Category Archives: popular religion

Yeshiva U sponsors New Age Jesus speaker as Jewish values.

This Tuesday Shmuly Boteach’s  Jewish Values Network together with YU is sponsoring an symposium on Jewish values.  One of the main speakers on Jewish values is Marianne Williamson. I assume that no one at YU knew who she was or looked into it and now it is too late to change it. I don’t blame them. I assume that once they saw the conference had Michael Steinhardt, Dershowitz, Steinsaltz, and Tulushkin, then they could sponsor it, since these speakers represents Yeshiva University values. (This is an interesting topic in its own right.) But I find it quirky at the least but also disturbing since I know someone who almost converted out of Judaism because of her. full schedule here
Who is Marianne Williamson? The following account is all quotes from the web- so technically I should indent.

The story began in 1965 when Helen Schucman, a professor of Medical Psychology at Columbia University in New York, began receiving channeled messages from a speaker who would later identify himself as Jesus Christ. The messages began with the words, “Please take notes,” this is not optional. So Helen Schucman a atheist Jewish psychologist began writing and for the next ten years the voice is said to have dictated “in an inaudible voice” over 500,000 words contained in the three volumes. This was done through the process called automatic handwriting, (in which a spirit entity guides the hand )and clairaudience, (hearing from a disembodied spirit) Schucman wrote this hefty volume, and she claims the source of the words was Jesus Himself.

The primary reason for the Course is the “Correcting of the errors of Christianity…. To foster spiritual development through the study and practice of A Course In Miracles, a set of three books channeled by Jesus. …to teach the Course’s reinterpretation of traditional Christian principles such as sin, suffering, forgiveness, Atonement, and the meaning of the Crucifixion…” (Foundation for A Course In Miracles, “Forgiveness,” p.3- 4).,

Marianne Williamson’s full embrace of the Course led her to give talks and lectures on it, which eventually resulted in the publication of A Return To Love. The book A Return to Love, became immensely popular as an inspirational self help book. Here most famous new age quote which has been attributed to many:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

With the strong Eastern influence in self-help writing, the Christian stance of A Return to Love stands out, but it is best seen as a spiritual work that happens to use the Christian terminology of the Course. Williamson is quick to admit that all ideas about God are expressions of a single reality (she herself has a Jewish background), and that people do not have to consider they have a personal relationship to ‘God’ to be an advanced Course student. Its students proceed according to how they treat other people. So to even think the name “Jesus” is to be reminded of one’s essential nature and one’s essential power. A Course in Miracles also says “you do not have to personally invite Jesus into your thought system to aid you in your journey.” But Jesus can do more for you if you did.

What Marianne Williamson Believes About Jesus

Remember I’m not a Christian, I am a Jew. My conversion to Christ, and to me conversion means “a conversion in thought-forms and a belief system.” I don’t feel that I was born a Jew and was supposed to become a Christian. But I do feel I was born a Jew, I am a Jew, and I was meant to meet Jesus on my journey. It is, above all others, my most predestined relationship. I feel blessed to have met him as a Jew.

1] So did no one notice? Was it because Shmuly Boteach took charge? How are they going to spin this as authentic Jewish values? I assume that no one looked over the program.

2] Is all new age, self-help, and popular spirituality OK as part of Judaism?  How does anyone teaching 12-step, “The Secret,” or Course in Miracles manage to call themselves Hasidism and Kabbalah?

3] Is new age really the new cosmology, meaning that it is invisible and taken as a given by common sense, in which it is OK to say Marianne Williamson is kosher and muttar in a way that Biblical scholars or historians are  not be kosher?

Spirituality at B’nai Jeshurun

There is a new study from Synagogue 3000— The New Jewish Spirituality and Prayer: Take BJ, For Instance  Ayala Fader & Mark Kligman S3K Synagogue Studies Institute. This one looks at the success of BJ in NYC. I have picked out the theological sections.  BJ preaches a spirituality of finding God in one’s own life through an emotional religious experience. Their deity is a therapeutic deism with psychological elements- it seems the true fulfillment of Arthur Green’s theology in Seek My Face, Speak My Name: A Contemporary Jewish Theology (1992) or the undated pop version Ehyeh: A Kabbalah for Tomorrow (2002).

Central to BJ is the claim by members and rabbis alike that in order to experience God, individuals must “let go”  of rationalism and the intellect. The goal is to access an emotional part of the self which opens the individual to experience the “energy” of God, something which is found within each person. When it comes to prayer, comprehension of Hebrew (loshn kodesh), Jewish ritual or traditional Jewish music is less important than kavanah (“sincere intention”). By privileg­ing kavanah, the emphasis of prayer shifts from “obligation” (the mitzvah) to what congregants describe as the “freedom” to choose those aspects of Judaism that best speak to each individual’s experience of God.

[The] aim is to have religious practice create opportunities for what they call “spiritual experi­ence,” meaning the experience of God; but God must be re-concep­tualized in order to be relevant in the contemporary world. Marcelo explains: “We have to change the paradigm from the idea of God to the experience of God.” The paradigm for today’s Jews requires what the rabbis describe as a “God of love.” Jews today, suggest the rabbis, need a “reason of love” or they will abandon God. [Their ] “God of love” is not necessarily a supernatural figure. As an entity found inside the self, God is, in effect, human.

To find God, each person must search inside the self. This concept of God echoes humanistic beliefs, but is clearly distinct from secularism. The rabbis elaborate a post- rationalistic God, located in the emotional interior of each individual, not the intellect. The point of the commandments (mitzvot), claim the rabbis, is not to force us to “give up things” but to “open us up and purify us for God.” Jew­ish ritual practice, particularly prayer, is an individual choice one makes in order to experience the divine.

Self-exploration is often expressed in therapeutic language, but with the goal of personal transcen­dence. When there is closeness to, and individual experience of, God, an individual can become more holy in the sense of ascending to a higher level of humanity. As the rabbinic intern said: “It’s not separating the two, God and psychology. We’re not going to pass it over to the therapists…it’s about finding out where God is in your life… It’s about how you can grow holy in this thing… It’s co-opting psychology and lacing it in spiritual terms.”

Now the contextualization in studies on Spirituality and Evangelical Churches. It confirms that much of the Neo-Hasidism of liberal Jews shares much in style with Conservative Evangelicals.

Embodied religious practice comes also through the use in services of practices from a range of minority religions. A number of people talked about the use of “breath” and meditation techniques. Others adopt meta­phors of “healing and wholeness” drawn from therapeutic contexts. This kind of combinative religious practice is a com­mon feature of New Age spirituality (Rothenberg and Vallely, 2008). Individualized picking and choosing from world religions in order to satisfy personal needs is a feature of postmodern religiosity, a “tradition” favored by Jewish baby boomers (Cohen and Eisen, 2000). But at BJ, combinative religious practice is institutionalized, not left to individual personal spiritual journeys; it is part and parcel of the synagogue, modeled publicly by authoritative spiritual leaders, and framed as the revitalization of Juda­ism’s authentic and shared religious heritage.

BJ shares many goals and practices with North Ameri­can megachurches and evangelical seeker churches. These churches focus on Christian spirituality in large settings where members can be part of a growing, successful and innovative ministry (Thumma and Travis, 2007:158). Like so many at BJ also, evangelical seekers, predominant­ly baby boomers, decidedly depart from the denomina­tion of their upbringing, searching out religious fulfill­ment through individual choice and a therapeutic ethos with an anti-institutional bias (Sargeant, 2000:163-4).

However, BJ has a distinctive definition of what indi­vidual fulfillment means. Seeker churches satisfy thera­peutic concerns for self-fulfillment through an evangelical understanding of Christ’s salvation (Sargeant, 2000). At BJ, individuals encounter God through individualized and, often, embodied expression of affect. Concep­tions of God, too, differ of course. Anthropologist Tanya Luhrman’s description of a “new paradigm” church (2004), for example, describes how congregants learn to conceptualize Jesus as a “buddy.” BJ members, by con­trast, find God inside themselves. However, God only enters the emotional, non-rational, vulnerable aspect of the self.

Regardless, what makes BJ seem modern to so many is the way that the traditional liturgy is made to engage modern forms of self-construction, including introspection, self-cultivation, and personal freedom as the path to happiness.

Full Article Here

Science fiction and Theology

I am not into the apocalypse or particularity into Science fiction, but science fiction serves as a window on people’s metaphysical and religious ideas.  For example, UFO’s went from friendly to menacing. Or science went from a brave new world to the potential cause of world wide destruction, then to new age. And now science is seen as limited.  Here is something about this year’s sci-fi that came my way. [I will get back to another post on Novak by week’s end.]
Is mysticism overtaking science in sci-fi?

That the human intellect can be copied like software, but the human soul is conserved or copy-protected or some such.
That seeking after technology is a misguided pursuit that can only lead to the destruction of the human race.

That moving or dividing the soul requires alchemical symbols inscribed on metal tokens.

Fallacies of the movie 2012:

2. That it is possible—indeed, inevitable—for all of this water to be released in a single cataclysmic event.

3. That “hard” sciences like geology, climatology, planetology, astronomy and physics are, in some way, incapable of foreseeing the disaster, or of comprehending it when it happens.

4. That pre-Columbian Toltec priests, along with certain Renaissance scholars (specifically French pharmacist Michel de Nostredame and Italian painter Leonardo da Vinci) did somehow have access to this knowledge, by a mechanism we no longer understand, enabling them to predict the exact date of the end of the world.

I do not remember which religion source linked to this source. But it offers the following observations that show a current distrust of science and experts. My question is how this is playing itself out in current visions of Judiasm? Jewish apocalypse? and the Jewish attitude toward science?

Determine Your Rabbinical Age

Here is a quiz for Evangelical Ministers to help them know their style: old fashioned, baby-boomer, or emergent.   I  invite all my Rabbinical readers to take this quiz to see where their pulpit style fits in. Almost all the questions are easliy adapted from the Church to the Synagogue. If you are not clergy but know clergy, then use it to evaluate your clergy. Let me know your results.

Determine Your Ministry Age
Do your assumptions about leadership reflect the values of your generation?
Jimmy Long Monday, October 12, 2009

In recent years we have entered into lengthy discussions about how worship, spiritual formation, and evangelism are transitioning in the church. However, the most crucial area of transition, leadership, has received minimal attention. For more than 35 years, I have been overseeing the ministry of young InterVarsity staff and college student leaders. In that time I have seen a significant swing in how these young leaders view leadership. The emerging generation of leaders desires a context that fosters community, trust, journey, vision, and empowerment.

If we are going to transition the church to the next generation, both existing and emerging leaders will need to understand and appreciate each other’s values. This quiz, developed in conjunction with the editors of Leadership, is a helpful start.

Here is the Quiz

Good luck and report your results.

What does Clericalism mean in a Jewish context?

There was another Orthodox sexual scandal that ended in conviction.  On the journalism of religion site GetRelgion, they asked  about the application of the term clericalism to Orthodoxy.

None of the five women had spoken publicly before the criminal case, because, they say, it was understood that members of the modern Orthodox Jewish community — especially young ones — did not divulge errors by its leaders, let alone accuse them of impropriety.

Hey reporters, does any of this sound familiar to you? The story is describing a word that has become common in the context of the three-decades of scandal in Catholicism about sexual abuse by clergy — “clericalism.” Does the term deserve to be used in this Jewish context, in the context of a hierarchy that consists of a single powerful congregation and its niche in a larger religious community? Read the story and decide for yourself if this particular shoe fits. After you read the story, you may have questions pop into your mind.

The allegations all focus on abuse. Are there any allegations about sexual affairs? Did the rabbi have a line in his own mind that he never crossed?

Back in the 1950’s, Rabbis  Emmanuel Rackman and Leo Jung argued that orthodoxy cannot have clericalism. Rackman even argued that it would be unAmerican and communist to remove the basic equalities promised in Judiasm and in America. There are no special protections, authority, and insights available to rabbis.  Is this a return to traditional halakhic values with their implicit hierarchy, or is there  something new in the current community structure? What is the social and political theory behind this new Orthodox clericalism? What texts do they cite? As the author tmatt asked in his post: What lines will the Rabbi not cross that make this OK? How is it different than the Catholic Church? We dont use the term when Evangelical preachers sin, but why does it seem apt here?

More sources to decide if the usage is correct:  wikipedia article and from a Catholic blog

As far as I can see, the position of the Bishops Conference of England and Wales including our own Bishop Terrence Drainey is currently “let us have a culture that tolerates and even encourages clerical abuse, in which priests and bishops are free to abuse their power and authority and laypeople are expected to be co-conspirators or else face accusations of disrespect and disloyalty but let us make an exception for the sort of abuse that the civil authorities take seriously, that is, the sort of abuse that costs money and looks bad in the papers”.

This is like saying “stealing is okay, as long as you don’t steal anything somebody will notice” or “lying is okay, as long as nobody finds out”. Essentially, the Bishops are saying “it’s okay with us if priests abuse their power, as long as they don’t do anything illegal”.

What concerns me most of all is this: As long as the culture remains in place, the potential for harm continues. As long as the culture remains in place, the potential for “[hiding] behind a clericalism which is prepared to protect vicious behavior at the expense of defenceless innocents” remains in place.

This is simply unacceptable.

Sounds familiar? Why?

Spirtuality and Technology

Spiritual Machines: an interview with John Lardas Modern posted by Nathan Schneider

John Lardas Modern, an assistant professor of religious studies at Franklin & Marshall College,  His book Haunted Modernity; or, the Metaphysics of Secularism is forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press.

This has drawn me to writers and artists who are also interested in the relationship between technology and the way we practice our humanity: people like Herman Melville, Don DeLillo, Laurie Anderson, Thomas Pynchon, and Ralph Ellison. They each inquire into what constitutes agency. If one takes into account technology, it’s no longer quite as clear that there is a single human actor that is determining what is in front of him or her. This doesn’t negate agency, but it definitely makes things more complicated. In the process, we find that the distinctions between the religious and the secular, or science and theology, aren’t quite as definitive as we would like them to be.

NS: This approach leads to apparent contradictions. Evangelicals, for instance, are generally thought of as promoters of a religious social order rather than a secular one. What, then, do you mean when you write of “evangelical secularism”?

JLM: My work on secularism gets at discourse, in an old Foucauldian sense: that there is a field of statements afoot in our world that determine how the concept of religion is understood, how people live it and breathe it. Obviously, you would be hard-pressed not to call evangelicals religious. But at the same time, they are at the cutting edge…of disseminating and advancing different aspects of what we understand as the secular—thinking in terms of the population, statistics, mechanical Utopias, and religion being an integral part of cognitive action and political access.

Read the rest here.

Our categories for religious and secular go back to an earlier era when being secular meant using technology and religious was the avoidance of technology. Think of the late 19th century debate over machine matzah, technology was the more modern. John Lardas Modern points out the terms are defined for an older century. He lets us understand why Chabad and its use of technology may make it a greater force of secularization than mainline Jewish denominations. He also turns us to start asking questions about agency of Jewish activities on the web, or TV.  Does the greater number of Ultra Orthodox blogs than Conservative blogs make the former a greater agency of transparency and secularization than the RA which does not give non-clergy access to decisions? It also opens up the questions of how Jewish spirituality works to balance claims of authenticity and authority with technological innovation and progress.

Why Are Americans So Religious?

Why Are Americans So Religious?

Ross Douthat 07 Jun 2007 12:05 pm

My own preferred explanation – which is doubtless a small part of the pantomime – is theological rather than sociological: Christianity has thrived in the United States by adapting its theology to the habits and mores of the American people, in a way that religion in Europe hasn’t managed to do. America is an Emersonian country, and its religious innovators have invented an Emersonian form of Christianity – which some might suggest isn’t Christianity at all, of course – that’s nicely tailored to the broader culture in which it swims. Call it gnosticism, or Moral Therapeutic Deism, or just plain Americanism – it means Elaine Pagels and Karen Armstrong for highbrow audiences and T.D. Jakes and Joyce Meyer for the masses, and it works.

If Christianity in America meant the Christianity of Benedict XVI – or even the Christianity of C.S. Lewis, for that matter – I bet that about 15 percent of the country would be practicing believers. But you don’t get Benedict or even Lewis from most pulpits; you get socially-conservative Emersonianism in Red America and socially-liberal Emersonianism in Blue America. This wouldn’t fly in the European cultural context, but maybe there’s a form of organized religion that would – its theology just hasn’t been invented yet.

I came across this old post of Douthat, an evangelical turned traditional Catholic, who is now a columnist for the NYT, in the process of trying to add context to the Douthat review of Karen Armstrong’s new Book in Sunday’s book review.  Douthat assumes that American’s are religious because they do not deal with Benedict and Soloveitchik. Or for that matter even C S Lewis would hinder to faith.

One of the comments wrote: ” This insight is both horrifying (I am Christian of the Benedict XVI varietal) and true. I think you have struck a wide vein here.” So are all those who debate Rabbis Soloveitchik and Lichtenstein, Heschel, Hirschenson, and Kook really just unrelated to American Orthodox Judiasm which is also Therapeutic Deism?

Douthat writes about Armstrong, a nun turned toward moral and liberal monotheism:

The time, in other words, is ripe for a book like “The Case for God,” which wraps a rebuke to the more militant sort of atheism in an engaging survey of Western religious thought. Karen Armstrong, a former nun turned prolific popular historian, wants to rescue the idea of God from its cultured despisers and its more literal-minded adherents alike.

Both modern believers and modern atheists, Armstrong contends, have come to understand religion primarily as a set of propositions to be assented to, or a catalog of specific facts about the nature of God, the world and human life. But this approach to piety would be foreign to many premodern religious thinkers, including the greatest minds of the Christian past, from the early Fathers of the Church to medieval eminences like Thomas Aquinas.

These and other thinkers, she writes, understood faith primarily as a practice, rather than as a system — not as “something that people thought but something they did.” Their God was not a being to be defined or a proposition to be tested, but an ultimate reality to be approached through myth, ritual and “apophatic” theology, which practices “a deliberate and principled reticence about God and/or the sacred” and emphasizes what we can’t know about the divine. And their religion was a set of skills, rather than a list of unalterable teachings — a “knack,” as the Taoists have it, for navigating the mysteries of human existence.

For Armstrong, religion is not prepositional but a practice and God is an unknown. Douthat summerizes this position as follows.

This is an eloquent case for the ancient roots of the liberal approach to faith, and my summary does not do justice to its subtleties… The casual reader, however, would be forgiven for thinking that the leading lights of premodern Christianity were essentially liberal Episcopalians avant la lettre.

Douthat concludes

It’s possible to gain some sort of “knack” for a religion without believing that all its dogmas are literally true… Not every churchgoer will share Flannery O’Connor’s opinion that if the Eucharist is “a symbol, to hell with it.” But the Catholic faith has endured for 2,000 years because of Flannery O’Connors, not Karen Armstrongs.This explains why liberal religion tends to be parasitic on more dogmatic forms of faith, which create and sustain the practices that the liberal believer picks and chooses from, reads symbolically and reinterprets for a more enlightened age.

So how to react to the debate? Those who like theology such as  Commonweal write

The problem isn’t literalism (conservatism) vs. symbolism (liberalism). Moreover, the question of which is prior — dogma or practice — involves a sort of futile chicken and egg regression… I would say to both Armstrong and Douthat that the real divide is between abstraction and presence. Christianity has survived for 2000 years because people have continued to encounter a presence in their midst (primarily through an encounter with human beings in whom this presence is felt rather than through dogma or practice per se). They experience this presence as a fact, something concrete–Christ. But at the same time they perceive that this concrete particularity reveals a mystery, which cannot be reduced to abstraction. (O’Connor, by the way, understood this is a more nuanced way than Douthat seems to realize.) Problems arise when the encounter is forgotten and the presence is lost, when all that is left are fragments, abstractions, mere discourse (i.e., conservatism and liberalism).

I kinda like this approach, but it seems that the blogs side with Douthat in order to reject liberal religion and make it a choice of literalism or secularism. I am left wondering – Is this really the American theological landscape? Can I discuss Fishbane and Benedict?

Sukkot Misc from the 9th and 20th centuries

Sukkot is the holiday of the 6th to 9th centuries: Hoshanot are from this period, according to Goldschmidt. As is the custom of waving the lulav in 6 directions.

First, Some random 6th -9th century ideas

Guilt and treating the sukkah as exile, not as presense.

Said R’ El’azar bar Maryom: Why do we make a sukkah after Yom Kippur? To teach you that on Rosh Hashanah The Holy One, Blessed Be He, sits in judgment on all mankind, and on Yom Kippur He signs the verdict. Perhaps Israel’s sentence is exile; therefore they make a sukkah and exile themselves from their homes to their sukkah Pesikta of Rav Kahana Parasha 2 addenda, Mandelbaum 457)

Don’t go to Great Adventure or other entertainment for chol hamoed.

The festivals make a difference between the nations and Israel: the nations eat and drink, and go to the circus and the theater, and anger the Lord by their words and deeds; Israel eats and drinks and goes to the houses of prayer to praise His name and to the houses of study  to learn His glory. Pesikta 340-1

Vicarious atonement for the nations

Just as this dove atones for sins, so does Israel atone for the nations, for all those seventy bulls which are sacrificed on the festival are on behalf of the seventy nations, so that the world not be bereft of them, as is written (Psalms 109) “They answer my love with accusation but I am all prayer” Midrash Shir Hashirim Rabba 1.

“All seventy bulls that Israel used to sacrifice on the festival were for the seventy nations of the world, so that they not be removed from the world, as it is said: ‘They answer my love with accusation, but I am all prayer’ (Ps. 109:4). That is, now they are protected by prayer instead of sacrifice.” Pesikta de Rav Kahana (par. 30)

And now 1000 years later, three very different fin de siècle 20th century ideas

1] Chief Rabbi Dr Jonathan Sacks writing that the sukkah helps us identify with the poor of “Calcutta and Caracas.” Dignity of Difference 112

2 The sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn (1880-1950) spoke of seven “chassidic ushpizin” as well: the Baal Shem Tov, the Maggid (Rabbi DovBer of Mezeritch), and the first five rebbes of Chabad: Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, Rabbi DovBer of Lubavitch, Rabbi Menachem Mendel (the “Tzemach Tzeddek”), Rabbi Shmuel, and Rabbi Sholom DovBer.

Where I was for one or the meals the debate was between the method starting with the Besht or now should they start with the Alter Rebbe and end with the 7th Rebbe. This seems more widespread than I thought. Have the Biblical Ushpizin lost their resonance?

3] Old time R Shlomo Carlebach moving he six directions from cosmology or sefirot to personal experience of religion.  link

First, face right. Right in Kabbalah signifies the attribute of hesed, kindness, mercy, overwhelming beneficence. Do you find it too hard to be generous? Or are you suffering from an excess of generosity, of kindness, of love? ”

Then face left. Left in Kabbalah is gevurah – strength, strict judgment, limits. Gevurah is Isaac – bound for sacrifice on Mount Moriah, unflinching, accepting of judgment. Take this opportunity to think of the limits, the judgments in your life. Are your circumstances too confining? Do you need more boundaries, or fewer? Do you need more strength? This is an opportunity to invite God to help you fix the limits in your life.

Next, face straight ahead: tiferet, or beauty. This is the balance, where the beneficence and the boundaries are in their proper proportions. It is Jacob, it is the middle course.

Then, look up. Can you connect with God? What’s the holiness you need in your life? How high can you rise this year?

Then, aim down. This is about groundedness, about your foundations. And it’s about your ability to find the buried treasures, under your feet; the truths buried in the dirt.

Finally, backwards. The essence of repentance is being able to go back and fix your past  by your coming to terms with it

I find these three approaches to be quite different: the metonymic ethical, the binding to a saint, and the introspective.

A Post-Secular Jewish Dharma Bum

I have a review in this week’s Forward. My original title was the one on this blog post.

Everything Is God: The Path of Nondual Judaism By Jay Michaelson

Jay Michaelson is well known to readers of the Forward for his column, “The Polymath,” a title well chosen to mitigate the frequent changes in his byline, which varied from dot-com software designer, to doctoral student in Jewish mysticism, to lawyer, to environmentalist, to poet, to GBLT activist. As one of the founders of the journal Zeek, Michaelson was one of the instrumental creators of the new Jewish culture — the hip mixture of ironic and post-ironic aesthetic gestures — which moved Jewish culture beyond baby boomer concerns. Michaelson’s theology is as diverse as his former bylines and reflects the same shift to the values of the new Jewish culture.

In this new book, “Everything Is God: The Path of Nondual Judaism,” Michaelson’s regular stream of post-secular book reviews provided the framework to work out his own popular theology, and the book reflects that history, capturing his spiritual insights in edgy 1,000-word bursts.

Skipping to the ending

Nevertheless, Michaelson does not start his reader on the long journey of transformation, nor does the book speak from a point of nonduality, as the Hasidic or Eastern religious works do. Instead, we listen to his breakneck embrace of the nondual world: Talking breathlessly about meditation, creating myriad perspectives on oneness and meeting everyone there is to meet upon the path.

The book reminds me most of the 1960s wandering independent polymath Alan Watts — an earlier articulate proponent of Asian philosophies of nonduality. Watts scandalized his straight-laced Western audience by preaching an eclectic nonduality outside of organized religion; however, Watts is more famous for antagonizing the world’s leading Zen teachers by claiming that Zen has little to do with sitting but is in fact a path of nonduality justifying “sheer caprice in art, literature, and life” — a spirituality offering a radical new worldview articulated in jazz rhythms rather than in the contemplative flavor of Zen. Like Watts, Michaelson sometimes makes grand pronouncements based entirely on his own experience.

Read the entire review here

Here was my original penultimate paragraph that was removed to keep to the word count and to remain focused on the book under review.

As I once waited backstage, before appearing on a Jewish cable TV show to discuss Judaism and Buddhism, a senior Orthodox rabbi from a staid upper crust synagogue, seeking to make conversation on my topic, confided to me how he read Alan Watts as a youth and gained many lessons that stuck with him through out life. The Rabbi never again dabbled in any other Asian thought or non-dualistic thinking, but the brief exposure to Watt’s Beat-Zen offered many lifelong tools for thought.

Most of the book is available online as articles at Zeek, The Forward, Jewcy, Reality Sandwitch.

John T. Elson, Editor Who Asked ‘Is God Dead?’ at Time, Dies at 78

Elson died last week and this is a good vantage point to look at the changes of religion in the last half century.  Even though many proclaimed the end of God in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, God returned with a vengeance to show his public face in the public sphere in the 1980’s and 1990’s. But the story is not so simple:

The New York Times Obit notes that the cover of Time magazine posed a question: “Is God dead?” But “the article’s actual headline was ‘Toward a Hidden God,’ and it was a scholarly, careful look at how secularism, urbanism, and all the other ‘isms were changing people’s ideas about God.” “Secularization, science, urbanization — all have made it comparatively easy for the modern man to ask where God is and hard for the man of faith to give a convincing answer, even to himself,” Mr. Elson wrote.

Quotes from the original Tine magazine article: Friday, Oct. 22, 1965 Theology: The God Is Dead Movement

They say that it is no longer possible to think about or believe in a transcendent God who acts in human history,

Buddhism & Blake. There is a strong streak of mysticism… whose eclectic theology borrows from such diverse sources as Buddhism and William Blake

Paul van Buren is an advocate of linguistic analysis, which attempts to clarify language by examining the way words are used and denies the objective truth of statements that cannot be verified empirically.

//

Harvard’s Harvey Cox… whose book The Secular City concludes with the idea that Christianity may have to stop talking about God for a while, complains about the writers’ imprecise language. “Is it the loss of the experience of God, the loss of the existence of God in Christianity, or the lack of adequate language to express God today?” he asks.

Yet we indeed do have a more hidden limited deity.  Eliezer Berkovits is the author to be credited for the idea that we no longer have direct contact with a theistic God and now we follow halakhah without a direct presence. His lines about halakhah as substituting for a living presence are now associated with almost any modern pan-halachic approach.  But Berkovits was the one to respond to the hidden God by saying we now have halakhah.

Mysticism and Kabblah which were not in vouge in the first half of the twentieth century are useful in diverse ways. We have the symbolic realm of the Kabbalah to deflect from a personal deity onto more benign, God is sefirot. Even those who read Ramhal to be Haredi have deflected their God away from a person to a closed mechanism of sefirot and inner divine drive. We also have the spirituality version of Kabbalah and Neo-hasidism where God is functional to provide human happiness and religious experience. We also now have the Elie Wiesel Hasidic deity whom humans argue with. We have the tzimzum deity whom we can no longer know through doctrine.

And finally we have a variety of Jewish based kitchen deities, where one prays for everyday miracles, prosperity, and that the kugel comes out OK There is one recent semi-yeshivish popular book on Jewish prayer that encourages one to pray for one’s daily concerns. Even as God has come back in the public sphere, the deity is more therapeutic than theistic.

Is Outreach Judaism like Tribbles?

Here is an article on how Pentecostals have morphed into almost everything. They started as more conservative evangelical but now are more liberal, at times, than liberal churches. They are concerned with making you rich, helping you lose weight, helping you manage your time, and giving tips for successful middle managers. The artile asks at what point are they no longer just silly but actual heresy or truly in bad taste.

Heresy, Bad Taste, or Capitalist Adventure: Is it Still Pentecostalism?

By Anthea Butler  Posted on September 13, 2009,

If an animal could describe the Pentecostal movement, it would be the tribble, a cute furry fictional animal, well-known to Star Trek fans. Tribbles, the story had it, were born pregnant, reproduced at a staggering rate, and ate everything in sight: if the ravenous creatures hadn’t eaten a store of poisoned grain, they would have destroyed the Enterprise. To follow the analogy, Pentecostalism and certain segments of the movement (namely, the “Prosperity Gospel” and the “New Apostolic Movements”) have mutated like tribbles, choking off their Pentecostal origins, multiplying to such a degree that it is difficult to distinguish the broader Pentecostal movement and historic churches from the mutants.

Perhaps it is odd to equate a movement with a sci-fi creature, but the multiplication of the Pentecostal movement and its “mutations” have reached a point where some clarification and reevaluation of the broader movement is needed; especially in light of the shifting belief systems that each offshoot has engendered. From the calls to investigate Prosperity ministers Creflo Dollar and Paula White, to Sarah Palin’s New Apostolic Reformation movement connections, Pentecostalism and its progeny (Charismatic, Third Wave, Full Gospel and non-denominational churches) have multiplied so rapidly that it is difficult to discern what the original movement is and where the offshoots are.

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The same question can be applied to the various outreach, kiruv, and engaged yeshivish in Judiasm. When do they cross the line into kitch or bad theology? The question is less if they are true or convincing but when have they crossed a line into seeming like Elmer Gantry? There are now Jewish outreach versions of prosperity gospel, 12 step, and positive thinking. We have popular outreach versions of “The Secret.” There is even a Torah’s plan for weight loss. Rabbis are now using evangelical material, especially stories, in their own sermons and books. In addition, Joel Osteen is very popular in my neighborhood; his religion is so light and his message of prosperity so in tune with Orthodoxy that he is a model rabbi. When are they no longer Orthodox? Does it matter?   When do these outreach approaches becomes indistinguishable from various flavors of renewal or havurah? Is it OK to reduce Judiasm to the latest in motivational speakers?

All you need is certainty

Overheard in Synagogue

I was sitting next to a clinically psychologist who specializes in young adults or as he calls them “emerging adults.”

He told me about the children that leave the Orthodox community but he wanted to focus on those young adults who naturally start to mirror their parent’s religion as they mature and it causes deep anxiety in their parents. It rattles the parents to see the kids acting out the parent’s doubts about the system, and acting out the parent’s hypocrisies, rationalizations, and transgressions. The parents loss their own bearing and increase their anxiety when they see themselves in the mirror of their children.

He also described those young adults who are absolutely certain in their religion, and complete in their Orthodoxy, but that they cannot bear any doubts, questions or uncertainties. When asked about their faith they say: why do you have to ask these questions? Can you just change the topic? They avoid thinking about these things. They seek any means to maintain their certainties. Any rationalization will work. Some turn to Hasidic emotionalism.

When they go off to Israel, they find certainty because some of the best Rabbis offer unconditional love, total acceptance no matter how much the kid strays. With the isolation from society during the year, their only means of dealing with uncertainty is to run to the only resource they have, that is, the rabbi who offers emotional certainty.

He commented that this unconditional love is good for heroin addicts but should not be the norm for normal kids.

He wants to write a book for the orthodox community on learning to accept doubt and uncertainty.

Everytime you zzzz, a kitten dies

Overhead on Shabbat by a Baal Teshuvah mother of 7, who raised her kids as Yeshivish.

“Every time you bentch, an antisemite dies”

The source seems to be the phrase from 1996, that took off 2003 with the internet.  The phrase is now used in every way “every time you vote for the wrong candidate,  a kitten dies.”

Wiki article

It may also go back to the line from the movie It’s a Wonderful Life “”Every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings.”

But what interested me was its use as an explanation for the observance of commandments. Benching does not remind one of God, it does not do a tikkun, or show gratitude for the food. Benching fights the evil in the world. Is fighting antisemitism our new cosmology?