Friday, October 22, 2010

Getting Over the Joy of Believing?

A reader writes:
For about three years I was in the baal teshuva world, spending about two of those years in yeshiva. I came to be religious because of "spiritual" experiences, which may have been prompted by unmet emotional needs. When I was in yeshiva, I was told that you could rationally demonstrate (not "prove", sort of) that Judaism is true (and so, I reasoned, that there is a God). After working hard on these pseudoproofs for a while, I became convinced of one. I then believed very strongly that God exists, that He loves me, and that the religion was true.

For some time (days, a week?) after arriving at this conclusion, I felt incredible. More in love than I ever felt about a girl. When they say you should have a passionate love for HaShem, that's what I had. I couldn't sleep - I woke up ecstatic - overjoyed that there's a good, caring God who is looking out for me, helping, etc. One thing I always wanted from a woman was flowers. I've given lots of people flowers, but no one has ever given me flowers. I guess that's just how it is in society. But when I felt this way, I walked the streets and viscerally saw all the flowers as being from HaShem. Not in an intellectual way - it was as emotionally real and believed as if it was from another person. Trees upon trees full of beautiful flowers. I also really love singing. And in this state, I could sing more deeply and passionately, moving the people around me to tears, than I ever have.

About a year after this experience, I left yeshiva and the religious world. I'm still not exactly sure how it happened. I think I realized that I'd come to the religion for emotional reasons, but it really wasn't going to help me with them (in many ways it made my problems worse). That peak experience seemed to be the extent of the love, safety, and acceptance that I was going to get. My doubts about the truth of the religion - scientific issues, immoral behavior of the rabbis, and the whole thing just looking as fake as any other religion, came together. Intellectually it's pretty clear to me now that Judaism is made up and that there is no God.

But I find it hard to let go... at least partly because of the experience that I had of feeling so in love and loved. Even if it was fake, I can't see how I could ever feel that way again. A woman would have to fill a football stadium full of flowers to top that experience. "Maybe one flower from someone real who loves you would be better than a million fake ones," you might say. But I believed that it was real when it happened, so the enormous love felt completely real then. How can I go on in life knowing that I'll never feel that way again? Has anyone else experienced this? How have you moved on?


I never really felt that way to begin with, perhaps because I was born and raised frum. I know that I admired and was drawn to various BTs I knew because I sensed that joy in them, but I never really felt it myself.

I'm not sure what advice I can offer except that I suspect such feelings are always temporary, like the infatuation period early in a human relationship. You don't need to be infatuated with (the idea of) God any more than you have to be infatuated with a human being to be happy. Maybe you can love the universe like you can love a human being after the honeymoon period wears off.

I think most people need to go through some kind of grieving process after they leave religion. Some miss the perceived connection with God, some miss the community, some miss the rituals, and some miss the sense of purpose, but we all have something to grieve.

I suggest psychotherapy for anybody leaving Orthodoxy. It's a traumatic experience even if it's the right decision for you. This is doubly true if you have other emotional/psychological issues.

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank you Jewish Atheist for posting this and for your thoughts.

I never thought of it as the infatuation phase, but I can see that. One thing that I've realized through this, though, is that I'm emotionally bottled up, so I looked on the experience as a start toward being more expressive.

Grieving, I hear that. But I think that comes with the "acceptance" stage of loss, and I guess I'm not quite there yet.

It would be nice to get some help sorting all this out. Hard as it is, I have to say I'm grateful, though I'm not sure to who.

Baal Habos said...

>I suggest psychotherapy for anybody leaving Orthodoxy

I suggest psychotherapy for anyone joining Orthodoxy as well. ;)

tommy said...

I never really felt that way to begin with, perhaps because I was born and raised frum. I know that I admired and was drawn to various BTs I knew because I sensed that joy in them, but I never really felt it myself.

I think a lot of gerim experience the same thing. Then the ecstasy wears off. Lets face it, Orthodox Judaism appeals to a certain set of nerdy, socially awkward gentiles who are looking for community and a higher purpose to which they may dedicate their lives. (Maybe I seriously contemplated conversion to OJ at one confused point in my life. If I did, I'm not telling.) In a practical sense, BTs are little more than Jewish gerim.

LSD, MDMA, and other psychedelic/empathogenic drugs might be less costly alternatives for those seeking meaningful and profound experiences. Conversion is expensive business: on top of all of the rabbinical fees, and obtaining copies of the Artscroll Talmud, the Mishneh Torah, the Shulchan Aruch, the Kitzur SA, etc., relocation to the right community is no small expense.

Charity, community work, and involvement in the sciences might prove more satisfying and productive than conversion/reversion over the long run.

tommy said...

I suggest psychotherapy for anyone joining Orthodoxy as well. ;)

Amen.

Anonymous said...

I never really felt that way to begin with, perhaps because I was born and raised frum. I know that I admired and was drawn to various BTs I knew because I sensed that joy in them, but I never really felt it myself.

Is it like this for everyone who was born and raised frum?

What about when something coincidental (or, as they say, kahincidental) happens like you really want a cookie and someone comes by offering cookies? Or when you daven hard for something and then it happens. You didn't have strong, good emotions toward God in a personal way?

- "reader" with the question

jewish philosopher said...

I doubt that any atheist is truly happy. What does he have to be happy about, especially post 40? Wrinkles, baldness, bulging stomach, heart disease and cancer ending in death.

In fact, I can't believe any really thoughtful atheist, believing himself to be a meaningless bag of random atoms with no soul or free will, can even be sane.

Skeptitcher Rebbe said...

I usually don't take advice about who is or isn't sane from someone that is clearly insane.

Anonymous said...

I doubt that any atheist is truly happy. What does he have to be happy about, especially post 40? Wrinkles, baldness, bulging stomach, heart disease and cancer ending in death.

There is a lot more to life post 40 than this.

Jpost said...

Dear Blog Administrator,

My name is Bracha Kurtzer, I am the Jerusalem Post's Blog Editor. I am contacting to to see whether you would consider contributing to our blog online.

Please let me know if this is something that interests you, and if so, we can continue from there.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

--
Bracha Kurtzer
Managing Blog Editor
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Anonymous said...

What's funny is that the majority of ex-theists also complain about their former religion just as much and in the same fashion as someone getting over an abusive relationship. Both blaming itself and trying to rationalize in some sense why he got in the relationship in the first place. You only get to understand the dynamic of the relationship once you're out of it.

kreindy said...

When the comment portion of the blog stops being serviced by the blogmaster, and is back up, check out the scandalous comments against Yiddishkeit being made by a kofer on http://seforim.blogspot.com/2010/10/marc-b-shapiro-new-writings-from-r-kook.html

Questioning Yid said...

JP shows up in the most unexpected places! Anyways, I know the feeling. Its very hard to leave Orthodoxy and to come to terms with a new life experience. You lose structure, community, and certainly that feeling of love for/of God. I'm personally getting to a point where I'm able to deal with that. Now if only I could find myself a nice boyfriend who would bring ME flowers!

Anonymous said...

to this: 'I doubt that any atheist is truly happy. What does he have to be happy about, especially post 40? Wrinkles, baldness, bulging stomach, heart disease and cancer ending in death.

Correct, the above IS the truth... and by acknowledging it, the atheist is freed.. There is NO need to be afraid of the truth.,, so, atheists have actually got it cracked, that's fun eh?

Anonymous said...

Jewish Atheist,

This is the reader who wrote with the original question. I just wanted to say that I have been realizing how good your advice was - I've started working on and healing my issues, and I see how their really is abuse in the religious world, and in my personal world. But I've been reaching out for help. Thanks again :)

Jewish Atheist said...

That's great, Anon! Glad I could help. :-)

Sadie Lou said...

Why aren't you blogging anymore?
~Sadie

Jewish Atheist said...

Hey Sadie! I'm not exactly sure. :-) I'm still commenting on other blogs a lot. Maybe I'll resume posting soon.

Sadie Lou said...

And here you are! :D Good to see you again!