Sunday, July 20, 2008

Ice Cream is God

Baskin-Robbins is not a place I go for religious insight, but I have to credit them for a true epiphany.

The other day I am talking with a radio producer about doing an interview with me. “In twenty-five words or less,” he said, “tell me your approach to God and religious diversity.” Out of the blue I came up with this:

“Religion is like Baskin-Robbins, and God is like ice cream.” Twelve words!

“OK,” he said, “I’m hooked, now elaborate a bit.” This is what I said:

Baskin-Robbins has 31 flavors of ice cream, but even if you taste them all, you still have no idea what ice cream itself tastes like. The flavors mask the actual taste of ice cream. In fact as far as Baskin-Robbins is concerned there is no such thing as “ice cream itself.” If you order ice cream they want to know what flavor ice cream, and if insist that you don’t want a flavor of ice cream but ice cream itself they have nothing to offer you.

When it comes to Baskin-Robbns ice cream I prefer mocha almond. Imagine you and I go to a Baskin-Robbins, and you order strawberry, and I say, “No, that’s wrong. You are wrong to order strawberry. True ice cream is mocha almond; anything else is something else. If ice cream is what you want, mocha almond is what you must get.” You’d think me mad.

Now think of this in terms of religion. Judaism is one flavor, Christianity another, Islam, Hinduism, Paganism, Buddhism, etc are still others. You may prefer one flavor to all the others, nothing wrong with that. But you would be a fool to insist, as I did in my little fable, that only one of the many flavors is the true one.

“What about Stone Cold Creamery where you make your own flavor?” the producer asked.

Well, I said, you don’t actually make your own flavor you just customize an existing one. This is like a Christian who incorporates something from Native American spirituality into her primary flavor of Christianity. You still don’t have ice cream in and of itself.

“OK,” he said, “so what is the flavor of ice cream? What is God?”

Ice cream without any flavor is unknown and unknowable. It has no taste. Sure, I may be pushing the analogy here, but you get the idea. What mystics desire is to taste ice cream itself, to get beneath all the flavors to the thing itself. And when they do they can go back to the 31 flavors with all their preferences in tact and yet know that preferring mocha almond doesn’t make rum raisin and those who love it wrong or damned.

I like this analogy. I don’t know if I will be asked to go on air with it, but at the very least I should get some payola from Baskin-Robbins.


Karen said...

If only everyone would lovingly accept those who choose a different flavor than their own - what a movement toward peace this world would have.

What a great analogy! All flavors of ice cream have something in common, a "base" (God) to which their flavors, textures, etc. are added and mixed in. It would also be wonderful if everyone would recognize this common ground.

AaronHerschel said...

The Emperor of Ice-Cream--Wallace Stevens

Call the roller of big cigars,
The muscular one, and bid him whip
In kitchen cups concupiscent curds.
Let the wenches dawdle in such dress
As they are used to wear, and let the boys
Bring flowers in last month's newspapers.
Let be be finale of seem.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-

Take from the dresser of deal,
Lacking the three glass knobs, that sheet
On which she embroidered fantails once
And spread it so as to cover her face.
If her horny feet protrude, they come
To show how cold she is, and dumb.
Let the lamp affix its beam.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.

Flavor of the Week said...

Rami, I shared a lunch with you in Chartes last summer, so that indicates, to some degree, the direction I come from. I own an ice cream company. I make ice cream all day long. I thank you for "getting" ice cream. It is an exquisite metaphor for so many things. And I'll be happy to send you some!

Rabbi Rami said...

Thanks for all the thoughtful comments. Karen, thanks for the word "base." I was looking for a word other than "ground" which is not where I want my ice cream to end up, and "base is it."

Aaronherschel, who knew there was poem suited for this topic. Just check the seventh line down from the top: is "be be" right? And then, as is always the case with me and poetry, tell me what it means.

And flavoroftheweek, I tried to email you directly to find out who you are and to learn more about your business, but your profile is blocked and there is no way to get in touch. But I think ice cream making is a spiritual act and gift to the world. If you haven't read it, read "Joseph the Baker" and see hope you might apply it to your work.

Thanks to you all,

Peter Schogol said...

Ah, but there is such a thing as "ice cream." Otherwise Baskin-Robbins would be adding flavor to air.