Friday, November 04, 2005

Shifting Without a Clutch

BTA has been kind enough to edit and put up my guest post on his blog, which promises to add something to the current situation confronting many religious Jews today. Here it is on my blog:

Education and Re-education:
My name is Anonym and I am an OTD FFB. I think I was always a good kid. I got good grades through out elementary and high school. I competed in an interschool halakha competition (don't worry it wasn't on a useful topic). My science education was quintessential Yeshiva Orthodox. In junior high, the professor gave me our science exams to grade. We skipped several chapters in high school bio. Trigonometry was a joke (the only thing for which I don't forgive my high school).

My point is that I was not a "troubled teen." Me and my group of friends would discuss science and halakha. We discovered Challenge and got very into it. Of course we would never believe that man came from monkeys, that's ridiculous. I mean look at us, we're Yeshiva students toiling in God's word, how could we come from monkeys?Our rabbis honestly told us that fossil evidence is entirely manufactured. Dinosaurs are a myth. Why Orthodoxy chose to pick on dinosaurs is beyone me...

It was very clear that we were in the right and anyone who opposed us was either sadly mistaken or an evil genius- to be avoided like the plague for his potential for misleading us.

Paradigm Shift Without A Clutch
Then I got into the world, which I won't discuss (I assure you I was still a good kid, I just don't want to reveal identifying details).This summer I had time off and got to thinking. I had just read an excellent book on evolutionary psychology and was thinking about the arguments the author made. It wasn't an overly technical book, but suddenly my world changed. I understood that evolution as discussed in Yeshiva was an awful distortion of the actual theory and that the evolutionary mechanism is a simple description of physical law (whether or not it fully explains mankind is a matter up for debate, but there can be no question that the mechanism is there). And that was my tipping point. My worldview rotated on axis and I realized that all the garbage I digested, all the apologetics, all the ridiculous "proofs," and all the trappings of Orthodoxy, were flatly wrong.

It was a pretty awful feeling, so I called one my Yeshiva buddies, who I will call Mike. He left Yeshiva a little after me and is in a scientific profession. "Mike, I got a serious problem. I finally see the religion for what it is. It's nonsense. They have no concept of science, they don't understand evolution and none of it holds up to rational scrutiny." Mike asked, "Is this a joke?" "No, why?""Because you called me about this three years ago, and your exact words were 'Mike, I'm not sure about this religion, something doesn't seem right, they can't explain science.'"

The difference between this crisis and whatever heart-to-heart I had with Mike three years ago is incalculable. It is one thing to question your faith and then fall back on one of the standard pat answers tossed about by the "cool" rabbis bold enough to discuss science-inspired doubts (Hint: God must be Swiss 'cause He makes watches). That kind of thing wasn't going to help this time around. The watchmaker explanations only left me more wound up. [Ed.: sorry, couldn't resist]

The switch in my perspective is so fundamental that the only people who seem to know what I am talking about are those who experienced it themselves. But you know something, I still can't leave my religion. There is a great pizza place around the block from me. Since my crisis kicked into high gear, I cannot articulate what is keeping me from walking in there, but I can't.

The socialization you get from an FFB upbringing is similar to the pressure a BT feels to maintain your adopted lifestyle. I think we face a very similar dilemma as to where you go from here. Orthodox Judaism is not something you can easily walk away from if you are a cool-headed, stable person.

The "Other"
One more point that addresses the difference between a FFB and a BT going off the derech, and I guess you can tell me if this happened to you. The absolutely worse part about losing your faith is that you suddenly assume the identity of the "other." Like throughout my Yeshiva years, we would hear about the "other." You know; the secular scientist hellbent on disproving religion, the rebellious teenager who falls into drugs and promiscuous sex, and the middle-aged man who suddenly divorced his wife, left his kids and the derech. And upon hearing each horror story, you pat yourself on the back, smile at your buddies and think, "Gee, thank God I am not like them. I'll never be so evil. Suns may rise and also set, but at least I will never do that."

And after the turning point in the crisis of faith (when you realize that using religion to search for the answer is of no use, since the answer is right in front of you, but you don't want to accept it) you realize that you came to the same conclusions "they" did, and while some may have had problems, and perhaps they used faulty reasoning to get where they did, ultimately you and "they" are now in the same boat, or in what I like to dramatically refer to as the Wasteland.

I am not unhappy with it, in the sense that I have some emotional beef with it. I don't think all rabbis are hapless fools. I am not angry with God (although I think He might have a few choice words about me). Insofar as it has gotten me into my current jam, I don't regret the day I was born into this tiny faith. I hate change. I keep the same hairstyle, own one watch, and mourn the running shoes I retire.

Although I cannot intellectually justify any of my current observance, you don't just walk away from 20 years of chinukh.And so I started all the usual "truth seeking." Reading religious philosophy, talking to a few Rabbis and then it hit me that I wasn't seeking the truth, but trying to hide from it. A religion that requires you to spend your whole life trying to justify it is probably not going to be provable. There is not silver bullet that will remove all your doubts. No one has the answer. It's just impossible for people on the other side to realize how fundamental the paradigm shift is.

Why is this meandering post on an OTD BT blog, while I am an OTD FFB? I venture to guess that many BTs were attracted to Judaism for the wonderful picture of harmony and warmth it provides. Shabbos IS enjoyable if spent with friends and family. Shul can be fun when the Rabbi is brilliant, the singing tonal, and the kiddush scene sociable. I don't think that many BT's experience this shift and that's what brings them into the fold. Many people feel something is missing in their lives because life in this galaxy can be cold and lonely. Judaism looks good and it even works pretty well, provided you don't "look behind the curtain." Therefore, I think I am in the same position as many OTD BTs who find themselves on the other side of the shift.I don't know the future. I didn't come here to tell you how this is going to end. I came here to tell you how it's going to begin.Incidentally, if anyone reads this and thinks I haven't done due diligence, by all means contact me and prove that Orthodoxy is rational. I can be reached by sending an email to respondingtojblogs on the gmail email service.

PSA: I am going to be pretty busy the next few days, so blogging will be light to non-existent.