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Can atheists/agnostics convert?

Hey y’all.

I’m 27, non-binary and gay as hell, and am considering converting to Judaism. I was raised uber fundamentalist christian—basically a cult with no contact with the outside world until I turned 18 and left home. For the past nine years I’ve been agnostic to atheist, just kinda hovering somewhere in that range. Four years ago I started dating a Jewish girl; she doesn’t consider herself religious or observant at all but was raised Jewish and bat mitzvahed and all that.

About a year ago I decided to take an intro to Judaism class—I didn’t have any intention of converting but I felt like my gf knew way more about Christianity than I knew about Judaism just by virtue of growing up in the US, and I wanted to learn more about her cultural history. I’m a naturally curious person so I was like what the heck, I’ll take a semester class once a week.

What caught me off guard was how much I loved learning about Judaism. There are several aspects—one, I don’t believe the Bible is inerrant in any way shape or form, and getting a little exposure to the ways Judaism interprets the stories I was raised with, the skepticism and finding allegorical meaning in them, was really healing for me in a way. I was raised so immersed in fundamentalism, and thought I believed it until I learned there were other options, that the process of arguing with and fighting with the Bible, and not taking it literally, and admitting the writers might be wrong was huge for me. Another thing I loved was the rhythm. You were supposed to do “experiential learning” as part of the class so my gf and I started lighting candles and making challah on Fridays, saying the Shabbat blessings but mostly just using it as a way to take a step back and breathe after whatever the week had thrown at us. We had our own mini quarantine Passover Seder and used a queer Haggadah and chose to focus on the symbolism of the holiday and how it applied to our world today. I enjoyed celebrating other holidays as well, but not necessarily from a “there is a god who wants me to do this” perspective. It’s more just recognizing that cultures all through time have created god myths and stories and rituals, and those practices often have symbolism and aspects that speak to the universal human experience, god or not. I also really connected with the concept of tikkun olam and the strong push for social justice in many progressive circles. In some ways, it reminded me of the way that serving and helping others was emphasized when I was growing up, and how then I had a group to do it with. Since I left that cult, I’ve still been a service-minded person and connected with many opportunities for social justice, so this wasn’t out of the ordinary for me.

I still didn’t really consider conversion until I randomly happened across this non-denominational shul in my city. What struck me so much about them was their investment in social justice, environmental justice, anti racism work, queer inclusion, etc. I was still practicing our own form of traditions with my gf, taking the parts that spoke to us and retooling the things that we couldn’t necessarily agree with. I was also enjoying relearning the stories I’d been raised with and seeing them through a radical, often queer, lens; thinking about the universal truths sometimes hidden in them and what that looked like in the world today. And so being part of a community that cared about the same things I cared about, where I could continue to practice traditions and rituals with others, to the extent I felt comfortable—these things and obviously others I’m forgetting to write down made me start to think about converting. (Gf has absolutely not pressured or suggested this—or the course—in any way at all. She’s supportive of what I want to do but it has nothing to do with our relationship, besides the fact that I might not have started learning more if we hadn’t been dating.)

So here I am, in the middle of COVID, considering conversion as a former Christian and still current agnostic/sometime atheist. I know there are tons of atheist Jews, but what I guess I’m wondering is if it’s…wrong…for me to want to convert knowing that I definitely don’t have any kind of certainty about the existence of any kind of deity. If pushed, I usually will say the extent of supernatural-ity that I will admit to is some kind of collective consciousness/force created by people working together to create a better world, some kind of transcendent collective meaning we all create together. I’ve been very open about this with the rabbi I’ve discussed conversion with, and she has seemed completely fine with that. But I guess I’m just wondering if others have been in a similar position, or known someone who has, or what some outside perspectives on this are. Tia!

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