Neti Neti: A Manifesto to End Religious Violence
by Rami Shapiro
Humans are intrinsically religious. Religions are intrinsically human; we make them in our own image, after our own likeness, often to conjure divine sanction for what we know is evil. Religion isn't evil, but it is dangerous. When lived as mythos rather than logos, religion offers paths to self-transcendence rooted in compassion. When lived as logos rather than mythos, self-transcendence is blocked, and religion breeds fanaticism, self-obsession, xenophobia, arrogance, and violence. We live in an age of fanatics and fantasies where religions rooted in jealous gods are hijacked by even more jealous demagogues, and the pious are imprisoned in a fog of self-serving lies. My passion is to lift the fog and free others and myself for self-transcendence. My method involves the Neti Neti (Sanskrit for "Not this, Not that") Manifesto.
For the past few years I have used the Neti Neti Manifesto to foster conversations across the United States about the nature of religious violence. I invite you to do the same. Share the following manifesto and ask people if they are among the "we" for whom it speaks. If the answer is yes, ask them to explore the implications of their affirmation. If no, ask them to explore the implications of their rejection.
Neti Neti Manifesto
We believe God transcends theology; that no idea about God can adequately encompass the reality of God. We believe that revelation is not given to people, but through people to the world. We believe that the truth in each scripture is common to all scriptures, calling humanity toward justice, compassion, humility, dignity, respect, love for both person and planet, and the transcending of self through service to others.
We recognize that filtering divine revelation through human hands allows fear, greed, anger, ignorance, and violence to masquerade as truth. We recognize that much if not most of the evil plaguing our world is rooted in this masquerade, and the violent image of God that comes from it.
We commit ourselves to ending this evil by rejecting religious violence and the false god who sanctions it. We commit ourselves to separating timeless truth from time-bound bias in our respective scriptures: affirming the former and moving beyond the latter. We commit ourselves to teaching the God of justice, compassion, love, and respect Who speaks to us through all scriptures, and Who calls us to free ourselves from fear, greed, anger, ignorance, and violence.
We call upon peoples of every faith to liberate the wisdom of God from the xenophobia of tribe and ego, and to free religion from fear and violence by distinguishing the holy from the merely sacred. We call upon peoples of every faith to share their wisdom with the world, to fearlessly speak out when their faith is kidnapped by evil, and to remind us all that there is no god but God, and that justice and compassion are the way of God for all time and for all people.
Rabbi Rami Shapiro directs Wisdom House, an interfaith center in Nashville, Tenn., and writes a regular column for Spirituality and Health magazine. His most recent book is Ecclesiastes Annotated and Explained.His articles in Tikkun include "Rami Shapiro on Making Happiness our Compass," January/February 2009; and "Outgrowing our need for promised lands and chosen peoples," May/June 2008.
Source Citation: Shapiro, Rami. 2011. Neti Neti: A Manifesto to End Religious Violence. Tikkun 26(1): 66