Rabbi Rami answers your spiritual questions.
Question: I have a problem. I believe eating animals is immoral. When invited to dine with friends who eat meat, even though I’m not obligated to do so, should I accept their choice, or am I morally bound to chastise them?
Rabbi Rami: I suggest you chastise them, and do so loudly, self-righteously, and unceasingly. Make your friends so uncomfortable that they will never invite you to dine with them again which, thankfully, will solve your problem. And theirs.
I can’t believe I’m admitting this to you, but I’m in love with my priest, and obsess about him breaking his vow of celibacy, leaving the Church, and marrying me. Should I change parishes and never see him again?
I recommend four things before changing parishes. First, be grateful for the feeling: Some people never experience love—how wonderful that you do! Second, share your feelings with him. He may feel the same about you, and even if he doesn’t, talking with him may help you make peace with your feelings. Third, your love for this father may be a misdirected love for his Father; see if your priest can help you use your love of him to deepen your love of God. And fourth, work with a therapist to be sure falling in love with the unattainable isn’t your way of escaping the challenge of cultivating a fully realizable love. If none of this helps, then consider changing parishes.
George Carlin said, “Tell people there’s an invisible man in the sky, and the majority will believe you. Tell them the paint on a park bench is wet, and they have to touch it to be sure.” Why is that?
People don’t challenge theology because, as Thomas Jefferson wrote in Notes on Virginia, “It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” Sitting on a freshly painted bench, however, can ruin a perfectly good set of clothes. Of course, if your God is picking my pocket, breaking my leg, denying my humanity, stealing my rights, occupying my land, or running me down with a truck, then wet paint is the least of my worries.
Do I have to believe that God wrote the Bible in order to find the book meaningful?
No. I consider the Bible to be a human document mirroring the best and worst of humanity. When the Bible speaks of a day of rest for both people and animals (Exodus 20:10), challenges us to be a blessing to all the families of the earth (Genesis 12:3), roots its ethics in loving neighbor, stranger, and enemies (Leviticus 19:18, 34; Matthew 5:44), and anchors justice in caring for the disenfranchised and powerless (Exodus 22:21–24; Matthew 25:40), we glimpse the best of humanity. When the Bible tells us to commit genocide (1 Samuel 15:1–9), to “show no mercy” toward our enemies (Deuteronomy 7:2), and divides people into sheep and goats, the one to be saved (Matthew 25:34) and the other damned (Matthew 25:41), we glimpse the dark side of humanity. The Bible shows us both, that we might cultivate the former and curtail the latter. Sadly, too many of us do exactly the opposite.
I grew up in Orthodox Judaism, where Shabbat services droned on for hours. I now belong to a Reform synagogue, where services are shorter but no less boring. In the end, I feel I’ve wasted my time. How can I change this?
Religious services are theater. Good theater challenges you intellectually, moves you emotionally, uplifts you aesthetically, and envelops you in something greater than yourself: be it community, nature, or God. Bad theater does none of this, and leaves you feeling bored, drained, and empty. The key is to find a spiritual home where the services are at least as compelling as a good movie. Indeed, spending each Sabbath afternoon watching a good movie with friends may be just the change you need. Of course, that still leaves the morning for Torah study and Shabbat services.
My fiancé is an atheist; I’m a practicing Catholic. He is forever making fun of my Church, and when I call him on it he says he’s only kidding. Can a believer and an atheist make a marriage work?
Of course a believer and an atheist can make a marriage work. The question is whether you and your fiancé can make your marriage work. Marriage is built on many things, but mockery of what the other holds dear isn’t one of them.
I’m Muslim. I’m proud of my faith but frightened for my religion. Can it be that a religion can go mad?
Every religion has its xenophobic dark side sanctioning evil in the name of good. When followers of a religion surrender their conscience to cult, their faith to fanaticism, and their reason to the irrational masquerading as revelation, they are infecting their religion with a poison that can only lead to madness and violence. If you want to save your religion, or any religion, understand its texts as myth and metaphor, and hold its teachings to the cleansing fires of compassion, justice, love, science, and reason.
So many spiritual teachers say we choose our own reality. I have Parkinson’s. Did I choose this?
Imagining that you choose your own reality is the height of narcissism. A nearly infinite number of factors have to be controlled for you to choose to have Parkinson’s disease, and you simply lack the power to do so. The only choice you have is how you deal with the situation you are in. And even then, your choices are limited. Dealing with Parkinson’s is going to be difficult enough without adding to your suffering with fantasies of self-blame. Any so-called spiritual teacher who tells you this is your fault is a fool, a charlatan, or both. S&H
One for the Road
On a trek in the desert Southwest, my husband encountered God, who told my husband that he was God’s prophet. He now wants to sell all we have, and start a global ministry promoting him as God’s messenger. I believe in God, but not in my husband. I don’t want to leave him, but I fear if I don’t follow him, he will leave me. What should I do?
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