Monday, December 26, 2016

Don't Be a Serf, Be a Badass Storm God

I'd like to take a little time here to talk about some of the ways in which my beliefs have evolved over the past couple of years. Like most chaos magicians, for a long time I was in an approach-avoidance dance with belief. I considered it a useful tool, and could turn it on in a surprisingly deep way. Unfortunately, I also discovered that when the trance got deep enough, I couldn't simply turn the switch back off. Fundamentalism is a heady drug, but at this point I feel comfortable saying that with the help of doctors, family and friends, I was able to swim my way back up, get my head above water, and find my way back to shore.

Belief, I now feel, is not so much the problem by itself. It's belief without question, in other words "putting your sword down", that can be the real danger. And I've come to the unfortunate conclusion that it is the notion of worship itself that's largely the problem here. I'm going to illustrate why, by discussing the idea that we each are created in God's image and have the spark of divinity within us. To me, it seems worship is when we take that spark, externalize it, and tell ourselves we can never truly aspire to be that awesome. Partnership, in contrast, would be when we recognize it's our own higher self, and do what we can to fan the internal spark into a mighty flame. Perhaps these two modes needn't be mutually exclusive, but I find them hard to balance. And if I were to pick one, partnership would be the obvious choice. If that's a revolutionary idea, consider that Hanukkah is the most revolutionary holiday we have; it is literally about trying to retake Israel from the Syrians through terrorism / guerrilla warfare.

During one of my more loopy periods in late 2014 or early 2015, I went to the local New Age / occult bookstore Journeys of Life to look for minerals and gemstones. I knew that I was feeling out of balance, not grounded or centered enough, but wasn't sure what to do about it. In the course of finding some stones that I hoped would help to even me out, I spoke to a lovely employee about what many of their stones could be used for. I remember her saying there were certain ones best for communication with gods or spirits vertically, and others that were better for communicating horizontally; she illustrated this point with her hands.

Vertical communication would be "worship" - the other being is in a superior place, and you are below as supplicant, asking for a favor. Alternatively, in a goetic situation, you may be the one at the top, negotiating your summoned spirit into a subservient position through threats or manipulation. One need only look as far as Genesis or Exodus to see that God does this to the Hebrews / Israelites in the bible again and again. But it's important to keep in mind that every book is a product of its times. When the Jews were wandering in the desert, never knowing where their next food or shelter might come from, the idea of a strong, all-knowing, protective, even territorial father god must have been very comforting indeed. Giving such a being offerings in exchange for protection from those who must have been far worse makes some sense. But in today's world, the phrase "protection money" conjures up far less appetizing images.

Nietzsche wasn't wrong about biblical morality being slave morality. If God is an all-powerful father, then humans occupy the role of protected, permanently infantilized children. At best, the situation is comparable to domesticated dogs or cats. But can't we do better than that? We aren't wandering in the desert anymore. Today we should all be aiming at self-actualization, not mere survival. Whatever abilities we delegate to God, we are choosing not to learn ourselves. And Galileo put it best: "I am not obliged to believe that the same Creator who endowed us with sense and reason intended us to forgo their use."

Since the rise of hasidism in Europe, and likely ever since the writing of the Zohar, Judaism has had a different metaphor for communication with the divine.  Shabbat comes, and the presence of the divine visits us as the Sabbath Bride, dwelling among us, communicating with us in a horizontal way I would call "partnership". (Yes, that's a double entendre for talking face to face and also intercourse, but it's not really a secret that these two forms of communication are different variations on the same theme. It's why the bible uses the verb "to know" the way it does.) God comes around to Netflix and chill with us because we're not just good listeners, but because we're also really hot in the sack and God wants to bang us so hard. Like, he's seriously been stalking us for millennia now. We are just that cool. Being "a kingdom of priests" means God wants to whisper sweet nothings in our ears 24/7, if we feel like listening and actually have the time.

So remember, this is a partnership with a being who wants to be with you. You are not a serf or a vassal, but a treasured life partner. When that little voice in your head tells you that God is a big disapproving father figure in the sky, remember this is the voice of the Christian culture in which you live. More importantly, remember not to sell short your God-given internal divinity. You can't "sin" against your higher self, except by ignoring that it's there in the first place. Apotheosis isn't stealing anything from heaven... it's reclaiming what is rightfully yours (and freely given). And while any lover appreciates gifts, if they're sincere and well-deserved it means a lot more than some lousy obligatory socks or fountain pen. Use your talents to change the world in the most effective way you know how; there is no greater gift.

The legacy of Judaism that I love the most is that of free thought. "Two Jews, three opinions," as the saying goes. We are the people whose patriarch Abraham is held up as an example for telling God he was full of shit about Sodom and Gomorrah... and that's to say nothing of smashing his father's idols, years before. His wife Sarah laughed in God's face for saying she could have a baby at her age. In one rabbinic story, a poor illiterate man recites the alphabet instead of praying, realizing God can put the letters together to form the prayers without his help. In another, God sends an angel of death to destroy the earth, and a rabbi earns praise from heaven by abolishing the decree and threatening to curse that angel. Even outright miracles that contradict the laws of physics should not be enough to shake our conviction in what is right, the Talmud tells us.  "Israel" = "The one who wrestles with God".

We are a proud, arrogant, stiff-necked people, and if there's anything that will make us "a light to the nations" in the oncoming Trump years, it's that very quality. I daresay it's what we were chosen for. We have big mouths and we're not afraid to use them. One only has to look as far as that perennial Hanukkah favorite The Hebrew Hammer to see that we are as stereotypically famous for our ability to kvetch (complain) as for our perceived musical aptitude. Certainly this has taken commedians like Woody Allen and Jerry Seinfeld far. The outsider status is critical to effective satire, as Canadian and British comedians have also taught Americans for a while now. And with regard to fascism, we would seem to be the canaries in the coal mine today.

While his scholarship is sometimes a bit fast and loose, Gershon Winkler claims one possible meaning for the word "Hebrew" is "boundary-crosser". I thought it was a perfect title for a blog in which I rarely seem to hit the same topic twice. But it also inspires me to tear down useless boundaries, as you can see from posts like "A Few Words on Lawful Privilege" and "Coming Out of the Golden Apple Closet" . Sometimes repairing those broken vessels means breaking other shit. The time for poetic terrorism is now, and as Jews we must be poised to take advantage of it.

Sing, canaries.  We are keepers of important music. Sing it loud and often. Sing as if your life depended on it, because perhaps it does. Sing it out for the ones that'll hate your guts. Sing a better world into being, not because the great skydaddy told you to, but because you actually do carry a part of the wisdom we all need right now.