(Not Quite) Losing My Religion

I filled in another application for a job I feel unqualified to do, let alone likely to get.  I feel that my MA left me unprepared for life ‘in the field’ as a librarian.  I am not entirely sure why this is the case.  Did I not do enough work?  Was the teaching sub-standard (those of you who have been following me on different platforms for many years may remember that all of us taking the course were concerned about this at the time)?  Or were my work experience and first job too specialised, at a small library that was not involved in many of the types of activities that I am expected to manage at larger libraries?  Or am I just not good enough?  I certainly didn’t expect so many jobs to require Saturday working, although that’s probably part of a shift in recent years towards longer opening hours in academic libraries, in some places moving towards 24/7 opening.

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Something I was thinking of last night, and which came up again by “coincidence” (many religious Jews believe there is no such thing as coincidence) again today here (final paragraph): there is a concept in Judaism that if you regret your good deeds, they can get wiped out and you don’t get rewarded for them.  This makes me uneasy, because while I don’t exactly regret being Jewish, sometimes when I have been struggling with religious OCD or now when I’m still struggling with the way depression, autism and social anxiety affect my religious involvement, I do sometimes sort of wish I had never become frum (religious).  It would make my life so much easier, particularly in terms of career, relationships and managing social anxiety/fitting in/dealing with potential social disapproval.

I usually feel guilty and regret my regret (so to speak) almost immediately.  Nevertheless, it is easy to feel that I’m struggling in this world and, despite what reward I might be earning in the next world, the idea of going off the derekh (stopping being religious) seems possible.  I would be punished for that and I wonder if in that case it would have been better not to have been religious in the first place, as would arguably be the case.  In Jewish law, in that situation I would arguably be considered a tinok she’nishboh (Jewish child kidnapped and raised by non-Jews, widely applied by rabbinic authorities to children raised secular).  Although I was raised traditional, keeping some aspects of Judaism, I was not exposed to the fullness of Jewish life until later.  It is doubtful that I would be held as culpable for breaking halakhah (Jewish law) to the same extent as I would be now if I went off the derekh.

I’ve seen other ba’alei teshuva (Jews raised non-religious who became religious later in life) who are struggling with Jewish observance be advised to tap in to the positive feelings that they had about Judaism when they first became religious, but that doesn’t work for me.  I was raised traditional and knew about Jewish law from a young age.  I didn’t exactly “discover” it the way some Jews do.  Nor did I fall in love with it.  I started to become frum from a feeling of duty, obligation and responsibility (aged twelve!).  I didn’t have a honeymoon period of falling in love with the religion.  I don’t think I’ve ever had those strong, positive feelings about Judaism, only abstract, intellectual agreement.  By the time I started keeping Shabbat (the Sabbath), for example, it wasn’t an amazing thing to add on to my life, so much as a way of assuaging years of guilt for not keeping it (and a source of conflict with other family members).  I don’t know what feelings of love and joy I have to tap into.

I have mentioned before that one rabbi said I won’t experience any simcha shel mitzvah (joy in performing the commandments) until I am cured of my mental health issues, which seems unlikely to ever happen.  My rabbi mentor said I should be able to find some simcha shel mitzvah nonetheless, which just makes me feel guilty for not doing so.

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I went on a pre-Yom Tov (festival) spending spree.  I bought a religious book that I’m hoping will help with finding meaning in the very long Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (Jewish New Year and Day of Atonement) prayers.  Alongside this, I bought a couple of Batman graphic novels, as the Yom Tovim will probably provide many opportunities when I need a quick break, but don’t have time/energy/concentration to read prose.  I also bought The IT Crowd complete DVD set (slightly surreal British sitcom), as, while I don’t watch DVDs on Shabbat and Yom Tov, when Yom Tov is finished, I’m left with evenings when I can watch TV, but don’t necessarily have time to watch anything long and these episodes are only twenty-five minutes long, which might be useful.  The problem is that I don’t currently have any income at all and while I have savings I can dip into occasionally, I don’t want to use them up.  However, I do need to buy new things sometimes, even luxuries like books and DVDs.

Suffering

I just saw something on the blog of someone I know who is losing her religious faith a story about a child who was mauled by a mountain lion and severely injured, which, it was argued, is evidence against the existence of God.  The funny thing is, with one slight change, the story could be used on a religious website to argue for the existence of God.  The change, obviously, is to focus on the miraculous survival of the child rather than the fact that she was injured in the first place.

I don’t really want to get into a debate about the existence or non-existence of God.  I know what I believe and why and don’t have much interest in debating the issue.  I’m not a good debater and wouldn’t do my beliefs justice; anyway, debating anything doesn’t interest me much.  I don’t have an argumentative personality.  In fact, argument tends to upset me and I avoid it.  But I want to flag up something I noticed about myself, a point of psychology rather than theology.

Intellectually, I accept that my suffering (depression, loneliness, anxiety etc.) could have meaning and purpose.  It’s not actually that hard to think of reasons that could explain it.  But I find it very hard to engage emotionally with that and because I can’t engage emotionally with it, I find it very hard to internalise it and stay inspired to keep going.  As I’ve mentioned, all my religious activities (prayer, Torah study, good deeds, hitbodedut) are suffering at the moment.  I’m not doing much religiously at all.  That’s partly due to lack of energy, concentration and motivation directly from the depression, but also because of my irrational, but deep-seated, feeling that HaShem (God) hates me and wants me to suffer out of anger, hatred and even spite.  Intellectually, I think this is nonsense, but our emotional brains are older and stronger than our rational brains and they tend to win.  As the rabbi of my shul (synagogue) said to me, I won’t experience simcha shel mitzvah (the joy of performing the commandments) until I’m over my depression.  Of course, at the moment it looks like I will never be over the depression, which takes me back to “God hates me” even though He could be storing up infinite reward to recompense me for my suffering, in this world or the next.

What matters to me is not the philosophical issue of whether God exists; as I said, I think, on balance, that He does, but even if He doesn’t, the issue doesn’t interest me that much these days.  What matters to me is finding a way to function and, on some level, to find joy in life despite the suffering that seems to be a fixture.  I don’t know how to do that (yet?).