Elevators of Religion-From Cellar to Penthouse

To expand on a previous blog entitled “Welcome to Cellar Religion”: the mission of religion is to serve as an elevator lifting people from the cellar of untamed, emotional religious enthusiasm and zeal, which needs to be disciplined and purified, to a higher level. It is at the mezzanine level of discipline, reason, ethics and morality that primal religious emotion and zeal are purified. At the penthouse level of spirituality and mysticism, the religious impulse purified by reason, ethics, morality and the discipline of a daily religious practice is elevated still further. Here there develops a profound awareness that all humans, no matter their race religion or gender are all God’s children and as our brothers and sisters are entitled to consideration, compassion and love. Here there emerges a respect and an appreciation for animals, birds and nature in all its forms, even beyond our universe, as aspects of God’s creation. Here there awakens an awe and a love of God and the heavenly dimensions.

The problem is that fanatic fundamentalists will not allow the elevators to rise above the level of primal religion. The elevators that do escape their clutches and reach the mezzanine level are discouraged from rising further to the penthouse because that is only for “kooks.” So in search for authentic religious emotion and spirituality they descend again to the cellar of primal religion.

On the other hand, there are elevators that go express-rising from the cellar of primal religion to the penthouse of spirituality and mysticism. But having skipped the mezzanine of reason, ethics, morality and the discipline of daily practice, the passengers emerge confused and distorted. They adopt what they believe are the outer forms of penthouse spirituality and mysticism, beards or shaved heads, ochre robes or black hats and gabardines for men, veils and head to foot covering for women. But they are inwardly untransformed. They still seethe with the undisciplined, unpurified emotions and zeal of primal religion that lead them to commit horrors and absurdities

My father, of blessed memory, gifted with a highly intuitive sense of people’s character, once described a man whose appearance and conduct seemed to be the hallmark of a pious Jewish mystic. “Under his beard he is clean shaven.” He implied that the man’s appearance and speech belied who he really was. He was as dishonest as any corrupt businessman not so attired and not so overtly pious in speech and conduct.

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About Rabbi Joseph Schultz, PhD

Dr. Joseph Schultz served as Rabbi for congregations in Brookline, MA, Norwich, CT and Cambridge, MA. Dr. Schultz founded the Jewish Studies Program at Boston University where he was Assistant Professor of Religion and at the University of Missouri-Kansas City where he was Oppenstein Brothers Distinguished Professor of Judaic Studies. He helped establish the Center for Religious Studies in 1996, a consortium of six colleges, theological schools and the University of Missouri-Kansas City, offering an interdisciplinary graduate program for the PhD in Religious Studies. Dr. Schultz was its first director.

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