Friday, 21 March 2008

Jewish and sceptical

Nothing is really new here, there appears to be lots of people like me - which is comforting I suppose. But whereas many people have already made their life choices, I am now at a crossroads where I have to finally buck up and decide what I'm going to do with my life.

I don't want to repeat what others have spoken out far more eloquently than I could ever put the evidence for/against God, so instead I will tell you my story. I don't say it's unique, but I do say it's mine and how I got to be here...

When I was 15, I came into contact with a Christian missionary and ultimately, it is he I have to thank for enlightening me - though of course not in the way he thought he would. He put forth arguments a religious Orthodox Jew just couldn't accept, and forced me to delve into the then unknown (to me) vast amalgam of the Prophets and Writings section in the Hebrew bible. After educating myself about Jewish scripture beyond what I was being taught in an Orthodox religious school, I looked into the New Testament and found it to be lacking somewhat in substance. I looked into and spoke to members of (either on-line or in person) Catholicism, Islam, witchcraft, druidism, Buddhism and Hinduism (more recently, Sikhism).

By the time I was 17, I was eating Christian arguments for breakfast, followed by Muslim arguments for dessert. I started taking an Advanced two-year Course in Religious Studies because I wanted an easy grade, so I could later get into university. I did it in 9 months between my other studies ("real" subjects and Jewish stuff). I got 100/110 - which actually did secure me a place in a prestigious British university; I'm thankful for it.

The point is, I looked to educate myself beyond what I was being taught and did so. Through it all, I remained true to Judaism. I sporadically came into contact with atheists, who I thought were very thoughtful and educated people (mostly) - and what's more, they weren't interested in converting me, a novel concept at the time, as I was dealing mainly with Christianity and Islam, which was all I knew of people of different beliefs to me. They wanted to "get" you. Incidentally, I thought of Catholics as equally well educated as atheists, but far more arrogant. Of course, I'm not suggesting all atheists are clever and nice, nor all Catholics clever and mean, but these were my own experiences.

When I turned 17 I began fundamentally questioning the basis of all my beliefs up until that point: God. I don't know why, or how, or what started it, possibly these atheists I'd met on the way, but I found myself wondering whether there was any point to what I did. For a long time, I had found Judaism to be a sound philosophy, but hadn't given much thought to what it was all dedicated to: worshipping God. Of course I knew that was the ultimate goal, but God was so abstract, more of a vague Being who all we knew about, was that he told us to do things and got angry if we didn't and would give us material rewards if we did. I got caught up in the details - analysis of texts, potential contradictions, real contradictions, comparative reading with other religious text, and so on and so forth.

I couldn't see God. I couldn't "feel" God. But I didn't know enough to make a decision on the matter, even privately to myself. I decided to remain in full-time Jewish Orthodox education, up until yeshiva (Talmudic college) level. After that, I considered I'd have "gone through the system," and have enough information to work with - and if I found I still didn't believe, no one would turn around and say "no wonder you don't believe: you don't know enough...if only you'd gone to yeshiva!" And so, I was a dedicated Jew.

When I finally reached yeshiva in Israel, only a few years back now, I studied the main curriculum, one tractate of Talmud, and was amongst the few who finished it during that year (all at least with rashi). But I also studied Jewish philosophy, namely the ramchal (Rabbi Chaim Luzzatto, a personal favourite of mine. He suffered so much during his life for his ideas, suffering caused by his own Jewish community. Not in one city, not in one country, but across all western Europe...until he agreed not to publicise his ideas any more). I learnt Derech Hashem, mesilat yesharim (already old to me, I had done this at least twice before yeshiva), rambam hilchos deos, hilchos teshuva and avoda zara, and made a serious attempt to memorise the 613 mitzvot according to the rambam (I got as far as about 40 before I stopped, but that's a story in itself). I pestered every rabbi I could find who would talk to me about philosophy and about religion and about how to live a Jewish life. All the things that bothered me about religion, I asked.

Sometime I understood the answers, sometimes I didn't. I was certainly lucky to have such knowledgeable theologians and philosophers there, however. It was here that I was taught that "If God is all powerful, can he create a stone he cannot lift?" (Aristotle, as you know) was not actually such a good question. It was here that I voiced my complaints about "the shidduch system" and other parts of Jewish Orthodox life, and so on and so forth.

I found some answers good, some answers bad. I was generally happy as a Jew. There was no reason beyond the scientific why I should have wanted to challenge my beliefs. But I think I'm a truth seeker and will do what is right. Two years of university later, and here I am...

I don't believe in God. No, I do...No, wait...I don't. Ok, so I just don't know.
I go to synagogue very little and when I do go (Friday evenings), I don't pay as much attention as I used to.
I don't necessarily keep kosher anymore (though I do).
And now for the real shocker: I have a girlfriend who is an atheist. She is not Jewish.

My parents know she's a good friend of mine, just not how good.

But I'll tell you about her in another post...wouldn't want to give away all the story now, would we? Feel free to comment, it might spur me on to tell you the rest of the story...It helps to know someone's listening!


Baal Habos said...

Always nice to have another comrade aboard. Keep writing. For more comments, get rid of the word ver.

FedUp said...

You must be very young. GET OUT WHILE YOU STILL CAN!

frumpunk said...

I'm fairly certain what you have here is a case of:

"I was raised in the church and I was told to believe... I wonder if God believes in me?"

Jewish Sceptic said...

I wasn't raised in the church and I don't wonder whether God believes in me...I wonder whether he exists or not...

frumpunk said...

Its an parallel mate, not a lesson.

Jewish Sceptic said...

So was mine! Mostly.
Though for all intents and purposes, I suppose your initial analysis is good enough, as I was quite young at the time my family became frum.

frumpunk said...

I accept your apology. :D