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Posts Tagged ‘faith

We have a strange relationship with loss. We rarely experience it on its own. For too often loss comes accompanied by other strong emotions that somehow manage to take the stage completely and overshadow the sense of loss. Anger. Guilt. Outrage. Shock. Bewilderment. Regrets. Denial. Frustration. Vengeance. Helplessness. Resentment. Disbelief. My life has been marked by loss in so many ways, but I am yet to experience it pure, raw, unadulterated by any other affect. Ten years ago, when I lost my boyfriend, I was surprised to realize that, despite the emotional turmoil I went through, it wasn’t loss what I felt but outrage and a deep sense of injustice. The resentment over the way our relationship had ended shattered any sense of loss. When Tori died, for a period of time it was anger and rage over her cruel fate that took over while loss took a back seat. When my dad died guilt and disbelief were my main emotions. When I lost some friends recently the sense of loss, again, was lessened by disappointment and disillusionment. In all my experiences these secondary emotions took the reins, muddied the waters and made a mess of the emotional realm. They were supposed to be marginal, accessory, acting as backing vocals or sitting quiet in the background but they stormed the stage and took the lead. When I was a Christian, I used to think that this might be one of God’s ways of helping us deal with traumatic events of the sort. By throwing a red herring our way. Diverting our attention from loss to something more tolerable. Tricking us into suffering from a more lenient affliction. Because no matter how horrible these emotions are (anger, remorse, outrage, disgust, disappointment, bitterness, resentment etc) they are not as painful and devastating as the sheer sense of loss. Anything but that lingering ache of having lost something we had. Anything but that melancholic malaise eating at you. Now I no longer believe in God, but I still think this is a defence mechanism, our way of dealing with traumatic loss. Our way of deflecting the real drama. Juggling and trading off different pains. Playing tricks to dull our senses. Disguise. Camouflage. Substitution. Replacing loss with something akin to it but less horrendous.

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My dad is not dead, he is missing. Every time I think of him, I cannot find him in the appropriate drawer of my mind, where dead people usually end up. I don’t think I can put this down to a residual Christianity that survives in me, to the idea that we are actually immortals, that death is an illusion, since this misplacement doesn’t apply to other people. My mind doesn’t reject the label in itself, the category of dead people, for that compartment got well populated over the years. Grandparents, uncles, aunts, friends, pets, neighbours, you name it. It’s just that when it comes to my dad, I cannot visualize him as dead. He is just missing, absent, hidden from us, unavailable, somewhere to be found. But not dead. And this is one of the reasons why I feel that my mourning is lacking. You cannot properly mourn someone unless you give up hope and accept the finality of their death and their irreversible disappearance. Once the disbelief is shattered the grief can go full-on, unrestricted. You put everyone in their right boxes and the strange http 404 error is finally fixed.

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On his deathbed he never mentioned the fact that he was dying. The elephant in the room … had a scythe but nobody talked openly about that. Which I found to be odd since he was a man of faith. There were no wise words passing on to his children. No sermonic rambling or Bible quotations. No formal handover of our mum’s care to us, like Jesus did with his mum. No attempt to apologize, to settle accounts and emotional debts. The patriarch of the family went full French exit with his departure. Even though I was there at the time I was left with this strange feeling that we didn’t have a proper send-off and that we didn’t say goodbye to him.

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We all indulge ourselves at some point in counterfactual reasoning. Fantasizing about turning the clock back and removing a link in a chain of past events in order to fix mistakes we made or to change painful outcomes. So here an exercise to put yourself at the test, to see where your heart is (Matthew 6:21): if you were given a chance to counterfactually erase one single event from your past what would that be? I’m sure for all of us the competition would be fierce, for we all have tons of things we would alter if possible. From nasty things that happened to us to nasty things we did to other people. As far as I am concerned, erasing her death would be my first choice, without blinking an eye, without the slightest hesitation. There’s a long litany of horrors I would gladly change but her death tops everything. I would rather keep every instance of violence, bullying, abuse, disappointment, rejection, humiliation, betrayal, failure etc and save her. Nothing comes close to the pain of losing her. The longing to be reunited with her will never fade away in me.  

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Why do I feel I am no longer whole since she died? Wasn’t I whole before her? Do the people we love become a part of us and alter our substance that much? For good? Do they rip out bigger pieces from us when they die and leave? If we love lots and they die on us can we be lessened to the point of inexistence?

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South Korea – 156 people crushed to death in Seoul at Halloween celebrations. Indonesia – 135 dead in a riot and stampede that broke out after a football match. Philippines – 98 dead in a heavy storm that hit the country. Turkey – 41 dead people in a coal mine accident. Somalia – 120 killed by a car bombing in the capital, Mogadishu. India – 182 dead in a bridge collapse, many of them children. You can find these headlines in the newspapers, right at this moment. Horrible disasters, taking place at the same time, in the span of a few days, not spread over a couple of months or a year. I used to agonize over such tragedies when I was a Christian, trying to reconcile them with the concept of a benevolent God. And it’s such a relief that now, as a nonbeliever, I am no longer subject to this mental torment, fuelled by a never-ending streak of tragedies. The easiness with which my fellow Christians dismissed the problem of theodicy was disturbing. “God works in mysterious ways” is such a nonsensical defence. There’s nothing mysterious about being crushed to death by a crowd on a street. Burned alive at a music venue. Raped and killed by a Russian soldier. Drowned in a river holding your child’s hand after the bridge under your feet collapsed. Torn into pieces by a bomb. If I were a parent and I would allow my kids to be burned alive I could never say “oh please, you don’t understand, I am being … mysterious”. And yet, this is our line of defence when it comes to God. We fill the gaps with this mysterious crappy matter. Being an atheist has a lot of downsides but not having to explain evil, death, pain etc is the main, if not the only, advantage you get. This doesn’t mean you are not saddened and flabbergasted at the view of these tragedies. The thread of life is so fragile, and it can get broken at any time. Witnessing all these disasters I got to the point where I am grateful for my life and for the years I lived so far. For I have lived longer than most of these people were allowed to. If I get to live more, I look at it as a bonus not as an entitlement. Not taking life for granted and knowing that life can be taken from you in such absurd, meaningless, petty, ridiculous ways and at any time should be in our minds constantly.

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Haunted by this image of my mum, sitting at his deathbed, broken-hearted, lost for words, hunchbacked, overwhelmed with sorrow, holding and kissing his hands for hours on end. The same hands that used to turn into fists and hurt her. What a strange thing is this redeeming love that forgets and forgives everything. “Love keeps no record of wrongs.” (1 Cor. 13:5)

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House of the Dragon. I watch the episode in which the king Viserys is dying in a state of horrified frenziness. The gruesome depiction of aging and the misery of death is haunting. A masterclass in cinematography. The decrepitude of his body and his mind takes me back to my dad’s when he was dying, and it fills me again with horror, shock and sadness. I watch Viserys’ demise and I relive all my dad’s degradation, his delirious agony and mental pain. I can’t for the love of me get over the misery and ugliness of our dying. Nothing shook me more to the core than watching Tori, my dad, and prior to them, a close neighbour, sinking into decrepitude and dying. For a while, death and life overlap, disputing the ownership of that body and mind. Witnessing first hand that fight between life and death is horrible and faith shattering. Nature is cruel. Death in itself, ceasing to exist, is already an outrage, a wound and a trauma to our existence. There’s no need to get there through a horrible process. The fact that most of us don’t die of sudden deaths but through a slow, painful, repulsive transition to death is adding insult to injury. We are punished for our sufferings; we are punished because we were punished.

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God doesn’t reveal himself to us. When you are a child and you have no concept of a god, he doesn’t introduce himself to you from a burning bush or a whisper in your dream. There’s no thunder, no lightning, no rapture, no vision, no tongues of fire, no doves, no pillars of cloud guiding you, no descent from Heaven or chorus of angels at your confirmation ceremony. God doesn’t deliver himself to you, he is delivered to you by your culture and community where you grow up. And more than anything, God is given to you by your parents. As a child you don’t have a direct access to God but through an intercession. Your parents stand between you and him. In the absence of any epiphany, they have to speak for him, and few parents realize what a huge responsibility that is. Few parents understand what’s at stake when they pass on their religious understanding to their offspring. When your child embraces or rejects God they don’t embrace or reject God but your version of it. They react to an image of him. They react to your projection. Your understanding of God facilitates or obstruct their access to God.

I too got the first idea of God planted in my head by my dad and I struggled with that version my entire life. In our home, he was the religious patriarch, responsible for our catechetical instruction and the version of God that was spoon-fed to me was a mere caricature. Half based on the biblical lore and half based on his limited understanding. Half monster and half angel. It took me a while to realize that I found myself in a sort of a straw man situation. Since our initiation into divine is done by proxy not by God himself, we can end up addressing or fighting not the real God, like Jacob, but a defected replica of him. Whether you eventually accept his dominion or reject it is neither here nor there, but you have to make sure you do this to the most accurate description of him. As far as I am concerned, I ended up questioning any description of God predicated on biblical understanding. And since I used to blame my dad for poisoning the Christian well for me and for being a stumbling block on my path to faith, I should now let him off the hook and forgive him for his poor delivery of God. In all fairness, it wouldn’t have made a difference. Any version would have missed the mark. He can now die in peace, without any sense of failure for not delivering the Almighty God to his son. One less sin to atone for will hopefully make his already horrendous transition to eternal demise easier.

When she died she took with her what was left of my faith. For me, God died at the same time she died, not on a cross but on a blanket, covered in metastases and disfigured by cancer. It’s not that her painful death engendered a crisis of faith in me. I had it all along since I entered adulthood. I had given up already on His Church by the time I finished University and then at a later point I gave up on the inerrancy of His Scriptures. My apostasy was bound to happen sooner or later. Her death just broke the last shackle of faith and pushed me to admit I no longer believed in God. In losing her, I lost, in one go, not one but two pillars of my existence. One death, two coffins.

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In some ways losing my faith should give me a wicked sense of satisfaction. One thing that shocked me after she died was just how well we are equipped to move on and adjust to someone’s disappearance. Thousands of years of evolution installed in me a coping mechanism stronger than my pain. I didn’t go out on the streets howling like a lunatic. I didn’t tear off my clothes out of despair like our ancient ancestors. I didn’t stop eating, sleeping, laughing, fucking, breathing. I bottled up my grief. I was devastated but I was functional. The fact that we can carry on is a disgrace to me. The fact that we survive and get to keep our sanity over the death of our loved ones sickens me. So, even though her death was not the source of my crisis of faith at least she managed to shake off the last vestiges of belief in me. That counts for something. 

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Mourning two deaths instead of one might make things harder. I have no idea. It’s not like I had to deal with death in the past too much so I’m no expert in what level of bereavement is considered normal and sane. But what surely makes things worse is the way in which the two deaths are connected. His death puts her death in a different perspective. His death makes her death definitive and real. If you believe in God, death is an illusion. If you don’t everything else but death is an illusion. Death is the only reality we have. The crutch of hope vanished and so the despair that comes with it is unbearable.

*

I am told that I would end up in an asylum if I keep going on like this, if I won’t put a lid on my grief. Huh. This is what they call pain and mourning over someone? Where they see too much grief I don’t see enough of it. Where they see lingering pain I see oblivion taking over. Where they see dwelling on loss I see a healing process I cannot defeat. And why is healing and letting go healthy? Why would I want to heal at the cost of losing what I have left of her? I know I am not an ordinary guy in many respects, but is the gaping chasm between me and them that huge?

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Dying and death are two different things. If death in itself doesn’t shake your belief in a benevolent God, the gratuitous spectacle of degradation and pain when someone is dying should do the trick. How someone’s faith can survive witnessing that grotesque spectacle is beyond me. Hoping against hope will never cease to amaze me.

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Hell is not being able to protect someone you love. There’s nothing worse in this life than that sense of helplessness. Not even rape, injustice, betrayal or physical pain. Parents who outlive their children, unable to save them and going through that hell of powerlessness are for me proofs that God does not exist or if he does, he is just a cruel invisible Overlord not a Heavenly Father.

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In the first months after she died missing her was somehow underwhelming. How can you properly miss someone when your mind is so consumed with them? How can you properly grieve over someone whose presence is still felt so strong? You do it but it’s subpar and curbed by that sense of presence. It takes time for them to fade away, it takes time for you to accept their departure and fully realize what death entails. It takes time to really, really miss them. In some ways, for me, only now the mourning begins. Only now her absence is overwhelming and I miss her like mad.

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This year I didn’t put up a Christmas tree or any winter decorations. I am in no celebratory mood. Not because of the pandemic for that was a blessing in disguise for the most part. But because the desolation of last Christmas is still fresh in my mind. She loved to sit by the Christmas tree, on the red socks and stare at it. Last year, the least festive season ever, I did it for her sake though. I knew it would be her last Christmas tree. She would look at the Christmas lights, blinking on and off, from her deathbed. The reflection of those flickering lights in her big sad eyes will haunt my future Christmases forever.

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( “Foreskin’s Lament” – Shalom Auslander – 2009, Picador )

When I was a child, my parents and teachers told me about a man in the sky who was very strong. They told me He could destroy the whole world. They told me He could lift mountains. They told me He could part the sea. It was important to keep the man happy. When we obeyed what the man had commanded, the man liked us. He liked us so much that He killed anyone who didn’t like us. But when we didn’t obey what He had commanded, He didn’t like us. He hated us. Some days He hated us so much, He killed us; other days, He let other people kill us. We call these days “holidays”. On Purim, we remembered how the Persians tried to kill us. On Passover, we remembered how the Egyptians tried to kill us. On Chanukah, we remembered how the Greeks tried to kill us.

As bad as these punishments could be, they were nothing compared to the punishments meted out to us by the man himself. Then there would be famines. Then there would be floods. Then there would be furious vengeance. Hitler might have killed the Jews, but this man drowned the world.

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I wonder sometimes if we suffer from a metaphysical form of Stockholm syndrome. Held captive by this Man for thousands of years, we now praise Him, defend Him, excuse Him, sometimes kill for Him, an army of Squeaky Frommes swearing allegiance to their Charlie in the sky. My relationship with God has been an endless cycle not of the celebrated “faith followed by doubt,” but of appeasement followed by revolt; placation followed by indifference; please, please, please, followed by fuck it, fuck it, fuck it. I do not keep Sabbath or pray three times a day or wait six hours between eating meat and milk. The people who raised me will say that I am not religious. They are mistaken. What I am not is observant. But I am painfully, cripplingly incurably, miserably religious, and I have watched lately, dumbfounded and distraught, as around the world, more and more people seem to be finding Gods, each one more hateful and bloodthirsty than the next, as I’m doing my best to lose Him. I’m failing miserably.

The teachers from my youth are gone, the parents old and mostly estranged. The man they told me about, though — He’s still around. I can’t shake Him. I read Spinoza. I read Nietzsche. I read the sacrilegious National Lampoon magazine. Nothing helps. I live with Him every day, and behold, He is still angry, still vengeful, still—eternally—pissed off.

I believe in a personal God; everything I do, He takes personally. Things don’t just happen.

I believe in God.

It’s been a real problem for me.

*

Running from God felt as if, under cover of night, I’d daringly escaped from Auschwitz, gotten past the guards, evaded the dogs, run for the woods, and clambered onto a passing train that two hours later pulled straight into Treblinka.

*

I thought of Moses, and of the bassinet in which he was discovered, floating among the reeds by the side of the Nile, and of the lifelong journey he made to a Promised Land, a land of God, a land he never quite reached. My Promised Land, the one I had been stumbling around looking for these past thirty years, would be one with no God, at least not with the God I knew, and I realized then that, like Moses, I would probably never get there, either.

*

I thought again about Moses, and I realized what had troubled me about that whole damn story; it wasn’t simply that God had crushed his life dream because of one lousy sin, though granted that would be sick enough—it was that He knew. God knew He’d never let Moses into the Promised Land, just as He knew that one day Sarah would laugh, but He still let him wander around the desert like a schmuck for forty years searching for it. Warmer, warmer, you’re getting warmer, you’re dead. God loves that joke.

*

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—I don’t understand, I say. You’d think I was sexually abused.

—You were theologically abused, says Orli. That’s much worse.

Theological abuse. It involves adults, known or unknown to the underage victim, telling them that an all-powerful man in the sky runs the world, that He’s spying on them, that He’s waiting for them to break a rule.

God is here,

God is there,

God is truly

everywhere!

So watch it, kid.

*

The stories I had been working on were about my life under the thumb of an abusive, belligerent god, a god who awoke millennia ago on the wrong side of the firmament and still hasn’t cheered up. Working title: God Walks Beside Me with a .45 Gun in My Ribs.

…We kissed, we hugged, we wept some more, and as soon as my wife had gone, I sat down at my computer, sighed, and dragged all 350 pages of my stories into the computer’s trash.

Are you sure, the computer asked me, you want to remove the items in the Trash permanently? You cannot undo this action.

I was sure.

Take my chances? Was I crazy? With this God? With Mr. Vengeance? Mr. Flood the Earth? Mr. Holocaust?

There was no need to provoke Him. In God’s casino, the house always wins—ask Moses, ask Job, ask Sarah. I’ve been on God’s chessboard long enough to know that every move forward, every bit of good news—Success! Marriage! Child!—is just another Godly gambit, a feign, a fake, a setup; it seems as if I’m making my way across the board, but soon enough God calls check, and the company that hired me goes under, the wife dies, the baby chokes to death. That would be so God. God’s pick-and-roll. The Rope-a-Lordy-Dope. God was here, God was there, God was everywhere.

I’m telling you, Mouse A says, that fucking cheese is wired.

Would you stop? whines Mouse B. You’re such a pessi-zzzzap.

*

I can’t help noticing that every time I begin to make some progress on my impious stories about God, attacks in Israel increase, and I feel guilty and stop. Am I causing these attacks?

*

When I was young, they told me that when I died and went to Heaven, the angels would take me into a vast museum full of paintings I had never before seen, paintings that would have been created by all the artistic sperms I had wasted in my life. Then the angels would take me into a huge library full of books I had never read, books that would have been written by all the prolific sperms I had wasted in my life. Then the angels would take me to a huge house of worship, filled with hundreds of thousands of Jews, praying and studying, Jews that would have been born if I hadn’t killed them, wasted them, mopped them up with a dirty sock during the hideous failure of my despicable life (there are roughly 50 million sperms in every ejaculate; that’s about nine Holocausts in every wank. I was just hitting puberty when they told me this, or puberty was just hitting me, and I was committing genocide, on average, three or four times a day). They told me that when I died and went to Heaven, all the souls of every sperm I wasted during my life would chase me for eternity through the firmament.

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I have very little sympathy for veal. According to the website NoVeal.org, Young calves are taken from their mothers and chained by the neck in crates measuring just two feet wide. They cannot turn around, stretch their limbs, or even lie down comfortably. Like a yeshiva or a madrasa or a Catholic school. Except for the “taken from their mother” bit, the lucky little calves; my mother put me in the box at the synagogue and made it very clear that her love was conditional upon my remaining in the box. To make matters better, nobody is standing outside the veal’s crate telling him that there is a some sort of Cow Almighty in the sky, and that Cow Almighty commands the veal to stay in that box, and that, moreover, the constraining box he finds himself in is a gift—a gift from Cow Almighty because veal are Cow’s chosen cattle, and if veal even thinks about leaving the box, or questioning the box, or even complaining about the box, well, Cow help him.

*

Exam in school. Jewish-law tests were the easiest—you simply picked the strictest answer:

  1. forgiveness
  2. pay a fine
  3. pray
  4. stoning

Whatever the question is, the answer is D.

*

My rabbis taught me that it was wrong to say God caused the Holocaust; that He had simply, in 1938, turned His head. He looked away.

-What? Huh? Geno . . . really? Shit, I was in the bathroom

 *

That’s the problem, I answered. You have to not want something for God to give it to you. I pressed the argument by pointing out that it made perfect sense—people wanting babies not having them, people not wanting them having them without even trying, people wanting boys having girls, people wanting girls having boys, people wanting one having twins, people wanting twins having triplets—if that wasn’t proof of the existence of a non-benevolent God, I didn’t know what was.

*

— If He really wanted to fuck with you, Craig asked, why doesn’t He just kill you?

I scoffed and shook my head.

—Killing gets boring, I said. A couple of floods and you’re over it. Why kill when you can slowly torture?

—I hadn’t thought of that.

—That’s why He’s so into this endless bullshit preputial sniping.

*

My relationship with God had begun to change. I was tired of the endless spiritual scorecard manipulation, and I imagined God was tired of it, too, tired of the tedious, disingenuous algebra of penance and sin. Maybe it was all those years of shame and fear. Maybe it was Rabbi Goldfinger telling me so long ago that I was like a forefather heading out on a dangerous journey. Hadn’t Abraham haggled with God? Hadn’t Jacob wrestled with him—kicked His ass, in fact? Hadn’t Moses, called upon by God to lead the exodus, told God to find somebody else? They argued, debated, questioned. I scowled, I called Him names, I uttered profanities. My sentiments may have been a bit more disgruntled and a bit less reverent than those of my forefathers, but they still seemed more respectful to me than the groveling adjuration of the believers around me; at least I was giving Him credit for being able to deal with a little criticism now and then. After all, wouldn’t part of being All-Mighty include being All-Self-Examining? All-Open-to-Criticism? All-Honestly-Self-Evaluating? Surrounded as God was by a universe of sycophantic yes-men, perhaps He would appreciate a little honest interaction.

*

So now we’re blaming God, is that it? You can’t get off and somehow it’s God’s fault?

– Yes.

*

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The priest: Aren't you afraid of hell? J. Kerouac: No, no. I'm more concerned with heaven.

literatura e efortul inepuizabil de a transforma viaţa în ceva real

The priest: Aren't you afraid of hell? J. Kerouac: No, no. I'm more concerned with heaven.