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Worship a God Beyond Imagining

Religion is only as healthy or as sick as our imaginations allow.

Q: When I see Muslim women in traditional dress I see them as sexualized and oppressed rather than modest. Am I right?

Rabbi Rami: Patriarchal societies often fetishize the female body. Some do so by covering it, others by uncovering it. That said, compare the images of women in contemporary urban Islamic magazines like Brownbook with the images of women in, say, Vanity Fair. Which sexualizes women more? The key for me isn’t more clothing or less, but empowering a woman to challenge her culture and dress as she chooses.

Male Gods are bullies. Even if they don’t start out that way (Jesus of Nazareth) they become that way (Christ of the Church). I believe God is a loving mother rather than a sadistic father. Is this OK?

I also experience God as Mother, both loving and fierce. Just don’t mistake your image for reality. The problem is that we tend to worship the god of our imagination rather than the God beyond imagining. Religion is only as healthy or as sick as our imaginations allow.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna says he answers all prayers regardless of which name people pray in. But I was taught that if we don’t say “Jesus” God doesn’t listen. Krishna sounds truer. Can Krishna be true and Jesus false?

Every religion carries truth and falsehood. The truths open our hearts and minds; the falsehoods close them. But it isn’t that Krishna is true and Jesus is false; it’s that the Gita is right and your teacher is wrong. Belief in a God manipulated by a special name isn’t faith—it’s a form of magic.

I want a Bible passage tattooed on my back. Can you recommend one?

Sure: ve-ahavta l’rayecha k’mocha, “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). But tattoo it where you can read it regularly, and live it daily.

I got what I wanted for Christmas—a divorce. But now I feel like rushing to “customer service” and returning it. Help!

Take a deep breath. Hold it for a few seconds. Exhale slowly. Repeat—a lot. Many of us panic after a major life change, preferring the hell we knew to the terror of not knowing. I’m not saying don’t reconcile with your ex; I’m only suggesting that you not do so rashly. Be clear about why you got divorced, and ask yourself if you’re really willing to return to that same situation. Don’t imagine that the relationship will change: if it could have, it would have. If you want to return to what was, reconcile. If not, give yourself a year or two to adjust to your new reality. Working with a therapist can help. In time you’ll move on, and that’s all any of us can do.

Last Christmas, I fell off a ladder and broke my foot while hanging Christmas tree ornaments. My husband said God was punishing me. He insists he was joking, but I can’t shake the idea. Could I have offended God?

Pedophiles offend God. Murderers offend God. Those who exploit the poor and powerless offend God. If you’ve done any of these things, then, yes, you have offended God. Otherwise, accidents just happen. As soon as your foot heals, kick your husband in the butt. Then tell him you’re joking. Then get on with your lives. And next year buy a shorter tree.

My girlfriends and I have resolved to live more spiritually. How should we start?

Start by practicing what we Jews call shmirat ha-lashon: guarding your tongue. Ask yourselves three questions before speaking: Is what I am about to say true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? If what you are about to say isn’t true, don’t say it. If it’s true and kind and, as far as you can foresee, has no negative consequences, say it. If it is true and unkind, however, ask the third question. Say only what is true and necessary. And if what must be said is harsh, try not to say it harshly. This will keep you from gossiping and elevate the quality of all your conversations. Do that for a year and you and everyone with whom you talk will benefit.

I raised my daughter to be a Christian, but she married a Jew and won’t baptize my newborn granddaughter and save her soul from God’s eternal hellfire. I’ve made arrangements to secretly baptize her at my church. I know you’re a Jew, but is this wrong?

Yes it’s wrong, and, since you’re asking, I suspect you think it’s wrong as well. But it’s the secrecy rather than the baptism that troubles me. If you believe in a God who burns the unbaptized, I understand your need to protect your granddaughter from him. Explain this to your children and they may go along for your sake, if not their daughter’s. But secrecy will poison both your granddaughter’s relationship with God and your relationship with your daughter. Let your daughter and her husband raise their child as they choose, and trust God to bring her to him in his own way in his own time.


Writer and teacher Rabbi Rami Shapiro was recently named co-director of the One River Wisdom School, a retreat-based program for spiritual growth located in Sewanee, Tennessee. To access his radio interview program on Unity Online Radio, click here.