Helpers among the community of Pittsburgh area UUs. Link to the main Sunnyhill site.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Need a Spiritual Lift -- err -- Left

The Democrats Need a Spiritual Left

This piece is so right-on says a net friend in Pittsburgh, Jim. He and Holley love this guy, Rabbi Lerner. He's totally right in his analysis of why Kerry failed to reach a mass following when his opponent was so vulnerable on so many issues.

God is Truth, Truth is God, as Gandhi liked to say.

The Democrats Need a Spiritual Left by Rabbi Michael Lerner
For years the Democrats have been telling themselves "it's the economy, stupid." Yet consistently for dozens of years millions of middle income Americans
have voted against their own economic interests to support Republicans who have tapped a deeper set of needs.

Tens of millions of Americans feel betrayed by a society that seems to place materialism and selfishness above moral values. They know that
"looking out for number one" has become the common sense of our society, but they want a life that is about something more - a framework of meaning and purpose to their lives that would transcend the grasping and narcissism that surrounds them. Sure, they will admit that they have material needs, and
that they worry about adequate health care, stability
in employment, and enough money to give their kids a
college education. But even more deeply they want
their lives to have meaning - and they respond to
candidates who seem to care about values and some
sense of transcendent purpose.

Many of these voters have found a "politics of
meaning" in the political Right. In the Right wing
churches and synagogues these voters are presented
with a coherent worldview that speaks to their
"meaning needs." Most of these churches and synagogues
demonstrate a high level of caring for their members,
even if the flip side is a willingness to demean those
on the outside. Yet what members experience directly
is a level of mutual caring that they rarely find in
the rest of the society. And a sense of community that
is offered them nowhere else, a community that has as
its central theme that life has value because it is
connected to some higher meaning than one's success in
the marketplace.

It's easy to see how this hunger gets manipulated in
ways that liberals find offensive and contradictory.
The frantic attempts to preserve family by denying
gays the right to get married, the talk about being
conservatives while meanwhile supporting Bush policies
that accelerate the destruction of the environment and
do nothing to encourage respect for God's creation or
an ethos of awe and wonder to replace the ethos of
turning nature into a commodity, the intense focus on
preserving the powerless fetus and a culture of life
without a concomitant commitment to medical research
(stem cell research/HIV-AIDS), gun control and
healthcare reform., the claim to care about others and
then deny them a living wage and an ecologically
sustainable environment --- all this is rightly
perceived by liberals as a level of inconsistency that
makes them dismiss as hypocrites the voters who have
been moving to the Right.

Yet liberals, trapped in a long-standing disdain for
religion and tone-deaf to the spiritual needs that
underlie the move to the Right, have been unable to
engage these voters in a serious dialogue. Rightly
angry at the way that some religious communities have
been mired in authoritarianism, racism, sexism and
homophobia, the liberal world has developed such a
knee-jerk hostility to religion that it has both
marginalized those many people on the Left who
actually do have spiritual yearnings and
simultaneously refused to acknowledge that many who
move to the Right have legitimate complaints about the
ethos of selfishness in American life.

Imagine if John Kerry had been able to counter George
Bush by insisting that a serious religious person
would never turn his back on the suffering of the
poor, that the bible's injunction to love one's
neighbor required us to provide health care for all,
and that the New Testament's command to "turn the
other cheek" should give us a predisposition against
responding to violence with violence.

Imagine a Democratic Party that could talk about the
strength that comes from love and generosity and
applied that to foreign policy and homeland security.

Imagine a Democratic Party that could talk of a New
Bottom Line, so that American institutions get judged
efficient, rational and productive not only to the
extent that they maximize money and power, but also to
the extent that they maximize people's capacities to
be loving and caring, ethically and ecologically
sensitive, and capable of responding to the universe
with awe and wonder.

Imagine a Democratic Party that could call for schools
to teach gratitude, generosity, caring for others, and
celebration of the wonders that daily surround us!
Such a Democratic Party, continuing to embrace its
agenda for economic fairness and multi-cultural
inclusiveness, would have won in 2004 and can win in
the future. (Please don't tell me that this is
happening outside the Democratic Party in the Greens
or in other leftie groups --- because except for a few
tiny exceptions it is not! I remember how hard I tried
to get Ralph Nader to think and talk in these terms in
2000, and how little response I got substantively from
the Green Party when I suggested reformulating their
excessively politically correct policy orientation in
ways that would speak to this spiritual consciousness.
The hostility of the Left to spirituality is so deep,
in fact, that when they hear us in Tikkun talking this
way they often can't even hear what we are saying ----
so they systematically mis-hear it and say that we are
calling for the Left to take up the politics of the
Right, which is exactly the opposite of our point ---
speaking to spiritual needs actually leads to a more
radical critique of the dynamics of corporate
capitalism and corporate globalization, not to a
mimicking of right-wing policies).

If the Democrats were to foster a religions/spiritual
Left, they would no longer pick candidates who support
preemptive wars or who appease corporate power. They
would reject the cynical realism that led them to
pretend to be born-again militarists, a deception that
fooled no one and only revealed their contempt for the
intelligence of most Americans. Instead of assuming
that most Americans are either stupid or reactionary,
a religious Left would understand that many Americans
who are on the Right actually share the same concern
for a world based on love and generosity that
underlies Left politics, even though lefties often
hide their value attachments.

Yet to move in this direction, many Democrats would
have to give up their attachment to a core belief:
that those who voted for Bush are fundamentally stupid
or evil. Its time they got over that elitist
self-righteousness and developed strategies that could
affirm their common humanity with those who voted for
the Right. Teaching themselves to see the good in the
rest of the American public would be a critical first
step in liberals and progressives learning how to
teach the rest of American society how to see that
same goodness in the rest of the people on this
planet. It is this spiritual lesson --- that our own
well-being depends on the well-being of everyone else
on the planet and on the well-being of the earth --- a
lesson rooted deeply in the spiritual wisdom of
virtually every religion on the planet, that could be
the center of a revived Democratic Party.

Yet to take that seriously, the Democrats are going to
have to get over the false and demeaning perception
that the Americans who voted for Bush could never be
moved to care about the well being of anyone but
themselves. That transformation in the Democrats would
make them into serious contenders.

The last time Democrats had real social power was when
they linked their legislative agenda with a spiritual
politics articulated by Martin Luther King. We cannot
wait for the reappearance of that kind of charasmatic
leader to begin the process of rebuilding a
spiritual/religious Left...

My personal assumption: When you got west far enough you end up back in the east. And, I guess, it goes the other way as well.


Anonymous said...

I disagree with the basic premise that an increase in religious voters were the deciding factor in Bush winning. This is caused by 1) Confusing the "morals" exit poll question with voters self classification of religion. 2) Gay Marriage votes which passed by around 70%-30% margins. If the religious right was solely motivated by that then Bush would have won by similar margins, and not the 3% edge he got.

I prefer the point of view of Morris P. Fiorina of the Hoover Institute. In Culture War? The Myth of a Polarized America, he claims there is more agreement than disagreement. It is the politicians that push the extremes to highlight the few remaining differences.

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