Monday, September 10, 2007

Hallowed Secularism and the High Holy Days

9/10/2007--Tomorrow is the beginning of the Jewish High Holy Days—Yomin Nora’im—Days of Awe. These days culminate in the Yom Kippur fast of Teshuvah—Repentence. The Days of Awe illustrate one of the things Hallowed Secularism lacks--a calendar of public worship. The Jew on these days looks at himself and his life in a spirit of reflection. The Jew asks, who am I? What does my life amount to? What will the day of my death be like? These are not the kind of questions capitalism leads us to ask. We might have an occasion to ask questions like these--when something has gone terribly wrong, when we have been told we have cancer or a loved has died—but the Jew who asks them every year has a great advantage. In the moment of crisis the insight may come to me that I have wasted my life. That insight, though, might come too late. It might shed a light that is bitter. If I ask every year, I might learn to live a proper life.

Many a Jew is a secularist. Some are even closet Hallowed Secularists. Such Jews ask these questions of themselves and of life without imagining that there is a someone who is listening. In a way, all of reality is listening. Their answers to these questions matter. Everything is at stake. Even without God.

This is the Hallowed Secularism we need. A Hallowed Secularism of repentance and fasting. A Hallowed Secularism with a public calendar and public worship. But nothing like that has ever been created by non-believers.

I’m constantly just restating the problem. We need what religion gives. But we cannot believe in fairy tales. Why are we put to this choice?

I’m lucky to be a Jew who became a proto-secularist, rather than being a full secularist. But what becomes of those to come, who know only secularism? How will they express their yearnings, hopes and fears? How will they know of their own sin? How will they know that sin can be forgiven, though we cannot explain how? They will not ask because they will not know.

A great solemnity falls on the people, even on those usually shallow and false. All feel that their lives are being judged. All feel the weight of this judgment. All fall short. All resolve to be more fully human in the year ahead. The shofar sounds its warning and its catharsis. We emerge as new.

I wish for all my readers, my family and friends, the life of repentance in the year to come.

No comments:

Post a Comment