Sunday, May 22, 2005

How Religious Are You?

Recently I was asked by someone "How religious are you?" It was off the cuff and was a rather unexpected thing to hear. Being in my situation as I am, I wasn't sure how to answer. I shrugged it off easily though with a joke response and the conversation soon went onto other topics.

A few days later I thought of the question and of course the answer that first came to me was "not very much at all." I don't believe in dogmas and faith is unattractive to me. But thinking again, the question wasn't "How much faith do you have?" but "How religious are you?" So I went to check up the definition of religious.

Going to the American Heritage Dictionary online I found:

1. Having or showing belief in and reverence for God or a deity.
2. Of, concerned with, or teaching religion: a religious text.
3. Extremely scrupulous or conscientious: religious devotion to duty.

Clearly number one doesn't fit me at all and number three is off scope, but what about number two? I am extremely concerned with religion. How many people spend hours of their valuable time each week turning over questions of faith and duty and history of religion? How many people create a blog and spread their thoughts about these issues for the world to see?

Not that many.

Most people simply accept their given religion and go with it. They don't think much of it at all and they just go through life simply assuming it to be true. These people aren't even very religious, they just aren't interested and they don't question.

Compared to those people then, I am incredibly religious as far as definition two is concerned.

Food for thought.


avian30 said...

I run into precisely the same dilemma each time the topic of how religious I am arises in discussions I have with friends.

I ordinarily answer that I am not very religious in beliefs, but I am religious in practices.

Vilda Chaya said...

My mother told me it saddens it her that I don't give a damn about Judaism. I asked her much time people genereally devote to that which they don't give a damn. I do not believe in god, but my Judaism is a huge part of me. I am very Jewish.
I am religious by defintion 2. I guess. I am very concerned with the teaching of religion, especially to my son. Does it detract from my religiousity because we are very clear on the fact that religion is a man-made construct? We are not god-beleivers or rules followers. My mother says it is clear that we don't care of Judaism because we eat bread on Pesach. I think that is a limited view. I look forward to teaching my son more about the stories as he grows and can grasp more. We have seders and eat tradtional foods. We take what we want and don't fear the wrath of an angry god for the rules we don't want to follow.

Okay, that was a book. Sorry. I could have just said I like your action Judaism idea. :-)

Sarah said...

I smiled a lot when I read this. Ever since I've gotten back from Israel, everyone I know thinks I'm super religious. Part of it is the fact that I learn like a madman. I'll sit down with a mishna before I turn on a tv - unless the Yankees are playing. I'm going to do a Beit Midrash Program this summer. I'm making aliya one day in the future. Also, because it's obvious that I wasn't brainwashed in Israel (I still wear pants, I go to movies, I (gasp!) talk to guys, I go to a secular college, etc.), people think that I'm completely secure with Orthodoxy in the standard way that they see it. While I do identify as Orthodox, it's definitely not the way most of my friends identify themselves of Orthodoxy. One of them keeps calling me a Tzadeket. Others will comment how I'm so much "better" than them. I get very uncomfortable every time they say this. Visibly so. They all think it's because I'm modest. And I guess I don't do much to protest. What am I going to say, you know?

Rebeljew said...

Dictionaries are bad sources for personal questions. They only tell us how words were used in the past, not how they are meant when posed.

What do you think the person was really asking? Was that person a lost soul reaching out, as if to say, I have problems with my religion too? Then again, given the way that Judaism is aught today, how can anyone with an elementary school education not have a problem?

Orthoprax said...


I don't think the person had any deep issues that she was bringing up. It wasn't asked in confidence, there were other people in the room (and I wasn't the only person asked) and she didn't seem very serious when asking.

I think she meant it in the way of "How important do you rank religion in your life?" Nothing too deep at all.

I was just exploring the question on other levels.


I'm slowly coming to the view that perhaps true and good religion isn't about sticking to a dogma but of unending learning and probing to find out the deepest secrets and wonders of the world.

You may not be "orthodox" but you do embody this wonder and striving for understanding that most orthodox don't care to find or suppose they already have. You are just and care for others and you concern yourself deeply over issues of integrity and morality.

You may not be "orthodox" but I wouldn't say that tzadeket is so far off either.

Rebeljew said...

Perhaps it is time to accept that all of us are nonreligious, by these definitions, to a large extent. We disbelieve, even reject outright, the vast majority of belief systems and religions in the world. I believe it was Shaw who said that an atheist is a person who believes in one less god than you do.

So what we mean by religious is "devoted to our particular religious belief." I would agree with you that that is a lifelong neverending quest, more than a snapshot label.

It is hard enough being a rationalist in today's frum world, without having to live up to a particular standard at every moment.