"What puzzles and saddens me is that even "burn outs" from the "frum" world continue to view religiousness as black or white. The view seems to be that you're either in for a penny, in for a pound - or not, and nothing in between."His observation is accurate, and not just relevant to this subject. On many varied issues, people often encounter individuals who have left the yeshivish/chareidi world, or the frum world, or whatever world, and are surprised that many vestiges of their former life are still evident in their activities, their outlooks, and their personalities. Why is that? they wonder, If you've left it so wholeheartedly, why are you still looking at things like you're still in that world?
Shlomo shares some of his thoughts on this issue in his typically eloquent and inspiring prose. I want to explore a slightly different angle than he does over there.
As I explained earlier, my own departure from my former society resulted more from an emotional reaction than an intellectual one. During my religious transition, for the most part, I wasn't seriously examining all the intellectual and rational foundations of my religious upbringing. Some of them, yes. But even for those few areas that I focused on, my criteria for acceptability was probably based more on a subjective cognitive appeal than any critical intellectual analysis.
Over the years, I've changed quite a bit. I've changed the clothes I wear, the style of my speech, the manner of my interactions, the activities that interest me, the people I associate with, the things that are important to me, the way I think, and the perspectives I have. I've even had opportunity to adjust my views on the deeper philosophical issues of Jewish thought and practice.
The changes happened in many different ways. Some of them were done with conscious effort and some just gradually happened on their own. A lot of them came to me naturally while others were met with incredible resistance. Many of those changes were due to the appeal of the new way of doing things, and many others were a deliberate rejection of the old approach. Most probably came from subjective considerations, but at least a few are probably based in semi-solid convictions.
But there are still myriad areas of thought and experience that I haven't adjusted my perspective on. For the most part, this is because I haven't had any opportunities to seriously reexamine these issues and feelings. Changing ones lifestyle and society can raise many issues that one needs to clarify and take sides on, but there remain countless other areas which are just not touched on by the events and experiences of everyday life. Additionally, the sheer volume of ideas, habits, perspectives, and tendencies that the frum world inculcates in their followers makes it practically impossible for a person to totally undo all the subtle, yet deeply rooted, effects they have on one's psyche.
This is all the more true when speaking about one who, like myself, made the transition not primarily due to intellectual considerations. I didn't get up one day in class and proclaim that I no longer believed in the truth of Torah. Even after I left, I still pretty much accepted and believed that most of the ideas that they had taught me were God-given truths. I didn't reject everything as false and irrelevant. And contrary to what frummies like to think that all rebels do, I didn't consequently make efforts to violate every religious principle and halacha that I could.
But even after all these years, even though it's been a blessedly long time since I've had a rabbi demand an explanation of why I wasn't on time to davening, and even after I've made a pretty complete adjustment into my current community, I still have many of those old yeshivish/chareidi perspectives about life and Judaism lingering within me.
My experiences since leaving my native culture have exposed me to a lot of things, a lot of new ideas, a lot of new approaches to old ideas. But only in certain areas. Those areas of thought and experience that I haven't reexamined still retain the same traditional (and usually restrictive and objectionable) view on the issue that I had all those years ago.
Lying dormant within me, and within so many likeminded individuals, are many beliefs, ideas, value judgments, perspectives, preferences, and feelings which actually are totally at odds with the person that we have become. Unfortunately, those old patterns of thought don't gradually die out, or just fade into the background of our psyche, never to bother us again. They actually are very much still alive, yet because the particular issue may not be raised by the experiences we encounter, they're able to remain undetectable to our consciousnesses for a very long time. Only many years later, possibly when an idea is raised in conversation, an incident catches our attention, or an experience evokes a reaction, will we discover the phantom that's been lurking within us all this time.
At times these epiphanies are rather benign. But more often than not, they can end up coming back to haunt us in a most detrimental way. Let's take a closer look at the scenario raised by the commenter I mentioned above:
A kid is taught that black-hat frumkeit is the only valid and legitimate approach to Judaism. Due to various frustrations and other emotional/sociological factors he decides to chuck it all and drop frumkeit altogether. Some years down the line, after he's achieved a certain balance in his life, he decides to try to take another look at his tradition. Leery of his former society due to the negative associations and memories of his youth, he looks around at other alternative approaches to Judaism. He explores, he tries out, he discovers. Yet, despite the fact that so much of these approaches appeal to him, he finds himself cynical and skeptical of them all. He can't bring himself to wholeheartedly embrace any one of them. Why is this? Because subconsciously he still has the belief he was taught all those years ago that all these approaches are illegitimate when compared to the one authentic derech of chareidism. He never rejected that view when he left that world. And since he studiously avoided any and all contact with religious society in the years since, he never had the opportunity to reexamine the idea and reject it then. As a result, the old perspective still holds sway in his outlook of these issues, and triggers feelings that are counterproductive.
These unconscious views that are latent within us often emerge when we least expect them. They trigger immense frustration in our lives, in so many areas of life, not even ones directly related to religion: relationships, goals, trust, work-ethic, family interactions, child rearing, etc. As mentioned, Judaism has views, opinions, and ideas on every conceivable area of life, from the most mundane to the most significant. And a person that went through the black-hat world probably had so many of those views drilled into him as dogmatic and immutable truth. Any of those ideas or beliefs which are allowed to recede from ones focus and then be ignored for many years will probably resurface years later when an issue that asks the person for their feelings on the matter arises.
If a person is lucky (or self-aware), they can recognize the source of these unexpected feelings and hopefully counter them appropriately. But many people must battle these demons throughout their lives, never fully understanding why they constantly seem to react to experiences in ways that seem so counterintuitive to the person that they understand themselves to be.