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Sunday, October 14, 2012

What the hell is the 'spiritual but not religious' anyway?

You would think that growing up with a Jewish education and then continuing on to earn a degree in religious studies would make me pretty certain about my religious beliefs. OR, that my adherence to certain Jewish traditions and my potential to turn into Grace Adler was my public affirmation of my sheer Jewishness- hey, I'm not a Dr. or a lawyer, but I am in jewelry sales. The thing is, I don't even have much of an idea what I believe or which corner of this very religiously divided world I fit into.

Growing up, it was an expectation that we all (my three siblings and I) attend religious school which concluded with a party of epic proportions. That's how we rolled, right? Bars supported on ice sculptures, filet mignon, wildly trashy dancers, and an event that I hardly remember ten years later at the ripe old age of twenty-three. In my desperate attempts at calling off the whole bat mitzvah, I'm pretty certain I declared myself an atheist as soon as I knew what the word meant. It's not that I was using the word to get myself out of a situation which I deemed mortifying, but because I truly couldn't understand why I had to go through with something that I dreaded for reasons that meant nothing to me. Alas, I had the bat mitzvah and vowed to never see the inside of a synagogue again with the exception of future family bar/bat mitzvahs. 

It's amazing to me that we are all way past the Jewish rite of passage, but we have never once discussed God. Aside from my 'atheist' outburst at eleven, I'm not sure we have ever sat down as a family, or even mentioned in passing, what we believe in. I suspect my parents believe in a God of some sort, although they don't even visit shul on the two holiest days of the year. My siblings? I'd bet that my sister believes strongly in the power of vodka, my one brother in a future where the Messiah is a robot, and the other brother is too busy with girls and sports to even consider much else. Then, there's me- I'm still an atheist but no longer asking the obnoxious question of how the dinosaurs fit into God's seven day creation.

The goal going forward is to take my own past of a basic childhood religious education, my secular college-level degree, and the resources around me to try and make some sense of this craziness. Is it necessary to believe in God to be religious? What the hell is this uproar about the 'spiritual but not religious' and what does that popular phrase even mean? Most of all, if I don't believe in an omniscient God, then what exactly do I believe in?