Monday, August 29, 2005

My Story

"...I would contend that the evidence is not weak enough for you to have given it all up. The reason you did is most likely that you never perceived value in the religion in the first place, and hence got mired into skepticism to an irrational degree."

Simply not true. I could tell you my story. I was very religious as a child. I was the little kid who at 10 wanted to fast Tisha B'av and Yom Kippur - and who did it the full day. I was the one in camp when all the other kids were lazying in bed, I would go off to chinuch because I enjoyed it.

I was always a very curious child and would ask my parents all sorts of questions, but as time went on I got less and less satisfying answers. I went delving into the fundamentals of Judaism because, besides for my own curiosity, I wanted to be able to give my kids the best and fullest answers I could for anything they would ask me.

So I began my studies without fear that Judaism had anything to lose. Orthodoxy was obviously right so what had I to fear from seeing things from different sides? But as I studied the more it all fell apart in my hands. I kept looking for rational after rationale to keep it up but it just wasn't working out.

So one night, as I lay in bed, I thought, "Hey, wait, what if God isn't real, the Torah is man-made, and so on" that explains all the problems I've been finding in Judaism. All of them are explained thus.

I didn't really take that to heart for awhile though, I kept looking for ways to prove Judaism's validity, I saw the consequences and refused to have them, I spoke to dozens of religious people and rabbis but none of them had the goods. They all supplied the same tired arguments that I knew were useless.

So I was forced to come to the conclusions I've come to. I didn't want them, I didn't ask for them, but they came just the same.

And even now I don't want to walk away from Judaism. I can't. I'd like to reform it so that it isn't based on fairy tales. I'm proud to be a Jew, but not proud of much of what Orthodox Judaism believes and says. You don't know the endless heartache I go through because something I love is so wrong.

Don't put me in a box.

29 comments:

Anonymous said...

You left because you
"wanted to follow your taivos"
"didn't care that much to begin with"
blah blah blah
thank you for posting your alternate perspective.

elf said...

I think we have a lot in common.

I've observed that it is often the most religious young people who become the most skeptical as they grow older. It seems to me that this is because we care enough about religion to study it thoroughly and ask serious questions.

On the other side of the aisle is my best friend from childhood, who was skeptical at a young age and later became very frum. Our paths were different -- she found frumkeit as a teenager, while I found Darwinism in high school and biblical criticism in college -- but I think that we both ended up where we did for similar reasons: we were looking for answers to difficult questions. The people I can't relate to are the ones who just carry on with the lives they're used to without ever questioning.

elf said...

Btw, you should read Mordecai Kaplan, if you haven't already.

Anonymous said...

Hey,
it's nice to read someone relating a thoughtful exposition of what they believe/not and why. i'm getting tired of the folks who think that their personal opinions give them license to not think, and to be assholes to those who hold different opinions.
keep up the good work,
alan soctt

Enigma4U said...

Opie,

Like you, I was personally offended when reading the silly quote you are responding to. And like you, my story is eerily similar. My journey into skepticism was not motivated by rebellion or unhappiness. As an adolescent, I just found too many gaping holes, and when parents and teachers could not provide satisfactory answers, I searched for answers myself, but could not find any pliable enough to plug those holes sufficiently. It's been a long and sometimes depressing struggle to find the truth, so when I hear comments like those, it brings me close to tears. Thanks, Opie, for sharing your story, and giving voice to the story of most skeptics. You don't hear any noise coming from those who rejected religion because it's too difficult or inconvenient, because they simply leave. The ones like us, who stay despite the daily difficulties of reconciling our beliefs with our way of live need a voice, and yours is a powerful one. Thanks, Opie!

Orthoprax said...

Anon,

"You left because you
"wanted to follow your taivos"
"didn't care that much to begin with"
blah blah blah"

I've always hated dismissive contemptuous crap like that. It's fine that you don't agree with me, but meet me on the terms of my arguments, y'know?

Orthoprax said...

elf,

"I've observed that it is often the most religious young people who become the most skeptical as they grow older."

If I recall, I believe even Einstein had a streak like that. L'havdil, of course. ;-)

"Btw, you should read Mordecai Kaplan, if you haven't already."

Sure, I've been there. Very attractive but also somewhat inauthentic. Though I am having a tough time coming up with something better.

Orthoprax said...

Alan Scott,

"keep up the good work"

Hey, much appreciated. The unexamined life is hardly worth living, right?

Orthoprax said...

enigma,

"It's been a long and sometimes depressing struggle to find the truth, so when I hear comments like those, it brings me close to tears."

Indeed. They're put-down tactics (however unintentional) designed to undermine discussion. If you're sure that a person's case is really just supported by baseless opinion and a twisted life experience, then you figure that they've got nothing to offer.

"The ones like us, who stay despite the daily difficulties of reconciling our beliefs with our way of live need a voice, and yours is a powerful one. Thanks, Opie!"

I'm putting the message out there for people like you to find resonance and for people unlike us to find a novel understanding of how folks like us think. Thanks for the support.

Anonymous said...

there is a wonderful book by Gil Mann entitled "How To Get More Out Of Being Jewish Even Though You Don't..."

Anonymous said...

WE FFB have been seriously brainwashed. Now in my 50's I am almost done with deprogramming myself. I am fearful however the job will never get done but I am 87% free now. What's holding me back from 100%? Well it's frum parents, black hatted kids and an abundance of kosher restaurants. I am certain if left alone in mid-america I'd form a b-line to Ruth Kriss or Red Lobster. Hey did you catch Floyd on Live8? thought is was super

Orthoprax said...

Anon,

"there is a wonderful book by Gil Mann entitled "How To Get More Out Of Being Jewish Even Though You Don't...""

I've heard of it and it's on my list, but I really don't know what it has to offer me that I don't already have.

Anonymous said...

>>"You left because you
"wanted to follow your taivos"
"didn't care that much to begin with"
blah blah blah"


Well, this "believer" has certainly contributed to the sinat chinam that drove ME further away from people just like him...

Orthoprax, I won't try to sell you any "liberal" Judaism-- been there, done that, then became frum and dropped that. I don't know about following my taivos, but I dropped EVERYTHING in my secular world to go to BT yeshiva, and I cared about learning more than anything in the world. You can imagine my disappointment when I found no answers to the same questions you started asking.

However, I'm surprised by the strict divide between believers and atheists on these blogs. What happened to good old agnosticism? It doesn't require you to abandon anything but the arrogant position that you KNOW God exists (or doesn't!), and it is the ONLY intellectually honest position a human can take in contemplating the Divine. If you drop orthodoxy, there's no reason to go to the liberal movements which are watered down versions of the same thing-- instead, turn to Spinoza or Einstein, and build a whole new relationship with the God they DIDN'T tell you about in yeshiva.

Think outside that box they've got you in!

Anonymous said...

btw, that last comment was from rabbipolar. ahoy, mate!

Orthoprax said...

rabbipolar,

"However, I'm surprised by the strict divide between believers and atheists on these blogs. What happened to good old agnosticism?"

I think you're using the agnostic term as some sort of middle ground between the two positions. But realistically, a person is either a believer or is not. Agnostic is what one says when they don't want to take sides. But it's not about taking sides, it's about recognizing what you believe in your own mind.

Everyone is an agnostic, it's just a few people who wish to call themselves that.

I prefer calling myself a Skeptic, however, since I don't care to choose a side for loyalty and am perfectly willing to consider the possibility of God. I just don't really believe it to be true.

nichtglieber said...

You left because you
"wanted to follow your taivos"

This is the typical response you will get from most frum believers, R’ elchonon vaaserman also uses this argument in his book.

If you recall a lot of emphasis is put into not thinking in the orthodox world, even shaar hayichud from the chovas halvuvos or the morah nevochim from the rambam is usually not allowed to be studied, the reason is religion would and could not stand thinking, as most of us who think freely without any restrictions aren’t believers.

We are being brainwashed from the day we could think, and even before.
So it’s really hard to expect anything better, you really need to have a lot of courage to think, and only the once of us with courage will realize what crap we were thought.

I myself experienced something similar to you; the irony is now after realizing that there is no god I still lead the same life style as before, so for someone to claim the reason of not believing is because of the need to follow taivos, is absurd because I couldn’t follow my taivos anyway, it’s only more painful because you don’t understand why, you fast yom kipur, you don’t drive on shabbos etc. without any reason.

Sarah said...

How well I understand. I've told myself that the reason I haven't posted or read or replied to anything in the 3 weeks since I've been back is because I've been super busy. And I have been super busy. But besides for that was just the plain fact that all this blogging just hurts too much. Sometimes before I go to sleep at night lately I get this tinge of guilt, a feeling that I'm hiding from what I know and taking the easy way out.

But then I think: I know I'll never leave Judaism, and I'll never even leave Orthodoxy. Is there a point in making myself suffer by beating into my brain the things I've already realized? Is it wrong to just want some peace for myself?

Orthoprax said...

Sarah,

I was wondering when I'd hear from you again. You're way overdue for a check-in y'know.

"Is there a point in making myself suffer by beating into my brain the things I've already realized? Is it wrong to just want some peace for myself?"

See, we're too smart for our own good. But how can we not play the hand we were dealt? Ignoring the issues won't make them go away.

Sarah said...

Daniel,

I was wondering if anybody noticed. I wrote half a post and then just couldn't finish it. It just took too much out of me. Don't know if that feeling is going to go away and the blogging will come back full force, but I guess only time will tell.

"Ignoring the issues won't make them go away."

I agree. My problem is that I don't see the issues going away even if I do face them. They seem unsolvable, and so I find it increasingly useless to keep focusing on things I can't change and can't do anything about. Perhaps you see a concrete issue that needs solving and a plan to solve it. For me, I only see myself suffering while the vast majority skips happily on ...

Orthoprax said...

Sarah,

"Perhaps you see a concrete issue that needs solving and a plan to solve it."

I hope so. Judaism without false metaphysics, but a meaningful loyalty to tradition. I think that's possible and hopefully sustainable.

"For me, I only see myself suffering while the vast majority skips happily on ..."

Ignorance being bliss...the bane of my existence.

Enigma4U said...

Sarah,

There is a tremendous value in blogging your thoughts, both to yourself and to others. I have been a skeptic for most of my adult life, but before finding The Frum Skeptics Group or blogs that discuss similar issues, I thought I was the only one whose thoughts were heretical. It was a very lonely existence. As much as I tried to bury my doubts and not dwell on the giant gaps I stumbled upon, they always popped up relentlessly anyway. It is a great relief and comfort to me to find that there are others out there. I think that given time, along with the freedom of the internet, us skeptics can one day reach critical mass. I can't predict how life might change for us then, but at least it leaves me hopeful.

Sarah said...

Daniel and Enigma,

I don't want to be misunderstood. I definitely appreciate the blogging world, the issues it confronts, and the people who take comfort and are confronted by it. I just don't know if at this moment in time it's adding all that much to my own life. I have so much going on and so much to worry about, I wonder if it's not something better to be put on the side for awhile ...

Orthoprax said...

Sarah,

Ok, so don't worry about it. But don't pretend that there's nothing going on either.

Anyway, what'd you study over the summer?

Shtern_Zeyer said...

Yes, there is an amazing amount of beauty in Judaism, starting with Shabbos as a day of some meditation coupled with food and wine, Yom tov, Oh, beautiful Yomtov. But to me it has become much more than that. Once we understand what our life is all about (obviously I'm looking at it according to the theory that ethics is completly based on reason and that our most elemental wants are to see and do everything according to objective facts and truths [check out Otho's post Why be moral where I try to explain and prove my theory]) we then realize the beauty of having constant little reminders to shift our focus in the "right" direction.

Just a little anecdote;
I have come to realize that all of ethics is based on the concept of Humility. Humility meaning to realize that I only have a very limited amount of power over my destiny so that whatevery I am or will be is hardly in my control and hardly due to my doing it is all whatever Existence has dole out to me. Believe me this concept makes life a beauty, for all of a sudden there are no false expectations, you look at the future straight in the eye knowing that it could be you will have much less than you have now etc. you're expectations are always predicated by "there is a certain percetage of chance that I will have this that or the other" so you have no wants at all (as wants are really expectations of future reality) In short an existence in harmony with Being.

So I was thinking to myself, ya know I should really set aside some time every morning to meditate and repeat mantra-like this life saving concept of humility, then I realized that that's what Davening is all about, it's repeating to yourself in many different forms that I am not in charge. Sure it's formulated in the metaphorical and poetical image of Existence having personality, will, etc. but are we to be mislead by someone waxing poetical about the moon, giving it a feminine gender and talking of how kindly she seduces us with her romantic glow...? Are we to start seeing the moon as willful and having a gender? Surely not, so why do it with the entirety of Existence?

All of a sudden Davining and even making Berachot are so beautiful and TRUE. Isn't Havaya/being giving it all to you don't you realize that it's not in your power to do anything it's all out of your control? That is all that's really necessary to realize, as above, there will be no expectations and no wants (sure there is a lot more to think about it as I've mentioned to Ortho in an email I sent that this theory is a work in progress [Btw Ortho, I would greatly appreciate a response there.])

Once we realize that this Humility i.e. this realizing that I am not center of the universe, once we start letting in others in our consciousness, living in harmony with all of Existence instead of unreasnably just focusing on one miniscule aspect of it, Myself, then we will realize how important it is to have these constant reminders of such, and how good it is that we give it an aura of importance by doing it together with ten people or by cleaining our selves up a bit (hands mainly) before repeating to ourselves again and again this mantra.

The day when we will all look at reality as it really is, when we will live in harmony with Existence we will then be full of knowledge of Existence and in harmony with All.

I'm afraid I went of in a tangent here. To get back to my point, once we understand that the deepest (and only) desire we have is to be reasonable (we skeptics should know this the best, we want truth above all, whatever the consenquence, we want to live with the facts as they are) we will see the beauty in Rosh Hashonah and Yom Kippur too, days where we dedicate ourselves completely to realigning our focus with Reality, Existence.

Please understand that the above is based on plain simple logic no Mysticism at all.

As I once mentioned, our intution about not being selfcenterd stems from the fact that this is our true essence, we are just looking at reality at facts and when we distort it by zooming in on one part i.e. as if that part has a bigger place in existence than is true, we have an inner struggle because we have a strong sense that reality is not as we arbitrarly positioned it.

It is almost by our capacity of conceptualizing things (and with that the capacity of conceptualizing wrongly) that we have come to mix oursleves up. It seems that the Eitz Hadaas story tries to tell us this concept. Elokim Osuh Es H'adam Yosher V'hem Bikshu Cheshbonos Rabim.

nichtglieber said...

I wonder if the shtern you see is near the moon, you sound like a dreamer, the things you could see while davening isn't made for the regular non dreaming folks also the shobbos table isn’t so beautiful as you portrayed it it's rather an unpleasant experience, it's wonderful to see what humility could do to a person, wake up guy

Sarah said...

Daniel,

did a little bit of a lot of things. Finally got the experience of a challenging gemara shiur which I was really thrilled about. I felt like a whole world of Jewish lit was opened to me whereas before I felt like I could never understand it.

Finished Seder Moed and a ton of other Masechtot for random people's shloshim (fun blogging topic, but let's just say that if it makes them feel better, I don't mind learning something interesting to help do that).

Did a lot of Tanach, altho admittedly not so in depth, and Shmoneh Perakim ... and I tought kids some of Shmuel Bet. Me teaching ... I found it largely funny, all things considered, but it was good.

It's funny how perceptive you notice kids are, and we sort of stamp that out of them. One of them asked a friend in shiur, why we listen to some dude (Rambam) for Halacha when we could make it up just as well. When she didn't have an answer, she got annoyed that the kid asked. And I just said, it's a valid question, and if you can't answer that question, don't you think maybe that's a problem?

:)

Orthoprax said...

Sarah,

"Finished Seder Moed and a ton of other Masechtot for random people's shloshim..."

You did the whole Seder Moed in a month? That's like 800 blatt. Doable, but I think that'd take a full time commitment, how'd you manage time for all those other studies and interests? Or are you just talking about the Mishnah?

In either case, I have to admit to being a little envious of you getting away for awhile and being able to just sit and do some learning.

"And I just said, it's a valid question, and if you can't answer that question, don't you think maybe that's a problem?"

Ha, that's neat. ;-) Asking questions is always a good thing.

romantic story said...

I am a hopeless romantic out looking for some information on love romantic. Orthoprax, looks like you have put some work into your site. Well, it is about time I go back to looking for more information. Hey, thanks for the read.

picture romantic said...

Hi Orthoprax I am on a quest looking for information on line pick romantic up. I ran across your blog doing a search and thought I would stop by to see if you had any information. Hey, it is nice to see that other people like the same things I do. Anyway thanks for the read.