Oped: You Don’t Outgrow God Like You Outgrow the Tooth Fairy

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Recently, while preparing for confirmation, our class was asked something which, in all my years of Jewish education, I had never been asked before: “Do you believe in God?” 
 
“Finally!” I thought. My whole life I had been learning about the rituals of Judaism: The prayers, the holidays, Bat Mitzvah preparation and now, confirmation.
 
As a small child attending services, I’d ask the adults why we said all those strange words that I didn’t understand. Needless to say, I got the Fiddler On the Roof explanation: “It’s what our people have always done and it’s important to conserve our traditions!”
 
Then I’d do what very few of the adults around me were doing — I’d say my own prayer to God in my mind. As a child I actually took this very seriously. 
 
Nobody ever sufficiently explained to me who this God character in all our Torah stories was; and he was in like every one!
 
All I knew was that he was up in the sky, and he protected and spoke to the “chosen people,” who, fortunately, included me. Cool! 
 
As the years went by, God was mentioned less and less. I was told in religious school, the most important thing about being a good Jew is tikkun olam, “repairing the world” and performing community service. To me, that just sounded like common sense. Lots of people volunteered, whether Jewish or not.
 
I learned about the struggles of our people. The Torah spoke about how God gave us strength, but by the time my Bat Mitzvah rolled around, it was obvious to me that most of the adults I knew didn’t believe in God. Nobody mentioned him outside of prayer. It almost seemed that with age, you were expected to abandon the idea of “God.”
 
I realized that many Jews treat God like the tooth fairy. They use it like a fable for their kids to believe in until they grow up and move on. Something to make us feel better, to make us feel safe, until we don’t need it anymore. A bedtime story. It’s not supposed to be anything real or meaningful.
 
It’s only a fairy tale. Just like they stopped leaving their teeth under their pillows, my friends stopped praying. The image of God was reduced to that of an old imaginary friend. 
So there I sat in confirmation class with that same question lingering in the air: “Do you believe in God?”
 
I assumed that most of the class would say, “No,” or “Not really.” Just so you know, I do believe in God — and in evolution and equality and modern medicine. I never stopped whispering those little prayers.
 
To me, God is not the tooth fairy. God is not some big guy in the sky, God is not a “guy” at all. In fact, it bothers me when anybody gives God a gender. God isn’t a single entity, but a force that includes everything in existence.
 
We are all a part of it and connected by it. God is in the miracles that we have forgotten how to see. God is in every strand, every spark, every taste, every tear, every memory, every precious image of the world spun out of the light refracting into our eyes and unfolding in our consciousness.
 
God isn’t within us, God is us. God is life itself. God is our potential as humanity. No one is without it. No one is alone. To me, that’s not a fairy tale. That’s faith. That’s real.
 
If you don’t believe in God, that’s fine with me. Life is all about living the way that makes you happiest. But don’t abandon the concept of God, or of spirituality, because of fear. Do it for you.
 
Judaism is not about some archaic, smiteful hand of judgment that rules over us like an über monarch, but it’s not all about planting some trees and donating money either.
 
Before all of the rituals of Judaism were established, there was faith. In theory, our rituals are meant to serve as a reminder of God, not a replacement for God. I’m not asking for God to be crammed down people’s throats, I’m not asking for spirituality to be forced.
 
I just don’t think we have the right to dismiss it so easily. “Atheist” shouldn’t be a synonym for “adult” or “educated.” I’m asking for God to be an option, in any form it may take in our lives. 
 
I’m very thankful that during my confirmation classes I was able to discover that I was not alone in my beliefs. Hopefully, growing up can mean opening your mind to different possibilities. I’m so glad that at least for some, maturing doesn’t mean giving up on faith.
 
Isabelle Margulies, a member of Main Line Reform Temple’s confirmation class of 2015, is a sophomore at Lower Merion High School.
 

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