I listened to a few NPR Fresh Air podcasts during our travel to and from Philadelphia.
One of them focused on Shalom Auslander and his book, Foreskin’s Lament.
Basically, this guy grew up near where I went to high school, in upstate New York, in a town nestled in the Catskill Mountains (that’s where my scout troop took 50 mile hikes every spring…great memories) called Monsey.
He was raised an Orthodox Jew, like many of my high school friends. His book, or memoir, describes his experience in a family that ‘didn’t love him’ and learning about a God who punished sinners.
It made me sad to hear him recount his childhood experiences. He talked about being shipped off to a small town in Israel where he was basically forced to shape up and accept his religion, then coming back to New York City, having a change of mind and lifestyle, hiring a prostitute and eating all the non-Kosher food he could.
He said that the extremist behavior of the 911 perpetrators, who visited strip joints the evening before their suicide run, was something he could ‘get his head around.’ He felt brainwashed into a certain type of living and understood how someone could believe in the ‘rightness’ of terrorist acts.
The interview ends with him recounting the arrival of his son. He and his wife had been married 15 years when they decided to get pregnant. Once he found out it was a boy, he said the joy of expecting a child was completely lost for him. All he could do was focus on whether or not he was going to circumcise his son. He recounted how the delivery was very difficult and their son almost died, and how a doctor came in to their room several hours after their son was born to ask whether or not they wanted him circumcised. His wife shrugged and he, in an effort not to offend God or cause his son’s death by a punitive God, said yes.
I was truly saddened to hear this guy’s life experience. I can better understand why Joseph Smith said it was fundamental to life to understand the character of God. Think of how differently this man’s views would be, and how much money in psychiatrist bills he could have saved, if he was taught God is our Heavenly Father, full of justice and mercy which was made possible through the atonement of Jesus Christ.
Having shared a somewhat common experience with this author, the upstate New York environment, I must say I had handfuls of very confident, bright, happy and fun to be with Orthodox Jewish friends. I know their family experience was different from his.
Although his intellectual journey has taught him to deny God, even though he says he just can’t get him out of his head (as exemplified by his son’s circumcision incident), I don’t believe it’s religion to blame.
Jesus, after all, was Jewish. There are good, grounded people of all religions. People who have a strong faith and good relationship with Deity, themselves and others.
Being angry at the world is a dark, bitter choice. Yes, bad things happen, even to good people. Without knowing the bitter, how can we know the sweet? There is opposition in all things.
Life’s an experience. It’s a time for us to develop faith and experience mortality. And in my view, it’s a time for optimism.