It's the beginning of the semester (almost - as of the 21st, anyway) and once again, I am dodging questions from my students as to my religious identity. It's not surprising that they are curious; after all, I'm asking them to tell me theirs (the first assignment is to take the belief-o-matic quiz and comment on the results). But I like keeping mine a secret till the end of the course. For one thing, it allows me to pretend, as I present each religion in turn, that it is my own, offering it up as The Most Reasonable, Attractive Religious Alternative There Is so that the students will be less likely to look on it as FOREIGN or WEIRD. For another, I want all my students to feel equally comfortable (or uncomfortable) with me, which they won't if they find out that I was raised as a Jew (and therefore will always, despite my best efforts to the contrary, BE a Jew), chose Confucianism (it being the religion closest to Judaism that I could find without actually being Judaism), and got sucked into Buddhism against my will simply because it makes more sense than any other religion I've encountered.

You think these don't mix well? Look at this - and this - and it was my Mandarin professor and my next-door-neighbor in Hsinchu who taught me about the similarities between Judaism and Confucianism, but if you want genuine www evidence, see here and here as well. And then there are all those clever Jewish haiku, which technically point to Shinto but let's not get technical.

Yet another reason for not coming out of the closet to my students right off the bat: in the beginning, they don't know from Buddhism or Confucianism ("Confrushus say, rucky man have rots of sons"), nor have they any idea how one might hold more than one belief system simultaneously. By the end of the semester, those who have managed to get an A in the class have figured this out, so they can handle the information.

I just finished Shalom Auslander's inspired memoir, Foreskin's Lament. Coming on the heels of a couple of conversations with my friend J, it has screwed me up more than I can say, which is what a really good book about religion always does to me, and which I welcome. I'd never really envisioned God as hanging around waiting to give me a good zetz, so this is certainly a new one to mull over.

It's a very funny book; also a scary one. I always knew religion could mess people up pretty badly, but I'd never seen it from the Jewish side before. Next I want to read the memoir of a Buddhist kid whose parents went overboard with religion. Now that would be something, wouldn't it?

No comments: