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Minimalist Religion, Maximalist Faith

by Rabbi Rami ShapiroApril 08, 2019
A design made from stained glass


Contributing editor Rabbi Rami asks whether you're a maximalist or a minimalist when it comes to religion and faith.

“When it comes to religion and faith are you a maximalist or a minimalist?”

I’m a wannabe minimalist. I love the Zen esthetic: spaces with sparse furnishings, bare walls, and only those few objects (salvaged from Marie Kondo’s trash?) that bring me joy. Sadly, I live in the midst of total chaos and clutter.

So, when the question “When it comes to religion and faith are you a maximalist or a minimalist?” was put to me the other day, I was surprised and delighted to hear myself say that when it comes to religion I’m a minimalist and when it comes to faith I’m a maximalist. 

I grew up in an Orthodox Jewish home where every aspect of life is informed by 613 mitzvot, or divine commandments. While many of these mitzvot await the coming of the messiah and the resumption of animal sacrifice in the Jerusalem Temple, there are still hundreds that demand to be observed. Today I strive to keep only six: kashrut (I am a vegetarian), tzedakah (charity), gemilut chasadim (acts of loving kindness), brachot (cultivating gratitude through expressions of thanksgiving), Shabbat (I log off from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown), and limmud (continually turning to Torah to discover new insights and meaning in the Hebrew Bible). 

My Jewish practice is .00978792822186% of maximal. When it comes to religion I am a happy minimalist. When it comes to faith, however, I am a maximalist. Or at least I strive to be. 

Faith is not the same as belief or religion. Belief refers to ideas that you hold without any evidence of their being true. Belief is the opposite of fact. Religion is the institution that determines which beliefs are holy and sacred and which are not. Faith is a life-stance, the way you are present to the ten thousand joys and ten thousand sorrows of everyday living. As a faith maximalist, I strive to be open and undefended to them all. To be open and undefended requires that I cling to none and flee from none. So when I’m happy I’m happy; when I’m sad I’m sad; and through it all I know, as King Solomon taught, Gam zeh ya’avor: This too shall pass. 

I am happy with my answer, so now let me put the question to you: When it comes to religion and faith are you a maximalist or a minimalist?

Rabbi Rami Shipiro

Rabbi Rami Shapiro is an award-winning author, essayist, poet, and teacher. His spiritual advice column, “Roadside Assistance for the Spiritual Traveler,” addresses reader questions pertaining to religion, spirituality, faith, family, God, social issues, and more. His latest book is Surrendered—The Sacred Art: Shattering the Illusion of Control and Falling into Grace with Twelve-Step Spirituality.

He has this to say about religion: “To me, religions are like languages: no language is true or false; all languages are of human origin; each language reflects and shapes the mindset of the civilization that speaks it; there are things you can say in one language that you cannot say or cannot say as well in another; and the more languages you know, the more nuanced your understanding of life. Judaism is my mother tongue, yet in matters of the spirit I strive to be multi-lingual. In the end, however, the deepest language of the soul is silence.”

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