Another time-stamp on my philosophical development. (Ed.10/2023)
My final for my Old Testament Survey class. His instructions were specific, 1/2page on what you thought of the Old Testament before the class, 1/2 page on what you thought after the class, and then 4+ pages on the above four questions. Given the limitations, the paper is exceedingly condensed but since I don’t have verse and scripture quotes I can refer to when describing my spirituality I sometimes post these up. Cut for the uninterested.
Reading the Old Testament for the first time in high school, especially after reading the Baghdavitta I believed that the stories should not be taken literally, but rather as metaphors of how to live life religiously. The individuals in the Old Testament were confronted with problems of life and faith that, taken out of the particular context of the writing, still apply today. One of the most important lessons I learned I gained writing a paper on Kierkegaard’s suspension of disbelief as it applies to the story of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac. Reading that story and comparing it with Kierkegaard’s leap of faith I came to the conclusion that though a God may exist, God cannot exist to the individual, truly exist, until they make a leap of faith into a relationship with God.
After this survey course, the Tanak continues to strike me as stories of everyday people with everyday problems who are called into dramatic circumstances and overcome challenges through faith and belief in God. I no longer believe these stories to be simple metaphors, but rather the collected wisdom literature of an entire race: the oral tradition, laws, histories, and moral guidance. As a whole the Old Testament is a story of a single extended family that struggles through jealousy, enslavement, betrayal, and human failings to fulfill a covenant and achieve their promised land. Finally, I learned that there is always a way out, a way back into the sight of God. Not just for individuals who sin and ask for forgiveness such as David, but also for an entire people who often, as in their desire to select kings or worship the golden calf, themselves go astray as a whole.
Who am I? I am an ardently faithful individual who strongly believes in divinity, the power of religion, and the importance of faith. I believe that though Gods may exist without the intercession of man, they do not exist to humans without man recognizing God. In a way, until man sacrifices faith to a higher power the divine relationship does not exist. This is why in the Tanak God rewards Abraham with the covenant as the first to recognize Him as a monotheistic supreme being. In my later teenage years, I sacrificed my faith to a higher power, whom I refer to as the One because in my mind it has neither gender nor direct form. For the last 13 years, I have remained faithful to that sacrifice, living through a religious relationship with this entity as rigorously as I know how. It is my belief that religion is simply a word for a relationship between the divine and a human, which can be of many forms. In the religion of worship, the individual acknowledges a far stronger power than oneself and agrees to follow a covenant mandated by that power such as in Christianity, Judaism, Islam, or Hindi. In the religion of emulation, an individual acknowledges a far stronger power than oneself and strives to emulate the actions and characteristics of that individual such as in Buddhism. Finally, the religion of respect, where one walks alongside a power far stronger than oneself because both entities: the worshipped and the worshipper, respect the same values.
At the core of my beliefs and the beliefs of the One, these mutually held values is the simple phrase: know what you do, do what you know. This belief requires a rigorous self-examination of who you are and what you stand for, and then an ability act out on those beliefs. One cannot allow oneself to act without knowing why. Why do I act the way I do at the moments I do? Is it anger determining my actions, pain, love, or joy? Did I allow the misdeeds of another to determine my own actions? Or are my actions truly what I believe in? Likewise, it is not sufficient to merely have the belief but never act on it. When confronted by something believed wrong, such as racial prejudice, it must be labeled as such and worked to overcome. If an action is believed right, such as charity, it is not sufficient to just smile and nod sagely thinking to oneself “Charity = good”, one must actively pursue charitable works and organizations that endow them.
What do I believe in? Being responsible for my own actions, not allowing the weak to be hurt by the strong, protecting freedom, never relinquishing my mind’s control to drugs or alcohol, always living with honor in daily life. But the key to my religion is not my specific beliefs themselves but rather that I know them and follow through on them. If you believe in yourself and do what you believe in then the One is willing to stand by your side, to be a reservoir of faith untouched by the physical ails of the world. In your book “Up in Fairmont” you discuss the importance of your older siblings Betty, Janet, and Jerry. The One is the ultimate older sibling, the ultimate parent, out there somewhere in a place untouchable by the struggles of the world but not oblivious to its hardships. Faith sacrificed to the One is protected and cherished, held above the fray that can always be called upon but never endangered. Likewise, I believe in respecting those, who even though they do not follow my religion, combine belief and action into a single purpose. It is why I can love and respect members of all faiths for following the tenets of their faith, even when it conflicts with mine. I would never knowingly disrespect the traditions of another religion for doing so would be to disrespect those who have the courage to follow their beliefs.
There is an unpleasant side to these beliefs, a moral quandary, however. Similar to how Christianity asks one to love the sinner but not the sin, a very difficult request, my religion counsels to respect the believer but not the belief. The best example of this quandary is the terrorist attacks of 9/11. The terrorists believed in their religion so strongly that they were willing to die for it. Taken away from the context of the destruction and devastation they wrought I am compelled to respect the strength of their beliefs. However I categorically reject the belief itself, and had I had a chance in whatever parallel reality where I could have been on one of those planes a chance to stop them, even at the cost of my own life. In a smaller context, when I was in the Reform Synagogue though I covered my head and read along with the prayers I did not mouth the words that would bind my worship or service to their God. I respect the depth of their belief, but I did not share it, and neither would I sully their holy temple by speaking a lie within its sacred chambers. For the One walks and aids any who follows these tenets, even if they do not know or acknowledge the One’s presence or sacrifice faith to the One. The One does not judge them as good or evil. But rather it is up to those who walk with the One to look out in the world and make judgments of good and evil, and having made the judgment act upon it, either to support or deter it.
This leads to why I am I here. I believe that all men and women are born evil. I believe all humans have the potential to do good, that we can recognize it when we see its opportunity, but to do so we must resist our natural inclinations and the world around us to act on it. I am here to do good, not because it is in my nature to automatically do so, but because it is in my nature to recognize good and struggle daily to do so. I believe that to do good requires defiance, as Sartre says we live to resist. But this resistance isn’t against existential angst, it is against everyday ordinary and extraordinary weights that threaten to drag our wills not to that which we wish to apply them too, but to other focuses such as survival, happiness, companionship, and social acceptance. This is why I refer sometimes to my religion as the One to companionship; even if I am alone physically I am not spiritually.
Living in defiance, you live to defy the wishes of others. When I choose to do good I defy the interests of others; those who do not wish to do good or the vast majority who simply wish to be left alone. Defiance can be as simple as not indulging in a common and socially acceptable but to me personally reprehensible pastime such as alcohol or drug use. Or defiance can be as life-endangering as saying to the man holding a gun to your head; ‘No I will not allow you to control my life.’ Most typically defiance is only as dangerous as standing alone in the crowd and being willing to say, “What we’re doing is not right”. This applies today just as much as it did at other moments: the war on terrorism, the prejudice against homosexuals, the threats of the loss of freedom; in each of these scenarios are opportunities for individuals to take a stand and say “I am not willing to be intimidated and I will speak and act my conscious”.
That is the question of life itself. Why are we here, what is the purpose? Perhaps the purpose is no more mysterious than to find the meaning of life. We are here so we can define ourselves and in so doing define what our meaning of life is. For me, it means never releasing those things that are precious and never surrendering the will or the soul. This was the triumph of the Christians who did not lose their faith amongst the lions, the greatest victory of the Jews over oppression that spread over two thousand years…that they have survived with their belief and faith intact. They continue to act on those beliefs, regardless of the consequences. So what am I going to do? Know what I do, and do what I know.
So, why do you think that the concept of the One, or God, or any of that is necessary? Something you’ve experienced?
Necessary is an interesting choice of words and I’m not sure if I’ll answer this correctly. It may be callous of me to say but I think few things in life are truly necessary, for example, a relationship with a friend is of great advantage and comfort, but not necessary. I would survive without that friend but perhaps be poorer off for the experience. The same applies to my relationship with the One. I can’t speak for those who follow other Gods because in some religions the necessity is in the form of a covenant, a divine mandate under which one either falls within the umbrella or does not. However, with the One it is a path of mutual association, we walk together only in so much as we respect one another and the common values we look for.
As for experiences I’ve had several ranging from entirely minute to the “almost-knocked-my-knees-out-from-underneath-me”. Sometimes it’s as simple as confronting a hard split in the path; down one road is the easy way out, and down the other is the harder path but truer one. Times like that I realize that if I do choose the harder path I may be in for some really rough times, but the One will respect me for making that hard choice and help shield that tiny part of me within it’s guard.
But those experiences are hard to relate to others because they are usually entirely alone and unrelatable. I have few rituals, my church is where I’m standing, and there is no intermediary entity or individual between me and the One. I don’t expect nor ask for miracles, nor even guidance, just companionship and shared strength when confronting tough situations. Hope that answers the question, but I’m not sure I got it.
Another variant of your question could be: why are Gods necessary? My answer to that is simple. In Astronomy this year I learned that eclipses only happen when the moon’s umbra crosses the earth during a new phase and only a new phase when the moon is approaching the node where it will cross the sun’s ecliptic. Is that necessary? Probably not. Is it part of the universal system? Seems like it.
As a follow-up, I just realized I may have indicated that a relationship between a mortal and the divine, a religion, is a necessary part of the universal system. I actually don’t believe that. Atheism and emulation philosophies (Buddhism for example) are just as tangible and valid parts of the same gigantic system, but that starts dovetailing into the giant unifying theory which is a whole different discussion of metaphysics. =)