Personal reflections on the evolution of my religious progress; what does being Jewish mean to me, anyway?

nooooote to self and world: this post is a rough draft written roughly a year ago; I don’t remember writing it, and guess what, I don’t know why I’m posting it either. Needs some serious editing, my friend(s). My tight circle of readers has disappeared here in the last 2-3 years since I’ve been posting, anyway. What’s the point, you might well ask? Alas, I might well lash out at you with my pen, or scoff in your general direction. Writing blog posts is fun and fun things need no justification.

Anyway, it’s time to rebuild and be reborn, me thinks. I shall return to you at some point, O Jerusalem. And, as David the Psalmist once famously noted- if I forget thee, let my right hand wither away. The intensity! Hey, does it count if I’m a leftie? More importantly, did you know that out of the last 7 presidents of this fine fine union, 5 of them were left handed? But that is neither here nor there because this post is not about politics. Politics is my true passion, yes, but this post is about God above. Now, I used to get a few comments here every once in a while — maybe I can pimp this place out and return to that point in time. Except these days I’m older and better looking and I could write better if I put my mind to it and on rainy days like these I’m modest as a sinner in the hands of an angry god.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sometime within the last week I was having a friendly, candid discussion with someone I’d met just a few hours earlier, while strolling leisurely through one of the more beautiful lawns on campus. Those are the best kinds of conversations; interesting how the most lively ones always seem to take place while walking. Maybe it’s just me, though, given my tendency to pace feverishly up and down my room whenever I’m lost in thought (which is often… you should feel sorry for my dad, whose room is located directly below mine).

Anywayyyy, this particular walking conversation was devoted mostly to the subject of modern Judaism, namely, which form of Judaism is “purest” and most “legitimate.” My new-found friend was and is an orthodox Jew. Both of us were raised in relatively orthodox households, attended relatively orthodox schools, and up until the last few years associated almost exclusively with what’s known as the “modern orthodox” community. He has retained both his ostensibly religious lifestyle, and the belief in God/the divine revelation of religious texts that almost always comes with it. For better or worse, his religious views and lifestyle, and I guess his general outlook on life, haven’t changed much since he was a kid. (I’m not being disparaging when I say this- he admitted as much to me right off the bat.) Mine, however, most certainly have, and in the last 5 or so years have shifted rapidly back and forth quicker and more dramatically than anyone’s religious outlook possibly can. That might be somewhat of an exaggeration, but the point is that I went from what I then considered to be one end of the spectrum, to somewhere in between, to the opposite end of the spectrum, and finally to a sort of weird but unique middle ground arguably off the spectrum in its entirety. It’s a ground that I’m finally comfortable with. Yes, my friends, it’s been a wild ride, a rollercoaster of faith and doubt and everything in between.

After we were done playing Jewish geography and marveling at how we’d never really known each other despite the vast amount of mutual friends which we share, the conversation soon reached a slightly more contentious tone. Basically, I summed up briefly the history of my religious evolution: from your standard modern orthodox (conservadox, maybe? I don’t know) Jewish kid, to a 13 year old obsessed with everything related to Jewish spirituality and intent on, and I quote from something I wrote at the time, “spending my life with God,” to a hardcore atheist and angry anti-theist at the age of 15-16, to a sort of mellowed out agnostic still more or less unaffiliated with the faith (except in social circles) and set on the belief that religion’s effects in the world are primarily dangerous and adverse. And finally, we reach the ground upon which I stand today. I won’t quite give my views away right now — I’ll keep you guessing so as to retain interest and viewership (aren’t I devious?) — but I will tell you the following: my views on religion and its place in the world are far more balanced, nuanced, and level headed than they’ve ever been before.

Granted… I still believe that religion has and continues to cause/threaten some of the most severe crises which humanity faces today. I maintain that one the greatest threats to mankind is the potential for religious fanatics to get hold of, and use, nuclear weapons. And I resent the push for subservience to a totalitarian ideology ruled ultimately by some invisible deity in the sky who watches your every move… think the NSA spying controversy except all powerful, eternal, and the ability – nay, the desire to punish you with some kind of eternal retribution if you disobey His infallible list of demands. (Oh, but he is also your heavenly Father and he loves you very, very much. Harumph. Talk about daddy issues.)

I like to think that after teenage years defined in large part by the turmoil of my religious identity or lack thereof, I’ve finally found my place in the Jewish culture. Notice how I used the word culture and not religion. This was a deliberate move and will go on to form the focal point of what I’m trying to impart upon the world, and by that I mean the handful of facebook friends that are actually still reading this. Thanks, guys, you make me feel oh so loved and special and generally worthwhile. Glad to know I’m not just writing for myself. More in the future on where I stand in the grand scheme of cultural Jewishness. Wherever I am, something tells me I’ll always be shifting – that my identity isn’t quite fluid; that the grounds on which I stand, if not quite shakily founded, are at the very least not set in stone. Who knows – maybe I’ll flip out and go all out Rabbinic on the world. I wouldn’t be the first in my family and I damn well wouldn’t be the last. But ideologically I’m just too far gone right now. Yes, I may have forged a heretical pact with the secular devil, but all that really means is that I admire Freud, Marx, and Einstein instead of a set of ancient Rabbis. Freud, Marx, Einstein – all atheists, you know. And incidentally, all 3 of them are Jewish. Perhaps I’ve got a path to emulate after all.

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