"I love your arrogance," writes Tien in the summer of 1989. "You are so adorable when you think that you can change the world."
By Luke Ford Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Five Chapter Six Chapter Seven Chapter Seven B Chapter Eight Chapter Nine Chapter Ten Chapter Eleven Chapter Twelve 1994-1997 1997 1998 1998B 1999 2000 2001 2009
CFS forced me to leave UCLA in June 1989, and I returned to my parents home (in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range 40 minutes drive up I-80 from Sacramento). Too sick and groggy to do anything, I sat alone in our isolated house watching TV and movies as my friends in particular and life in general passed me by. My low state led me one day to pick up Prager's book, (hand it to my stepmother to read to me) and begin my study of the most difficult religion in the world.
I came to the Nine Questions People Ask About Judaism knowing that my present approach to life did not work, and that all other approaches to life of which I was aware were inadequate. Now too sick to distract myself from the pursuit of meaning with the temporary pleasures of sex and success, I sought answers to life's ultimate issues from the man whose loving kindness touched my life and opened me to his religion. Prager not only answered my calls over KABC radio but he also answered my letters and he sent me at no charge two editions of his quarterly journal Ultimate Issues.
Out of the many profound religious thinkers (generally Christians) that I'd met through a lifetime of study, I chose Prager to change my life for these distinguishing reasons.
* He has no agenda besides what works. For instance, how a person comes to ethical monotheism, for instance, be it through Christianity, Islam or Judaism, does not matter much to him.
* He's real.
* He speaks frankly about sex and the rest of life.
* His sharp clear definition of evil as "gratuitous human cruelty."
* He hates evil, not people with differing theologies from his.
* His honesty in stating that he didn't know why there was unjust natural suffering.
* His honesty in admitting that he didn't know many things. He rarely spoke about economics, for instance.
* His moderation.
* His openness to truth from any source.
* By staying open to many conflicting values, he struggled, and I appreciate that the point of life is not in the reward (as it was for the Apostle Paul) but in the struggle.
* His fairness, shown for example, in his comparison of Marxism with Judaism (in chapter four of The Nine Questions). After reading it, and after nearly a year of listening to Prager on the radio, I easily realized that socialism had been a substitute religion for me. At age 22, I decided to take real religion seriously.
Nine Questions gave no new arguments for God's existence, but it showed me more clearly than I had seen before the stark necessity for taking the God question seriously. Without belief in God, life has no ultimate meaning and no objective standard of good and evil. If the only thing wrong with gratuitous torture was that I didn't like it, depressed me.
I decided to take God and organized religion seriously, and to reject the secular life which in my teens had looked attractive because it allowed me to act in any way that I wanted.
I wrote to Prager to tell him what he'd done for me and he wrote back: "I receive many letters, but few have touched me as much as yours. Get better. You are needed in the fight for good values."
I accepted that we needed to organize to make a better world, but why should I join the Jewish organization and hold myself accountable to hundreds of painful laws? Judaism, after all, unique amongst world religions, says that it is easier to get afterlife rewards by staying outside the religion than by coming in. Judaism holds non-Jews accountable to only a few rules of basic decency (the seven laws of the sons of Noah).
One strong argument to converting to Judaism was my painful awareness of how I had screwed up my life. In the years before my illness, I abandoned the Sabbath, and worked and studied every spare minute to get ahead. In the process, however, I abandoned my family and friends, failed to develop myself in areas outside work and study, cut ethical corners in schoolwork and taxes, and destroyed my health.
I saw Judaism's balanced approach to life as a combination wife and mother and father figure to keep me on the straight and narrow path.
From June to December, 1989 I lived in secular and Christian environments and they convinced me that I could not return to either approach to life.
Thus, my second and most powerful reason for converting to Judaism was that I saw no alternative.
I began observing Jewish Law in October (both the Sabbath and vegetarianism were familiar to me from my Adventist upbringing) 1989.
The third reason propelling me to Judaism was my desire for importance. You can't get more important than belonging to the Chosen Ones. They possess the only step-by-step detailed system for making a better world --halacah (Jewish Law).
Before Christmas 1989 I decided to convert to Judaism.
"How could you [convert to Judaism]?" asked my Seventh Day Adventist girlfriend. We lay squashed together in a single bed. "Doesn't it bother you that the Jews crucified Jesus?"
"The Jews didn't crucify Jesus," I said. "The Romans crucified Jesus. Anyway, that was two-thousand years ago. My focus is on healing this world."
"You're wasting your time with this world," she replied. "It stinks."
Life certainly stunk for me for the next few months as our relationship disintegrated and headaches prevented me from further study. With but a simple faith that salvation is of the Jews, I looked around for help.
I quickly found that Jews don't seek converts to Judaism. "If you want to convert, that's fine. But you have to come to us," is the general Jewish attitude. That I was too sick to leave the house was my bad luck. Thinking about the red-carpet treatment that Christians roll out for converts, I felt hurt.
I was despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. (Isaiah 53)
I found solace in Dennis Prager lectures on tape which filled with a sense of Judaism's mission to the world.
One day I heard Prager mention my name during question time of his February 28, 1990 lecture morally comparing Liberalism with Conservatism delivered before the Beverly Hills Republican Club:
"My wife knows this example well. Some of you who've heard my show may recall Luke. Luke was a UCLA student from Australia. You may recall this young man with an accent. Burning, as the Yiddish say 'fabrenta marxist'... burning, passionate Marxist..Called me, debated me for a year. Before he went home to Australia last year he sent me a long letter saying "You have changed my life. I have now decided to take religion seriously and I now realize that Marxism was my own religion and I was wrong."
I lay in bed one summer afternoon listening to Prager's lecture 'Why the Jews? The Reason for Antisemitism.' Jews bother the world because its the Jewish mission to bother the world and to give it no peace so long as it has not God. The Jews' allegiance to Judaism's trinity of Ellohim, Torah and Yisrael (God, law and peoplehood) challenges the gods, laws and national identities of the goyim (non-Jews).
"And just in case you weren't antisemitic until now, and we didn't challenge your values enough," said Prager on tape, "we also believe that we are chosen by God....
"But every nation in history has believed itself chosen. Do you know what China means in Chinese? Center of the world. Would you say that's ethnocentric? Do you know why the Japanese flag has a large red circle in it? That is the sun. The Japanese have the quaint belief that the sun rises first on Japan and then goes to the rest of the world... Americans believe in Manifest Destiny....
"How many of you want to see the Chinese exterminated because they think they are the center of the world? I suspect none of you. How many of you want to see the Japanese thrust into gas chambers because they think they're the land of the Rising Sun? You know why you don't care? Because you don't believe it.
"Any do you know why they hated us for our belief in chosenness? Because they did believe it! That's the difference. Nobody laughed about Jews being chosen. They believed it and they resented it..."
My telephone rang and I switched off the tape. I heard a familiar voice on the other end of the line.
"Oh my God."
"Do you know who this is from one word?"
"Oh my God. It's Dennis Prager," I said.
"You've called me many times," said Prager. "So I thought it was time I called you."
I told Prager that I now lived for God and he told me to be moderate. "There's no need to enter a monastery."
Prager invited me to sit in on his radio show when I'm next in Los Angeles. To this day (8/93) I haven't had the strength.
I had my first personal conversation with a rabbi a few hours before Rosh Hashana 5751 (September, 1990).
I felt guilty about my continuing relationship with Tien. I did not want to marry her, but I did not want to leave her alone either. She taped Dennis Prager's radio show for me and showered me with phone calls, letters and other expressions of love.
Rabbi M. told me to cut off our relationship and so I did a couple of days later.
As a parting gift, I sent Tien a two-year gift subscription to Prager's quarterly journal Ultimate Issues and over 20 Prager tapes.
I missed Tien deeply. I got little attention over the next few months. My mailbox was empty. My telephone rarely rang. Unbeknownst to me, Tien phoned my stepmother several times.
One evening in early Spring, 1991, I sat at the kitchen table with Gill. "I wish that God would send me a sign about Tien," I said.
The telephone rang and I knew it was Tien. We talked happily for an hour.
I felt guilty for days afterwards, worrying that I was distracting Tien from seeking out a permanent relationship. When she phoned me again to say that for the first time in her life, someone close to her had died, I told Tien that we couldn't talk anymore.
I had no further contact with Tien, until late July 1993 when I sent her a two-word note with my phone number - "How's Tien?"
Tien phoned and wrote me that she was doing well - graduated from UCLA and working full time. Her two year relationship with G., however, had broken off. Tien told me that when she phoned me in early 1991, she was already in love with G., but she had wanted to know how I was doing. Tien felt sorry for my isolation.
By Luke Ford Chapter Two Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Five Chapter Six Chapter Seven Chapter Seven B Chapter Eight Chapter Nine Chapter Ten Chapter Eleven Chapter Twelve 1994-1997 1997 1998 1998B 1999 2000 2001 2009