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“Overcoming” Original Sin

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Rabbi Rami Shapiro answers questions from S&H readers. “How do you overcome Original Sin?”

Original Sin is being separated from God. As a Christian I overcome this separation by my belief in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. How do you overcome Original Sin?

The idea of Original Sin as being separated from God is based on the premise that one can be separated from God. I “overcome” Original Sin by denying its premise: Just as a wave cannot be separated from the ocean that waves it, so you cannot be separated from God happening as you. You cannot achieve that which you already have.

I’m an atheist, but I do believe in the greater energy of the universe. Can I still call myself an atheist?

An atheist is someone who doesn’t believe in a supernatural, self-conscious creator God to whom one prays and from whom one receives rewards and punishments. By this definition I, too, am an atheist. Calling myself an atheist, however, places the God I don’t experience at the center of my identity. I would rather identify with what I do experience than with what I don’t experience. If you must label yourself, I suggest you do the same.

What lessons do you think we Americans have learned from this pandemic? What lessons do you wish we would learn?

I don’t know if Americans have learned anything from this pandemic, but this is what I learned about Americans during this pandemic: 1) the refusal to wear masks tells me that our compassion rarely overcomes our selfishness; 2) the popularity of conspiracy theories tells me that our capacity for critical thinking is shallow and easily overwhelmed; and 3) the continued refusal to see virulent pandemics and catastrophic weather events as features of climate change tells me that we prefer hiding behind self-serving fantasies rather than dealing honestly with harsh realities.

What I wish we would learn is this: 1) the emotional skills to strengthen our capacity for compassion and justice; 2) the intellectual skills to disrupt irrational thinking; and 3) the spiritual skills to see the interdependence of person and planet and the obligation of the former to serve and protect the latter (Genesis 2:15).

Given my good health and youngish age it could take me months to get a COVID vaccination, but I have an opportunity through a friend to jump the line and get one quite soon. Should I take advantage of it?

No.

As I watched the storming of the U.S. Capitol I was horrified by the display of Christian iconography. The Christianity I know preaches love. What causes love to devolve into hate?

Any religion is only as sound as the minds and hearts of its followers. Hate-filled people will create hate-filled religions. It’s not that love devolves into hate, it’s that hate never evolves into love.

My friends and I are into manifesting our future through the power of mind. Though we feel sorry for people who choose to manifest poverty, illness, and unemployment, we don’t believe charity or government handouts will get them to choose differently. What kind of world are you manifesting?

One without people who hide their selfishness and privilege behind the mask of manifesting.

I’m a lesbian. My parents are very conservative and refuse to attend my upcoming wedding. How can I get them to change their minds? You can’t, nor should you try. Let your parents know you love them, and that you would be delighted to have them attend your wedding, and that you understand if they can’t. Notice the two “ands” and no “buts.” “But” can carry a tone of judgment you’ll want to avoid.

If your parents still refuse, put your disappointment (and anger?) aside as best you can and focus on making your wedding day glorious for you and your bride. Three warnings: 1) don’t internalize your parents’ refusal: this is their problem, not yours; 2) don’t allow your parents’ actions to poison your relationship with your wife by somehow blaming her for their position; and 3) grow your love for each other so strongly that should your parents reach out to the two of you, you both will be open to welcoming them.

Real-estate mogul Robert Bigelow is offering one million dollars for evidence proving that the ego survives death. What evidence would you submit to win this?

Not that a million dollars is anything to sneeze at, but if I could prove the ego survives death I could make a lot more money creating

a new religion. I can’t prove this, however, because the ego doesn’t survive death. The ego (our sense of “I,” “me,” “mine”) depends on our physical body and emerges over time after we are born. When my body dies, my ego dies with it. And for that I am grateful.

I understand death as the dropping of self and awakening as Self—not a separate personality identifiable as “me” but the nonpersonal dynamic and creative Aliveness that manifests as everyone and everything. I would rather Mr. Bigelow offer a million dollars to improve life in this world than to prove an afterlife in some other.

I used to be a believer, but COVID robbed me of that. How can I live without faith?

It’s important to make a distinction between belief and faith. Think of belief as a map and faith as a compass. A map tells you where you’ve been, where you are, and where you’re going. If the map is accurate there are no surprises along the way. A compass simply orients you in the direction you wish to go and tells you nothing about the going itself. What you have lost is belief: You no longer trust that your map is accurate. But you can still cultivate faith and the qualities of curiosity, openness, humility, and not-knowing that faith embodies. Walking through life

with a compass rather than a map leaves you open to engage with each moment as it is rather than as your map says it should be

Having spent so much time at home doing nothing, I think it’s time for me to take up yoga, but there are so many types I don’t know which to try. What would you suggest?

It depends on what your goal is. According to Patanjali, the second century BCE author of the Yoga Sutras, the purpose of yoga is to achieve samadhi, a state of pure awareness beyond the ego (Yoga Sutras 2.2; 2.5). If this is your goal, I would take up any system of yoga taught by a teacher who has experienced samadhi through her practice of yoga. If, on the other hand, your goal is to become healthier, look for a teacher whose yoga practice has made her healthier and who has experience working with people like yourself. In either case, I suggest you focus on the quality of the yogi rather than the style of the yoga.