Allen S. Maller

Will Catholic Church dropouts go to a Mosque or a Synagogue?

A new Gallup poll reveals that more U.S. Catholics are questioning whether they should remain in the church today than when the first news of the child sex abuse scandal started in Boston in 2002.

The poll released on March 13, 2019 found 37 percent of Catholics surveyed in January and February of 2019 said they have questioned whether they should remain in the church. That’s up 15 points from 22 percent in 2002, when reports detailing widespread child sex abuse by priests in the city of Boston were first published.

Even frequent churchgoers [22%] say they are rethinking their affiliation with the faith this year; compared to 12% of those who attended church weekly in 2002.

Among those who attend church seldom or never, 29 percent said they had considered leaving the church in 2002; compared to today’s 46 percent of those who seldom or never attend.

Even so, Gallup reports that most American Catholics [80+ million of them] still say they have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in Pope Francis and the priests at their own church [58 percent]; although only 30 percent said the same about U.S. bishops in general.

Gallup also released data in January 2019 showing that the percentage of U.S. Catholics who rate the honesty and ethical standards of their clergy as “very high” or “high” is at its lowest since at least 2004: Only 31 percent of Catholics rated their clergy as such in 2018, a 32-point drop from a 2008 spike in support.

If only 10 percent of Catholics do leave the church [8 million] and half who leave the church leave religion totally behind them; an equally great number will eventually find another way to worship God.

More than ten thousand people in G.B. and the U.S.A. move each year from a Trinitarian Christian Church to a Unitarian Islamic Mosque or Jewish Synagogue. Academic studies in the United Kingdom have shown that, contrary to popular belief, these conversions are not driven mostly by marriage.

In the United States most converts to Judaism each year also are women; but unlike the Muslim experience, most conversions to Judaism do occur in connection with an impending marriage or childbirth.

Although each person’s path is unique, both Jews and Muslims should recognize several common factors that motivate most of these people. These factors fall into two groups: push and pull. Push refers to the issues that push people to leave the church in which they grew up. Pull refers to the religious principles and personal experiences that attract people to religious life within a Mosque or a Synagogue.

For example, many ex-Christians leave a church that teaches that only believing Christians can feel confident that they are going to Heaven; and all those who do not believe that Jesus is the Son of God are going to Hell.

So Emma, at age 55, who lives in the Protestant “Deep South” of the United States, described her discontent with Christianity ever since childhood; “as feelings of dissatisfaction with the doctrine that her religion damned all the people of other religions to “Hell” for not believing as they do.

Reading the Torah opened a new world of the “greatness and unity of God”. She was able to leave behind her uncertainties about Christianity, due to her new found ‘guilt free’ assurance of God through Judaism.”

Others found that while they could easily believe in God, they could not believe that God had a Divine Son named Jesus. They enjoyed celebrating Christmas, but they only prayed to Jesus, never to Christ. Michael Doyle writes in his blog chicagocarless (11/19/2010) “I was raised as a lapsed Catholic. I took religion class in elementary school, but it never really took to me. Even as a young child I never identified with Catholic doctrine.

“For years, I would look forward to Christmas, enter the season aggressively, demand it cover my yearlong need for checking in with a sense of ephemeral wonder and joy, of awe and gratitude towards God, and of remembrance. It never worked. Come January 1st, I always felt an intense sense of loneliness and disappointment–compounded by the fact that I’d have to wait another 11 months to try and feel spiritually whole again.

“Now I don’t feel spiritually homeless anymore. My lifelong sense of lacking wholeness just isn’t there anymore. As Christmas approaches, I’ve been realizing that the sense of wonder, awe, and gratitude–not to mention a deep, everyday connection with God–are all things I’ve been experiencing on a daily basis, through a new, Jewish lens.

“My ritual practice (eating kosher food, saying blessings over food, keeping Shabbat–the Jewish sabbath, daily prayer, among others) has been like a get-into-the-spirit-free card, one that I can play over and over. It isn’t as if God has changed.

“I have, or more clearly, my new Jewish vocabulary has let me get in touch with who I really am–a person of faith with a need to honor that faith more than once a year. I just never had a framework to let that happen. Now I do, and I’m overjoyed to know that.”

Most people who become Jewish do not feel that they have converted. Rather, they feel that after years, and sometimes decades of aimless wandering, they have found their spiritual home. In many cases this is literally correct because these people actually are descendants of Jews who lost or abandoned their Jewish identity and loyalty to the Jewish community through assimilation and marriage into the majority community.

Yet there are difference in the processes of conversion between Islam and Judaism. Unlike Buddhism, Christianity and Islam; Judaism, (like Zoroastrianism) does not have any missionary impulse. That is why there are so few Jews and Zoroastrians in the world.

Mormons, who very actively seek converts, already outnumber Jews and Zoroastrians combined, even though Mormons have been in existence for only 200 years, compared to more than 3,000 years for Jews and Zoroastrians

Judaism lacks a strong missionary impulse because Judaism is a pluralistic religion. Judaism teaches that the Jewish way is right for Jews and those non-Jews who want to join the Jewish Community.

But Judaism also teaches that good and kind people in other religions, who follow the teachings of their own religion, also have a place in the world to come. As the Qur’an says, “ To each of you We prescribed a law and a method. Had Allah willed, He would have made you one nation [united in religion], but [He intended] to test you in what He has given you; so race [compete] to [be] good. To Allah is your return all together, and He will [then] inform you concerning that over which you used to differ. (5:48)

According to Jewish teachings, correct behavior in society is more important for all human beings than correct beliefs about God, although for Jews, as for Muslims, correct beliefs about God are also vital. Thus, while Jews welcome non-Jews to join our community, we do not have a urgent motive to ‘enlighten’ or ‘save’ them.

Lacking the missionary impulse of the more active proselytizing universalistic religions, most non-Jews have to push their way into Judaism. Once in, they are fully accepted, except among the Orthodox, who are usually suspicious about why anyone would want to join a small minority religious community, that has been shunned and persecuted in previous generations.

Perhaps that is part of the miracle of Jewish survival over the last 3,000 years.

About the Author
Rabbi Allen S. Maller has published over 850 articles on Jewish values in over a dozen Christian, Jewish, and Muslim magazines and web sites. Rabbi Maller is the author of "Tikunay Nefashot," a spiritually meaningful High Holy Day Machzor, two books of children's short stories, and a popular account of Jewish Mysticism entitled, "God, Sex and Kabbalah." His most recent books are "Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms' and "Which Religion Is Right For You?: A 21st Century Kuzari" both available on Amazon.
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