March 2006

Many of my friends and I have long struggled with the crease between culture and religion. Today elliott investigated two alternative branches of judaism that attempt to address this problem. First he forwarded me a link that describes Reconstructionist Judaism, which advertises itself as a "progressive, contemporary approach to Jewish life which integrates a deep respect for traditional Judaism with the insights and ideas of contemporary social, intellectual and spiritual life." This amounts to a variant of reform judaism that values community wishes over the individual. Reconstructionist Judaism fully buys into traditional monotheism, and as such it is totally inadequate.

Then elliott offered up a much more appealing sect, Humanistic Judaism. These guys reject god, which has the advantage of making the religion compatible with the sensibilities of most living jews, and they recognize the appeal of jewish traditions. Unfortunately, they reconcile the crease by reformulating the traditions in such a way that they make sense in a godless universe. This is the sort of delusion we associate with the bible as metaphor people who, for example, suggest that creation and evolution are not mutually exclusive because the seven days actually represents seventy million years or whatever. Furthermore, Humanistic Jews censure any mention of a higher power and exclude those aspects of jewish culture that they are unable to twist into a secular form, and I'm not willing to give up my favorite jewish prayers. Another inadequate solution.

Reubenistic Judaism rejects the supernatural, but retains jewish traditions for traditions' sake, admitting that these traditions are based on bullshit but that they are fun to do, and make us feel part of a larger culture, which feels good. Reubenistic rabbis deliver sermons that decry faith of any sort in favor of a rational approach to modern problems. Talk of god is not avoided, god is accepted as a fabricated remnant of an obsolete ideology. Biblical stories are actively discussed and applied to contemporary life, but are read not as the word of a supernatural being, but as the collective voice of generations of smart people whose ideas are sometimes insightful and sometimes silly and irrelevant. Individuals are encouraged to draw meaning from or reject biblical dictums as they see fit. The positions of other religions or individual thinkers are put forward and considered with equal appreciation and scrutiny. While Reubenistic Jewish leaders endeavor to account for competing viewpoints with sensitivity and fairness, all people and belief systems are not judged equal, and blatantly absurd notions such as original sin are ridiculed.

Intermarriage is encouraged. Charities that bring about the assimilation of Palestinians into Israeli life are supported, as are secular political leaders. Young Reubenistic Jews are directed to act in ways that consider the consequences of their actions, rather than adhering to rule-based credo. The old testament is presented as an enchanting work of fiction inspired by the events and beliefs of a distant era. Death is the end of a Reubenistic Jew's existence, and the religion's primary mission is to disseminate strategies that enable its adherents to maximize their enjoyment of their limited number of sentient days.

Reubenistic Jews are atheists. They do not believe that to be atheist one must be able to prove there is no god; Reubenistic Jews do not have a proof that there is no god and do not intend on developing one. Reubenistic Jews hold that it is not the responsibility of the atheist to prove there is no god, it is the responsibility of the believer to prove god's existence. Similarly, Reubenistic Jews hold that it is not the responsibility of those who do not believe in the tooth fairy to prove there is no tooth fairy.

Reubenistic Jews may wear a yarmulke, keep kosher, light candles on shabbat, fast on yom kippur, and avoid chametz on passover. They might fuck through a hole in the sheets. The synagogue holds service for all major holidays; any and all jewish rituals are fair game and the content of any service is decided by each congregation. Reubenistic Jews draw a clear line, however, between ritual and the supernatural beliefs that underlie them. The rituals are celebrated as enjoyable traditions that connect a group of people to their ancestors and to each other, whereas the supernatural beliefs are discarded as both false and beside the point.

The Reubenistic Judaism homepage is Web 2.0 compatible. Use of public transportation to and from the synagogue is encouraged, however, sanctimonious environmental activists, or any other sanctimonious activist, is forbidden to enter. At the end of the friday evening service, the melody that Adon Olam is sung to is based on the wishes of the youngest person in the sanctuary who is able to voice a preference.