Is there an advantage to being bored?
I recently read a review of a new book about boredom called Spiritual Boredeom: Rediscovering the Wonder of Judaism. Interestingly, the book makes the claim that boredom is both deadly for religion, but also essential. Having read only the review, I think that the point is that boredom can drive us to make our religious experience better, but chronic boredom can kill a religious life.
But, it’s part of what the review says about that first point which got my mind thinking:
There are a great few Bloom County comic strips in which Opus is looking for a way to lose weight. He goes from one fad diet to another, each time failing. All the while, his friends are telling him to eat better and exercise more but he insists there must be a better way. There isn’t. The best things in life come through hard work. Overcoming boredom, Dr. Brown tells us, is the same. It requires “restraint, training, and self-control” (p. 83).
We need to rid ourselves of the negativity and skepticism that prevent us from giving religious ritual the chance to excite us. We need to train ourselves to approach prayer and ritual in the proper mindset so that we understand and engage it. That takes preparation. But if you aren’t willing to work to make your Judaism meaningful, don’t complain. Losing weight takes effort and so does making the most of life. “Sin is the failure of individuals to take responsibility for overcoming religious boredom” (p. 25).
I’ve been told, many times, not to tell congregants, especially during sermons, that it’s their fault if they don’t find meaning in religion. It’s pretty obviously a bad tactic. Not only is it unwise (people don’t generally respond to being told, “it’s your fault!”), but it’s also unfair (not everyone who dislikes religion, or a given synagogue, has the same reason, so it’s not reasonable to just give the synagogue a blanket pass on this one). But, all of that being said (and, I really do believe it), there is something to be said for that controversial comment. For most people who don’t find anything worthwhile in religion, it’s probably at least partially their own fault.
Religious experience takes practice. And effort. We shouldn’t be surprised if, absent that effort, it’s ineffective.
Imagine a person who wants to get in shape. So, they go for a run. It hurts. They can’t run fast, or far. They don’t enjoy themselves. The next day, they hurt even more. They certainly don’t feel any better.
Now imagine that this person announces that, based on this experience, they now believe that running is a waste of time, and a sham. They won’t run at all, anymore.
Or, maybe they’ll just try running a couple of times a year. I’m sure that will work out well.
The benefits of running are only there for those who commit to it, and do it regularly. It can be very difficult to get to those benefits. But, without that commitment, it’s fairly obvious that they are unattainable. I think that’s how it is with religion (or, at least with prayer and spirituality; “religion” is much more than just that).
One of the nice things about my philosophy/theology is that it doesn’t require anyone to be religious, if they don’t want to be. I don’t think that you’re a bad person, or in some way incomplete, just because you’re not religious. If you don’t want to get involved with religion, or with organized religion, then good for you – don’t. Really. No harm, no foul.
But, that also kind of frees me up to say that if you do want to get involved in religion, then you have to commit. Well – have to might not be right. But, that’s probably the only way this is going to work out for you. If you commit to a religious practice, then there is every chance that you are going to find religion. It may take some time. It may be hard work. It may not always be pleasant, especially at first. It may not look like what you thought you were looking for. But, it will be there.
Like I said before, there are actually plenty of reasons that religion doesn’t work for some people. Commitment is not the only thing you need to get spiritual uplift. But, it’s one of the things. A good worship leader is also essential, for example. But, commitment is definitely essential, too. Necessary, though not sufficient.
The day after a workout, I often say, “I need to either exercise more, or less.” Lately, I’ve been exercising more. It doesn’t hurt as much the next day. And, overall, I feel better.
How about that?