The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

May 25, 2008

Ungodly Devotion

Shalom Auslander, lapsed Chasid, estranged from his family, fights God daily. There is much pain and disbelief and rage in him, and he constantly feels God's interference in his life. In his memoir, Foreskin's Lament, he writes:

I believe in God.

It's been a real problem for me.

I have very little sympathy for veal.

According to the website, Young calves are taken from their mothers and chained by the neck in crates measuring just two feet wide. They cannot turn around, stretch their limbs, or even lie down comfortably. Like a yeshiva - or a madrasa, or a Catholic school. Except for the "taken from their mother" bit, the lucky little calves; my mother put me in the box and made it very clear that her love was conditional upon my remaining in the box. To make matters better, nobody is standing outside the veal's crate telling him that there is some sort of Cow Almighty in the sky, and that Cow Almighty commands the veal to stay in that box, and that, moreover, the constraining box he finds himself in is a gift - a gift from Cow Almighty because veal are Cow's chosen cattle, and if veal even thinks about leaving the box, or questioning the box, or even complaining about the box, well, Cow help him.

Auslander is filled with so much vitriol, seethes with venom. A lesser man would have abandoned his faith in the Omniscient long ago - surely it's simpler to give up on an ugly and selfish and needy deity than obey His erratic and irrational strictures. But Auslander cannot take that easy way out. He is constantly afraid that God will exact terrible retribution, killing his son or mutilating his loving, loving wife. But he cannot abide the pettiness of God, and challenges Him at every turn; he snaps and withdraws like a cornered dog, and it's only his own recognition of the terrible humour of his situation that keeps him sane.

Meanwhile, his parents and siblings cannot tolerate his abandonment of their Orthodoxy; he, for his part, has done everything possible to distance himself from their disapproval, their sucking grasp on his life, their appreciation of him only on their terms.

Isolated both from God and family, where is the intelligent man to turn? Fortunately for Auslander, he is steeped in the great Jewish tradition of argumentation with bitter humour, and like Roth and Bellow before him, has created a fine new voice, melding pain and lightness, never maudlin or manipulative, with which somehow to exorcise the agony of his existence.


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