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? 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.
( Huh, that wasn’t supposed to be a pun)