Let's talk. You should know we're only talking because my 9:00 forgot about daylight savings time. Do I charge? Would you?
So Saturday I'm walking to shul (rhymes with "pull", Yiddish for synagogue) and it's wet out, the air is wet, wet to the degree that you flip up your hood if you have one, which I don't. And there's no sun, and you wonder: Why am I doing this? Better people than I don't. They stay home and pray if they want to in the privacy of their living room, or not at all. What is this compulsion?
Upon arrival it's no better, but why fight it, you know, because it is what it is. Half-way through the service is the reading from the Torah, the Holy Book, painfully inked in Hebrew by a religious scribe, and I read along in English, even though I could read the Hebrew, am captivated by what other people certainly find very boring, for we read the same readings year to year. This particular parsha (rhymes with Marsha, means chapter) is about the architecture of the traveling synagogue that Jews carried with them in the dessert, having left slavery in Egypt*, and the donations they gave to make sure the tent was magnificent, worthy of a very powerful, beneficent Resident. Reading it reinforces why I'm here, adds meaning to the things I do by rote, reminds me I'm not crazy.
Some of us take comfort in meaning, having a place in the sun, an identity, and religion fills this void very well. If you have one that is really old, that claims authority and irrefutable tradition, then you're really set.
So we can't really blame people for seeking that.
On the cover of the Wall Street Journal is this front page eye-catcher: For the Love of Islam
Ms. Paulin-Ramirez, looking for something to hold onto, has tried Christianity, returned to her books and found them lacking. Islam works for her. She finds a religious community on-line, falls in love with a Muslim man, and before you can say Jihad! is wearing a burka. Her mother and stepfather are beside themselves. Jamie runs off to Ireland with her son, ostensibly planning a murder/suicide attack against a Swedish cartoonist who draws cartoons about Mohamed that don't make everyone laugh.
Enough to make me wonder what drives this behavior, preying on the vulnerable, people like Jamie, just looking for meaning, a self to call her own. Jamie finds a mentor whose translation of Islamic holy books is radical. She's linked in a murder plot, along with Jihad Jane, Colleen R. LaRose from Philadelphia. I remember studying cults years ago, wonder why there isn't more discussion about this in the news. We could call them Religious Predators.
Then today, never mind, they're all free to go.
Jamie Paulin-Ramirez isn't guilty, or has finagled a plea bargain and nobody's telling us. According to WSJ online,
Ms. Paulin-Ramirez's case is the second this month involving American women who converted to Islam, only to wind up attracting attention from law enforcement.They're free to go, although we are made to understand that they are not sure where to go or why. Perhaps they'll have time to read other translations.
An indictment was unsealed this week against Colleen R. LaRose, 46, a suburban Philadelphia woman who authorities said used the Web alias "JihadJane." Ms. LaRose was accused of plotting to kill the cartoonist and attempting to recruit jihadis via the Internet.
You wonder, at least I do, how anyone could be swayed to murder someone else. There has to be something very pathological going on there. A person with Antisocial Personality Disorder doesn't have to be persuaded. The Jeffrey Daumer's, the John Wayne Gaycy's, people who commit murder after murder-- nobody's twisting their arms. It has to be a very vulnerable person who commits to a belief system that advocates an antisocial behavior. We can change children who have been fed terrorist propaganda in school, but changing a Daumer or a Gacy is much harder.
A story, how some people change: (details are fictionalized, down to the Lady Gaga reference)
A patient in her thirties, who has been slowly analyzing her depression and behavior over a lifetime, her miserable relationships, tells me she's angry at herself for being so narcissistic, narcissistic from the get go. She sees herself more clearly now and no longer wants to be special, no longer cares if people think she's great or talented. She's worried, even, about making other people uncomfortable because she's so smart. She hates that she used to gloat, loved it when they failed.
We go through the many variables that can contribute to narcissism:
(a) being a favorite child
(b) being treated as if you can do no wrong
(c) being told you really are better than other people
(d) being abused (how this loads is the subject of a different post)
(e) having narcissistic family members
She tells me that she hates herself for the years she spent in self-worship. She's terrified she'll lose it, her new-found focus upon others, that she'll slip back to thinking she's superior. She's found the only thing that works, the thing that keeps her straight, is prayer.
Prayer? She doesn't look especially religious. More like Lady Gaga, is the truth.
Right. She's praying more and thinking about the things she's learned now that she's read some really good Christian literature. It has brought her back to the idea that there is a power outside of herself who is in charge, who has a destiny figured out for her, and that destiny isn't tied into her being the center of attention, necessarily, certainly not her thinking that the world should revolve around her, and that if people don't admire her, they're stupid. "I'm just like everybody else," she tells me, "and I'm going to start acting like that, take an interest in others. I'm going to be like everyone else."
But what will you do with your talent, I ask? She is an immensely talented person.
"I can still use it, of course (silly). I just have to remember where I got it, and if someone compliments me I tell that person that if I have a gift, I had nothing to do with it, it's a gift. A person has to say thank you, too, publicly, for a gift."
Pushing the envelope I ask, But isn't it narcissistic to think that you have been singled out, gifted? Wouldn't it make more sense to say that it's an accident? A genetic stroke of luck?
"I've thought of that, but is it possible that humanity can be an accident? We do amazing things; someone is creating something amazing every day! A gorilla could be a fluke of nature, maybe, even a killer whale, but not the brains that put a man on the moon or created prostheses. To think that individuals are in charge, to think we're really special, that there's no higher power? That's narcissism. When you keep that in mind, you begin to see other people, the worth of each one. You're back in the world again."
Whatever works, is the truth. Well, maybe not whatever.
*The festival of Passover is not the "Jewish Easter." It is a celebration of redemption from slavery in Egypt.