Tuesday, May 01, 2012

I Have Failed, Part Two


I split this blog post into two sections so as to not lose the import of the second part. In “I Have Failed, Part One” I bemoaned the fact that try as I did to get my students to think critically about the Bible and the God it offers, they still held to their belief that God can do no evil, and all apparent evil done by God and in God’s name is just that, apparent evil, and in fact, when we learn the truth, isn’t evil at all.

I ended that essay with my fear that the world my students will create will be no different than the one they inherit: a world filled with competing gods, each outdoing the other in promoting ignorance, greed, violence, and xenophobia. If this is true, and I clearly think it is, I have to suggest another failure: the failure of my efforts to change any of this.

I have been doing so-called Interfaith work for decades, but to what end?

The Interfaith movement seems to do nothing to challenge the beliefs of people. Its leaders, usually the most liberal members of any given faith, seem content to run panels where clergy of different faiths can expound their truths and sit politely and silently while their competition does the same. There is rarely any attempt to get beyond this PC pabulum. All we ask of one another is that we each do our best to tone down the evil in our respective scriptures, or, failing that, do what we can to minimize the faithful acting it out, or, failing that, attend an Interfaith service to mourn the dead who have died because our gods demanded their deaths.

What I want is something very different. I want us to realize that religions are human constructs, acts of the imagination tapping archetypal forms that speak to the human condition in ways that, when approached wisely, allow us to work with our shadow, to harness that dark energy in service to goodness, justice, and compassion. I want us to see religion as mytho-poetic fingers pointing to something we cannot fully grasp, let alone own.

I don’t want us to deny God, only to free ourselves from idols.

I don’t want to put an end to religion or religious diversity, but I do want to put an end to the arrogance, ignorance, and fear that so many religious institutions and leaders perpetuate in order to rouse the faithful to demonize “the other.”

I don’t want to dismantle efforts to find common ground among religions in the pursuit of compassion and justice, I want to raise compassion and justice up as the universal standard toward which all religions must strive, and by which each religion is measured.

I don’t want to dismiss the truth claims of this or that faith, but I do wish to define truth as that which liberates us to be ever more compassionate and just, and to dismiss as damnable lies anything that doesn’t.

But I don’t see this happening. If anything, Interfaith efforts turn a blind eye to religious evil and the dark gods who condone and command it by insisting that this god isn’t real. But he is real, and far more real than the liberal gods of most Interfaith institutions. A god is a real as his or her capacity to motivate the actions of her or his followers. A god that can blow up a bus is far more real than a god who can only weep over the dead. The god that demands the oppression of women, homosexuals, and myriads of other people labeled as “other” is alive and well and powerful enough to turn the hearts of otherwise decent people to stone.

Honestly, I have no idea where I belong anymore. Perhaps I should identify with the NONES. Or perhaps my real camp is the camp of the DONES. 

12 comments:

No One Special said...

Investing in the outcome of one's actions is the ego's seduction.

Charles Kinnaird said...

Keep on trying, Rabbi. It may not happen (probably will not happen) in this generation but even if we can inch peoples' understanding forward, there is some good and some repair in that.

I just posted on my blog a piece about the Norwegians' inspiring response to their tragedy at the hands of a terrorist act. As a Southerner who has heard plenty of Evangelicals belittle Europeans for their "dead churches" and "lack of faith" I see Norway in this incident as embodying the teachings of Christ to a far greater extent than my Evangelical brothers here in the Bible Belt.

So there is hope that more can "define truth as that which liberates us to be ever more compassionate and just," as you eloquently state in your post.

Derek said...

“The only real failure in life is the failure to try.” Anonymous. Truth is in the trying.

Derek said...

Oddly enough, in the news today: http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2012/05/01/151775572/study-less-religious-are-more-motivated-by-compassion-than-highly-religious?ft=1&f=1001

Cedegrace said...

Rabbi, it is clear to me where you "belong". You belong in the long line of PROPHETS. They ALL failed! Maybe I should put failed in quotation marks. Because there is a wave coming; a small wave thus far, but it's growing, and prophets like you are riding on top of it.
Never, never, never give up.

Mittie said...

You haven't failed. The time may not be now, but like the @Cedegrace said - there is a wave coming.

Never give up, because if we don't try then we are all lost.

Rabbi Rami said...

Thanks for these positive comments. This is not what is coming in via email.

Julie said...

Rami, if you gave up, I wouldn't laugh nearly as much or take the deep breaths I take when I read your blog. I encourage respites but not retirements :) Blessings to you.

Lyn Baker said...

Rabbi, you are making an assumption that these religious leaders want the same thing you do, and, quite frankly their actions speak much louder than their words, they don't. You are asking them to give up two things that they can't do without: money and power. Hate to say it, but you'll never win them over unless you can either buy them or muscle them. Your writing, however, is the better path. Your writing goes around them. Please continue.

Karen said...

Rabbi, I count on your blog and your columns to be a sane voice in an insane world. Personally, I think religion has less to do with any kind of spirituality and god, than it does with rules and power. I am speaking broadly of course - there are many people of all faiths, who make a real difference in the day to day lives of the others. And because they're humble people, believing what they want in their hearts, but acting with compassion to their fellow man, we never hear about them. I think you're a leader and an inspiration. Please don't stop.

EP Starling said...

"I want us to realize that religions are human constructs, acts of the imagination tapping archetypal forms that speak to the human condition in ways that, when approached wisely, allow us to work with our shadow, to harness that dark energy in service to goodness, justice, and compassion. I want us to see religion as mytho-poetic fingers pointing to something we cannot fully grasp, let alone own."

Yes, yes, yes! You have your finger on the truth here. It’s so rare that I see someone articulate it so clearly.

Don’t despair. There are those of us out here trying to get out the same message. (I know, I feel so alone so often that I wonder if I’m really crazy, since I seem to be the “only” one who feels this way.) It’s history’s lesson to show us that people find, and ultimately worship, idols far more often than the divine. This includes worship of religion (and its scriptures) itself. Even if the divine is lurking behind the rites and the dogma and the sacred texts, those things themselves are not God. And like other human constructs—including government—the human institution of religion can be used to effect great good—or great evil.

I hope you will continue in your quest. Clearly there are those of us who share your journey.

EP Starling said...
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