Do you consider yourself a spiritual person? How do you define spiritual?
( as for me... )
The mention of schools + science + skepticism sparked something interesting in me. As I mentioned in my last entry, in 1998 I was reading Awake My Glory. But in 1996 I was reading The Psychology of The Psychic and looking for Skeptic magazine at the library (I kept seeing references to it in the catalog but never found it.) I was reading and looking for those because of a project assigned in science class: read a science fiction book and then write a report about why the "fiction" part is/must be fictional. (As usual, I read more than I needed to for the report, yet had a really tough time coming up with the requisite three or four or whatever pages.) I read about how Harry Houdini conducted experiments to test other magicians' work. I read a paragraph that can be read to anyone as their personalized horoscope and often met with "wow, that's spot-on!" I read about telekinesis and aura photography in books that believed it was valuable (okay, I guess I got a bit sidetracked.)
And yet this skepticism and application of the scientific method didn't carry over into my critical (or maybe "not so critical") evaluation of things like Judaism or Awake My Glory.
Moreover - in that same seventh grade science class, an interesting incident occurred. On a test, we were given a little story about someone applying the scientific method to some theory she had about plant growth. The directions said to find and correct all the things she was doing wrong. The opening lines were something like "Rochel was given a small corn plant. She measured the plant and it was 2 mm." When the teacher handed back our tests, she told us she was surprised that so many of us had missed a major part of that question. Two millimeters couldn't be the right size for a corn plant; Rochel must have measured wrong, and we should have noted that.
But to us, information was presented as fact, thus it must be fact. The story said someone obtained a measurement of 2 mm, so that must be what it is. It seemed off, but we weren't there, so we have no option other than to take it as written.
I think that really reflects the mentality imparted by the Orthodox world - or at least my Orthodox world - about history (and religious issues) in general. There's that (famous?) midrash that Moses was 10 cubits (roughly equivalent to 15 feet) tall. Many people believe that and take it literally, even though, like a corn plant being 2 mm, it doesn't mesh with what we know about the species. An authority says it, and we weren't there, so what other choice do we have? I was fed so many wacky things as bald simple fact and I took them as such because I was a kid and they were adults and even if things didn't mesh with my current observations of the current world, it's not like I could easily prove or disprove them.
(I was also told as a kid that Darwinian evolution had been disproven by science, which led to an embarrassing conversation followed by lots of googling in my freshman year of college.)
I know exactly what he's talking about.
In my mind tonight feels like Friday night since it's Rosh Hashanah. I am not marking it in any way, really, though my mother is at the neighbors' for dinner and will be going out for meals and attending shul for the next few days.
For some reason the seriousness of it - it *is* called the day of judgment - looms far larger in my head than the happy, fluffy, apples-and-honey aspect. It was always impressed upon me that getting rid of sins and wiping the slate clean is more complicated than the symbolic tossing of breadcrumbs into the water - there is no free lunch in Orthodox Judaism. In school the days leading up to Rosh Hashanah were marked by people begging each other's forgiveness for anything they'd done and lots and lots of review about the steps to repent for sins. The whole thing was inextricably linked to Yom Kippur, which is marked by fasting and trying to atone for sins and praying that God would accept us even though we're not good enough. I used to buy into it, but I think I connected to the guilt and worry more than the "wow, now the slate is clear! we made it!" aspect.
I can't dump the fire and brimstone and keep the apples and honey. My mind doesn't work that way. If yours does - or if you've never been exposed to the fire and brimstone - I'm sorry for raining on your parade. I hope you (and everyone, I suppose) have a good year.
The fact that when one assigns a number value to each letter of the Hebrew alphabet, the numerical value of the Hebrew name "Ruth" is 606--and that if you then add 7 to that, for the 7 Noahide laws she would have kept before converting to Judaism--that those add up to 613, number of commandments that Jews consider themselves obligated to observe...this is not proof that God exists. This is not proof that God wrote the Bible. This is not proof that Ruth existed.
It may be fun or entertaining--in the same way that reading my Free Will Astrology horoscope is fun. It is innocuous and impotent, and if you tell me with a straight face that you believe otherwise, I will laugh at you. It's not that I know with certainty that God does or does not exist, wrote or didn't write the Bible, or cares or doesn't care about you. I don't think anyone knows, and you're free to believe what you want. But for Pete (or Ruth, or God, or Christ)'s sake, don't believe in it because of things like this.
My mom's cousin R., who lives in Israel, has always said "I don't need to be observant: I live in Israel [and that's enough.] "
I think that for me, for a long time, it was "I don't need to have a Jewish identity: I'm observant."
(Now it's just "I don't have a Jewish identity. That's odd.")
There was shrimp on a buffet table at the wedding, which put some Aunts in an uproar. These are people who eat shrimp. And ham. And lobster. And squid. And those weird sea animals (prawns?) that look like giant cockroaches. And milk with meat. But-- (apparently) you shouldn't have shrimp at a Jewish wedding, goddammit!
*doesn't get it*
The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.It's true, mostly. And the funny thing is that I never realized it, or didn't accept it, until very recently. [A housemate said something similar to this a few years ago, and I found it really hard to accept. But that may have been because she's a strong believer in the God 2.0 of the New Testament. (Hey--maybe 'my' god ain't so hot, but he's mine, dammit, and if I'm going to believe in a god, it'll be him.) Dawkins, on the other hand, is a strong atheist.] Dawkins discusses how children are influenced to believe otherwise--I can't do justice to his ideas in summarizing them, but it made a lot of sense.
-Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion
That's kind of sad.
And for our random moment of comic relief...
( or see the comment here )
Moral Orel episodes online, streaming.
It's a cable show so I've only seen it once or twice, but the episodes are short and funny. (The first one I saw was "The Blessed Union.")
They're also TV-MA, just so ya know.
Interesting things have been happening in Kansas.
NYTimes op-ed from last year (found that when I was trying to find out what John Danforth is all about)
It's also heartwarming to realize or remember that there are religious people who have what I consider "good" values. Hating or at least fearing people because they're religious was getting tiresome. (All of this coincides nicely with my plans to hear Jim Wallis speak tonight, too.)
**I think hate has a negative effect on the hater as well as the 'hatee' (to coin a term). But I still have a hard time not hating, sometimes.
Sure, I've made mistakes this year--too many to list, probably--but they're mistakes based on my internal value system (which is cobbled together from many sources), based on who I want to be and where I want to go in life, not based on Judaic law.
Most Jews, even secular/non-religious Jews, do something to mark Yom Kippur: they fast, they go to synagogue, they pray. I don't understand. To me, it's a charade. You want to be forgiven for doing things wrong during the year? Then try not to f*cking do them! Put your money where your mouth is. You don't believe these things are wrong? Don't believe Jewish law is valid? Don't spend a day fasting and praying for breaking it!
Orthodox people (or perhaps anyone that's affiliated with a movement or has a formal code of religious conduct), well...as much as I may not see eye to eye with them, at least they're being sincere. At least they're not being hypocritical. The atonement is for your little (or big) slip-ups that occurred while you were living a life structured around the laws. Everyone slips up. It's inevitable. But there's a difference (to give a mundane example) between "I missed the bus because I had to stop and tie my shoe," and "I missed the bus because I decided last night not to set my alarm clock to wake me up in time." Now, maybe if you tell your boss that you're sorry you missed the bus and got to work late, s/he won't know which scenario occurred. But God, well, if you believe in God, presumably you believe that God would know what your intentions have been all year. And you know.
I'll admit that I've felt awkward all day, knowing that I'm not doing anything to mark Yom Kippur, while tens of thousands of other non-religious Jews are. Why am I being different? Why am I being stubborn and difficult?
Sure, I believe in atonement. I believe in apologizing and trying to right one's wrongs. I believe in trying to better oneself and one's behavior. But I don't believe in asking God to forgive me. I don't believe in afflicting my soul (the Bible's words, not mine) or my body for 25 hours once a year to get God to like me more.
A yearly or even monthly day of reflection sounds like a good idea, sure. But is Yom Kippur the day to do it? Are the typical Yom Kippur activities good catalysts for that, in me?
If my brain were less mushy I'd link this to the concept of having a sense of communion with the world somehow. When religion (or political consultants who convince religious people that God's top issues are preventing gay marriage and abortion) divides people, it interferes with that.
I'm having one of those "everything I say or write feels like it's phrased poorly" days.
They express it better than I can:
Let’s jump across time and space to a class room somewhere in Queens. One of the more precocious and/or obnoxious students comments to the rabbi that what the class has just learned is stupid. With the subject being divine writ, stupidity isn’t exactly an option. The rabbi, like the good, slightly nervous, slightly confident, slightly educated product of the chinuch* system he is, reflexively offers the only doctrine he knows: “It’s not stupid, you just don’t understand”. Ahhhh, yeshiva.
--from an article on bangitout.com (emphasis mine)
I have Issues with traditional observance just as much as the next guy, but I'm informed about this stuff, and so many people aren't. And an addendum to j: no one's ever interpreted the mixed fibers thing to include fibers other than wool and linen.
Many of these are religious things. A nine-year-old, simply because of his/her lack of life experiences and perspective, can't really understand the value in aphorisms like "It is not incumbent upon you to finish the task, but neither are you free to absolve yourself from it" (IMHO a statement about one's life-work on a grand scale) or a prayer expressing gratitude that everything's working O.K. to be recited after going to the bathroom. To be taught those things by rote, to be taught that, say, you need to say a prayer like that because you have to, because it's a rule, a commandment, ruins it. Uttered spontaneously (and I can imagine a mindful adult sort of having that thought, gratitude, spontaneously, each time they use the bathroom), it's a pretty cool thing, (though, granted, I am not into the heavy God- and God-service stuff: "it would be impossible to stand before You, God, if everything wasn't working alright," but put that aside for a minute) but by rote it's meaningless, and for me it's always been anger-inducing ("goddamn someone's screaming at me to make sure I followed the rules again" was a frequent thought when I was living in a religious environment).
This is for my reference. I found this article awhile ago and then I couldn't find it again, so I've eliminated such issues by pasting it in here! But in case anyone's interested...
( whoo hoo! a scathing criticism of what's pretty much the relationship I've built with religion--painstakingly and satisfyingly )
-a friend of mine
( this is a rant, not a carefully-constructed position statement )
And this part is: religion was wrong for me because it prevented me* from being able to feel a sense of communion with [all of] humanity. To me, feeling a basic sense of communion with humanity is a very vital thing and an important factor in living a happy and well-balanced and productive and caring life.
I wrote some things yesterday and today but they're too rough-around-the edges to post. I'll post them tomorrow.
*I'm not implying that it works this way for anyone else; I can't know.