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Who's Afraid of Gods?

by Rabbi Rami ShapiroJune 13, 2012

Just how scared of Satan do you have to be to flee in the face of a non-Christian prayer?

This morning I hosted one of my bi-monthly lunches as Wisdom House at Scarritt-Bennett Center. Our theme was “transformation.” Nineteen people attended. We begin the lunch at 11:30 by asking someone to offer grace. This morning we had two women in attendance who were practitioners of Soka Gakkai Buddhism, and they offered to teach us the chant they use: nam-myhoho-renge-kyo (“I devote myself to the Lotus Sutra of the Wonderful Law”).

In addition to our two Buddhists were two young Christians, one who had just graduated high school and his friend who was a college graduate. Both young men were working as servers in a local restaurant for the summer. I had a chance to talk with all four of these people before we began our luncheon, and they seemed really eager to be at Wisdom House.

When we settled down to chant, the older of the two young men said that they would listen but not chant along. No problem; you certainly don’t want to affirm something you cannot in good conscience affirm, but as soon as they heard the first word of the chant they bolted. Literally, they leaped up and ran out the door. I expected them to come back to eat, after all they had pre-paid for their lunch, but they jumped into their car and fled. I have never seen anything like this.

Someone later explained to me that the church to which they said they belonged believed that the prayers of any non-Christian were pleas to the Devil, and that even to sit through one quietly would put their souls at risk.
I have no problem with anyone running to save his soul, but from words? From another person’s heartfelt prayer of gratitude? I began my interfaith studies in my junior year of high school, and I’ve sat through lots of prayers to lots of Gods in decades since, and I never felt any fear for my soul. That may be because I don’t believe I have one (having a personal soul negates my belief that we are all manifestations of the One Soul, the One Self, Brahman, God, etc.), but still, what kind of church raises such frightened followers?

What about you? Do you fear the prayers of others? What would you have done when these two women started to chant? What would you say to these two young men?

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 newest 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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