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By:
Rabbi Rami Shapiro

Rabbi Rami: How Can I Get My Faith Back?

My dad is dying and angry and takes his frustration out on me. I don’t want to abandon him, but being with him is painful. How do I handle this?

Rabbi Rami: Dr. David Reynolds, founder of the Constructive Living movement, teaches three principles that may be of help here: know your purpose; accept your feelings; and do what must be done. Know your purpose: Be clear with yourself about the kind of relationship you want with your dad. Accept your feelings: You can’t control your emotions, and trying to do so will only add to your misery. Acknowledge what you feel, and have compassion for yourself. Do what must be done: Regardless of how you feel, do what you can to cultivate the relationship you want. Your feelings may not change, but your actions will bring you closer to your dad and your purpose.

In Bible study I learned that God is jealous and angry, two emotions I try to avoid. What should I make of this?

Jealous and angry people created a jealous and angry God; merciful and loving people created a merciful and loving God. We end up worshipping ourselves and deifying our biases. Rather than burden yourself with biblical teachings you know in your heart are wrong, seek out and live those you know are right.

My friends and I are called anti-God when we speak out against religious norms that oppress women and girls. How is that anti-God?

God is an anchor to which anything can be tied. I choose to believe in a God who delights in the education, liberation, and empowerment of all humanity. Other people choose other Gods. Standing against these Gods and the oppressive ideas, norms, and regimes they support is an act of moral courage.

Why do people lose their faith, and how can I get mine back?

You lose your faith when you doubt the ideas you’re supposed to believe in. The only way back, then, is to overcome your doubt. If you can’t, you have two options: believe in a God who welcomes doubt, or find a new set of beliefs you can believe in without doubt. Personally, I opt for the former. Doubt isn’t an obstacle to faith but a corrective to blind faith.

I’m ambivalent about God. My religious friends say I’m better off believing than not. After all, if there is no God, what have I lost? And if there is, I’m saved. How can I make myself believe?

This is called Pascal’s Wager, after Blaise Pascal, a 17th-century French philosopher. It isn’t a compelling argument. First, how do you know which God to choose? Pascal was Catholic, but perhaps the Hindu goddess Kali is the true God. And if you profess a faith simply to hedge your bets against damnation, wouldn’t God know this? The best thing is to be true to yourself and to hope that integrity matters more to God than theology.

My Hindu neighbor urged me to pray to Lord Krishna. I told him I’m Christian, and he said I should pray to Lord Jesus because Krishna answers to every name. How can this be?

The Hindu sacred text Rig Veda says, “Truth is one. Different people call it by different names.” No matter what name you use, God is beyond all names. So pray in the name that works for you, and trust that the one who answers is the only one there is.

I’ve been reading all these books by people who had near-death experiences and came back. Should I take their experiences seriously?

Sure. Just remember that near-death experiences tell us more about what we experience as we die, rather than what happens when we are dead. Many people who have been near death find themselves drawn to a light of unending love that welcomes them home. Drawing near to this love and then returning to earth makes people live more lovingly. You don’t have to die to benefit from this idea; all you have to do is live more lovingly here and now.

Is it true that “without God all things are permitted”?

That idea is credited to Ivan in Dostoyevsky’s Brothers Karamazov . The problem with it is that God permits some pretty terrible things: slavery, genocide, war, racism, terrorism, and misogyny, to name but six. I prefer the opposite idea: “with God all things are permitted.” I’m wary of people who speak in God’s name, fearing they are using God to bolster their own agenda.