Webster’s New World College Dictionary defines a function as “the normal or characteristic action of anything.” They list several definitions for religion. For our purposes we’ll use the second definition. It states, “religion is any specific system of belief and worship, often involving a code of ethics and a philosophy.” You’ll note that this definition does not include a belief in a creator, ruler, or Divine Being. This is because for some of us, that is not a function of religion.
So what is the function of Judaism in your life? What are the normal characteristics? What purpose do we expect this religion to have in our lives? Is the function to give us a system of belief? Is it to give us a way to worship? Is it to give us a code of ethics and a philosophy, or a method of giving recognition to a creator, ruler, or Divine Being? For those of you who are not sure, let’s step back in time.
What are your two or three clearest memories of religion from ages 12-18?
For me, there are three. One is of sitting outside the Priest’s office, trying to memorize a prayer I needed to know. We had recently moved and, as was usually the case when we changed schools mid-year, I was in a bit of a scramble because I needed to know the prayer in order to receive the sacrament of Confirmation. The second memory is of Confirmation itself. I had a Confirmation name I really didn’t like. The robe was uncomfortable. And, I wasn’t sure I believed in everything I was supposed to believe. The third memory is of writing my lack of faith on a slip of paper and burning that paper at a teen religious retreat weekend.
If you were raised in a secular Jewish home, the Holy Days might play a big part. Did you fast at Yom Kippur? Did you attend services? Was Chanukah a holiday in your home? Did you make a Bar or Bat Mitzvat? How about Confirmation? Think about it for a bit. Be as specific as possible in your memory. Write down as much as you can remember. The same is true if you grew up in an observant Jewish home. Did you make a Bar or Bat Mitzvat? How about Confirmation? Did you attend religious school? Was finding a college with Hillel and an active Jewish community important to you? What part did religion play in your life as a teen?
No matter what religion you practiced, write down as much as you can about religious memories from your teens. Capture as much of the feeling as possible. Those feelings will be an important part in deciding the function of religion in your life.
Once you have your memory and related feelings on paper, make a list of the normal or characteristic actions. Was it the ritual of the observance that you felt strongly about? Was it the food? The people who were there? What was the part that you felt most connected to? This is important because it gives you insight into the function of religion for you when you were in your teens.