How Can I Find a Simple Religion?

How Can I Find a Simple Religion?

Looking for a simple religion to share with your friends? Read on.

My friends and I come from different religions, and we find them all needlessly complicated. We are looking for something simpler. What would you suggest?

Rabbi Rami: I suggest you Marie Kondo your religions. The author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Ms. Kondo urges you to pick up each item in your house and ask yourself, “Does this spark joy?” If it does, keep it. If it doesn’t, let it go. What Ms. Kondo does with stuff, I suggest you do with religion. Does belonging to a community spark joy? Does attending worship services spark joy? Does studying scripture spark joy? Lift up each aspect of your religion and ask if it sparks joy in you. If it does, keep it. If it doesn’t, let it go. Make joy rather than allegiance to a system the heart of your religion.

I love my new church. The rector is very open. The service is meditative. Bible study is intelligent. My problem is that I don’t believe in the inerrancy of the Bible or the divinity of Christ, and I even feel disingenuous when taking communion. Should I admit how I truly think?

My guess is that if you share your truth honestly and humbly, you will find that you’re not alone. Lots of people enjoy church without believing in doctrine. Just don’t present your ideas in the context of doubt. You don’t doubt Christ’s divinity, you affirm Jesus’ teaching. You don’t doubt the Bible’s inerrancy, you affirm its wisdom. Be positive, though not aggressive, regarding what you do believe rather than apologetic about what you don’t believe. As for communion—Jesus meant for you to come as you are, not as you imagine you should be. If you feel disingenuous when taking communion, offer that feeling to Christ as he offers himself to you.

I consider myself a thoughtful person, but I can’t reconcile science, philosophy, religion, and spirituality. Especially spirituality. I just don’t know what that is. Any thoughts?

Philosophy is the art of making meaning through logic and reason. Religion is the art of making meaning through myth, metaphor, and ritual. Science is the art of exploring nature. Spirituality is the art of exploring your nature. Borrowing from the sixth century Indian sage Bodhidharma, I would say of spirituality that it is a direct apprehension of reality outside of words and scripture; a direct pointing to reality and seeing into one’s true nature. We humans have a capacity to be creative in all four dimensions—science, philosophy, religion, and spirituality—and should do what we can to be literate in each.

I’m studying with a rabbi who says converting to Judaism will bring me closer to God. Is this true?

No. As Rabbi Saul of Tarsus taught, “God is That in whom we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). God is Reality, the Eternal Tao, Y-H-V-H: the Happening happening as all happening. You can’t get closer to or farther from God because there is nothing else but God. Convert to Judaism (or any other “ism”) because doing so makes you more kind, compassionate, and just. But nothing can get you closer to That which you already are.

I believe there is Someone outside the universe—someone I call God—who created the universe and judges the behavior of everyone in it. I feel sorry for you that you don’t. Why do you reject my beliefs?

I don’t reject them. I simply don’t hold them. Please don’t take this personally. I do my best to avoid belief altogether. Beliefs are ideas we hold to be true without demanding evidence to prove they are true. I like evidence. Beliefs provide answers. I prefer questions. Beliefs offer certainty. I embrace uncertainty. Beliefs come from authorities. I want to investigate what is so for myself. There is no need to feel sorry for me. After all, what if your beliefs are wrong? (Just kidding: They can’t be wrong. That’s why we call them beliefs.)

I’m taken with the idea that I’m a spiritual being: a being of pure love, peace, forgiveness, and compassion having a human experience. Do you find this compelling as well?

On the contrary. I find the idea confusing.

Why would a being of pure love, peace, forgiveness, and compassion give that up for the human experience of fear, anxiety, aggression, anger, injustice, and hate? The answer I so often hear is that in this way we can learn to become pure love, peace, forgiveness, and compassion, but this makes no sense since as a spiritual being, I’m already pure love, peace, forgiveness, and compassion. Why would I pretend to be other than I am only to learn how to be what I already am?

My daughter’s in AA. I’m happy she’s sober, but her insistence that she is a recovering alcoholic rather than a recovered alcoholic worries me. Is she addicted to being an addict?

I, too, am an addict, and being a compulsive overeater is no less a part of my identity than being a Jew and an American. The moment I forget this—the moment I imagine I’m recovered rather than recovering—is the moment I’m in danger of falling into crazy thinking and compulsive eating. But not forgetting I am an addict isn’t the same as being addicted to being an addict. Unless your daughter is using her addiction to avoid love, friendship, family, work, learning, spiritual growth, etc., just be grateful for and proud of her.

I’ve been reading you for a year and I just don’t see you as a rabbi. What kind of rabbi are you?

Borrowing from Alan Watt’s 1958 essay Beat Zen, Square Zen, and Zen, there are three categories of rabbi: beat, square and Zen. Beat rabbis are enamored with innovation and work hard to create new ways of doing ancient things as the best way to maintain Jewish identity. Square rabbis love Jewish tradition and work hard to maintain the old ways as the best way to maintain Jewish identity. Zen rabbis don’t care about Jewish identity. Zen rabbis use the language of Judaism to focus on reality rather than religion, truth rather than tradition, and Self-realization rather than self-identification. I’m a Zen rabbi.

Read more Rabbi Rami here.

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