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I Have Failed, Part 2

by Rabbi Rami ShapiroMay 02, 2012
Grow

I split this blog post into two sections so as to not lose the import of the second part. In “I Have Failed, Part 1” 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.


Rabbi Rami Shipiro

Author and teacher Rabbi Rami Shapiro will lead “Walking Without, Journeying Within”—a trip to the Holy Land with S&H in fall 2018.

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 newest book is The World Wisdom Bible.

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."

To comment on this installment of One For the Road or submit a question, email the editors. Questions may be edited for length and clarity; all are published anonymously.

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