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Ritual without gods

I’m an atheist, and I always have been. I’m a third-generation atheist, moreover; my parents are atheists, and so were/are most of grandparents. But unlike my parents or my grandparents, I was raised without any Jewish observance in my life at all, mostly due, in my opinion to various family schisms and my parents not having good associations with those celebrations (cf family schisms). But I’m also a folklorist, for a certain value of folklorist, at least, and tradition, ritual, ceremony, all seem to me to be important elements of being human. Not the most important elements, no doubt, but important to me nonetheless.

I’m thinking about this because I just went to the Bat Mitzvah of the little girl I babysat/nannied for when I was in graduate school, lo those many years ago (she was two months old when I started). I found the ceremony moving, as I usually do at ceremonies of people close to my heart, and that made me think about what I wanted for myself and my son.

When I was pregnant I was looking into Bris Shalom, the secular humanist Jewish alternative to Bris Milah, and I found the City Congregation for Humanistic Judaism, essentially a secular humanist shul in New York City. I am particularly intrigued by their Bar/Bas Mitzvah program, in which the kids focus on learning about Jewish history, heritage, and literature and presenting their studies to the congregation, as well as taking up some kind of activism. I like that idea; I like the idea of preserving Jewish identity without requiring a belief in the Jewish God. And I was certainly raised to consider social activism part of my Jewish heritage.

I consulted with their rabbi, and developed a naming ceremony for my son presided over my uncle, an anthropologist who feels similarly about the importance of tradition and ceremony. I have made small, private rituals for myself to mark important anniversaries, but this was the first time I included family and some friends (mostly family). Everybody was very supportive and it meant a lot to me, and my uncle gave a great talk about my son’s name and its history and famous namesakes. I spoke a little about his middle name and having named him after my grandfather.

I know I’m not the only unbeliever here (I’m pretty sure), and I’m wondering what others do vis-a-vis ritual and ceremony. Are you just as happy to be free from it? Do you observe any even without believing in them? Have you adapted any to be more meaningful to you? And you know, I’m interested in what those who do believe in various gods and religions think and feel, too.

Day of Thanksgiving/Mourning

Tomorrow, many people in the U.S. will gather to celebrate Thanksgiving, a sanitized version of a fictionalized account of an encounter between English settlers and the Wampanoag people already living on the land that was being “settled” that was the beginning of centuries of murder, abuse, and outright genocide. And while being thankful for what you have is good, celebrating it by dressing children up in construction-paper feathers and decorating with dried “maize” is a not-good, and in fact bad, way of doing it. Tomorrow in Plymouth, Massachusetts — home of that first cross-cultural dinner party — a National Day of Mourning, organized by the United American Indians of New England, will draw attention to historical and current attitudes, treatments, and issues facing Native Americans.

Quick Hit(s): Indigenous Peoples Day

Not that it makes up for centuries of colonization and genocide, but more and U.S. cities are choosing each year to officially make the second Monday of October a celebration of the indigenous people of their region, and not of the deplorable individual credited with “discovering” them.

Just a few reminders before you buy those “50 Shades” Valentines

[Trigger warning for sexual violence and emotional abuse]

Valentine’s Day is coming up! That day of romance, of togetherness, of coupledom, of… domestic abuse… Valentine’s Day is the release date of 50 Shades of Grey, that sensationalistic movie based on the “How to Spot an Abuser” pamphlet in your college guidance counselor’s office. Women and men who have read the book and know perfectly well what the story is about will flock to theatres, either a) dreaming of the day that they’ll be stalked and violated by someone as dreamy as Christian, or b) hoping to score on Valentine’s night with the person they took to the movie. And while people are free to get their rocks off to whatever they want (within certain limits), it’s important to acknowledge that what may (for some reason) come across as sultry and sexy on the page would, in real life, be a Razorbacks halftime show’s worth of red flags.

Happy New Year

Happy New Year to everybody.

I have a hard time with New Year’s Eve and Day, myself.  It’s one of a trio of holidays that tend to make me depressed (the other two, in case you’re wondering, are Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day, with Thanksgiving worse than the other two by light-years).  No matter what I’ve accomplished the previous year, I tend to look back on it and feel inadequate.  Even this year, when I published a book, was nominated for three writing awards and won one, published one story and sold two, became pregnant, and moved into an awesome new home with my amazing family (best friend, best friend’s husband, godson)…somehow managed to become, in my NYE depressive brain…kind of pathetic.  (Trust me, you don’t want to know what the line of, let’s call it “reasoning,” is there.)

So if you’re like me, and the end of the year calls forth devils and difficulties, you’re not the only one.  And if you’re able to be all joyous, that’s excellent, and I hope the good cheer lasts all year for you.

Do you have resolutions?  Hopes?  Plans?  Amusing New Year’s anecdotes?  Take it away…

Don’t you get sick of those damned poor trick-or-treaters in your rich neighborhood?

This week, an actual win from advice columnist Dear Prudence:

I live in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the country, but on one of the more “modest” streets — mostly doctors and lawyers and family business owners. (A few blocks away are billionaires, families with famous last names, media moguls, etc.) I have noticed that on Halloween, what seems like 75 percent of the trick-or-treaters are clearly not from this neighborhood. … Should Halloween be a neighborhood activity, or is it legitimately a free-for-all in which people hunt down the best candy grounds for their kids?