In my conversations with those trying to understand why people are leaving Orthodox Judaism, some suggest that OTD folks didn’t receive enough love. And while I’m sure that is the case for some, it’s not the case for me. I’ve always had love in my life, but what I didn’t always have was acceptance.
I’ve often been told – by religious people – that unconditional love doesn’t equal unconditional acceptance. These people want to believe that you can divorce love and acceptance, that you can love a child/sister/brother/friend without accepting their life choices.
Let me be clear. I’m not talking about life choices that are harmful. I’m not advocating acceptance of violence, terrorism, self-harm, or other behaviors that are universally abhorred. I’m talking about behaviors that are only considered unacceptable due to a religious belief. I’m talking about behaviors that are universally accepted, outside the context of religious doctrine. Let’s not conflate the two things and get off on a tangent of, “Well, if your child says he wants to KILL someone, are you supposed to let him?!” Let’s be reasonable.
It’s good to have beliefs. It’s good to have convictions. It’s good to live within a religious framework if that works for you and makes your life more fulfilling.
But I have a question for parents: Did you have children so that they would be just like you? Did you have children so that you could benefit from the nachas that they would bring you? Did you have children to honor you and take care of you in your old age? And if the reason that you had children was because you believed that it’s a positive commandment, then did you have children prepared to parent them even if they didn’t turn out the way you had hoped?
Here’s a fundamental belief that I’ve carried for quite some time. No one should have a child if they are not going to love AND accept that child for who they are. Neither love or acceptance is adequate on its own. To accept a child without loving them is to lack an emotional attachment that every child needs and to love without acceptance is to create a child destined to struggle, should they not be a carbon copy of their parent.
Many religious people don’t make the conscious decision to have children. It’s just something that they do. They get married, get pregnant, and figure things out along the way. Sometimes it works out well, sometimes it doesn’t. By the time they realize they weren’t prepared for the challenges that parenthood brings, it’s too late. There is already a human being that needs you to get it right. Sometimes there’s two, three, or four.
I don’t think acceptance is too much to ask for. You can accept someone without passing judgement on their actions. That does not mean that you say, “I love you, but I don’t approve of what you do and I want you to pretend not to do those things when you are around me”. It means you say, “I love you, and I respect you enough to make your own choices, provided that they don’t harm anyone.” You show interest in their lives. You treat them as if they are an equal. And you don’t do it solely because you want them to return to religion.
That’s worth repeating. True acceptance is when you recognize that the other person’s decisions and beliefs are valid and worthy and you treat them with respect and kindness without having ulterior motives.
When religious beliefs lead to estrangement, broken hearts, and mental torture, religion becomes evil.
When religious beliefs lead to connection, acceptance, and the understanding that all humans deserve to be treated with respect and dignity, religion becomes beautiful.
I hope for a world where humans all across the spectrum of religiosity can interact and converse with genuine acceptance, interest, and brotherly/sisterly love.