Q: My ex-girlfriend is always so negative. Five and a half years ago, she lent me several thousand dollars, which I agreed to pay back (with interest). Now, she's asking me to start repaying her, because she just found out that two years ago I started to tithe.
She thinks it's hypocritical that I'm tithing and haven't started paying her back. I told her tithing is mentioned in the Bible, but she said she felt "used." Granted, I also lived in an apartment of hers for free for a year, plus she paid for almost all our entertainment. But I don't make a lot of money and she makes plenty as a teacher. How can I convince her that being a good Christian by tithing is more important than starting to pay her back now?
-- J., Buffalo
A. You're a Bible-quoting piece of work, dude! After freeloading on a woman who -- no surprise -- is now your ex-girlfriend, you stiff her out of money you have a moral, legal and spiritual obligation to repay.
What gave you the idea you had to choose between paying this woman back and paying God forward? Do both, and if you only have enough money to pay your debt or tithe, pay the debt first. God can wait.
Note: Recently, I wrote a column in response to an anti-Semite and his wife (also anti-Semitic), who'd written to say my Thanksgiving column (on things for which I'm thankful) had changed their hearts and convinced them that at least some Jews were holy and decent.
I agonized about including their anti-Semitic screed, and would never have done so except that it showed how even the most retrograde bigot can turn around and begin the long walk back toward decency.
However, including their hateful words rankled me, as it did several readers. The larger spiritual question is how best to respond to overt bigotry. Bigotry is a spiritually and morally toxic combination of hate and ignorance. It's the sin of "hating your neighbor in your heart" (Leviticus 19:17). Hate is immune to reason and trying to exterminate it is demeaning to the victim of hate.
I've never tried to convince a hater not to hate. I have better things to do and it's spiritually fruitless. However, to the extent that bigotry is fed by ignorance more than hatred, it can perhaps be turned around. That's why I responded to the newly repentant anti-Semites.
B&H comments: "My wife and I feel that your response to the 'bigoted' woman and her husband was incomplete. They were seeking answers that might change their bigoted attitudes and felt positive toward you based on previous columns. We feel that an opportunity to help them find answers they were seeking was missed.
"These two represent a large number of people who think as they do. By giving their comments short shrift, an opportunity to bring out the falseness of their ideas was missed. An opportunity to bring out the enormous contributions Jews have made to this country and the world also was missed. If there was insufficient room in the column, perhaps you should have written to them personally instead."
Rabbi Marc Gellman is happy to try to answer your religious, personal or ethical questions. Send questions only to The God Squad, c/o Tribune Media Services, 2225 Kenmore Ave., Suite 114, Buffalo, NY 14207, or e-mail them to firstname.lastname@example.org.