my opinion, Matt Walsh shows his misogynistic colors in his rant against feminism in modern culture. It is apparent that Matt’s white cis-gendered male patriarchal superiority is being threatened by the machinations of liberal, evil feminists. Knowing I could not comment the extent of my feelings on my brother’s post, I posted this:

“He goes to school and his female classmates are dressed like strippers. He goes anywhere and that’s how the women are dressed.” Where does this guy live that all girls and women are dressed like strippers? I apparently need to up my game and improve my stripper attire!

My brother responded:

I would not have used the word strippers. It is a harsh word. However, I completely understand the point he was trying to make. We are a nation where words like chastity, modesty, and holiness have become bad words while the opposite actions and attitudes are celebrated. We have truly become a nation that has forgotten how to blush. The prophet Jeremiah warned ancient Israel about the same thing in the book of Jeremiah.

I couldn’t take it at that point, so I responded:

Modesty is a function of perception. Hasidic Jews and fundamentalist Muslims look at me in my workplace attire – typically pants and a shirt, never low cut – and they consider that immodest. I have had this conversation with many people, but as a woman I find that there is no universal standard for “modesty.” People sometimes say, it is common sense. No, it isn’t. You have fundamentalist religionists who have their own standards of modesty (typically those modesty standards focus on covering up women as much as possible, but Hasidic men. for example. have to wear beards and black pants and button-down shirts at all times). I refuse to be held to other groups’ standards of modesty. Fabricated female modesty rules also send messages about men and women and taking responsibility for one’s actions that I don’t want to get into on a social media post but I would be happy to discuss my opinion in person.

A person’s mode of attire does send certain messages. If I am dressed in sweatpants and a t-shirt, I am signaling that I am in a casual mode. If I am dressed in a cocktail dress and heels, I am signaling that I am going somewhere special, perhaps to a wedding or a gala. Wearing shorts, a tank top, and running shoes signals that I am going out for a run on a warm day. Sporting a Yankees shirt signals that I am possibly going to a Yankees game, or at least I am supporting the team for that day. Donning a heavy coat, gloves, boots, and a hat signals that it is cold outside, and that I am attempting to stay warm. If I see someone wearing a US Postal Service uniform, I will assume that the person works for the US Postal Service. Someone wearing a military uniform is probably active military personnel. These are all situations in which clothing signals a message.

However, what if I am wearing a mid-thigh length sleeveless black dress and high heels? Would someone assume that I am dressed to go to a fancy social function, or would they assume that I am a prostitute? That depends on one’s perspective. The fundamentalist religious person who believes that the human body should be covered up as much as possible will automatically assume that I do not share their values in terms of “modesty.” I am not one of their membership. I am an “other.” Am I lacking in morals? Am I indeed a prostitute, or am I just lacking in “modesty”? Do they consider my bare arm and bare calf to be literally offensive to them, or do they just take it as a signal that I do not adhere to their rules? Does the fact that I am dressed differently mean that I should be treated differently? Should they avoid me, or should they try to proselytize to me in order to inform me of the error of my ways? Is my uncovered status a signal that they have the right to touch me without permission? At what point would adding clothing to my person make me more acceptable in their eyes?

Some guy driving a delivery van cat-called at me while I was out walking the other day. Nothing I was wearing was tight or revealing in any way. I was wearing long pants, a jacket, and a button-down shirt. Apparently, that’s “hot” in certain circles. It’s further proof that no matter what you’re wearing, someone is going to interpret it in whatever way they wish. Obviously, if you are working in a job or attending a school that has a dress code, you must comply with that dress code during working/school hours, but otherwise, wear what makes you comfortable and move on.

Dear Mrs. C, a Guest Post by ObstacleChick

prayer in schools
Cartoon by David Horsey

A guest post by ObstacleChick

Mrs. C: Recently, you posted on social media a statement to which I really wanted to respond, but I chose to refrain. Why? Because I know that social media is a poor place to debate political, religious, or social issues, so I remained silent. Your post is as follows: “How to fix America….put Jesus back in all the places you asked Him to leave: Home, School, Government, Church and Your Heart.”

For four years, you were my high school math teacher at a K-12 fundamentalist Christian school. Starting my senior year, you had just retired, yet when your replacement — a former student with a master’s degree in math — could not handle five preparatory classes and quit after six weeks, you came back to finish the school year. In fact, I heard that you continued to teach for fifteen years after your originally planned retirement date. You were committed to teaching students, and I’m sure you could have told us a lot about your religious beliefs had women been allowed to speak in chapel services at school. As it was, all teachers were required to be Christian and to follow certain rules of conduct even outside school (like not going to movie theaters), so there was no doubt that the “witness” of the teachers for Jesus was apparent to students both inside and outside campus boundaries.

With regard to your post, I’m sure that the sentiment makes complete sense to you, living in a suburb of Nashville where the majority of your neighbors identify as some sort of Christian – specifically Evangelical Christian. Sure, you may disagree on finer points of doctrine such as whether musical instruments should be used in worship service, or whether women should wear skirts/dresses to worship services, but I suspect that the vast majority of your neighbors would agree (or at least state that they agree) that Jesus should be present in all aspects of private and public life, and that America is going to hell in a handbasket because the Evangelical God is not a mandatory part of public life.

I would like you to think about other areas of the country, areas which are more diverse in population. For example, I live in a town in New Jersey, just 20 minutes from Manhattan. Our town was settled by mostly Italian Catholic families. As time went on, more and more residents moved in with names like Torres, Patel, Silverstein, and Qureshi. Today, about thirty percent of the town is populated by families with names like Kim, Takahashi, and Chang. While the majority of residents are still Catholic, there is a large demographic of protestant Asians, a smaller demographic of Jewish residents, and a handful of Hindus and Muslims, as well as a few non-religious or atheists like my family. Our elementary school used to start teaching Italian to students beginning in third grade, but parents petitioned the school to begin teaching the arguably more useful Spanish instead. Our school district is made up of seven towns with demographics similar to our town, and we have a large enough Jewish population that the school district is closed on Jewish holidays.

Mrs. C, you speak of bringing Jesus back to the schools, and I assume you mean you would like to see mandatory prayer in the schools. For the sake of argument, let’s assume that mandatory prayers would occur during homeroom, and the prayers are supposed to be prayed to generic “God” and not specifically to Jesus. Under this scenario, Mrs. Shapiro or Mr. Elqariani could lead prayers to a generic “God” and not necessarily feel offended. However, I’m not sure to whom Ms. Patel would pray as Hindus have many gods. Would she just pray to a generic “God” even though her gods have many names? Maybe I’m overthinking this. Maybe just a generic prayer over the loudspeaker system each morning would suffice. But, I’m not sure that solves your issue of putting Jesus specifically back into schools.

Definitely, I AM overthinking this. Since I’ve been out of Evangelical Christianity for twenty-five years, I almost forgot the number one rule of Fundamentalist l Christianity: that it is imperative to proselytize anyone who doesn’t believe in the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. That is, no matter how devout or moral people of another religion or no religion might be, if they have not made a confession of sin and profession of faith in the life, substitutionary atonement of Jesus and his resurrection three days later, they are lost and require evangelistic intervention from believers. Without Jesus, they are destined for eternal torment in hell. I was going through different scenarios where prayers could be given in public schools, thinking of allowing Muslim students to pray to Allah, allowing Buddhist students to offer prayers as they wish, and for Hindu students to pray as their belief allows. But that isn’t what you want, is it, Mrs. C? When you say that Jesus should be put back into schools, that is LITERALLY what you mean. Not that students of other religions should be mandated to pray, either in general or to the deity of their choosing. Not that volunteer imams or priests or rabbis should visit the school and offer prayers. No, those clerics are unsaved or apostates. You believe that the number one priority of Evangelical Christians is to witness to the “lost.” And while you may grudgingly permit those of other faiths to pray in an occasional gesture of ecumenicism, what you really want is your version of Christianity to be the one faith to which everyone is exposed. Most of all, you want public school students to hear prayers to YOUR deity –the Evangelical Christian God.

How about we look at a different scenario, Mrs. C? Let’s say your grandson goes to my district’s high school. He plays soccer and really wants to make the varsity team. He goes to tryouts and notices before practice that most of the boys who were on the team last year are kneeling on prayer rugs and praying to Allah with Mr. Assad, the coach. Your grandson notices this happens every day. He and the other boys really want to be favorably noticed by Mr. Assad in order to secure a spot on the team, so your grandson goes home and asks his parents to buy him a prayer rug. I suspect, Mrs. C, that you would have a fit.

Maybe these questions are part of the reason why judges saw the merit in upholding the establishment clause in our Constitution. Why don’t we leave Jesus where he belongs — in the privacy of your home, heart, and church — and let our public spaces be free of religion.

Black Collar Crime: Rabbi Aryeh Goodman Accused of Having Sex with a 17-Year-Old Prostitute

rabbi aryeh goodman

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

Rabbi Aryeh Goodman, who runs a Jewish community center out of his home, was arrested last month on allegations he engaged in child prostitution.

The New York Post reports:

A New Jersey rabbi has been busted alongside two others on charges of human trafficking and child prostitution, according to authorities.

Rabbi Aryeh Goodman, 35, was one of some 30 men who allegedly paid to have sex with a 17-year-old girl in an East Brunswick hotel, says the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office.

Bronx residents Gabriella Colon, 18, and Richard Ortiz, 23, were also arrested for selling the teen’s services to the bevy of creeps from Jan. 1 to Feb. 2, 2018.

Goodman, who runs a Jewish community center out of his East Brunswick home, was slapped with one count of engaging in prostitution with a child and one count of endangering the welfare of a child. Though he bills the center as part of Chabad, prosecutors and a rep said Goodman is in no way affiliated with the organization.

He turned himself in on Feb. 6, prosecutors said.

Colon and Ortiz were hit with various charges, including human trafficking, conspiracy to commit human trafficking, promoting prostitution of a child, conspiracy to promote prostitution of a child, endangering the welfare of a child and criminal restraint.

The duo were also charged with the manufacturing, distribution of and possession of child pornography.

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Bruce Gerencser