Friday, December 14, 2007

God out to get Shalom Auslander

Shalom Auslander has a memoir out titled, Foreskin's Lament, and it is on my Christmas reading list (a perfect time to read it). He is very funny (he had an excellent article in January 2007 New Yorker and here is a link to his Fresh Air interview) and his memoir seems to be quite perceptive regarding mainstream religion. Here is an interview with him on Finding My Reigion (note that you can substitute Islam and Muslims for Judaism and Jews and the article will remain the same):

Here are couple of exchanges from the interview:

In the book you tell the old joke: "I believe in a personal God. Everything I do, he takes personally." Except you aren't joking, are you?

If only. And I don't think He'll be too pleased with you for interviewing me, either. As a child, I made the mistake of believing the people whose job it was to teach me, and what they taught me was a literal interpretation of the Old Testament: Sin too much and He floods the world, giggle once and you're barren. I was taught that He offered the Torah to the Israelites — while holding Mount Sinai over their heads. Bit of a hard sell tactic, that last one, but it's how I have felt regarding Him ever since I was a child — that there was something dark and terrifying over my head, and that anything short of total compliance would result in swift (and usually cruel) vengeance.

Often you're afraid God will punish you because of something you've done wrong. But then you do things that you are certain will piss him off. How do you explain that behavior?

It's probably the same instinct that makes us touch the hot plate the waiter warned us not to touch. I was testing my teachers, the truthfulness of what I had been taught. I was testing His boundaries — will He really kill me for eating a Slim Jim?

In some ways, I think I was simply emulating my forefathers. Today, of course, it is heresy to question the Lord, to argue, to bitch, to tell him to f- off. But the Biblical forefathers did — Abraham haggled with him, Jacob wrestled his angel, Moses even turned down the job of leading the Israelites out of Egypt. Do that today and Abraham's descendants might just cut your head off. Or give your book one star on Amazon.

And his fantastic comparison with a veal calf:

At one point in the book you compare yourself to a veal calf. Can you say a bit more about that?

At the time I was writing the book, my wife was giving vegetarianism a shot, and she was reading a lot of books about animal abuse in the food industry. I read some of them, and the more I read about the life of veal, the more I felt, "Hey, that's me." The being raised in a cage, the not being allowed to move. Every aspect of my life was under strict control and observation — how I ate, where I went, whether I washed my left hand before my right, even how I put on my pants. (Right foot first, please.)

But in some ways, veal had it better than me. At least a veal wasn't put in the cage by its own mother. At least a veal isn't being told that some Great Big Cow in the Sky wants him in that cage, and if he leaves the cage, or even thinks about leaving it, then Sky Cow is going to come after him. At least everyone the veal knows is weeping for him. At least if the veal escaped, his family would be happy for him. At least if he escaped, his family wouldn't condemn him. At least if he escaped, he wouldn't be called a self-hating entree. Lucky veal.

And of course, I have to include the answer where he brings in Richard Dawkins (and in a very positive light):

You've now left Orthodox Judaism behind. But in the book you say that it isn't true that you aren't religious; really it's that you aren't observant. What's the distinction, as you see it?

Observance has to do with physical acts. Anyone can do those. I can light Sabbath candles, wear a yarmulke, fast on the Day of Atonement and never once think about God. I have known people who do just that. I, personally, am not observant. Being religious, I think, is being aware of God — thinking, struggling, wondering. In that regard, though he arrives at an atheistic conclusion, Richard Dawkins is religious — I'd bet he thinks about God at least as much as the Pope does. I might skip the candles, uncover my head and have a cheeseburger on the Day of Atonement, but I think about God non-stop. There is a small part of me that hopes that if there has to be a God, and if He has to watch what we're doing here on Earth, and if He must come to some conclusion about us when we die, I hope that awareness — even in the form of doubt or questioning — trumps rote observance any day.

Read the full interview here.