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I Have Failed, Part 4

by Rabbi Rami ShapiroMay 04, 2012
Grow

I seem to have opened a can of worms, and I invite you worms to post your comments on the blog rather than emailing me directly. I can’t respond to each writer, and I have to move on to other matters, but I have been getting some email about my anti-religion attitude. But this is the last post for awhile. (If you're new to this blog, you can read up on the other posts, Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.)

Simply put, a number of writers are saying that living in the South, especially in that part of the South dominated by evangelical and fundamentalist Christians, blinds me to the good religion does. If I had stayed in LA or returned to the Promised Land of Massachusetts from which I hale, I would see things differently. Maybe so. In fact, I hope so. But I live where I live and see what I see, and it saddens me to say the least.

A couple of Sundays ago I attended a lively new church in my town that caters to twentysomethings. The church serves hundreds of young people each Sunday. I love seeing people engaged with religion, and I was hopeful that these “kids” many of whom study at MTSU, a very cosmopolitan and multicultural university, would shape a Christian message of global love and justice. But I was wrong.

The pastor told us his would be a hard message to swallow, but it was the Word of God and could not be challenged. The message was this: If you aren’t a Christian you are going to hell for all eternity. And by Christian he didn’t just mean any old Christian, but Christian as he understood Christian.

This is not a new message, nor is it unique to Christianity. You can hear versions of it in certain mosques, synagogues and temples around the world. This is the message that is tearing apart Africa and the Middle East. It is the message that gave us the Crusades, pogroms, and the Holocaust. It is the message that fosters slavery and apartheid in all its forms. It is a message of hate wrapped in the language of love. God loves you but His love can save you only if you love Him in the way He wants to be loved. Others His love will consign you to hell for all eternity. Now that is tough love.

So if religion is the pitting of one group against all others; if religion is the damning of anyone who believes other than you do; if religion is praising a God so narrow and small as to have but one way to reach Him, then, yes, I am anti-religion. But that’s not all…

If this vision of God is God; if God is a narcissistic, sadistic, and in some faiths sadomasochistic Judge of all the earth, I reject Him and rebel against Him. Sure I can insist that God has nothing in common with the deity worshipped at this church, or I can insist that there is no God of any kind, but that is empty rhetoric that does nothing to stem the power of this God.  This God exists the same way all Gods exist: in the minds, hearts, and often-closed fists of His followers. And because He exists He must be resisted even if, as with the Borg, resistance is futile; even if, as with Zeus, He doesn’t exist.

So if you believe in a jealous and petty God whose love extends only to those who think like you do, I am your enemy. And if you believe in a God who urges you (sometimes subtly, sometimes not) to demonize those who believe other than you do, I am your demon.  And if your Christ is coming back to slaughter my people and all people who believe other than you believe, I am the anti-Christ. And if your God tells you to kill the infidel, then start with me, for I am the Infidel.

It isn’t enough to deny the gods of war, hatred, and demonization; we must rebel against them. We must take to the streets, the airwaves, the Internet, and the press to share the Good News that no one need die—not you, not God—for the way and the truth and the life is for everyone, and living the Way is doing justly and loving mercy and walking humbly with your god. It is a Way of non-harming. It is loving neighbor and stranger. It is being a blessing to all the families of the earth—human and otherwise. It is seeing to the welfare of the living from earth to sea to sky. It is imagining a God who is so big as to love everyone whether they believe or not.

To the Christ of this church I offer the Krishna of the Bhagavad Gita who tells us that all names are his Name and all paths are his Path and all love is love of him. To the Christ of this church I offer the Bible’s Chochma, Sophia, Lady Wisdom who calls all humanity to her table, and teaches us the ways of love of all the living. To the narrowness and fear of petty gods I offer the infinite love and awe of the One who bursts the confines of sect and dogma and religious branding.

So am I anti-religion? If your religion is anti-life and anti-love and anti-justice and anti-compassion and anti-peace and anti-respect, then, yes, I am anti-religion. At least yours.
 


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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