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Posts Tagged ‘religion

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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.

*

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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Disonanta cognitiva este rezolvata aproape intotdeauna in beneficiul sinelui, in directia autoconservarii, protejarii imaginii de sine si nu in masuri corective care ne ciuntesc orgoliul. Rana narcisica, capatata in urma confruntarii cu cel care ne contesta bula narativa, convingerile si imaginea pozitiva de sine, nu se poate inchide decat mintindu-ne pe noi insine. Putini au curajul sa faca pasul spre adevar si maturitate, sa refuze ispita rationalizarii, sa admita ca sunt gresiti si sa rezolve conflictul intrapsihic prin corectarea opiniei sau comportamentului gresit. Investitia de fiinta intr-o idee, opinie, decizie, atitudine sau comportament e intotdeauna uriasa. And, as we all know, loss aversion has a tight grip on us. Nu poti admite ca ai investit atata timp intr-o eroare. Ar insemna sa iti sfarami soclul pe care ti-ai instalat perceptia de sine. Si cine e in stare de asa ceva? Putini.

De ceva vreme ma tot gandeam la cantitatea impresionanta de disonanta cognitiva pe care trebuie sa o experimenteze trumpetii, aflati intr-o stare continua de negare. Bineinteles, nu ma refer la trumpetii saraci cu duhul, pentru care disonanta cognitiva ar echivala cu un compliment, din moment ce aceasta presupune cognitie, fie ea si in conflict, ci la specia trumpetilor obisnuiti, care se reinventeaza miraculos cand convingerile le sunt demontate si falsificate. Exemplul clasic de disonanta cognitiva, din manualele de psihologie, de reinventare through shifting the goalpost, pentru a reduce disonanta, este cel cu sfarsitul lumii, al sectelor milenariste, care atunci cand nu are loc, conform profetiei, este nu pentru ca ideea sfarsitului era inepta in the first place, ci pentru ca zeii s-au milostivit de noi si ne mai pasuiesc un pic. Ma gandeam ce poveri uriase trebuie sa care dupa ei iubitorii de Brexit si de Trump, acum dupa doi ani de la fatidicul 2016, dupa ce au avut suficient timp sa se lamureasca ce narozii au putut sa sprijine. Now. Nu trebuie sa fii prost sau marsav ca sa fii subject to cognitive dissonance. Trebuie sa fii uman. E o stare de tensiune, de conflict, de dezechilibru in interiorul psihismului pe care o poate simti oricine. Ce-i drept, daca ai un negot bun cu onestitatea si inteligenta, esti mai putin vulnerabil la anumite forme maligne ale ei, insa, ca fenomen general, poate fi resimtit de oricine. Termenul are totusi o usoara valenta peiorativa, descalificanta, avand in vedere ca starea normala a psihismului este echilibrul si ca in general, asa cum mentionam mai sus, reinstaurarea consonantei cognitive se face, din pacate, nu prin corectia imaginii de sine ci masluind si mai bine lentilele prin care vedem realitatea. We double down on our wrong view to protect our wounded self. We dig ourselves into an even deeper hole. Ma gandeam cum e sa cari muntele ala de disonanta cognitiva dupa tine, atunci cand blocul convingerilor tale este plin de crapaturi, prin care incepe sa intre incet, incet, lumina adevarului si a realitatii. Ce costuri psihice uriase ca sa te mentii in starea asta de eschiva si de negare perpetua. What a disgraceful state to find yourself in. What a miserable life to lead. Si uite ca deunazi, in urma unei discutii cu o prietena buna, m-am trezit cu o oglinda pusa abrupt in fata iar imaginea returnata era a unuia care taraste dupa el un munte de disonanta cognitiva de mai bine de douazeci de ani. Condescendenta mea fata de disonanti nu era gresita, era legitima, doar ca greseam cand ma excludeam dintre cei carora le este adresata.

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Asa cum am mai scris, am intrat in varsta adulta cu credinta ciuntita. Castrat teologic. Daca la 16 ani aveam intrebari fara raspuns, dar la care puteam spera ca timpul mi le va oferi, la 30 de ani nu imi mai faceam iluzii, stiam ca aporia este definitiva si ca raspunsurile nu exista. Una din pietrele de incercare (no pun intended) ale unui crestin este dificultatea de a face o sinteza, care sa aiba coerenta interna, intre Dumnezeul Vechiului Testament si Dumnezeul Noului Testament. Dificultatea a fost evidenta de la inceputurile Bisericii primare iar solutiile incercate (e.g. marcionismul, maniheismul) au fost considerate erezii. Bineinteles ca multe contradictii din disputa veterotestamentar – noutestamentar sunt doar aparente sau pot fi contextualizate cultural si astfel armonizate cu intregul, cu imaginea unui Dumnezeu iubitor si drept, in egala masura. Unele insa nu pot. Oricat de mult te-ai stradui. Ideea unui Dumnezeu care porunceste ca un om care incalca prohibitia divina, adunand niste vreascuri de foc in ziua de sabat, sa fie omorat cu pietre este imposibil de reconciliat cu ideea unui Dumnezeu iubitor. Ideea ca mi se cere sa arunc cu pietre in fratele sau sora mea, pentru simplul fapt ca nu isi asculta parintii (Deuteronom 21:18), bolovan cu bolovan, pana ma asigur ca nu mai respira, este aiuritoare si datatoare de cosmaruri. Nu am o problema cu ideea de ordine, regula, comandament, precept, norma si cu pandantul lor disciplinar si instituirea unei pedepse in cazul transgresiunii. Nu am o problema cu ideea ca iubirea si justitia isi disputa acelasi teritoriu, ca nu putem sa il concepem pe Dumnezeu doar iubire, fara versantul justitiei, si ca trebuie gasit astfel un punct de echilibru. Am o problema cu cruzimea. Justitia nu este reinstaurata intr-un mod chirurgical, fara spectacolul degradant al durerii, prin nu stiu ce interventie divina, ci mi se cere mie sa ucid, cu sange rece, prin tortura, printr-o moarte lenta, chinuitoare, degradanta, aruncand cu pietre, un seaman de-al meu, pentru o culpa mai mult sau mai putin meschina. If that’s not cruel, if stoning someone to death is not a cruel, barbaric practice, no matter how understandably backward and primitive is a society at some point, far back in time, then I don’t know what cruelty means and we might as well render the language meaningless and stop using it altogether. La rigoare, pot accepta si ideea unui zeu crud, caruia ii datorez supunere fara cracnire, insa nu mi se mai poate cere sa il respect sau sa il iubesc.

Pentru cine are probleme in a admite caracterul cruzimii unei astfel de executii, inchipuiti-va ca, acum in modernitate, statele civilizate care n-au renuntat inca la pedeapsa capitala (e.g. SUA, Japonia) si-ar executa condamnatii la moarte printr-un astfel de spectacol sinistru, in care o multime de oameni ar omori lent, prin aruncarea cu pietre respectivul transgresor. You wouldn’t have trouble calling that cruelty, would you? Placing and explaining past events in their historical, original context is, admittedly, a basic rule in any hermeneutic endeavour and it might cut you some slack but it cannot shield you from every criticism of the past. You cannot dismiss every moral judgement of the past as anachronistic and inappropriate. Nu poti folosi acuzatia de presentism – de exegeza improprie a trecutului prin lentilele prezentului, oricum si oriunde. Daca violul e rau, el este rau atat in prezent cat si in trecut. Daca sacrificarea unei fecioare ca sa imbunezi zeii este un rau, el este rau atat in prezent cat si in trecut. Daca sclavia, negotul cu persoane este un rau, el este rau atat in prezent cat si in trecut. Daca lapidarea este un rau, el este rau atat in prezent cat si in trecut. Altfel cazi in ceea ce critici vehement (i.e. relativism moral).

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Numeri 15:32-36  (NTLR): Pedeapsa pentru călcarea Sabatului

32 În timp ce israeliţii erau în pustie, au găsit un om adunând vreascuri în ziua de Sabat. 33 Cei care-l găsiseră adunând vreascuri l-au adus înaintea lui Moise, a lui Aaron şi a întregii adunări. 34 Pentru că încă nu era clar ce trebuie să i se facă, l-au pus sub pază. 35 Domnul i-a zis lui Moise: „Omul acela să fie omorât; toată adunarea să-l omoare cu pietre în afara taberei.“ 36 Toată adunarea l-a dus în afara taberei şi l-a omorât cu pietre, aşa cum i-a poruncit Domnul lui Moise.

Principiul tertului exclus ne blocheaza intr-o dilema din care un crestin nu poate iesi nevatamat. Ori i) Biblia este aprioric infailibila, ineranta, perfecta, si atunci, luand at face value relatarile ei, Dumnezeu este uneori crud, dubios moral, imperfect, problematic ori ii) Dumnezeu este aprioric perfect, iubitor, ireprosabil moral si atunci Scriptura, cand ne prezinta aceste relatari ale unui Dumnezeu dubios moral, este inexacta, failibila, imperfecta, problematica. Ori un zeu malitios, ori o revelatie inexacta. Ori un Dumnezeu imperfect, ori o Scriptura imperfecta. Una din doua. Unul din cei doi termeni cognitivi in conflict trebuie ajustat. Ajustezi identitatea si perfectiunea lui Dumnezeu sau pe cea a Scripturii? Renunti sa mai gandesti in termeni absoluti despre Dumnezeu sau despre Scriptura? Tarasc dupa mine, de douazeci de ani, acest munte de disonanta cognitiva, in care, in ceea ce ma priveste, am ales sa ajustez Scriptura pentru a-l salva pe Dumnezeu. Solutia e evident fragila din moment ce cei doi termeni – zeul si revelatia – sunt legati inconturnabil unul de celalalt. Sunt prea las ca sa am curajul sa ma arunc in gol, intr-o lume lipsita de un sens final. Sunt prea las ca sa ii intorc spatele Celui care este ceea ce este. Prefer disonanta cognitiva singuratatii si disperarii. Sunt un impostor si un las deplorabil. There. I said it.

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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.