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Isn't it pretty?

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

An Unexamined Life....

is a happy life??? I was talking to a friend last night and we were talking about school, and he asked me the dreaded question - "So what are you going to do after you graduate?" I began detailing to him what I see as my current options - stay in Psychology and go for either a Specialist's degree in School Psychology or my Licensure as a Counselor. OR I could go to St. John's, read a lot of philosophy and literature, think like crazy and end up either teaching high school or going on to get a PhD. I explained to him that I loved reading classic philosophy, that the more I have been reading, the more I want to read, how it makes me think so much...and how it also makes me question my beliefs more and more. He stopped me right there and asked me why I would cause such problems for myself. His feeling was, Orthodox Judaism is beautiful and meaningful and brings a lot of joy to a person's life, so don't question things. Don't make things harder than they have to be. If you have to have a shallow understanding of things in order to be happy, so be it. Life is about making happiness easy. I countered with the point that why should I dedicate my life to something that I only have a shallow understanding of? Why should I let Torah dictate what I do from the minute I wake up until the minute I go to sleep if I can't even find satisfactory answers to real questions? (I want to take a second here to say that I don't think that there aren't answers to my questions, I just think that asking questions and searching for answers is a very worthwhile process.) He told me about another friend of his who was a baal teshuvah who was always asking questions, and therefore was not happy. He kept saying to me that it is just easier to not ask questions, and not worry about things, that you could then be happier. So I asked him, "Is ignorance bliss?" He said he wasn't talking about ignorance, he was just saying not to look at things to the point where it would cause internal conflict. I don't agree with this outlook. I agree that the process of asking questions that are difficult to answer can cause a lot of dissonance in a person's life, but I don't agree that the outcome is unhappiness. I think that when you search and find answers to these incredibly difficult questions, the reward for the search is immeasurable, and you are subsequently standing on an incredibly stronger foundation than before. I don't think that reading classical philosophers will necessarily lead me to reject Jewish beliefs, I think in a lot of ways since I have been reading Plato and Aristotle and Homer, I have seen how Torah does encompass such a vast array of thought and how it is in everything. And I think that is beautiful and will eventually lead me to a stronger grasp on why I chose this life to begin with. For me, the process of becoming a baal teshuvah was an incredibly difficult process of questioning everything I had been taught growing up and finding the answers to life's questions and finding the path that was right for me. I don't think this process has ended, I think I have now stepped into a new phase of it. And I think it might very well be coming to a circle. I think that now that I have come to the point where Torah is firmly embedded in my life, I am now ready to look at the outside world and bring it together with the Torah values I have learned. As I learned in becoming religious, the process often is not easy - it can hurt and it can cause a lot of questioning, probing and doubt along the way. But when it comes together, because of the difficulty in working towards the goal, it is so much more meaningful and concrete. And that is what I want for myself.


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