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Rabbi Rami: What's a Horrified Catholic Mom to Do?

Roadside Assistance for the spiritual traveler

Author and teacher Rabbi Rami Shapiro is encouraging Perennial Wisdom to lead us beyond alienation and isolation to integration and unity, based on Genesis 12:3: “You shall be a blessing to all the families of the earth.”*

I’m a Catholic mom horrified by both priestly abuse of children and the Church’s cover-up of that abuse. My priest told me to have faith and remain loyal to the Church. I told him my faith is in God, not the Church. He told me God and Church are one and the same. I suggested that we should allow priests to marry and women to become priests, but he said this is contrary to God’s will. I am so angry. What is the solution?

Rabbi Rami: Clerical abuse of children (in your Church and elsewhere) is an evil rooted in masculine power, patriarchal hierarchy, and the male God who supports and is supported by both. The Father–King–Lord–Shepherd God reduces us to children, vassals, slaves, and sheep. This asymmetric power relationship demands that we surrender our autonomy to God and God’s representatives, almost all of whom are men. Such surrender makes abuse of all kinds inevitable.

While I support married priests and the ordination of women, neither will solve the problem. The problem is the God who buttresses asymmetric masculine power and patriarchy; who demands absolute obedience to Himself and His representatives; and who promotes a fear-based, zero-sum worldview that divides humans into competing and often warring camps at the expense of human freedom and flourishing. The solution for every religion given to patriarchy and clerical authoritarianism is a theological revolution that topples masculine power and the God who enfranchises it. I doubt this will happen anytime soon. In the meantime, if the patriarchal religions won’t change Gods, I suggest the godly change religions.

This is my season of deep funk. Thanksgiving reminds me of the genocide of the First Americans. Christmas reminds me of the shallow consumerism that passes for American Christianity. New Year’s reminds me that nothing ever changes. And spending time with my family, pretending we are happy when in fact we despise one another, just adds fuel to the fire. Is there any way out of this downward spiral?

Sure. Take the money you’d spend on Christmas gifts and visiting family and use it to cover your expenses as a volunteer on the Blackfeet or Lakota reservations. (Check out re-member.org, and globalvolunteers.org.) Make the holidays into holy days by being of service to others, and your funk will fade away.

The Hanukkah story is mired in war and religious fanaticism. As a secular Jew who despises both, why should I bother lighting the Hanukkah menorah?

The Talmud (the anthology of ancient rabbinic teachings) instructs us to place the hanukkiah (Hanukkah menorah) so that its light can be seen from the street (Talmud, Shabbat 21b). The idea, as I understand it, is to make your home a beacon of light in a time of darkness, natural (winter solstice) and otherwise. So I urge everyone—not just Jews—to set their streets aglow with hope by lighting a hanukkiah of their own as an act of resistance to the despotism, fear, ignorance, violence, and illiberalism arising at home and around the globe.

I don’t mean to sound anti-Jewish but the manger story infuriates me. What is it about you Jews that you would deny a room to a pregnant woman, and force her to give birth in the stable?

Kindness. Ancient inns weren’t like today’s hotels. Inns back then were cramped and raucous, with strangers sharing dirty rooms and often dirtier straw beds. They were no place for a woman to give birth. The innkeeper in the Jesus story had compassion for Mary, inviting her to make herself comfortable on a bed of clean straw in the privacy of a stable that allowed her to maintain her dignity as she gave birth to her child. If you are going to understand the Gospels you must learn to read them in the context of their time, not yours.

I’m writing on behalf of my Jewish-Christian clergy group struggling to free our texts and tradition from a dualist supernatural god who chooses, saves, and damns people according to his will. The task is exhausting. Can you give us some encouragement in our labors?

No. If you’re truly driven to do this revolutionary work, you don’t need my encouragement. But I will muddy the waters a bit and ask you this: Why work so hard to salvage something that doesn’t say what you want it to say, and work even harder to make it say what you want it to say, when you could simply say what you want to say? I imagine you don’t struggle to salvage the Iliad or the Mahabharata. As my Theosophical friends say, “There is no religion higher than Truth.” Teach Truth, not tradition.

I’m reading Joseph Campbell and I’m struck by his notion of “follow your bliss.” How do I find and hold on to my life’s passion?

I have two great passions: writing and God. Sure, I love my family, my friends, and my dog, but I can spend weeks traveling and teaching without giving much thought to them, while I can’t go even a day without wrestling with God and a good paragraph. Yet I don’t follow my bliss—it stalks me. I don’t hold on to my passions—they just won’t let me go. My suggestion is this: Go on a weeklong silent retreat—no books, no Internet or television, no calls home—just seven days of being alone with yourself (and perhaps the conceit that this will somehow awaken you to your Self), and see what you cannot live without. It may be a loved one, it may be a latte, but whatever it is—that is your passion.

Last night at dinner my husband announced (or pronounced, really) that God is dead. Our daughter asked him how gods die and where gods go when they die. Her father changed the subject. I told my daughter that I would ask you. So what do you think?

I think you should invite me to your home for dinner! Gods die when believers can no longer sustain the illusion that they exist outside the realm of human imagination and culture. When they die, they become one of two things: either psychological archetypes or comic-book superheroes.

I was teaching Sunday School last week. Our topic was the many metaphors religions have regarding God. My aim was to teach that different people imagine God in different ways, and no one is right or wrong. At the end of the class one of my students asked, “OK, but what is God, really?” He clearly missed the whole point! How would you answer him?

On the contrary: He is speaking to the point by asking whether or not these various metaphors point to something other than themselves. S&H

One For The Road

I’m a single woman living with and caring for my aged mom. A few months ago I met someone who has become my beloved. She loves me but isn’t willing to marry me as long as I’m taking care of my mom. I can’t leave my mom and I fear losing my lover. Please! What can I do? 

Share your responses at spiritualityhealth.com/one-for-the-road.