The New Syncretism

Friday, December 11, 2009

In today’s Wall Street Journal, a professor of religion casts a gimlet eye at the widespread religious promiscuity in contemporary America. “Americans are swingers as well as switchers,” he writes, “flirting with religious beliefs and practices other than their own without officially changing their religious affiliation.” As more and more Americans “are now bellying up to . . . the ‘divine deli,’” the result is a “melting down [of] the sharp edges of the world's religions,” to the detriment of all parties.

Among American Jews, the best-known variant of the syncretistic syndrome is the “JewBu” phenomenon, a do-it-yourself hybrid of Judaism and Buddhism typified if not inspired by Rodger Kamenetz’s The Jew in the Lotus (1994) and celebrated in such lighter fare as That’s Funny, You Don’t Look Buddhist and Jewish Dharma.

The JewBu phenomenon is itself a subset of the meditation and “spirituality” movement that melds Eastern with Jewish sources and practices. A recent touchstone is Jay Michaelson’s God Is Everything, hailed as “timely and necessary” by the guru rabbi Zalman-Schachter Shalomi. An online review at the Jewish Week was respectful, but skeptical.

Whatever all this may portend for the future, David Gelernter, for one, has provided a powerful and no less “timely and necessary” defense of separateness as a bedrock principle of Judaism.

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