Friday, August 29, 2008
"DECODING THE PAST: SECRETS OF KABBALAH"
That is the title of a DVD produced in 2006 by the History Channel. I brought it home from the library and watched it the other day. Interesting. It not only provides the history of Jewish mysticism that led to the Kabbalah, it also has interviews with several representatives of the Jewish faith including Boaz Huss.
Huss's curriculum vitae indicates he is Associate Professor, Goldstein-Goren Department of Jewish Thought, Ben-Gurion University in Israel. He has been an Assistant Professor at Yale University and spent his 2002 sabbatical at Harvard. His Ph.D. was done under Moshe Idel at Hebrew University, Jerusalem on the history of Jewish thought--all of which indicates that he speaks with authority.
Huss is not a polished speaker. He stops, restarts, rewords and backtracks his ideas. However, in the DVD Huss tells us roughly:
Destructing [sic] the ego is turning the will to receive into the will and destroying it is becoming divine...This is actually an idea of a Kabbalistic theme, but that fits very well New Age ideas of constructing, fighting, combatting the ego seen as something superficial and finding the inner self--inner divine self-- is a New Age interpretation of Kabbalah but it's based on a Kabbalistic theme that is previous to this New Age interpretation.
Kabbalah is perceived as sacred to many Orthodox Jews who perceive Kabbalah in a very different way (from that which is presented by the Kabbalah Center). For them teaching Kabbalah to Gentiles for instance is a red line that should not be crossed.
It wasn't entirely clear what he was trying to say, but I thought I heard that New Age came out of the teachings of the Kabbalah. I went searching online for clarification, and found a three-part paper by Huss, "The New Age of Kabbalah and Postmodern Spirituality".
The contemporary revival of Kabbalah in Israel is a wide ranging phenomenon. The interest in and practice of Kabbalah appear in all segments of Israeli Jewish society – Ashkenzim and Mizrachim, Ultra orthodox, National Religious, and Secular, native Israelis as well as new immigrants, low income sectors as well as the rich and the famous.
So much for exempting various sectors of non-monolithic Judaism from the embrace of the Kabbalah, at least in Israel.
In Part 2 Huss writes:
Many of the leaders and clients of the new Kabbalah movements belonged previously to New Age movements, and many still participate in New Age activities....
Rabbi Michael Leitman, the leader of the Bnei Baruch Kabbalah movement, who immigrated to Israel from Russia in the 70's, and studied with R. Yehuda Ashlag's son, Rabbi Baruch, recently sponsored public screenings of the recent New Age Movie, `What the Blip Do We Know`
I believe this is the same Rabbi Michael Leitman who recently had a U.S. tour promoting Kabbalah.
Several New Kabbalah movements integrate explicit New Age terminology and themes in their doctrines and practices.
Among these practices Huss lists astrology, soul energy, channeling mystical energy, and a combining of science and Kabbalah.
New Age themes appear also in the cultural productions of R. Michael Leitman and Bnei Baruch group, who concentrate on the study and dispersion of R. Yehuda Ashlag`s Kabbalah. The belief in consciousness` power to change reality, a typical New Age idea, is central to teaching of Bnei Baruch (as well as to the Kabbalah Center). Like many New Age authors, Leitman (similar to Aricha and Berg) uses scientific vocabulary extensively, and claims that his Kabbalistic teachings are compatible with contemporary science.
This compatibility between spirituality and science is the foundation for the Templeton Prize.
The use of modern scientific vocabulary and the claim that Kabbalah and modern science are compatible is also characteristic to the teaching of R. Isaac Ginsburg, the ultra National-Hasidic Kabbalist, notorious for the book he edited in praise of the mass murderer Baruch Goldstein. Although Ginsburg rejects Yoga, Reiki and Tai Chi, he develops typical New Age meditative and healing practices, and one of his recent books is entitled `Body, Mind, Soul – Kabbalah on Human Physiology, Disease and Healing (2004). The struggle against one's Ego, and the aspiration to connect with one's inner, sanctified self – typical of what Paul Heelas called New Age `self spirituality` - are central themes in the teaching of Ginsburg, as well as of other contemporary Kabbalists. The psychological emphasis of Ginsburg's Kabbalah (which comes to the fore in the title of his book, `Transforming Darkness into Light: Kabbalah and Psychology` 2002), is not derived only from his Hasidic sources, and reflects a typical New Age tendency.
Integration of New Age themes appears also in the teachings of the Ashlagian Kabbalists of Or Ha-Ganuz.
In Part 3 Huss writes:
I believe that the resemblance between the New Age and contemporary Kabbalah is dependent not only on the adoption of New Age themes by contemporary Kabbalists, but also on the postmodern nature of both these phenomena. New Age culture, Contemporary Kabbalah, as well as various other contemporary New Religious Movements, are, as I will turn to argue now, an expression of what Wouter Hanegraaff termed `Postmodern Spirituality`....
...postmodern spirituality is primarily practical knowledge. New Age, as well as Contemporary Kabbalah concentrates mostly on practices, such as meditations, spiritual and physical exercises, proper nutrition, and healing. Postmodern spirituality offers its consumers techniques and spiritual experience rather than articles of faith, myths, or grand narratives....
The legitimacy and value of practices in postmodern spirituality is dependent on their perception as efficient rather than on their belonging to a compelling and authoritative religious or ideological system.
Observers of the postmodern condition describe a major feature of postmodern culture by the terms `pastiche`, the imitation without irony of previous styles, and `bricolage`, the combination of previous cultural productions without concealing their origin. These features comes to the fore in the eclectic and syncretistic nature of New Age and Contemporary Kabbalah, that re-cycles and re-combines signifiers and practices taken from a wider variety of sources, without concealing their origin, or trying to integrate them into a melting pot of a unified grand narrative. The blurring of distinction between `high` and popular culture, which is a distinct feature of postmodern culture is expressed in the integration of scientific terminology with popular practices, as well as in the blurring of distinctions between religion and show business which are typical to New Age and contemporary Kabbalah. Thus, we find in postmodern spiritual culture productions a combination of diverse themes such as Tarot cards and Quantums, Sefirot and Chakras, Pop star celebrities and Noble laureates....
The spiritual practices and production of the New Age and of contemporary Kabbalah are marketable commodities, integrated into global Capitalism’s general commodity production...
...this negative attitude is dependent on the modernist perspective that aspires to separate the `religious` and `the spiritual` from the economic and political arena. The cultural logic of late capitalism, which is expressed in postmodern spirituality, defies this division, and does not see a contradiction between economic and spiritual value.
This last claim seems to be reflected in the tendency of New Age spiritual leaders to heavily market their spiritual teaching. I think it is also reflected in the activities of churches such as New York's Cathedral of St. John the Divine's concerts. Here in the Akron area, St. Bernard's Church in downtown Akron is also used for concerts. Also we know how much of a bone of contention liturgical dance has become. That, too, would appear to be on the cutting edge of the invasion of postmodern spirituality into traditional Catholicism.
This brings up that Biblical claim that we can't serve God and Mammon.
In any case reading Huss's essay confirmed in my mind that New Age has borrowed heavily from Jewish mysticism, and that this New Age theology finds a comfortable home in Judaism in Israel, and elsewhere. It does not have a comfortable home in Catholicism which rejects New Age beliefs and practices according to the Vatican document "Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life". It is this conflict in concepts that makes the history of Opus Angelorum, and their teaching which was originally based in the Kabbalah problematic to a much greater degree than just the ordinary shenanigans of left-leaning liberals.
Without understanding the nature of Kabbalah with its use of channeling, one cannot easily discern the dangers in the teachings of Opus Angelorum and its use of contact with guardian angels. It is the angels--fallen angels--that Catholic theology claims are contacted when engaging in the activity of channeling. For this reason the stubborn resistence of Opus Angelorum to the changes required by the CDF, and their continued reference to Gabriele Bitterlich and her automatic writing on their website is a red flag of danger that this group may not be teaching authentic Catholic spirituality.