Posts Tagged ‘Rabbi Rami Shapiro’

humility and disaster

May 13, 2010
Rabbi Rami comments on religious responses to the flood, with a healthy contempt for those who
see in their personal escape from damage and death, the blessing of a god also constructed in their image that blesses them while sweeping away their neighbors’ homes, livelihoods, and even lives.
Well-spoken, Rami.

But to me, a non-religious (but still humble and, if you like, “spiritual”) response seems more to the point: humane compassion for the victims, a better and more ecologically-informed understanding of nature and the climatic conditions responsible for extreme weather events,  more pro-active flood-preparedness, a resolve to meet future crises as efficiently and cooperatively as humanly possible, and above all (as you say): the admission that disaster is a looming and permanent possibility of life on earth about which we know little. What we do know, or by now should, is that we humans can  rely on no one but ourselves to bail when the waters rise.

We must save ourselves. We must get, in Rami’s words, beyond religion.



January 13, 2010

I was praising my colleague Rabbi Rami the other day, for the cosmopolitan/pluralistic spirit of his openness to the arcana of Hindu spirituality in peaceful coexistence with his equally distinctive native cultural identity. He follows up here:

God is change, reality is change, you and I are change. Note I didn’t say we are changing for that implies we are something that changes into something else. This is not so. To be change is to be nothing at all. The “I” I feel myself to be at this moment is not the same as the I, I felt myself to be a moment ago. What ties moments together is the narrative I spin about who I am. The story creates a continuity that reality rejects.

Interesting. But here’s where the pragmatic radical empiricist (me) must part company with the Rabbi. The “I” changes, but there’s real continuity in experience. To change is not to be nothing, it’s to be something incomplete but in the making. Narrative spin may distort reality’s continuity but does not spin it from whole cloth, except in the purest cases of delusion and mania.

See, that was Goober‘s problem. (“It seems like the me that is really me and was bein’ held back by the I that I am is comin’ out all over my face.”) He tried to spin a self-narrative that conflicted with the reality of his actual relationships in Mayberry. This matters because it shows we can err in our interpretations of experience but can also correct our errors. “Corrections” make no sense in a world of pure discontinuity.  Like it or not, our stories have to fit the stubborn facts.  I happen to like it.

So, I respect many elements in the respective story-lines of Hinduism and Judaism and Christianity and Buddhism and Taoism and on and on (and on thru most ‘isms, insofar as they’re rooted in the actual experiences of real people). But I won’t become an Initiate myself. I’m keeping a respectful distance, it being the spin most in keeping with the continuities of my own experience.

Bertrand Russell

December 2, 2009

Our whirlwind recap of the history of philosophy brings us into the twentieth century today. Where to begin? I nominate Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), logical atomist and comic book hero, arguably the most famous, influential, witty “public intellectual” of all time, and an old atheist.

We want to stand upon our own feet and look fair and square at the world — its good facts, its bad facts, its beauties, and its ugliness; see the world as it is and be not afraid of it. Conquer the world by intelligence and not merely by being slavishly subdued by the terror that comes from it. The whole conception of a God is a conception derived from the ancient oriental despotisms. It is a conception quite unworthy of free men. When you hear people in church debasing themselves and saying that they are miserable sinners, and all the rest of it, it seems contemptible and not worthy of self-respecting human beings. We ought to stand up and look the world frankly in the face. We ought to make the best we can of the world, and if it is not so good as we wish, after all it will still be better than what these others have made of it in all these ages. A good world needs knowledge, kindliness, and courage; it does not need a regretful hankering after the past or a fettering of the free intelligence by the words uttered long ago by ignorant men. It needs a fearless outlook and a free intelligence. It needs hope for the future, not looking back all the time toward a past that is dead, which we trust will be far surpassed by the future that our intelligence can create.

“Why I am Not a Christian” has inspired imitators, including Ramendra Nath’s “Why I am Not a Hindu” and Ibn Warraq’s “Why I am Not a Muslim.” My colleague (Rabbi) Rami Shapiro has been eloquent on why he cannot consider himself exclusively Jewish (or anything else). Poems have been written about not being Buddhist. Here’s a “five birds with one” shot.  And inevitably: “Why I am Not an Atheist.”

Warraq (whose What the Koran Really Says was the subject of an earlier post) and others have also issued a declaration of principles that would swell Russell’s (or Tom Jefferson’s) chest. It begins,

We are secular Muslims, and secular persons of Muslim societies. We are believers, doubters, and unbelievers, brought together by a great struggle, not between the West and Islam, but between the free and the unfree.

We affirm the inviolable freedom of the individual conscience. We believe in the equality of all human persons.

We insist upon the separation of religion from state and the observance of universal human rights…

Whole Earth

November 21, 2009

“Mr. [Stewart] Brand got his first look at the big picture one afternoon in 1966 while sitting on a roof in San Francisco [and consuming LSD]… He printed up buttons asking, ‘Why haven’t we seen a photograph of the whole Earth yet?'” NYTimes, 2.27.07

“To see the Earth as it truly is, small and blue and beautiful in that eternal silence where it floats, is to see ourselves as riders on the Earth together, brothers on that bright loveliness in the eternal cold–brothers who know now that they are truly brothers.”  Archibald MacLeish

Rabbi Rami notes in his blog “Toto”: In the current issue of Kosmos (Fall/Winter 2009) Mark Gerzon offers a two-part exploration of global citizenship. Using the analogy of upgraded computer software, Mark identifies five iterations of citizenship:

Citizen 1.0— Worldview based on one’s self (egocentric).
Citizen 2.0— Worldview based on one’s group (ideocentric).
Citizen 3.0— Worldview based on one’s nation (sociocentric).
Citizen 4.0— Worldview based on multiple cultures (multicentric).
Citizen 5.0— Worldview based on the whole earth (geocentric).*

Rami rightly points out that this is not a new insight, but maybe its time is coming. He asks:

As more and more of us become Citizen 5.0 what will happen to Religion 2.0? As I become more geocentric, can I maintain Zionism? As I recognize the blending of many spiritual teachings in my own life can I maintain Judaism as my singular religious identity?

For me the answer is clearly “no.” The more global I become the less exclusively anything I become. The more global I become the more I find myself articulating what I believe to be true using metaphors drawn from all the world’s religions. The more I live with Citizen 5.0 the more I experience Religion 5.0 and refuse to be limited to any one faith. My loyalty is to truth, and no religion has a monopoly on that. I draw from art, literature, philosophy, science, music, mysticism, myth, etc. to create a rich 5.0 tapestry of reality reflecting what I experience as real. And I no longer care where it comes from.

It could come from a hydrated moon, maybe?

*Citizen 6.0— Worldview based on the whole cosmos (cosmopolitan).