First off, thanks Neroon for another thoughtful response and for the new year wishes. I'm sorry it's taken me so long to respond, but the High Holy Days tend to be a crazy-busy time. Well, sort of. I mean, it's a time of solemnity, reflection and meditation, too--but the logistics can be crazy.
I took it for granted that you would help anyone who was interested convert to Christianity; I would do the same for anyone who wanted to convert to Judaism. But helping out someone who approaches you is quite different from approaching someone with a conversion schpiel. I'm glad we're both on the same page as far as that goes.
(In fairness, I should mention that I have friends who identify as Christian fundamentalists--and none of them has ever treated me to a conversion schpiel.)
Nice reference to Jonathan Sacks! On the whole, I like the guy and the books he's written--but I understand he's pretty hostile to any form of Judaism except Orthodox. So in that respect, I disagree with him. (So I'm glad he's not my rebbe.) However, I agree wholeheartedly that faith is living with uncertainty. (I wonder if he stole that from Buber, Kierkegaard and other religious existentialists. It's sure worth stealing!)
I noticed you brought up the concept of eternal damnation in your post, as you explained the reasoning behind the conversion efforts of certain Christian exclusivists. I thought that would be as good a time as any to start talking about differing perspectives on the afterlife.
The whole concept of an afterlife is not a big deal in Judaism. In fact, survey after survey reveals that the majority of Jews simply don’t believe in an afterlife. Judaism is a very here-and-now religion.
The Torah and most of the larger Tanakh offer only a shadowy existence in Sheol after you die. There’s only one or two passages in later books (like Daniel) that indicate there’s something more than that.
At some point, however, Judaism developed the idea of the resurrection of the dead; the idea that at some future date the dead would all be bodily resurrected and judged. While Judaism bequeathed this idea to Christianity, we‘ve never had a companion idea of an eternal hell. Hell is always temporary in Jewish teachings--although the possibility of simply ceasing to exist is present in Jewish teachings.
Judaism also developed (or bought into) the idea of reincarnation. This isn’t a new-age thing in Judaism; it’s a long-standing teaching. It’s definitely from the mystical side of Judaism, however; Chasidic Jews are its foremost proponents, but mystically minded Jews from all branches have adopted it. This teaching comes from the Zohar and Kabbalah and such. (And, now-a-days, it’s helped along by the high percentage of Jewish Buddhists.)
So in Judaism, take your pick. It’s respectable to believe in no afterlife, the resurrection of the dead, or reincarnation. But whatever your private beliefs, it’s something nobody makes a big deal of. Here’s a story that illustrates this:
A friend of mine was once visiting the Orthodox synagogue in Dublin. He was astonished to hear the rabbi give a sermon on the afterlife. He was so shocked that he went up to the rabbi afterwards. “Rabbi,” he said, “I’ve been in synagogues all over the world and I’ve never once heard anyone preach on the afterlife. I’ve never even heard it mentioned!”
The rabbi smiled at him. “My dear sir,” he said, “You’re in Dublin. We’re very Catholic Jews here.”
My own views on the afterlife have been all over the map--it really depends on what day you ask me. But it’s not something I worry about. I figure G-d can worry about what, if anything, comes after this life.
The idea of eternal life, however, seems quite central to Christianity. Would you agree with that statement? Or do you see it as an optional belief, as in Judaism? How do Christian teachings on the afterlife inform and infuse your understanding of Christianity?
As always, I’m looking forward to your response.