I went to school to study to be a Rabbi–which was a trippy experience. I kind of recommend it for some people, if you’re interested.
I had a professor who asked an interesting question about the Old Testament, which we call the Torah. Namely, the five books of Moses–or a piece of the Old Testament. And he said, “Is this book sacred?”
I’m not Orthodox, you know? So I’m not an incredibly traditional Jew. As you can see, I’m not wearing the kippah or stuff like that. It was an interesting question for a non-fundamentalist, non-traditionalist Jew to say, “Is this book sacred?”
Very tough question to answer.
What Makes Something Sacred?
And if it’s sacred, why? I could ask a different question: What is sacred in your life? Here we go…A family.
And anything else that’s sacred in your life? And what makes it sacred? What gives something the kind of authority that it transcends what we would call the ordinary to the level of sacred?
Wow. And I would say there is a lot that’s sacred.
The place that I start with people who have a hard time with that notion–like the metaphysical notion of the sacred, is ancestors.
If we study anthropology and go back historically to look at tribal peoples long before organized religion–before Judaism, Christianity, and Hinduism. I think about most of those older shamanic tribal traditions or ancestor traditions. Even in Judaism when we pray, we pray to our ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Leah, etc. Those are our ancestors.
There’s something about our ancestors–those who have passed–that’s sacred. It’s just somebody who’s an atheist and is wrestling with entering into spiritual domains…that’s an interesting conversation.
Atheism, Sacred Meaning, and Cemeteries
How would you feel about pissing on a grave?
Are you desecrating something? What if nobody ever knew about it? Like nobody saw you do it. You peed on a grave. Well, if there’s no metaphysical reality, nothing sacred, who cares? The person’s dead. Why wouldn’t you pee on the grave?
If there was some good incentive on the other side, if I’m peeing on the grave, I would want to pee on the grave. Because we have a sense that it’s a taboo or something about desecrating the dead.
Well, why is that? They’re dead, who cares? You know you’re an atheist. They’re fucking worms and fertilizer. Who gives a shit?
But for most people still, there’s something there. It’s a boundary they don’t want to cross. They say, “Well, there’s actually something about that, that’s wrong.”
I’m like, in a relative way? Just like wrong for some people, or is it wrong for everybody? And you know people…push them hard enough and they are thinking and honest enough, there is something there that feels like it should not be violated.
Identifying the Sacred During Modern Times
And for me, that is so important, especially in these times. We live in this hypermodernity with hyper-information and hyper-reality. You know, these slogan-y terms.
But if my kids aren’t in touch with the fact that there are elements of life that are sacred and in fact, if my kids aren’t in touch with the fact that they are sacred–their being and their soul is sacred–I have a big problem with that.
The recognition of the sacred as part and parcel of the spiritual tradition that’s been handed down to us as a fundamental creates the kind of boundaries that allow a society to not only thrive, but probably just exist at all, is crucial.
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