Eikev: Religion vs. Spirituality



Religion is yet again in the news, the issue sparked this time by several Republican presidential hopefuls who define themselves as religious. The matter came to a head when the Governor of Texas, Rick Perry, prior to his anticipated presidential bid, gathered tens of thousands of evangelical Christians in a sports stadium for a prayer rally. As Governor Perry read passages from the Bible, thousands of people stood or kneeled on the concrete floor, weeping and shouting, “Amen!”

And as the pundits weighed in, criticizing and analyzing, a dominant opinion seemed to be that this was crossing the line separating church and state, and above all, that this was “way too much religion.” Americans don’t want it to be that overt. Americans prefer something softer, something less religious, something more spiritual.

This sermon analyzes the difference between being religious and being spiritual and asks: Is this split a true one?

Why is it that so many religious people are not in the least spiritual and vice versa? Indeed, most see the “religious” as dogmatic (and even obnoxious) – everything that is antithetical to being spiritually refined. Conversely, many people feel that they can achieve spirituality – defined by an ethereal, transcendent experience – just by being “free spirits.” Religion, the argument goes, is about conformity and group-think; spirituality is about individuality and personal expression.

Which one is it? Can one be religious and unrefined? Can one be refined without a religious discipline?

This is the challenge of our times, the challenge facing the so-called battle between science and religion, church and state – finding a place for faith in a modern, secular, scientific world.

This sermon posits that we need to revisit our entire definition of the words “religious” and “spiritual,” which may be ill-conceived in the first place. Indeed, the dissonance between mechanical ritual and soulful living compels us to re-examine the very meaning of Torah and Mitzvot, and the true nature of Judaism.


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