Thursday, April 18, 2013

Potential Energy and People.

“Women who seek to be equal with men lack ambition” -Timothy Leary

I was rushing home from work one afternoon. I had a shitload of physics homework that needed to get done, and I was trying to mentally visualize a potential energy problem involving a vertical spring system. Whilst playing with gravity and spring constants, I vaguely heard my name being called.

It was my friend Esther. We were in high school together. Oh my, i think to myself, that was one chick with loads of “potential” energy. I allowed my inner nerd to chuckle. 

Back to Esther. In high school, she was worshiped by everyone! She wrote deep introspective articles, she was great with the computer, incredibly artistic and was always involved in school fundraising functions and talent productions. She even got hired by others schools for her talents.  She, like everyone else in my class, was married by twenty and started her family. Now, while exchanging pleasantries I couldn't help but notice the empty space where her sparkle used to be. She was leaning on a double carriage, and even with the extra pound, she seemed like a shadow of her former self. She works in a local dry goods shop now.

Same thing happened to Goldy who used to do these adorable little comedy bits between (and during) classes. She now sit at a desk and files her father's paperwork. Malky, the former elimination (remember that game?) champion, is now a stay-at-home mom, and never misses an opportunity to  explain how “fulfilling it is to raise such neshomalech”. Chaya Miriam, the genius of the grade, is now grading third grader's math quizzes. All seems content and perhaps even happy with their current life. One can even be right in saying they are happier than me. But there is no doubt that they are not being their happy selves. They bear little to no resemblance to themselves at all. 

It was a particularly painful reminder at a cousin’s 'vort' - engagement- a couple of days before pesach. Her chosson seems like a nice guy, he will probably treat her great and they might be very happy together. So I should just wish her a hearty mazel tov, eat a piece of cake, and shake all the necessary hands. But as I walked into the vort, I had a knot in my stomach, and had to consciously paste a smile on my face. 

My cousin is the youngest of her family . She is probably the smartest of her siblings, has a heart that bleeds for others and is a blond beauty to boot. She also very absent minded, quirky and  has a this greatest sense of humor that is awesomely silly. As I am thinking of her, that knot in my stomach tightens and I remember why I had to work so hard to paste that smile. 

I have watched funny girls, intense girls, artistic girls, geeky girls, loud girls and thoughtful girls morph into a predefined mold. They all become: A mother waiting for buses each morning and discussing the latest recipe, scandal, or sale. I see girls who are meant to be lawyers, business owners, poets, actors, doctors, writers, innovators and educators morph into a predefined role that they never consciously choose. They might be happy in their roles they were molded into, but all I can see is wasted potential and empty, overworked eyes. That is the reason for my knot and pasted smile. 

It scares me to have to watch that happen again to someone close to me. It scared me to think of that spring stuck, stretched and never really released.

I am not advocating for the career path for all the women around me. All I wish for is for them to realize who they are and can potentially be. All I want is for them to realize that they can choose their future. Although I am far from my goals, I feel so lucky that I am actually working towards fulfilling them. It is a constant battle shaping and defining who you are, but there is nothing like the realization of what you truly are capable of. I wish all the bus-waiting women had the opportunity and resources to experience that feeling too.  At the very least, I wish my own flesh and blood were able to wake up and smell their own greatness.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

First Blush of SIn

"After the first blush of sin, comes indifference.” - Henry David Thoreau 

 I wanted to share with my readers an article of mine that was published today.
Unpious is a site that really helped me get to where I am today, so it is surreal to see my writing on it.

Read it Here

Monday, December 10, 2012

Right & Left

“We, all who live, have a life that is lived and another life that is thought, and the only life we have it's the one that is divided in right or wrong.” 
― Fernando Pessoa

I have been staring at my computer screen for the last hour.  I have two pictures open side by side. On the right side I have an image of me in a wig, minimal makeup with  a long skirt and a cream knit sweater

On the left side I have an image of me with my hair slowly falling to the side of my face, dark eye-shadow, red lips and wearing a pair of jeans and the same knit cream sweater.

On the right image I was at the park with a friend and the kids.

On the left image I was at a bar with a friend and her friends.

And I am crying. 

Both pictures are of me. I am wearing the same sweater, the same shoes. I have a hint of a smile in both, and the same sparkle in my eyes. They both are so similar but represent such vastly different elements. 

On the right I have the Chanukah party that I was at last night.We sat around the table. We laughed over silly family jokes, we watched the next generation having fun, and we giggled as the men lost their money in kvitlach. I laughed along with them, I watched and even participated in the next generation’s fun, and I counted the money that my husband won in kvitlach. 

But on the left, I have the Chanukah party I was at last night.I sat down at the table and my non conforming dress choice elicited stares. I heard the  dvar torahs about the miracle of Chanukah and it made me cringe inside. I participated with the next generations fun because they were the only ones that still have a bit of unbridled sparkle in their eyes. And as I left I was treated to a  unsolicited whispered rebuke  from a worried aunt about the length of my skirt. 

And that is why I am crying. 

I am crying because I can clearly see that both images are the same me. They represent two such integral parts of who I am. But all attendees at that party are blind to that. They can  laugh with, share with, and accept the one on the Right. But if they knew of the existence of the one on the Left everything would change.They can never accept that I am just as much the person on the Left as I am the person on the Right. In fact they will need to create a story for how Right got contaminated into Left just so their world stays right side up.

I am crying because I realize that the people who I truly love will never be able to accept me for who I  truly am. I wonder if perhaps all the see is the conformity. Will they still recognize everything they love about me if I was to combine Left and Right and live as just one Me? 

As I am wiping my tears I am comforting by the hint of the smile on both images. 

 I shall be Happy. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle

"Scientific knowledge is a body of statements of varying degrees of certainty -- some most unsure, some nearly sure, none absolutely certain." -Richard Feynman

Observe, Ask, Experiment; The first steps of the scientific method, Rinse and Repeat. There is a very systematic approach to science. It seems to be about reaching that undeniable, unquestionable fact. How much uncertainty and doubt play into the universe might surprise you. For the continued perpetuation of progress, is it crucial for the reasoning man to be aware of the role uncertainty plays in our pursuit of knowledge.

Religion is all about creating comfort.  By saying “We cannot”, or “we will never know” we are relinquishing our own intellect to a higher level of unattainable intellect which provides great comfort. 

Uncertainty creates intellectual discomfort which is constant companion to those pursuing truth. New evidence may render old theories antiquated, but the new scientific discomfort introduced a new approach and eventually a  new discovery. Scientific progress is dependent on that uncertainty. It is that little angel on the every scientists' shoulder always asking " Are you sure?" 

I have an intense relationship with that angel who I shall call "Hmm". Hmm started out as a squatter, secretly taking up residence in the kingdom of my  sub-conscious. She would come up early in the form of "If I think my god is true and other religions think their god is true, which one really is The One?". She appeared in my Chumash class , when my teacher tried to explain away atrocious act committed by our all-loving god.  Hmm attempted to poke its head up when I read about carbon dating and its geological implication.. But all along Hmm was sufficiently suppressed by the very powerful leader named God Knows Best”. God Knows Best was very specific in what areas of his kingdom I can explore and roped off many forests and trails  as strictly off limit. He had a powerful army with painful threats ensuring compliance. He was a frightening leader but  he created an environment where I felt taken care of and looked after. The instituted mental subservience provided a great level of comfort. 

Hmm is a resilient little knight . She regroups and resurfaces in many different disguises which  shakes up the comfort for a little while, but for as long as the kingdom was under the rule of God Knows Best, Hmm would be suppressed. Eventually God Knows Best grew old and fragile and the new king,  Free Inquiry, was crowned. Free Inquiry was a more democratic ruler, he allowed me to explore many new areas of my sub-conscious. I discovered that the dark forbidden forest is full of brilliant creatures and beautiful flora. Full of fascinating factoids. Hmm was now promoted and was no longer suppressed.

Giving Hmm free reign came along with expected discomfort. Discomfort that is quite painful at times. Free Inquiry completely pulls the carpet of comfort from under me. It left me defenseless and doubtful  When you discover that most of what you believed was a lie, it create a tremendous amount of hurt. The world as I knew it, is turned upside down. People I used to trust are now viewed with suspicion.  Ideas that used to be central to my identity are now completely destroyed. All that comfort is replaced with uncertainty. Uncertainty is painful. Doubt plagues a person. 

But I am attempting to rebuild. I now acknowledged that uncertainty is welcome. I fully realize how Hmm was instrumental in allowing me to get to where I am now, and I realize what a big role she will continue to play in my continued quest to find the most authentic version of me. I grew to love Hmm, I encourage her and made her my most trustworthy adviser. 

I have equated my current position with the chemical law known as  the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. It tells us that it is impossible to determine with certainty the position and momentum of a subatomic particle. The allure of that principle is the certainty in which the rules applies. It is certain that we are uncertain. I will adopt that principle as a governing law in my new kingdom. As I grow more comfortable in my quest, I will continue to be certain that I am uncertain. Religion tries to peddle absolute truths but that is actually  translated to mean “Do not question”  Science tells me that nothing is immune to questioning. I side with science because of that attitude, and I hope to continue being absolutely certain with my newly found permission to be uncertain. Rinse and Repeat

Never Be Told!!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Lost in Limbo

"Then she told me all about the bad place, and I said I wished I was there. She got mad then, but I didn't mean no harm. All I wanted was to go somewheres; all I wanted was a change, I warn't particular. - “Huckleberry Finn” (Mark Twain) 

Welcome to the pearly gates of Glorious Heaven. Angels in white nightshirts and cherubs in togas roam the place playing annoying harp melodies. In Heaven only believers roam the halls, but no religion agrees on what defines a believer, so in heaven, all these earthly fights between ardent religious followers reach their crescendo. In Heaven, I'm reunited with every annoying cousin and uncle that will pinch my cheek, remark how tall I have grown, and remind me to call my grandmother more often! Oh, How wonderful that sounds. 

Then there is Hell. I picture hell as an underground dance hall where blood red curtains are blowing against the brickstone walls. In these halls, heretics roam freely. How I would love to take a walk down to hell! Can you imagine the conversations between Aristotle, Bruno, Galileo, Darwin, Descartes, Spinoza and the myriads of other great minds who have been labeled heretics. My ears are tingling in anticipated eavesdropping.  

Almost all religious beliefs all have some version of the afterlife. It is after all the perfect solution to keep the minions in line without an active policing force. The idea that all of our actions are carefully monitored and later to be calculated by the Great Accountant in the sky has proven to be quite effective. Heaven and Hell are a peculiar concept, one that I find has no place in my rationale. 

But there is a third possible afterlife, one I find strangely relevant. Catholics call it Limbo. Dante, in his book Inferno, describes Limbo as "Dark, profound it was, and cloudy, so that though I fixed my sight on the bottom I did not discern anything there". It is supposed to be the place that souls that never found Christianity are suspended in. There are similar ideas expressed in different religions, but Limbo is one that fits so perfectly with what I'm trying to express. Dante describes the people he met in Limbo. "People were there with eyes slow and grave... they spake seldom, and with soft voices". These days, especially nights, my eyes are now slow and grave, I speak seldom and when I do my voice is soft, not a soft, sensual voice, but a soft defeated one. 

People are in Limbo, as Virgil explains to Dante, because they were born in the wrong time and the wrong place. Oh I can't count how many times I have thought about that. Make no mistake, I do love my family very much, my parents have done everything that they deemed right. But oh how I play with the idea of being born in a different place. Perhaps somewhere where I am not judged based on how much I mirror my parents’ beliefs. A place where I will not hurt the ones I love just by living a life that mirrors the most authentic version of me. 

That is why I am stuck in Limbo. On one side I witness simple, seemingly happy people leading their lives in anticipation of heaven, shutting off their minds to the vast inconsistencies in their everyday behavior. The are following a clearly marked and illuminated path, and I can see young pliable children morph into a predefined mold. They appear to be happy, and perhaps they are, but on closer look I see only ignorance and mental subservience .Their innocence is only usurped by their elitist self-righteousness as they mentally cluck at these who they already picture in eternal damnation. 

Over the other shoulder, I see complex and intriguing people. People who never allow others to dictate their behavior. They appear to be coloring outside the lines, but when one looks closely you can see that they have just created their own lines. It might appear to be a chaotic scene, but all I see is freedom and tolerance. In the distance I can still clearly see shackles lying neglected on the ground.The shackles look quite familiar, and when I look down and I see them anchoring me. Shackles of religious beliefs, Shackles of communal expectations, shackles that tell me what I can and cannot do, or even think!

 I am stuck in Limbo. I cannot go right, because every cell in my body will reject living a life in complete contradiction to the authentic me. But I cannot go left, because what I realize is that these shackles were put there by those I don’t want to lose and what I see as a shackle that hinders me, they see as a jewel that enhances me.

Apparently being in Limbo provides a unique perspective. By being in these position, I can clearly see how so much that is sacred on the right, is secondary to significant topics that are never addressed.  

Ultimately, Limbo is a lonely and sad place to be. But Dante does list some he saw in Limbo: He met greats like Democritus "who ascribes the world to chance"; He saw "the moral Seneca, Euclid the geometer and Ptolemy, Hippocrates, Avicenna, Galen".

 I take some relief in being in such great company, but I eagerly await the day I can release my shackles and walk into the sunset, through the gates of Hell.

Never be told!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

What a Wonderful World.

Question with boldness even the existence of god: because if there be one,  he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blind-folded fear. - Thomas Jefferson

Science was my first love. I loved science for as long as I can remember. I loved science when I was a little girl watching a line of ants marching with crumbs from my peanut butter sandwich. I loved science while sitting at my window watching the moon, and if we were in a place without the NY light-pollution, I would marvel at  the myriads of stars. I have to give credit to my mother for this. She was the one who introduced me to my first love. We would sit at night with some milk and cookies and she would explain to me how a seed can grow into a plant, and how sailors can navigate using just the stars. Later the cookies and milk were replaced by coffee and the discussions turned to genetics and geology. 

Unfortunately the chassidic education isn't particularly known for their high caliber of scientific teachings. Love can withstand all challenges though, and this one did too. I got my hands on any book related to biology, ecology, astronomy..., I drank the information thirstily. I remember  when we got our first laptop in my parents home (internet free obviously), it had the Encyclopedia Britannica installed. I would spend hours under my covers getting lost in long labyrinths of information. If I didn't understand one word I would find its encyclopedia page, which would in turn lead me to more unfamiliar pages. Some of the information was way past my comprehension, but just the manner in which such complex concepts can be answered was so thrilling; it transformed a vast and at times frightening world into a fascinating systematic universe.

After graduating high school, I knew that I must continue my studies. I enrolled in a college program, one my parents approved of. The education was definitely a step up from high school, but did not offer a very comprehensive program. Most professors expressed surprise when they realized that this chassidic girl, who they would expect to be clueless, actually was at the top of her class. I conveniently withheld that I already read through all topics on their syllabus as a teenager. I got married shortly afterwards, and with my newfound independence I transferred to a secular college with a proper biology program. 

 Now if you remember from my last post, it was a while after I got married that I rejected the religious outlook on the universe. Being in a secular environment definitely broadened my perspective, but it didn't weaken my resolve, I came in with an attitude that my emunah is infallible. Science and I go way back, and religion never came between us. In fact I had created an environment where religion and science can co-exist perfectly. I had answers to all apparent discrepancies. I either found a plausible scientific explanation for it, or relied on an important caveat in my belief structure. Which was that I still believed in miracles. One of my favorite quotes is one by C.S. Lewis; "“Miracles are a retelling in small letters of the very same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see." This quote fits so perfectly with both my old view and the new one. Its intended message told me that miracles are a very valid way of explaining observable discrepancies because we just aren't capable of seeing the complete picture. It is like the tiresome creationist argument that says "an ant will never be capable of understanding how a human machine works". But the unintended context is so much more valuable to my new outlook. We create miracles when we just don't want to see the alternative answer.

 As a side note: I think that this is important when considering debating creationists or religious apologists. We think our rationale and oh-so-attractive facts can sway their thoughts, but when one believes in miracles or the supernatural, then you are bringing kryptonite to a fight with Batman.  It is a very effective tool, but the wrong one for this particular enemy. When I ask myself how it was possible for me to hold such strong contradictory beliefs, this duality was the reason why I was able to hold onto my emunah even  in  an evolutionary biology lecture. I even wrote a paper entitled Scientific counter-argument for evolutionary changes in biological process. I got up in front of my evolutionary biology professor and classmates and presented a paper against evolution. That is how confident I was in the accuracy of my beliefs. 

Oh well, as you know that didn't last too long. The science was there, the information was there and without a complete different component to shake my comfortable belief system, It would have stayed in that stage for a while longer. In chemistry even spontaneous reactions, reactions that would happen on its own, sometimes need a catalyst. A catalyst will lower the activation energy or get the reaction done in a different chemical pathway. Emotion was my catalyst. A very difficult winter brought along struggles and sorrow. I watched people close to me suffer, people who were the epitome of goodness, and I started getting angry.

 As with tragedy, people repeated the lines that the religious find comforting: "Hashem knows best", "We do not understand his ways", "She is in a better place now"... I thought about these supposedly comforting lines, and they didn't sit well with me. Over the next few weeks I recognized the ridiculousness in being comforted by the idea that god, even when he seriously screws up, is still compassionate and loving. I rejected the bifurcated fallacy in believing that god is great so anything he does that seems sadistic must be because we can't understand him.  

Anger led to a new way of looking at old information. I no longer felt required to make religion reconcile with science. I looked at my science in a new way, without the requisite faith. I now saw a world where 99% of all "created" species were extinct, a world with a geological structure which very obviously underwent millions and millions of years of evolution, and a universe with earth very much not as its center. I realized how religion tainted my beloved science. How it took so much of it value and just tried to conceal it under a mystical, supernatural veil. How instead of allowing me to recognize that illnesses and natural tragedy is just a natural and sensible part of the universe we live in, it would try to make me feel better by saying there’s an undefinable god behind it and I will understand it later. It teased me with promised answers, all the while hiding the answers that I can clearly understand presently.

 Now in the rare occurrences when my mother and I get into a scientific conversation things have changed.  Take the time when I had just finished mapping the neuronal pathways of a thought in our frontal cortex, I am at a point of near euphoria over the sheer brilliance and complexity, and she says " Wow, מה רבו מעשיך ה (how wondrous is god's work) ". Blippoty blog, all excitement gone. It seems perhaps a bit extreme, but with that statement she essentially is ruining the authenticity of the natural world. The beauty of science is in its entirety, its beginning, and every aspect of its persistence and complex development. The beauty is in the highs like the ever-expanding universe, a herd of elephants across the African Safari at sunset, and the genetics in embryological development . But the beauty is also in the lows like an entire species being wiped out by a change in temperature, a lamb being devoured by a lion, and genetic mutations in malignant neoplasm. Cancer, as sad of an entity it is, needs to be appreciated for its science just as much as a cure for it will be. That is the element that religion takes that away. Religion removes that element of unstoppable rawness that makes me quiver. Religion tells us that you don't have the see these raw emotional moments in science because "Hashem knows best", "We do not understand his ways", "She is in a better place now". For that I can not forgive it, nor will I continue to allow it to hang around with my first and true love- Science.

Never Be Told!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Fresh Start: Tishrei

"There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways that you yourself have altered" - Nelson Mandela

As some of you might know, this month is a busy one for Orthodox Jews. It is also a strange one for the outsider. The Hebrew month of Tishrei is considered to be the start of the new lunar year according to the Jewish calendar. This translates as it being dedicated to asking for forgiveness for all our past digressions.It is used as a fresh start. I take issue with many of the eccentric (read as: weird) customs that are practiced on this month of atonement. But it definitely was a personal Fresh Start.

All people are in constant state of evolution. We are constantly figuring out who we are, where we stand, and what we are doing with our lives. Looking back to the trajectory of my evolution,I find that there are distinct eras, each classified with different characteristics of religious beliefs and attitudes.

For quite some time now I have been analyzing much of the dictates taught to me in school and in my upbringing. I have questioned, wondered, and have often been confused by things I am supposed to do or how I am supposed to act. Questioning leads to answers. Answers have always been given for many of the major questions that can be raised by religious people. In fact, Judaism prides itself for being a religion based on reason. Blind faith is considered to be on a lower spiritual level than intellectualized faith- faith as a result of understanding. I have always appreciated that. Our spiritual ancestors have expounded on, argued about, and vehemently debated each other on so many tenets of our faith. So answers are plentiful. I have heard most of it, and even arrived to some of them through my own deductions. That was one important step of evolution. Asking questions, getting them answered and being satisfied with the answers. In fact some answers still seem sound to me, but they are now the vestigial organs of my attitudes; they once served the purpose, and still are present but useless, they don't do much these days. 

I lived for a long time at that stage, It was my Paleozoic Era so to speak, a long period of rapid  and complex development but most of it destined for mass extinction. I firmly believed and continuously was developing complex and higher level of spiritual thought. I followed the dictum to and above the letter of the law. 

That was to be followed with an era of independence, where I was out of my parents home and on my own. Thinking for myself making my own decisions. Independence has a marvelous effect where one realizes what they are capable of, and what they really believe. It was a painful time and quite a bi-polar one as well. It was a  time where no area of my life was immune to being chewed over, and reanalyzed with a fresh perspective.  I tested the boundaries and questioned things I never thought of questioning. Black and white turned to grey, which turned to psychedelic mush and back to black and white. Answers which seemed sufficient one day, didn't sit right the next.  But even with all these conflicting thoughts competing in my psyche, never was it translated to action. It was mostly just in theory. I very slowly came to the conclusion that I probably don't believe in a god, I recognized the hypocritical aspects in what I have always considered sacred. But that small lingering chance, coupled with many years of indoctrination still kept me afraid of translating thought to action. 

But of course it is impossible to stay completely committed when your cognition and conduct aren't congruent to each other.( I do love alliteration so very much!) I didn't do anything explicitly wrong, but left much room for interpretation. I started hanging out with friends in places deemed questionable by past me, I didn't really check on the "kosher" status of the drinks I ordered at these questionable places and ate things I never would have eaten in the past. The biggest change was in my attitudes as well. The supposed spirituality of the events around me, failed to move me. Most of the time, I found them strange, as if I was an outsider. My Paleozoic perspective was gone. 

Which brings me back to the month of Tishrei. A month where eating a head of ram for good luck, swinging a chicken for atonement, and building huts to live in for a week was observed with my cynical eye. And then a new era was born! On the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur, that strangeness reached its pinnacle. I was feeling angry, an emotion I have become very acquainted with in the stage of my evolution. I was angry because I am stuck in a place I don't belong, in a religion I don't understand or agree with, and angry how afraid I was to do anything to change it. I told myself that I am giving this one more chance. I went to the synagogue for the first prayer of this holy day, the prayer called Kol Nidre. I figured that if this occasion, which is considered by many as the highest point of the Jewish calendar can move me at all, I can maybe figure out a way to stay at the point of doubt, of uncertainty. I thought that perhaps the words will evoke the anger, it will give me some revelation of how insane this really is. But my response was quite surprising, and very telling. I sat in shul, holding a book soaked with tears of my past. Tears cried in earnest  from the times when I begged for a good year, when I begged for atonement for any past sins, and to be inscribed in the book of life. I looked at the book, I looked at the crowd, I looked down at the rabbi- a man I do admire, and nothing. I felt nothing at all. No anger, no resentment, no fear. I just felt out of place. I left, walked home, and ate a piece of cake. I desecrated the sacred fast, punishable by death, and once again nothing! I texted some friends, something strictly forbidden on such a holy day, and nothing! It felt ok. Nothing more, it just felt right.

That surprised and even puzzled me. I turned it over in my mind and I realized that I have evolved further than I had imagined. My conscious and thinking self was still wavering but my sub-conscious, my deep intellectual being already rejected it all. It had no misgivings about doing something the old me would shutter about. I have arrived at a new point of my existence.

Sadly this new revelation doesn't change much externally. I still can't leave, still am petrified at what these changes mean for my future. I might not be following the laws of Shabbat, but only under a pillow, with the fear of being caught. I still look the same in this era as I did the last one. But I feel good, I feel calm, the anger is diminished. I am continuing my intellectual pursuits, reading books that continue to shape my views on religion, evolution, culture and the world around me. I feel like I am preparing for the beginning of the next era. A era I do not see yet on the horizon, but if my past is any indication, I think I will be surprised by this one sooner than I think. I hope I survive it.

Never be told.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Cognitive Dissonance

“We need only in cold blood ACT as if the thing in question were real, and keep acting as if it were real, and it will infallibly end by growing into such a connection with our life that it will become real.” - William James

Cognitive dissonance is a weird human phenomena, something that I have been experiencing for a while. I would guess that all humans have some form of paradoxical ideals, but I would bet that all religious people tend to harbor some form of cognitive dissonance in their belief system. Religion is so much about faith, about believing in things inexplainable in human, observable terms. This leads to a unavoidable conflict.

Let's take the belief in god as the prime example. Every religion has long and poetic verses of the greatness, infallibility, omnipotence... about their deity. We wax on about how glorious his name is, and how blessed we are to be created in his image. Then every person experiences and observes the opposite. We see sickness, evil, horror, in everything around us. Now instead of saying that god is cruel, you hear statements like: " we can not understand his ways", or " god works in mysterious ways". You hear that after tsunamis wipe out hundreds of thousands of people and after innocent children  die in horrendous ways. In order for someone to actually continue believing that their god is great there has to be some sort of cognitive disconnect.

When I started doubting the authenticity of my belief system, the biggest question to me was such a paradox. I realized that humans are the only species that have consciously accepted the idea of a creator, of a god. Yet along with that must come the accompanying  belief  that we do not understand his ways. Without the second nobody would believe in the idea of a god. That combination sounds very cruel and malicious. Firstly if god is good as religion wants us to believe, he would have a big problem seeing his creations in pain and suffering to such an extreme extent. But on top of that, to create people that have the ability to recognize a higher power orchestrating all it but  unable to understand why, is sadistic.To continue to believe that a god exists and fits this paradoxical paradigm, is cognitive dissonance at its finest.

Never be told!!

Monday, September 24, 2012


Never forget that it is we New Yorkers and New Englanders who have the monopoly of whatever oxygen there is in the American continent.” – Van Wyck Brooks.

Perhaps the first attitude that gave me a sense of dissonance from my religious upbringing was the elitism very obvious is so much of what I was taught. It wasn’t just the attitudes of the small minded, intolerant among us, the elitism was something expounded by the greatest minds in my religion. Statements like “No other religious person would ever devote so many hours to doing something like ...” is repeated around so many of our ritualistic ceremonies. I remember being a teenager telling my dad, or a teacher, or friends that saying something like that doesn’t make this act more spiritual, or holier. At that point I completely agreed with the ceremony,  I participated with devout allegiance. But I never understood how “We are the ones doing it right, because all the others would never do this” makes us holier or more connected to god.  If being good is dependent on others not being as good, the system will quickly fall apart.

Apart from the elitism of us a religious group versus all other people in the world, even within the religion there is so much of the elitist attitude. The followers are subdivided into group based solely on the family you were born in. In this case, your spirituality is based completely on the luck of the draw. It reminds me of a quote by Samuel Beckett “Guilty of having committed the crime of being born”. The mere idea that just by being born in a certain family will determine how close to god  a person is or can become, is something no educated individual should be satisfied with. 

This of course leads me into the specific form of elitism apparent in my community, also based on the crime of being born. There is so much misogyny in the dictates of my religion and apparent in the attitudes of men and (sadly) women in my community. Separate but Equal is something that most of society has realized is nonexistent. It is obvious that my community has not gotten that memo as of yet. I have been told countless of times that women are absolutely revered in the religion and therefore are being ‘protected’ by its laws. When referring to some of our ancient text it does appear that the writers did think of women differently than most. But it has become clear to me that the difference was just that the scholar understood that you cannot kill, rape and be violent towards women, but it doesn’t stop them from considering them second class, or lower. Laws that state how much monetary value there is in a virgin or that say that a rapist must marry the one he raped and give the father “compensation” for the dowry he lost (!) doesn’t leave much room to say that women are equal to men. There is no amount of ideological rhetoric or mystical explanations that can make certain laws seem like anything other than unscientific observations that led to the degradation of a natural part of female biology. My feelings about misogyny and sexism in my community will definitely come out more in other blog posts.

But it was general elitism, pertaining to all forms of mankind, that was the first unsettling aspect of my religion. I do not know if I was sensitive to this because it is my natural instinct to be a independent thinker, of being a type of person who needs to be led, not told. I couldn't help thinking that the value is measured extraneously, for its own merits. The mere fact of it being something others don't do, doesn't add value at all and its sad to think that some think that it does.

Never be told!

Sunday, September 23, 2012


"I won't be told. I will not be told. I will be shown, I will be inspired, I will be led. But I won't be told." - Stephen Fry

"I Will Not Be Told", the quote I once heard from a personal hero of mine, while he was defining the difference between revealed vs discovered truth.

That short statement became my anthem in my present day attempt to leave the doctrines and dogmas of my childhood extremist upbringing. Today I am still the woman who, although always seems to do her own thing, continues to follow the dictum of my community. 

No one knows of the deep personal struggles I deal with on a daily basis. I have long discredited the authenticity of the life I lead and the life my friends and family leads. I have realized the fallacies in their statements, the elitism in their attitudes and the hypocrisy in their teachings. But I am still stuck living the facade, because frankly I am petrified of what lays past it. I know that leaving will hurt my family, the only part of this life that I truly love and care about. I know that it will mean burning all present bridges. That is a terrifying thought for me.

So I created this blog as temporary respite from definite insanity. I hope to share, vent, cry, and probably yell about all the aspects of "being told" that I can not handle or silently let by me anymore.

I think that you as readers are experiencing the beginning of what will be a journey of my personal Enlightenment, my personal sprouting of the Dark Aged cocoon that I have been inhabiting for the 24 years of my life.Thank you all for listening.

Never Be Told!