Rabbi Rami responds to questions about white supremacy, a loving god, and Christian tracts, among others.
My daughter has become a very Orthodox Jew and refuses to eat in my home because she says it isn’t kosher enough. Even when I try to live up to her standard, she refuses, saying she doesn’t trust that I maintain that standard when she’s not around. What should I do?
Rabbi Rami: Stop inviting her over for meals. Who knows: Maybe she’ll start inviting you to eat at her house instead.
An ABC survey says 10% of Americans support white supremacist views. This is very upsetting to me. As a Jew, how do you deal with this?
First, I remind myself that 20% of Americans also believe extraterrestrials dwell among us and that 10% of American dentists don’t recommend my preferred brand of toothpaste. Don’t get me wrong: I believe in extraterrestrials, and I believe in dentistry. I also believe that dentists who disagree with my choice of toothpaste are probably extraterrestrials. There are always outliers in any poll, so the fact that 10% of Americans harbor white supremacist views doesn’t shock me. Second, I chant. Mantram practice (repeating a word or phrase you find deeply meaningful) is a powerful act of liberation, freeing the compassionate Self from the grip of the fear-filled angry self. Read Eknath Easwaran’s The Mantram Handbook to get started with this practice.
There is only one thing I don’t understand: How can a loving God allow for evil?
I’m amazed that there is only one thing you don’t understand. In fact, I hesitate to answer this question because then there won’t be anything you don’t understand, and I don’t want to rob you of the last vestiges of mystery and wonder. But, since you asked, my answer is this: God isn’t loving. God is Reality, and as Isaiah and Job reveal, Reality includes both good and evil (Isaiah 45:7; Job 2:10). Good goes with evil the way up goes with down and left goes with right. For me the question isn’t, “Why does God allow evil?” but “How will I engage with the evil God allows so as to minimize its impact on the world?” Wrestling with this question is far more beneficial to you and others than pondering the one you posed.
My new neighbor constantly leaves Christian religious tracts on my porch. I’ve asked her to stop, but she won’t. I’m a Christian; I believe what the tracts say; I’m just bothered by her assuming I need to read them. What should I do?
This happened to me once. I explained to my neighbor that I was a Jew and had no need of his tracts. He doubled down on the evangelism. Eventually I moved. But not until I registered him with the Church of Satan. I share this by way of saying I have no idea how to handle an overzealous religious neighbor. If you follow my example and move, consider selling your house to Seventh-Day Adventists, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, or others who will go head-to-head with her door-to-door evangelism.
Our son says he’s a Buddhist. He bows to this Buddha statue every day. It just kills me that he is worshipping this God. How can I change him?
You can’t, and he isn’t. Buddha is not a God, he is simply a human being awake to the reality of impermanence and suffering who teaches us how to live wisely with the former while alleviating the latter. Bowing to the Buddha isn’t worshipping a God but acknowledging the innate human capacity for awakening, wisdom, and compassion. May your son fulfill his aspiration to wake up and help out.
I try to keep an open mind, but people believe in so many false Gods that I find it more than a little difficult to do so. How do you handle those who follow false Gods?
There are no false Gods. Gods carry our passions—both high and low—and fuel our instincts—both exalted and base. No God is false, though many may be dangerous. When it comes to Gods, I look to see what kind of Godliness they instill in believers. If a God teaches that to be Godly is to be just and kind to all beings in this world and the next, I honor this God. If a God teaches that to be Godly is to be cruel, damning, bigoted, and oppressive toward others, I avoid this God—and those who follow this God—at all costs.
I’m a Christian who is partial to Mayor Pete Buttigieg and not upset by his being gay. Mayor Pete says if Christians have a problem with his being gay, we should take it up with his Creator. Is this answer good enough?
It’s a clever retort, but it’s not a real answer. After all, Christians who take their concern with homosexuality up with God will hear God say that being gay is an abomination worthy of death (Leviticus 18:6; 20:13). Political campaigns are not the place to work out theological issues. Bottom line: While I realize Mayor Pete has to address this issue, the truth is that if a person’s God won’t vote for Mayor Pete, chances are that person won’t either.
In a word, is religion good or bad for humanity?
In a word, “yes.” Among other things, religion offers comfort and hope; inspires altruism and artistic genius; creates loving communities, at least among likeminded believers; provides meaning in an otherwise meaningless universe; masks chaos with a veneer of order; creates an “us” and sadly a “them” to feed our lust for winners and losers; reveals Gods in our image as proof that we humans matter more than other beings; fashions truths that allow us to vent our murderous rages without guilt; holds out certainty and surety in a world largely devoid of both; gloves political power in pious platitudes; and provides scripts to mouth and rules to follow that we might be spared the existential dread of having to think and decide for ourselves. I will leave it up to you to decide which of these is “good” and which is “bad.”
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