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Religion and Politics

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“It seems to me that religion and politics are inextricably intertwined. So much so, in fact, that I think religion is simply politics by another name. Was this always the case or is this something new?”

It seems to me that religion and politics are inextricably intertwined. So much so, in fact, that I think religion is simply politics by another name. Was this always the case or is this something new?

Rabbi Rami: Religion and politics have been intertwined from the beginning. While some argue religion is about ethics and politics is about power, I would say both are about power. For example, every religion, albeit each in its own way, affirms the ethic of “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18; Mark 12:31), yet every religion defines “neighbor” in such a way so as to restrict love to those people the politically powerful find useful. This is religious ethics in service to political power, at which point the difference between religion and politics is moot.

I’m not religious but I do believe in God. My son asked me to define what I mean when I say “God.” When I said I couldn’t, he challenged me to stop using words I couldn’t define. Do you think he’s right?

Yes. While I understand that many people find the word “God” comforting in and of itself without needing to define it, I suggest you avoid using words that you cannot define. When I use the word “God,” I am speaking of Chiut, the Hebrew word for “aliveness.” For me God is the Aliveness happening in, with, and as all existence. This is similar to St. Paul’s definition of God as “that in whom we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Either learn to articulate what you mean when you use the word “God” or use another word you can define.

I have a friend who is deeply engaged with QAnon. He literally believes liberals are pedophiles who drink the blood of children in the name of Satan. As a liberal Catholic I’m horrified by this and have told him so. He says my Church has trafficked in children for decades and I drink the blood of God. How do I combat this madness?

If you are talking about the madness of priestly pedophilia, I suggest radical transparency on the part of the Church, a willingness to immediately turn pedophiles over to law enforcement, and the swift ordination of women priests. If you are talking about the madness of QAnon, I suggest you can do very little. QAnon is a cult and cults are rarely taken down from the outside. Either they collapse from within due to the corrupt nature of their leadership and/or the violent behavior of their adherents, or they evolve into an established religion by growing in numbers, dollars, and political influence. As you wait to see which path QAnon follows, I suggest you distance yourself from your friend.

The God I love is Jesus. My fiancé loves Krishna. She loves her god no less than I love mine, but there can’t be more than one God. I love this woman, but I am troubled by her loving her god. Any suggestions?

Let me offer you three suggestions: First, stop referring to your fiancé’s God as “god” and recognize that Jesus and Krishna are both doorways to the Ineffable. Second, make time to read and discuss two books with your fiancé: Eknath Easwaran’s The Bhagavad Gita for Daily Living and Ravi Ravindra’s Christ the Yogi: A Hindu Reflection on the Gospel of John. Third, postpone your wedding until you can fear Krishna less and love your fiancé more.

I asked a friend who is an imam about Hell and who goes there. He said that Hell is God’s business and we should stay out of it. What do you think?

I agree with the imam: Hell is God’s business. My question is this: Why worship a God whose business is Hell? Religions that believe in Hell do so for at least three reasons: 1) Hell promotes religious conformity; 2) Hell provides people with a perverse sense of self-righteousness knowing that people who disagree with them will burn; and 3) Hell offers solace to those who live in countries that outlaw religious persecution in this life by allowing them to fantasize about religious persecution in the next life. Any God who is in the Hell business is a God I would seriously avoid.

There are so many holy books: Torah, Gospels, Koran, Bhagavad Gita, Book of Mormon, Course in Miracles—can they all be true? And, if not, how do I determine which among them is true?

First you have to define what is Truth. For me Truth is the four-fold teaching of Perennial Wisdom: 1) All reality is a manifesting of God called by many names: Aliveness, God, Nature, Allah, Mother, Brahman, Tao, etc.; 2) Every person has the capacity to know God directly; 3) Knowing God leads to acting godly in accordance with the Golden Rule; and 4) Knowing God and acting godly is your highest calling as a human being. When a book reflects this Truth, it is true; when it doesn’t, it is false. “Holy” is beside the point.

I hold my Protestant faith responsible for white supremacy, anti- Semitism, racism, and genocide against indigenous peoples. This isn’t what Jesus taught. How did my religion become the fountain- head of evil?

It didn’t, because it isn’t. Genocide, slavery, supremacy, and suppression of the “other” is common to almost every religion. This is because religions are often more concerned with their self-preservation than with people’s Self-realization. Self- preservation demands a zero-sum worldview of “us against them” while Self-realization cultivates a non-zero worldview of “all of us together.” If your religion is about self-preservation rather than Self- realization you might consider finding a healthier religion.

My friends and I, both Jews and Christians, are finding it harder and harder to pray the triumphalist liturgy of our respective faiths: We’re chosen, they’re saved. What should I do?

I suggest you and your friends go as a group to your respective houses of worship and listen carefully to the liturgies celebrated there. Talk about your experiences afterward and explore what thoughts and feelings these prayers trigger in you. Some people can reframe the liturgy to be more loving and inclusive. Others can’t. Bottom line: Pray what you mean and mean what you pray. Or don’t pray at all. This isn’t com- plicated, but it does take courage.