Thursday, February 04, 2010

The switcheroo that passeth understanding

I am currently reading a volume of essays entitled "Torah Queeries: Weekiy Commentaries on the Hebrew Bible," written by a group of observant Jews who happen to be gay and lesbian. This book breaks fresh ground, in part because it brings out instances of gender ambiguity in the Hebrew Bible, which is far from supporting gender dimorphism down the line as one might think. Not surprisingly, the book largely ducks the questiion of the homophobic (and homocidal) verses of Leviticus 18 and 20.

Nonetheless, I can understand how an individual--brought up in one the three Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam--might seek to retain the ties created in one's early years, formidable though this task may be for GLBT people.

What I do not understand is migration from one of these faiths to another. Currently, there is a theater event in New York City called "Circumcise Me!" featuring Yisrael Campbell, a Philadelphia-born comedian based in Israel.

Campbell, who is of Irish and Italian descent, grew up Catholic in a Philadelphia suburb. One of his aunts is a Catholic nun. Campbell converted to Judaism with a Reform rabbi, and says that a "spiritual hunger" led him to have a second conversion with a Conservative rabbi. On a four-month visit to Israel in 2000 he decided to have a third conversion and live as an Orthodox Jew.

Today much stand-up comedy involves ethnicity; people seem to find that it is a useful safety valve to air these matters in this way. Some Muslim American comedians have explored this territory.

Still, I do not understand why anyone brought up in any one of these three atavistic faiths would want to switch to another. Being brought up Jewish, Christian, or Muslim is something one can't help. (In similar fashion I was educated to be an atheist Marxist). If one has had such a burden thrust upon oneself, there would only seem to be two choices: make the best of a bad deal; or get out of religion entirely. By contrast, switching seems to rank as a case of jumping from the frying pan into the fire.

I am currently sparring (not in these pages) with an articulate San Francisco man who has made such a jump. Of Jewish and Catholic heritage, J. has recently become a fervent Muslim. Being gay has made his choice harder. I suppose that there is a certain logic in this trifecta--but it stumps me all the same.



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