By Kevin Masterson
I feel like I’ve had an inner conflict about God since I was a small child, long before my conversion to Judaism. I remember my first grade nun, Sister Justina, telling us that to question or disobey a nun or priest was a mortal sin, which meant we go to hell with no chance of redemption. I remember how frightened that made me. I didn’t want to go to hell.
The conflict in me was born when I began to see things that made me question their actions. I would see nuns and priests beating children, and I always had an uncomfortable feeling when a priest would come to visit. However, I didn’t want to go to hell, so in my confusion I figured their behavior must be a ‘mystery' that I was not worthy enough to understand.
My conflict grew even greater in Civics Class in the 5th grade. Sister Augustine had us take a true or false quiz about prejudice. We reviewed the quiz as a group, and there was a question about white people being superior. I raised my hand and said “that is false, sister. In God’s eyes everyone is equal.” Sister Augustine then asked me again. I repeated my answer. She said “no, the answer to that question is true. You are prejudiced.” I tried to explain again, and she told me to sit down. I was so confused and ashamed. What she was saying was against everything that I had been taught to believe by my parents, the priests, and all my other teachers. However, I was also taught that I couldn’t question her, so I assumed there must be something wrong with me.
Several months later, I started puberty shortly before my 11th birthday. I was told nothing as my body began to change and my testosterone kicked in. Having been so repressed by my family and my faith, I rebelled with a vengeance. I was given the message that I was “bad”, so I set out to not disappoint my critics. I knew that there was something wrong with my religion, but I wasn’t allowed to question it. I was too afraid. I didn’t know what hypocrisy meant.
I joined a Jewish fraternity in college, as I had many friends there and I fit in really well. All of my brothers were very smart and ambitious like I was. Their families valued education like mine did. The only real difference that I can see now is that they did not have the deep level of shame that I did. When they felt bad it was from their conscience, not the fear of going to hell. They made mistakes and learned from them. I made a mistake and was to be punished by God for eternity. They gently taught me to question how irrational many of my beliefs were.
I fell away from the faith that I was born into due to several very traumatic experiences, and I felt lost for many years. I felt that I was being punished for rejecting my family’s religion. Eventually I found my way to a 12 step program and a spiritual church. However, I still felt so much confusion and shame. My “faith” wasn’t strong enough. I often made very bad choices for that reason.
I never forgot the comfort & clarity that I got from the fellowship of my fraternity brothers. At the encouragement of Rabbi Sarah Horonsky, I began an intro to Judaism class at American Jewish University. I remember the first thing that Rabbi Morris Panitz said in class: “In Judaism we believe that all human life has value.” It felt like I exhaled fully for the first time in my life.
In the past three years, I have learned the value of questioning. I’ve heard many other people express their opinions, ask questions, and admit it when they didn’t know the answer to something. That’s what has resolved my conflict in my journey into Judaism. I am encouraged to be authentic and continue to seek out truth. For me, that seems exactly what the purpose of this earthly journey we are all on is designed for.