How Did I Get Here?
It has been a strange journey for me over the past three years. I was raised as a secular liberal Jew in suburban Los Angeles, California. I attended Hebrew school, became a bar mitzvah, and observed the high holy days almost every year until I left for college. Beyond these minimal practices that most secular Jews today can be expected to perform, I had little exposure to spirituality. My love for science and secularism had my feet firmly planted in the militant atheist camp. In my seventeen-year-old mind, God was absurd, as was anyone who believed in God. I don’t have to say much more about this kind of outlook, the militant atheist is becoming more and more ubiquitous as the toxicity of fundamentalism seeps deeper and deeper into the tissues of America. It seemed to me a proper response to all the things that so infuriated me about the religious element of our culture.
And then I went to college. The transition I underwent is very fresh, and truthfully I have no idea the extent to which it has progressed. Do I call it a conversion? No, no, I haven’t affirmed any kind of credal statement or professed belief in the validity of a previously unconvincing truth claim. I’m tempted to talk about it in terms of born-again experience, but seeing as my transition resulted in a deeper embracing of my Judaism, it seems a bit disingenuous. Perhaps by the end of writing this out, I will have a better way to put it into words. I also don’t want to overstate the profundity of my transition, as I have simply come to take a position that billions of humans have taken before me, albeit that maybe only a lucky few million understood the full extent of it. Regardless of how best to describe the transition, it ultimately resulted in my no longer identifying as an atheist. I now maintain that my worldview is one of Jewish monotheism.
While the psychological effect of my new outlook is without a doubt positive, this is not what concerns me. A popular Christian apologetic radio program I am fond of often professes how rare it is for a person to be intellectually convinced of the validity of monotheism, yet I am given to disagree with this. It was only through seeing that monotheism could be sustained in an intellectually honest way that I was open to considering it. The intellectual conversation about spirituality, as frankly fraught with bullshit as it is, was what reversed the stubborn refusal to take my religious heritage seriously. I began to believe that social science could give a skeptical rationalist the tools to understand religious cultural expressions in terms of the people who expressed them. For me, consideration of religion ceased to a comparison of mutually exclusive truth claims and became an evaluation of the experiences of religious individuals in terms that are most accessible to me: sociology, psychology, cognitive science, anthropology, etc.
This transition of mine is not without its problems. In fact the most prominent question in my head since my graduation has been, “just how full of shit am I?” There are several intellectual problems still with my worldview, and I often find myself trying to plug leaks in a quickly sinking ship. Other times, I feel as though my realization is nothing less than an inescapable conclusion of all that I know. Of course, it is only when considering specific philosophical, theological, psychological concerns that the rubber hits the road and the validity of my worldview is tested. I will tackle those individual issues that are popping around in my head in later pieces, but for now, suffice it to say that I wish this piece to serve as a sort of introduction. I spent the last few years writing, and the process of writing itself has proved invaluable as a way to work out my intellectual problems in a concrete way. I wish to unpack many of the things that trouble me as a rational, secular Jew who has recently been inspired to seek a deeper spiritual dimension to my life. I plan to do this through enumerating these in specific issues, the first of which that I will publish next has to do with my reaction to Paul.
I appreciate your time, dear reader, and I hope that in exploring some of my own questions that I will raise them for you as well.