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My Reckoning with Modern Religion

Thursday, October 2, 2014 | 0 Comment(s)

Welcome to the Days of Repentance.  It's a Jewish thing.  If you don't know what they are, I suggest a quick google search. For a lot of reasons.

Anyways. During this period of reflection I've decided to take a harder look at my own relationship with religion. During the recent passing of the Jewish new year celebration (5775 btw--palindrome year), I found myself spending that night in my recliner watching television.  No big deal.

And then like any good plugged-in American I made my way onto Facebook where I saw a litany of pictures of Rosh Hashana dinners.  High school friends, grad school friends, family.  I felt an avocado-sized pit, with toothpicks punctured into its sides, growing in the cabinet of my soul.  I yearned for a little rustic traditionalism.  

This isn't a sob story.  It wasn't like I was the lonely Jew on Christmas.  I was at home out of my own indifference towards the coming holiday.  Because religion, to put it bluntly, has simply pushed me past my breaking point.


Let's begin with some personal background.  

I was raised Jewish.  My parents insisted on Hebrew School growing up, but I didn't actually become religious until high school.  And then, I went full religious.  We're are talking yarmulke and talit katan under my clothes to public high school religious.  This was not the kind of lifestyle choice that you made to make friends at school and get in with the popular crowd.  That may explain why the vast majority of my friends, and not for nothing girlfriends, were part of my Jewish youth group? Yup. Religion was awesome. So was frenching.   

At 18, after maintaining my Jewish observance (we are talking praying 3 times a day observance) when living on as secular a kibbutz in Israel as you could find, I came back to the states to work at a Jewish summer camp in California.  Something about the transition from the personal prayer in my bedroom in Israel to the manufactured belief system being propagated by the camp nauseated me.  I no longer cared to pretend that the answers these rabbis were giving felt sufficient.  I loved the platform for existential debate, but I just couldn't act like God's love gave me any personal comfort whatsoever. It was me who had changed.  I had worked at the same camp the previous summer without any trace of internal dissonance. 

Thus far in life, I've lost two friends to terrorist strikes in Israel -- one American, one Israeli.  In both instances, the selfish pain of personal loss brought the reality of the constant threat of violence into my forefront, even more so than living in Israel. When I was residing on a cliffside across the Golan  Heights from Syria, the threat was implied, but never rained down close enough to make the danger seem real. Though it was.  When these young woman were killed, one stabbed, one a casualty of the bombing at Hebrew University, I felt a personal responsibility to examine the ideals being fought for -- and to weigh them against the a loss of life that flows as plentifully as apples and honey.  

And then there is the whole "not believing in God" thing.  Capital G.  I'm totally down with all those little g's out there that bring spirituality into our world.  I also don't think that belief in God is a pre-requite to a healthy religious life for Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, whatever.  All of these formalized religions have genuinely wonderful traditions that build community. The truth of that reality being what has brought me to this state of introspection in the first place.  My belief, or rather lack thereof, in God is only relevant when I'm contemplating modern religion's upside against its body count.

Before I hit 30, the bombings and imprisonment and genocides and police states and all out wars carried out in the name of a religious affiliation, broke me.  My willingness to defend religion, to hold up examples of people finding personal hope and comfort in their lord, just bled out of me -- and the Jehovah's Witness in me didn't allow a transfusion.  

My distaste for religion is egalitarian.  While my examples may appear to lean pro-Israel, that is both not the case nor the point.  I am not for Israel or Palestine or Sunnis or Shiites.  Because implied in each of these statements is being against someone else.  And in the world of religion, practically speaking, being against something means wishing them dead.  Maybe that's not how it feels in your heart, but they aren't dropped leaflets of good intensions on those villages. As a culture our narrative has changed.   We used to ask, "Can't we all just get along?" Now we ask, "Who are you for."  An option for harmony, cohabitation, compromise, peace, has been taken off the table.  Hell, look at our government. 

In Washington we have a utter standstill.  The product of two sides unable or unwilling to budge on even the most common sense legislation.  Somewhere in our recent history, the role of the politician in the United States stopped being about active and adequate governance, and transitioned toward insuring one's re-election.  It's as if all the dumb popular kids who got voted into high school class presidencies are now continuing their quest toward the Capital Building.  And strapped to the backs of their campaigns is Jesus, all fluffed up and ready for his close up.  We've spent years, YEARS, of accusing Obama of being a secret Muslim, with no one pointing out that being Muslim isn't a fucking bad thing!!!  I mean, it certainly isn't any worse than Christianity.

How many times did the president go to Church? God commands us in the Bible to legislate this way. God requires us to show ID to get into heaven, so we should also need photo ID to vote.  God wants marriage to be this way.  God says, "Give money."

In the words of Queen Elizabeth in Shakespeare in Love, "Have care with my name -- you'll wear it out."
(My own proof that God doesn't exist is that if she/he did exist, she/he would be able to hear everything being carrying out in her/his name -- and would immediately become an atheist.)

If I may go back to one of those God messages from above.  The marriage one.  The "gay people are an abomination" one. This one pisses me off the most.

If you believe in God, you can't believe that God holds exceptions to his rules.  Especially the golden one.  Treat others as you would like to be treated.  It's not a perfect guideline, but it's great start.  This doesn't mean that you treat everyone you already like nicely, and then you shit all over people who disagree with you.  Your all loving God isn't the embodiment of all compassion and acceptance except if your son is gay, and then God is all get the hell out.

Rule of Thumb: If the sign you're holding (literally or metaphorically) starts with "God hates . . .," you're lying to yourself.  You hate. YOU. Take some God damn responsibility for yourself.  God isn't your co-pilot so you can tell the cops that the drugs in the car are his/hers.  God, when done right, isn't an excuse or a fortune teller or even a wish granter.  God is about allowing for faith, and faith is disconnected from the material world.

 ____________________

So here I am, back in my recliner, trying to figure out what I should have done differently.  As I walk the line between my heart and my mind, I wonder how I can avoid this burgeoning avocado plant next year?  Obviously my general inclination towards optimism and community draws me powerfully towards breaking bread with my family over these Jewish holidays.  But, in the same way that I couldn't pretend that the summer camp rabbi's message resonated, I can't ignore that celebrating my religion is perpetuating an institution I am resolutely against.  I'm not gonna be one of those vegans that pretends their isn't really dairy in milk chocolate cause they really want a KitKat. 

I know you think the big reveal is coming.  The part where I share my answer which is both reasonable and so out of the box awesome that you can't believe someone hadn't thought of it before. Cause, like, that's what I do.  When it comes to religion, however, people have thought about it for a long as time without finding sufficient answers.  I am still in the midst of a butt-load of inner turmoil over this issue.  I realize I can pick and choose, it's my prerogative.  Is it hypocritical? Absolutely.  But when I lay out of all the hypocrisies I could be -- and we've all got some -- appreciating time with family against my intellectual disdain for the religious occasion bringing us together, is one I can live with.  At least for now. But, to paraphrase a famous fake Russian, as a long term solution it all feels, "So. Un. Satisfying.

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