Tuesday, May 01, 2012

I Have Failed Part Four


I seem to have opened a can of worms, and I invite you worms to post your comments on the blog rather than emailing me directly. I can’t respond to each writer, and I have to move on to other matters, but I have been getting some email about my anti-religion attitude. But this is the last post for awhile.

Simply put, a number of writers are saying that living in the South, especially in that part of the South dominated by evangelical and fundamentalist Christians, blinds me to the good religion does. If I had stayed in LA or returned to the Promised Land of Massachusetts from which I hale, I would see things differently. Maybe so. In fact, I hope so. But I live where I live and see what I see, and it saddens me to say the least.

A couple of Sundays ago I attended a lively new church in my town that caters to twentysomethings. The church serves hundreds of young people each Sunday. I love seeing people engaged with religion, and I was hopeful that these “kids” many of whom study at MTSU, a very cosmopolitan and multicultural university, would shape a Christian message of global love and justice. But I was wrong.

The pastor told us his would be a hard message to swallow, but it was the Word of God and could not be challenged. The message was this: if you aren’t a Christian you are going to hell for all eternity. And by Christian he didn’t just mean any old Christian but Christian as he understood Christian.

This is not a new message, nor is it unique to Christianity. You can hear versions of it in certain mosques, synagogues and temples around the world. This is the message that is tearing apart Africa and the Middle East. It is the message that gave us the Crusades, pogroms, and the Holocaust. It is the message that fosters slavery and apartheid in all its forms. It is a message of hate wrapped in the language of love. God loves you but His love can save you only if you love Him in the way He wants to be loved. Others His love will consign you to hell for all eternity. Now that is tough love.

So if religion is the pitting of one group against all others; if religion is the damning of anyone who believes other than you do; if religion is praising a God so narrow and small as to have but one way to reach Him, then, yes, I am anti-religion. But that’s not all…

If this vision of God is God; if God is a narcissistic, sadistic, and in some faiths sadomasochistic Judge of all the earth, I reject Him and rebel against Him. Sure I can insist that God has nothing in common with the deity worshipped at this church, or I can insist that there is no God of any kind, but that is empty rhetoric that does nothing to stem the power of this God.  This God exists the same way all Gods exist: in the minds, hearts, and often-closed fists of His followers. And because He exists He must be resisted even if, as with the Borg, resistance is futile; even if, as with Zeus, He doesn’t exist.
So if you believe in a jealous and petty God whose love extends only to those who think like you do, I am your enemy. And if you believe in a God who urges you (sometimes subtly, sometimes not) to demonize those who believe other than you do, I am your demon.  And if your Christ is coming back to slaughter my people and all people who believe other than you believe, I am the anti-Christ. And if your God tells you to kill the infidel, then start with me, for I am the Infidel.

It isn’t enough to deny the gods of war, hatred, and demonization; we must rebel against them. We must take to the streets, the airwaves, the Internet, and the press to share the Good News that no one need die—not you, not God—for the way and the truth and the life is for everyone, and living the Way is doing justly and loving mercy and walking humbly with your god. It is a Way of non-harming. It is loving neighbor and stranger. It is being a blessing to all the families of the earth—human and otherwise. It is seeing to the welfare of the living from earth to sea to sky. It is imagining a God who is so big as to love everyone whether they believe or not.

To the Christ of this church I offer the Krishna of the Bhagavad Gita who tells us that all names are his Name and all paths are his Path and all love is love of him. To the Christ of this church I offer the Bible’s Chochma, Sophia, Lady Wisdom who calls all humanity to her table, and teaches us the ways of love of all the living. To the narrowness and fear of petty gods I offer the infinite love and awe of the One who bursts the confines of sect and dogma and religious branding.

So am I anti-religion? If your religion is anti-life and anti-love and anti-justice and anti-compassion and anti-peace and anti-respect, then, yes, I am anti-religion. At least yours. 

28 comments:

eashtov said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
No One Special said...

Dear Rabbi Rami,

I have no words to express how my heart aches for all those who can't see Love/God as you (and I) do.

But at this moment, what I want most to say is don't give up - keep your heart, mind and eyes open. There are many of us who share your vision.

I lost my life long best friend because she chose to return to the evangelical Christian faith and I would not follow again (we did this as budding early teenagers). My heart aches for that loss but more importantly, my heart honors her chosen spiritual path.

I will love her where she is spiritually - and accept her as she presents. It is her choice how to respond as well.

You are a beautiful and amazing Soul who speaks so clearly to those with ears to hear.

I have chosen to avoid all religious institutions - for this very reason.

It is a lonely path but it is one I choose.

Namaste, dear Rabbi Rami. Namaste.

eashtov said...

Shalom Rav,

"Lo 'alecha ham'lacha ligmor, v'lo ata ven horin l'hibateyl mimena.

You are not obligated to complete the task, nor are you free to abandon it"

Rabbi Tarfon Avot 2:21

To quote a teacher of mine "While the task is long and the time is short you are not obligated to complete it. Effort alone is what matters."

Rabbi Rami in "Ethics of the Sages Pirke Avot"
Page 34 #52

Biv'racha,
Jordan

Simcha Daniel Burstyn said...

אמן סלה

Rotten Arsenal said...

While I never felt comfortable in a church (even as a kid it felt weird, especially since I couldn't find any connection to what was going on with how I felt), I didn't really start allowing myself to truly doubt until my teen years. And even then, it was a long process that took until I was in my late 20's before I ever applied "atheist" to myself.
However, for me, it was the little things that brought on disillusionment and anger... and this is why this series hits home. It describes pretty well some of those inconsistencies that just make it hard to believe what some people try and tell you.
But there was one moment that will always stand out to me in my personal quest. I was 16 and worked as a bag boy at a grocery store. One night, somehow, one of the checkers and I started talking about Christianity. I was considering myself somewhere between agnostic and Deist at that point while she was an Evangelical Christian.
At one point, she started hammering on me about why I should take Jesus as my Lord and Savior and I just asked her, "Why are you telling me all this?"
"Because I'm trying to save you! If you don't believe [that Jesus is the Savior] then you'll go to Hell!"
"So," I said, "You go to Hell if you don't accept Jesus?"
"Yes"
"Okay, soooo... the JEWS... GOD'S CHOSEN PEOPLE... are all going to Hell?"
It was obvious that this was causing some internal arguing because she could only slowly and quietly respond, "Well.... um... yes."
This has been a key piece of my inability to believe. That someone could dismiss an entire religion as Hellbound because they happen to believe that their religion is right and all others are wrong... that just makes no sense to me.
I consider myself an atheist, but while I don't believe in God, I am not 100% certain that there is no god at all.
I am, however, 100% certain that God is NOT what most Christians believe it to be.

Barry said...

I feel your pain, Rabbi. All we can do is try to make things better. I'm trying to do that in a Jewish context.My Judaism is not what Judaism was to my parents and grandparents. I get that we live in a pluralistic society, and I try to accept other people's views without necessarily taking them as my own.

Tricia Datené said...

Dear Rabbi Rami,
I love you just the way you are, with all your doubts and fears. We are all in this together.

briankb said...

Despite living and working across this country, I have to admit that I am a product, shadows and light, of the South. In my limited experience, this tribal god we all see lifted up in the name of exclusion is a product of real or perceived oppression and fear. The Southern mythology of a conquered people still taints the water, coloring all thinking. We are still crying infants, devoid of of much local wisdom.

Joyc said...

I was raised Southern Baptist. Always questioned the 'man made rules' like no dancing. I stopped attending my church at 15 years of age after a particularly 'hell fire and damnation' sermon by the pastor. Problem: My dad was a really good clean living man but he didn't attend church and kept his beliefs rather private. I could NOT in my wildest dreams imagine God condemning this good man to hell. Since this time my views are of a loving God who loves all his children. I've only stepped back into a church to get married (husband's church), children's christenings and confirmations and to attend weddings and funerals. I try to live my life as I think God would expect using the Golden Rule and 10Commandments.

Thanks
Joyce

andrea perez said...

Amen!
I left my Unitarian Universalist congregation because they were treating people like objects. Long story: just let's just say they were doing the same old same old: We are better than everyone else because we see the Truth, whatever that is.
I stopped going to my Temple because I was tiered of hearing how much better we are than those people( namely anyone anti-Israeli) and I became very sad, because, well how was that supposed to stop the hatred and the wars?
So Amen. This isn't a god problem, it's a People problem. The minute anyone starts with the I'm better than you because....We have more of the same.
So, what do we do about it? How do we have a conversation where it is okay to see a portion of the elephant and admit you just don't know everything ,so get over yourselves and let's have some dinner? Don't really care all that much about hell and all that stuff. Well, not exactly true, some People sure make this existance, Hell. Why all the talk about Death anyway? Know it's coming but sure wish People would leave it alone and try being a bit more accepting of Life.

Any suggestions? I have perfectly calm peaceful conversations with God, however I name that concept...but People? They need to cut it out and start listening and stop all the preaching. As I said, don't really care about the death thing but certainly don't want to hear about it while I'm dying.

Sometimes you need a break Rabbi, maybe a little quiet time and a vacation? Gets a bit insufferable. Take care of yourself.
Andrea

LoveDog said...

Rami, your 3 part post was a call to action for me. I've given up church years ago but that is not enough. The power of the pen is needed to say "no" this is not my god. I have read several of your books and this 3 part series is your best essential Rami. Thanks for your courage and clarity.

Karen Phillips said...

Rami,
Great series! I have come to feel closer and in more faith to God, as I can barely understand God, through a twelve-step group than one particular religion. I think spirituallity gets lost in religion. I've really been wrestling with my own description of God. About the only thing I've grasped is my idea of God describes an inclusive teacher and for real God is not me or another person. Trying to wrap my small mind around a concept of God is crazy-making for me.

running in alabama said...

You make me think.

You haven't failed.

Dean said...

Hi, Rabbi Rami,

I was enrolled in your class this semester but had to drop it at the last minute due to a scheduling conflict. After reading your four-part series, I am kicking myself. I hope to see you next semester.

As an atheist, I feel your pain. Interfaith dialogue seems to be dialing down the inter-hate long enough to hate on non-believers.

I just concluded a class at MTSU with Dr. Oliver entitled Atheism and Philosophy. It was a rigorous study of the arguments for God as well as a wealth of essays from free-thinkers, skeptics, humanists, philosophers and scientists. We finished off the semester with Sam Harris's "The Moral Landscape" for a diverse discussion of morality without a god.

The class was comprised of believers and nonbelievers from all stripes. We had wonderful, engaging, open and polite discussions about all-things religious. What was most interesting to me was even after weeks of vigorous study, logically dismantling the arguments for God, I don't think anyone changed their beliefs. One thing I will say, when hard questions are put to believers about their beliefs, the Bible becomes very metaphorical and God moves way out there beyond space, time, and understanding. That being said, I don't think it's possible to "fail" at trying to reason with unreasonable people.

This is just a thought, but maybe your talents and passion to fight hate, bigotry, Anti-Semitism, homophobia, misogyny, subjugation of women, and xenophobia would be better spent with us here on the outside. What joy could come from sitting around and having a discussion with a bunch of people who "know" we're going to burn in hell for eternity.

I'll leave you with a quote from that shining diamond of wisdom, Thomas Jefferson:

“Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them; and no man ever had a distinct idea of the trinity. It is the mere Abracadabra of the mountebanks calling themselves the priests of Jesus.”

Sincerely,

Dean Hall

JudyOlson said...

My very dearest Rabbi Rami, I'm with you. Wherever the hell that is. Let's get together in the afterlife for dinner and drinks. I'm sure we'll have plenty of company too!
Seriously, please don't stop writing if you can possibly help it. You are a light of the world.

Lyn Baker said...

Rabbi, the current uprising of evangelical christianity in this country has a definite beginning starting with the Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy which was drafted by a group of christian religious leaders back in the late 70's/early 80's. You need to read it. It scared the crap out of me. I realized that this is what I had gotten sucked into in my search for the truth in the last few years. It is evil and I have ran from it.

There is a specific group of men who have set this course and have guided it for the purposes we see in mainstream America today. These men need to be exposed for who they are and what they are attempting to do socially and politically. It is evil. I'm not trying to start a political discussion here. Just read the statement (it's easy to find on the internet) and then compare it to what you see and hear today, then we can all talk about it.

The way to change people's minds about what and how they believe is to expose the evil behind the teaching. People will flee from it then.

Adventures in Metal Working said...

Dear Rabi Rami-
I have not been following your blog very long, but was happy to have found it. I have thought for many, many years that organized religion has so much to answer for. I want no part of the fear and hatred. Thank you for publishing your thoughts and ideas.
Jane

migali said...

Is success convincing every person to think like you do or is it the ability to start a single person on a lifelong quest to examine their own version of reality?

Rabbi, I would contend that you plant the seeds and how they grow depends on the individual.While you may not like what sprouts, the fact that anything is growing at all can be and should be considered a success in itself.

krissievan said...

Today I heard you speak on CBC radio and immediately thought, 'Finally! Someone who's message resonates with me'. I had to find your blog and get more of your beautiful and true words. Thank you.

krissievan said...

Today I heard you speak on CBC radio and immediately thought, 'Finally! Someone who's message resonates with me'. I had to find your blog and get more of your beautiful and true words. Thank you.

Karen said...

For what it's worth, I think there's a movement growing quietly, of people who are fed up with anyone's religion, dictating to them, or dictating domestic policy, health issues, etc.

Maybe things have to get so rancidly bad, before people start rebelling. I think you're speaking what a lot of people are feeling. I know you have spoken alot my thoughts.

Gina said...

I just happened upon your interview with CBC today and would like to say Thank you. Enjoyed it very much and tend to agree with many of your statements and interpretations.

I've always considered religion(s) to be more of a political venture than a spiritual one; the control factor never sat right with me.

I think I'll head on to over to Amazon now and have a look at your books :)

Peace and light to you and all of us.

Michael said...

While going through some archives at www.cbc.ca, I came across a show called Tapestry with you as guest. What a brilliant show. I live in a dynamic where I am a "non-believer" and my wife and two boys are Baptist Christians. I am not an Atheist, Agnostic, Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, Peace Activist, Environmentalist, or whatever. I am a person that doesn't deny or believe in everything I'm told. I at least try to think objectively, according to my perspective at any given time throughout my life. I do contemplate the beginnings and the ends of life, including ours, our planets, our solar system, and our universe. When someone wants to speak to me about God (the Christian God because he is more in my circle) I don’t say much as I do not want to offend them. However persistent lines like; "God blessed me today because I did this" or "Do you not see God all around you, in the trees and the clouds?" (Yes I have been asked that), tend to eventually bother me. I do not see God in a tree or in clouds or in lakes, and the likes. Maybe I'm not blessed and haven't been from my get go but I cannot profess to having seen such things. I see nature, an essential platform for life on this planet. I see humans as always trying to control nature, including other humans, and have successfully done so. With the multiple religions in the world, I have at many times thought to myself that they all relatively mean the same thing but yet they have all ghettoized. This ghettoization has throughout our time created clashes of theologies (because of control) that have been catastrophic to life. It's a saddening state we are in but I am optimistic now. I've heard you and now I'm thinking of checking out one or more of your books because it will be people like you, with a name being branded for yourself, which will hopefully make people question themselves at a very internal level (I don’t think most people do that). In these days of open information for a lot of "common" people (the layperson I guess), I hope people will as you say (paraphrasing) loosen up on their beliefs and not be so rigid that it affects other life on our infinitely small planet in an unknown universe. It was very inspiring to hear you on that show and I thank you for doing it. Don’t ever stop!

Rabbi Joseph Meszler said...

I have no urge to create a new faith because all it will do is carry the shadow forward in a new, hidden form. As a Jew, I am content to love my faith and God as a Jew...but with utmost honesty and self-examination. I need to study the passages of the Torah where Moses tells the Israelites to commit genocide against the Midianites because it tells of the the dark fantasies that exist inside all of us. Doesn't some animalistic part inside wish to wipe out our enemies?

Isn't Scripture, if it is truly holy, a mirror held up to us by the hand of God to show us the human condition, to ask, "Where are you?" And shouldn't faiths be unafraid of talking about their shadows with each other? Isn't that also interfaith work, not just pretending we are all variations of the Golden Rule?

I do not love my religion because it is superior to others, just like I do not love my grandmother because she was the best person in the world. She wasn't. But she was my grandma. Inescapably so. And so I am Jewish, with its light and shadow, inescapably so.

txlib said...

I am a lifelong Presbyterian. Right now my denomination is at war with itself because of some changes that would make our church more inclusive. I hear my pastor say it is wrong for us to believe that anyone but us can go to heaven. But in the 50 years I have been a member of our denomination my churches have never had that view. I think fundamentalism is creeping into all our mainline churches and it is driving many of us (and the young) who are more inclusive and open minded away. so sad.

txlib said...

I am a lifelong Presbyterian. Right now my denomination is at war with itself because of some changes that would make our church more inclusive. I hear my pastor say it is wrong for us to believe that anyone but us can go to heaven. But in the 50 years I have been a member of our denomination my churches have never had that view. I think fundamentalism is creeping into all our mainline churches and it is driving many of us (and the young) who are more inclusive and open minded away. so sad.

vapid babble said...

Man I wish I had your kind of faith.

"It is imagining a God who is so big as to love everyone whether they believe or not."

Patsy Walker Fine said...

Dear Rabbi Rami,
A friend sent me the four series blogs in May, but didn't get a chance to view them until today when I was cleaning out my inbox. I just wanted to cry with you. While I appreciate the "interfaith" work going on, I am not sure "interfaith" is really possible. I have come to embrace, at least for now, the concept of "interspiritual" - which I do think is not only possible, but also more likely the way to achieve spiritual progress in a global world. I have come to see the sacred texts, of all religions as commentaries of people suffering with dualistic consciousness. To me, these sacred texts can only be understood when one reads them with a unitive mind. In fact, for me at least, they don't make any sense at all, unless understood from a psycho-spiritual perspective as a dialogue between Higher Self and lower self (personality construct). I have come to understand God as a "pronoun" for that which we know now what, yet intuitively yearn for. "Gods" described in all scriptures are as you described, created out of human consciousness, at whatever level that consciousness is anchored at any given time. I'm with you in your comments even though it is costing me in relationship with my own family. I can no longer participate in such a religion of any kind. And I think I may be part of a rapidly growing group, who needs spiritual leaders like you to affirm our often lonely path. I appreciate your work and your spiritual approach.