Monday, August 23, 2010

Nonbeliever or Different Believer?

I got an interesting piece of hate e-mail the other day. Most of it is too nasty to print, but the part that I found interesting was the claim that I am a nonbeliever. This in and of itself marked me for death and eternal damnation, and disqualified me from making any honest comments upon anything.

I’ve heard this many times. The God of Love seems to attract followers filled with hate no less so than does Allah, the All Compassionate and All Merciful. It is an irony not unique to Christianity or Islam, but one that Christians and Muslims must (but usually don’t) deal with in public. It is much easier to deny the authenticity of hate filled Christians and Muslims than to admit that one’s religion has a shadow side given to hate, death, and murder.

Anyway to the question at hand: Am I an unbeliever? The answer depends on what it is I am supposed not to believe in. If you are Christian who believes that Jesus is the only begotten Son of God, and expect me to believe the same, then I am a nonbeliever. If you are Muslim who believes that the Qur’an is the final word of God, and expect me to believe the same, then I am a nonbeliever. If you are a Jew who believes that Torah is the only revelation from God and the Jews are God’s Chosen, and expect me to believe the same, then I am a nonbeliever. If you are a Hindu who believes that Krishna is Lord, and expect me to believe the same, then I am a nonbeliever. But if you believe that the universe is a single system of intelligence evolving toward greater and greater levels of consciousness, and that it is possible to realize yourself as a manifestation of this intelligence, and that doing so makes you a vehicle for compassion and justice, then I am a believer after all.

In other words, a nonbeliever is simply a person who doesn’t believe as you believe. There is no absolute standard for belief or nonbelief, and labels such as believer and nonbeliever are relative to the particular standard held by the person doing the labeling. The only value such labeling has is to make the person doing the labeling feel a bit more secure in her position. It is totally self-serving and without any objective truth-value whatsoever.

The whole thing saddens me. I would like to retire the words believer and nonbeliever in favor of different believer. Everyone believes something. No one believes in nothing unless Nothing is what you believe in, which, of course, makes that person, too, a believer. It is not right to call atheists nonbelievers. They have beliefs. Just not ones at home with a supernatural Supreme Being.

So please lets begin to speak of one another and ourselves as different believers. Let us believe differently if we choose. And, if we must label (and I sense that we must) let that be the only label we toss around.

10 comments:

Barry said...

"...evolving toward greater and greater levels of consciousness.."

I have my doubts about that one, Rabbi. It seems that humanity as a group just gets stupider and stupider.

I believe in R.E.M. "It's the end of the world as we know it; I feel fine."

Old Lady said...

That's me in the corner, that's me in the spot light losing my religion...

Belief is not religion..

Keep on preachin Rabbi!

Raksha said...

Re "But if you believe that the universe is a single system of intelligence evolving toward greater and greater levels of consciousness, and that it is possible to realize yourself as a manifestation of this intelligence, and that doing so makes you a vehicle for compassion and justice, then I am a believer after all."

Then you are definitely a believer by my standards, and I bet you're a believer by Teilhard de Chardin's standards too. I'm just sorry to hear you're getting hate mail, but I guess you could see it as a kind of backhanded compliment. It's a measure of your influence (for the good in my opinion), which means that inevitably certain rigid insecure types are going to see it as the work of the devil.

You're also getting an extra measure of flak these days because of your very public support for the Islamic center in Murfreesboro. But you're getting some good publicity also--and for the exact same reason. Yesterday I posted a link on my favorite discussion board to an article about the "mosque controversy" in The Tennessean, in which you were quoted extensively.

--Linda

dtedac said...

Rabbi Rami,
It seems to me that there is a new "evangelism" of hatred. There are more and more believers in hate, prejudice and violence. People of peace, regardless of their value system, have to stand together and fight this crap. Hang in there, Rami.
David

Margaret said...

I am your kind of "nonbeliever" Rabbi Rami.

But why not substitute the word "faith" for your kind of "belief?"

Is it not faith that allows you to feel "... that the universe is a single system of intelligence evolving toward greater and greater levels of consciousness, and that it is possible to realize yourself as a manifestation of this intelligence, and that doing so makes you a vehicle for compassion and justice....?"

pmrussell said...

I am in the same boat. Organized religion and dogma are way too limiting and judgmental. The universe is a vast, unimaginable collection of energy which we are all a part of. People need to live their lives without pointing fingers and judging.

Karen said...

Thank you, Rabbi Rami, for sharing this, as always, and for putting your thoughts and ideas "out there" for people to agree or disagree with.

Based on the "beliefs" of my conservative Christian friends and family, I've been damned and have been on my way to hell for many years now. (It's actually turned into a private joke between my husband and me, since neither of us believe in the existence of a place called hell.) Glad to know we'll have such fine company to share eternity with!

And Here! Here! to other posters of this blog. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. It's nice to share the company of other "different believers!"

Rabbi Rami said...

Thank you for all the kind comments. Hate mail comes with the territory. Burning a cross on my lawn, however, might get my attention. In fact I've often thought about doing that to my own lawn just to get the attention. And the insurance money. My luck I'd be caught on some security camera and have to pay for the prank.

I have no problem with going to hell. Not that I believe in hell. But if I did I would choose the Dante's First Circle of Hell. That is where all my heroes are.

forrest said...

Okay, you're not 'a believer,' but I'm quite sure you're 'a knower.' There was a piece you wrote awhile back in some anthology of Jewish takes on Jesus-- And it read like you've met the same God I know...

You drew heavily on John, which is the gospel where Jesus talks pretty much entirely 'out-of-character' (but if one thinks of Jesus as 'channeling God' there I guess it works.) I mean, your piece wasn't exactly a historical depiction-- just a good poetic explication of that old open religious secret of what it means: God making people 'in His image' and 'putting His breath into us.'

When most people talk about "the universe," aren't they just talking about the big physical stage-set around us? You are meaning something 'larger' than that. & much of the craziness of human religion/politics, I'd say, comes from the fact that most people aren't knowing that 'larger', so they fall into confusion via trying to fill that hole with verbal constructs.

Yeah, one can't 'preach' Enlightenment. But Enlightenment can preach itself. Isn't that the biggest mitzvah in your power, to give away that elusive 'non-secret'?

forrest said...
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