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Awaiting the Advent of American Ambivalence

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It's not so often that we get to consider being ambivalent as something of a luxury or as part and parcel of a real actualizing of freedom. Of course it can be or at least feel like the opposite -- a curse, when it obliterates every taste of one's aspect of true feelings and replaces that with the opposite. On the other hand, says the ambivalent Jew, the mere right to say "on the other hand" is potentially a signal of freedom in what seems to be a culture where being "right" religiously speaking, seems part of a new political correctness. It certainly is one that is being claimed by the religious Right, with Rick Santorum's edicts about the President not following the Bible, as if there were only one unquestioned version of what that (bible) even is.

Standing for religious liberty as well as the freedom to question and even refuse religion as an absolute or inevitable path often "ordained" at birth, is not always a symptom of being radical or even a rebel by nature. Sometimes it's an expression of ambivalence about the religious cards we are dealt, and sometimes it comes from having felt heavy doses of internal states of mixed feelings, as part of the very ambivalence of which I'm speaking.

I consider myself a secular Jew, counting on history, humor, guilt (general guilt and guilt about not being a "good" Jew) and food among the riches of my past and increasingly, my present. Having gotten broad samples of liberalism in my past, I have found it increasingly incongruous and even wrong, to have an exclusivist religion ruling my behavior in this life. It has become scarily absurd to consider that the major religions have a very particular set of rules that govern admission also to the afterlife of a given heaven and for the most part, a given hell. That it didn't work for me, for my "kishkes," my intestines, is something many people don't seem to understand. They are the people for whom religion seems uncomplicated: in fact, I've been told many times, one only has to read the bible.

But here again, what bible or "Bible" would that be? And where in these varieties of religious texts is there included the notion of quest, and then the notion of ambivalence? I haven't found much of it, also since outside of the fact that many religious Jews argue as their daily bread over religious documents and their interpretations, the major laws of Judaism including keeping kosher or maintaining the Sabbath, aren't up for discussion. This, right here, may turn out to be a pity.

The pity, as it comes to the center for this discussion of the moment, is that increasingly in America, there is no real room for questioning being governed by religion, not only in one's private home -- already an abrogation of freedom in the largest sense -- but in the public eye where God blessing America as condoned and dared (as it's considered a sin for those who take the injunction to not use God's name in vain seriously). I'm coming to think of ambivalence, not simply as something oppressive for those of us who yearn for simpler feeling states regarding love and faith and thoughts and directions etc, but as something of an obligatory state on the way to serious evaluation of how we are doing as individuals and as groups. To question already stirs up different versions of guilt, unease, turmoil and ambivalence, and this is especially true at a time when it is not considered popular or soave to take the time to think, to hesitate in doing so, or to change one's mind.

The recent remarks by Rick Santorum about Obama having a "phony theology" and not following the bible -- that would be "Bible," right -- were followed by his suggestion that several of the early presidents gave their children home instruction, as he called the idea of public education "anachronistic." So while we already have a serious issue in learning from history in any arena in which that would mean studying both diversity of world views and examining our own fatal flaws in terms of Native Americans, slavery, segregation, poverty, women's rights etc, now we have talk that parents should be doing the teaching.

To tell the truth, this really scares me. And I am asking as loud as I can: how many others are scared by this? Are there Jews for whom Evangelical Christian support is vital to Israel, who are nauseated by the religious Right coming close to religious dictatorship, or is it whatever works for whatever group?

Do you have to be ambivalent about religion to be scared of its ruling America? Do you have to be ambivalent to be scared of Pat Robertson's web page that says -- read it please -- that peace in the Middle East is impossible because of the inherent terrorist nature of Muslims?

Better even might be the question of whether we are obliged to own up to the human tendency to be ambivalent so we can be freer of the righteous hate of blame and projection we like to think we don't have. While it is often uncomfortable to own feelings that place us outside of a uniform belief system, the very idea of moving towards freedom of thought and freedom of speech and of action, seem tempting. Beyond tempting I dare say, it's starting to seem downright necessary.

I am hoping there are more people who choose to speak more loudly on the subject. I'm hoping to find a modicum of a sense of belonging, not merely in adhering to custom without question, but in questioning itself.

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