I rarely write because I have something to say. Heck, anyone can do that -- I pride myself on being able to spout off when I have nothing useful to add, and yet I still make it sound good. However, now, I actually have something to say, and I'm a bit caught short by this feeling.
Yesterday I read a book. Now that, in and of itself shouldn't floor anyone, but I read this bit of stuff called "Foreskin's Lament" by a guy named Auslander. Now I know I shouldn't respond to this book, but I just have to because its mere existence casts a damning shadow over the utility of any memoir anywhere. In a nutshell, a kid from a dysfunctional family sees God's hand behind his pain and loses faith in faith while maintaining a dysfunctional relationship with the transformed image of his own father when applied to a skygod figurehead. He rebels against one and both of these personalities and spends the rest of the book becoming his own father figure and justifying his self loathing and self punishment as he coopts the role of father and therefore as executioner.
I guess it could be summed up (apologies to Snoopy for this paraphrase) as "I guilt because I don't believe and I don't believe because of all the guilt."
So what has me all hot and bothered this morning (and it isn't the rumor of Miley Cyrus pictures) is that his memoir is so darned well, vapid. Hold on while I look up 'vapid' to make sure that that's what I mean. Well, it isn't exactly, but I like the word, so "vapid" it is.
He grew up in Monsey. Whopee. So did a lot of people. He went to yeshiva. So did a lot of people. He has struggled in his life to deal with crises of faith. So have a lot of people. I guess that's what annoys me so much. His supposedly unique yet representative experiences are nothing special to me. If he wanted to write about the struggles of growing up in a dysfunctional family with an abusive, hypocritical and alcoholic father, then fine. He can stand for all those who spotted the dishonesty in their own fathers and then had trouble because of it. If he wanted to deal with his anger at a religious system which codified law and which, in the hands of fools, taught children that religion is anchored by the constant dread of death, and that the paraprofessionals at his religious schools weren't trained or certified to recognize the signs of abuse and contact the Department of Youth and Family Services, then great. That cautionary tale might be useful to educators.
But what he writes is a confusing ramble about the mix and match negative experiences he has which justify his movement away from religion. Everything from drug use to impotence is the fault of god, his belief in god and the rearing he had which taught him about god.
How many people went through religious schools (including my High School -- he was supposedly a year behind me at HS but he names the school wrong. Wonder why) and didn't turn out that way. Why excoriate a system when it has more success than failure because the combination of a stifling religious system was further exacerbated by a home life that would make anyone in any schooling system wince? Is this truly a function of a religious world-view? Is Auslander scarred because he believes in a god who, he was taught, punishes people? I just don't get it.
Mind you, I also have voices in my head which predict doom around every corner as a manifestation of a vengeful and highly personal god, and I went to school with rabbis who told me that the hot springs were hot because they passed through hell and the ozone hole was punishment for humanity exploring space. I dabbled in all sorts of things, but I don't blame god for the choices I made. What was his real suffering? What justifies his whining and anger? A bitterness that he displaces from earth father to sky father representatives on earth to sky father himself and evenetually actually to himself and which he uses to explain away his trouble coping with life.
I'm not trying to be unsympathetic but I have known other families which lost a child, or where substance abuse was a problem, or in which a sibling is a trouble maker or a parent is non-involved. Sometimes, people are just plain horrible. This isn't god's fault -- Auslander once shows how dependent he is when he feels that his grandmother's non-dying (temporarily) is directly attributable to his putting a note in the kotel. If only reward and punishment were that simple. But they only are when you don't do any independent thinking and you reduce everything to the logic taught to an 8 year old.
As we grow, religion DOES encourage us to question and wonder, and argue and stumble. But if our agenda is within the context of faith and love (note, not fear -- if you rely on reward and punishment to validate faith, then when you can't see the reasoning or the reward/punishment, the faith fails...therefore, it was not faith) then all of those questions and struggles are designed to strengthen the base, not chip it away.
Here we have someone whose goal was to cause his father to die. He was washing his car to make it rain and we all know that it doesn't work that way. So he lives his life never truly growing up and then rips off Portnoy's Complaint (in tone, point of view, central struggle...the whole thing) so he can mock the lives of people who have the temerity to be happy and satisfied in a world system which he feels left out of. Instead of just walking away, he chooses to immerse himself in it enough to feel angry. He wants to be included so he can have the right to argue. How mature.
Some people in life have real problems. Some own their problems, some blame others. Some just whine.
And that, is my opinion on that.