by Rabbi Rami Shapiro: On a mission trip to Haiti I was told that Haitian slaves sold their souls to the Devil in 1791 to overthrow their French masters…
and they continue to suffer because of that. Is this true?
Rabbi Rami: When we imagine that the only way black slaves can overthrow white slavers is by aligning themselves with the Devil, we are saying that freedom is satanic. When we say that Haiti suffers because of Satan rather than colonialism, corporate greed, and political corruption, we are saying that justice is satanic. Helping Haiti is good, demonizing Haitians while doing so is devilish.
I’m a long-time meditator, yet I’m no closer to enlightenment now than when I started. What practice will bring me enlightenment?
None. Enlightenment is the realization that each moment is an expression of eternity, and every being is a manifesting of the One Being the way every wave is a manifesting of the singular ocean. When you truly know this, enlightenment is irrelevant, and you will simply do justly, act kindly, and walk humbly (Micah 6:8) because there is nothing else you can do. Practice being enlightened rather than getting enlightened.
Does God exist?
No. God is existence: the singular Happening happening as all that is happening moment to moment. When you look through a telescope or a microscope you are looking at God. When you look in a mirror or through a window you are looking at God. When you see God in, with, and as all things, you cultivate justice and compassion for all things.
I’m new to your magazine. What’s so healthy about spirituality?
Spirituality is about opening yourself up to love, compassion, hope, justice, and possibility. It’s about daring to see what is without the distortion of belief and creed. Spirituality is living without a net, and being surrendered to the awesome and the awful with tranquillity. Living spiritually is living a life beneficial to the thriving of self and other, and that is the healthiest thing any of us can do.
Jesus taught me to care for “the least of these” (Matthew 25:45). I look at Donald Trump and Mike Pence and so many so-called Christian conservatives, and all I see are people who ignore Jesus even as they make a show of worshiping Christ. What’s happened to Christianity?
Once religion is captured by politics, its concern shifts from compassion to control, piety to power, and empowerment to exploitation. Once religion is coopted by nationalism, jingoism becomes the new creed, and propaganda masquerades as prophetic wisdom. Once religion is a tool of the state, it no longer speaks truth to power, but rather sacrifices truth to secure its power. This is true of every religion. If you want to save religion, you must boycott all ideologies that demonize the other, divest yourself of all religious institutions that promote injustice, and support sanctions against every act of cruelty done in the name of God.
As a Mormon I’ve participated in many posthumous baptisms of Jews. Does this bother you?
Not at all. Mormons believe we Jews burn in Hell when we die, and that by accepting posthumous baptism as Mormons we get a Get Out of Hell Free card. I’m all for it. I wish every religion that fetishizes the torture of nonbelievers after they die would do this. While I don’t believe you’re right, I certainly appreciate the effort.
What do you think about the idea that human evil is the price God charges for human freedom—that without free will we’d be robots?
Consider this: If you lacked free will and could only be kind, just, and respectful, would you yearn for the freedom to pillage, plunder, rape, and murder? Of course not; you wouldn’t even know that such things are possible, because they wouldn’t be. People believe in a God who gave us free will so they can believe in a God who punishes people who believe and act differently from them. Evil is real, and what you do about it matters. In this case, God is merely a distraction.
Can you recommend a guru I can follow?
Any of the Hasbro egg-shaped Weebles will do. “Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down” is their core teaching, and you would do well to embrace it. Be open to the wildness of life—embrace the wobbles—and cultivate a center of spiritual gravity that allows you to ride out life’s storms rather than drowning in them.
I raised my children without religion, but they want to raise theirs in one. How should they choose which religion to join?
First, don’t choose a religion because your friends like it, or the music is cool, or the ritual is moving, or the people are friendly, or the building is impressive, or the leader is charismatic. Rather, choose a religion because its teachings point beyond themselves toward the Truth no religion can own; because its worldview rejects the dualism of saved and damned, chosen and not chosen, true believer and infidel, high caste and low; because it rises above tribe, caste, clan, race, ethnicity, and nationalism; because it embraces rational thought and scientific inquiry without sacrificing poetry, imagination, and contemplative practice; because it celebrates equality among and between men and women; because it demonizes no one; because it honors nature and respects all life; because it works to heal this world rather than escape to some other; because it upholds the dignity of all beings, human and otherwise; because its clergy empower you rather than themselves; because it offers you practices that open your heart, unclench your fists, and uncloud your mind; and because its fundamental aim is to free you from isms and ideologies rather than stuff you into one. If you find such a religion, let me know.