Thursday, September 29, 2011

Random Rosh Hashana Religion Ruminations

Today is Rosh Hashana, went to services last night, as usual am suffering the effects of being half-in and half-out of this religion thing.

Religion is how people and communities establish a relationship to the transcendent, to the eternal, to the infinite, to the absolute, to the sacred, to things unseen and to the powers that underlie the world. So in some sense, you have to have a religion, even if it's one that denies that these things have any sort of reality or meaning whatsoever -- that too establishes a relationship. We all have to live in the world, we all have to deal with its immensity and our smallness.

If the above is how we relate to the cosmos, the other part of religion is about how we deal with each other. It is less clear to me that these things have to be managed by the same institution, but that seems to how things have evolved.

Judaism is very proud of the fact that it invented monotheism (highly disputed, Freud thought they got it from the Egyptians, here's an interesting looking paper that traces it back to Assyria), supposedly the best idea evar. Opinions differ, some say it's the worst. My own feelings (good for today only):

a) it's an important step in the evolution of the human mind, that is, it has approximately nothing to do with whatever is powering and governing the universe and a lot about how we construct and construe ourselves;

b) while it's a crucial part of the growth of western civ, including the devlopment of science, and thus is baked into the deep structure of my own mind, we are in a cultural point where we have to move on to the next thing. God is dead, but gods have a way of coming back from death, generally transformed in some way.

The flavor of Judaism I am currently involved with is the San Francisco fuzzy kind, so the kind of monism on display tends towards the mystical rather than the authoritarian. That's a lot more acceptable, although sometimes it gets too gloppy for me. Everyone's too nice, it leaves out the part of Jewish culture that resonates most with me, argument. On the other hand, insofar as it works for me at all, it works because the genuine spirituality of the community is capable of sneaking past my rationalist defenses.


Danny said...

"sometimes it gets too gloppy for me. Everyone's too nice, it leaves out the part of Jewish culture that resonates most with me, argument."

As a devout atheist and co-congregant, I know what you mean. However, Rabbi Katie's sermon today was about the struggle, about not glossing over the bad parts of the akedah and other parts of the Torah, and somehow coming out safely on the other side.

I'm also reminded of a renewal or reconstructionist reading that says that even though we know the sun doesn't really rise in the east and set in the west, we're comfortable with that language while still recognizing the scientific reality; we can do likewise with God. That made me more comfortable with godlanguage, even if no more friendly with God or gods.

Further, whether it's mystical monistic stuff within our Jewish tradition, our SF bubble, Buddhism, or a line inside the Unitarian church where we're having services ("The kingdom of God is within you"), it seems like our atheistic approach to God might be more "religious" and authentic than many of those who claim to believe in a more standard/stereotypical God.

Who knows, we might be the orthodox and they the reformers?

mtraven said...

Hey Danny. amen to your thoughts on god or God or gods or "god", I've written stuff along those lines myself, like this.

Gloppy or not, I am continually and pleasantly surprised that the spirituality of our little community seems to work for me.

Danny said...

Yeah, it usually works for me as well, though I sometimes have to make some minor adjustments.

Another co-congregant reminded me yesterday that Rabbi Michael Lerner sys something like: The God you don't believe in doesn't exist.

I like Durkheim's take that divinity is manifested in community. That's how it works for me and largely why I continue with OS.