Sunday, March 06, 2005

Doubting Doubts

There are times when I doubt my very own faculties. The reason why I doubt is because I find that the evidence for the claims of religions is lacking. And oftentimes there is evidence against religious claims. But that's just what I think. Maybe I am the fool from Proverbs who believes what he thinks is right in his own eyes. Maybe I can't recognize the evidence. Maybe I'm just not smart enough to know it was evidence even if it landed on my doorstep.

I also sometimes doubt my own doubts because if God exists and is the eminent mysterious entity that people claim him to be, who am I to have the gall to demand to understand? If human cognition simply isn't powerful enough to understand the ways of God then it would make sense that some faith would be needed in any case to follow him. Perhaps there is a reason in the ultimate mysterious wisdom of God for why the evidence is the way it is.

And who am I to go against 3000 years of Jewish history? For millennia Jews have believed, who am I to tell them they are wrong?

And sometimes I wonder if all this is even worth it. Why do I stress so much about such unknowns or unknowables? Simple faith is so calming. Doubt is not fun. And such doubt leads to so many potential problems. I need to lead this secret double life that no one who I love and care about can find out for fear that they will come to despise and reject me. And I don’t plan on ever leaving Jewish life, it’s a big part of who I am, so why are such ephemeral and intangible things like "beliefs" so important?

We only have a few years on Earth. I’m twenty years old and if I’m lucky I can probably expect to live until I’m 80. I’m already a quarter dead. Is it worth spending so much time on what is ultimately unprofitable and unrewarded work? Why is the "truth" ultimately valuable? Some have argued that given the choice they would prefer taking the blue pill and living in happiness, if I’d be happier not knowing, why should I keep looking for truth?

11 comments:

DNA said...

The truth will set you free.

Orthoprax said...

A wonderful platitude. Is it really true?

Mis-nagid said...

It is if you leave. Blissfully ignoring frumkeit is just as relaxing as ignoring Mormonhood. And why wouldn't it be?

Orthoprax said...

Misnagid,

Because I'm not and never have been a Mormon. If it were so simple then this blog would not exist.

Mis-nagid said...

I hear. However, I see a distinct difference between leaving frumkeit and leaving Judaism. It's the former I'd expect you to be happier with.

Orthoprax said...

In my life, meaning for most of the people around me, frumkeit and Judaism are virtually the same thing. I can't just pick up and leave.

While my mind may be clearer now without much of the nonsense from today's orthodoxy, I still miss it. And I wonder if I could do it over again, would I do it the same way?

Probably.

Ben Sorer Moreh said...

OP, great post. I see four "dilemmas" here. (and I'm gonna ramble a bit.)

1. In a culture that emphasizes that one can "sin" with "the thoughts in one's heart," what "beliefs" do you allow myself to harbor? Are some beliefs "wrong" or "bad?"

2. In a culture which places tremendous importance on conformity in thought and deed (question #1 in sizing someone up; "how frum is s/he?") what beliefs do you admit to your family and friends?

3. In a community that (exists as an island in a highly liberal and individualistic greater society) and expects adherence to a restrictive and exclusionary lifestyle based on the genuineness of a set of beliefs, if I don't believe, how much of this lifestyle do I want encroaching on my personal life.

4. I'm about to choose an adult lifestyle, perhaps a life partner, what choice do I make? If I choose a life and partner different from what my parents and teachers had in mind, what do I gain, what do I lose and how do I find what I'm looking for?

[Quick bio - I'm 40-something, married and grew up frum, have been "frei" for 15 years, so that's where I'm coming from.]

My thoughts/opinions regarding question 1. You're entitled to your own thoughts. You're entitled to "believe" today and "not believe" tomorrow. Please don't beat yourself up over this.

Now comes the interesting part: Unlike a kid or teen in his parent's care (e.g., Elky and Frimcha) or someone married, with kids (Shtriemel, Hasidic Rebel) you have a window of opportunity. If you so desire, you can tell your family and buddies what you do or don't believe (if you feel the need to tell them or of they're quizzing you, otherwise, perhaps, it's none of their business anyway.)

What's really stopping you from committing to taking a few years off for yourself? Do what you want? You might lose friends, some but not all, I'd reckon. Your family may or may not want to accept your new lifestyle, but this is a reflection on them, not you. Like it? Stay that way. Regret it? Come back as a baal-teshuvah, with all honors and privileges associated with that. Afraid you might die before you repent? Pu-leeze. Frum or frei, your "balance" won't be off by that much. There are 613 mitzvot, people grapple with only three (kashrut, shabbat and sexuality, OK-four if you count shaving with a razor.)

Which comes to the choice of partner. I struggled with this growing up. All I could express to my parents was "I want a modern girl, one who won't cover her hair." I took a lot of grief over this and my parents seemed to do everything possible to not reveal to other parties what I really wanted. (The number of times my mom begged me to wear a hat on the first date...I'm sure the same was going on among my peers or potential mates.) Perhaps you could commit to waiting a couple of years. (Alternatively, is there an "OrthoSkeptic" check box on JDate? Is there an OrthoSkeptic dating service? Footsteps, are you listening?)

In any case, it's your mind, it's your thoughts, it's your life. Live it. If God cares, s/he's seen a whole lot worse and you're forgiven, Kal vaHomer if s/he doesn't.

[Fellow shkatzim, I'm writing from my gut, from my immediate feelings. If you feel that I'm off-base or am steering OP into dangerous territory, please weigh in.]

Hazak veematz (may the force be with you.)

"Ben"

Orthoprax said...

Ben,

"In a culture that emphasizes that one can "sin" with "the thoughts in one's heart," what "beliefs" do you allow myself to harbor? Are some beliefs "wrong" or "bad?""

I do think there are such things as bad beliefs, e.g. racism, I don't think that doubting religious claims is in any way an immoral act. But I know that others would disagree.

"what beliefs do you admit to your family and friends?"

Slim to none. I have a few friends who I share a little with. A couple a bit more. I don't even discuss politics with my parents.

"if I don't believe, how much of this lifestyle do I want encroaching on my personal life."

Yeah, see that's a kicker. But it's not just about encroachment, that's only part of it. I also feel very connected with much of Jewish life. I would hate to leave it. But how do I merge these practices without the traditional meanings behind them? Should I even try?

"I'm about to choose an adult lifestyle, perhaps a life partner...what do I gain, what do I lose and how do I find what I'm looking for?"

That's also a big question for me. Ideally I would push it all off for awhile, that's my plan for the life partner part (we'll see how well that works..) but things are happening so fast, or maybe that's just how it seems.

"What's really stopping you from committing to taking a few years off for yourself?"

Not much - except I'm not sure I want to do that. I don't think I want to leave Jewish life.

"Your family may or may not want to accept your new lifestyle, but this is a reflection on them, not you."

True - but that doesn't change the negative effects it will have. Those don't go away just because it's not something that I did wrong.

"Perhaps you could commit to waiting a couple of years."

I've been waiting on that for several months already. It's hard at times.

"(Alternatively, is there an "OrthoSkeptic" check box on JDate? Is there an OrthoSkeptic dating service? Footsteps, are you listening?)"

Ha! I've looked! 'Fraid not.

"In any case, it's your mind, it's your thoughts, it's your life. Live it."

Sure. But what kind of life do I want to live? That's the question.

"If God cares, s/he's seen a whole lot worse and you're forgiven, Kal vaHomer if s/he doesn't."

I'm not really worried about that. If God is real, I'm less worried about punishment than I am simply a feeling as if I failed him. Like I'm a disappointment. Just goes to show you how God is probably nothing more than a grand father figure.

-Orthoprax

Ben Sorer Moreh said...

OP, the way frumkeit can twist your mind into knots alternatively makes me angry, sad and sometimes amused.

Can you participate in "Jewish Life" without traditional meanings? I believe that you can. I don't keep strict kashrut, but I avoid pork, not necessarily because of halacha, or anything that would happen to me if I ate it, but because it's an ancient Jewish cultural custom that I've undertaken to uphold (or it's because of the movie "Babe.") That rabbi you chatted with (I skimmed that post, so I may not have gotten it 100%) also seemed to do what he did not necessarily because of some underlying "truth," but because that's the tradition of the people he identifies with (and if they were polytheistic, he'd probably be, as well.)

The part that makes me mad is the idea that there's only one kind "Jewish life," that changing the way you relate to it in any way is "leaving" and that "leaving" is permanent, one-way and irrevocable. The other thing that bugs me is the "disappointment" idea. In most "western" cultures, young people are expected to experiment with defining who they are and it's perfectly OK for them to end up, temporarily or permanently in a different place than their families. That's why kids go away to college or play "hipster" in Williamsburg. In the "Jewish life" that you were brought up, this is anathema, of course. I don't believe that struggling, changing and re-inventing yourself is "failure." (BTW, I've struggled with this and sometimes still do. I've also worked on this with a "shrink" and suggest that you consider this, as well. It's not a sign of weekness, it's a sign of awareness.)

I believe that another thing that you need to do is expose yourself to role models, people who've dealt with these issues, preferably successfully and made changes (or adaptations) in their lives. At the very least, check out that organization "Footsteps."

To the rest of you out there, would you please throw in your two cents regarding OP and his predicament?

Hang in there.

Orthoprax said...

Ben,

"Can you participate in "Jewish Life" without traditional meanings? I believe that you can."

I think you misunderstand. I know that one _can_ do so, I'm just troubled with how to combine the two. And it isn't just with minor issues like not eating pork, but what about going to shul shabbos morning? How am I not a hypocrite in praying to something which I don't even think exists?

"...seemed to do what he did not necessarily because of some underlying "truth," but because that's the tradition of the people he identifies with..."

Perhaps, but how does one justify that to one's children? I don't really believe this, but I do it anyway - and you should too. But why, Dad?

Is it enough to say "Because we're Jews and this is what Jews do"?

"It's not a sign of weekness, it's a sign of awareness."

Hehe! That sounds just like something a shrink would say. ;-)

"I believe that another thing that you need to do is expose yourself to role models, people who've dealt with these issues, preferably successfully and made changes (or adaptations) in their lives."

I'm familiar with the stories of people and I know that once I make a decision I can make it work either way. It's the decision that's bugging me right now.

On the one hand I can live according to my own thoughts but have my family be so disappointed of me. On the other hand, I can have good relationships with the people I care about but keep my thoughts to myself. But also mixed in there is the fact that I really don't want to leave Jewish life - but I feel like I can't stay here either.

Maybe I should be a guy who says what he wants and does what he wants and doesn't care if the actions don't correspond perfectly with what he says. Maybe I worry too much about that. The apikorus who goes to shul - not because he believes it is intrinsically valuable but because he's Jewish, he values traditional Jewish life, and he wishes to keep it a part of who he his.

"At the very least, check out that organization "Footsteps.""

I've seen what they do. They serve people who need help adapting to the world outside frumkeit. I don't need that. My parents are Modern Orthodox, I go to college. If need be I could leave tomorrow and be fine on my own (though perhaps with some given monetary considerations).

My troubles are just about the decisions that need to be made. Though I really see myself just doing as I've been doing. Staying kind of luke-warm as it were. It's not so bad.

Ben Sorer Moreh said...

OP,
>but what about going to shul shabbos morning? How am I not a hypocrite in praying to something which I don't even think exists?

You could go because you enjoy the company or the singing and it's a "ritual," like the things one does at a ball game. Of course, that changes the "do or die" nature of your relationship to that activity...

>Perhaps, but how does one justify that to one's children? I don't really believe this, but I do it anyway - and you should too. But why, Dad?

>Is it enough to say "Because we're Jews and this is what Jews do"?

Yes, "some Jews do A and some Jews do B. Some Jews do A and B and some Jews do none of the above. I choose [whatever my heart tells me at the moment] and that is what I want to teach you. As you grow up, you can choose whichever path you wish and I'll love you just the same."

I'm familiar with the stories of people and I know that once I make a decision I can make it work either way. It's the decision that's bugging me right now.

>You've already made the decision, to explore and to question. You don't need to make any others right now.

>On the one hand I can live according to my own thoughts but have my family be so disappointed of me.

Correct, but again, your right and their problem.

>On the other hand, I can have good relationships with the people I care about but keep my thoughts to myself.

Also an option, but are your thoughts really so bad? (I know the answer, they'll send you to speak with a Rav who might be able to "fix" you.)

>But also mixed in there is the fact that I really don't want to leave Jewish life - but I feel like I can't stay here either.

I don't believe that you'll need to "leave" and "Jewish life" is a lot bigger than you imagine. Start by picking up the following: The Forward, The Jewish Week, Moment magazine.

>Maybe I should be a guy who says what he wants and does what he wants and doesn't care if the actions don't correspond perfectly with what he says. Maybe I worry too much about that. The apikorus who goes to shul - not because he believes it is intrinsically valuable but because he's Jewish, he values traditional Jewish life, and he wishes to keep it a part of who he his.

Definitely an option


>I've seen what they do. They serve people who need help adapting to the world outside frumkeit. I don't need that.

But the woman who runs it is a 20-something college grad who may be able to refer you to the people and resources that you need.

>My parents are Modern Orthodox, I go to college. If need be I could leave tomorrow and be fine on my own (though perhaps with some given monetary considerations).

You could work, you could take out some student loans. Or you can wait until you're done with school.

>My troubles are just about the decisions that need to be made. Though I really see myself just doing as I've been doing. Staying kind of luke-warm as it were. It's not so bad.

Again, the decision you've already made is the only one you need to make right now.