Godly lucubrations of a latitudinarian

August 22, 2010 at 1:22 PM 3 comments


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Every so often, especially during a sleepless night, I end up thinking about God. I wonder if I am simply the chump who took her early religious training too seriously or the dupe who is still stuck in intellectual puberty. No amount of severe rational rebuke, though — from myself or others — ever really succeeds in making me kick the idea of God to the curb where every other ideological notion I’ve ever entertained has ended up.

Thrown into a pit or living until ninety-eight

If only I could settle this inner controversy I have about God, I think I would be all right with the world. I would no longer have to torment myself with thoughts about the Holocaust, or about the civilized Europeans who elevated murder to a kind of holy secular principle. I would accept that God had a plan for us that is beyond my comprehension. I could assimilate the scores of other mass national murders too that burst through ordinary life with extraordinary regularity in just about every corner of the world except in the one where I have the good fortune to live. I would believe that each one of us has a reason for being on earth for a certain period of time, and that living for five minutes before being thrown alive into a pit is every bit as meaningful as making it to the age of ninety-eight in the loving bosom of your family.

On the surface of things, I’ve put my doubts about God to rest by living an observant Jewish life. I abstain from eating food that the Torah says is forbidden to us. I light candles every Sabbath and honor the day by not shopping, working, writing or using electricity. I brought up my son to behave in the same way. But I never accept with complete faith that the decision I made to act like a believing Jew is anything more than an act. I wish I didn’t feel this way, but I would be lying if I held up my faith to others as a fortress against the doubts and rational thinking that never cease to plague me.

To conform or not to conform
If I am honest with myself, I think I am what some seventeenth-century English theologians called a latitudinarian. In effect, I conform to the normative behavior of my religious group without truly believing in all of its doctrinal underpinnings. I do so because conforming gives me a community to belong to and a middle-class way of thinking that gets me up and out to a job every day.

I remember what my life was before I took on this religious observance. In my “godless” twenties, I put very few controls on my behavior. My actions, however, did not lead to the adult life I sought, a life with a companion, children and social commitments.

So, by my early thirties, I wandered back to the religious observance I learned from my parents. The resumption of my old habits came a little too late to offset the years I’d wasted, but I was lucky enough to create some facsimile of a life I desired. If I hadn’t gone back to being observant, I really think I would be living my bohemian life to this day: Working at some underachieving, low-wage job so that I would have time to do my real work as a writer; living in a studio apartment in a marginal neighborhood; indulging my childless life by going to the movies and the theater every night, and feeling alienated from my God-fearing parents.

When I look at people from my generation who chose to remain “true” to their youthful ideals, I do not envy them. They are like perpetual children too stubborn to have evaluated the ideas they formulated about the world when they were seventeen.

Vanquishing my ambivalence about God
Religion — the institution that the secular world maligns as the purveyor of narrow-minded thinking — is the very force that rescued me from a life of childlessness, low-level work and a shallow relationship with two people I love more than anyone else but my son.

Yet my actions, so many of them derived from the decision I made to be “godly,” do not in any way vanquish my confusion about God. Maybe all we are is a freak of evolution, and we simply have evolved into creatures who need to believe in God. Maybe human nature has certain laws that reward moderation and punish excess, the same way that our physical reality is constrained by gravity and the law of thermodynamics.

All I can say is that the most severe or flippant attack on the idea of God does not budge Him out of my mind one jot and a tittle. He is there for me to harass until the day I go on to well, God only knows where.

Wordle

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Entry filed under: Bookpod, God, Judaism, Religion. Tags: , , , , , , .

Getting ready for Phase Two I meet bizarro me at the gym

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Brother Sol  |  August 23, 2010 at 1:53 PM

    Sister Barbara….. if we’re freaks of evolution, then who or whatever was resposible for our present state of being did a heck of a job. Because we’re symetrical beings, everything is just right. Skin, so soft, ten fingers and toes where they belong, a mouth for eating and speaking, other bodily organs that are placed just in the right places for our continued well being. Of course, some of us have been given brains that are lacking in so many departments, but that’s food for thought in another one of your blogs. Plenty of health issues still plague our humanity, but one day, maybe even in the distant future, a totaly diseased free society will be the norm.
    Was G-d responsible for our existence? Have advanced aliens played a part in our development, both genetically and technologically? In my opinion, it doesn’t really matter. We’ve been given an opportunity to experience and enjoy the ‘ride’. There’s never even a limit on distance and speed. Anytime, we can either step on the gas, or apply pressure to the brakes. Low gear and high gear are two other options. So far, in this ( country )environment, we’re pretty much in control.
    Now, for the rest of what I have to say about Judaism and the afterlife, go to this website and you’ll find a wealth of information that may help answer many of your questioning.

    http://www.jewfaq.org/olamhaba.htm

    Just remeber, ‘Judaism is primarily focused on life here and now rather than on the afterlife’.Just be a good person, as I’m sure you are, and simply ‘ enjoy the ride ‘.

    Reply
  • 2. Thomas Evans  |  August 23, 2010 at 5:52 PM

    “We’re symetrical beings, everything is just right. Skin, so soft, ten fingers and toes where they belong, a mouth for eating and speaking, other bodily organs that are placed just in the right places for our continued well being.”

    This quote from above displays evolution at work. If our mouths were on our feet, it would be hard to eat and difficult to speak. It would be more efficient to have our mouths closer to our tummys, but its placement works okay for us.

    We are not freaks, of evolution or anything else. We are simply the way we have evolved, including excess organs, useless DNA, and all. “Freaks” in nature usually die because they cannot cope with their environment. And dying, they do not reproduce and pass on their freaky genes.

    As to gods, they come and go. Maybe the appeal of having gods is to give one an edge over others and nature. The team prays to win and not be hurt. The soldier prays to live and fight another day. When a child lives, it’s because a god was watching over it, and when a child dies, it is god’s will. If you’re religious, you can have it both ways.

    Some think that a god will answer a prayer. I think the value of praying is in the focusing and finding a solution to a trouble. The same thing happens when one sleeps on a problem and finds its resolution upon waking up.

    I’ve never heard of an amputee growing a replacement limb by praying. Maybe the gods don’t care for damaged bodies. And I’ve never heard of a prayer being answered that could not be explained in a rational way. I don’t think praying affects anything beyond one’s self.

    Could not “the very force that rescued me from a life of childlessness, low-level work and a shallow relationship with two people I love more than anyone else but my son” simply be the result of maturing, the putting away of childish thoughts and behavior?

    I do not think that religion promotes “narrow-mindedness.” There is much beauty in religious rituals, art, and music. Surely some religious practices expand one’s talents, promotes love and caring, and provides appreciation of what we find in our lives.

    If there is narrow-mindedness in religion, it probably comes from its application toward self-interest, prejudice, and bias. I want something and cheat to get it, then justify my action with some religious assumption or quotation. That’s what suicide bombers and racists do.

    Reply
    • 3. Bookpod  |  August 23, 2010 at 6:08 PM

      Great comment, Thomas. I adhere to the theory of evolution, but also think there is some kind of moral force in the world. Where it came from, how it got here, whether it arrived before or after the Big Bang — I can’t say. I guess I can live with a lot of ambivalence and doubt — and still feel close to the religious practices I have known since I was little. — Thanks so much for reading and commenting.

      Reply

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