Monday, May 07, 2007

Eating Lunch Religiously

This afternoon, I had a brief discussion with the Rooster about non-belief-based involvement in religious ritual. The question he raised was whether an individual could eat Shabbat lunch every week and not be considered religious.

I don't know that eating lunch is a religious act. You can take place in a ritualistic custom that's based in religion without it being a religious custom. Is the ritual itself religious, simply because it originates in religion? Is it religious because you are engaging in it with people who endow it with religious significance? Why can't you take part in a ritual godlessly and it be secular? So much of what we do in everyday life has religiously ritualistic roots, down to our calender; just because something has religious importance to some people doesn't mean that engaging in it is a priori religious

In the interest of lengthening this post (because the burden's been unfairly on Annie for months now), I asked Balaam's Donkey, owner of two of the cutest dimples this side of the Great Divide, "If you do Shabbat lunch every Saturday, with the concomitant prayers, but without the belief in a deity or the religion, is that a religious act?"

His measured response: In that it is a practice with religious origins, but it is ostensibly social-cultural in its actual manifestation. See: Kaplan, Folkways; see Menachem Brinker (but that's a much larger conversation). It is a Jewish thing, but Judaism is not solely a religion today: making practices that are religious by design, not necessarily religious in practice, but essentially "Jewish things that Jews do." To what end? To paraphrase a professor of mine: "because we like it."

There you have it, folks, straight from the donkey's mouth.


Anonymous said...

Like I said yesterday, IN THEORY, I suppose you're right. But the idea of someone being "secular" and still REGULARLY participating in religious rituals strikes me as trying to eat your cake and have it too. Take a fucking stand, I say.

But along these same lines, last night I saw Chris Hitchens debate Al Sharpton about religion. Hitchens has new book out: "God Is Not Great: Religion Poisons Everything" (great title). Apparently, Hitchens wants people to keep their religions to themselves. He claims he does not care what people do in their private lives. Also, Hitch has had two religious weddings -- one Christian and one Jewish -- despite his atheism. I am too tired to offer philosophical reasons for why I think that's bullshit.

I just got out of knee surgery. Pray for a quick recovery hahahaha.

The Rooster

Annie said...

TR- I disagree. I think that you can be present at a festival meal because you enjoy the company (I often have non-religious, or even non-Jewish guests) without compromising your secular values. Unless you are actually doing the prayers, which I think would be a bit weird.

Also, I'll keep you in mind and say a mi sheberach for your quick and complete recovery. Whether you like it or not. :)

Anonymous said...

I don't know if I can agree with what I said about Shabbat lunch, but my dimples are, in fact, amazing.

(The Donkey)

Anonymous said...

Annie -- I am SHOCKED you disagree. :-)

I go to Shabbat lunches every once in a while. I was thinking more along the lines of, for instance, an atheist who goes to church every Sunday for "cultural reasons" (whatever that means).