Sunday, October 24, 2010

Five stages of Mourning Orthodoxy

I read a few things here and there about how there is some sort of grieving or mourning process when going OTD. Looking at the five stages of grief identified by the Kübler-Ross model:

  1. Denial: This is the first reaction and it shows. Pretty much any Orthodox Jew who learns about evidence that contradicts the Orthodox worldview begins with this stage and many stay in this stage, I would argue for a large part of their lives. When the evidence that denies the validity of the Torah presents itself to an Orthodox Jew the reaction is to deny that the evidence is really credible or that it can be applied to refute the Torah. These sort of rationalizations are all too common. I was in this stage from the moment I became Orthodox and would constantly fall back to this first stage until recently.   
  2. Anger: When I began to argue with the non Orthodox world in favor of the Lubavitch worldview, I would present our "beautiful" Torah and it's "perfect" message. I thought this surely would bring those Jews who were not connected with Yiddishkeit into the fold, how could it not. The only reason they didn't already accept it is because they never heard of it before, I reasoned. When my views were challenged I fell into stage one, denial, where I brought my rather "weak" rationalizations of the apparent problems but presented them as strong evidence (although it was nothing of the sort). This may have gone on for a while back and forth until my rationalizations and denials ran dry, at which point I became angry. "Why are they being so stubborn?!" I would think to myself "They are just trying to be jerks/trolling/are in denial/etc!" I would honestly get very frustrated and very angry and occasionally it would come out in my posts as insults, but I would try to hold off on that and was usually pretty successful in being polite, with my pent up emotions still inside. Later I would often scream my frustration out in the car when I was driving home alone. Usually cursing and then feeling guilty about it later. It seems really silly now that I think about it, it was so childish like a baby who didn't get his way. Is that really what having the truth feels like? Usually over time I would ignore the issue and then start all the way back at square one, denial. Other times I would move forward just a bit.
  3. Bargaining: Sometimes if the anger stage didn't revert me back to denial I would try a bit of bargaining in my approach. Sometimes I would bargain with G-d. I would ask G-d to give me the insight to show these lost Jews the beauty of Torah, the simcha of frumkeit, in return I would go out and help more Yidden become frum. Other times I would tell G-d I would learn more Chassidus, daven more, say tehillim, etc in order for Him to help me in my arguments. When this clearly failed to work I began bargaining in my arguments themselves. Well if only I became more open to their view points or if I said nice things about them or their posts in other more pareve topics I could win them over. I would compliment them, concede more often and go around and search for posts that I didn't disagree with and would praise their opinions. Maybe later they would do the same for me when I would argue a point as well. This also failed miserably and it was really stupid of me to think it would work. So what if someone was nice to you or whatever, non frum people being nice to me never moved my opinion about their views an iota so why should it do so for their opinions about my views. So when this failed I would either move backwards to anger or even denial. Rarely I moved forward.
  4. Depression: When all of my efforts of rationalizing would fail, and venting my anger didn't work the final form of bargaining I tried led me to become really depressed. This was because I bargained that if I were to view this problem from the atheistic perspective, perhaps I would find the flaw in their thinking, but lo and behold I would find no flaw. How could this denial of the "truth" have no flaws? What am I doing wrong? Why is G-d not helping me? Why would G-d let the atheists win? At some points I would give up all hope and maybe over time forget about it all. Three times I moved forward.
  5. Acceptance: What do I mean when I reached acceptance three times? Wouldn't the first acceptance be when I stopped believing? When I would reach this stage it was with different issues each time. First with the idea of Homosexuality. After much struggle I came to accept the fact that there was nothing wrong with Homosexuality. I accepted that people are just born differently and that there really is nothing wrong with being gay, and that to oppose it really is evil. How did this not break my faith in that the Torah which explicitly rejected this attitude, who knows. I mostly just put it out of my mind and didn't think about it. Later I came to accept that the creation story and the flood story were nonsense and totally incorrect. In a sort of Slifkinesque way I argued that this didn't affect the basic truth of the Torah and then went back to stage one. Finally I accepted that TMS didn't happen and that what I had been sold about the Torah was indeed false. Belief in TMS was always my foundation for believing in the truth of Yiddishkeit. Once that fell it all really fell. I have accepted that there is nothing divine about Yiddishkeit and that it was all man made.
Although I no longer grieve over my faith in Torah, I am still grieving over my reduction in practice. I currently consider myself Orthoprax but I have a creeping feeling that me trying to hold on to Jewish tradition is nothing more than denial and rationalizations. I am still trying to figure that part out. Who knows, maybe at some point I will be in total acceptance of an atheistic lifestyle. All I know is that its hard to let go.


  1. This is clever.

    For the record, mourning doesn’t always include all of the stages, and there’s no particular order that they’re supposed to appear in (as implied by “moving forward” or “moving backward”).

  2. I guess that makes more sense now. When I thought about this idea I felt that I skipped around between quite a lot. Now that I know they aren't meant to be in an order that makes more sense.

    I probably could rewrite it to be more accurate with this new information, but I don't really care all that much to go through all that again.

  3. I went through much the same process falling out of Orthodoxy, except for me, the centrality of all five stages was my own sexuality. At age 16, I came out of the closet to my parents, apparently socially accepting Reform Jews. Before then, I had made a move toward more traditional Judaism in an effort to reexamine the faith I had abandoned briefly several years earlier, and was keeping an elementary form of Kashrus. After telling my parents about this new self discovery, they began throwing out reasons for why me being gay was a shanda for myself, for them, and for my newly found religiosity and observance. While none of what they had to say holds any water, at that point in my life, it was very convincing, and I decided I must be mistaken.

    I strengthened my commitment to tradition, and when I arrived at college, gravitated towards Chabad and began observing the Mitzvos quite diligently. I never accepted the young earth concept or the flood story as told, and while I believed the concept of TMS, never felt it was central to my faith (remember I was brought up Reform, and to me that was just a nice idea, but not terribly important). My denial was primarily about my own orientation, and it persisted even as the other stages ebbed and flowed through my psyche.

    I moved sporadically through the various stages, but the central denial never left. Around the end of my sophomore year, I accepted that I had homosexual desires, though believed they were merely a test and that my job was to overcome them. I believed (because I learned on several frumishe web sites) that if I were to pray and learn more, the feelings would go away. I would get angry when nothing helped and would sometimes look for more radical methods. I would bargain that if HaSham would remove from me even some of the feelings, either about specific individuals or overall, I would take on new chumras. I even took upon myself SN as an attempt at bargaining. I became very depressed at the thought that nothing was helping and that I was doomed to eventually falter and that there would be no help for me then. By the end of college, I had accepted that I would not be able to get rid of my sexual desires, and by the end of a period in Yeshiva, I had accepted that I would eventually have to let them play out, but still denied that I was gay.

    It wasn't until a year after leaving Yeshiva that I finally came to accept myself as gay, but took several more months before I accepted that I would have to share this with anyone. Once I had finally come to accept both that I was gay and that I couldn't go on hiding the fact from everyone for the rest of my life, I began an extreme and rapid move through the stages, though this time the pervasive one was depression. Finally, after the support and acceptance of numerous friends, I finally came to full acceptance of myself, and that was when everything fell through. For me, perhaps, I was grieving first my sexuality, and only later, upon accepting that, my orthodoxy. I, apparently unlike you, still believe in God, but have taken the other approach and have abandoned most religious practices.

    Thank you for the interesting post. It was a springboard for some wonderful self reflection.

  4. Anon,

    Thank you for your comments, they were very moving.

    I am suprised at your parents reaction, being reform and all. Have they accepted your orientation yet? Are you on good terms?

    I currently have a friend beginning to become a BT and she had told me initially that she was gay. Now it seems she plans on just putting it all behind her and to "become" straight. I am very nervous for her, because I am afraid she will have some very tough times ahead, especially if she decides to get married and have kids early on before making sure that this is the right path for her. Do you have any advice for me in this regard? Should I mention something to her or should I let her figure it out on her own? What would you have wanted done if you had a friend like me while you were still frum?

    Thanks again.

  5. I have not told my parents again this time around. Having made me as uncomfortable as they did the first time, I'm afraid what it will do now that I am coming from a place of actual acceptance of self and not simply new self discovery. On the one hand, they may now be fully accepting, but on the other, they may respond even more negatively than before. We are currently on very good terms and I hope to keep it that was as long as possible. It is a constant worry of mine, though.

    As for your friend, you are in an awkward position. Should you choose to say something to her, you could potentially destroy your friendship and/or send her into deep self denial. On the other hand, you could help enact change in her, allowing her to find self acceptance by seeing a friend who cares about her either way. Keep in mind that sexuality is not as static as some would have you believe, and while I was always attracted to men and hiding from that, there are those who do change. It is possible that her orientation has changed in her life, and you suggesting otherwise could be offensive to her. Also keep in mind that there are religious gay people and that this might be a fair community for her.

    I was never open enough to share with anyone that I had thought I was gay, and on the (originally) rare occasion that someone suggested it to me as a possibility, I went into full denial. That she is or has been open enough about her orientation in the past means there is some room for you to speak with her about it. If you feel you have a strong enough relationship that you could discuss it in a non-confrontational way, it might be positive. But no matter her response, it is your responsibility to be supportive. If her orientation has indeed changed, she needs supportive friends with whom she can speak openly. If it has not, she will eventually need someone to be there for her as she goes through the process of accepting it all over again.

    I hope that helps, and you are welcome to share my comments with her should you so choose.

  6. Anon,

    I hope that you are able to reconcile your relationship with your parents in a postive way. It must be very hard. I wish you all the best. You may already know this but I am sure there are support groups with people who are gay who had or are having similar dilemas. I am sure they could give you great advice on how to handle the situation.

    Thank you so much for your advice. I will have to dwell on this for a while. I think that I may wait some more to see how things progress before I begin any sort of conversation about it with her. My wife is closer with her than I am and since we haven't lived in the same city for a while it may seem akward. Anyways thanks again for the advice, it was very helpful.

  7. Sketicass Rebbe, I wonder why the nonsense of darwinism doesn't bother you. The fossils indicate catastraphism not evolution. The entire process any way is impossibly improbable. Let's shine some skeptical light on that.

  8. JP you're out of your element. You have no frame of reference. You're like a child who wanders in in the middle of a movie.

  9. Skepticass, here I think you are venturing into ad homenim territory.

    The Rebbe's words of wisdom are still missing.


  11. JP, if you insist on pointing out the logical fallacies of others, you should take care that your own arguments are not fallacious.

  12. I draw a lot of water on this blog, JP. You don't draw shit. We got a nice quiet blogging community here, and I aim to keep it nice and quiet. So let me make something plain. I don't like you sucking around bothering my readers, JP. I don't like your jerk-off name, I don't like your jerk-off face, I don't like your jerk- off behavior, and I don't like you, jerk-off --do I make myself clear?

  13. I have no idea where I am on that scale, I suppose bouncing around denial and depression at the same time. Do you know of anyone who is considering going otd or who is otd who is willing to meet? I am still in the community but am struggling and would like to meet others with similar issues. I would like to make a meetup but am unsure how to proclaim a meetup and not fear getting outted before I'm ready!

    take care

  14. Interesting blog... Anon, I wish you could be comfortable with the idea of no go. it took me a while after I realized the tora was not divine to let go of god. it made me happy at first but it really isn't an easy thing to incorporate into one's life. Rebbe, I cannot agree more with your comments to JP. it is incredible how smug some believers are as they talk out of their ass. the guy must work for aish or some other evil enterprise of that sort. errrrr...

  15. skeptitcher rebbe --

    you're still Jewish as Tevya!


  16. with me, it was first accepting homosexuality as ok, realizing the toireh is bullshit, realizing hashem doesnt exist, coming out as non-straight, and realizing it was evil to call homosexuality a sin.

    anyhu great post!