Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Religion or Spirituality

Rabbi Eric Yoffie, Past-President of the URJ, recently had another post up on HuffPost, responding to a well-viewed YouTube video about being spiritual, not religious. And, not surprisingly, Rabbi Yoffie isn't a fan.

I hate spirituality, at least as it has come to be used in these contexts. Spirituality is a weasel word, impossible to define or pin down. It can, and does, refer to pretty much anything. The only thing that it seems to mean with certainty is the absence of the disciplined, regular, organized spiritual seeking that is so essential to religious belief and moral behavior.

More than just complaining about the word "Spirituality," Yoffie also expresses a defense of Organized Religion:*

* Although, as I've often said, if you don't like Organized Religion, then you should come to our congregation - you'll love us!

And we need that. I need that. Because as much as I may thirst for the holy and yearn for God, I know that there will be times when I will be tired, distracted or lacking in inspiration; and when that happens, I will simply be incapable of heartfelt prayer or moral uplift. I know that spirituality is a matter of moods; sometimes it is there, sometimes it is not, and therefore it is never enough. I know that the "behavior modification" that Bethke dismisses is precisely what I -- and most of humankind -- must have to do.

As Yoffie says, and almost everyone will agree, organized religions can, and often do, lose their way. They get, in his word, ossified, and they become hypocritical and, at worst, destructive. No doubt about that. But, that doesn't mean that organized religion has to be that way. At it's best, it can be a source of serious spiritual engagement, challenge, uplift, morality and more. And, by its nature, it can be (again, at its best) a more regular, stabilizing force than an undefined "spirituality."

Being spiritual without being religious doesn't make you a bad person, in any way. But, then again, neither does being spiritual and religious.

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