Below I present the Network of Spiritual Progressives covenant. What do you think? Is this in accord with Green Values? Am I out of line to include it on our blog?
When 1,200 Americans met in Washington DC for the first east coast gathering of the Network of Spiritual Progressives, they met with Congress to present a very concrete program for transformation of the dynamics of American politics. The fundamental demand: we want a NEW BOTTOM LINE. Institutions, social practices, corporations, government policies, school systems, and proposed legislation should be judged “efficient,” “rational” or “productive” not only to the extent that they maximize money or power, but ALSO to the extent that they enhance our capacities to be loving and caring, generous and kind, ethically and ecologically responsible, able to see others and treat them as embodiments of the sacred, and able to respond to the universe with gratitude, awe, wonder and radical amazement at the grandeur of creation.
How do we achieve that New Bottom Line? Through the Spiritual Covenant below. Please circulate this to everyone you know and try to get each person to join the Network of Spiritual Progressives and to circulate this to all their friends. It’s a positive vision at a time when the Democrats and even much of the liberal and progressive movements only know what they are against but have been unable to articulate a vision of what they are for. Here is that positive vision, and if you want to help us circulate it, then please join the NSP and approach all media people you know and ask them to write about the Spiritual Covenant, and to contact us at our national office, 510 644 1200 or RabbiLerner@tikkun.org
A Spiritual Covenant with America
Written by Rabbi Michael Lerner in consultation with and fulfillment of the agenda of The Network of Spiritual Progressives, co-chaired by Lerner, Cornel West, and Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister
This is what we presented to the U.S. Congress May 17-20: An alternative to Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America and to the religio-phobia and spiritually tone deaf politics of the liberal world.
1. Support Families
We will create a society that promotes rather than undermines loving and caring relationships and families. We will challenge the materialism and selfishness (often rooted in the dynamics of the competitive marketplace) that undermine loving relationships and family life. Every institution or social practice that encourages us to see others as instruments for our own advancement rather than as embodiments of the sacred must be re-conceptualized and rebuilt so that it instead maximizes our capacities to be loving and generous and caring. We will challenge cynical attempts to reduce life to self-interest. And we will oppose the cheapening of sexuality that regularly occurs as marketers use sex to sell their products and seek to do so with teens and now pre-teens. Sure, we need full employment, child care, flex time, a coordinated assault on poverty, and many other economic changes, so we support all these elements of the traditional liberal agenda—but our spiritual focus incorporates but goes beyond the normal liberal list of demands to insist on a fundamental change in the values that our society promotes: our society must be safe for love rather than fostering the qualities in people that make love more difficult to sustain: cynicism, harshness, individualism, self-centeredness, despair about ultimate meaning, insensitivity to the possibility of transformation, and fear.
CONTRAST: LIBERAL AGENDA—Family support is always posed in terms that emphasize economic entitlements, but since everyone knows that family breakdown is not confined to those lacking economic supports, the liberal appeal is seen as just using the family issue for its pre-existing agenda rather than actually addressing the fear in people’s lives about the breakdown of loving commitments and the resultant feelings of loneliness. We agree with the supports, but see them as necessary but not sufficient.
CONTRAST: CONSERVATIVE AGENDA—Family support for them often means restricting the rights of gays and lesbians to marry (as though that had anything to do with why families break up), teaching women to be subordinate to men in family life (a strategy that requires women to give up their own natural intelligence and wisdom to “go along” with men, rather than to build partnership relationships based on mutual respect which have a much stronger foundation and greater prospect of lasting), opposing abortion (but giving little support to the child once it is born) and providing religious communities in which families are embedded (a positive aspect of the conservative agenda which has to be emulated by creating progressive “communities of meaning,” but without a right-wing ideology governing them).
TALKING POINTS WHEN MEETING WITH AN ELECTED OFFICIAL:
A. Talk about specific family-supportive programs like “Family Leave” in the first three months after birth or support for child and elder care not in utilitarian or instrumental terms (e.g. “we’ll get better work out of our workers or we’ll get better ‘human resources’ if we give them these benefits) but as a manifestation of an underlying commitment to caring for each other and a recognition of the special place of families as the one institution committed to affirming love as its highest values. It was precisely when the Clinton Family Leave plan passed that for a moment people allowed themselves to realize that this was a government policy without instrumental purpose or goal other than to affirm the need for love uninterrupted by economic necessity.
B. Oppose legislation to prevent gay and lesbian marriages, but do it by deepening the discussion and affirming that there is really a spiritual crisis in families, caused in part by the prevalence of an ethos of materialism, selfishness, me-first-ism, and cheapening of sexuality, but that that crisis is not caused by gays or lesbians but by the values of the marketplace and the media. Do not fight that battle solely in terms of “rights” but get to the deeper level of human needs that are legitimate but are being manipulated by homophobia away from their potentially transformative impact in demanding a society that actually supports love and caring as its central values. In fact, gay and lesbian marriages promote just as much love and just as much good child-rearing (at least in those parts of the society where homophobia doesn’t distort what is possible) as heterosexual marriages and child-rearing. So we need our elected officials to support loving relationships between consenting adults.
C. Congress should support legislation, tax policies, budgets, and social programs that support our capacities to be loving and caring for others rather than policies that reward us for being focused on our own private well being without regard to the well-being of others. Economic policies that foster economic insecurity in some while rewarding the wealth of others undermine the capacity in everyone for the open-heartedness, generosity of spirit, a sense of safety, and an ability to see the other as an embodiment of the sacred, which are the necessary underpinnings to sustaining loving families and raising the next generation.
2. Personal Responsibility
We will take PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY for ethical behavior, reviving the sacred element in sexuality, shaping a purpose-driven life connected to our highest values, building an inner spiritual life, devoting time and energy to caring for each other as well as in self-development, affirming pleasure and humor and joyfulness and celebration of the grandeur of the universe and the mystery of being, and recognizing that government cannot replace our own efforts to build a spiritually grounded life. We will be compassionate toward each other, recognizing that each of us is unlikely to be the fullest embodiment of our own highest ideals.
CONTRAST: LIBERAL AGENDA– Liberal politics rarely articulate any sense of personal responsibility, because they claim that these issues are “personal” and have no role in the public sphere. We agree with them in opposing legislation on these issues, but not in believing that they have no appropriate public place. A movement can foster an “ethos” as well as legislation, and that is exactly what we did do when we fostered the ethos of respect for women, gays and lesbians, and minority groups. Taking personal responsibility is not just a personal issue: it is an issue of creating a community that encourages, supports and rewards people for so doing, and that is absent from the discourse of the liberal world.
CONTRAST: CONSERVATIVE AGENDA—Conservatives talk about taking personal responsibility as their alternative to badly needed social programs whose funding they continually seek to slash (health, welfare, education, supports for the poor and the homeless). They claim to be caring about poverty, but then say that individuals should take responsibility for eliminating poverty (for example, urging people to take jobs that don’t actually exist for them, particularly given adequate child care) or homelessness, but then they actually don’t do that (we’d have no homeless people sleeping on the streets or in run-down and unsafe shelters if conservatives actually went into our center cities each evening and brought home, fed and gave comfortable sleeping arrangements to the homeless). So when we talk about taking personal responsibility, we do so not to replace government and societal programs, but to address areas in our own personal lives where we could have a huge impact.
TALKING POINTS WHEN MEETING WITH AN ELECTED OFFICIAL:
A. We want our public officials to manifest the values of love and caring, kindness and generosity, not only in how they vote but also in how they run their own office, political campaign, and daily life. The culture that is manifested by the Congress impacts on and is an expression of the level of ethical consciousness in the society as a whole. At the most basic level, this means that each Congressional representative has to communicate clearly that they will not only reject any form (however indirect) of influence by bribery or corrupt influence but will also model ethical and caring behavior. For example, we would like to see each elected official spending part of one day a week feeding hungry people at a shelter or otherwise engaging in hands-on service activity (not talking, but actually doing) that manifests a loving and caring way of being, and asking all members of their staff including (during elections, their electoral staff) to do the same.
B. Support 100% public funding of elections to eliminate the undue impact that money has on ethical conduct of our public leaders.
C. We do not just tinker with the world outside of us—we actually constitute that world by the way we personally act and talk. So be authentic in public and not artificial and molding your views or persona to the latest polls or what you think will make you seem attractive to an impersonal mass audience. Be an embodiment of the values you articulate.
D. In turn, we will make our own commitment to support your authenticity with our own and actively oppose and criticize those who seek to reinforce the culture of cynicism and mutual demonization. While we will critique policies that we oppose, we will strive to affirm the humanity of those whose views we disagree with. We will discourage gossip or put-downs of people in public life who are already subject to immense amounts of negativity and projections. Of course, we understand that each of us is imperfect in various ways, and we simultaneously want to affirm the need for all of us to be compassionate towards each other’s weaknesses and failings, without limiting our need at times to powerfully critique or protest the policies that elected officials may pursue. We will not expect you to solve problems that can only or best be solved at the level of individual responsibility and in this respect distinguish ourselves from those whose commitments in public life are only about what others should do and not about what we ourselves need to do to change the ethical and spiritual climate of our society from materialism selfishness to kindness, generosity toward others, caring, love, ecological sensitivity and awe and wonder at the grandeur of creation.
3. Social Responsibility
We will build Social Responsibility into the normal operations of our Economic and Political Life. The Social Responsibility Amendment (SRA) to the U.S. Constitution that we propose requires corporations to get a new corporate charter once every ten years which would only be granted to those corporations which could prove to a jury of ordinary citizens that it had a satisfactory history of social responsibility. This is one step toward our larger goal of transforming the bottom line in our economy, government, and social institutions.
While seeking support and endorsement of the SRA, we will encourage public officials to establish a Social Responsibility clause as part of every contract-awarding process, so that corporations competing for public funds must present a detailed social responsibility report and private citizens and local community groups and unions can challenge the accuracy of that report to the governmental body deciding on awarding of city, state and federal contracts of over $100,000.
To make this happen, we will also seek public funding of all state and national elections and instant runoff procedures for counting votes.
CONTRAST: LIBERAL AGENDA—They continually seek to legislate minor restrictions on corporate avarice and social irresponsibility, and usually fail to get those passed because of the tremendous power of corporations to provide financing for the legislators who must pass these bills. Meanwhile, corporations throw all their weight into opposing each little reform measure. We seek one big reform which would end the need for countless smaller reforms. While the SRA may take several decades to pass, the struggle for it will concentrate attention on the systemic nature of the problem we face.
CONTRAST: CONSERVATIVE AGENDA—They typically oppose any attempts to put constraints on corporate social irresponsibility because they believe that the best good for all will be achieved if each corporation pursues its own self-interest unrestrained and then the profits it amasses will “trickle down” to the rest of the population.
TALKING POINTS WHEN MEETING WITH AN ELECTED OFFICIAL:
A. Social Responsibility Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the introduction of social responsibility as one of the criteria in awarding local/state/federal contracts of over $100,000 to corporations.
B. Redefine so called “entitlement” and “social programs” to be understood as manifestations of our love for each other, and “government” as the vehicle we’ve set up to help us show this love in a substantial way (since most of us have to work during the day and hence cannot give the amount of attention that we would wish to actually delivering this caring ourselves). And let one of the criteria for evaluation of the work of government officials depend on how well they convey that message to those whom they serve, thereby allowing the many workers who came to government service with idealism which has been suppressed in a technocratic and cynical government bureaucracy to reclaim their highest aspirations.
C. The desire for mutual recognition and the interconnectedness of “our well-being” with the well-being of everyone else on the planet is the core guide in building domestic and global economic programs. We want our leaders to stop framing programs whose sole goal is to advance the interests of those who are most effective at manipulating advanced technologies, marketing, branding and other strategies for maximizing profits without regard to other human values. Instead, we want trade policies both domestic and global to enhance our capacities to show caring for everyone on the planet, foster cooperation across cultural differences, and enhance the capacity of the human race to see ourselves as united and hence to be able to develop a global economy that is sensitive to the needs of the environment. If we act in our economy in ways that foster the economic well-being of others on the planet (including the Muslim world that today is often talked about as “the enemy”), not just the elites of those societies but the hundreds of millions of ordinary people who feel either put down or affirmed by our economic policies and the behavior of our corporations, we would show in this critical area a side of our most caring selves that would generate greater safety (please read our Homeland Security plank) and greater willingness to cooperate on environmental issues.
4. Educate for Values
We will reshape our education system to teach the values of love, caring, generosity, intellectual curiosity, tolerance, gratitude, democratic participation and environmental responsibility. We will emphasize education for values without abandoning necessary reading and writing skills—and focus on learning respect, thanksgiving and awe for the wonders of the universe, and celebration of all the goodness that has passed on the cultural and scientific wisdom of the human race.
CONTRAST: LIBERAL AGENDA—They focus on getting better pay for teachers and more money for building schools with lower teacher-student ratios. But they’d be far more effective in getting support for these important demands if they gave more attention to demands about the moral and spiritual content of what is being taught.
CONTRAST: CONSERVATIVE AGENDA—They correctly critique the values that are actually being taught in our schools (materialism, competitiveness) but then fail to note that these values reflect the values of the marketplace that conservatives champion. And they propose false solutions whose underlying intent is to dismantle the public school system or at least wildly underfund it and thereby “prove” that everything “public” must be a failure and that the only good thing is the private sector.
TALKING POINTS WHEN MEETING WITH AN ELECTED OFFICIAL:
A. Our K-12 schools are increasingly dominated by test-taking—our kids’ lives become more stressful and filled with anxiety. Their education becomes more and more about the mechanics of preparing for the test and less and less about developing the capacity to think and reflect deeply or critically. There is less time for those things that develop the imagination or creativity (the arts become more marginalized; for younger children there are fewer opportunities for non-directive play). Learning is becoming increasingly shallow, mechanical and a matter of regurgitating disconnected bits of information.
B. Education is now more and more a preparation for college entrance or work. Those who shape education see it mainly as about the economic goal of forming ‘human capital’. We have forgotten the importance of education to a democratic society: preparing young people to question and challenge ideas and assumptions, to work cooperatively with others to solve problems, to engage in dialogue, to respect and listen to the beliefs of others, and to gain a sense of responsibility for improving our shared world.
C. Education is always a moral undertaking—it comes with the territory (schools, for example, are powerful transmitters of the idea of sorting, selecting and ranking individuals, and distributing badges of worth). Some on the liberal side still imagine that education can be ‘value neutral’ Conservatives are correct to see education as always about shaping values and beliefs about meaningful lives. We progressives believe that the task of educators today is to respond to the tremendous demands of the human condition—the need to encourage in children and young people an ethic of compassion and care for others, a belief in the need to solve human differences through non-violent means, an attitude of reverence and concern for the natural world, and the view that meaningful lives come through serving others with generosity and love.
So we ask you, our political leader, to be an articulator in the public sphere of this view of what is important in education, in order to build a constituency that would make possible the establishment of curricula, requirements for teacher education, and other programs that support this vision.
5. Single Payer National Health Care plus transformation of how we understand health.
We will seek a single payer national health care plan like that developed by Physicians for a National Health Program, and we also seek to broaden the understanding of health care to include all levels of what it is to be human. Our physical health cannot be divorced from environmental, social, spiritual, and psychological realities—and the entire medical system has to be reshaped in light of that understanding, focus on prevention, encourage alternative forms of health practice along with traditional Western forms, and insist that because human beings have many levels of reality, health care must reflect that rather than seek to reduce the human to the merely material.
CONTRAST: LIBERAL AGENDA– They seek gradual addition of benefits for different sectors of the population but leave the whole system in the hands of the profiteers, thus guaranteeing that their proposed changes will be undermined by the insurance companies and drug companies who raise their costs to make huge profits and thus make these reforms unreasonably costly. The single payer plan does not increase but decreases the total amount spent on health care by the U.S. Meanwhile, the plans put forward by the liberals are too limited and too unimaginative to generate the kind of mass support that would be needed to politically defeat the entrenched interests. Moreover, they do not see the need for broadening our conception of what health care really should be about—the full spiritual-physical-psychological integration that makes human beings so special and complicated.
CONTRAST: CONSERVATIVE AGENDA–They continually place private profit over public need when it comes to health care. They think of health care as something that needs to be earned rather than as a sacred obligation.
TALKING POINTS WHEN MEETING WITH AN ELECTED OFFICIAL:
A. We support this program as an inevitable consequence of our spiritual and ethical commitments—our New Bottom Line is in part about treating other human beings as embodiments of the sacred.
6. We will be stewards of the environment. We will champion voluntary simplicity and ethical consumption while seeking to change the global economy so that it is ordered in rational and sustainable ways. We will bring spiritual wisdom into daily life to change our addiction to endless consumption and challenge the media and advertising-driven belief that how many and how costly the things we own are constitutes the measure of our worth in the world.
CONTRAST: LIBERAL AGENDA—They fight for partial reforms which rarely take into account the systemic and global nature of the problem and rarely notes that for every reform they win there are ten new areas in which environmental damage is intensifying. They have no global plan or willingness to imagine how to recast the global economy to make our planet environmentally sustainable. And they avoid any serious discussion of, much less fostering, an ethos of voluntary simplicity.
CONTRAST: CONSERVATIVES—They have largely abandoned the conservation orientation that distinguished them a hundred years ago, so that now they cheerlead for policies that actually reduce the amount of land protected from corporate abuse. They put the interests of corporate profit above their responsibility to be stewards of the planet, and often deny the urgency of global warming and other environmental disasters.
7. Foreign policy and homeland security.
We will build a safer world and a rational approach to immigration through a strategy of generosity and non-violence. The well-being of Americans depends on the well- being of every other person on the planet and the well-being of the planet itself. We will support a Global Marshall Plan to use 5% of the GDP of the advanced industrial societies—each year for the next twenty years) to end global poverty, hunger, homelessness, inadequate education and inadequate health care. This will do more for homeland security and military safety than sinking trillions of dollars into wars and strategies of world domination that can never work and are immoral. And we will challenge the globalization of selfishness promoted by Western corporations (and their clones in China, India and Japan) and promote spiritual values of solidarity, caring for others, and love as the most effective way to build a sustainable society and to achieve “homeland security.” Our path to a world of peace must be a path of peace, social justice, sensitivity to cultural differences and to environmental needs, and non-violence. We will maintain an army on our borders and carefully search every container that comes into the country, and redirect the trillions of dollars that will otherwise be spent on military to ending global poverty and creating adequate education and health care. So while we support the immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq and the creation of an international non-violent force to prevent conflicts from escalating, we do so in the context of a coherent global policy that immediately implements the Global Marshall Plan (not by dumping money into the hands of corrupt governments, but through cooperation with non-governmental organizations committed to human rights, democracy, environmental sustainability, and enhancement and respect for native cultures and traditions).
We seek full rights for all immigrants who have made it to our shores. And we will solve the immigration issue in the only possible way—by making the countries from which immigrants are fleeing much more economically successful. Instead of imagining new methods of repression of the desire that so many immigrants have to live a life freed of extremes of poverty and political oppression, we will support the Global Marshall Plan in ways that would build the economic infrastructure of the “underdeveloped” world, ensuring that its benefits flow to all people and not just to the economic elites of those countries. We seek a world in which open borders are the norm and there is no fear that the rich countries are being overrun by immigrants because their well-being has improved so much in their own countries.
CONTRAST: LIBERAL AGENDA—Still stuck in the militarist assumptions of the past, liberal politicians compete with the conservatives about “who is most effective” in projecting American power and domination around the world. They are more concerned to prove that they are “tough” than to prove that they actually have policies that could conceivably address the issues that drive people into wars and terrorism. Similarly, their correct desire to avoid repression of immigrants does not link to a coherent answer to “what can be done to prevent future millions from risking their lives to get across our borders if we create incentives for them to take such risks?”
CONTRAST: CONSERVATIVE AGENDA—Though quick to demand testing of the effectiveness of liberal programs, they’ve never proved the effectiveness of their strategy of providing security through wars and the domination of other countries. Distorted by their own “arrogance of power,” they can neither acknowledge that 5,000 years of war-making as the strategy to bring peace has not worked but only, century after century, increased the numbers of people killed in wars, nor can they see that their wars have actually undermined the internal life of America and increased the propensity of everyone to rely on violence as a solution to otherwise frustrating problems. They call for more repression of countries that do not follow our rules, and repression of immigrants, but seem unable to acknowledge that such programs have not worked and are not working now.
TALKING POINTS WHEN MEETING WITH ELECTED OFFICIALS
A. The strategy of achieving peace through war and militarism has been tested for the past 5,000 years and it hasn’t worked to bring peace. We want to try the opposite strategy: the strategy of generosity. Take the worst case scenario: Iran. Imagine if the U.S., instead of threatening attacks on Iran, were instead to be involved in building up the capacities of all the countries in the Middle East to provide adequate material well-being, and were doing so not in order to have our corporations more effectively penetrate new markets but solely because we wanted to improve the well-being of others. So we did this not by enriching dictatorships but by working directly with legitimate Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) concerned with the welfare of ordinary citizens, and we offered this to Iran as well. Imagine that we were doing this in China, India, Pakistan, all the Muslim states in the former Soviet Union, and all over the world. We believe the impact would be to strengthen dramatically the hands of the reformers and the democratic forces in those countries, whereas U.S. military incursions as in Iraq have strengthened the hands of the most extreme forces in these and other countries around the world. In short, a strategy of generosity is more practical than a strategy of militarism, if we did it in a genuine spirit of caring for the other and not in a spirit of calculated self-interest. That is, our self-interest would be best served were we to forget about self-interest.
B. The anger directed at the U.S. by many in the world is not unrelated to the fact that 1 out of every 3 people on the planet is living on less than $2 a day and 1.3 billion on less than one dollar a day, while we in the U.S. live at the top of the food chain and in reckless disregard of the suffering of others pour trillions of dollars into military hardware that will never have any real use. Moreover, the values spread by our corporations and our media of individualism, selfishness and materialism, do tend to undermine loving families and community solidarity not only in the U.S. but also abroad, creating the same kind of dichotomy in many people that it does here: on the one hand, an attraction to material goods and new technologies and exciting forms of music and sexual titillation, on the other hand a fear and anger as traditional communities and families dissolve as the ethos of “looking out for number one” generated by the marketplace becomes more dominant and corrosive in the society as a whole. The only way to counter this is for our government to adopt a conscious policy of exporting love and caring, kindness and generosity, ethical and ecological sensitivity—and to make those values the central guide posts for how we deliver the new Global Marshall Plan, because that plan will only work if done not in the spirit of the Ugly American trying to buy friends, but in the spirit of genuine caring and generosity.
C. We do not deny the need for a national defense force—on our own borders and to search every person and every container that comes into the U.S. That will still leave trillions of dollars to implement our strategy of global generosity.
D. Our Global Marshall Plan will also apply to our own country where we will build housing in abundant supply to provide for the homeless, provide jobs, and take other dramatic steps to eliminate poverty. It will also provide a long-term solution to immigration problems, because as the rest of the world’s economic and spiritual well-being improves, the pressure to come to the US will dramatically lessen. And as U.S. corporations, altered in their mode of operation by the S.R.A. (see plank no. 3), embody a new bottom line of caring and social responsibility, the peoples of the world will be more willing to accept American corporate presence without resentment as partners with their own developing economic arrangements.
E. We seek to support non-violent forms of intervention to prevent ethnic conflict. So we will also seek funding for a non-violent international force to seek healing in “hot spots” before violence begins.
8. We will seek separation of Church, State and Science.
We will protect our society from fundamentalist attempts to impose a particular religion on everyone, but will not fall into a first-amendment fundamentalism which attempts to keep all values out of the public sphere. We will protect science from invasion by the state, religion or corporate priorities, but reject “scientism”– the worldview that claims that everything capable of being known or worthy of our attention can be fully described in scientific terms.
CONTRAST: THE LIBERAL AGENDA—They mistakenly confuse the separation of Church and State with the separation of spiritual values from the state. They claim to be defending the neutrality of public space, and fail to realize that there is already a religion operating in the public space, the religion of the dollar, of materialism and selfishness, the religion whose highest belief is that all that is real or at least all that can be known is that which cane be verified through sense datum or measured (which, for the public realm, usually means: money, the one thing most easily validated and measurable). So their defense of the first amendment is based on the false assumption that we actually have a neutral public space and that it must be protected from all values.
CONTRAST: THE CONSERVATIVE AGENDA—They often seek to privilege Christian values in the public sphere and get lots of support from many Americans who know that when their children come home from school drunk with the disease of “making it” in the larger society (either by grades to get the best career, or by physical prowess and active domination over others) and “making it in their peer group” either by conforming to the standards of the group or, increasingly for young girls, by responding to the sexual pressure championed by a growing sector of the media even for pre-teens, these children are responding to a public sphere drenched in corrupt values which loving parents want to resist. Using this perfectly legitimate desire for alternative sets of values, the conservatives rush in with a repressive agenda that will do little to solve the problems, or seek to eliminate or dramatically weaken the actual functioning of the separation clause of the Bill of Rights.
Neither liberals nor conservatives understand how much “science” today is driven in its choice of research topics by the requisites of the marketplace, so neither has seriously addressed how to protect science from the pressures of the economic marketplace. And those same pressures exist, though in somewhat different form, in many religious communities who have become dependent on the support of the wealthy or those who have bought into the assumptions of the marketplace to keep their doors open. Too often this has resulted in a clergy more subordinate to the fund-raisers than to their own highest moral and spiritual values.
A. Church, State and Values
Our Founding Fathers were sensitized to the folly of religious sectarian disputes and their adverse effects on the public welfare evidenced by several hundred years of violence in Europe. Thus, they crafted an institutional structure, safeguarded by the Constitution, to prevent government intrusion into matters of religious conscience and to prevent religious ideology from distorting public debate on the general welfare. They sought to promote universal civic values which can be consistent with religious and spiritual pursuits and which could ensure an enabling environment where each individual could pursue their sense of awe in the Creator’s majesty according to their own dictates of conscience.
1. CHURCH AND STATE: The wall of separation between church and state is a bedrock of the constitutional system of the United States of America. It has effectively prevented government intrusion into matters of conscience, reverence for God, and the spiritual pursuits of communities and individuals. It has enhanced rational debate in which diverse views have found mutual respect in matters of public governance. It has prevented the overreaching capacity of those who would abuse religious rhetoric in the pursuit of personal power. It serves the United States well. Serious, credible, politically powerful assaults on this principle must be explicitly identified and defeated.* Political candidates who would attack this bedrock principle of the republic must be called to account. This crisis can be denied no longer. The principle of limited government is challenged by no doctrine as dangerous as breaking down the separation of church and state.
B. VALUE AND PUBLIC DISCOURSE: The overbearing dominance of market values in our culture has left a vacuum in our public discourse regarding our collective civic purposes. Beyond defense, jobs, and social/economic stability, our political purposes remain uncertain. Extreme sectarian religious exclusivists exploit this vacuum by claiming to provide higher purposes but actually mask an anti-labor, environmentally irresponsible, and jingoistic set of policies garbed in religious language. We propose that universally recognized civic values concordant with all religious traditions must be explicitly expressed as part of the foundation for promoting the general welfare. These values include love, caring, compassion, tolerance, justice, a sense of care and respect for the natural world, a reverence for life, and the importance of the sanctity of conscience and personal liberty. These values find ethical expression in universally recognized principles such as the Golden Rule which we believe should be promoted at all levels of decision making, including international affairs. We must overtly challenge the proposition that only right-wing policies are value based. Caring for the poor, the disenfranchised, stewarding and protecting the environment, and pursuing peace and justice are resonant with all people of faith and good will.
C. SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY: Religious doctrine, not subject to the criteria of measurable and disprovable propositions, is not an appropriate criterion to give direction to science and technology. However, values concordant with religious doctrine are important to bring balance and give more meaning to a reasoned debate. Science and technology address measurable and disprovable propositions. The pursuit of these two disciplines is never value-neutral, for choosing to investigate and apply derived knowledge to particular areas is always a decision, an expression of values. Too often the choice now is garnered disproportionately by funding arising from military concerns and market interests. Clearly these are important but need to be balanced by endeavors directed to improving the quality of life and the general welfare.
*An example of this assault (excerpted below) is found in the 2004 Republican Party Platform of Texas. To our knowledge, candidates have not been challenged across the country on this extraordinarily divisive position:
Relevant excerpts (bold added):
Christian Nation – The Republican Party of Texas affirms that the United States of America is a Christian nation, and the public acknowledgement of God is undeniable in our history. Our nation was founded on fundamental Judeo-Christian principles based on the Holy Bible. The Party affirms freedom of religion, and rejects efforts of courts and secular activists who seek to remove and deny such a rich heritage from our public lives.
Free Exercise of Religion – The Party believes all Americans have the right to practice their religious faith free from persecution, intimidation, and violence. While recognizing one’s freedom from religion, this recognition should not limit others’ free expression of their religious beliefs. Our Party pledges to exert its influence to restore the original intent of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and dispel the myth of the separation of Church and State. We support the right of individuals and state and local governments to display symbols of our faith and heritage. We call on Congress to sanction any country that is guilty of persecuting its citizens because of their religious beliefs.
We seek to change all this.
HOW REALISTIC IS THE SPIRITUAL COVENANT WITH AMERICA?
This vision, needless to say, is “unrealistic” in the sense that it does not conform to the assumptions of politicians and editorial writers and t.v. and radio commentators. For most political leaders, that ends the discussion, because they’ve consistently been unwilling to risk any electoral loss for the sake of some higher good in which they believe. But that is precisely why so many Americans have come to distrust them—because if they won’t fight hard for their own beliefs how can they be counted on to fight for the best interests of the society when the going gets rough? Democrats need to learn that in order to win with their ideals they have to be ready at times to lose with their ideals. Or to put it another way, anyone with a backbone worthy of respect doesn’t reject ideas because they are unrealistic by contemporary standards, but only because they are bad ideas intrinsically.
So, like the women’s movement in its early years, or the civil right movement, or even the movement against the war in Iraq in its first few years, we don’t expect the Congress-people we meet to jump up, throw away their crutches, and embrace a new philosophy. But for those who are tired of the visionlessness of the Left, our attempt to develop a progressive spiritual politics may spur them to develop their own visions, and then interesting conversations will reignite American politics.
We are a consciousness-raising movement, and so our primary task like that of the early women’s movement, the civil rights movement, or the other major movements that have actually had a lasting impact on American society, the most important thing we can do is not to compromise what we believe in for the sake of short-term political gain, but to advocate for our fullest vision and insist on why it makes more sense than the endless partial solutions that actually don’t work and that end us up in wars and cynicism that paralyze the most idealistic and leave politics to the most wounded and deformed.
So when we encourage people to meet with elected officials every year, it is only a small part of what we need to do to get our ideas into the public consciousness, and we are sure that you can devise many more imaginative steps to take.
We encourage people in our movement to take the following steps: 1. To get the Spiritual Covenant endorsed by local and national professional organizations, unions, civic organizations, churches, synagogues, mosques, ashrams, college and universities, individual legislators and by local City Councils and State Legislatures. 2. To create a Spiritual Caucus in every political party (including but not exclusively Democrats, Republicans, Greens) and seek to convince those parties to adopt the Spiritual Covenant not as another plank but as the shaping plank of their approach to the world. 3. To write op-eds and other means to communicate this vision and popularize it in their communities, workplaces, religious and cultural institutions, and professional organizations. 4. To organize public demonstrations, marches, plays, concerts, playful activities, confrontive activities, and any other legal means to get these ideas discussed.
For help in implementing this strategy, please join The Network of Spiritual Progressives
The full version of the Spiritual Covenant and what it implies can be studied in The Left Hand of God: Taking Back our Country from the Religious Right by Rabbi Michael Lerner, chapters 9-12. The ideas derive from an extensive discussion in the Network of Spiritual Progressives (NSP), the new national organization committed to The New Bottom Line described above.
The Network of Spiritual Progressives www.spiritualprogressives.org RabbiLerner@tikkun.org
Join the Network at www.spiritualprogressives.org or by calling 510 644 1200.