Personal FAQs, about myself.
Why is your middle name "North"?
My father's father's mother's name was Ruby North Moore. She got this name because her father's name was Frederick North Moore. He got this name because his mother, Irene Harriet North Moore's maiden name was North, from her father, Frederick North, who was born 12 August 1803. So it's a last name that no one in the family's had for 200 years, but has stuck around anyway as middle names.
I'm a vegetarian, or more accurately, a political pseudo-vegetarian. (Thanks for the term, Susan.) This means that I don't eat meat often—though I do eat it—and choose not to eat meat at times as well, since I consider the way that animals are mass-produced into meat to be cruel.
- Factory farming sucks.
- I enjoy eating meat sometimes.
- I often chose not to eat meat.
- I'll eat meat if it's what's for dinner and won't pressure anyone into changing the menu (since I'll probably like it).
- Sometimes even when there's an option not to, I might opt to eat the meat anyway if I think it will be exceptionally good.
- I eat meat much more often when in Central Asia: factory farming is almost unheard of, farm animals live relatively free lives (flocks roam free during the day); traditionally animals are treated pretty well, since they're the livelihood of pastoral nomads.
For the record, I've heard many arguments for and against vegetarianism, and agree at least to some extent with most of them [on both sides]. Some of my favourites against vegetarianism include "I'm at the top of the food chain and am proud of it," and "I like meat too much to be a vegetarian." The horrors of factory farming and my slight squeamishness about death are my main reasons for being vegetarian. I'm also apparently pretty good at cooking meat, but I don't do it very often.
The point of this section is to explain my "religious views" to those who are curious and to those who think they want to try to "convert" me.
First of all, I find the term "religion" to be a strange word when I try to define it. In the west, it seems to refer to a second, often less natively learned form of culture. It also seems to refer to any beliefs related to the spiritual world. Hence, in the west, a person's religion usually corresponds to something as simple as what church they attend, or would attend if they felt so inclined. If I answer the question based on this—which seems to be the easiest way to answer the question—then I would consider myself Jewish.
Let's discuss Judaism. My mother's Jewish, so whether I like it or not, and despite beliefs and practices of mine that conflict with Judaism, many Jews would consider me Jewish. In this sense I am at least partially ethnically Jewish. And since the religious services I most often chose to attend, as well as my "religious" traditions of choice are mostly Jewish, I have some level of Jewish affiliation.
Okay, how about my beliefs? Well, the word "belief" seems to refer to at least two conflated meanings; compare: "Do you believe in Jesus?" vs. "Do you believe in the Easter Bunny?" The first question does not appear to be questioning whether I believe that Jesus existed or not (I believe he existed as much as I believe any historical figure existed), but rather whether I follow his teachings (many of them I do, no doubt, but not with any specific intent to) and accept that he was some sort of supernatural religious symbol whom I ought to worship (which I don't). The latter question simply asks whether I believe in the existence of the Easter Bunny (my response to which, of course, depends on how you define "Easter Bunny"). There is another meaning, such as "Do you believe in eating pork"—that is, what do you believe *should* be done, what's moral to do.
My beliefs, compared to other "religious" beliefs
So let's look at the more basic meaning of belief—what do I believe to exist? Well, pretty much everything I've seen I believe to exist or to have existed in at least some sense of the word exist. I believe in the existence of the planet I live on, and other bodies in space which there's been some sort of evidence to suggest to me that they exist. I don't know enough about astrophysics to have much of an opinion as to where it all comes from and how big it is and all that, but I trust that astrophysicists, using scientific methods, have a much better idea of all of this, and may be approaching some fairly accurate answers.
Do I believe that there is a supernatural creator of all of this? Probably, depending on the definition of "supernatural creator". Do I believe that this supernatural creator is a creature, humanoid or otherwise, maybe with [human-like] sentience, will, etc? Probably not; most likely, it's all some really impressive physical process that we might as well hold in awe and reverence as The Creator. Do I believe that there is some sort of benevolent (or otherwise) supernatural creature monitoring all my deeds and judging me? Probably not, though I'm open to the possibility, given real evidence. Does this mean I don't have a moral system? Of course not (read on). But the main point of all this is that I don't specifically believe either way on many of these issues, and in fact, I believe that it is impossible, by definition, for humans to know one way or the other the answer to questions of faith. (That is, some who do believe often say "You just have to have faith", which means that they accept that there's no way to know for sure.)
My actual "religious" beliefs
Okay, how about the other "believe"s—what do I believe humans should do; what moral code do I ascribe to? (These are the questions that add up to what I might call the core of "religion", under some definitions). To provide a concise answer to these questions, I essentially believe that humans should appreciate, respect, and try to learn about the environment around them. To extend this some, "the environment" refers to the physical and social world around each of us.
Appreciation implies some sense of wonder at the world around you; this is something that no one can force on you, and if you don't have it, oh well. This can be equated with spirituality, so if you want to call the world around me that I appreciate "God", then go right ahead—just know that it doesn't have all those other connotations of a supernatural conscience that people want to associate with the word.
Respect implies giving back to the world, trying your best not to hurt people, the environment, etc.
Respect and appreciation can conflict—for example, should one eat animals? Well, it's a personal choice: is it more important that you appreciate the fruits of the earth, or is it more important that you respect the creatures that could provide you with this appreciable sustenance, and not eat them? It's a personal choice, and can rely on other factors, and many people don't seem to have a problem with the fact that this is a personal choice.
Lastly, learning about one's environment means that you should strive your best to understand the world around you. I do this through linguistics—it's a passion of mine to understand everything I can about language and how the human mind must be for language to exist as such, and so I do what I can to help contribute to the current scientific understanding of all this. People don't always have the opportunity or desire to learn about their environments, and as I mentioned above, people don't always feel appreciation for it either; this makes respect the most important moral guideline in this belief system—probably even one to fall back on in cases of doubt.
What is my religion then?
And bringing this back to the question of "my religion", I don't really know a name that captures these beliefs as the important part of a belief system, so I don't really have a good name for my beliefs. Obviously, the word "agnostic" summarises what I believe in terms of supernatural powers, but that's not the core of my belief system. Also, most of this isn't in direct conflict with Judaism, so the term "Jewish" can continue to apply to me as well, but still/again, "Judaism" doesn't sum up my belief system well.
In the end, the way I stick to my belief system, or "practice my religion" looks like a mix of various things. The typically "religious" elements are mostly just traditions I keep because I was brought up with them and appreciate them for what they are, and usually certain aspects of some of them speak to me in some way. For example:
- I keep Jewish traditions, like Passover, Hanukkah, and Yom Kippur, and always take to heart the idea behind the Sabbath.
- I keep kosher to some extent: I don't eat pork or shellfish, partly because I was raised not to (though my father eats pork and my mother eats shellfish), partly because they're meat, and partly because they creep me out as food.
- I observe WASP American traditions, usually in "secular" ways—especially Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Hallowe'en.
- I do my best to live in harmony with the environment around me: that is, I make an effort to respect the environment and everyone and everything in it (when worthy;), and try to contribute to everyone's future in the ways that seem most fitting given what I enjoy and am good at. I also do enjoy what I can of the environment (all the various forms natural beauty can take, including things like landscapes, weather, food, music, language, even cityscapes) and other people (people can be awesome).
The last of the previous points reflects a belief system that could be referred to as "pagan" in English. This bit of my belief system I sometimes refer to as Tengriistic, since it parallels certain aspects of Tengriism. I don't share the entire belief and practice system of Tengriism (mostly because I don't live as a pastoral nomad); the sentiment of the US Ásatrú Folk Assembly, where they define Ásatrú as "an expression of the native, pre-Christian spirituality of Europe", is similar to what I feel here: "an expression of the native, pre-Islamic/Buddhist spirituality of the Turkic peoples".
To summarise, I don't believe that it's possible to know whether "G-d" "exists" or not (and hence take a neutral stance on it; i.e., I myself don't know), so feel that's an irrelevant part of my belief system. I do, however, believe that humans should appreciate, respect, and try to learn about the environment around them. This means that an attempt should be made to understand everything (people, the environment, etc.), respect it all for what it is, and appreciate it for what it can do for you.