I've been hearing a lot about God lately.
Not from the man/woman/he/she/it/avatar in the sky; rather, from the mortal mouths of doctors, taxi-drivers, friends, and bar buddies. Although this escalating omnipresence of God seems apropos for the holiday season, especially directed at a sicko like me, I'm conflicted, doubtful, and perhaps, as my dear and devout Mormon friend endearingly refers to her loving, atheist husband, a GHB (godless heathen bastard).
IN THE BEGINNING...
I was reared in a "Conservative" Jewish household, meaning my family accepted all the values, rituals, and teachings of Judaism, but took a little leeway in how strictly we adhered to them, i.e., we stretched the Jew-truth a bit. Being conservative in this sense, is kind of like being fashionable on a budget - you buy just enough new pieces to stay hip, but continue to wear those classic standbys. (Sidebar: most "conservative" Jews are democrats)
Being a conservative Jew makes holy-state-maintenance accessible, and makes their minority status look hipper in the eyes of the masses.
Although my immediate family were fashion-Jews, we attended the Gemilas Chesed, an Orthodox synagogue, because that's where my mother went when she was a kid. It was also where most of the few Jewish kids in White Oak attended Hebrew School and Sunday School. (Not Quite Non Sequitur Sidebar: My family also kept kosher for years to accommodate our orthodox relatives.)
Interesting Fact 1: Orthodox Jews believe that religious Jews are divided into two main groups: Orthodox and Non-Orthodox. Orthodox Jews unquestioningly obey the Torah and all its rules. Non-Orthodox Jews try to adapt Judaism to modern life. Both groups observe the Jewish holy days.1
Unlike more limber denominations and other 'ologies, Orthodox Judaism is by the book, and that behomethic book's characters overfloweth with powerful, all-knowing he's and subservient she's. As my boobs began to grow and my rights began to shrink, the reality of my diminution within my own religion was disheartening, disconcerting, and discouraging for a burgeoning feminist.
I could share many "for instances", but that will further distract me from the point I'm ciruitously reaching, so I'll share one of my favorites:
My best girlfriend Amy, who has an elephantine memory, recalls that even though she and I were verifiably the best and fastest Hebrew readers, those awards went to the boys, while we received certificates for "Loyalty" and "Devotion" - excellent traits, no doubt, but fair is fair. Clearly, the awards were fixed.
Even though women take the back seat at services and lose many of their equal rights by the age of 13 (maybe that's why it's an unlucky number), their contradictory role - mainly childbearing, is held with the greatest esteem.
Interesting Fact 2: According to traditional Judaism, women are endowed with a greater degree of "binah" (intuition, understanding, intelligence) than men. 2This overwhelming feeling of inequality, second-class-citizen standing, and general male-ness-permeating Judaism was my teenage perception...and on that slant, I haven't wavered in 20 plus years.
Interesting Fact 3: Various rabbis at various times describe women as lazy, jealous, vain and gluttonous, prone to gossip and particularly prone to the occult and witchcraft. Men are repeatedly advised against associating with women. Women are discouraged from pursuing higher education or religious pursuits, but this seems to be primarily because women who engage in such pursuits might neglect their primary duties as wives and mothers.3
AND SOME FELL AMONG THORNS
Thus, my exodus from organized religion began. While, it may have been a bit thorny for my parents, I didn't feel a single prick as I loosened my ties to Judaism. I was imprinted, but I was liberated. Despite that, leaving one's religion isn't as simple as tossing away a dozen dead roses.
Parting is never easy, especially when it really pisses off someone you love. In my case, it wasn't God that was pissed, though many would disagree, it was my parents, and that rejection spawned some thorny times that are better left in the dumpster.
Rejecting mass belief systems, especially those that are exclusive and discriminatory, came naturally to me. Rejecting the Judeo-Christian God, and all of the transcendental shields and buckles that come pre-packaged (I love "accessories included") with that unwavering belief, was less arduous than Moses' journey, but took more than 40 days and nights.
Amy remembers me waffling between atheism and agnosticism since I was a pre-teen. Since then, I've tried to believe in God or different kinds of God beliefs, such as God is within all of us, or, well, that's about as far as I got.
Hey God, at least I tried.
AND THE TAXI-DRIVER SAID PRAY,
AND THE DOCTOR SAID IN GOD'S HANDS,
AND THE CO-WORKER SAID YOU'RE IN MY PRAYERS,
AND THE STRANGER SAID GOD WILL SAVE YOU, AND...
I'm still sick, and my uncle still died at the age of 43 of a brain tumor, and we're still at war, and soldiers and civilians are losing limbs and lives, and 100 million+ people are sleeping on cement, and my mother is still sad that she can't fix me, and an Egyptian schoolteacher has been sentenced to ONLY 6 years in jail for beating a student to death who didn't do his homework, and a man dressed as Santa shot a girl in the face, and Somalis have faced more violence in one year than in 10, and Bush served two terms, and money is power, and the government is controlled by stakeholders who keep life-saving cures behind white doors, and it's 60 degrees in Philadelphia in December, and fully-abled people don't offer a hand, and the US has the largest incarcerated population in the world, and women are being infibulated in Africa and the middle east, and..., and..., and...
And how the hell do you explain this madness?
I don't get it. If all these people are praying all over the world, and prayer is the answer; and God not only listen but is benevolent too; and the taxi driver who marvels over man-made skyscrapers thinks I can stand up against the wind if I just pray, pray, pray my f*ckin' brains out; and modern medicine is turning to God and not science; and pain, suffering, corruption, violence, discrimination, inequality, unnecessary death, and piercing nature's perfect skyline with shoddy materials is collectively, or at least widely, accepted as a bad affair, then on this "Merry" day, I have nothing to say other than a vapid Merry, Happy Whatever.
I know there are religious rationales for all of these atrocities. And I personally know from watching my uncle die that belief in a greater power and the saccharine fruits of after-life can ease the physical and emotional pain of a life-altering illness or waiting to die. Even I can acknowledge that this is a beautiful and deserved respite.
COME ON, TRY AND GIVE ME A SECOND DEATH, I DARE YOU*
Call me a GHB, or whatever you like, but I'm not feelin' God's love, nor am I looking for it - not for me or for man-kind.
I have many religious friends and family, and we know and respect each others' beliefs. And I appreciate, welcome, and am gracious for their prayers on my behalf. I even hope they'll work their magic so that I'll be healed by the power of the Lord (Virtual Sound Effect: emphatic accent on the "ea" in "healed" as in hEEEEEAAAAAAled).
I'm still not holding my breath or pressing my palms together. Strength and stamina is a precious commodity when you have transverse myelitis, but responsibility is not.
We need to take responsibility, a lot lot lot more responsibility. If there is a God, the poor guy has a lot of expectations to live up to, and as I've learned from my relationship research, expectations are the bane of all successful partnerships. Talk about a monkey on your back. I can't imagine how many ruptured disks the old man has.
Don't worry God, I'll give you some tramadol and Lidoderm patches, billions will pray for you, Palin will eventually eradicate the monkey "metaphor," and you'll be just fine.
Interesting Fact 4: The bible says, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live. The Good Samaritan - Luke 10. 25-33.4
While God may not be calling me names (I should hope not, I just offered to share my precious drugs with it), some might think me overly independent; under-ly optimistic; or a sinful, hell-bound devil. I'm cool with that. But there are a lot of people in this screwed up world that are either relying on God to take the initiative or aren't reaping the benefits of their selfless devotion. Not cool.
Pardon me Tammy Faye, but I don't believe there are too many blessed souls out there that can be healed by prayer alone. But if it were true, I'd be fired up and feeling an entirely different kind of blaze than the neuropathic pain I know so well.
Maybe my battle against TM would be easier, faster, clearer, more successful if I were a believer. Maybe it'd be just the same, but I'd be freed of the responsibility of my own recovery, and I'd have the time to focus my efforts on my real passions - making art, activism, celebrating life, and being as fabulous as I can be. Maybe I'd just have a greater community from whom I could gather support. Or maybe wrapping myself into a pretty little box, labeling myself with a $3.99 Hallmark mass-produced greeting card and setting myself under someone else's mass-produced eternal-life tree would give me the purpose of holiday godliness that heals all wounds.
I don't feel it's necessary to define one's values into one belief system. I've reconciled to label myself as a humanist, which isn't so much a religion, but a belief in the greater good of humanity - essentially agnosticism better defined.
Though there isn't a check box for humanism on Match.com, and it's not going to bring forth any godly mercy on my TM, it's a goddamn good definition for my beliefs and meditations on making this world a better place for all people. And that, as a sicko or non-sicko, is where I find my healing potential.
1 Info Please
2 Judaism 101: The Role of Women
3 Judaism 101: The Role of Women
4 All Great Quotes
* A New Heaven and a New Earth, the New Jerusalem - Revelation 21. 1-8