Religion & Beliefs

Faithhacker is a moron

So, Faithhacker has been struggling a little with how to make this "a guide to practical spirituality." It's a lot easier to rant and mull than it is to offer concrete advice for people who want to get a little … Read More

By / November 21, 2006

So, Faithhacker has been struggling a little with how to make this "a guide to practical spirituality." It's a lot easier to rant and mull than it is to offer concrete advice for people who want to get a little more "spirit" into their lives. Right?

Which brought me yesterday, to wish for a set of guidelines.

"Why isn't there a list of rules for "practical" religious life?" I thought to myself, as I ate muffin (blueberry). "Why isn't there an instruction manual??

Um. Duh! There is! Of course there is. And I'm an idiot for not thinking of it sooner.

Jews have, if nothing else, a text for every damn thing. There is a set of guidelines. 613 of them, to be precise. We call them mitzvot, and when I was a 7 year old sunday-school kid, I understood them to be a big fence, a list of specific instruction that would, if followed precisely, keep you from breaking the itty-bitty particulars of the most famous guidelines of all.

According to Wikipedia:

Rabbis are divided between those who seek the purpose of the mitzvot and those who do not question them. The latter argue that, if the reason for each mitzvah could be determined, people might try to achieve what they see as the purpose of the mitzvah, without actually performing the mitzvah itself.

Which makes sense… but for the purposes of this particular heathen, that's the interesting part.

And while some of them leave little to ponder (like #104– Not to have intercourse with a beast (Lev. 18:23) (CCN117) a lot of them do provide an opportunity to rethink our daily lives.

For instance, I really like #203–a man should fulfill whatever he has uttered (Deut. 23:24) (CCA39).

This strikes me as important, and something we might generally call "follow through" and consider to be a mark of a "solid person" but not always think of as "religious."

But it is.

Think of all the promises you make each day. Think of all the whispered intentions. The moments when you say to your roommate, "I'll wash the dishes when I get home" or insist to your mom, "I promise I'll call Grandma tomorrow."

But then you don't. Not because you're evil, but because life moves fast and you forget things. But this rules, this guideline, this mitzvah– it means you should think about what you say, and once spoken, you should treat your words as oaths. Because once they're out there in the world, other people count on them, believe in them, listen to them. And plan (and hope and feel) accordingly.

Like Bruce Springsteen (the greatest sage of all) once said (in the saddest song ever written), "Is a dream a lie if it don't come true… or is it something worse?"

I guess, according to this rule, it's both. A lie and a sin. Depending on whether you spoke your dream out loud. Which raises an itneresting question… for another day.

I'd like to know how people feel about this rule (especially lazy people, and people who talk way too much)… and maybe what people think of this set of rules in general (which is pretty clear on intermarriage, gay sex, etc) And I'd like to come back and consider these "guidelines" now and then… one by one. And discuss them, so I can learn them myself.