Spritzophrenia

humour, music, life, sociology. friendly agnostic.

Posts Tagged ‘Judaism’

Sex, God, Science and Music (Part Two)

Posted by spritzophrenia on November 18, 2010

Or, Jewish Professor Writes About Fundamentalism
In my continued quest to actually write a short blog, I split this post into four. Part One of books I’ve been reading recently talks about sex. Today,

The Story of God

“A personal journey into the world of science and religion”
This is the book of a TV series by respected science populariser Prof. Robert Winston. Writing as a believing Jew he attempts an overview of religion from prehistory to the present, with significant chapters on Islam (not intrinsically violent in his view) and his own Judaism, as well as many other points of interest. His section on groups like the “New Age” and the “Heavens Gate” cult intrigued me. If anything, his focus on science and religion, which he says are quite compatible, is not as satisfactory— there are better books on this subject. Then again, this is a popular work, and a very readable one at that.

fundamentalist atheist

He makes a few minor mistakes, but overall it’s engaging and I learned a lot in areas I’m not familiar with, such as pre-historic religion. (Essentially, we know sweet frak-all; it’s conjecture based on little evidence.)

Winston writes on many other areas including a long section on fundamentalism:

There is a tendency nowadays to think of fundamentalism as being solely a reaction to the conditions of modern life. For example, when Muslim girls in French schools campaign for the right to wear the veil, we seem them as rejecting western dress in an attempt to protect their ethic identity in the melting-pot of global society. … It has also been suggested that only Judaism, Christianity and Islam can become ‘fundamentalist’ religions, because they base themselves on ancient texts, which are viewed as sacred and unchangeable, and which therefore continually clash with current thinking.

But this sort of reasoning is faulty. For a start, many fundamentalists are far from averse to the modern word— indeed, they use the internet, television, radio and newspapers as a means of spreading their beliefs. Terrorism, whether in the name of Judaism, Islam, Sikhism or any other cause, depends on the media to make its atrocities known and felt by the maximum number of people. Second, such arguments neglect the fact that fundamentalism is as old as religion itself, and not at all restricted to the ‘big three’ of the Judaeo-Christian tradition. …

Richard Dawkins cannot be alone in feeling that ‘only the wilfully blind could fail to implicate the divisive force of religion in most, if not all, off the violent enmities of the world today’.

[Winston goes on to discuss and deplore more modern fundamentalism, violence and distress, including some of his own experiences in the field of fertility.]

Equally, there are fundamentalists pursuing science and promoting it’s ‘truth’. And they can sometimes be almost as threatening in many ways as religious fundamentalists, not least because they seem to see no limitation to their pursuits and appear to have little or no moral framework— except one that they themselves have devised.

~ pp 425, 438

I’ve recently come to the conclusion that it’s not religion per se that is the problem in the religious violence in the world, but fundamentalism. So this confirms my biases quite nicely. In other words, I think it’s possible to have a spirituality that does not turn into crack-for-crazies. Maybe I’m too optimistic though?

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What do you think? Does spirituality inevitably lead to fundamentalism? Can non-religious people be fundamentalists?
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Nothing to do with this post, I just like it. The Gossip | Heavy Cross

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Posted in agnostic, Judaism | Tagged: , , | 13 Comments »

The Secret Life of a Re-Defined Jew

Posted by spritzophrenia on November 8, 2010

I think we need to talk to each other about our spiritual lives. Even though we may respectfully disagree, I believe that peaceful co-existence of all religions in the 21st century depends on this.

To this end I interview various believers and non-believers here on Spritzophrenia. Today Romy Shiller from Montreal shares about her life and beliefs. Dr Shiller earned her PhD in drama, has published several books and works as a pop culture critic and writer. Her website is http://www.romyshiller.com

Jonathan: Hi Romy. Tell me a bit about your background- did you have any kind of spiritual upbringing?

Romy: Hey, Jon. Hmmm. I went to Hebrew School from grades 2-6. Took Hebrew in CEJEP for one semester, which comes after high school in Canada. Hebrew isn’t a religion but it’s certainly a part of my Jewish-ness. I can read, speak and write in Hebrew. When I light the candles for Shabbat or holidays a prayer in Hebrew is recited. I like that I know what I’m saying.

In grade 3, I won my first book prize for a poem I wrote about the Holocaust. My grandmother used to tell me stories about how her whole family was killed by Nazis for being Jewish in the Warsaw Ghetto in Poland.

Dr Romy Shiller

Romy.

We were not spiritual (do you mean religious?) per se but we did celebrate the high holidays. We’d have a dinner and go to Shul (Synagogue). There, I always focused on good energy– not religion.

My Hebrew School was Kosher and followed all of the holidays– very different from home-life. I am vegetarian but I would never have milk with meat. That stayed from grade-school.

Jonathan: How would you describe your spiritual path now? How did you come to believe what you do?

Romy: I always say that I’m Jewish but I’m redefining what that means. As usual for me, Judaism is a base-line, and I freely extrapolate. I like my Jewish traditions and will always honour my grandparents.

I say that I’d be burnt in the ovens or stake as a witch no matter what I believe. As a matter of fact, just doing this interview is dangerous (But EXTREMELY important). Anti-Semitism is rampant. If you don’t hear from me in the future it’s your fault. 😉

On Twitter, someone using a Hitler icon recently threatened me. I will not give this person power by responding. I live with the danger of being a Jew every day.

So, no regular God for me. I have done psychic readings and Tarot cards, I have many different Tarot decks. One is Kabalistic and uses Hebrew letters. I believe in entities and one God. I believe in reincarnation. I have no friggin’ idea why I believe what I do. I have a blog on my metaphysical journey

Jonathan: What’s your day to day life like? Do you pray or keep Sabbath?

Romy: My day to day life has nothing to do with spirituality except that on the weekend I do Tarot. This to me is like a big fortune-cookie that I believe. My praying is more like thanking the powers that be. I am always grateful for ANY guidance. I kind of feel blessed.

I do not do Shabbat any more every Friday night but once in awhile. Again, it’s not religion for me, it is tradition. Lighting candles is like magic or meditation to me.

I just want to say something. At one time you talked with me about being Jewish not only as a religion but an ethnicity. If one buys into an idea of a straight, white, Christian, male as a ‘norm’ than I am ethnic. I have NEVER felt ethnic in any way. Even though there might be an impulse to label me as ‘exotic’ and although I might like that label, I am not that either. I am not an ethnic/exotic ‘other’.

Jonathan: When I said Judaism was an ethnicity as well as a religion, I meant no disrespect. ALL people have an ethnicity, including my own white New Zealand culture. It seems to me that Jewishness is a mixture of a “nation”, or “tribe” if you like, and a religion. Other religions, like Buddhism, seem to be uninterested in which tribe one comes from. Yet Judaism seems, to this outsider, very linked to a particular group. Any thoughts?

Romy: No offense taken? Jon. I don’t think that most people regard white, Christian, New Zealanders as ethnic. I don’t think anyone cares about my ‘tribe.’

I’m going to be very ‘in your face’ now. Nazis had this notion of ‘ethnic cleansing’ and moved towards a concept of an ‘Aryan Race.’ It brought that up for me.

Jonathan: You seem to have what might be called a “liberal” Jewish faith. (I don’t want to label you, so please forgive me if that doesn’t describe you.) How do you think about or relate to Orthodox or Hasidic Jews? In your point of view, is there any such thing as a “true” Jew these days, religiously?

Romy: Call me what you want but I may seep out of your definitions. Frustrating, eh?

I know a Christian, Filipino woman who works for Orthodox Jews. She will often remind me that it’s such-and-such Jewish holiday. I tell her that she’s a better Jew than me. *smile*

Orthodox and Hasidic Jews are extremely strict and play by the official Jew rules. They definitely embody qualities pertaining to being a “true” Jew. Nothing is ‘authentic’ but there are closer proximities than others.

Jonathan: I’m saddened that in modern Canada you still feel cautious about expressing your Jewishness. How do you think persecution has helped define you? (Persecution of your ancestors or in your own life?)

Romy: Yeah, it’s sad but not surprising. When I lived in Toronto, I brought in my grandparents to be interviewed about their Holocaust experience for the Shoah project by Steven Spielberg. There are Holocaust deniers and I thought that having a testimonial was important. [The Nazi Holocaust 1938-1945. Estimated Death Toll: 6 million Jews, 5 million others including 500,000 Gypsies, 6 million Poles, 5,000 to 15,000 homosexuals]

I was called a 3rd wave feminist in a book by the head of woman’s studies at South Carolina University. I researched what it meant to be a 3rd wave feminist. I found out that it’s aligned with a survivor mentality. I align myself with my grandparents whom I consider survivors. Persecution enabled this definition.

Jonathan: You seem to make a strong distinction between “religion” and “spirituality”. Can you tell me more about that?

Romy: Oh, yes I do make a huge distinction. Religion is paradigmatic. I consider it man-made, story-ridden and obviously ideological and prescriptive.

I am very spiritual. My spirituality is about connecting to unseen energies. It has nothing to do with prescriptions for being.

Jonathan: How does traditional Judaism think about spirituality outside the faith, eg Tarot? If the opinion is negative, does this bother you?

Romy: To be honest, Judaism in general doesn’t reflect upon Tarot and I don’t care what anyone thinks about my spirituality. I never did. I say, “bring it on.”

Jonathan: You said “no regular God for me” but also that you “believe in entities and one God”. What are these entities and God like for you?

Romy: Entities are like people who have passed on. Non-material beings that I can connect with. I find material physicality contentious.

I think of God as a quantum physics wave (or particle) in space. I am very comfortable with dualities. I don’t try to make things ‘fit.’ Ever.

The God thing is complex, eh? I absolutely do not believe that God created the Universe and even the idea of a ‘mind’ is problematic. My God doesn’t approximate human identity.

Jonathan: (This is the question I ask everyone.) Is truth important to you? If so, how do you know what you believe is true?

Truth is very important to me but I’m talking about honesty. In most of my books I use this example: Data and historical events do not shift but meaning does. The way we interpret data or historical events can change. For example, History. Things happened on certain dates. The way we regard these events might change. Data: Pluto is not considered a planet anymore. Alteration and flux are truth.

We are limited in what we can know given our senses. I know that any perspective I have is skewed. I am limited by my physicality– ironic because I am disabled.

A fish in a fishbowl only knows what a fish in a fishbowl knows.

Jonathan: Thanks for agreeing to be interviewed, Romy 🙂

Romy: A great pleasure Jon.

Respond

What questions would you ask Romy? If we’re lucky, she might respond.

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You can find other interviews here.

Posted in Judaism, Sociology, spirituality | Tagged: , , , , , | 14 Comments »

How Can We Stop The Killing?

Posted by spritzophrenia on November 3, 2010

Yesterday I couldn’t write. The violence of the world sickened me, and I was in shock.

In the news is the story of 58 people killed in a Baghdad church by attackers who systematically shot them, and detonated explosives when the security forces tried to free them. If that wasn’t enough, today scores more are killed in markets and workplaces by ten car bombs.

I’m so sick of the violence and evil of fanatics. They kill Muslims, Jews, Christians, Atheists, and even themselves.

The thing is, this is not new. Violence, death and hate have been going on for decades centuries, in many places around the world. I don’t know why the news yesterday affected me so much, but it did.

Muslims and Christians chant anti-terrorist slogans during a funeral of slain Christians in Baghdad, from here.

We can argue about whether religion ’causes’ this kind of violence, as some do. I think it’s a little more nuanced than that. “It’s all being blamed on the failure of Iraqi politicians to agree on the formation of a government”, according to Rawya Rageh, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Baghdad. Politics, not (just) religion. (For those interested, there’s evidence Al-Quaeda only grew in Iraq AFTER the invasion by Western forces)

But that’s not what concerns me here. Mostly, I just need time to grieve.

I could write a long piece analysing this and that, trying to create the definitive statement for peace. But in the end, others have done it far better than I and there’s really not much more to say. All of us hate the killing of innocents.

For me, the bigger question is: What can I do? How can I stop it? Can anyone tell me?

Here’s a few ideas:
* Join an organisation which works to bring peace. (Which one? Do they do any good?)
* Nuke Iraq out of existence (Military “solutions”.)
* Use my skills as a writer to change the world. (*cough*)

To repeat something I said on Crystal’s blog: I know that love is more important than belief. Sadly, I don’t know how that will ever get through to fanatics.

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What do you think we can do?
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Slayer | War Ensemble

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Posted in agnostic, ethics, hardship | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments »

Celebrating The Weeds

Posted by spritzophrenia on August 4, 2010

In the comments last week someone characterised my project as “sorting out the weeds”. I like that. Weeds can be beautiful as well as inconvenient in my opinion. Here’s a scattershot bouquet to admire or throw away.

Chickweed

I’ve been getting some balance back into my life. I pushed myself too hard writing critically and intended to get away from the computer. Instead I spent a large part of the weekend coaching my 12 year-old through his science project. So much for getting away from the computer.

I’ve also been thinking about balance in terms of spiritual paths. Reading the last week or two’s posts you could get the impression that only atheism or some kind of christianity count here. I don’t claim that all religions are the same. I do want to be open to insights. Have a random Bhagavad Gita quote:

“There is neither this world nor the world beyond nor happiness for the one who doubts.”

Dandelion in the sun

Dandelion

I do believe serious thinking needs to be done as part of my spiritual journey. There’s still gonna be some intellectual heavy lifting here, it’s part of who I am and I can’t escape that. But I don’t want to neglect the rest of life or get stuck down the rabbit hole of endless philosophy, obscure science or irrelevant theology. Let me know if I’m doing that, won’t ya? Sometimes I’m unable to back up everything I ponder with academic research, which disappoints the ego in me, but that’s life. I want to let go my attachment to being right.

We’re allowed to change our opinions. Some days I will be logical to the point of inanity. Some days I will be fluffy and mystical. Some days I will appear to favour one path, others another. It’s all part of my journey, and I reserve the right to change my mind as I learn. This is Spritzophrenia, after all.

This is not to say I think all is one, or there are no answers, merely that the path is sometimes unclear and may require backtracking.

Henbit

Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.
– Helen Keller, quoted in Who Knew.

I’m valuing the experience of friendship, and the discussions of late. I think there is so much we can agree on, even if we can’t agree on everything. I value you. You don’t have to be an intellectual or spiritual giant to belong here. I’m not. Besides, giants can scare away the little people. I’m sometimes amazed and delighted at the connections people make with what I write. When I see your comments I find myself thinking, “I really love you maaaan”. No, I haven’t been drinking 😉

I thought you might enjoy the hilarious “Internet verses real life” sketches, particularly the final section on what internet discussions can be like. (Some language may offend.)

Wood sorrel

I’m valuing life experience in spirituality, and remembering the path contains joy as well as hardship. (Read “personal development” for spirituality if you prefer.) After a brain-draining and exhausting weekend I spent time on Sunday sitting in a pub reading, drinking cider and eating hot bread. The good things in life are indeed good. I like the Celtic christian way of talking about deity as “The good God”, who brings good things to our life. Hopefully a genuine spiritual path involves celebrating this life, extreme asceticism has never appealed to me. Judaism often has an earthiness and a real-world focus which is warming, as I understand it.

I think I’ve finally worked out who I’m writing for. Me, of course. But also other seekers, people who haven’t got a fixed, firm and final perspective on everything and who are looking to grow, to learn and to share. Do you know anyone like that who might enjoy reading this blog?

So there you are, a few weeds to either keep or throw. Which did you react to or resonate with? Have a great day.

Posted in agnostic, god, Hinduism, humor, humour, life, personal development, spirituality | Tagged: , , , , , , | 9 Comments »

Jewish Buddhist Music?

Posted by spritzophrenia on June 30, 2010

Music Week continues and I don’t want it to be forced into fixed categories, particularly with this poet. The first song is arguably nihilist, and contains Christian references. Leonard Cohen left music and spent about 10 years as a Buddhist monk before returning.

Leonard Cohen | The Future

Leonard Cohen | Anthem “There is a crack in everything. It’s how the light gets in.”

Posted in Judaism, music | Tagged: , , , , , | Comments Off on Jewish Buddhist Music?

Let There Be Light Relief

Posted by spritzophrenia on December 28, 2009

After the heavy going of the last couple of posts I thought we could do with a break. Settle back and prepare to laugh; at least if you have a somewhat cynical sense of humour. Starting with a funny and critical look at a passage from the Jewish scriptures (Christian First Testament).

(Christians and Jews don’t ignore these difficult passages – at least the educated ones don’t – but I’m keeping this post light.)

I love webcomics, and from time to time I look at religion in comics. This time, a favourite of mine – Bigger Than Cheeses by Desmond Seah – an Australian, no less. I like my cousins across the ditch 🙂 Des toons about much more than religion, it’s the subject of only a minority of his comics. For example:

One of my favourite BTC characters is Jesus Man. Here’s some more samples. Note this is some of his older work.


And
http://www.biggercheese.com/index.php?comic=451
http://www.biggercheese.com/index.php?comic=3
http://www.biggercheese.com/index.php?comic=4
http://www.biggercheese.com/index.php?comic=49

Go take a look, and tell Des I sent ya. Also, check out my new blog pal Jacob at www.rowdycreator.com, he’s got interesting stuff to say. Please subscribe to my RSS feed! (at right) 🙂

Seeya next time. 🙂

listening to Front Line Assembly | Vigilante

Posted in agnostic, atheism, Christianity, humor, humour, Judaism, music | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »