Thursday, September 29, 2005

"Are you spiritual?"

Um. Helloooo, Blogger? Is there a good reason why this post was up for several hours, and then disappeared, only to reappear as an older (AND INCOMPLETE!) draft version on my dashboard? Or is this post being yanked by an even Higher Authority? Cue Twilight Zone music. Damn. I hate telling jokes twice.
At a Christmas party a few years ago, one of the local wives asked Karen, apropos of nothing, "Are you spiritual?" Here was my wife, a firm atheist, being questioned on faith by someone who could only be described as a true believer. I watched, dumbstruck. I expected blood. But I had underestimated Karen yet again. As an attentive student of Miss Manners, she handled the question with ease. "What an interesting question," she said. "And such a good question, too. Isn't it odd how infrequently folks talk about spirituality with people they hardly know? I wonder why that is?" And so forth. She kept at it until the topic had strayed a safe distance from the hot button of spirituality. The other woman never knew what hit her. I was relieved -- not so much because Karen had handled the question so deftly, but because no one had bothered to ask me.
No one ever talked religion in my family. We went to temple rarely, and in those days (the mid- to late-60s) rabbis sermonized on politics, not faith. The Holocaust was scarcely twenty years old; we all knew folks with tattoos on their arms. As far as I could tell, being a Jew meant (1) never forgetting the Holocaust, (2) supporting Israel, and (3) not believing in Jesus. By age five, the muse had me staging boxing matches in my head between God and Jesus, Jesus and the Devil, the Devil and Jesus versus God, and so forth. My knowledge of Jesus came from watching Bible-thumpers on Sunday TV and whatever I could find on weekdays. A few years later, I would be Garner Ted Armstrong's biggest fan. I suspect I had a better understanding of Revelations than I did of Genesis. That might explain how I came up with the Hannukah Lobster. After that bit of humiliation, I brow-beat my parents into signing me up for Hebrew School. There, Israeli women who pronounced my name Dog taught me to read Hebrew, and later, a tyrannical cantor taught me my cantillation marks so I could belt out Torah lines with the best of 'em. Religious instruction consisted of disjointed Bible stories taught as historical fact with nary a word of moral or ethical analysis. As for Talmud -- Talwhat? Our rabbi fancied himself a comedian, a Jackie Mason in tefillin. What a dick. His whole pre-ceremony interaction with me consisted of a twenty minute interview, during which he badgered me about how baseball was a sport for intellectuals. He got me to cough up some dirt on my family, which he used during my bar mitvah as 'humorous' snark. Yeah, that's right -- in front of my friends, family, and the whole congregation. That ended my schtick with Judaism, at least for a while.
See, it's this last bit that Blogger keeps eating. Not the whole post, just this last bit. Grrr. A few days ago, I mentioned Borges' story, "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote", wherein a little known, marginally successful author sets out to rewrite Don Quixote word for word. I'm beginning to feel like Menard, only it's not Cervantes I'm struggling to channel. It's me. Well, here goes. One more time. This time I'm saving the HTML in a separate text file.
Over the years, my spiritual pendulum has swung from Judaism through Agnosticism to Zen Buddhism. I'm what you call a Jew-Boo (if you're trying to be nasty, that is) or a Juddhist (my preferred designation). Those of you familiar with Buddhism know that its precepts are compatible with other religions. Zen, especially, is more a philosophy than a network of faith-based beliefs. So it's not all that weird, despite what some of my tribe might think -- the ones who sling the Jew-Boo label, that is. Now that I'm an adult, I can take charge of my education. I have a halfway decent library on both Zen and Judaism, and I've read a fair fraction of it. I'm not an ignoramus. For that matter, I suspect I've read more of the New Testament than the average American Christian. Nevertheless, when it comes to practice, I'm as piss-poor a Buddhist as I am a Jew. The pendulum tends to take a sharp turn back towards Judaism whenever I'm faced with a pediatric airway emergency. Times like those, the last thing I want to believe is that I'm the one whose solely responsible for the life of this child. Those situations are frightening enough without that kind of load on my shoulders. Yup, that's when the big time bargaining comes in. Me: Hey, God? You remember me, the guy who recites his Shema every few years or so and hopes like crazy he's catching You in a good mood. Well, hey, look. It's like this. I have this kid here, she's eighteen months old, and I would really appreciate it if you would help me look after her. Him: (silence) Me: Okay. Be that way. How about this: if things work out okay, I'll start working on my son again. I mean, he's nine years old. How entrenched could his atheism be? I'll do my best, Lord, I really really will. And so forth. When you get down to it, I want to believe, particularly at times like those. Security, that's what it's all about. I don't believe in an afterlife and I'm not particularly afraid of my own death. I am concerned about the safety and health of my family and my patients, and so I want to think Someone is up there watching over us. At the same time, I realize no one makes it out of here alive.
That's why questions like "Are you spiritual?", "Do you believe in God?", or even "Have you been saved?" distress me. The answer to all three is the same: It's complicated. You know something? For the folks who ask those kinds of questions, "It's complicated" is the last answer they want to hear. It's complicated because I'm not the perfect Vulcan my wife is. It's complicated because, while I hate blind faith, I'm too attached to my memes to let them go. It's complicated because, like any true Agnostic, I really don't know the answers. I'd like to think my confusion is the hallmark of an intelligent mind, but I know it is nothing more than what it is: confusion. And it doesn't help that every time I come within a hair's breadth of something approaching an epiphany of self-understanding, Blogger eats my column. Okay. Here goes. Save HTML file. Hit publish button. D.


Blogger Douglas Hoffman said...

Hmm. Will it let me comment, or will it auto-destruct yet again?

9/30/2005 08:17:00 AM  
Blogger THIS! Christine said...

Yay! It's back. Sadly I'm not as awake as I was late last night. I'll have to read it again to find what inspired me.

After coffee, k?


9/30/2005 09:16:00 AM  
Blogger Douglas Hoffman said...

K X.

9/30/2005 09:27:00 AM  
Blogger mm said...

Seems to be working for me, Doug. At one point last night- I think 4:30-5:30 your time - blogger was down for maintenance. I wonder if that had something to do with it.

This was an interesting read. As another Don't-know-what-to-believist, I intend to show up at the pearly gates wearing a sexy dress, and hope that'll get me in.

Of course, all you'll have to do is give Peter on of these.

9/30/2005 09:40:00 AM  
Blogger Jona said...

I'm a mess with my beliefs too. And I think more woolly than you, because I'm still trying to move past what I was taught and haven't yet begun to explore other faiths. Or no faith. See? I'm a-muddle!

9/30/2005 11:55:00 AM  
Blogger THIS! Christine said...

Alllllllrighty then, this might be a long one.

I vacillate between belief and not. On the one hand I'm trapped by my early Catholic indoctrination. Treating every aspect of religious devotion with reverence, solemnity, and serious attention. It is because of this approach I often find myself, puzzled and, yes, dismissive of many Christians, (evangelical or otherwise). Their seemingly endless ability to invoke God, Jesus, and prayer for any and every occassion. Even soliciting His aid for sports games, this to me seems utterly irreverent and frivolous. I call them Walmart prayers. Note, I said He? indoctrination baby.

Not that I was ever a good Catholic! Yikes my whole ambition as a young girl was to acheive confirmation so I could wear that gorgeous white (bride) dress. Yes I was shallow even then. I was also a very questioning young lady, and it wasn't long before the answers I was receiving with regards to my place in the religious order didn't make a whole lot of sense to me. I never did get that dress, dammit.

However, childhood indoctrination aside, I'm an adult now. The older I got the less I believed. And there is nothing out there to change my view, but there's quite a bit to keep me away. The more I see of religion, (and boy, am I seeing a lot these days) the more I dismiss it and those insisting it's their way or the hellway.

How we came into being, I don't know, but the more I learn the less I can accept that some Intelligent Alien pointed a Samantha like digit and zapped us into existence. How we'll end up? No idea about you, me, I think I'll be a great pile of fertiliser (provided I cut down on the twinkies).

Which brings me to my last point (were any others points? Meh) Religion. Spirituality. Belief. Whatever you want to call it, it used to be a private thing between you and whatever your faith may be. Now there's is an unspoken dare out there. State your faith or else. And damn you if your beliefs differ.

Sadly, something that was intended to fill people with peace and joy, has degenerated into the latest form of cultural segregation and descrimination.


9/30/2005 12:48:00 PM  
Blogger Douglas Hoffman said...

Interesting discussion, folks. Except for you, Maureen. You're going to hell for certain, but I suspect that dress will work with Beelzebub. I'm counting on the wink to do the same.

Christine, I always thought Catholics and Jews had a hell of a lot in common, especially back in the days when the Mass was in Latin/service was in Hebrew. They had in common a good deal of mystery and ceremony. You really felt like you were participating in something thousands of years old.

Even as a kid, I saw this fade away, replaced by guitar-wielding kibbutz graduates whose role models were not Rabbi Akiva (tortured to death for his part in a rebellion against the Romans) or Maimonides (an incredibly prolific writer who also worked as a physician), to name two, but Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, and Cat Stevens (preconversion, naturally). They thought all we needed to get us excited about our faith was a good tune. Yeesh.

One of the neat things about Judaism -- and this is true even among the Orthodox -- is that we are supposed to question and argue over points of faith. You're even expected to question and argue with God. Conventional Jewish wisdom holds that the Patriarchs have a higher standing than Noah, because the Patriarchs stood up to God, and Noah didn't. Noah obediently built his ark and never once questioned God's intention to ice the rest of humanity.

No, I don't know where I'm going with this.

9/30/2005 02:55:00 PM  
Blogger Moi said...

I have a friend who's Jewish. When asked if she's saved, her reply is "I'm not saved. I'm Chosen." Usually shuts people up pretty fast. ;)

Personally, I was baptized into the Christian religion by a Methodist preacher (my atheist father refused to allow me to be baptized into a single church, but allows it into the general faith--my bapitism records have all this cross-outs & corrections all over it. LOL!). I since have been excommunicated by the Lutheran Church, was an agnostic, the metaphysician and am now happily a practicing Heathen--and extremely spiritual in my beliefs, mind you. I adore the question "Are you spiritual?" because it opens the way for the discussion of why they expect my beliefs to be the same as theirs if I answer yes.

9/30/2005 03:50:00 PM  
Blogger Douglas Hoffman said...

Yeah, it would have been fun if Karen would have discoursed on the joys of being ridden by the loa ;o)

Excommunicated by the Lutherans, eh? May I ask what you did to deserve that merit badge?

9/30/2005 04:03:00 PM  
Blogger Kate R said...,,1-2-1798944-2,00.html

read this. now. ...if you can read it, that is.

9/30/2005 06:23:00 PM  
Blogger Douglas Hoffman said...

Hi Kate. Where did I see this recently? (News Blog, or maybe the folks at Television without Pity were talking about it.)

It doesn't surprise me. To quote Robert De Niro's Satan in Angel Heart, "They say there's enough religion in the world to make men hate each other, but not enough to make them love."

9/30/2005 06:31:00 PM  
Blogger Robyn said...

Sounds like an evangelical doofus answer, I know, but I do have a relationship with Jesus. Not a religion, not a church. And I consider that my job, as a Christian, is not to debate or defend the Bible- just to love and serve mankind to the best of my ability. If you ask me about the gospel, I'll present it, but then it's between you and Him.

Of course, it's hard to remember my love walk when AO-freakingL has taken ANOTHER thirty dollars out of my account after I've cancelled my service. And even though I am saved, I certainly don't have all the answers. I still hurt. I still question. I still get angry with God, but He's big enough to take it.

I enjoy hearing about other people's journeys of faith, whatever faith that may be. Or not be. Why are we all so intimidated? I'd love to see a taxpayer funded park decorated at Christmas with a Nativity scene, a Hannukah (Chanukah?) booth, a Kwanzaa display, even Zen and Buddhist and atheist booths too. I'm just sorry that the marketplace of ideas has become so dangerous.

9/30/2005 07:04:00 PM  
Blogger Douglas Hoffman said...

Thanks for coming by, Robyn. Now I can get Snarkling Clean back on my blogroll!

9/30/2005 07:57:00 PM  
Blogger Douglas Hoffman said...

Oh, and, Robyn? Can you explain something to me?

It's something I've never understood in all my years of living with Christians and listening to TV preachers: why would the relationship be between you and Jesus, rather than you and God? Do non-Catholics equate Jesus with God, so that they are much the same being?

I realize these are ignorant questions. Reminds me of a Filipino lab technician I knew in the 80s. She was new to the US, had led a sheltered life, and was just getting used to the idea of non-Catholic Christians when she met me. I remember how flabbergasted she was at the idea of someone who didn't believe in Jesus the way she did. She wasn't angry about it -- merely shocked.

When it comes to religion (especially other people's religion) I feel that ignorant, too, half the time (or more).

9/30/2005 08:03:00 PM  
Blogger Robyn said...

Not gonna speak for every Protestant here, but I'll tell you what I believe based on what I've read in the New Testament. (Email me at if you want references.)

God is a triune being, having three persons. God the Father, God the Son (Jesus) and God the Holy Spirit. You could think of it like this- God the Father makes the plans. Jesus directs the action, and the Holy Spirit implements it. So yes, Jesus is God.

He was the only part of the godhead who came to Earth in physical form, and was the final sacrifice to reunite man with God the Father. I think this special relationship with the only 'man' in the Trinity is why we put the emphasis on Jesus. Not because He is more important, but because He's the one we can identify with, and the one who made it possible for us to be able to come to God the Father ourselves, rather than through a priest.

Hope I haven't totally confused you.

10/01/2005 12:27:00 AM  
Blogger Douglas Hoffman said...

Thanks, Robyn. Not totally confused ;o)

10/01/2005 11:55:00 AM  
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