Rabbi Michael Lerner is the founder and publisher of Tikkun magazine and has published three volumes on spiritual politics: The Politics of Meaning: Restoring Hope and Possibility in an Age of Cynicism (1995), Spirit Matters (2000), and now this assessment of the contemporary political scene along with recommendations for a new foundational philosophical framework for progressive social change.
In a compelling introduction, Lerner provides an incisive overview of America where a bottom-line mentality "judges every activity, every institution, every social practice as rational, productive, or efficient only to the extent that it produces money or power." This attitude works its way through the fabric of our culture: nature is treated as just another commodity to be used and discarded; people are of value only in terms of moving us ahead in the world; vocations are not seen as serving the common good or the God of the universe but simply as careers that bring wealth and prestige; and service of others and looking out for the less fortunate is regarded as an anachronism. The end result of this utilitarian and selfish approach to life is a despiritualized world where enchantment and wonder are in exile.
Lerner wants us to adopt a new vision which he calls "the Left Hand of God." It offers a spiritual critique of the technocratic and bottom-line consciousness of the capitalist world. This alternate view "longs to be part of a world in which kindness, generosity, nonviolence, humility, inner and outer peace, love and wonder at the grandeur of creation stand at the center of our political and economic systems and become the major realities of our daily life experience." By encouraging us to be like our loving God, this view is the opposite of the "Right Hand of God," espoused by Christian fundamentalists, where God is an avenger and the universe is seen as a scary placed filled with evil-doers who must be fought and defeated.
Lerner wants to offer a counter position to the political and religious Right that has promoted a program of militarism, ecological devastation, and hostility to science and rational thought. He is hopeful that a coalition can be formed among three constituencies: (a) militantly secular leftists, (b) "spiritual but not religious" people, and (c) progressive people in the religious world who can take us beyond both "the intolerant and militaristic politics of the right and the current misguided, visionless, and often spiritually empty politics of the Left."
Before explaining what he calls "the Spiritual Agenda for American Politics: A New Bottom-Line," Lerner discusses the reasons why working people have turned to the Right, including the Left's elitism and seeming contempt for ordinary Americans. Secularism is empty with its hostility toward religion and its worship of scientism. And the platforms of the Democrats and the Left have lost their hope and purpose after the energies of the civil rights movement, the antiwar movement, the women's movement, and the counterculture.
Lerner spells out a spiritual covenant with America that covers the family, sexuality, and personal responsibility; a caring economy and nurturing society; and a strategy of generosity for foreign policy. We are gratified to see so many of the practices of the Alphabet of Spiritual Literacy (compassion, hope, justice, kindness. listening, love, meaning, joy, transformation, and wonder) in this inspiring delineation of spiritual politics. Lerner is to be commended for the passion of his vision and the persistence of his efforts to forge fresh meanings for those who dare to imagine a country where peace, freedom, and justice prevail. We truly believe that through commitment, persistence, and spiritual practice, his ideal can bloom and come into fruition.