The Future of the American Jew

By Mordecai M. Kaplan | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ELEVEN
THE NEXT STAGE IN RELIGION

1
WHY A NEW STAGE?

If Jewish civilization will emerge alive from its present crisis, it will emerge considerably strengthened. Its principal strength will consist in the new stage of growth that its religion will have undergone. The present stage which is rapidly coming to a close, and which has been based upon an other-worldly outlook, was itself preceded by two early stages. The first stage coincided, on the whole, with the era from Israel's conquest of Canaan to the fall of the First Temple. It may be designated theophanic, because the frequent self-manifestation of Deity through visible and audible means was then assumed to be an actual experience on which men could rely for guidance in their everyday conduct and problems. The second stage coincided with the era of the Second Temple, and may be designated theocratic. That term implies that the organization of the Jewish Commonwealth was based upon a written Torah, of which God was assumed to be the author, and that its affairs were administered by a priestly clan explicitly designated by God as His chosen servitors.

After having thus passed through three stages, the theopbanic, the theocratic and the other-worldly, Jewish religion is about to enter upon a fourth stage, which may be designated spiritual. It will not be a new religion; it will be a new method of spiritual adjustment. It will be the Jewish embodiment of the spiritual religion which will have to come into being among all civilizations, if civilization as such is to survive at all. Such spiritual religion will not be the creation of any one thinker; it will be the product and synthesis of the various endeavors by men who have faith in reason, who love truth and who possess the power to see life steadily and whole.

All civilizations that wish to escape destruction will have to avail themselves of this method of spiritual adjustment. Civilizations will henceforth have to make spiritual life compatible with freedom of conscience as well as of thought. This can come about only as men learn to realize that religion should concern itself less with specific doctrines and prescribed rules, and more with discovering a method of spiritual adjustment which may have universal application.

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