In This Episode
This week, Phill has a question on his mind — is it okay to hate Trump? In a week in which Trump nominated a conservative judge to the Supreme Court, defended paying only $750 in taxes and gave orders to white supremacists during the Presidential debate, Phill asks Reverend Broderick Greer and Abby Stein, an ordained rabbi, how they process their feelings towards Trump. They talk through their philosophies of forgiveness and the responsibility of standing proudly against Trump.
Phillip Picardi: From Crooked Media, this is Unholier Than Thou. I’m your host, Phillip Picardi. Let’s get right out there and say it, y’all. This week was a doozy, as in more of a doozy than any of the other weeks we’ve managed to survive in the literal living hell of 2020. We started off with the news of Donald Trump only paying $750 in taxes.
[news clip] A stunning New York Times report on President Trump’s tax returns shows he paid just $750 in federal income tax in 2016 and 2017, and none at all for 10 of the previous 15 years before that.
Phillip Picardi: And then the news that coronavirus deaths had surpassed one million worldwide.
[news clip] Tonight, the confirmed global death toll from COVID just reached one million. A staggering figure, though the World Health Organization believes the real number may be even higher.
Phillip Picardi: And oh, yeah, there was that awful presidential debate.
[clip of Trump – Biden debate] I’m not going to answer the question . . . why wouldn’t you answer that question . . . because the question is, the question is . . . Supreme Court justices . . . the radical left . . . would you shut up . . . listen, who is on your list, Joe?
Phillip Picardi: And that only takes us to Tuesday. But as the election draws closer, as in, we’re one month away from determining the future of America closer. I can’t shake a feeling that makes me very uncomfortable. Maybe you felt it during the debate this week, too. I mean, how could you not? It’s a mix of outrage and resentment, the feeling that your blood is boiling, except it never comes down to a simmer. Maybe it sometimes results in either rage fantasies or complete rage blackouts. Its hatred, plain and simple. I can’t help it. I hate President Donald Trump. Like, a lot. But on top of hating him and wishing bad things would happen to him, I also feel guilty for hating him. You know, the whole “when they go low, we go high” and all of that. I feel like I, especially the host of a religious podcast, should be better than this. But you know what? Maybe I’m not. After all, why should we go high, especially when people’s lives are on the line, especially when we’ve had all the evidence to vote this man out and yet he’s still holding a close margin in the polls, especially when the future is at stake. To help me parse through some of these feelings, I wanted to consult some clergy. So today we have a rabbi and reverend, who are going to help explain what faith says about hatred, revenge, and rising above, and if any of it applies to Donald Trump and his supporters.
Phillip Picardi: First up, we have the Reverend Broderick Greer. Reverend Greer, thanks for joining us.
Rev. Broderick Greer: Thank you for having me Phillip. You’re just the best. And I look up to you and admire all of your work. I’m just honored that you’re having me today.
Phillip Picardi: You are making me blush, which is really good because you’re setting a positive tone for this conversation. And I’m going to take this conversation to a dark place. Are you ready to go there with me?
Rev. Broderick Greer: Yes, it’s, it’s my zip code, so yes.
Phillip Picardi: OK, perfect. So listen, I have been dealing with some emotions. In Catholicism, we go to confession when we feel like we’ve sinned. So this is sort of like me getting to talk to you is exciting and it’s an honor, but it’s also like I feel a little bit like catharsis, confession, childhood trauma from Catholicism—all of these things happening at once. I’m having this issue where when I read about Donald Trump, I get angry and I get outraged and I feel like I hate him and that I want bad things to happen to him and everyone he loves. And I know that maybe I need to work through these feelings because they’re not something that a good Christian would exhibit. Am I correct in assuming that?
Rev. Broderick Greer: I think that is a very common assumption. Absolutely.
Phillip Picardi: It’s a common assumption. But is it correct?
Rev. Broderick Greer: It’s complicated.
Phillip Picardi: OK.
Rev. Broderick Greer: I think that the Bible, the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament both have broad enough imagination and capacity to accommodate a range of emotions. And actually, really specifically in the Psalms, basically, the Psalmist is expressing great disdain for their enemies and says that I want their offspring’s heads to be dashed up against the rocks.
Phillip Picardi: Yes, that’s I, I agree with that Psalmist. I feel free and represented.
Rev. Broderick Greer: Yes, yes. Representation matters, even in the Bible. And I think that there is at least permission to feel what we feel. One of my favorite stories is of the Hebrew midwives in Exodus 1, Exodus 2, it’s the very beginning of the Book of Exodus and the Pharaoh has issued this edict that all of the children, of the firstborn boys are to be killed, and these women, it’s the first labor union in the Bible, actually. They organize together. They’re organized labor and they begin delivering these babies and instead of killing them, they save them.
Phillip Picardi: OK.
Rev. Broderick Greer: And one of them, of course, is Moses. And these are these are women, Afro-Asiatic women, Hebrew women who are butting heads with an empire that wants their destruction. And instead of doing what the empire or the emperor has told them to do, they organize and resist. And I don’t know exactly how they felt about Pharaoh, but I would think that anger and hatred and disdain and contempt are probably one of those emotions.
Phillip Picardi: Right.
Rev. Broderick Greer: So I think at least scripturally, you know, if you want to talk about the Bible, as one particular lens for Christianity, there is room and space for anger and hatred in one’s imagination.
Phillip Picardi: Right. In other words, you’re talking about honoring the feelings, and I think that that’s an important thing, right, that rather than feeling shame about these feelings, maybe I have to confront them in a way. Because I have been used to the Bible verse, and Reverend Greer, I’m embarrassed to say that I know this Bible verse, not from church, but from the Mariah Carey song “I Wish You Well Off” of her criminally underrated album E=MC2. And in the song she says, Love your enemies, do good to those who hurt you, pray for those who mistreat you. And then she does a couple of other riffs. So that’s the Bible verse that I know and that I have been repeating to myself when I have rage fantasies about the president. Is that something I should also be holding?
Rev. Broderick Greer: Yeah, I think that’s fine. I mean, it really depends on the end for you, and—
Phillip Picardi: OK.
Rev. Broderick Greer: —me as well. And when I say that, I mean, you know, what is the goal? Is the goal over a lifetime as a Christian, as a baptized person, to be a person who is forgiving and who can exercise the muscles of forgiveness? And I use that, that term, that phrasing very intentionally, because forgiveness is not necessarily something that happens number one, overnight and number two, all at once. And so I think we have to be able to give ourselves the permission to say I want to orient myself toward the goal of being a forgiving person. Maybe. If I can get to that point. And sometimes the desire to forgive is as good as forgiveness itself.
Phillip Picardi: So in other words, I don’t actually have to forgive this asshole. I can just hold it in my heart to say, I want to forgive you.
Rev. Broderick Greer: Exactly. And the only thing, though, too, I just don’t want any other people—if people don’t feel like they can forgive Donald Trump, they don’t need to put themselves under the pressure to do that.
Phillip Picardi: And we’re not going to go to hell for that.
Rev. Broderick Greer: I don’t think so. No.
Phillip Picardi: Oh, OK. All right. That’s news to me. I thought the goal was always, I’m a Christian and so I need to embody the compassion of Jesus Christ, which is: I’m going to forgive even the people who crucified me and because I have God’s love and I am enlightened in God’s love and I am a child of God. I thought that’s where, I thought that’s the whole point of this whole Christianity thing.
Rev. Broderick Greer: I’m really happy you brought that up because it’s a great segue way to something I was thinking about just before our conversation. In my work, I talk to a lot of people who, you know, themselves, they struggle with forgiveness and they struggle with—well, really, the word forgiveness originally in Greek is very close to our English expression for letting go. Which is such a great image and a lot of people do struggle with letting go, whether someone has hurt them or, you know, some circumstance, diagnosis, etc., has befallen them. And our minds, of course, in our imaginations go directly to the cross. And theye Jesus, as you said, is hanging. He’s been through a mistrial. He’s there unjustly. And one of the only things he utters from the cross in one of the gospels is something really fascinating and indirect honestly. He says, father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing exactly. So it’s really interesting that Jesus does not look at the people who’s crucifying him and says, I forgive you because you don’t know what you’re doing. He actually, in many ways says, and if I’m using my sanctified imagination, he is saying, I don’t in this moment have the capacity to forgive you.
Phillip Picardi: Oh, that’s how you interpret that?
Rev. Broderick Greer: That’s how I interpret that.
Phillip Picardi: I think that’s really powerful.
Rev. Broderick Greer: I think it is. I think it shows I mean, you know, I’m, in many ways a pretty traditional, you know, kind of Trinitarian Christian, I believe in in Christ’s humanity and his divinity. And I think in that moment, he is very human. Because it’s very human to say I don’t have the imagination, the capacity, the wherewithal to do this really divine thing. And so he hands it over to God and hands ultimately himself over to God and death. So I don’t know. I think that gives us a little wiggle room and says there is no pressure to forgive overnight. If we dive into the writings of Nelson Mandela, of so many different luminaries throughout history who are very clear that in their own journeys, forgiveness is, it is a journey, it is not a destination.
Phillip Picardi: You know, there’s another Jesus story that I hold really dear and I only bring it up because we’re talking about Jesus on the cross, but there’s this part of the New Testament where obviously Jesus flips over the tables in the temple as part of an expression of outrage or injustice and I remember being taught that as a kid, as evidence of Jesus’s humanity. That’s how it was explained to us. See, he is human because he’s flawed. He was angry and as though an expression of anger is a flaw. And I have come to appreciate that story through a new lens, which is that it’s OK, sometimes anger is righteous, you know what I mean? And I’ve been holding on to this because we are constantly barraged with so much injustice and so much senseless injustice and it’s almost to the point where it feels like a mockery of justice in this country, right? And I think about Jesus getting angry and I’m like, well, if, if even Jesus was pushed to the point to flip over a table, maybe all of us should be flipping over some goddamn tables right now.
Rev. Broderick Greer: He shows us a range of possibility in human emotion that, you know, he can be comfortable with children and entertaining them in his laugh, which is sort of one expression of tenderness, and in the next breath can be kind of enraged in the temple or enraged at injustice. And all of that could have happened within the same 24-hour time period. Because I think the God of the Hebrew Bible and, you know, the God of all of scripture, of Christianity and for Judaism in particular, this God is a God who is emotionally deep, broad, and has the capacity to hold a lot of things at one time. And I think that Jesus incarnates that, that dimension of God as well.
Phillip Picardi: I also love what you said about the Greek translation, was it, of forgiveness being letting go. Because within this English word, we have the word give, right? Like as though in forgiveness, I am giving you something, right? Because I am letting you let go of whatever burden you carry for having wronged me. But I do appreciate the interpretation of this word as giving ourselves something instead, right? That by forgiving you, we wash our hands of you. Right? That this is, this does not necessarily mean we have to build a relationship or feel tenderness and compassion for you, but rather, it’s a gift that we can give to ourselves by no longer being burdened by the person who has harmed us.
Rev. Broderick Greer: Absolutely. And that’s complex, too. I mean, it’s one of those things that, you know, lots of different communities have dealt with, you know, autocrats and tyrants and other types of despots, in their own ways. And I think about—you know, I’m a Black southern queer person and really in my community of origin, my Afro Baptist church I grew up in in Texas, there was lots of ridicule of George W. Bush from the pulpit in the Bush years. And I’ve gone back and I’ve looked at some of my childhood pastor’s sermons from this summer and there’s lots of ridicule of Donald Trump by name. And it’s it’s almost done in a humorous way. It’s not like the hate or the contempt is eating the pastor or those people alive. It’s really kind of the best of what humor does. And humor, of course, is related to our English word, humility, which is related to a word in Latin that means from the ground. It’s about being human. It’s about humor, humility, sometimes things that can sound like hatred from one particular community is really. Their way of expressing their humanity through humor. And that’s something that I really appreciate about my community of origin, that to my parents even, Donald Trump is a joke. You know, there isn’t this existential hand-wringing from them that I hear from various people from who aren’t from my community of origin, and there’s a lightness because they know that just as you know, God defeated Pharaoh and God defeated in many ways Bull Connor in the 1960s and God has been faithful to defeat tyrants and autocrats of all kinds, Donald Trump will have his final day as well. And so there can be a lightness and a humility and a humor about that.
Phillip Picardi: Even as it feels like the world is burning all around us.
Rev. Broderick Greer: Absolutely.
Phillip Picardi: I’m sure that your parents and your elders have in many ways seen worse than what Donald Trump is doing to our country.
Rev. Broderick Greer: Absolutely. From their neighbors, not even a president.
Phillip Picardi: Right! Yeah, exactly, I mean, that’s exactly right. And in a way, it’s a privilege for me to sort of be having a revelation that I hate and resent a politician when plenty of people who came before me and plenty of people who are my, even my peers or colleagues or loved ones have experienced these feelings tenfold in their own lifetimes. Can I ask you a personal question?
Rev. Broderick Greer: Yeah, well, it depends.
Phillip Picardi: OK, you can decide if you want to answer.
Rev. Broderick Greer: I’m joking.
Phillip Picardi: No, that’s totally fine. I mean, gosh, it’s your podcast, you can keep your business if you want. Do you ever pray for Donald Trump’s supporters? Like, do you pray for enlightenment or a change of heart or.
Rev. Broderick Greer: Wow. Are you sure you’re not the priest in this situation?
Phillip Picardi: [laughs] You know, my dad always wanted me to be a priest. He didn’t know what else I was going to do as a homosexual so . . .
Rev. Broderick Greer: That’s so funny. There are plenty of those. You know, not in particular. I pray for our country, and . . .
Phillip Picardi: What do you pray for when you pray for our country?
Rev. Broderick Greer: For our common life. We’re interconnected whether we like that or not. Like, I have to, we share this country. We share a history. We share this land, that is, has been unethically and immorally taken from indigenous people. You know, Alice Walker in the early 1980s was at a denuclearization rally in San Francisco and she quoted a curse prayer written by Zora Neale Hurston.
Phillip Picardi: A curse prayer, OK, I love where this going.
Rev. Broderick Greer: A curse prayer. It’s really awesome. And it’s kind of the best of an indigenous African-American sort of cosmology and understanding of the world. She basically says, I really would like to think that these nuclear weapons will just destroy this world that white men have conquered. And to paraphrase her, she says, and then I think about a peach and its sweetness and its texture and I think to myself, wow, I really don’t want our world to be destroyed by nuclear weapons, if only just for the peaches. I think we should stick this out. Because we have to share this country, I think about the good things that we do have. And we’re kind of coming to the end of peach season and it’s like, wow, you know, I’ve savored this fruit, I’ve savored this experience, I’ve savored this thing, whatever it is—and that is my will to live, and that is my will to see others live and thrive as well, even if they don’t have my best interest in mind. And they don’t need to be enlightened, they don’t need to come to some better understanding or whatever, they really just need to leave us alone. And that was the attitude I was brought up with with Black parents is like, we don’t need white people to like us. We really, like we don’t need them to be our friends, we really just need them to not mess with us and let us live in our own peace.
Phillip Picardi: I love that. And so it’s a similar ideology here. It’s like you can do, I don’t need to worry about you, I don’t need to spend my time praying for you or exercising compassion for you or trying to find a way to forgive you. Just leave me the hell alone so I can enjoy this peach.
Rev. Broderick Greer: Exactly. When I was telling a friend about this interview and, you know, what we were planning on talking about, he said, how can you be a Christian and not hate Donald Trump? [laughs].
Phillip Picardi: I mean, that’s a great question.
Rev. Broderick Greer: I was like, why are you not on this, like, why am I doing this and not you?
Phillip Picardi: But listen, his base is full of Christians.
Rev. Broderick Greer: It is. And that’s, that’s another discussion for another time.
Phillip Picardi: It sure is. And I don’t want to go there today because I think the mockery and abuse of Christianity exhibited by the Republican Party and the radical right is definitely a conversation that has been well documented. I think, for the rest of us who are trying to figure out what to do with these feelings, especially as we head towards what will almost undoubtedly be a contested election, an unnecessarily contested election, I think this has been extremely illuminating and comforting. So I thank you so much for your insight and your scripture and also for the concept of a curse prayer. I will be holding that very dear to my heart.
Rev. Broderick Greer: Absolutely.
Phillip Picardi: We’ll be right back after a quick break.
Phillip Picardi: Hey there. It’s been a while, but we had some tech issues this week and partway through my conversation with Abby, the audio will switch to our backup. I hope you still listen, because it’s a great conversation and I know you’ll enjoy it. Reverend Greer helped explain where Christianity stands on Trump, but of course, this is not just a Jesus thing. So to hear from a different faith perspective, I spoke to the activist and ordained rabbi, Abby Stein, about her position on being anti Trump. Here’s what she had to say.
Phillip Picardi: Abby, thank you so much for joining me today. I’m really looking forward to this challenging conversation.
Rabbi Abby Stein: Thank you so much for having me Phillip and I’m really honored to be a part of it.
Phillip Picardi: And on that note, I want to dive right into the million dollar question. Are you ready?
Rabbi Abby Stein: Are we ever ready? We can only—to use [unclear], I don’t start to sound like a rabbi all over again—but to use a saying that I think it’s very powerful that we use a lot, which is that: we have to do, not accomplish.
Phillip Picardi: OK, well, this is a spiritual question.
Rabbi Abby Stein: OK?
Phillip Picardi: And that is that I am wondering if it is moral for me to hate President Donald Trump.
Rabbi Abby Stein: Yes, hands down.
Phillip Picardi: It is!?
Rev. Broderick Greer: I think so. Well, hey, listen, some people think that I’m not Jewish enough, not religious enough, not faithful enough, not rabbi enough—but if you’re asking me why my personal opinion is, the answer is yes. But also even more if you want to look on it from a spiritual perspective and if I may—and I don’t want to confuse spiritual with religious, I think people could be one and not the other, people could be both, people could be non and be amazing people.
Phillip Picardi: Right.
Rabbi Abby Stein: One of the I think very often abused verses in the Book of Psalms, in Tehillim, is [Hebrew], which translates to: ask for your enemies, God—or I like to talk about it as divine, or the universe—for your enemies, I am obligated to hate. And I think, I think a lot about when I think about God, I don’t like the way it has been used and I think from a let’s call it academic or like very traditional definition of the Abrahamic God, I would be considered a full blown atheist. And frankly, I actually love that. I’m very comfortable with that. And I think in some ways there’s a power to that. However, in the other side, when you want to talk about God, not as the boogey man in the sky, but rather as a way for us to relate to the sum total of all that is—one of the interpretations of the Hebrew four letter word for God, which is Yahweh, your Adonai or whatever you want to say that, but the four letter original name of God in the Bible and in the Torah is that it actually means ‘being.’ Imagine being with a capital B.. So I think someone who is an enemy, when I want to think someone who’s an enemy of that, an enemy of the sum total of all there is, an enemy of the world, an enemy of humanity, that person I don’t even like to say his name. In Judaism, there is something very strongly about not giving power to people by even naming them. if I want to take that verse in Psalms and be that the enemies of Adonai, of God, which to me very much translate to the enemies of the universe, the enemies of the sum total of all there is. I think, God, for me, the closest definition of God that I liked is a word to relate to what is at the core of it all, something that unifies all there is. And we can look at it from a scientific point of view, at the core of everything—and literally everything that exists is made of the same, the same thing. Everything is made up of atoms. But if you look at it from a spiritual perspective, if I want to think who is that enemy, when that verse tells me the enemies of Go you should hate, right now in the United States, one of the people that comes to mind is him. So with the power given to me by the rabbi who ordained me, I’m telling you, you can hate him.
Phillip Picardi: OK. I mean, I appreciate that. It feels, it feels vindicating. Do you think there’s a difference between holding this animosity towards Donald Trump, which feels very righteous, you know, from your point of view and also from my point of view—is it OK to also extend that animosity towards the people who support him?
Rabbi Abby Stein: Here’s the thing. I think we do need to, many of the people, unfortunately, yes, but. What I mean by that, there’s a lot of stories that I grew up, I grew up very much in the shadow of the Holocaust, extremely strong. And a lot of people think that American Jews and I think the vast majority of American Jews are either descendants directly or not directly from Holocaust survivors, but I grew up in the Hasidic community where about 95% of people were Holocaust survivors. I remember at some point at school is when I realized that I was so unique, because only three out of my four grandparents were Holocaust survivors, because my grandmother was born in Jerusalem, that was ever conquered by the Nazis. Versus the majority of my friends in school where all four of their grandparents were Holocaust survivors. So I go to a community that was extremely heavily influenced by the Holocaust. And one of the stories that was constantly told about Hitler, and coming from a very, like, Kabbalistic perspective, was how like that same kind of person has been in the world, has been in the world many times. And every time that whatever—I don’t even think we can call it a soul—but that person did some of the worst things ever. And it’s a story that I grew up with. I don’t think it’s meant to be taken literal. But, and this message came that it got to a point where some leaders were saying that we’re begging that it’s enough. Kind of like whatever you look at as from God or from heaven or the universe, we have given that kind of person enough chances and it’s only getting worse. I would be very cautious to ever say that I hate them. I usually, I personally, I can’t think of a single person I know in my life that I super hate, that I mean, someone I know personally. Thankfully, I don’t know him. I don’t know the president personally. But I mean, for people I know personally. There’s people I disagree with, people I strongly disagree with. There are people whose opinions I hate. But I always try to say that I think for most people there is still hope. I think that, I like to think and maybe I’m a bit naive, but I like to think that with most people there’s something that could change their mind. I think we need to believe that. Not to naively believe that. So I, however and that goes up to certain people. It gets to a point where someone is just like, OK, like, you have done so many bad things that I, I can no longer separate your actions from you. And I think with supporters, however, well, as much as I hate to say it and I had conversations, I come from a community that has a lot of supporters for him, which most of them is, misinformation. Most of them don’t even know what he really stands for other, than a few things that they were told. And as much as I think that it’s very easy and I think ultimately everyone who supports him, their actions end up being racist and homophobic and transphobia and literally kill people. But that might not be the reason why they support him. While there are, thre are some people who support him only because of this hateful rhetoric and hateful acts. So I wouldn’t go as far as to say that we can just hate every supporter. I would say that we can hate the actions of every supporter. I can say that, that if someone does come and tells me I hate every supporter, I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t be angry at them. I can’t. But personally, maybe I’m naive and I like to believe that they’re still good in every person.
Phillip Picardi: Right. It’s interesting that, you know, you bring up the Holocaust and being a descendant of the Holocaust, because I do wonder if we will look back in history at this moment in time and look at Donald Trump as a figure similar to Adolf Hitler or many of the dictators that I think that we’ve seen throughout history.
Rabbi Abby Stein: I think he—
Phillip Picardi: You do think so?
Rabbi Abby Stein: Well, in many ways, here’s the thing. Everyone jumps, a lot of [unclear] Jews, every time someone tries to make an allusion to try to compare something to the holocaust, they are, well, it’s not that bad. I think we keep forgetting that when people after the Holocaust started saying never again, no one meant to say that never again, and the next time someone creates a concentration camp that starts killing a million people, we’re going to speak up. The point of never again always was, we’re going to speak up when something is 1933, not with something is 1939, [for someone who gets Holocaust, unclear]. We’re going to speak up before synagogues start being shoot up and burned down, which unfortunately, we already passed that. Synagogues are already being shot up by people who literally quote him in their writing. We’re already at a point where churches and mosques are being burned down because of his [unclear]. We’re already at, we’re no longer 1933. I sometimes say we’re getting at 1938, the concentration camps are already up, which is when I think the Nazi started. Like, the death camps came a bit later, but the concentration camps, that’s when it started. If you read the stories of like that one that came out just a few weeks ago, the [unclear], I think it was. That they were doing, I don’t know if you remember that story, they were doing to immigrant woman in the camp.
Phillip Picardi: Hysterectomies, yes. Mass hysterectomies.
Rabbi Abby Stein: Hysterectomies, yes. Which is what Mengele was doing in Auschwitz. Now, don’t jump on me and be like, oh, but they’re not as bad, what are you talking about? I’m not saying it’s as bad. I’m not trying to say that we’re gassing millions of people. But the point of never again, the point, the message is that we need to think of the Holocaust, that the Holocaust didn’t happen in some bubble, it didn’t happen hundreds of years ago. It didn’t even happen a hundred years ago. It didn’t happen out of nowhere. It happened from the certain rhetoric that has been building up. And when we say never again, we meant to say that when we start seeing even the slightest piece of that, that’s when we start making the comparisons, because if never again only means something when millions of people have been killed, then never again its meaningless. Never again is meant to be used before we get there.
Phillip Picardi: Right. I know that recently you observed Yom Kippur, which understand is day of atonement.
Rabbi Abby Stein: Literally yesterday.
Phillip Picardi: Yes! It I understand it the day of atonement and reflection in the Jewish faith. So I guess in closing, I’m wondering what you personally may have reflected on, on Yom Kippur and maybe what you want to leave our listeners with today?
Rabbi Abby Stein: Well, if I may get a get hopeful. And again, I’m afraid someone is going to listen to this, I feel like—
Phillip Picardi: Please! Hopeful would be great.
Rabbi Abby Stein: I feel like someone who is more—I think people on the fence are going to listen to this and be like, he’s some radical, whatever. And then we’re going to get people on the left going to be like, no! You have to hate every supporter. It’s fine. But I wanted to say last night, and I share that publicly during, so for the first night of, like Sunday night, which was [unclear] Kippur, I led a service together with my girlfriend, which I think was very powerful, I was just going to say—I know it was unrelated to our conversation—but we had 2,000 people tune in live to a lesbian couple leading a Yom Kippur, the holiest day for many Jews service, and I think that was extremely powerful to me. But then on the second night, kind of like the last hour of Yom Kippur, I was tuning into the service of my community in New York and everything, like most communities, everything was held virtual, and towards the end, like the rabbi, was actually a close friend of mine, I mentioned in my book—which, by the way, I know we haven’t gotten to that at all—but it’s someone who helped me come out to my dad, and he just gave people 30 seconds to say something. And one of the poems, one of these kind of sentences that are recited and they’re very powerful and know from that prayer, that’s final moments of Yom Kippur is something that says: open up the gates as the gates are closing. Which to me was always, like I tweeted yesterday, I was like: my favorite oxymoron. It’s like the gates are closing and that’s when we want to open them. And I think it sounds maybe a bit too hopeful, but so much right now feels like all the gates are closing. The Supreme Court is going, we’re listening to the election and like I’m looking on the polls, and yes, so far Biden is leading, but so was Hillary in 2016. Like we’re looking on it, is this really going to be it, and we need to know that if we’re not going to take action, it’s not magically going to do better because four years have passed. But we need to remember, the one thing that I took away from Yom Kippur was that just when we think everything is over, everything is closing, there’s always something, there’s another gate that is opening. And if there isn’t one, we need to create one. If we don’t have the key, we take a sledgehammer and we knock the gate open.
Phillip Picardi: Abby, thank you so much. I really appreciate you taking the time today.
Rabbi Abby Stein: Thank you Phillip, so much.
Phillip Picardi: OK, now that we’ve gotten all that hatred out of our systems—I’m feeling a little bit better actually—I’d like to introduce a new segment here on Unholier Than Thou. It’s called “Am I going to Hell for This?” Where I’ll be asking some of my favorite people to help me pass through the nagging feeling that I’m doomed to suffer from eternal damnation. Catholic guilt! You should try it sometime. This week, I’m wondering, am I going to hell for judging others about their behavior during the coronavirus pandemic? Joining me is Akilah Hughes, the author, comedian and host of Crooked Media’s Daily News podcast, What A Day.
Phillip Picardi: Akilah. Thanks for being here!
Akilah Hughes: Thank you for having me.
Phillip Picardi: This is a podcast so people can’t see you, but I can see you, and I think it’s unfair that you are smart, funny and gorgeous. I am absolutely floored by this.
Akilah Hughes: Wow. This is my favorite podcast, so . . . [laughs] Thank you so much for thinking I’m good looking. Wow.
Phillip Picardi: Well, OK, so you are here not just to be beautiful today, but also to tell me whether or not I am going to hell.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, it’s ,a I mean a lot of responsibility, but I’m excited to help.
Phillip Picardi: Someone’s got to do the job, and it, and it should be you I think. OK, so one of the things I’m worried about is that I feel like there is a line that has been crossed in the coronavirus pandemic where we want to be good neighbors to each other and be good and responsible citizens but maybe some of us—raises hand beakly—are becoming Judge Judy’s about the whole coronavirus situation. So my question to you is, do you think that I’m going to hell for judging people for inappropriate coronavirus behavior?
Akilah Hughes: See, this is a great question. It’s actually a beautiful philosophical question. Biblically speaking, you know, judging is not something we’re supposed to do.
Phillip Picardi: Right.
Akilah Hughes: However, we’re supposed to love thy neighbor according to this book. And so I think that, you know, in effect, you are looking out for other people, and that outweighs maybe, you know, the person whose feelings are hurt because they went to a Starbucks and you saw them there, like licking all the knobs. Like [laughs] I think you’re allowed to point out when it’s cray.
Phillip Picardi: Ariana Grande teas.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah. I mean, I think that, like, what I imagine is that, you know, someone who might have not reacted to the coronavirus disaster when they had information, say, back in February and just like let 200,000 people die, is going to have a hard afterlife. And I can’t imagine that you would be there beside that person because you told people to stop going out and spreading it. I think you’re, if anything, like this will propel you in the other direction.
Phillip Picardi: OK, now, first of all, thank you for that generous evaluation of my character. I do want to tell you, I’m just going to confess in this moment in the spirit of Catholicism, that a part of the motivation for judging people is a little bit of just like jealousy, you know what I mean? Like I saw, as far as I know, you’re not a homosexual male, is that correct?
Akilah Hughes: Yeah. Uh, not, I’m not that.
Phillip Picardi: Not. OK, so there was this meme that circulated because there were a bunch of gays who went to Tulum, and they took a group photo, like all in their Speedos. There was one girl there, which like I really want to know her entire back story.
Rabbi Abby Stein: Yeah, like was she driving the bus or like? [laughs]
Phillip Picardi: I mean, like, seriously.
Rabbi Abby Stein: She lost, wandered into the photo. And they’re like, we can’t, we don’t have the heart to tell her not to be in it.
Phillip Picardi: So they posted this photo and the caption of the photo was: parentheses private island, all tested multiple times, negative for COVID. And I thought to myself, God, I wish I was an asshole. Like, I wish I was enough of an asshole to just A) lie on the Internet—you were not on a private island, Tulum is not a private island. And then B) enjoy vacation! Like God, I’m so tired of looking at the inside of my apartment.
Akilah Hughes: I feel that. Dude I like, it’s so hard. The cognitive dissonance is the hardest part of the entire coronavirus crisis. Because of like, I know I’m doing the right thing, but I’m watching other people live better lives. And I’m like, you know, I don’t know if I could wait till death until I’m rewarded for this.
Phillip Picardi: Right.
Akilah Hughes: Something’s got to give. Like I deserve twice as much stimulus one day. If they’re, you know, if they’re doing like two grand a month retroactively for everyone, which is like one of the proposals. I’m like, yeah, no, I deserve twice as much. Anybody who went on a trip somewhere just for fun, like that because like somebody in their family—honestly, I don’t know why people are trippin. I don’t get it. But I get really bothered by it because it’s like, you’re right, it’s a lie. But it’s also like, it completely misses the point of the fact that there are like, you know, people who work in hospitals who have died, who’ve had to sacrifice everything, people who are like working in schools who are getting sick—all of these people who can’t get a rapid test, especially not just to go have fun with their friends for a picture. Like . . .
Phillip Picardi: Right.
Akilah Hughes: I get that some people have different means, but I’m like, just be quiet about it. Like especially in the economic downturn. I’m like, yo, when they say eat the rich, they coming for you first. They are going to be like: Is this you, in Mexico?
Phillip Picardi: Yes. Right. And in a way, this is exactly, you get to the crux of the point, which I think is the most important thing, which is that our situations are different and that is wrapped up in our privilege, but also just our circumstances. Which may be we may not interact with older folks, we may all have the luxury of working from home and so therefore we can have an expansive pod of friends who are all doing the same thing, and so therefore we all understand each other’s risk, and so we can go to dinner at someone’s house and there can be up to 10 people there and we can be outside and it can be fine. But also maybe just for the sake of the fact that other people aren’t in this, aren’t in your same circumstances, maybe don’t broadcast it all over Instagram. Do you know what I mean? Mind your business and I’ll mind mine.
Akilah Hughes: Right, exactly. That’s exactly it. Because I’m like I just, I think it’s the selfishness on display. Which is like, I don’t know in many ways shorthand for all of the reckonings that are happening in our country right now. But I think that there is something like very off-putting and like rude about someone who would brag about it, like when so many people are suffering. Like, I think that that’s what’s hard for me, is like even if it’s just like, OK, I don’t know anybody who died and like, whatever. I’m like, that’s 200,000 families. More than that now. And people who are, like, still sick hundreds of days later who may be sick for the rest of their lives. And, you know, the like the gag is just like, oh, well, we wanted to go on a trip and we look good and we’re young, so, like, let’s post a picture together. And I’m like, you know, no one’s going to be rooting for you if something happens. Right?
Phillip Picardi: Right. And on the flip side, do you think that I’m going to hell if I make or if I take risks that may be against social distancing guidelines? That’s the flip side of this question.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah. I mean, I think it’s a really good question. It’s very poignant question. You know, since I don’t run hell, I, I don’t have all of the say—
Phillip Picardi: Contrary to popular opinion.
Phillip Picardi: Right, exactly. Like, I know based on, you know, the background of my video, it looks like I’m living in it, but . . . [laughs] Literally, I just think that, you know, I imagine that religiously speaking, biblically speaking, it’s not just one thing that gets you sent there, but I will say that I am inclined to believe that people are more selfish than they may be based on those photos. Like I am swayed based on only that evidence.
Phillip Picardi: Right.
Akilah Hughes: But I you know, I’m sure God will be like well that one time—.
Phillip Picardi: You’re swayed to condemn them to hell you mean?
Akilah Hughes: Well, yeah, I mean, I think that like, it at least like a minute. You know, like purgatory at least! Like I think that there’s, you know, maybe it’s like a week of hell and then you get to come back and like, you know, state the case for the rest of the good things you did in your life. But I do think that there is like a special place in hell—
Phillip Picardi: You have to spend as much time in hell as you spent in your private island.
Akilah Hughes: I love that. You know, that, that to me is fair. I think that that’s fair.
Phillip Picardi: OK, we should be God. We should be God.
Akilah Hughes: God, if you’re listening, we have some notes. 1) can you in the crisis. 2) can you please, like, implement some of these rules?
Phillip Picardi: Seriously. I think that there is a difference between making an informed risk, especially at this point in the pandemic where our government has just failed us so miserably, and obviously, people are going to need to bend the rules to keep themselves sane because mental health and preserving mental health and raising your mental health is super important and so sometimes the risks do outweigh each other. But obviously you have to use your best judgment and hopefully that best judgment will not land you in hell. Akilah, thank you so much for joining me today in this deliberation.
Akilah Hughes: Of course.
Phillip Picardi: I feel like I have confessed and my conscience is clean. I am ready for the angels to take me to heaven.
Akilah Hughes: Yes. I can’t wait for you to go to heaven, and I cannot wait to get dragged to hell for saying that people should go to hell. [laughs].
Phillip Picardi: [laughs] I will wave down on you very, like Beyoncé at a basketball game.
Akilah Hughes: Yes. That’s all I can ask.
Phillip Picardi: Thank you Akilah.
Akilah Hughes: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
Phillip Picardi: Well, now that we know where we stand on hell and hatred, that’s all for today show. If you like what you hear, please subscribe, leave a review and tell your friends, clergy members and local elected officials. Thanks for listening. We’ll see you next week.
Unholier Than Thou is a Crooked Media production. Elisa Gutierrez is our producer with production support from Reuben Davis. Our editor is Stephen Colon. The theme song is by Taka Yasuzawa, and the show is executive produced by me, Lyra Smith and Sarah Geismer. Thanks for listening.