I went to a seder last night (a seder is the Jewish ritual Passover meal), an annual event; I probably shouldn't have. For starters, it far, far exceeded my social energy, especially since there wasn't really a good way to get up and get away from the people for a while (which I do pretty regularly at parties, or any events held here at the house). And many of the people there I'm actually not particularly close to, at least in a way that makes it fun to sit at a table with them for 3 hours (and I showed up late--I think seders are always brutally long, but they can start a lot earlier than this one does).
The other thing that rubbed me the wrong way was the haggadah (Passover prayer book) we use, and I finally started to put some fingers on what bugs me about it. It's sort of a personal liberation haggadah, very Californian, since Santa Cruz encapsulates and focuses a lot of the kind of New Age-related activity that is part of the rest of the country's vision of California. I don't like self-help stuff, but more importantly, I don't religion being turned into an overstretched metaphor. The first seder I went to was a nice family thing, and I was one of two or three goyim invited to share in a tradition. The thing about the seder is that it's quintessentially Jewish, a ritual in the home to celebrate history and identity, to tell the same story told for thousands of years. The Santa Cruz Haggadah (SCH) feels like it waters everything down, pulling in elements from Christianity (the "man asks Jesus why there were only one set of footprints at a certain time in his life, Jesus says that's when he was carrying him" story is in there, substituting Adonai--oh, sorry, that's "Lord", which is sexist, so the SCH just uses "HASHEM", which means "the Name"--for "Jesus"; and the song "This Little Light Of Mine", which as far as I know is a black spiritual) and Taoism (I forget the specific example) and Zen and California self-transformation psychology and who knows what else. In the SCH the captivity in Egypt is a metaphor for our own mental and spiritual captivity, a symbol and parable of how we bind and restrain ourselves.
This taps right on a nerve I have about people who say things like "Oh, all religions teach basically the same thing". Because they don't, really. Honest. I checked. They all encourage a certain standard of social behavior: don't kill people, it's not nice to steal things, and so on, but that's a really, really lame basis for syncretism. How on earth do you reconcile the doctrine of Original Sin with Zen's idea that we are all Buddhas, just unrealized? Or Hinduism's (some of it, anyway, it's kind of a wide-angle shotgun religion) complex afterlives with Christianity's relatively simple one-shot-on-earth-to-one-final-judgement view?
(Did you know that Original Sin was invented by Saint Augustine of Hippo? Really. He made it up. I mean, we call it exegesis, but what that really means is that he read Genesis and decided not only that human beings are damned by default, but that it's all the fault of women. Of course, this led to unbaptized children being sent to Hell, an unpalatable thought, so the Church created the idea oif Limbo to help everyone feel better without completely backpedaling. I've decided that Christianity's principle difficulty is that, whether anyone admits it or not, the writings of the Church Fathers are in fact granted status equal to the Bible. Divinely inspired, my ass.)
So the Santa Cruz Haggadah takes Judaism and turns it into this self-help parable. Maybe it would resonate if I were Jewish, but I'm not, and I'm also not a fan of California self-help/tranformation/liberation psychology. I practice Zen, so more than that tends to be a lot of noisy talking and thinking, which misses the point of immediacy and engagement with life. If you don't like your religion, sheesh, go find another path. Don't warp it into something palatable and redefine all the names and terms and concepts into things you feel comfortable with. If you're going to engage Judaism or Christianity, you have to find a way to reconcile the fact that God in the Bible is male, that he asked Abraham to sacrifice his son. You have to find a reading of the Book of Job that makes any sense to you and is still honest (i.e. doesn't whitewash the fact that God fucked up Job's life to settle a bet with Satan)--well, you can be dishonest about it, I guess. You'd be following in a long if unimpressive tradition.
You also must engage the cycle's of God's vindictiveness and forgiveness throughout the Old Testament, the vicious genocidal warfare of the Israelites as they displace the natives of Canaan, God's sudden character transformation into someone nice in the New Testament, and then finally the central Christian question, how and why God had a son, and how the brutal sacrifice of that son redeemed humanity (and then you can ask the Church why we still have Original Sin--I know there's a doctrinal answer for that one, though). Yes, there are terribly hard questions, and I don't know how people make peace with them, since I myself punted and found a spiritual path that makes sense to me. But really, take things for what they are. If you're going to intellectualize a religion into nothing more than a metaphor, why bother? Why try to hammer a square peg into a round hole?
You know, it's possible that years of Sunday School did not have quite the desired effect.
Okay, I'm done now.