Monday, 18 April 2011

Identity Crisis

The Matzah ThiefIt's Passover time, and once again my family cannot fathom me not caring much for the holiday. If anything, Passover has to be the one holiday in the Jewish calendar I despise the most, if only because of the vivid week long yearly starvation caused by the lack of edible food at my army base. So when a family member asked me if I was celebrating she should have known better as I could not avoid belching out all my contempt.
When the dust settled, she asked me a simple question: don't you feel the need to belong to a group?
I answered that I already belong to a group of Arsenal fans, which causes me enough grief without even having to consider forcing myself to eat bricks for a week. Jokes aside, though, I answered that I do not have the need to take part in silly rituals just for the sake of belonging; some of Passover's rituals, like the reading of the Hagada where we praise god for killing all Egyptian firstborns, are - by my reckoning - not too different to Nazi habits. What benefit comes from celebrating innocents' death?
Don't get me wrong. I don't mind the silly ritual that's fun: I don't mind hiding chocolate eggs for my son during Easter; I don't mind him playing with a plastic tree during Christmas; nor do I mind playing with candles during Hanuka: it's pretty cool to burn stuff. Those rituals, however, have nothing to do with religion; they're just fun and games. If any similarly worthwhile ideas were to be conceived I'd be happy to take part in them just the same. However, Passover does not present such opportunities: its silly games are a pain in the ass (literally, as it tries to digest the Matzah bread).

I will be serious for a few minutes and address the part concerning identity. As in, don't I need the group ritual to feel a sense of belonging?
Well, of course I need to feel a sense of belonging. However, I do not want to belong to a stupid sect believing or pretending to believe in nonsense just for the sake of a warm and cosy feeling of belonging; there are plenty of genuinely worthy causes I would like to belong to. Allow me to count some examples:
  • There is nothing preventing me from joining the Melbourne science fiction club and take active part there in a group of like minded people.
  • The same applies to the Melbourne astronomy club.
  • Or photography club.
  • Or skeptics club.
  • Or humanists.
  • Alternatively, I can just connect to all of the above via the Internet. Wait a second; I already do that. I follow my favorite authors, I follow astronomers and NASA, I browse through acclaimed photos, I am in touch with many humanists and skeptics, and much more.
To conclude my argument I'll give you the most recent example. Earlier today I finished reading a philosophy book written by A.C. Grayling, a guy who in comparison to me is of vastly superior intellect and wisdom. Yet for two hundred pages or so I had intimate access to his brain, allowing me to learn a lot and truly expand my horizons. Now let me ask you this: can any religion or religious ritual come up with something that comes even remotely close to that book reading experience?
I rest my case.

Image by justmakeit, Creative Commons license

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