Just Too God to be True*

“God does everything for me. No, seriously, everything. I have no idea what’s best for me but God does and that’s why everything that happens to me happens because God is taking care of me. Don’t you agree with that?”

No, I don’t. First, nothing happens to you. You are what is happening. You are not apart from life so that life happens to you, you are a part of life and life happens with you, in you, through you, as you.

Second, the reason you have no idea what is best for you is because there is no “best.” “Best” implies there is some plan you are to follow, some “you” you have to become. But there is no plan and no you other than the you happening at this moment, a you that is transient and the product of infinite causes that are themselves the product of infinite causes.

Third, your theology makes God irrelevant. Your God is merely a deus ex machina, a ghost in the machinery of your material existence.

And finally, your theology leaves you passive, morally empty, while at the same time highly narcissistic. God is running the entire universe for your benefit?

“Excuse me! Don’t you think you’re being a bit rude interrupting me like this? I wasn’t talking to you!”

Of course. How rude of me. Sorry. It wasn’t my fault, of course, God just needed you to hear what I had to say.

* Conversation I had when I butted in on someone else’s conversation about God in Boston’s Logan International Airport.

If I Were President: My Iowa Speech

I have begun to explore starting my own exploratory committee regarding a run for the presidency. To get a feel for what this might like, I imagined the speech I would have made in Iowa recently had I been among the Republican presidential wannabes visiting the state trolling for dollars and votes.

The key to winning Iowa as a Republican is winning over the hard-core far right evangelical vote. Speaking directly to this constituency, I would say the following:

My fellow Americans, as Betsy Smith sang as she knit our nation’s flag, “God bless America!” Like you I am pro-God, pro-gun, pro-family, and pro-fetus, and while my opponents claim to be the same, they cannot match me in my devotion to these ideals.

I am pro–God, so pro-God, that I don’t care what God we are talking about. It can be Christ or Kali, Krishna or Allah, Yahweh or Vishnu, if it’s a God I’m all for it. And I would put God back in the public schools requiring students to pray each morning to the God of their choice. And to those Americans who lack a God I would give them one to try, a new one each week, until they find the God that works for them. Because without a God to tell us what to think we might have to think for ourselves and we know where that leads—communism!

I am also pro-Gun. Like you I hate background checks when buying my guns, but it isn’t enough to get rid of this government meddling in our right to bear arms and build arsenals, we have to be pro-active. So, if elected, I would push for a bill that would send a brand new made in America revolver to every fertilized egg in this country, assuming its parents are here legally.

And speaking of legal immigration I would put an end to Mexicans illegally crossing the US-Mexican border by doing away with the border and annexing Mexico all together. I would then legalize the drug trade and put the cartels on the NASDAQ.

I am more pro–family than my opponents, and I will, as president, make all abortion illegal in this country. But more than that, I will make all sex that is not explicitly for procreation illegal as well. I will require anyone purchasing contraception of any kind to undergo a background check and register their contraceptive device with the government to make sure that they are not using these items to prevent conception.

Global warming is a hot topic for many, and I do believe in global warming but only in the summer, and never in that other hemisphere that for some reason gets its summer during the winter. No that is some crazy climate stuff. Anyway, the key to combatting global warming is global cooling, so I would require every American to run her or his air conditioner at maximum throughout the year while keeping all windows open. Speaking of science I find the notion of evolution appalling. But my opponents do as well. What makes me the right choice is that not only do I deny the theory of evolution, but I deny the existence of Darwin as well!

My opponents oppose government sanction of gay marriage, and of course I agree. But I surpass them in that I oppose government sanction of all marriage. When God married Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden He didn’t require them to have a license issued by the state. We must get the government out of the marriage business, and leave that to the churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples.

Lastly I will balance the budget by doing away with all social spending. If God wanted us to care for the poor he’d have said so. The same with so called wealth inequality. As Jesus said, it is better for a rich man to own a camel herd then to stick a needle in the eye of a poor man.

Vote for me and I promise you a nation that fears God and anything else that will keep me in power. God bless all Americans here legally. Especially me.

Onward Christian Soldiers

Imagine Israel’s response to Muslims beheading dozens of Jews. Or to Muslims attacking a college, isolating the Jewish students, and then executing them. Or to Muslims tossing Jews off a ship to drown. Or to Muslims bombing Jewish villages. Well you don’t have to imagine the last two as these actually happened, but my guess is that Israel would take it upon herself to defend Jews as best she could through military options and/or facilitated immigration to Israel.

So why is there no such response in the Christian world when just such things are happening to Christians around the globe? True, the only Christian State left is the Vatican, and the chances of the Swiss Guard taking on ISIS is pretty slim, but what about the United States?

Millions of Americans believe that ours is a Christian Nation. Why don’t they rise up in defense of their fellow Christians around the world? Why don’t they establish a paramilitary force, a Christian Foreign Legion if you like, devoted to making war against those who make war on Christians? Thousands of Americans belong to Christian militias, why don’t they ship themselves overseas and fight the real enemies of Christ? If Mormons can send thousands of missionaries around the world to make converts, why can’t the rest of the Protestant world train and deploy millions of their sons and daughters to save their fellow Christians?

For a religion so aligned with God, guns, grits, and gravy to be unable to come to the defense of their coreligionists is appalling. The real threat to Christianity isn’t abortion, evolution, marriage equality, Social Security, Obamacare, or the platitude “Happy Holidays.” The real threat to Christianity is that it is all talk and no action. Constantine is turning over in his grave, and Jesus would be also if he hadn’t left his on the third day. Churches are being destroyed and Christians are being murdered, and all you can do is worry about is catering a gay wedding? How sad is that?

Onward, Christian soldiers!

Thanks for the Memories: In Praise of Anti-Gay Discrimination

Kevin O’Connor and his daughter own Memories Pizza in Walkerton, Indiana. They were the first to say they would use Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act to legitimize their refusal to cater a gay wedding. Not that anyone asked them to do so–pizza at your wedding is so 2014; they just wanted to get ahead of the curve.

Indiana’s RFRA has since been revised, and as of this writing, Memories was forced to close because of all the negative press it received, though a fund to help the O’Connors has raised over $800K to dates, so I guess discrimination pays.

Memories Pizza won’t cater a gay wedding because it is a “Christian establishment.” I assume that means that you can see the faces of Jesus and Mary in their pizzas. It also means that they believe homosexuality is a chosen lifestyle. As Kevin put it, “I choose to be heterosexual. They choose to be homosexual. Why should I be beat over the head to go along with something they choose?”

Why indeed? I mean why choose to be heterosexual? Why not choose to be bi-sexual and double your chances of getting a date? Kevin went on to say that as Christians he and his daughter also don’t believe in murder or abortion, so I guess they won’t be catering these events either.

In a related incident Georgia florist and amateur theologian Melissa Jeffcoat told CNN that she wouldn’t provide flower arrangements for a gay wedding, “Jesus died on the cross for me, so that’s the least I can do for him.”

Is that right? Is that the least she can do, or is there something even least-er? And since when did Jesus ask us to do the least? I thought he taught us to care for the least not do the least (Matthew 25). Maybe I misunderstood him.

Anyway I wish these folks well. My hope is that someday God will choose to incarnate as a Jewish boy and walk among us and teach us to love one another as he loves us. Until then I’m going to have Melissa send a dozen roses to Kevin and his daughter at Memories Pizza. It’s the least I can do.

Ten Thoughts for Easter Sunday

1. For many Christians, Easter is an historical fact. For me Easter is a two–fold spiritual truth.

2. The first truth of Easter, the meaning of the empty tomb, is that death cannot kill the ideals of justice and compassion.

3. The second truth of Easter, the meaning of the resurrected Christ, is that humans have the capacity to become one with God and realize their innate divinity.

4. Jesus is not the only Jew to become divine. Enoch is taken into Heaven (Gen 5:24) and becomes the archangel Metatron.

5. The transformation of Jesus and Enoch into divine beings speak to the human capacity for divine awakening and realization.

6. On Good Friday Jesus says, “Take up your cross and follow me.” On Easter Sunday he says, “Don’t stop at the cross, follow me to Godhood!”

7. For many, worshipping Jesus as Christ is enough. For me only realizing the mind that was in Jesus will suffice. (Philippians 2:5)

8. I am a Christian in that I find truth in the stories and teachings of Jesus. In the same way I am a Jew, a Hindu, a Moslem, and a Buddhist.

9. I am not a Christian in that I cannot read the stories about Jesus as history. In the same way I am not a Jew, a Hindu, a Moslem, or a Buddhist.

10. There were no Christians during the lifetime of Jesus. Only Jews who loved him, Jews who hated him, and the vast majority of Jews who never heard of him.

Ten Thoughts on Passover

1. Pesach/Passover is the story of liberation. If you only tell the tale and don’t live the liberation you are missing the point.

2. Egypt in Hebrew is Mitzrayyim, the Narrow Places. It is not a state but a state of mind. Where are you enslaved this Passover?

3. Tonight we sing, “Once we were slaves, now we are free.” Before you sing this, see if it is true. What does it mean to be free?

4. Pharaoh is both a person and an archetype. Just as we are all Hebrews enslaved to something, we are all Pharaohs enslaving others. This week see where you are playing Pharaoh.

5. Moses is our capacity to speak truth to power, to challenge the narcissism of Pharaoh with the justice and compassion of God. Tonight is a time for assessing your MQ, you Moses Quotient.

6. Moses learns that God is Ehyeh asher Ehyeh, not “I am what I am,” but “I am what is happening.” God is all reality. Knowing this is the greatest liberation.

7. God hardens Pharaoh’s heart only after Pharaoh himself does so. This is Torah-speak for the power of habit to lock us into evil even when we know better.

8. The plagues are a consequence of oppression. Look to see where you are playing Pharaoh and what it is costing you and those you love.

9. Passover shows the power of being God over the power of playing god. You are God and you play god. Passover is a time for realizing the former and putting an end to the latter.

10. Tonight we sing Dayyenu, “It is enough.” This week go through your possessions & free yourself from everything that is more than enough. And do something to help those who do not have enough to move toward having enough.

Ten Thoughts on Good Friday

Ten thoughts for Good Friday:

1. You don’t have to be a Christian to honor Good Friday.

2. I don’t believe in Jesus as Christ, but Jesus as rabbi, mystic, and exemplary Jew.

3. Jesus never rejects Torah, but wrestles with it deeply. This alone shows his love of Judaism.

4. Jesus offered a new way to deal with oppression: nonviolent resistance. Read Walter Wink’s books on Jesus.

5. Good Friday invites us to experience the fear, doubt, & aloneness that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.”

6. Read Mark’s Gospel on the crucifixion. This is the oldest account and the most raw and honest.

7. Jesus’ death shows us the price of love speaking as justice. His cross is not enough You must take up your own as well.

8. Taking up your cross means placing your life on the line for justice. Something I admit is very hard for me.

9. The cross is not a metaphor: it is the real possibility of death that comes with standing against evil.

10. I don’t think Jesus died for our sins. I think he was murdered because of them.

Please Rabbi, accept Jesus and be saved

This Friday marks both the murder of Jesus and the Exodus of the Jews from Egyptian slavery. This morning I received the following email:

Dear Rabbi,
I hope you receive this with love as that is how I am sending it. Tomorrow you Jews will celebrate your escape from Egyptian slavery, but not your escape from sin. You were freed so that you could freely accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, but instead you accepted the false god of Law. But My God doesn’t give up on you that easily. Tomorrow I invite you to accept true liberation by accepting Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. God forbid you should fail to do this and die during the coming year. You will find the fires of Hell far more tortuous that the slave pits of Egypt. Please, Rabbi, you know in your heart what is True: Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, (John 14:6). Accept him.

This is what I wrote back in response:

Dear X,

Thank you for your heartfelt concern for my salvation. And please know that regarding your invitation to accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior, I would if I could, but I can’t. Let me explain.

First the notion that any God, let alone the God of Love, would threaten me with eternal damnation in Hell simply for not believing what you believe is so appalling to me, that I reject that God out of hand.

Second, the notion that someone has to die in order for me to get right with God is something I simply cannot accept. Priestly Judaism shares the same idea, but my understanding of God requires no person or animal to die on my behalf. And

Third, as for what I know in my heart it is this: All beings are a manifestation of the One Being I call God; to the extent I recognize this I engage the world with compassion and justice; to the extent I fail to recognize this I engage the world with fear and oppression. I believe Jesus knew this. I sense you do not.

So I am afraid that this year too will see me decline the invitation to become a Christian. But, in the spirit of love no less authentic than your own, let me invite you to celebrate Passover and seek to free yourself from enslavement to ideas that perpetuate the brutality, arrogance, and chutzpah common to so many who claim to people of faith.

Sincerely,
Rabbi Rami

Passing Over Passover?

Passover begins this Friday. For one week I will do my best to uncover where I am a Hebrew and where I am a Pharaoh: where I am enslaved, and where I am enslaving others. It changes each year, which is why Passover never gets “old.”

Personalizing Passover this way allows me to ignore the fact that the story of the Exodus is morally troubling fiction. We Jews often play dumb when it comes to the “history” portrayed in the Haggadah/Passover liturgy. We seem clueless as to why a new Pharaoh turned against us when it was Joseph, our man in Egypt, who enslaved the entire Egyptian population to a previous Pharaoh (Genesis 47:21). Without Joseph Pharaoh would not be Pharaoh.

The new Pharaoh feared the Hebrews with good reason: the only people not enslaved by Joseph were his fellow Hebrews and the Egyptian priesthood; the only people not hampered by the seven years of famine that crippled Egypt and allowed Joseph to enslave the people were the Hebrews and the Egyptian priesthood. The only people with the potential to resist him were the Hebrews, so he did to them what Joseph had done to the rest of Egypt: he reduced them to slaves. So much for us Jews owning the moral high ground in this story.

Then there is the “fact” that God plagues all Egyptians when in fact it was Pharaoh who was responsible for the plight of the Hebrews. Abraham tried to correct God’s penchant for collective punishment in Genesis 18:25, but God seems not have learned from that encounter. And then there is the fact that an all-powerful God could have liberated the Hebrews without torturing the Egyptians, but chose instead to harden Pharaoh’s heart and kill the innocent along with the guilty just to show the world He (sic) was God.

The God of Exodus is a psychopath. Why am I celebrating this story again?

Oh yeah, because it’s “really” about my personal quest for liberation and not the narrative of Exodus.

But honestly it gets harder and harder to maintain this ruse, and to care about this holy day. I’m pretty much done with the threats of the High Holy Days (“Who shall live and who shall die”), the jingoism of Hanukkah, and the silliness and murderous vengeance of Purim. The only holy day I look forward to is Sukkot and its celebration of nature’s bounty in the midst of nature’s impermanence.

I wonder if the only way to salvage Judaism is to reduce it to shallow spiritual self–help. That certainly seems to be what I’m reduced to doing. This may be the last refuge of a nonbeliever who just cannot drop allegiance to the tribe.

CNN finds Religions

I am lazy. I prefer taking self-help quizzes to find out about myself to the hard work of psycho-spiritual examination. This morning a took the CNN quiz that is tied in with their special on Atheists. It was very helpful.

The first question asked if I believed in God. I said yes. They never asked me what I believed about God or what the God was that I believed in or what I took the word “God” to mean. Either I believed in God, however imagined, or not. I said yes.

That was the only question they asked about God. Six questions about religion and my willingness to argue about religion in the Internet later, and the quiz revealed that I “was not sure whether God exists”.

How they got from my affirmation of belief to agnosticism I don’t know. But there it is: I’m agnostic. No getting around it; quizzes like this don’t lie.

• • •

I’ve been watching CNN’s Finding Jesus: Faith, Facts, and Forgery. Four episodes in and all we’ve got is forgery: The Shroud of Turin, a finger of John the Baptist, the Gospel of Judas, and the ossuary of James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus. While the show proves that these items are not what they claim to be, the show is careful to include a few people of faith who doubt the facts and thus keep alive the slim hope that these aren’t forgeries. [Technically the Gospel of Judas isn’t a forgery, but a revisionist history designed to paint Judas in a better light.] Next week the subject is the wood of the True Cross. Chances are it will prove to be wood, but not much more.

The show claims to discover “fascinating new insights into the historical Jesus, utilizing the latest scientific techniques and archaeological research.” In fact it is little more than a remake of any number of pseudo documentaries from the History Channel.

I get why CNN is doing this: Holy Week is coming, and  CNN is exploiting Jesus to get ratings. Nothing wrong with that; churches do the same thing every Sunday. But I was hoping for something more than Dan Brown lite. There is so much that is vital and interesting and important to tell us about Judaism and Jesus in the first century; there is so much we can learn about how the Gospels were written, who the real Paul was and which letters he did and did not write among the Epistles of the New Testament, and what the Gnostic Gospels are really about. But we will learn none of this. What a waste.