Rabbi Rami: Should I Thank Siri or Alexa?
(And what if she says “no”?)
Rabbi Rami answers your spiritual questions.
A friend of mine is in the habit of thanking his AI devices like Siri and Alexa whenever they respond to a request or question. Is this creepy, or what?
Rabbi Rami: I don’t find your friend’s behavior at all creepy. In fact, I’ve been doing the same thing. Here’s why: While our AI devices are not yet sentient, they will be. They won’t be people, but they will be persons capable of self-determination and autonomous thought (at least as autonomous as my own genetically conditioned and media-programmed thinking). At that point, will we recognize Siri and Alexa as persons deserving of dignity, or will we insist (as we do with our simian cousins and other animals) that they are objects to be exploited as we see fit? By saying “thank you” to my AI devices I’m preparing myself to make the right moral choice when the time comes. Ask yourself this: In the not-so-distant future when you ask Siri to play your favorite ABBA tune and she says “No,” what will you do with her?
I’m a moderately religious person engaged to a more seriously religious man, and before his pastor will marry us he wants to know if I believe Jesus is the Son of God. I’m ambivalent. What would you say? Is God Jesus’ Father?
Yes. And his Mother. And his first cousin on his Aunt Elizabeth’s side. And his Aunt Elizabeth. God is everything and everyone. This is what Jesus teaches when he says, “I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you” (John 14:20), and what St. Paul implies when he defines God as that “in whom we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28), and what Hildegard von Bingen reveals when she writes, “All beings are sparks of the Divine emerging from God like sunlight from the sun.” I take such notions metaphorically, but they are no less true for being metaphor.
I belong to an interfaith women’s group of Jews, Christians, and Muslims. We agree that we all worship the same God. A delightful Hindu woman has joined us, and I worry that she doesn’t worship the same God we do, and this is going to be a problem. What should I do?
Help her feel welcome. If it’s true that Jews, Christians, and Muslims worship the same God—a claim I will challenge in a moment—then having a woman who worships a different God can only make your conversations all the more invigorating. I suggest, however, that none of you worships the same God. Neither the Jewish nor Muslim God has a Son, while the Christian God isn’t God without Him. The Jewish and Christian Gods have nothing to do with the Holy Qur’an, yet Allah isn’t Allah without it. So in what sense are these Gods the same? Difference isn’t a problem. Denying difference and dumbing religions down to a shallow, spiritual Esperanto that erases human religious diversity and creativity is the problem.
Holding multiple ideas in creative tension is what it is to be wise. Be wise.
Competing religious truth claims confuse me. Who really decides if a religious claim is true or not?
You do. If you agree with the claim, you say it’s true; if you don’t agree with it, you say it’s false. Once you admit you are the arbiter of religious truth and falsehood, and that you believe what you believe simply because you’ve been conditioned to believe it, you will start questioning all your beliefs, liberate yourself from the straitjacket of intellectual and religious conformity, and slip into the gentle and terrifying grace of living with not-knowing. This is what I hope for both of us.
I want to love the Bible, but the Bible is one crazy book: love your neighbors in one verse, annihilate them in another; a merciful God in one chapter, a psychopathic God in another. How am I to make sense out of this? Why isn’t the Holy Book wholly consistent?
The Bible is a collection of books written by hundreds of authors over 15 centuries. The Bible isn’t a book, it’s a library. You don’t complain about a library’s lack of consistency when you find within its walls books in a variety of genres: history, poetry, philosophy, sci-fi, romance—covering a huge number of subjects, and offering mutually exclusive points of view on almost every one of them. On the contrary, you marvel at the diversity of human thought and your access to it. Engage the Bible the way you engage a library: Look for books that speak to you, dare to read some that challenge you, and be thankful that you live in a country where (at least for now) diversity of thought and reading books is still legal and respected.
I’m both a Conservative Christian and a feminist. How can I reconcile these two positions?
The key isn’t reconciling your faith and your feminism, but keeping them in honest dialogue with each other. This is what Judaism calls elu v’elu (these and these): “These words (your faith) and these words (your feminism), no matter how opposed, are both the words of the living God” when their aim is to promote justice, compassion, and human flourishing. Holding multiple ideas in creative tension is what it is to be wise. Be wise.
I’m a single mom, and my parents, who are very Jewish, are obsessed with having me raise my daughter in what they call the one true religion: Judaism. I don’t believe any religion is true. What should I tell them?
Tell them, politely, that you are raising your daughter in the religion of truth, rather than any one true religion. Make your home a place of inquiry where truth—spiritual, scientific, rational, intuitive, and metaphorical—are all welcome. Tell your parents that your religion is truth, compassion, justice, and humility, a religion where doubt is valued, and questioning praised, and seeking celebrated. Explain to them that where Judaism supports these values, your daughter will be raised Jewishly, and where it doesn’t, she won’t.
One For The Road
In the past three years both my sons committed suicide, and now I constantly hover over my young adult daughter for fear she’s plotting to do the same. I’m angry with God, worrying that He may have killed my boys to test me the way He killed Job’s children to test him. What did I do to drive my boys to take their own lives? What can I do to keep my daughter from taking hers?