You’re a hypocrite. You don’t believe in heaven or hell, and yet you let people who do get away with it. Why not just tell them they’re wrong?
If you want to dialogue deeply with people whose opinions differ from your own, you have to enter their world. You have to see what feeds them, motivates them, and frightens them, and why. Only then can you share what feeds, motivates, and frightens you, and how you both might get free. I don’t think this is hypocritical; but if it is, then I am.
I’m the only Christian in my family. I forgive them and love them dearly, but I’m saddened that they won’t be with me in heaven. Is it too late for them to come to Christ?
I doubt it’s ever too late to come to Christ, but I also doubt it’s necessary to do so. As a Christian you believe God is love. As a human you love and forgive your family. Can God’s love and forgiveness be less than yours? If you can’t condemn others for not believing as you do, why imagine a God who does? Love your God, love your family, and have no fear of tomorrow (Matthew 6:34).
What’s the difference between Jesus and Christ? And Christians and Jews?
Jesus was a Jew; Christ is God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. Broadly speaking most Christians see Jesus and Christ as one and the same; most Jews see Jesus as a rabbi. Many Christians take the Bible literally; most Jews see literalism as a block to understanding and midrash, the unpacking of God’s word through the human imagination. Many Christians believe you only get to heaven through Jesus; most Jews believe you get to heaven through goodness.
I am so lost. It’s as if I no longer know who I am. I need divine guidance. Can you help me get out of this?
Not knowing is divine guidance; this is the dark night of the soul where the Divine strips away all your pretensions and stories, and leaves you with nothing to cling to but God alone, and eventually not even that―“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). You are only lost if you imagine there is someone or somewhere else you are supposed to be. Stay with not knowing and see what comes next.
Atheists scare me. Without God how can they know right from wrong?
Knowing right from wrong is never easy, but does believing in God make it any easier? When God commands murder or acts of terror, does that make murder and terrorism right? When God discriminates against people, does that make discrimination right? When God tortures people in this world and the next, does that make torture right? While it is true that atheists have to determine what is right and wrong for themselves, you do the same by deciding which God to follow. In the end, whether theist or atheist, it is all about having to choose.
I share an apartment with a serious meditator. I ask her what she gets out of it, but she isn’t sure. What is the value of meditation?
Meditation frees you from yourself by observing yourself. When I meditate I observe my physical sensations, feelings, and thoughts, and realize that the “I” doing the observing is greater than these. I realize that I have a body but I’m not limited to that body; I have a mind but I’m greater than that mind. I come to know that I―the limitless I of Self rather than the limited I of ego―is birthless and deathless, without form or gender, religion or creed. The more I rest in this Self the freer I become. Meditation frees me to be who I am rather than who I think I am.
I feel called to the ministry but not to any specific religion. I’ve heard of interfaith ministers. What can you tell me about them?
Interfaith ministers are trained in the basic teachings and practices of the world’s religions, and empowered to adapt them to the needs of others. They aren’t limited to any specific religion and see all religion as a resource for human spiritual growth. There are many interfaith seminaries, but I can’t recommend one over another. Just make sure that the one you choose makes serious demands on you intellectually and spiritually, and not just financially.
I work with a woman who is heartless and judgmental. I can’t avoid her and don’t want to become like her. How do I handle this situation?
I believe people do what they do because at that moment they can’t do anything else. Given this woman’s conditioning and life experience she is simply reacting to life as she imagines it, and doing so with the only tools at her disposal. This doesn’t justify her behavior, but it may help you feel some compassion toward her. We are all prisoners of our own fears and negativity. Use your encounters with this woman as opportunities to observe your own conditioning. This will allow you to maintain a sense of equanimity in your heart even as your mind storms in conditioned reaction to her no less conditioned action. And, if this person has power over you or can impact your job security, you may want to be on record about her abusive nature. I’m not saying you should file a formal complaint―I don’t know enough about the situation to advise that―but you might want to speak to a superior you can trust to let him or her know what is going on so that if your co-worker goes down she doesn’t take you with her.
I’ve decided religion is bunk, and need a good way to tell my oh-so-devout parents just what I think of their faith. Can you give me some guidance here?
Sure. First, keep your mouth shut. Second, seriously investigate just why it is you need to disparage your parents’ faith especially to their faces. Third, focus on what you do believe rather than on what you don’t believe. And fourth, when it seems appropriate, compassionately share what you believe rather than attack what others believe.
One for the Road
Here is a question asked of me that I am asking of you.
My son is gay, a convert to Islam, and in a long-term relationship with a Muslim man. My unmarried daughter died in a car crash a few weeks ago and my son has offered to adopt her baby boy, but only if he can raise him as a Muslim. My husband and I cannot take the baby, but our family is Christian. No one knows who the father is so there are no other grandparents. I honor my son’s religious decisions but don’t know what to do about supporting his adoption of our grandson.
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