Volume 3 Number 11
June 11, 2008
MarketFaith Ministries is an equipping ministry which is focused on helping Christians become more effective in living out their faith in the midst of the increasingly diverse worldview environment of modern society.
Introduction The number of religions and cults out there are enormous to begin with, but the number we are becoming aware of is exploding. I suppose it is inevitable with the rise of the information age. Massive numbers of people, now, have the ability to put their beliefs in the public square, and even more have the technology to access that information. It can be very overwhelming. This is why it is so critical for us, as Christians, to understand worldview. Without a simple framework to help us understand the massive number of belief systems being thrown at us, it would be almost impossible to comprehend them all. But with the framework that an understanding of worldview gives us, it is a piece of cake. Kabbalah, the belief system we are looking at today is just such a case. Very small in relative terms, but big on publicity. Madonna’s advocacy makes it very visible, but how can we grasp its tenets? Not so difficult if we know worldview principles. I hope today’s explanation will help your understanding, but especially your ability to share your own faith in our increasingly complex world. Let me know what you think. Are these articles helping you? I would love to receive any comments, (Continued on page 2) The Gospel According to Madonna: Kabbalah It seems that many Hollywood celebrities are spiritually empty and on the lookout for something to fill the void in their lives. Unfortunately they don’t tend to look to the real source of truth for their answers, but seek out some other avenue. A number of years back Shirley MacLaine made a big splash with her advocacy of New Age religion. Oprah has followed in her footsteps in recent times in the New Age arena. There was a time when Transcendental Meditation was all the rage and was promoted by such celebrities as the Beetles and film Director David Lynch. Then, of course, there is the celebrity popularity of Scientology with such adherents as Kirstie Alley, John Travolta and Tom Cruise. Now there is another fad spirituality which is being popularized by none other than Madonna. This religion is not new in terms of the time it has been around. In fact its history goes back hundreds, or perhaps even thousands of years. Called Kabbalah, this faith is a form of mystical Judaism. In recent times, however, a new variety of Kabbalah has emerged which is becoming the next celebrity religion. In order to get a deeper understanding of this belief system, let’s begin with a general overview of Kabbalah, then examine the modern incarnation which is becoming the fad in Hollywood. What is Kabbalah? The word "Kabbalah" comes from the Hebrew word meaning "to receive,” “to accept," or simply “the tradition.” It primarily refers to the revelation from God which has been received by Jews and passed to succeeding generations through oral tradition. As a form of Jewish mysticism, Kab(Continued on page 2)
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(Introduction - Continued from page 1) questions or suggestions you might have. Also, please share this with your friends and encourage them to sign up for the newsletter. And remember, there is further depth you can gain by checking out our books. You can order these on the website at www.marketfaith.org. I also want to thank those who have contributed to our efforts. You are helping to make it possible for us to continue putting out material which is beneficial to the Christian community. For others of you who would like to help our efforts, you can partner with us by your financial contributions with a tax deductible gift. You may send your contribution to: MarketFaith Ministries, 321 Anton Dr., Tallahassee, FL 32312. Of course, you may also donate online by using the “Donate” button on our secure website to make a contribution by credit card. God bless, Freddy
(Madonna - Continued from page 1) balah consists of a large body of writings on the nature of God, the creation, the origin and fate of the soul, and the role of human beings. There are also various meditative, devotional, and mystical practices associated with its exercise. No-one knows exactly how old this belief system is. The earliest documents which are generally seen to be Kabbalistic come from around the 1st century A.D. There are, though, indications that at least some of its practices derived from earlier times, and it claims to have its origins as far back as Adam. As a recognized branch of Jewish mysticism, though, it is believed to have origins around the 13th century A.D. among Jews in Babylonia, Italy and Spain. The Founder of Kabbalah is generally considered to be Isaac the Blind who lived from 1160-1236. It is not known for sure whether or not he was the original founder, but is considered the “Father of Kabbalah.” Its beliefs are taught in a 23-volume book called the Zohar, which gives interpretations of the hidden meanings within the Torah. Kabbalists believe that every word, letter, number, and even accent mark contains mysteries which can be interpreted by those who know the secret. The names for God are believed to contain miraculous power and each letter of the divine name is considered to have power for those who know its secrets. Tradition has it that God created the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament) before he created the world. This Torah is, itself, believed to be divine and it advised God on things such as the creation of mankind. According to tradition, when Moses received the written law from God, he also received a separate oral law, Kabbalah, which was passed from generation to generation. Just as the Torah was accompanied by an oral tradition, there also developed a secret oral tradition around the Kabbalah which was only passed to a limited number of initiates. This oral tradition is believed to contain hidden meanings and divine power which can be accessed by those who are initiated into the belief. So, the central belief of the Kabbalah tradition is that the Torah is divine and that by studying its text a person can unlock the secrets of the creation. Followers of Kabbalah believe that its teachings take away grief, pain, misery, worries, and the like. Kabbalah holds many beliefs which closely resemble Greek Gnosticism. As in Gnosticism, Kabbalah believes that only a select few are able to receive the deeper teachings of the faith. Additionally, they both teach that God created various levels of gods who did creative work below them. The lower the level, the further away from God they are. (Continued on page 3)
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(Continued from page 2) The Kabbalah Center While it is important to know the general information above, the particular form of Kabbalah which is becoming popular among celebrities is an offshoot which is considered by many to be nothing more than a cult. This form is expressed through The Kabbalah Centre. What is the Kabbalah Centre? The Kabbalah Centre claims to be a spiritual and educational organization dedicated to bringing the wisdom of Kabbalah to the world. Its leaders maintain that it has existed for around 80 years in its current form, but does see its roots in historical Kabbalah. The Centre is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit corporation which is headquartered in Los Angeles, California. The organization serves its constituency by providing Kabbalah courses online and through its local affiliates. Their claim to uniqueness is that they provide access to the teachings of Kabbalah in a simplified, user-friendly system. The teaching is marketed as a universal system for self-improvement which is available to anyone, regardless of religion, race, age, or gender – for a price. This simplified system of Kabbalah was created by the leader of The Kabbalah Centre, Philip Berg, and his wife, Karen. They currently claim approximately 3.5 million followers. Philip Berg was born in New York as Feivel Gruberger. Prior to founding his religious organization, he was an insurance agent. He got into Kabbalah when he married the niece of a leader of one of the Kabbalah schools in Israel, Tzvi Brandwein. However, he later left Brandwein's niece, and their eight children to marry his current wife, Karen. Berg claims the title of Dr., but there seems to be no record that he actually earned an academic degree. Berg maintains that the modern incarnation of the Centre was founded in Jerusalem by Rav Yehuda Ashlag in 1922. Upon his death, leadership was taken on by Rav Yehuda Tzvi Brandwein. It was during this time that Berg began studying Kabbalah. Following Brandwein’s death, Berg claims that he was designated to take over as the leader. This claim is disputed by Brandwein’s son and others who continue to run the school in Israel. Additionally, both Jewish academics and religious leaders of both orthodox and contemporary schools of Jewish mysticism condemn him as a charlatan and consider his group a cult. After Brandwein's death, Philip Berg and his wife Karen “reconstituted” the Kabbalah Centre in New York in 1965. Then, in 1984, they moved the headquarters to Los Angeles and opened a center there. Karen and their sons Yehuda and Michael serve as “Directors” and “Spiritual Leaders” of the organization. It currently has over fifty branches worldwide, including major ones in Los Angeles, New York City, London and Toronto. Berg has managed to parley his efforts into a very lucrative enterprise for his family and close associates. In current times, the most prominent celebrity follower is Madonna. However there are other celebrities who also follow this teaching. These include such people as Anthony Kiedis, Ashton Kutcher, Demi Moore, Donna Karan, David Beckham, Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie, Zac Efron and Lauren Conrad. What Are the Basic Teachings of the Kabbalah Centre? Berg claims that Kabbalah answers the ultimate questions of human existence such as who we are, where we come from and why we are here. He claims that its teachings are able to purify the soul, as well as to banish disease, depression and discontent by means of the teachings contained in the Zohar. (Continued on page 4) 3
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(Continued from page 3) Kabbalah teaches that in order for human beings to receive the gifts God offers humanity, we must somehow earn them. We do this by accomplishing our spiritual work which is to transform ourselves – that is, to recognize the sources of negativity in our hearts and minds and use the tools of Kabbalah to create change. According to Kabbalah, every human being is a work in progress. Any pain, disappointment, or chaos that exists in our lives is not because this is how life is meant to be. Rather, it is because we have not yet transformed ourselves by becoming free from the domination by our human ego in order to share in the essence of God. To attain this freedom, we must learn to let go of anger, jealousy, and other negative behaviors and to take on patience, empathy, and compassion. There are several teachings which particularly characterize Kabbalah. 1. Universal Wisdom - All of the major belief systems in the world are understood to be various expressions of universal wisdom. Since this is true, The Kabbalah Centre does not claim to be an alternative to any religion in particular, but is able to supplement any other one. 2. Relativism - Kabballah believes that there is no universal moral right and wrong and that the concept of morality is necessarily subjective. Additionally, everything is the result of cause and effect and all human motivations are ultimately selfish. 3. The Priority of the Zohar - Kabbalah believes that the Bible (Old Testament) cannot to be taken literally. It is essentially a code and can only be understood by unlocking the code based on the teachings of the Zohar. 4. The Nature of God - God, himself, is believed to be beyond comprehension. As a result, people should basically be concerned with their relationship with the essence of God, rather than with God himself. This essence is referred to, in Kabbalah, as Light. In the beginning, this Light was all that existed. But since it was the Light’s nature to share itself, it needed a recipient – which didn’t exist. Therefore the Light created a recipient which inherited its desire to share itself. In order for the recipient to express this characteristic, it broke into two parts so that it could share with itself. It is from these two parts that the souls of all males and females are derived. 5. The 99% - The "99%" refers to the way true reality is divided. It is believed that the five senses of human experience only provide access 1% of reality. The other 99% cannot be accessed by the senses. However, one can use Kabbalistic wisdom to access that 99%. This, then, provides a context within which we can understand the 1% which we perceive by our senses. All confusion, and the appearance of chaos that seems to exist in the world, is merely an illusion created by the absence of that context. 6. “Restriction” of One’s Emotions - Kabbalah teaches that when an event occurs in one’s life, it triggers an emotional response which is acted upon. For a person to be able to control these events, he must consider his emotional reactions to be the enemy. If he is somehow able to gain mastery over his primary emotional reactions, the best response to that situation will come to him naturally. Only by restricting one's emotional responses to negative events, does it become possible to remove the obstruction of the ego. 7. Klippot - Klippot is the belief that there are shells of negativity which surround us. Potentially, everyone has a direct connection to the upper spiritual world of the Light, but that this channel is blocked by these shells of negativity which restrict the Light from entering the physical body. Through meditation and by practicing Kabbalah, a person can remove the Klippot. 8. Astrology - The Kabbalah Centre has a strong belief in astrology and teaches that it has been part of Judaism since its beginning. It asserts that astrology was lost in Jewish tradition nearly 2000 years ago when the Jewish rabbis suppressed it. The result is that Kabbalah believes that there are cosmic forces which affect everything. If a person can understand these forces, it becomes possible to use them to make one’s life better. Philip Berg, himself, is an astrologer and has written numerous books on the topic. 9. Sexuality - Kabbalah believes that male sperm contain a soul. As such, masturbation is discouraged because it causes the souls to become abandoned and turn into demons. They believe that when a woman's insides come into contact with a man's sperm, they contact the very essence of their energy which affects them for several years. They also believe that a man should not achieve orgasm before the woman because it injects selfishness into the act of making love. When participating in sex, it is taught that the woman must not be positioned above the man because it draws energy into her from below, instead of from above. The sex act is seen as a means of gaining Light. (Continued on page 5) 4
(Continued from page 4) The Worldview of Kabbalah Kabbalah represents a pantheistic approach to understanding God, though it is different from the pantheism of Far Eastern Thought. Here are the specific ways that Kabbalah deals with the worldview questions. What Worldview Does Kabbalah Represent? (How Kabbalah Answers the 7 Worldview Questions) 1. What is the Nature of Ultimate Reality? Kabbalah represents a form of monistic pantheism and teaches that God is neither matter nor spirit. Rather he is the creator of both. According to this philosophy, God’s existence is higher than the human mind can comprehend or express. However, he has revealed elements of himself through various emanations of his being. Kabbalah recognizes two aspects of God. First, God himself is understood to be unknowable. Secondly, the aspect of himself that he has revealed to mankind is that part which created and preserves the universe, and which interacts with mankind. Kabbalists speak of the first aspect of God as "the infinite," "the endless," or "that which has no limits." This aspect of God is impersonal and nothing can be said about it. The second aspect God is his divine emanations. These emanations are at least partially accessible to human thought. This is the special knowledge that Kabbalah claims to be able to reveal. 2. What is the Nature of Material Reality? The material universe was created by God and is a manifestation of himself that can be comprehended by humanity. 3. What Is a Human Being? Kaballah asserts that the human soul has three elements. The nefesh is found in all humans, and enters the physical body at birth. It is the source of our physical and psychological nature. The ru'ach is associated with the intellect and conscience, while the neshamah is the divine spark. These last two are not implanted at birth but are accessible to anyone who awakens and develops them by the practice of Kabbalah. There are also some other parts of the human soul, but these are only within the grasp of a few chosen individuals." 4. What Happens to a Person at Death? In Kabbalah, the three elements of the soul separate after death and all have their own fate. The nefesh stays in the grave, the ru’ach goes to the terrestrial paradise based on its merits in physical life, and the neshamah goes directly back to the Divine world. The concept of punishment and retribution apply to the nefesh and ru'ach alone. 5. Why Is it Possible to Know Anything at All? Knowledge is divided into two parts – that which we know through universal wisdom and the higher knowledge which we can gain by leaning Kabbalah. 6. How Do We Know Right and Wrong? Right and wrong are relative and are expressed through the universal wisdom that emanates from God. But the highest level of an understanding of morality has been revealed in the Zohar. 7. What Is the Meaning of Human History? The meaning of human history is located in the ultimate purpose of God. We discover that meaning as we learn the secrets of Kabbalah. Kabbalah is a hybrid belief system. Its core is essentially a form of Theism, though it is pantheism rather than monotheism. It recognizes an ultimate, impersonal God who has created emanations from himself which are ultimately responsible for material existence. The acceptance of astrology, though, injects elements of Animism. The Practical Implications of Kabbalah Theology Since we are primarily concerned with the form of Kabbalah which has been popularized by Madonna, this is what we will focus on. Essentially, this variety of Kabbalah is a form of self-improvement, or self-realization which is accessed through the teachings of the Zohar as it is taught at The Kabbalah Centre. In order to gain this knowledge, individuals must purchase the classes and materials which are sold by the Centre. So, the first implication relates to the financial investment that people must be willing to make in order to gain this knowledge for themselves. In this sense, it is much like Scientology where the ability to progress spiritually is limited by the amount of money or other resources one is willing to invest. There are, though, other implications which relate to the life that one leads based on Kabbalah’s teachings. Since God is (Continued on page 6) 5
(Continued from page 5) not understood to be personal, salvation is not about pleasing God, but about developing one’s own spirit. As a result, there is a strong focus on this life and very little focus on eternity. Since it is believed that personal development comes specifically through The Kabbalah Centre, individuals must become essentially connected with it in order to gain the knowledge necessary to grow to higher levels. There are many stories of individuals becoming psychologically trapped in the same way as is seen in many other cults. What Is Kabbalah’s Authority Foundation? The ultimate authority of Kabbalah is the Zohar. Most claims for its authority assert that it is authoritative because of its ancient origins. They particularly claim divine revelation of oral commands by angels to Adam, Abraham, Moses and others who orally passed them on to those after them. What Evidence Exists to Support Kabbalah’s Authority Foundation? Since Kabbalah is entirely based on oral tradition, there is no real objective evidence that it is true. Beyond the claims of ancient origin, they can only point to anecdotal evidence that what they teach works in the lives of its followers. How Can We Evaluate the Viability of Kabbalah’s Authority Foundation? There is no objective validation of Kabbalah’s authority. All of the claims are subjective based on the assertions of its followers. Typically, adherents make these claims based on their own experience, but there is nothing to make their experience more valid than claims made by adherents of other belief systems. Interacting with Believers of Kabbalah’s Theology Kabbalah believers are looking strictly to this life for affirmation that their beliefs are right. They are simply trying to find a way to make their life better. This is essentially the same thing that motivates a large percentage of spiritual seekers in Western cultures. It is precisely the same motivation of those who become involved in Wicca, New Age, Scientology and many other popular beliefs of our modern times. There are two things that are important as we try to share our faith with those who are following Philip Berg’s belief. First, we must be able to contrast the truth claims of Kabbalah with the truth of the Gospel. There actually is objective evidence for our Christian beliefs which can be contrasted with the faith presumptions of Kabbalah. Secondly, we must recognize that followers of Kabbalah are searching for something to fill the spiritual void in their hearts. We must be able to express genuine and transparent faith as we live and share with them. They must be able to see that Jesus Christ is actually making a difference for us in this life, and is not simply a desire for “pie in the sky by and by. To do this we must be willing to enter into a non-judgmental personal relationship with those we wish to share with, and stay with the relationship long enough to gain their trust to the point that they allow us to share our faith with them. Summary In many ways, Kabbalah adherents are deeply spiritual and are looking for the same things that many other Westerners are looking for. They sense the need for spiritual connections and are trying to find something genuine to fill that void. Too often Christianity is dismissed because of experiences people have had with Christians who were insincere and hypocritical. By having a solid knowledge base about our own faith and that of others, and by living out a genuine and sincere Christian faith, it becomes possible for us to effectively share with anyone, including Kabbalists, how they can know a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
[If you have questions or comments about this article, feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org). In the Next Issue: Do You Think Like a Republican, a Democrat or Jesus?