Monday, March 24, 2008

How do I feel?

Ever watch City of Angels? Note the way the angels look at the world almost blankly with just a hint of some secret knowledge so secret even they don't know what it is, but there is nonetheless an air of having a clue or maybe just faith, in whatever it is they know or might know.

Note Seth's expression as he watches Maggie at first. Not so much interest in her as in what she does. How she does things. What is happening around her.

That's how I feel. Really separated from the world, but something I don't understand assures me that it is basically alright. I don't know what it is and as long as I just accept it then it is okay... for a time. If I don't accept it and question I just have more questions.

I feel it about my conversion as well. As I've said long before I ever get to the beit din I want to be cool with it in my heart honestly. I want the contradictions if any to be surmounted and shackled to my purposes. I want to suspend disbelief and as with not questioning and just accepting without accepting, stipulating to nothing, just let those things slide. I want to embrace the bigger picture and deeper message.

So I continue to sit on a high perch watching people, watching their ways, hopes, anger, questions... and sometimes taking part with few understanding exactly where I am coming from but all knowing there's something odd about me.

Some think the conversion odd given that my reasons for leaving Christianity as it is practiced behind to adopt the ways of Judaism. Even stranger still for such a secular person is that I want to sit in the middle of the Jewish theological road between the extremes of unaffiliation and Charedi ultra-Orthodoxy in Conservativeville.

It's not what it appears and not the same as the kvetching skeptidox.

All my life I was told about Jesus of Nazareth following a path that anyone could see was headed towards a lethal impasse. Either to his soul by recanting his mission and abandoning it, or to his body by continuing to stay honest to what he believed.

It was never about the schizophrenic view that the king of the Jews was somehow separate from them. You know, the internalized and overlooked contradiction that Catholicism and the rest skate past. I never saw it that way. It was a paradigm shifting without popping the clutch as Scott Adams' Dilbert strip might put it rather than the SEP or Someone Else's Problem as Douglas Adams would call it which the other Christians treated it as.

In other words I had a fair amount of cognitive dissonance even as those who I had been with seemed to be enjoying a measure of schadenfreude at it much as some snickering kannoim have towards skeptics and like them, because they have internalized the contradictions, swallowed them whole, and perhaps in some bizarre human way made them stop causing mental ulcers by surrounding them like an oyster makes a pearl.

I'd like to think in that dichotomy there was something so valuable as a pearl. I think XGH more than most is trying like all the apprentices of Hephasteus to hammer it hot and fast into something that makes sense and makes all of the anguish worthwhile. I'd also like to think that there's a certain lesson in simply acting as though there was a redeeming thing already found and get on with it.

Shock, anger, denial, and acceptance are supposed to be the four main psychological stages of of getting past the contradictions which in these skeptical religious introspections seem like Hegelian dialectic that keeps failing to reach a synthesis and thus the mediator never vanishes and we're left with the endless argument; and it would seem the counter-argument that we should have no argument for that matter.

So with respect to the issue from five and four paragraphs respectively, I always felt a drive to do honor by someone who'd never met me, but felt the moral path they were on was so important to the future which necessarily includes me that they went to a really horrible death but at the same time, I always felt constrained by the Catholic and Christian ideas about the new religion.

When you throw off the intellectual chains of a given system to the free fall space of making it up for yourself yet still encompassed by the spacesuit-like framework of your deepest beliefs and nature, you find yourself poking outward trying to find boundaries that you initially don't think should be there, and usually you smack into them when you think they aren't.

So what I came to was the realization that of all I felt, I felt most strongly that my fellow humans were idiots. Sometimes well meaning idiots, but still pretty dippy. Like a dog that runs headfirst into closed doors paying no heed to the fact that they aren't open. Internalized and insulated contradictions seem to be one of their fortes and I had little facility for it. It was a kind of comfort with their own imbecilic ignorance even when it was purposeful and chosen as such that I lacked. Excessive honesty with myself might have been one way of putting it. Guilty angst is another. My way of wrapping that annoying grit was to put it under the heading of Human Fallibility.

When I did that, immediately everything in religion from creation onward became merely a cute story, but something miraculously remained... that seeming downgrade from This is the Truth to Merely a Cute Story did not with it bring a similar downgrade in how seriously I took it. It merely changed why it was important.

Previously, whether it was factual or not determined whether I was right. Now it didn't matter and it was a matter instead of whether or not it said something to me and others that was of any importance to us.

You know, someone had to have the same or at least a similar idea by setting down the Mishna and Gemara. If nothing in the Torah was of any importance, then why explain it? If it was totally important, why not explain it? Can something be so important that you must not explain it? How then could anyone find the importance if someone who found it important did not share with them the reasons they found it important and the framework of reasoning by which they came to that feeling?

Granted, humans can be pretty thick. Read or and you'll see what I mean. We're not talking natural born giants of philosophy. Nevertheless they have a weird way of internalizing various things they don't understand and therefore cannot argue in any way, much less formally by the Socratic method, the way those things have meaning and importance to them. I've begun to think some things have importance even their protectors and guardians don't understand. Sometimes, especially them.

In the case of Christianity, the importance that is generally missed without ever getting properly internalized and leading to the ongoing cognitive dissonance they have much as many others of other religions have a similar thing, is that Jesus was first and foremost a righteous Jew who never tried to start a new religion.

So why build a new religion then? It's sort of like going out to the home improvement store for putty to fix bathroom tile and instead going to the supermarket for bread and soup and after ten years of never getting to the putty, you wonder to yourself how long the wife will stand the crappy shower. We sat in church wondering when someone was going to say that it was all bullshit and we should try to understand the world through Jesus' eyes.

Isn't it strange that instead of getting the putty in the first place that people still have to engage in hermeneutics to figure out what belief system they belong in?

Like I said, humans have an amazing ability for duct taping over contradictory things and just doing things because that's how they have always been doing them.

I think the new religious system didn't work quite right. There are others who believe it did and really, I am cool with that and happy for them. Me personally? I'm drawn to the story of this person that thought something was going wrong between G-d and His children so strongly that he set on a course he knew would certainly lead to his own end in a most bloody painful manner. What was his view on the world framed by?

Maybe that explains my fascination with Hillel and Shammai. I don't know.

I do know that the new religious system isn't for me. It doesn't speak to me. I wish it did and I didn't have to leave. I wish there was something to keep me there. Sadly, there isn't.

I can't internalize this contradiction. I don't feel anything to counterbalance and make it palatable or at least tasteless.

The only honor I can do this man is to try to see the world from his point of view. For that you have to practice fundamentalism in its truest form: proceeding from fundamental premises.

The fundamental premise is that the man was a Jew and his ways were those of Jews from two thousand years ago. He knew the prayers commonly expected as a matter of dogma and doctrine in his day. He knew the reasons. He like others knew of the problems and promises of his people. The dichotomies and the contradictions. He knew what he thought to be right and what he thought to be wrong. These he learned from others of his people.

I cannot go back two thousand years, so what happened to his people?

That's why I dove into the sea of modern Jewish questioning and culture long before learning the dogma and doctrine. The people in a given system internalize and systematize the dogma and doctrine of that system. They then retransmit these things in their own way through the filter of their own experiences and natures. Just as Jesus learned from his people, I want to learn from them.

So I began to do so and my cognitive dissonance went away. These people I was learning from made more sense than those I'd come from as if I was always a 110VAC American hair dryer trying to be plugged into a 220VAC socket in Europe.

I don't think the skeptidox are going to find the same breath of fresh air experience in Christianity. I rather think that instead of the ability to pare away a later framework and reduce they will be forced to swallow Torah AND the New Testament. If the motor oil is the wrong weight, mixing it with more oil of a still wrong weight probably isn't going to help.

In that, I was lucky I had a more fundamental premise to go back to and a people who stuck with it even if they did so in an evolutionary manner which between the Ashkenazi and Sephardi shows a great difference from the period of the Second Temple.

Was I lucky? Or was it always supposed to have been, exemplified by the puzzle piece fit I found for myself? Can the eventual future have something to do with the past which preceded it?

Maybe. It's one of those internalized things which I'll never get a nice comfortable layer of pearl around, but at least that question doesn't frighten me and though I don't know why, I don't care why I don't know why either and I'll be thankful for that moment of peace in a world I watch with rapt attention like an angel who doesn't understand but knows something he doesn't understand which makes the first not understanding somehow okay.