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Fact Checking Religion

Roadside Assistance for the Spiritual Traveler

Got questions? Rabbi Rami has answers.

Q: I’m obsessed with fact checking politicians. It occurs to me that we need to fact check religion as well. How might we do this?

Rabbi Rami: Fact checking requires facts against which one can test claims. While this is often the case in politics, it is rarely the case in religion. Religions aren’t based on facts we can check but on fictions in which we can only believe. Instead of fact checking religions, I would values check them. For example: How do followers of a religion treat “the other” in this life and imagine the fate of “the other” in the afterlife? We need a cool icon for this. The Washington Post uses Pinocchios in its fact checking. We might consider using the evil eye in our values checking. The more vicious the values, the greater number of evil eyes a religion earns.

In this era of COVID-19, I am struggling with how to open and close an email. In the past I’d usually say “hello” followed by something like “I hope this finds you well,” but now that just feels off, if not insulting. And to close with something similar seems lifeless. You’ve addressed how to send condolence notes in the past, so I was wondering if you had any suggestions regarding COVID-era salutations.

Most emails I receive are from strangers, and I don’t care what they say regarding my health and safety; I just want them to get to the point. When an email is from a friend, I don’t need them to express concern for my wellbeing: The email itself does that. With this in mind, if I’m writing an email to a stranger, I avoid expressions of concern and focus on the business at hand. If I’m writing friends, I might reference something specific I know they are dealing with, and I might end with an invitation to talk on the phone or Zoom. Bottom line, I don’t think people take email all that seriously. If you want serious, send a handwritten note.

I am convinced that the fear and anger tearing our country apart is a symptom of patriarchal derangement syndrome and the erasing of the Divine Mother/Feminine from our civilization. If you agree with me, how might we overcome this?

I do agree. The Divine Mother, whether we are talking about Shakti in Hinduism, Shechinah in Judaism, or Sophia in Russian Orthodox Christianity, is the active manifesting of Ultimate Reality (“God” if you like) in, with, and as the world you and I experience.

Divorcing, suppressing, and erasing the Feminine leaves us with a heartless zero-sum world where women are oppressed and the values of mutuality, interdependence, and communitarianism are rejected. This will only end when the crisis becomes so acute that we are on the verge of total collapse. At that moment a critical mass of people will awaken to the Mother (seemingly spontaneously, though the work has been going on for some time subconsciously), and begin to adore Her in all her forms leading us to adore Nature, each other, and ourselves so profoundly that patriarchy crumbles, hierarchy yields to holarchy, fear yields to love, and arrogance yields to humility. As bad as things are at the moment, we still have a long downward slide to go.

Stuck alone at home, I’ve been playing a lot of John Lennon’s music. I was wondering how you respond to his notion of a world without religion in “Imagine”?

“Nothing to kill or die for / and no religion too.” If religion were only about killing and dying, I would do more than imagine a world without it; I would actively seek to end it. While specific religions at specific times in their histories do get obsessed with murder and martyrdom, that is not what religion itself is really about.

The word “religion” comes from the Latin religare, “to bind.” Religion at its best binds us together and awakens us to the unity of God, woman, man, and nature. Religion at its worst binds us to competing -isms and ideologies that divide us into warring camps. True, religion is rarely at its best, but that is an argument for reform rather than extinction. A world without religion, a world without unity and the means of achieving it, would be a desperate and despairing place.

My doctor told me I am dying. I asked him how long I had to live, but he refused to say. Instead he said, “Look, you could die from this illness tomorrow or you could get hit by a bus and die today.” What do I do with this information?

Three things: Move to a town without public transportation; change doctors; and learn how to die before you die.

The first two options are self-explanatory, the third comes from Sufism and may require a bit of explanation. Borrowing from the language of Christianity, dying is being surrendered to the Beloved in whom you live and move and have your being (Acts 17:38). Borrowing from the language of Hinduism, we experience this surrender as an ecstatic awakening, as Sat-Chit-Ananda: pure being, pure consciousness, pure bliss. Dying before you die is the practice of experiencing Sat-Chit-Ananda in this life. This can be done in many ways: meditation, yoga, chanting, psychedelic drugs, and sensory deprivation tanks to name but five.

Find yourself a teacher, spiritual director, and/or death doula who can help you practice dying and who can support your efforts to devote your remaining days to making peace with self and other.

Throughout the pandemic, Rabbi Rami has been posting his responses to questions stemming from people’s concerns with COVID-19 in special editions of Roadside Assistance for the Spiritual Traveler on spiritualityhealth.com.