Religion & Beliefs

Survey #1: “I have a near-unbridled hatred for mysticism”

Last week, Faithhacker asked some friends and aquaintences to take this survey. She also posted a call on the blog, asking readers if they'd be interested in participating. Now, responses are starting to come in, and they vary as wildly … Read More

By / November 21, 2006

Last week, Faithhacker asked some friends and aquaintences to take this survey. She also posted a call on the blog, asking readers if they'd be interested in participating. Now, responses are starting to come in, and they vary as wildly as expected.

I'm planning to post one a day for a week or two (unedited of course) … though of course, if there's big news in Godland, any major miracles, I'll bump these surveys to get the word out (like, if the messiah arrives, fighting ceases in the middle east, or Christmas sales are banned in favor of good works and Christian charity).

Here, from Adam, a Jewcy reader living in Jerusalem, comes the first survey, a Jewish view of God and faith. What do you think? How does this reflect your own sense of faith/religion/Jewish identity?

Do you believe in "G-d?" If so, what does that word mean?

I do believe in God. The meaning of the word is a useless point. It's an English word that we generically apply to any deity of any religion, simply capitalizing the first letter when we are speaking about our God. I think perhaps you meant what the concept means.

I have had a lot of different beliefs about God over time. Many of them were quite poetic, though I'm certain I never actually believed any of them. In their stead and in the stead of any actual thoughts about whom and what God is, I'll say this: God is whatever we make God. To me God is. To some other people God is not. To still others God comes and goes. To a person with a developed theology, God is a developed concept. To a person who believes that God's chief attribute is the power to creator, God is The Creator. You see where I'm going with this. Does this question make you feel uncomfortable at all, and if so, can you explain those feelings a bit?

The question troubles me, but it does not make me uncomfortable. I am troubled only because I hate not having a solid answer for a religious question and this question is of course the religious question. Do you believe in an afterlife of any kind? If so, can you tell us something about it?

No. No afterlife, no resurrection. When you die, you are dead. There is not eternal soul, no means of living beyond your years. People ask me if I think this is rather depressing. Perhaps, but it gives everything I do during my time on Earth infinitely added significance. Do you pray? If so… How? When? Why? Try to be as specific as you can… bearing in mind that prayer means many things to many people.

I pray whenever my community does. At home, my Temple has three services a week and I regularly attend all of them. Here in Israel, the folks on my program tend to organize a service every day to every other day and I pray at those times.

It is part of my Jewish target to eventually pray three times a day. At this point in my life, I have neither the time nor the patience for that. Some day I hope to, and then I'll pray three times a day.

I really cannot say why I pray. I do not know the answer. I can say that I enjoy it. I can say that I think I am getting something out of it. Beyond that, I do not know.

I only pray from Reform or Progressive sidurim, mostly Mishkan T'filah and Ha'avodah Shebalev. I'll also pray from a weird indie sidur if there is one around. Can you tell us something about how prayer makes you feel? Is there an effect on you?

Prayer calms me. Unless it is badly led or the liturgy is hokey (Gates of Prayer, anyone?), in which case it does not calm me and instead it just pisses me off. Prayer, like all rituals, is to me secondary. I chose to do rituals only when they enhance my ability to carry out ethical commandments. Prayer happens to be one ritual that I think may be helping me with my ethics.

If you don't pray regularly, have you ever prayed before as an adult?

I'm seventeen years old, so… you know… no.

Have you ever had an experience you'd call "spiritual" or "mystical"? No. In fact, I have a near-unbridled hatred for mysticism and spirituality. I dislike intangibles and things which no one who believes therein can seem to explain.

I once had a moving experience at Kutz, in the main prayer space there, which has no walls and juts out onto a picturesque lake. I picture it at the end of the Amidah every time I do it to try and get back there. Do you think that belief in G-d and prayer are important parts of being Jewish?

Yes. To deny God or not pray or to depart from the tradition in some way on these subjects requires an authentically Jewish reason. One cannot simply proclaim that one is bored by prayer and then cease to do it. One must explain that in one's boredom one is afraid that one is not giving it one's all or some such thing. Therefore, even if you don't pray and even if you don't believe in God, you must give the topics thought and have opinions on them. The Reform Jew cannot say, "I don't pray because I'm Reform and we can do whatever the hell we want." The Reform Jew can say "I don't pray because I am unmoved by prayer and it doesn't help me."

My point is, even if you don't pray and even if you don't believe in God, you must know why that is. Prayer and God are not ignorable subjects for our people. Are these questions important to you? Do they bug you? Yes, they are important. No, they do not bug me.