Israel: The Center of Religious Paradox

Religion in Every Corner

 

This may be the first of many controversial posts to the blog, but when inspiration strikes, you just have to write. So, write I will.

Since high school, I have become more private about my beliefs – religious, spiritual and otherwise. I think this is mostly because sharing those thoughts seems to immediately create boundaries around me that neither I nor those talking with me can overcome. So, when it seems safe and appropriate, I always enjoy sharing my thoughts on religion and God and love and everything in between. For the most part, though, it’s not safe. It’s dangerous, and it can inhibit an otherwise loving, open and accepting relationship, friendship or even conversation. In my experience, I can learn from others more openly and sincerely when the sharing is an open, two-way, unassuming event.

I am not sure where my fascination with religion stems from, but I know that my parents have always been extremely open to religious conversation, and I have never been made to feel guilty for questioning and doubting things that I cannot understand, especially regarding established religious understanding. I also know I have battled thoughts on religious exclusion since I first began to learn about the “rules” and boundaries associated with each one. Since it seems like we are taught, whether explicitly or implicitly, that we need to make a conscious choice and life-altering decision that leads to a life full of obligations and leaves no room for doubt, the pressure mounts and causes us to crumble in our insecurity with our “choice” or to hold on so tightly that others aspects of our lives crumble around us.

I know it’s pretty hypocritical to ask others to share their own philosophies with me and not share my own, but the truth is that I am still trying to form my thoughts around what God is, who God may be, and what my role is in God or the understanding of God.

I do have a few ideas that I tend to lean on, to which I must give credit the openness and loving atmosphere of the Diocese of Georgia Youth Programs as well as my parents and, of course, traveling. Because I am so massively interested in people and how people make their decisions regarding their lives and the lives of others, much of what I know about various religious beliefs has been a self-taught journey. I have taken a few classes in school, read a lot about various philosophies, and even read parts of texts associated with them (e.g., Bible, Koran, Torah, Bhagavad Gita, Buddhist Proverbs, etc…). Mostly though, I generally like to ask people I meet questions (probably too many, and it probably annoys them) about what they believe and why it is meaningful for them.

That was a lot of explanation to only say that I think one’s beliefs, philosophies and especially religious leanings are private and special. If someone shares with me, I take that as the greatest compliment, because for me, I only feel comfortable sharing my own thoughts with a  small handful of close friends and family.

Once again, Israel challenges me to step out of my “private” comfort zone with regard to what “religion” is and what it means to people. Here, asking someone about their religion does not necessarily mean the same thing as it means to us back home. Instead of associating religion with a life philosophy or thoughts about a higher power/after life, it is more comparable to asking someone their ethnicity, or to which group they belong.

I’m actually finding it difficult to even write about, because it is a qualitatively different subject.

 

I’ll give you an example. When I ask someone to tell me their religion, I may get the following response, “Jewish, but I’m not religious,” or “Well…Muslim…but I’m secular. I’m an atheist,” or even, “Well, I’m Jewish, but I hate all religion. I don’t believe in anything. There is nothing after this, and there is no god.”

So, first, I had to let go of everything I had ever known about religion and what it means to people, and allow my mind to comprehend what these people were telling me.

Perhaps this is something I should practice daily, letting go of everything I think I may know about people and life. I’m not being sarcastic, here. I think the more I learn through school and travel and even mundane tasks like house chores, the more I learn the value of perforating the boundaries of knowledge in my consciousness. 

The first thing our tour guide/professor told us to do as we learn about the politics of this region is erase all country boundaries drawn on maps. Taking this to a more meaningful level means also erasing other boundaries we think we are aware of, and allow those who experience this region’s lifestyle on a daily basis to teach us the real boundaries.

I have learned that in Israel, the political boundaries of maps and legalities exist differently for each individual I may encounter on the bus, train or taxi cab. I have learned that the questions to ask are not as simple as our typical Western-minded “ethnicity, religion, and race.”

“Religions” exist here in parallel with one another, like the symbols in the picture I took in Nazareth two weeks ago.

Religion not only defines one’s own private beliefs, as it has always done for me, but it defines one’s family, and sometimes even one’s overall perception of life and individual or group purpose.

Secular Jews, Atheist Muslims, Religious Druze, Orthodox versions of anything and everything, people make up their own minds on the surface, but perhaps it is a deeper question here. You cannot become or convert to any belief system without changing your identity but in some cases, it seems impossible to convert despite your dedication. I would venture to say that 65% of the people (Jewish and non-Jewish) I have met in Israel have told me they are atheist, agnostic and even that they “hate religion.” They have no reason to feel faithful, I probably wouldn’t either after going through everything they experience, and all their families have been through.

So, I am still struggling with the establishment of Israel, a country founded on the acceptance or passive allowance of Judaism as the qualifier. Israel, a country created out of the sands of time for a people persecuted based on a religious origin. Israel, a country full of proud Israeli citizens who claim no religious faith whatsoever.

It’s a fascinating and mind-boggling thought, and I am still processing it all. As for my own religious beliefs, they are struggling. Perhaps religion is not the same as belief in the end, and this is maybe something social science should consider in the future. I know I will.

 

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