Wednesday, September 21, 2005

An Apikoris' Guide to Spirituality

No, this wont be about slivovitz.

This is in respnse to Dov Bear, who seems to have problems with the concept and is asking for help. So here is my take on the subject.

I see it this way: We humans like to think that we're some sort of superior, rational beings, with Godlike minds that can do anything. "Created in God's image," is the way the Torah puts it. But the sad truth is that our minds are cluttered with the same primitive instincts and emotions and reptilian-brain responses as more primitive animals, yes, even the treif ones, and it's possible that there's stuff knocking around in our heads that has more in common with the lowest forms of life, worms, slime molds, even killer viruses than it has with anything divine.

At the same time, we are "superior, rational beings," which means that we're aware of our animalistic instincts and it bothers us. Well, maybe "bothers" is too mild a word. When we get in touch with the stuff sloshing around in our brains, it is a bit scary. Maybe even more than a bit scary. We are afraid that if we don't do something to contain or control what's inside us, we may end up doing terrible things, or at the very least, our heads will explode.

I maintain that "spirituality" is nothing more than a series of techniques that have been developed by human society to ride herd on our irrational inner self. Yes, it's true that many of these techniques are based on a supernatural mythos that the originators believed was a factual description of the way the world worked. But that shouldn't necessarily invalidate the worth of the "spiritual" technique. Give the ancients a break. When they lived, scientific knowldge wasn't as well developed as it is today, and their supernatural explanations of how the world worked were as plausible as any other. Imagine going back in time and trying to explain to Pharoah that the sun is nothing more than a ball of hot gas undergoing thermonuclear fusion. Even if you could explain the concept, why should he believe it?

What this means is that we can be totally "spiritual" even if we are total skeptical atheists. I myslef enjoy meditating (I should do it more), and I use all sorts of traditional Jewish imagry as my mantra. So what if the Torah was really written by JEPD and not YHVH? I enjoy davening; it clears my mind and makes me feel better. And I find attempts to changed the wording of the liturgy distracting, even though I support the "rational" reasons why the changes are proposed. Of course, I could probably derive the same benefit from a feminist-modified liturgy once I got used it it, heck, I could proabably find spiritual benefit davening to the Dapei Zahav, although I might get distracted if I run across the name of a plumber who lives near my neighborhood.

This said, I'm not so enamored of the concepts of Lurianic Kabbalah. But the reason isn't because it's "spiritual" or "superstitious." The reason is that the Lurianic Kabbalah just isn't a compelling mythos. It's basis the the supposition that God is so incompetent that He can't even creat a universe without breaking the vessels and leaving anything in disaray. The only meaning it gives to human existence it that we are supposed to be janitors cleaning up after someone else's mess. While it's true that if God is omnipotent, He has the ability to botch up creation, focusing my mind on a the idea that life's meaning is a janitorial mission does not seem to be the best way to distract me from the inner demons that roil inside my neuronic synapses.

On the other hand, it's true that I find doing cleanup work to be very meditative, and sometimes I can calm myself very nicely by doing dishes. Dishwashing as a spiritual act. That's why I'm careful to make sure that there's always a pile of dirty dishes sitting in my kithcen sink. Never know when I'll want to be spiritual.


Anonymous Pinchas Giller said...

From whence do you derive your knowledge of Lurianic kabbalah, that you find it uncompelling?

10:25 AM  
Anonymous uncle moishy said...

If you break any of those dishes while washing them, perhaps it will make you more God-like?

4:28 PM  
Blogger Conservative Apikoris said...

From whence do you derive your knowledge of Lurianic kabbalah, that you find it uncompelling?

Gersom Scholem,
Chaim Vital,
A local chassidic rabbi who specializes in BT's
The Wikipedia entry on Isaac Luria

4:10 PM  
Blogger Conservative Apikoris said...

If you break any of those dishes while washing them, perhaps it will make you more God-like?

Why do I want to be more Godlike? I'm perfectly satisfied being a human.

4:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

yup i agree this kabbala stuff is widely misunderstood
i mean how many golems can maddona create (dont answer that)
i have several kabbala seforim im my home inherited from my grandfather i have never tried to read them
my grandfather is an old eastside jew who i remember in our younger years spending the majority of the night studying
to my mind he's the kabbala learning type
not me
not yet :)

6:40 PM  
Blogger brianna said...

Funny take on things. I like.

9:41 PM  
Anonymous chakima b'ramiza said...

My experience with Lurianic kabbalah has tended to indicate that the real mythos is underneath the linguistic or narrative surface... the shvirat hakeilim part is not really where the action is. I found that I didn't really discover that until I spend several years reading Chayim Vital, reading him again and then really reading him...

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