Thursday, October 25, 2007

"Foreskin's Lament - A Memoir" - Shalom Auslander

And now for something completely different.

See, maybe Coupland is on to something when he moans about not growing up religious: it most definitely will mess you up, but then you'll get to write an incredibly funny book.

I read the first chapter online and knew immediately I had to read "Foreskin's Lament" as quickly as possible. I've just finished it, and now I want to get as many people as possible on board so we can all start using my favourite sentence in unison: "That would be so God".

There are so many books coming out every month on finding God, or at least some new-agey version of the guy/gal, that the whole prospect of someone trying desperately to loose him is already a winner.

Shalom Auslanderwas raised in an jewish orthodox community in the state of New York and that wasn't his only problem: his father was abusive and his mother withheld affection in exchange for religious compliance. If he was smart, he should have become a rabbi (he did dabble, briefly, with orthodoxy in his late teens)and saved himself a whole lot of trouble.

Instead, since the age of nine he became an avid non-kosher binge-eater, consumer of pornography (here, he didn't stray from family tradition, we soon find out) and not much later, a doobie smoking, yarmulke wearing, serial shoplifter.

How can you possibly go wrong with this kind of material?

Auslander doesn't and his childhood and coming-of-age are rendered even more dramatic from his narrative standpoint: at 35, he has just barely gained some much needed geographical and emotional distance from his family when he's hit by the one great feud voider of adult life, the first-born.

I don't really know if Auslander's book is as hilariously funny the absence of any kind of religious upbringing, but I'm pretty sure it's non-denominational: I had only a mild catholic education, but a lot of it rang true, especially the constant dread of punishment and the little deals you make with God in order to (try and) get something out of the bearded one.

The ironic tragedy of Auslander's position is not that he isn't religious, of course, but that he his. But like many others he sees a wide gap between God and the seemingly random prescriptions that organized religion sets up around him, the way that rabbis and priests want to be the sole brokers of a relationship that should be personal and maybe a lot more private.

That many people in religious communities are not as pious as they would have other believe, is a given. That a mother would cast her own child away for non-compliance is harder to swallow - or maybe not, given that whole Abraham-Isaac episode.

In the end, saying "Fuck this shit" and going out on your own way, is how many of the world's religions got their first break. At least, that's what Auslander is telling himself, and those of us with any sense will be shouting "Amen!" as he goes forth to find his own, private, Promised Land.

"I believe in a personal God; Everything I do, He takes personally."

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