Tuesday, 4 November 2008

1. Belief in God

This is my first blog. I have little faith in blogs. They’re too easy. Like faith in general. I have little faith in faith.

Should everyone have a right to blog?

Should everyone have a right to believe?

See, here’s the problem: of course everybody else’s blog is self-indulgent and exhibitionist, biased and unoriginal; of course everybody else’s belief system is dysfunctional, fanciful, inarticulate and fragmented. But not mine. My blog is actually worth reading. My belief system is actually believable. I remember when I first heard about blogs, I thought it was a joke. Why would anybody publish his/her diary/journal on the internet? Aren’t diaries those books with the little locks that we used to try to steal from our sisters? Aren’t journals a safe-haven for all our in-process thoughts, the thoughts not yet ready for mass consumption? Isn’t the whole point that nobody else reads it? What I failed to understand is that the blog can offer the best of both worlds. The internet provides the anonymity, if you want it, but allows you to share your thoughts with the world at the same time. More importantly, the underlying assumption is that a blog presents more of a concept-forecast than a finely polished idea—sort of like a weather report. The weather today is sunny, tomorrow looks to be rainy, the next day cloudy, and so on. A blog admits, by its form, to being fallible. Facts can, and often do, go unsubstantiated. The point is not to get locked into anything. If you disagree with me tomorrow about this blog I’ll just say, “Well, that was yesterday’s blog. Read today’s blog.” There’s always that backdoor. The glowing, red Exit sign. “I thought you were a Man of Faith?” “No, not anymore. That was yesterday.” Of course I’m not saying that you have to make a decision and stick with it regardless of what happens. That would be inflexible and foolish. But think about the difference between writing a book and writing a blog: If you decide to write a book, you’re committing to something. If you’re that guy who says, “I want to write a book about the flying patterns of African birds,” you better be sure that that’s going to keep your interest. Write a blog about African birds? Why not? Who cares? How much time are you putting into it? Who’s going to read it? How much research are you going to do for this one post? And tomorrow, when you wake up and you read over the blog and find yourself falling asleep from the monotony of it, do you know what you do? You write about that—you write about how boring African birds are and, what’s more, you write about how boring you were yesterday and thank God you’re not the person you were yesterday because that person would have put you to sleep. That’s what you write about today. And tomorrow? Like the weather forecast, it’s an educated prediction—there’s no real way to know. But if you’re writing a book on the subject you know exactly what you’re doing tomorrow: you’re studying the Wilba Bird in its natural African habitat because you’ve already invested four years into this project and, as disinterested as you are in the topic at present, you persevere. You persevere until you’re finished. Or until that moment when you realize that this is contrary to your very essence and “I don’t care about all the time and effort I’ve put into the thing, I’m losing myself here!” But it’s not just one blog you’re dismissing—it’s years of sweat and bruises and headaches and sleepless nights. When you walk away from that, you walk away with an understanding of yourself that exceeds what you knew of yourself before.

And, no, I don’t know if there’s really such a thing as a Wilba bird. See my point?

The blog is the constant check-up, the minute-by-minute report of Life as we know it. Would any doctor condone daily check-ups? We’d always be at the doctor: there would be no time to get sick; meaning, there would be no time to live. Think of the weatherman who says, “It’s a beautiful sunny day outside,” but hasn’t had the opportunity to see it for himself. One day, he says, “It’s a blizzard out there,” but it’s not snowing. He doesn’t know because he never goes outside. So if you’d ask him, “Do you believe it’s snowing?” he’d say, “Yes.” But if you waited long enough, he’d get an updated report and he’d change his answer: “This just in: it is not snowing.” Like that, fifteen inches of snow disappear from his consciousness. What’s the trick? We’re designed to react, to be moving, growing, bettering ourselves. Maybe it turns out it was a joke, orchestrated by some coworkers to prove how disconnected the weatherman is from the outside world: so now they tell him, “Of course it’s snowing—everybody can see that!” And suddenly, fifteen inches of snow reappear and he’s back on: “Sorry for the confusion, folks.”

Belief is malleable, constantly adapting to the world. Such is essential to our survival. If your joints don’t bend, you’re stuck where you are. The same is true of belief. But, following through with the metaphor, if your joints can’t lock into place, if they’re always swinging and buckling under your weight, you’re also stuck. It’s the interaction of commitment and flexibility that allows for growth. You don’t have to love, or even like, the African birds every day that you’re working there, but you still have to catalogue their habits. Blogging provides for too much flexibility, as does belief. Maybe I’ll wake up tomorrow morning and be an atheist. Or the next day, a Buddhist. Maybe a week from now I realize that I believe in religious chocolate consumption. And then I post my most current beliefs on my blog. Wouldn’t it be more productive to treat belief like a check-up? Annually, or maybe bi-annually, you sit down and really think about what you believe in, what you don’t believe in, how your beliefs have developed over time; think about the weaknesses in your belief-system, the contradictions, the inadequacies; think about your own strengths and weaknesses and how they play a role in your beliefs; think about your ability to manipulate yourself—ask, “Why do I want to believe in this?” But to do this every second of every day?

So God says, “Yes: every second, every day.” How? How without making a mockery of faith? Because it’s a command—it is included within the directive, not external to it. So what is the driving belief that predates all action? Us. We, each of us, we are the lifelong projects. Before belief in God, there must be belief in Self. This means a commitment to growth over time. But there is no commandment in the Torah to believe in Self. To reconsider this belief daily would be destructive. Once we’ve established that we will not examine belief in Self more than once or twice a year, we have room to grow (or fail). The first step? Belief in God, examined and considered constantly in the true pursuit of understanding His commandments. But it is not voluntary. Your belief in Self has led you here; now you are obligated to believe in God. You’ll have your opportunity to reconsider when you reconsider the specifics of your faith in yourself. For now, belief in God is commanded.

At least that’s what I’m thinking today.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A man of proper belief in God and self "can only lie to others; he can't fool himself even if he wants to. But a man that hasn't toiled to know himself can also convince himself that his lies are truth. If a day later it's to his advantage to say exactly the opposite, he says exactly the opposite and again convinces himself that that's the truth."
--Chaim Grade, The Yeshiva