Rabbi Rami: Has Religion Primed Us for Fake News?

Rabbi Rami: Has Religion Primed Us for Fake News?

Roadside Assistance for the Spiritual Traveler

Photo Credit: Janie Airey/Thinkstock.

Imagine these headlines: God impregnates betrothed teenager (Jesus); Accused murderer receives revelation on Mt. Sinai (Moses); Arab businessman flies to heaven on winged horse (Muhammad). Has religion primed us for today’s fake news?

Rabbi Rami: At its best, religion uses the tools of the imagination—myth, parable, metaphor, symbol, and ritual—in its quest for meaning and purpose. At its worst, religion flattens the imagination in service to literalism. When prevented from thinking imaginatively, we will inevitably think stupidly. It is literalism rather than religion that may have primed us for fake news.

Looking back, there was less talk in 2016 about the War on Christmas. Any idea why?

I suspect there was less talk about the faux War on Christmas because people are finally waking up to the real War on Christians. Christians and Christianity are in mortal danger in many parts of the world. Those of us who oppose hatred of and violence against Jews and Muslims should be no less passionate about stopping the murder of Christians and the suppression of Christianity.

A recent Pew study showed that religious affiliation falls as education levels rise. Is religion for the ignorant?

No, but it might mean that religion may be intellectually lazy. Religion should be on the cutting edge of the sciences and humanities, using the latest findings of each in its effort to make meaning and articulate purpose. If religion abandons the intellect, it risks becoming irrelevant to those who don’t.

As a 32-year-old Tibetan Buddhist, I believe you reincarnate within two years of your death. My dad, a believing Christian, died four years ago, yet I continue to feel his presence. How is this possible, given the two-year reincarnation timeline? How might I find him in his new body?

First, you might consider that the Tibetan timeline is off. Second, you might consider that as a Christian your dad opted for eternal life in Heaven rather than reincarnation. Or, third, you might consider that your love for your dad is so strong that your memory of him is experienced as a felt encounter with him. As for seeking out your dad’s new incarnation, I’d pass. But if you do find him, don’t be disappointed when he refuses to help pay off your college loans.

Fearing for her safety, my roommate has taken to wearing a hat rather than her hijab. I feel terrible about this, and urge her to wear the hijab. What can I say to convince her?

Nothing. Her fears aren’t groundless, and if she has found a way to honor her religion without endangering her life, then leave her be. If you want to be supportive, remind her she is safe with you, and can wear whatever she pleases at home.

I am a Palestinian American woman with many Jewish friends who have taken to wearing safety pins as a sign that they will defend me against anti-Islamic attack. I ask them if they will stand up for Palestinians in Israeli-occupied Palestine as well, and they say that is different. If they won’t stand up for my people, why should I trust them to stand up for me?

Every people has its blind spot, and for many Jews that blind spot is Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. For many Palestinians that blind spot is the very existence of Israel as a Jewish state. Accept that your friends’ hearts are in the right place, and gently use their concern for you to help them cultivate compassion for your people. At the same time, check your own heart for blind spots as well.

I’m not a religious Jew, but as a granddaughter of Holocaust survivors I feel compelled to wear the safety pin in solidarity with all people pursuing justice. Am I being hypocritical?

Not at all. Standing for justice is an ancient Jewish value: “Justice, justice, you shall pursue” (Deuteronomy 16:20); “You shall not stand idle while a neighbor bleeds” (Leviticus 19:16). If this takes on added significance for you because of the Holocaust, consider adding a small Star of David to your safety pin to make the Jewish connection all the more poignant.

I read that a body weighs 21 grams less after it dies. I’m convinced it’s because the soul has left the body. Do you agree?

I think you have a bigger problem than whether I agree or not. If the soul weighs 21 grams, the soul has mass; if the soul has mass, the soul is material; and if the soul is material, it isn’t spiritual. Are you willing to believe in a completely material universe? If you hold beliefs that make scientific claims (like the soul weighing 21 grams), you open your beliefs to scientific testing and logic. This is often a bad idea if you hope to continue believing.

I’m pro-life, pro-family, and pro-God, and I don’t trust people who aren’t. So, where do you stand?

I’m pro-life, and if forced to choose, I choose the life and well-being of the mother over that of her unborn child. I’m pro-family, and I define family by the quality of love between family members rather than by gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation. I’m pro-God, and I understand God as that unnamable, nondual Reality in which we live, move, and have our being (Acts 17:28) rather than any of the named Gods of religion. So, can you trust me or not?

My younger sister has breast cancer. In a fit of rage, she wished it on me. Now I can’t shake the feeling that I’m cursed with cancer, and I’m so angry I can’t stand being with her. How do I get rid of these feelings?

Don’t get rid of them, watch them. Seeing how they take hold of you may give you some insight into what your sister is going through, and that may help you stay compassionately present to her regardless of what she says.

One for the Road

A coworker’s Ford F–150 sports this bumper sticker: “Everything I know about Islam I learned on 9/11.” As a Muslim, how can I help him know Islam differently?

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Author and teacher Rabbi Rami Shapiro has been called “one of the best bridges of Eastern and Western wisdom.” His newest book is Embracing the Divine Feminine.

Rabbi Rami also hosts a weekly podcast for S&H — check it out here.

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