A Father’s Religious Obligations

And the story goes like this:

There is a knock on the front door followed by a dog parking and the sounds of children running to see who is there. Dad shouts from across the house not to open the door before he gets there, the kids yell back “ok” and the dog just barks.

It took all of thirty seconds for me to cover the vast expanse of the family estate to reach the front gates of the castle. I saw two twenty something men standing there. They were wearing backpacks, dressed in slacks and a tie. It was clear from the get go that I had a pair of missionaries on my hands. I issued a silent curse and rolled my eyes. If it hadn’t been environmentally unfriendly I would still have a moat surrounding the castle and I wouldn’t be dealing with these two boys.  In fact if it hadn’t been for the economy they would have been met by the chief of the watch and sent along their way.

Unfortunately I had to let him and the rest of my men go. I sighed deeply. In my grandfather’s day they didn’t worry about this sort of thing. If things got tight you squeezed the peasants and if you couldn’t do that you just conscripted them into your army and went a plundering and a pillaging. Damn this kinder, gentler world we live in.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with my writing or otherwise slow to catch on that was all tongue in cheek. I most certainly do not live in a castle. Unless things change dramatically my kids aren’t going to inherit a vast empire or grow up as trust fund babies who are able to run amok and get into trouble because daddy’s money/influence is there to bail them out. However they do have a different sort of inheritance that I think is worth far more than cash and property.

They are Jewish and part of something that is exceptional.

Parental Philosophy/Obligations

Exceptional doesn’t mean that I think that by virtue of being Jewish that we are better people.  Race/Religion/Color doesn’t bestow magical properties or powers upon anyone. I know Jews who are miserable people that I never want to associate with or be associated with. I can say the same about any group. Read my posts, talk to me and you know that I teach my children to be judgmental. Judge people based upon their actions and respond accordingly.

As a parent it is incumbent upon me to provide my children with an education that encompasses the secular and religious worlds. So it is my choice to decide what religious upbringing they will receive and how it will be implemented. You don’t get to tell them to go to hell- that is my job. And if you tell my children to go to hell you will likely receive my size 12 boot up your ass. I don’t take kindly to it. I am not a good person to witness or proselytize to. I will tell you that I am not interested and then if you insist on speaking I will lay into you and attempt to verbally flay your skin from your bones.

But if you come to my home I am even less tolerant. So let’s take a second step back and review what happened when the lads approached the door.

I opened it and politely asked them what I could do. It was possible that I was wrong and I figured that they deserved the benefit of the doubt.

Are you of the Jewish faith,” asked the first boy.

Here is a PSA for those who care, members of the tribe don’t speak that way. If you say faith I know that you aren’t batting for the same side and I wonder what you want. So when the guy asked me I said yes and asked him what I could do for him. He responded by telling me that he had a gift. I don’t claim to be the smartest guy, but I am a city kid. Ed McMahon is dead and this guy wasn’t carrying an oversized check so I was skeptical about his gift. When I asked him what sort of gift it was he told me that it was a DVD that some man I had never heard of made.

When I asked him to tell me what was on it he hesitated and then hemmed and hawed.  Might as well dress up as a red flag sonny boy. You can’t come to the front door and talk about a gift and then not come out and say what it is. It makes people wonder what you are hiding. I politely pressed him on this and he told me to just take it and watch it. I refused and asked him to tell me what was on it- except this time I added a little edge to my voice.

Finally he told me that it was a gift that would change my life and that of my family because it offered something that I didn’t have.

And that is when I laid  into him and his friend. I told him that I thought that it was offensive to knock on my door on my Sabbath and ask me to watch something that  is going to tell me that I am wrong and raising my children in the wrong way.  I asked him what he would do if I told him that he was part of a cult that followed a mythological beast. I asked him what he would do if I told him that if he didn’t believe as I do he would suffer eternal torment and he visibly blanched. And then I asked him to think about what he was doing and suggested that others might be less charitable in their response.

Offending Others

When I took a few minutes to think about it I decided that I came on too strongly.  I have other things on my mind and was already feeling edgy when they got here. However his initial refusal to be honest about his intentions and purpose set me off as did his coming to my home. I appreciate faith. I understand that some people are convinced that they have something special and wish to share it with others but I think that there are better ways to do it.

I know why I believe what I believe. I am very confident in it. I do not believe in giving children a choice in religion. That is the rule in my house. I am not telling other parents that they have to do it my way. My children receive a secular and religious education so that when they are older they will have the tools and background to make educated decisions. They made decide to do something else. I hope not, but when they are adults that will be their choice and not mine.

I’ll fight to protect your right to practice your religion insofar as it doesn’t infringe upon others.

On a side note, I will never understand how some people can engage in witnessing and then be upset when I witness right back to them. Like I said, I don’t care what you believe as long as it is not hurting others or being forced upon me. If you try to witness after I have said not interested than you have given me license to say what I will. How can you keep a straight face and complain that I am being offensive.

Bottom line- it is my job to provide a religious education for my children and I won’t allow that to be taken away.

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16 Comments

  1. Bill Dorman May 29, 2011 at 4:03 am

    Interesting; first time I had seen this post.

    I knew where you were going w/ the ‘gift’ offer; they were afraid to tell you to be ‘saved’ you would have to accept Jesus Christ as the Savior. I also like your comeback in witnessing right back at them.

    I think it’s wise to bring your children up with a religious education because there is so much good it can teach you. As they become adults they can make their own decisions, but they will have a good foundation to make those decisions.

    How can any one religion or denomination be better than another?

    The Bible, the Koran, the Torah, etc, etc, etc, were written by men (just like us) based on stories passed down verbally through the ages. These stories were based on their environment and belief systems at the time.

    This was not too far removed from believing the God of Sun, or God of Fire, Wind, etc.

    And even the Bible there were competing ‘stories’ at the time so who had the influence to make ‘it’ the prevailing, ‘right’ story?

    Religion can teach us a lot of good things and how to treat one another, but as soon as someone tries to convince me their religion is better than mine I tend to shut them down.

    Religion is somewhat taboo in the social media cliques but I’m not afraid to talk about it or share exactly what I just said.

    Am I a believer? Absolutely, and whatever there is on the other side I plan on being a part of it.

    Well written Jack.

    • The JackB May 29, 2011 at 9:26 am

      @a76049f6a32a1e633a732b81bafb98c9:disqus These encounters have been a pretty consistent “thing” throughout my life. It is a personal thing and I don’t have any issue with people believing provided that they don’t force it upon others.

      We’re in agreement about providing kids with a foundation. I told my son yesterday that I expect that he is going to make the “final” decision about what he believes.

      I was honest and said that I hope he agrees with me, but it won’t change how I feel about him.

  2. Bill Dorman May 29, 2011 at 12:03 pm

    Interesting; first time I had seen this post.

    I knew where you were going w/ the ‘gift’ offer; they were afraid to tell you to be ‘saved’ you would have to accept Jesus Christ as the Savior. I also like your comeback in witnessing right back at them.

    I think it’s wise to bring your children up with a religious education because there is so much good it can teach you. As they become adults they can make their own decisions, but they will have a good foundation to make those decisions.

    How can any one religion or denomination be better than another?

    The Bible, the Koran, the Torah, etc, etc, etc, were written by men (just like us) based on stories passed down verbally through the ages. These stories were based on their environment and belief systems at the time.

    This was not too far removed from believing the God of Sun, or God of Fire, Wind, etc.

    And even the Bible there were competing ‘stories’ at the time so who had the influence to make ‘it’ the prevailing, ‘right’ story?

    Religion can teach us a lot of good things and how to treat one another, but as soon as someone tries to convince me their religion is better than mine I tend to shut them down.

    Religion is somewhat taboo in the social media cliques but I’m not afraid to talk about it or share exactly what I just said.

    Am I a believer? Absolutely, and whatever there is on the other side I plan on being a part of it.

    Well written Jack.

    • The JackB May 29, 2011 at 5:26 pm

      @a76049f6a32a1e633a732b81bafb98c9:disqus These encounters have been a pretty consistent “thing” throughout my life. It is a personal thing and I don’t have any issue with people believing provided that they don’t force it upon others.

      We’re in agreement about providing kids with a foundation. I told my son yesterday that I expect that he is going to make the “final” decision about what he believes.

      I was honest and said that I hope he agrees with me, but it won’t change how I feel about him.

  3. ChopperPapa April 15, 2011 at 4:45 am

    I get offended by these individuals and we practice the same faith (Christianity). Depending upon how you look at it, the Bible (both books) require the reader to often interpret the meanings within. Many sects of the faith take a more literal and that group is one of them. They honestly feel that they are doing exactly what they are supposed to do without regard to anyone else.

    These stories make me sad.

    • Jack April 15, 2011 at 9:44 am

      I chalk it all up to people. Every group has their “true believers” who sometimes act in ways that they wouldn’t if they were not part of that particular sect.

  4. Faiqa April 11, 2011 at 7:11 pm

    I was in the same position several years back. I invited them in my home and sat and listened to them talk and paid attention to what they were saying. Once they were done, I explained that, despite the fact that I’m Muslim, my parents enrolled me in a Christian school when I was a child and that I have more familiarity with the Bible than most Christians do. I further explained in as respectful way that what they were telling me was not new to me and despite my exposure, I had made a conscious decision to follow my faith. I took their literature, and walked them to the door. I, then, thanked them for sharing something with me that they thought was important.
    Another time, I was sitting next to a woman at my OB’s office, and I struck up a conversation with her. She was very pregnant and had that lovely glow that women get… and I told her as much. After I saw the doctor, I was walking out to the parking lot and she followed me out even though she hadn’t seen the doctor, yet. She told me that she had the glow because she had something good… “Do you know Jesus,” she asked. I smiled, “Umm, not personally, but I hear very good things.” I wasn’t angry because I honestly felt that her act in her mind was an act of kindness.

    I don’t mean to appear judgmental and I’m so sorry if it seems I’m coming off that way, because YES, I totally understand the anger that wells up when people witness… and the way they do it is very important. My personal approach has always been this is a person that believes strongly in their faith and they want to share that with me. Unless they get belligerent, I generally don’t have a problem with that. In fact, I find that these conversations only reemphasize my conviction that I made the right choice. Furthermore, I also find it an excellent opportunity to educate them about my faith and how we are not so very different because while our faiths may be different, we are all, after all, people of faith.
    All that said, this was an excellent post, and I love your writing.

    • Jack April 11, 2011 at 11:41 pm

      Hi Faiqa,

      It rarely if ever is worthwhile to get irritated about this. I am Jewish not just by birth but by choice. I have no fear or uncertainty about this. I understand why others feel the need to witness and as you addressed my reaction usually reflects their approach.

      It irritates me to be a target. I don’t say that out of paranoia but based upon facts and experience. It irritates me because it is very hard to have an intelligent and respectful conversation with the people who witness.

      That is not the case across the board but it leads that way. When they ask me why I don’t believe and I answer it often doesn’t matter how polite I am. Most of them haven’t ever been told that they got it wrong. The contradiction is funny to me because the discussion that they initiated is based upon telling me that I got it wrong.

      So I prefer to be selective in who I discuss it with.

      But I probably am more difficult to deal with at home- but I am ok with that.

      Hope you come by again.

  5. Brett April 10, 2011 at 3:10 pm

    When I was 16 years old I worked in the produce department of a grocery store. A co-worker caught wind that I was Jewish and apparently he had a serious problem with that. This man who was old enough to be my father approached me one day as I was stacking the apples. The man said to me, “Brett, I understand that you’re a Jew.” I answer, “Yes, I’m Jewish”. (***Note, I’m not really sure why, but when someone calls me a JEW, it puts me on the defensive immediately. Call me Jewish. Don’t call me “A JEW”) Then this man proceeds to tell me that I am going to hell because I’m Jewish. He tells me that unless I accept Jesus Christ as my savior then I am going to hell. Remember, I’m SIXTEEN YEARS OLD. Now I wasn’t exactly a confident or assertive type of teenager. I was very unsure of myself and lack confidence on many levels at that age. However at that moment it was as if my ancestors insantly possessed my body. My answer to this attack on my beliefs, my heritage, my family, and my ancestors went something like this, “No sir you are wrong. I believe that YOU are going to hell.” The man was shocked and practically jumped back out of his shoes. He said, “I’m going to hell? What makes you think that?” Again without hesitation I answered him. “Because you are trying to scare me into converting to your religion! Anyone who uses fear to try to convince someone that they’re going to hell if they don’t believe what you believe is a sinner. You are wrong sir and I want you to leave me alone. I believe that you are the one that is going to hell. Now unless you want me to go tell the store manager what you’re doing, you’d better leave me alone.” I couldn’t believe that words that had just come out of my mouth, but the man did just that, he made his way to the back of the store and he never bothered me again. That event probably strengthened my beliefs in my religion more than any one event in my life. I really owe that man from the grocery store a huge thank you.

    • Jack April 10, 2011 at 8:53 pm

      Hi Brett,

      I understand. Most of the time if someone calls me “A Jew” it is way of singling me out in terms that aren’t always friendly.

      I tend to describe the tactics you mention as “religious terrorism.” It makes some people uncomfortable but if you use fear to coerce change than aren’t you doing the same thing as the guy who says fly me to XYZ or I’ll blow up the plane.

  6. Jenn April 10, 2011 at 12:06 pm

    Selling me religion on a doorstep is just not going to work, as you’ve gotten my hackles up when you say “have you found God?” as I am standing under a crucifix hanging on the wall – and then proceed to tell me why MY God might not be the right one.

    The Jehovah’s Witnesses amuse me, and if I’m in a good mood with free time I’ll engage in friendly debate. But if I ask you to leave, and you don’t, and then I find you blessing my mom’s dog over the back gate? Look out for Momma’s super soaker, as I say it is divine providence.

    • Jack April 10, 2011 at 8:51 pm

      The funny thing is that it is not an exaggeration to describe some of them blessing the dog over the gate. Some people just don’t get it and I never fail to find it amusing to watch them squirm when the tables are turned.

  7. Stan Faryna April 10, 2011 at 3:41 am

    Good stuff.

    I don’t have any problem with how you handled that situation. Yeah, you were hard. But knockers can get it a lot harder here in Romania where the Orthodox dominate. [grin] In other words, Christians will kick Christan ass from time to time. And there’s as much ironic humor to that as it being a pity too.

    I have several friends who are Jehovahs Witnesses. I understand and empathize with their religious duty and obligation to share their good news with others. They also do it because their hearts urge them to help others find peace and light. In other words, they have compassion and they care. And I do worry for them when they go knocking out there.

    Honestly, I don’t know how my JW friends try to share their good news with strangers. I’m Roman Catholic. Assuming I’m free to do so in terms of time and commitments, I welcome intelligent and/or heart-felt conversations about religion and philosophy from all sides – including atheists.

    I may be wrong, but I think the knockers may be missing the point. Connecting with people, engaging them in conversations and, perhaps, friendship. There’s something to that. Something good. But selling on the doorstep comes off like spam. Even if you are giving away eternal life and lunch for free. [grin]

    • Jack April 10, 2011 at 8:49 pm

      I am sensitive to this for a variety of reasons but I don’t apologize for any of it. I am a big proponent of the first amendment. If you want to write about your faith that is great. If you want to pay for ads that is ok with me provided that you work within a level playing field.

      But when you start going after people with aggressive and unsolicited tactics than I take issue.

  8. Cheryl April 9, 2011 at 2:50 pm

    I love this post, Jack. I really do. I live in the bible belt that is south OC and we hear proselytizing all the time – including in public school. Religion is a personal choice and I’m all for freedom of religion – and freedom FROM religion, too.

    • Jack April 9, 2011 at 10:18 pm

      Hi Cheryl,

      This is something that irritates me to no end. It is a battle that I have fought many times and I expect that it is going to to continue. You are absolutely right about the need for freedom from religion. I have my beliefs and understand why others do- but see no need to force it upon others.

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