June 5, 2012

Spiritual Politics – Changing Oneself and Changing the World: Inseparable and Possible.


When your mind and heart are truly open abundance will flow to you effortlessly and easily.

By Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor, Tikkun Magazine

At the end of the 1960s, many of my friends were frustrated at the way people engaged in social change seemed to be psychologically challenged in ways that kept on interfering with the ability of “the movement” to achieve its goals of peace and social justice. They decided to “work on themselves” and only after feeling that they had achieved a spiritual balance could they return to addressing the world.

Some forty plus years later, few of those people achieved their goal. And there is a reason: our inner spiritual equilibrium is constantly being challenged by the dynamics of a competitive, materialist, ego-driven and spiritual-denying competitive marketplace. As a psychologist, I studied the ways that people in daily life are shaped by the “looking out for number one” and the “old bottom line” (efficiency or productivity measured solely in terms of maximizing money or power) that dominates the economy and the daily experience of tens of millions of Americans (and people around the world). When you spend all day (most of your waking hours) in a workplace where you learn quickly that your future depends on how much you can contribute to the “old bottom line,” and simultaneously learn that everyone in the work place is out to advance themselves without regard to the consequences for others, and that you had better do the same thing or you are going to be viewed as less important to that enterprise and may eventually lose your job, and that your whole company may collapse if it doesn’t do well at maximizing its own self-interest better than competing companies do, you end up believing that the whole world is really a place in which everyone is likely to push themselves forward and not give much care to your own well-being.

It is this experience that most people have daily in the economy and in the world of work that leads people to feel very scared and very alone. On the one hand, most people wish they lived in a different kind of world in which genuine caring is possible. On the other hand, they’ve come to believe that getting to such a different world is impossible, unrealistic, naïve, and even dangerous to think about.

The upshot: most people internalize the sense of “what is realistic” that they get from work and from the media, and being it home into personal lives. When you get tens of millions of people believing the everyone is primarily out for themselves, they tend to believe that they would be foolish to not act similarly. So the worldview becomes self-fulfilling.

The result is a huge spiritual crisis throughout the world. As people approach each other with fear and distrust, they convey to others that they too ought to be similarly distrustful. An ethos of “what’s in it for me” begins to take over, and this has a disastrous consequence for friendships, families and all loving relationships.

So what happens to the tens of millions of people who have gone through some spiritual training or experience or religious community? They may have had an experience of enlightenment or something close, they may have adopted a daily practice of meditation or prayer, and yet, they still believe deep in their hearts that they are isolated or alone, that most other people are likely going to be pushing their own needs and their own agenda, and that they need to protect themselves from all the selfishness that surrounds them. Ironically, then, the spiritual path, filled with a huge amount of wisdom, can’t really work at the deep level it needs to unless we change the system of rewards in our society. Today we are rewarded for “looking out for number one,” and for measuring success in terms of material rewards and the consumption of material goods. Imagine, then, how different things could be if we were rewarding people with a different “bottom line.”

That’s why we at Tikkun magazine–an interfaith journal online at www.tikkun.org that addresses spirituality, politics, social healing and transformation, culture and philosophy—created a consciousness-change organization called the Network of Spiritual Progressives. Tikkun is a Hebrew word which means healing, repair, and transformation. By spiritual we don’t mean that you have to be part of a spiritual or religious community or believe in God. Rather, a spiritual progressive is someone who recognizes that not everything of value in life can be verified through intersubjective empirical observation or measured. Rather, some of the most important things in life cannot be measured and still deserve a central place (e.g. aesthetics, music, art, ethics, love, generosity, caring, compassion, forgiveness).

So we’ve become advocates of The New Bottom Line.” We want corporations, government policies, our education system, our legal system, proposed legislation, our health care system, and even our personal behavior to be considered “efficient” or “rational” or “productive” not only to the extent that they tend to maximize money and power, but also to the extent that they maximize our human capacities to be loving, caring, kind, generous, ethically and ecologically sensitive, capable of responding to other human beings as embodiments of the sacred and not just there to satisfy our own needs, and to respond to the universe not only as something we can use to satisfy human desires but also as something that we respond to with awe, wonder and radical amazement at the grandeur and mystery of all that is.

Our Network of Spiritual Progressives has thousands of members, and I hope you’ll consider joining us at www.spiritualprogressives.org. But we aren’t only about good ideas—we are also an action organization seeking to build a different kind of world, based on The New Bottom Line. When asked to sum it up in a slogan, we say we seek to build The Caring Society: Caring for Each Other and Caring for the Earth.

We are engaged in three main areas of activity:

1. The Global Marshall Plan. We believe that global survival depends on us all coming to recognize that our well-being depends on the well-being of everyone else on the planet. So we seek to change American foreign policy from its current Strategy of Domination (the U.S. has over one thousand military bases or instillations around the globe, and we spend more on military than all the other countries of the planet combined) to a Strategy of Generosity (showing others that we genuinely care about their well-being). The Global Marshall Plan (please download and read the full version at www.spiritualprogressives.org/GMP) calls for the U.S. to take the leadership with the other advanced industrial societies to dedicate 1-2% of the Gross Domestic Product of each country each year for the next twenty to eliminating (not just ameliorating, but eliminating permanently) domestic and global poverty (2.5 billion people living on less than $2 a day; approximately 10,000 children dying of starvation, malnutrition or inadequate health care), homelessness, hunger, inadequate education, inadequate health care, and repairing the global environment). We insist that “homeland security” cannot be achieved through domination (whether that be military, economic, cultural, media or diplomatic domination) but rather can best be achieved by becoming a society that people around the world recognize for our spirit of open-hearted generosity. This is spiritual politics in practice.

2. The ESRA—Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This would A. Overturn the Supreme Court’s “Citizen’s United” decision that said that corporations have the same free speech rights as individuals, and that since using money in elections is a form of speech, there can be no limits placed on how much money a corporation can spend in an election. B. Publicly fund all national and statewide elections and ban all other monies from individuals or corporations, thereby eliminating the power of the wealthy to disproportionately influence the outcomes of elections and free our legislators from having to spend so much time raising funds for their next campaign. C. Require corporations with incomes over $100 million per year to get a new corporate charter once every five years which they could only get if they could prove a satisfactory history of Environmental and Social Responsibility to a jury of ordinary citizens who would also hear testimony from all the communities in which that corporation operated.

3. Embracing Israel/Palestine—helping Americans (and eventually Israelis and Palestinians as well) develop a deep understanding that peace requires overcoming the tendency to see one side as “the righteous victim” and the other side as “the Evil Other.” In my new book Embracing Israel/Palestine I show that both sides have a legitimate story to tell, both sides have righteousness, and both sides have been at times insensitive and even cruel toward the other. Both sides are victims of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and no political solution will work, no matter how smart or reasonable it is, until each side can develop a desire for open-hearted reconciliation, mutual forgiveness, and a genuine spirit of generosity. The Global Marshall Plan in point one above is one step in this direction, because it tends to undermine the fear that every nation only cares about itself and not about anyone else. But there are other things we can do in the West to spread a new consciousness that eventually will have a profound impact in the Middle East.
I know this sounds a bit overly optimistic, but please read the quotes of support for this book and its perspective by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Jimmy Carter, Congressman Keith Ellison, previous chair of the Israeli Knesset Avrum Burg, Palestinian peace activist in Bethlehem Sami Awad, expert on world religions Prof. Robert Bellah, psychoanalyst Jessica Benjamin, and many more at www.tikkun.org/EIP (where you can also order the book, or you can get it from Kindle at Amazon.com).

These are the directions a spiritual politics can take in the next few years, no matter who wins the 2012 elections!!! We are not about backing candidates, but about transforming consciousness. And that, in turn, requires both developing an inner life, and then allowing our highest ideals to shape the direction of our political activity.

Do please don’t be “realistic.” Being realistic usually means listening to the media, the intelligentsia, and our political leaders who tell us that it’s unrealistic to make significant changes in this world. They told women that it would be unrealistic to challenge sexism and patriarchy; they told African Americans it would be unrealistic to end segregation and seek equality in practice and not just in law; they told gays and lesbians it would be unrealistic to “come out of the closet”; and now they are telling many of us spiritual progressives that it is unrealistic to build a world based on love and generosity.

Our task as spiritual progressives is to urge people to not be realistic, to put your energies, your money, and your time behind a vision of the world that really speaks to your deepest aspirations. I hope you’d join our Network of Spiritual Progressives, subscribe to Tikkun magazine, and become part of the growing community of people who take their inner lives very seriously, but also know that the healing and transformation that this planet needs in order to avoid environmental destruction or nuclear warfare is going to require a simultaneous transformation of our economic and political institutions. Global peace is possible, reconciliation between Israel and Palestine is possible, ending poverty and oppression is possible. But that will require building a social movement that takes seriously both transforming ourselves inside and healing the world and its institutions. Will you join me please?

Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of Tikkun Magazine, chair of the interfaith Network of Spiritual Progressives, author of 11 books (including Jewish Renewal; Spirit Matters; The Politics of Meaning; The Left Hand of God: Taking Back our Country from the Religious Right; Embracing Israel/Palestine and with Cornel West, Jews and Blacks: Let the Healing Begin). He is the rabbi of Beyt Tikkun Synagogue Without Walls in Berkeley, California.

Write Your Comment

  1. some1

    it`s not enough to read, you have to act too

  2. Shayne

    Wow, really deep and well thought out. Enjoyed reading it. Might want to fix the typo in politics though.

  3. heartphone

    Through its mere existence, the Internet already functions as a whole towards this goal :) Maybe someone should connect the trillions of pages together as the huge Innernet or Choiceless Awareness....

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