What I Think About Me Being Religious

So since I mentioned this as being “complicated and interesting and a subject for possibly another post” a few days ago, I’ve actually been thinking about it a lot.  I figure this is an appropriate topic for a Friday.  If I’m lucky, I’ve timed this so most of the applicable people will have time to read it, but not enough time to formulate a counter-attack and you’ll have to wait for Shabbat to be over, at which point the wind will have fallen from your sails.

Yes, I’m an evil genius.  (insert appropriately angry/ridiculous face here)

Ever since getting involved with theater at Bar Ilan (auditions for Blithe Spirit are on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday!), religion has sort of been in my face a lot more than any time since my Bar Mitzvah, and possibly even more than that.  It’s not a bad thing, but it does make you think in directions you might not normally.  Particularly when people keep assuming you’re religious when you’re not.

So I should start this, I guess, with an important distinction: becoming religious and learning about my religion are two different things.  When done in good faith, I never have a problem with learning about anything, and the traditions and history that connect your ancestors should probably be pretty high on the list for anyone to want to learn about.  I do feel like I’m lacking in certain basic knowledge about Judaism, and I think I’d always invite an environment that lets me learn more.

But that’s approaching things academically, as an outsider.  Knowing the Hebrew dates of holidays that aren’t Lag B’omer or Tisha B’av doesn’t make one religious, it makes one knowledgeable.  So what would it take for me to bridge that gap?

Something I’ve always prided myself on is the fact that I don’t give in to outside pressure very easily.  I’m internally consistent, and if I do something it’s usually because I’ve decided it fits with how I already felt, and not because I’ve changed my mind on anything.  Either that or I’ve justified it by laziness, but again that’s an internal decision and not something that came from outside, and will tend to work against a decision to uphold Jewish traditions more stringently anyway.  In the end, if I should decide that this is the path for me, I’m confident it will be because I think it’s the right way for me to go, and not because  I just happen to be around a bunch of religious people or because someone pressured me into it.  That’s not the kind of person I am.

Another thing I like about myself is that I try to treat everything with the respect it deserves.  Which means “the traditions and history that connect your ancestors,” most definitely, deserves a great deal of respect.  I think there are people out there (not too many, but they do exist) who claim to be religious, but in their execution end up more making a farce of their religion.  I’m not willing to do that.  Which means I’m likely to scare myself off at some point even after I’ve made a hypothetical decision to become religious, if I feel like whatever I’m doing is more damaging to Judaism than helping it.

All of the above likely contributes to the fact that people seem to assume I’m religious, sometimes even after they know for a fact that I’m not.  Which is weird, because they’re technically arguments against.  So what are the arguments for?

Well, I think Judaism can be split into two categories.  There’s the spirituality, and there’s upholding and passing on traditions.  Like I said, I freely admit that I don’t know all that much about Judaism, so this could be an overly simplistic representation, but it’s how I see things right now.

So spirituality.  “Not giving in to outside pressure” works against this.  By this point in my life, I’ve decided pretty strongly what I believe about the universe.  I’m pretty fervently agnostic: I like the idea that something is out there, but I don’t like the idea of people trying to define it.  I don’t think that’s going to change, and I have no idea how compatible that is with Judaism.  Therein comes the “respect” part.  If I don’t believe in a God as described in the Torah, do I have any place to even try to be religious?  With the foreknowledge that I’m probably never going to align my way of thinking with what the religion tells me to?  Is that dealing in bad faith[1]?  That’s a decision that will come with a deeper knowledge of Judaism, and not something someone else will be able to tell me.  Which goes back to Point #1.

Then there’s traditions.  Notice that prior to introducing these two categories, I used the word “spirituality” not even once, but used “tradition” three times.  This is a much stronger argument for me, because it feeds precisely into my motivations.  Heck, independently of this I described myself on this very blog as “an archiver, a pack-rat, a keeper of those things which do not seem important now but may be in the future.”  Why did I choose to move to this country?  Why do I choose to defend it?  There are a lot of reasons, but they all lead back, in some form or another, to maintaining a link to the past.

So there’s your answer, I guess.  If I ever choose to become religious, it will be because I’ve reconciled my non-belief on the one hand, and have decided that the best way for me to maintain that link is to actively uphold Jewish traditions on the other.

I don’t know if that’s ever going to happen.  I know that it won’t in the near future: it would require a lifestyle change on my part, and I don’t think I can do that while I’m still in the army.  But I can’t imagine what would cause me to move in that direction in the long-term either.  It’s not a goal I’m aiming for, it’s just a hypothetical place I may find myself at some point.  A possibility that I’m not willing to shut myself from, but that I don’t really think is in the cards.

So there it is.  Nothing good, nothing bad, just… how I look at the subject of religion.  Take it as you will.

([1] Huh, that wasn’t supposed to be a pun)

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4 Responses to What I Think About Me Being Religious

  1. Carlos says:

    Here I am… the house is a wreck, I still need to shower, I have to activate the shabbos flusher, but instead I am sitting down to write a reply.

    Why? Honestly, just because it thwarts your evil plan :-)

    I personally have always felt that Judaism is split up into two separate factors… how one acts towards other people and how one acts towards G-d.

    It has always bothered me that there are those who jump to judge others for lacking in their observance of laws that pertain between man and G-d. No one has the right to criticize others for what they are capable of doing.

    However, if you treat someone else poorly, beat your wife, pop a child’s balloon, or kill Jamaicans simply for the fun of it, that is something that I feel we have a right to judge about. I would not want to be friends with someone who makes it a point to pop children’s balloons. It’s mean.

    Having said that, we like you. You’re nice to others (even when you threaten to kill them through song) and all around a good person, in our opinions. What you choose to believe/do is your call and we will never think less of you for it, even if we personally disagree. You will still be our friend/accomplice and our house will always be open to you for Shabbos, not to pressure you into anything, but just for us to share with you what we believe, no strings attached.

    Shabbat Shalom!

    • fishamaphone says:

      Hey, I’m nice to others *particularly* when I threaten to kill them through song.

      I should maybe clarify here that I’ve never felt that anyone from BIAS has actually tried to pressure me into anything. That part was meant more as an assurance than an accusation. It was about that tendency that people have to try to fit in with a new group of people by adopting some of their attitudes and values, even if they contradict previously-held beliefs. To some extent that sort of thing happens to everyone when they’re in a new group that has very distinct characteristics, and a lot of people don’t even notice it in themselves. Sometimes when you’re with a group of people you really enjoy, you just subconsciously want to be more like them.

      Good luck activating the flusher.

  2. ZivW says:

    I counterattack with an Empowered Fireball – a mere five minutes before Shabbat!

  3. Pingback: Pesach | Fiction, Almost Fiction, and Fact

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