Skepticism feeding skepticism

There are loops in life that we get stuck in. Sometimes, of our own creation.

When I began my original Skeptic’s Kaddish series, following the death of my Papa, the title of the series came to me after fishing through my mind for several minutes. At first, I resisted the idea because it felt much too ungainly, but it was truly the most accurate description of my project at the start. The full title was ‘The Skeptic’s Kaddish for the Atheist’. I – a skeptic; my father – an atheist.

Declaring myself a skeptic at the outset burst the floodgates. What did I have to lose at that point? I was no longer pretending, even to myself.

* * *

I’m not sure that I know what a religious experience is, but I imagine that it is something like maintaining this blog because my writing process allows me to make meaning of not living up to my religious ideals. As I board this train of thought, I realize: I don’t even know what my religious ideals are anymore.

Well, at least I own that – here at the ‘Skeptic’s Kaddish’.

There’s also the matter of connection, which religious experiences grant. Connection to… you name it. Writing publicly makes me feel connected. To… myself. To… you. To… Whoever happens to be out there.

* * *

Early on in my kaddish journey, I came to a realization. I might call it powerful, and perhaps it was, but I feel as though my “realizations” are too often obvious to everyone but me.

I realized that by writing about Papa, I was taking a hand in shaping the very little that remained of him – namely the collective memory of him. The dead cannot defend themselves. They can’t respond to our discussions about them; and their limited influence over how they are perceived only diminishes over time. This is true of even the most famous people. [A sudden thought: Perhaps it’s even more true for famous people who are turned into symbols.]

All that remains are memories, but not only mine, and I do not seek to limit my father to my reflections.

Me, ‘The Skeptic’s Kaddish’ #9, Oct. 5, 2018

This was a humbling thought. In sorting through my own feelings and recollections publicly, I was also shaping other people’s impressions of my father.

* * *

Recently, I’ve been thinking about this loop that I’ve created.

It began honestly enough, and I continue to strive to be true. This blog began as the ‘Skeptic’s Kaddish’ because, quite simply, I am [still] a skeptic-

  • When my 5½-year-old tells me that she believes in God’s omnibenevolence (a word I taught her), I don’t discourage her from this. I support her budding theology, with the caveat that “some people share your beliefs and others don’t.” However, I find myself having to bite my tongue to prevent myself from responding to her too mordantly.
  • I recently discovered several online groups for earnest, informed discussions of Judaism between Orthodox Jews and others who have left Orthodoxy, and I find myself significantly more convinced by the formerly Orthodox people’s arguments than those of our believing brethren.

* * *

However, I have come to wonder about the extent to which I have boxed myself into a corner. My reflections always begin from the point of skepticism – after all, this is the “Skeptic’s” kaddish, is it not?

I imagine that commentators and writers of all bents pigeonhole themselves once they’ve established their readerships or audiences… but my blogging is personal, not professional, so I’m not concerned with what others think. Rather, I think, it’s that the label allows me to feel clever. “Look at me,” says my handle, “I’m knowledgeable enough about Judaism to be skeptical of it. Look at me; I’m a serious thinker.”

My blog discourages me from believing, for how would I distinguish myself if I did?

* * *

These words remain mine to write, as I yet live…

But have they come to defined me?

3 thoughts on “Skepticism feeding skepticism”

  1. I read your words and I feel the push and pull. My grandparents were frum, my great-grandfather was a Kohein and shochet. Had a number of chasidim in my extended family. I went off the derech to find my own way. I left Judaism for a time, feeling disaffected and alienated from my kehillah, then eventually returned to unearth (with the vengeance and passion of the disaffected 😊) everything in Judaism that resonated with me and immerse myself in Jewish spirituality. I started my own chavurah, based on the teachings of my own drashot and d’vrei Torah. I’ve had setbacks and disappointments within the community, but I keep blogging and writing. “Write for yourself a Sefer Torah” — I feel that’s what we’re doing.

    1. Your own chavurah. That’s really, really special. Did you found it back in the sixties? (I mean – were you part of the movement of chavurot?)

      I have to say that beginning with writing a kaddish for my Papa, which I sort of fell into with no specific concept of where it would lead, and then continuing with the creation of this personal blog… I’ve been feeling more at peace and connected than I have in a very long time.

      1. No, I started it more recently, about five years ago. It was well-received. I had two chavurot — one for Kabbalat Shabbat and one for Shabbat Torah study. I had Jews coming in saying “no one every taught me this about Judaism in my entire life as a Jew.” That inspired me to keep teaching. I wish I had been part of the original movement, but I was too distracted by personal struggles back then. I’m very happy you found peace and connection. There’s no better feeling.

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