In the latest installment of Roadside Assistance, Rabbi Rami answers questions about morality, atheism, and enlightenment (and that Allstate commercial).
My son is taking a class called Comparative Religion. Wouldn’t humanity be better off with only one religion?
Rabbi Rami: Would we be better off with only Bach and not Anoushka Shankar? Would we be better off with only Georgia O’Keeffe and not Hokusai? Religion, like music and art, is an expression of human creativity and should be studied the way we study art and music: not by comparing one religion to another, but by appreciating them all as expressions of humanity’s quest for meaning through myth, story, and ritual. Replacing a course in Comparative Religion with one called Religion Appreciation might be a move in the right direction.
A friend dreamed of my deceased mother, who weighed in on an important financial decision I’m pondering. I was surprised, since Mom wasn’t at all financially astute. Should I follow her advice?
Not necessarily. If your mom wasn’t a financial wizard while alive, there’s no reason to imagine she has become one now that she is dead.
My husband says Evil is like Mayhem in the commercials for Allstate insurance: a force of nature willfully sowing chaos. What do you think?
Good and evil are not forces of nature but labels we apply to events produced by forces of nature. When we like what happens, we call it good. When we don’t like what happens, we call it evil. But this doesn’t mean mayhem doesn’t happen. It does—that’s why we need insurance. (I am not a paid spokesperson for Allstate.)
As a progressive Christian trying to raise two open-minded and open-hearted daughters, I find that Bible stories often work against me. Any suggestions?
I suggest a crash course in midrash: ancient rabbinic fan fiction that uses the Bible as grist for new stories that impart values often at odds with the original text. Take, for example, the near murder of Isaac by his father, Abraham. Do you want to celebrate filicide? Probably not, and neither did the rabbis. So, when they noticed that Abraham ordered his servants to wait at the base of Mount Moriah “until we [Abraham and Isaac] return to you” (Genesis 22:5), they discovered in that we a defiant Abraham who had no intention of killing Isaac, and wrote stories about a father protecting his son from the madness of God. Check out Pastor Michael E. Williams’ anthology of midrash for Christians called The Storyteller’s Companion to the Bible and discover the art of reading the Bible creatively.
I have friends obsessed with enlightenment, but I’m not interested. What am I missing?
Nothing. Enlightenment is overrated. Of course, I may be saying this because I’m not enlightened. Or I may be saying it because I am enlightened. Which is why enlightenment is overrated. What really matters is how you treat other beings. My advice: Forget enlightenment, and work on being loving, just, and kind instead.
I’m fascinated by the opening of John’s Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word.” No joke, but my new-agey mom says the word was “OM” and my snarky dad says the word was “oops.” What do you think?
I think it was WOW! I think the direction of evolution on this planet is toward beings with an ever-expanding capacity to look at life and say WOW! Saying WOW! expresses itself as compassion, wisdom, love, joy, deep sensuality, and ecstatic intimacy. Wowsayers are our only hope for planetary and human flourishing.
My new neighbors put a shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe on their front lawn. I see it every time I go out and come home. I’m Jewish. What should I do?
Since both you and Our Lady are Jewish, I suggest you greet her with a pleasant “Shalom Aleichem” (“Peace be upon you”) in your goings out and comings home. It couldn’t hurt to smile and wave to your new neighbors as well.
How can atheists be moral when they deny God, the true source of morality?
As the recent upheaval in the United Methodist Church over strengthening the ban against gay and lesbian clergy and same-sex marriage demonstrates, affirming God as the source of morality doesn’t tell us much. If you support gay and lesbian clergy and same-sex marriage, your God will affirm gay and lesbian clergy and same-sex marriage. If you oppose gay and lesbian clergy and same-sex marriage, your God will oppose them as well. Ultimately, it is your morality that determines God’s values, not God who determines your morality.
If religion, unlike science, can’t be falsified, how can we take it seriously?
People falsify religions all the time; it’s just that the religions they falsify are religions other than their own. I take religion seriously for the same reason I take Shakespeare’s King Lear seriously: There is great beauty and truth in it. Read Qur’an, New Testament, Bhagavad Gita, and Torah as great literature rather than infallible revelation, and you will discover much wisdom in them. If, however, you find yourself moved to jihad, crusade, civil war among cousins, or occupying your neighbor’s backyard, read Shakespeare instead.
I used to think celibacy caused sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, but the recently revealed sexual abuse crisis involving married Southern Baptist pastors shatters that theory. What leads these men—priests and pastors and others—to engage in such wickedness?
God. As feminist theologian Mary Daly wrote 49 years ago, “If God is male, then the male is God” (Beyond God the Father, p. 19). When the male is God, male power is absolute. While Marvel’s Stan Lee correctly observed that “with great power comes great responsibility,” (Amazing Fantasy #15), it is also true that with absolute power comes no responsibility at all. What we need is a Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) movement working to end all support for and engagement with abusive religions, their clergy, and their Gods. Imagine women, men, and children of every religion, race, ethnicity, caste, gender, sexual orientation, etc. walking away from and ceasing to fund patriarchal power and the Gods who support it. Imagine them creating new spiritual communities based on egalitarianism, reciprocity, respect, love, and justice rather than male dominance, hierarchy, discrimination, fear, and prejudice. Now move beyond imagining and act.
Check out Rabbi Rami's new digital column, Roadside Musings.