Got questions? Rabbi Rami has answers.
Q: We humans are nothing more than a blip in the infinite expanse of the cosmos. Why do people matter?
Rabbi Rami: Think of the 26 letters of the English alphabet. These letters are the smallest component of this column—just a blip. Yet without letters there are no words, and without words there are no sentences, and without sentences there are no paragraphs, and without paragraphs there is no column, and without this column there is no pay- check, and without a paycheck there is no food, and without food there is no me, and while I am also a blip, I matter—at least to me, my loved ones, and my creditors. So, while it is true that we humans are just a blip in the cosmos, without blips there is no cosmos at all.
Given the drop in religious belief, my Gen Z grandchildren will likely grow up to be atheists. How do I keep this from happening?
My grandson is four years old: the last of the Gen Z cohort. He asked me about God the other day and I had three options as to how to respond: (A) I could talk with him about nondual panentheism, explain Spinoza’s notion of God as natura naturans (nature naturing), and explore the meaning of YHVH (from the Hebrew verb “to be”) as the Happening of all happening happening as him and all reality at any given moment; (B) We could read Etan Boritzer’s very insight- ful children’s book called What Is God?; or (C) We could look at the leaves he loves through a micro- scope and see how all life is the dancing of God.
I opted for Choice B and ordered the microscope so that Choice C would be a real option in the future. Ultimately, I hope he comes to expe- rience God rather believe in God, as belief is simply a way of affirming something you do not know to be true.
A friend and I were driving past a billboard featuring a beautiful newborn with the message, “There IS Evidence for GOD.” My friend agrees: Babies prove God exists and she quotes Psalm 139:13, where God knits babies in the womb. While I believe in God, I don’t think babies prove anything. What’s your take?
It depends on how you understand God. If, like me, you understand God as all reality, then a baby is evidence of God, as is a calf, a kitten, a puppy, and a pile of bear scat. If your friend believes God knits babies in the womb, she has to explain why God drops a stitch now and then and knits stillborn babies and babies with terrible physical and mental challenges. Bottom line: I don’t need evidence that God exists because for me God is existence itself.
I believe what I read in my Bible. Therefore, I believe that Jews are the children of Satan (John 8:44). A Jewish coworker insists this makes me an anti-Semite. How can I be an anti-Semite when it is God Himself who tells me Satan is the Jews’ father? Do you think I’m an anti-Semite?
Yes. And so is your God. An anti-Semite is someone who defames all Jews simply because they are Jews. You can trace an unbroken line from John 8:44 to millennia of Christian Jew-hatred leading to the Holocaust and beyond.
You have only two options here: Either you openly admit that you and your God are anti-Semitic or you learn to think more critically about scripture as a flawed human document rather than an inerrant divine one.
How can I help my teenage grandchildren survive the coming collapse of civilization?
I suggest you work with them to gain the skills they need to survive the collapse you anticipate. Here are three examples: Plant an organic garden and learn how to grow, prepare, and preserve your own food; explore the teachings of Howard Thurman, Martin Luther King Jr., and Parker Palmer and create a beloved community with friends and neighbors who will see one another through times of peril; and read books like Sharon Salzberg’s Lovingkindness and my own The Sacred Art of Lovingkindness and practice lovingkindness meditation so that the world they build on the ruins of the one we leave them might reflect the best of humanity rather than the worst.
My Jewish daughter’s Christian boyfriend gave her a gift of a gold cross. She insists on wear- ing it for him, but I get sick to my stomach when she does so. Should I insist she take it off?
No. I would encourage her to respect the cross for what it is: a symbol of belief in Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior. Treating the cross as a piece of jewelry demeans it (literally robs it of its mean- ing). A gift from a boyfriend is a precious thing, and your daugh- ter should cherish the cross as a keepsake. But unless she shares the belief for which it stands, she should honor both the cross and her boyfriend and leave it at home.
I just don’t get the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And my priest’s explanations make no sense to me. I know this isn’t your area but how can God be three in one?
With all humility (a quality that doesn’t come easily to me) let me suggest you have this backward. God isn’t three in one, but one as three. Think of H2O. When H2O is in a solid form you have ice, when in a liquid form you have water, and when in a gaseous form you have steam. No one would mistake ice for water or either for steam, yet all three are simply different expressions of the same reality: H2O. God, like H2O, takes on many forms—I would say all forms. The Trinity reminds us that all reality is the happening of God.
I teach confirmation at my church and take students to visit our local mosque and synagogue. I’m starting to think of this as spiritual voyeurism. How else might we experience one another’s religions?
By practicing them. Work out an arrangement with your local clergy and invite students (and others) to participate in three activities during the course of a year: selichot, the month-long Jewish practice of seeking forgiveness from others; lent, the six-week Christian prac- tice of self-emptying in preparation for Good Friday and Easter; and sawm, the Muslim practice of fast- ing during the month of Ramadan. Under the direction of the appro- priate clergy you would experience other religions from the inside rather than merely observe them from the outside.