Judaism Is Not a Death Cult
That's one of many things I like about it.
A colleague I admire a whole lot wrote a sweet piece about being a young Catholic mom and loving it. The response from some in the elite left — a group I sometimes find myself at odds with but grew up feeling very part of — was absolutely insane. Apoplectic with rage.
I’ve come to the conclusion that some of the nihilism we see in elite left spaces — the desire to keep shuls or parks or schools shut long past necessity, the proclamations of child-free not child-less, the idea that fitness and health is a sort of sickness, the obsession with personal trauma (everything is trauma) and with the various pains of existing — is congealing into a very old, familiar tribe, which is a death cult. A group who fetishizes the end.
Apocalypse is around the corner. Exhaustion is the mode. To create children is eco-terrorism. Parents are the oppressor class. Suffering is virtue. Weakness is strength. As the window sign on my block — right next to the BLM sign — reminds me: Existence is pain. This cult happens to be run by the luckiest people in the history of the world — a group who has healthier longer lives and more leisure and more power than their ancestors could have even imagined.
So coming back to that colleague’s essay, a nice piece for Mother’s Day, and to the rage: New data has shown just how sharply the fertility rate in wealthy countries is falling. That’s a very real thing. But according to this faction of the movement, to care about the plunging birth rate that’s happening around the world is, for some reason, to do a racism, so we can’t even talk about it without risking the ire of the apocalypse-now brigade and, of course, our jobs.
Anyway, it’s sad. I think there will be a lot of heartbreak in a few years as millennial uterus-having-people realize we are, by and large, middle-aged women. And that while children are by no means the whole purpose of life, they’re a potentially wonderful part of it.
Me, I’m very much child-less not-free. I feel the lacking. We’re in the process of trying to make little babies now, and I desperately wish we’d started earlier.
Which brings me to my last rant on this: You can argue that having children in one’s mid-30s is better and encourage women to postpone as I did — but you can only live that way if you also happen to have thousands of dollars to casually spend on fertility treatment. The sperm bank message boards are full of would-be-mothers lamenting this fact, mourning the failed IVF round that has to be their last lest they go further into debt trying. Now maybe you can envision a utopia where everyone gets government sponsored IVF. But in real life today, to argue against encouraging motherhood in one’s twenties is to argue that poor people should often not in fact have children at all.
In a surprise to no one who knows American newspaper culture when it comes to someone vaguely different or God-forbid religious or some other thing that displeases Park Slope and sends them sputtering into their La Croix, that lovely colleague of mine left the paper this week. (Don't feel too bad — just off to a magazine, a rare old media joint that seems to still like weird ones.)
I see my conversion in part as a turn away from all this sort of thinking, and there’s lots of ways to phrase that turn. But I guess I could just say the obvious: Judaism is, in fact, not a death cult. And I like that about it.
Much of the news around Jewish peoplehood is dark right now, so if you want to read something about those rushing to join it — this week, Tablet Magazine ran a beautiful feature about converts and included yours truly.
Thank you as always for reading.
I am repeatedly and pleasantly surprised by your approach to the change in your life and the very positive, healthy, beautiful and life-affirming things you are discovering in... sshhhh, I"ll whisper it...religion. I have found a similar path in an unexpected way. I've spent years looking at our dive into mental illness and the loss of psychological well-being pervasive in modern culture. Common mental illnesses are increasing in frequency or severity in industrialized societies. There is much to say about this but one thing is that we have pulled ourselves out of the ground by the roots of culture, connectedness to others, simplicity and a sense of possible transcendence along with the value systems all these things carry. This is not a direction I have lived my own life but have always craved in one way or another. Much of the heavy lifting here is done by religion and I just do not see a replacement. This is not to say that there are not happy, virtuous, non-religious people; just that it's hard to be one. How to marry this to the freedom, openness and progress (social and technical) of modernity is the question of our era.
Jews historically have not only been disposed to wanting a future for themselves as individuals but also for their community and culture because we share a fate whether by design or by accident. In the aftermath of the Holocaust, the ultra-orthodox survivors focused on rebuilding their lives through marriage and childbirth even when some of the decisions made about particular people violated religious laws. [this is a little known part of how they did rebuild their numbers in Israel after WWII]