Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Religious Tensions

Times are challenging, I mentioned that before. Uncertainty about my father's situation is causing general paralysis to our lives, while at work I don't know what I dread more - going to work in the morning or finding myself laid off, which happens to be the latest [surprisingly popular] fashion.
In the middle of all of that, I would like to take a step back and note how religion helps elevate family tensions. It all comes back to the collision between yours truly, a firm atheist, and the rest of my Israeli family, seculars who tend to lean back on tradition when times get tough.
The first point of contention is the funeral. The family insists I attend it; problem is, no one knows when it will take place, exactly. If we were to ask the doctors, it should have already taken place two or three times. Given circumstances prevent me from staying too long in Israel, this leaves me on permanent standby, suitcase packed, for the next flight to Israel. Why? Because Judaism treats a dead body as a contagion that society needs to get rid of (read: bury) as soon as possible, leaving me up to 48 hours to arrive at the funeral. Flying from Australia to Israel is never a trivial affair, and the prospect of doing so within an hour's notice (not to mention the extra cost) is not something I look forward to.
Especially when I don't care that much for attending the funeral in the first place. No, the prospect of a traditional Jewish funeral featuring prayers from an orthodox rabbi who never knew my father, with the potential of me being asked to take part in the praying, does not appeal to me. Not even when mixed with jet lag. I suppose the ceremony would feel to me the way eating pork would feel to a believing Jew: a violation of anything one believes in. You may urge me to bite the bullet and go through the motions, but there is more to it: by taking part in this ceremony I will be giving the nod to traditions that treat women like second hand goods, to name but one fault. That's not something I plan to have on my conscience. Have your ceremonies, just leave me out of it.
I am repeatedly told this ceremony would be my father's last honour; I refuse to accept that call. Clearly, the ceremony is intended for the living: the whole serenading of prayers along the lines of "god full of mercy" is there in order to alleviate doubt in The Faith at the time the worst that could happen happened. The victim itself is no longer there in the first place. Me, if I want to honour my father, I would prefer to do so by reading the original Winnie the Pooh to my son; one of my favourite childhood memories has my father reading me this book in funny animal voices. And yes, I already practiced such reading to my son in the past.
I can list many more ways to remember my father with, but that is not the point. Once the funeral is over there will be a period of seven days when friends and family visit my father' house to express their consolation. Again, this will involve prayers; again, a male only affair; again, I do not plan on taking part. This attitude of mine almost got me punched by a friend of my father's attending the ceremonies after my uncle died; back then he missed. There's no doubt he'll be there again this time around, perhaps waiting to have a second go at a now not so agile a target. My family never told him off for his violence; it certainly told me off, though.
So there you have it: religion unveiling the lesser side of humanity. If only people could look death in the eye for the natural phenomenon it is, instead of deluding themselves in the wishful thinking circus of the heavenly ever after, we would be able to get on with our lives and make the most of them while we still can.

Image by Randall Niles, Creative Commons licence


The Understanding Moshe said...

Firstly, I did leave a comment 2 days a go wishing your father "Refuaa Shlema" but it never got published.
I have been through this situation 7 years ago. My father passed away when I was in Zurich waiting for the connection and I wished Australia wasn't so far away. They delayed the funeral to wait for me (with a bribe of course) and my brothers picked me up from the airport straight to the funeral.
I am an atheist myself, but I compromised and did what I was expected to do out of respect for the family. I treated it like dancing for music you don't like. It's a tradition that's been going for so many years and will keep going, like it or not. It has nothing to do with the big bang or whatever put us here, but more of a tribal togetherness that unifies a group of people.
If you feel strongly about participating, I would suggest getting there after the "shivaa" and grieve by yourself without the nonsense.
and again, I am sorry to hear about your father.

Moshe Reuveni said...

I got an email with your first comment but did not notice Google relegated it to the spam folder up until the second. Sorry.
More importantly, thank you very much for your inputs. Hearing things from an angle close to mine, and certainly an angle different to what I normally hear, is priceless.

P.S. it's clear you don't know me. I never dance, period. And yes, I know that's sad, but I learned to live with it.

Moshe Reuveni said...

Understanding Moshe, you're a prophet!
Through circumstances I'm still perplexed by, it looks like your suggestion ("grieve by yourself without the nonsense") is going to come true.
Sad jokes aside, thanks again. Let me know if you want to meet for a coffee or something (my shout).

The Strong Latte Moshe said...

Nice surprise and Y! Contact me on my NSA monitored email mrjconsulting at gmail.

Moshe Reuveni said...

Sorry, "false alarm". It looks like I misunderstood/was misunderstood. I'm not excommunicated yet; instead, I'm trying to book flights now.
Maybe when I get back, if you're still around.