In the new Forward, Jay Michaelson confronts the increasingly ubiquitous notion that spirituality and religion are essentially separate. “I, too, have often claimed that spiritual practice is distinguished from religion by its pragmatic focus—what a practice does—rather than its significance in a system of myth or dogma,” he grants, but he’s not content to leave it at that: “the dichotomy is misleading.” In fact, he contends, “even the most diehard, hyper-rational, Lithuanian Orthodox, High Reform, or otherwise non- or anti-spiritual religionists perform religious acts because they want to feel a certain way. In other words, religion is a form of spirituality.”

OK. But what starts out seeming like an attempt to defend religion from fed-up spiritualists turns quickly back-handed (“lame synagogues do promote mind states”), and Michaelson ends up subtly advocating for a more conventionally “New Age” spirituality by using the concepts of “values” and “states of mind” almost interchangeably. Secular Judaism offers “integrity, ethics, authenticity”; “social justice” Judaism’s got “righteous indignation, sense of moral goodness”; Zionism—“patriotism, strength, belonging”; and old-school synagogue Judaism has this loaded foursome: “particularism, security, traditionalism, Jewish survival.” Given this array, followed by his sly suggestion that “[m]aybe other mind states like inspiration, joy or introspection, might work better,” it seems that while he says, “[w]hat I’ve tried to suggest is that these seemingly Californian spiritual values are not so distant from hard-core New York religious and political ones,” he’s actually trying to sell one to the other.

Religion is Actually Spirituality [Forward]