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Book Review: “The Chosen” by Chaim Potok

The Chosen (Reuven Malther #1)The Chosen by Chaim Potok
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve never devoured a book as I did this one. It was as if my soul was hungry – had been starving – and found nourishment here.

I could draw many parallels between Danny Saunders’ Hasidic upbringing and my Unificationist upbringing. I have felt, and at times still feel, the torment that arises when you find you cannot reconcile two parts of yourself. Danny struggles to reconcile the psychologist and the Hasid within himself; I struggle to reconcile my naturally inquisitive disposition with the often conformist culture of my religious community.

Among the many powerful themes that this book impressed in me is the need to know the history of my own people. For Jews, Christians and Muslims, for example, this path will be somewhat more linear, as they find themselves as the fruit of longstanding and well-defined religious traditions. But for Unificationists – and I imagine Mormons, to some extent, too – the way is less clear. Because we are writing the history of our movement at this very moment. Because we are the cartographers of our faith – it is all uncharted territory. We don’t have the benefit of hindsight. Our faith is malleable; just when you think you’ve got a hold of it, it slips through your fingers.

Unificationists face a similar struggle to early Jewish converts to Christianity. These early converts will have asked themselves whether they must renounce their Jewish faith and traditions in order to become Christians – indeed, this was a source of great tension in the early days of the Church, epitomised by the relationship between Paul and James in the New Testament. I know this crisis of identity. Can I simply call myself a Unificationist? Or am I a Unificationist Christian? In other words, is Unificationism a religion unto itself, or is it an approach to a particular faith? If the latter, then where do those who are brought up in the families of Unificationist converts find their religious identity?

This is a very important question, because it has immense implications for the meaning and value of the marriage blessing, a central tenet of Unificationist faith. If Unificationism is a religion in its own right, then the blessing is a tradition inherent to this particular religion; but if it is an approach to a particular faith, then the blessing is something that can be disseminated to people of all faiths – but if that is the case, then what does it mean to belong to the second generation? These are important questions that need to be dealt with to prevent the further disillusionment of blessed children, many of whom already struggle to reconcile their religious faith with an increasingly secular world.

Perhaps the only answer is that it is up to us: whether it is a faith in its own right, or an approach to a particular faith, it depends on how we early Unificationists choose to define Unificationism. There will be tension and disagreement between us, but hopefully one day, reconciliation. Then again, perhaps I’ve set up a false dichotomy: perhaps Unificationism need not be the one or the other, rather it can be both, existing in a quantum superposition state, serving as a good metaphor for the paradoxical nature of the human condition.

So as we march towards the blessed land of Canaan with delight, let us consider whether we are missing the scenery. As we march forward, are we leaving anyone behind? Have we checked our compasses? Are we taking records of this new territory? And most importantly, do we really know where we’re going?

If Unificationism is to be preserved, nurtured and developed, it will only happen through honest conversations, especially those between the generations. I hope that there can be more space for such conversations within the Unificationist community. I admire the work of Project Phoenix – they are embodying the providence of restoration.

The character of Danny Saunders gave voice to the angst felt by my soul at this time. While our struggles are different in kind, they are the same in essence.

And although it’s painful to struggle with your faith, I would choose this path over blind conformity any day. Remember – Jacob had to wrestle with the angel in order to earn the name Israel.

As I finish typing these words, I hear Reb Saunders* call out to me, reminding me not to lose my soul as my mind grows and seeks to explore the world.

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* Danny’s father

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