Yearning for a World of Love and Justice: An introduction to the Ideas of Tikkun and the Network of Spiritual Progressives (NSP)
by Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor, Tikkun Magazine and co-chair of the NSP with Vandana Shiva
We live in a world filled with loving and caring people.
We all crave a world filled with love and care. Yet most of us doubt that we can experience a loving and caring world beyond our own private lives and homes.
Why? Because the ethos of the capitalist marketplace, which places greatest value on money and power, has infiltrated our personal lives, shaping our unconscious and conscious beliefs about “human nature.”
In the economic marketplace we are taught to look out for ourselves, maximize our profits, and do what we need to do to get ahead, even at the cost of people we care about. Most people spend most of their waking hours at work. The way we come to experience “reality” is massively shaped by our experiences in the world of work. We learn that the work world is no place for vulnerability, caring, and love. Rather, it is the place governed by the injunction to maximize the “bottom line” of money and power. And this, we come to believe is “the real world.”
So we often hide our yearnings for deep connection, care, and love, and instead build walls around us to protect ourselves from being vulnerable to others because when we have done so in the past we have been disappointed or hurt. We learn to see others through a narrow utilitarian framework, assessing whether they can be “of use” to us in achieving our goals in the economic marketplace. Not surprisingly, those of us who have been taught to think this way about others at work tend to bring this way of thinking into our personal lives. The result: we often feel surrounded by people who see us in terms of what we can do for them. The powerful drive within all of us to be loving and caring seems so “unrealistic” in this situation that many of us have learned to dismiss it, repress it, or simply not believe that others too share that desire to be in a world of love and caring.
We have been so conditioned to believe that the world we want is impossible that we start to repeat a foolish and self-destructive message that apart from our own small group of friends and loved ones (and perhaps our own religious or spiritual community), everyone else is only concerned with power and money. Popular culture promotes this view and it is this cynicism about others that makes it seem realistic. The more we believe people will try to manipulate us to get their needs met, the more we engage in the same behavior to protect ourselves. This cycle of manipulation ends up creating a reality that is contrary to our deepest yearnings and needs. When we are stuck in this cycle, we increasingly come to believe that the only “rational” way to live is to “look out for number one.”
As a result, many of us feel lonely, alienated, and scared, even in the midst of friendships and marriages. We see ourselves surrounded by people who only seem to care about us to the extent that we can “deliver something.”
In short, people have absorbed the old bottom line of the capitalist marketplace, and have come to believe that this is just reality.
A New Bottom Line
Spiritual progressives, unlike their liberal counterparts, understand that political rights and economic entitlements while important are not what people are actually craving. To successfully transform our society from its current obsession with acquiring material goods, we need to help connect people with their deepest yearnings for a world of meaning and purpose. Simultaneously, we need to provide a framework for concrete political proposals that are grounded in spiritual principles as a counter to the one-dimensionality of many liberal proposals.
We call this a New Bottom Line—one that counters the emphasis on money and power and instead judges the rationality, efficiency, and productivity of our institutions, corporations, legislation, social practices, health care system, schools, legal system, and social policies by how much love, compassion, kindness, generosity, and ethical and ecological sensitivity they inculcate within is. The New Bottom Line places priority on the extent to which institutions and policies nurture our capacity to respond to other human beings as embodiments of the sacred and to respond to the grandeur of the universe with gratitude, awe, and wonder. If we embrace this New Bottom Line as we interact with others, then instead of seeing others as a means to our own ends, we will create a world in which we see and value one another’s humanity. To the extent that our economic, political and social arrangements are in fact governed by this New Bottom Line, we will begin to rebuild trust in each other’s goodness and start to believe that compassion and kindness can flourish not only in our homes but in our communities and our workplaces as well.
Seeking a world which embodies this New Bottom Line is the central message of the Network of Spiritual Progressives. Rejecting the “common sense” of capitalist society that human beings are primarily motivated by their narrow material self-interest (or as a prominent Democratic Party strategist put it, “it’s the economy stupid”) we call for liberals and progressives to affirm the psychological, ethical and spiritual dimensions of humanity which have been stymied and unfulfilled in self-described capitalist and socialist societies, and largely ignored by liberal and conservative public policies in most Western countries. Our Spiritual Covenant is way of reclaiming this New Bottom Line, which crosses traditional left/right dichotomies and enables us to envision a new kind of political movement that could actually win majority support for a program of healing and transforming our world.
Spiritual progressives know that progressive economic and political demands will never be fully embraced by the American majority until we address the feelings of inadequacy and powerlessness felt by so many people. To do so, we must become sensitive to the deep (though sometimes unconscious) hunger that people have for a loving world in which our lives have some higher meaning beyond the accumulation of money or power. Spiritual progressives seek to build a world that nurtures these fundamental yearnings. We recognize that doing so requires both internal transformation and a fundamental reshaping of our economic system, political system, and societal practices.
We affirm the deep desire and yearning of human beings to live in a world in which we are deeply appreciated, loved, cared for, respected and treated as embodiments of the sacred. But we recognize that human beings are complex and at times have competing and contradictory desires. We are sadly aware of the cruelty, hurtfulness, selfishness and pain that gets communicated from generation to generation, not only in the inheritance we have from parents who themselves felt under-recognized and without the love that they deserved and needed, but also from the institutions and social practices that often powerfully reproduce that cruelty and hurtfulness. We know that the changes we wish to see in the world require multiple levels of tikkun (the healing and transformation of our world) – psychological, spiritual, intellectual, economic and political. We are not Pollyannaish about how easy it will be to achieve these transformations.
But we have no choice but to try. Here’s why.
The current economic and political system has created an unprecedented environmental crisis that is wreaking havoc on peoples’ lives and has the potential to destroy the life support system of the planet. As the crisis intensifies, the powerful, rather than transforming the system that is destroying the planet may instead rally support for their system by further undermining democratic and human rights and imposing authoritarian or even fascistic forms of rule. In the face of this reality, the struggle for a New Bottom Line becomes the most rational way to transform societal and global consciousness so we can build an effective movement to transform political, economic and social structures.
A Shared Vision of the World We Want
There are thousands of wonderful organizations seeking to resist some aspects of what is unjust or environmentally destructive in our world today. All too often, however, social change groups know what they are against but struggle to articulate a vision of the world they are for. As a result, hundreds of millions of people get mobilized for one struggle or another but fail to recognize all the others as their allies.
These movements try to avoid anything that sounds “too ideological” out of fear of splintering the group. They believe they will be more successful if they focus on the specific struggle without trying to educate people about how the global system works or introduce activists to a larger movement that connects the disparate parts. So even if they win one particular struggle after years of to do so, they will nonetheless discover that global corporations have made dozens of new assaults on the environment while finding ever more clever ways to present themselves as socially or environmentally responsible. This leads to exhaustion, burnout, and cynicism about the possibility of transformation.
Our New Bottom Line and the vision we put forward in our Spiritual Covenant provides the vision that is badly needed in all of these struggles. In this way, the Network of Spiritual Progressives helps people from all different struggles see their common interests and the need to work together and build a shared strategy and vision. Without this, we have little chance of heading off the disasters that face humanity in the coming decades.
The good news is this: most people quickly embrace the vision articulated in our Spiritual Covenant once they overcome their initial “certainty” that it is impossible to achieve. Every time another one of us publicly affirms our support for a New Bottom Line and a Spiritual Covenant, we increase the likelihood that others will also overcome their certainty that change is impossible. It will take decades of commitment until we reach a tipping point, but at that point millions of people will suddenly realize that they would not be alone in acting on their yearning for a world based on love. At that point, a nonviolent transformation of our world becomes possible.
It is our contention that every human being has the need to actualize their capacities to be loving, generous, free, intellectually and artistically creative, playful, joyous, empathic, compassionate, forgiving and caring to others, connected in awe and wonder to the grandeur of the universe and the mystery of all being, living in harmony with Earth, and recognized, seen and understood by many others in their lives. These capacities are systematically thwarted in a society in which people are encouraged by the dominant culture to focus primarily on their own needs without simultaneously putting equal energy into developing a world which supports the actualization of everyone else’s needs. We can’t be who we need to be without everyone else being able to actualize his or her fullest human capacities. It is the frustration of these needs, as much as the denial of material well-being and political rights that underlies the suffering of much of humanity today.
The following version of our Spiritual Covenant emerged from discussions with tens of thousands of Americans over the course of many years, and it is still evolving. We welcome your feedback and comments (please send them to email@example.com). While we will take them seriously we do not have the capacity to respond to each communication individually.
Cautionary note: there are many elements of this Spiritual Covenant where you might stop and ask yourself: “Why don’t they tell us how we are ever going to achieve all this?” Part of the answer is that to really delve more deeply into these points requires more than one book, and though we have some of them already written, and we publish articles on many of these points in Tikkun Magazine (tikkun.org), we don’t pretend to have the full step-by-step strategy and tactics all worked out. That is partly the task of chapters of the Network of Spiritual Progressives. But our main point is this: it’s enough of a contribution at this point to help unify the various strands and organizations of a social change movement around the vision, help people see that each segment of this movement shares a common vision of the world we seek to build, and then help that movement popularize this vision to the people in our world who have never even heard these kinds of ideas being taken seriously in the public sphere. If the Spiritual Covenant can become the focus of that kind of public discussion, and NSP—Network of Spiritual Progressives members introduce this discussion into the public sphere (in any loving, empathic, and open-hearted way that you can), the NSP will be making a significant contribution.
If this vision speaks to you and you want to help spread this vision, please join the NSP at www.spiritualprogressives.org.
A Spiritual Covenant
As you read this document, you might notice some skepticism and doubt arise in you, a voice telling you “this is not possible”. As you visualize these changes, do not allow in “the reality police” – namely, all those voices in your mind or in the minds or voices of others which say some “they” won’t let these changes happen so you have to be “more realistic” by scaling down your vision to what the current political circumstances seem to make possible. Rather, allow yourself to imagine these changes being possible and notice how you feel when you envision them happening. If you feel inspired or excited, please join us in helping to build this kind of world. Join thousands of others as a member of the Network of Spiritual Progressives at www.spiritualprogressives.org.
1. We will create a society that promotes rather than undermines loving and caring relationships and families.
If we really want to live in a world that nurtures loving and caring relationships rather than undermining them, then we need a transformation of our global economic and political arrangements such that they promote love and care. We cannot sustain loving and caring relationships in a world where competition, individualism and looking out for number one are the primary values. Our current system erodes loving and caring relationships – whether in one’s home, workplace, school, community, and throughout the world. Our New Bottom Line provides the foundation for and the path to create a new economic system that would, in fact, nurture our capacities to be loving and caring.
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 reshaped so that it instead maximizes our capacities to be loving, 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 in advertising and mass media. Sure we support full employment, childcare, eldercare, flextime, elimination of poverty, and many other economic and social changes. However, our spiritual focus goes beyond the normal liberal list of demands to insist on a fundamental change in the values that our society promotes. We believe that our society must be oriented around love. We resist those forces within our society that foster the qualities that make love more difficult to sustain: cynicism, harshness, individualism, self-centeredness, fear, and disconnection from life’s meaning and the possibility of transformation.
As part of the process to build a society based on love, caring, environmental sanity, nonviolence, generosity, and social and economic justice, we urge people in every corporation, governmental institution, and school to develop a concrete plan for how they would run that institution if they had the power to recreate it in accord with these values. In envisioning these changes, we refuse to scale down our vision to what the current political circumstances seem to make possible. Instead we seek to imagine the kind of world we want to live and work in because we know that doing so makes us more effective in struggling for change.
While the visioning we suggest will help people get in touch with the kind of world they want to live and work in and hence make them more effective in struggling for those changes, the actual changes we seek on a societal level cannot adequately be achieved one institution at a time because of the interdependence of the global marketplace. We need a fundamental transformation of our economic and political lives and that will only happen when a mass movement emerges that is not only clear in its demands for democracy and for dramatic reduction of inequality, but is equally clear in its commitment to building a world based on love and generosity, environmental sanity, and awe and wonder at the grandeur of the universe.
Imagine, for example, a work place that chooses its leadership not only on their ability to build a financially successful business but also on their ability to treat their employees with care, kindness and respect. Imagine a work place in which employees cooperate with each other, show respect and care for their actual and potential customers, come up with ideas that enhance the capacity of that enterprise to serve the common good and repair the environment, sponsors public programs and media that validate kindness and generosity, and actively promotes participation in democratic decision making about all aspects of how that enterprise operates in the world. Imagine also such an institution giving a few hours each week to each employee to dedicate to his or her own inner spiritual development without imposing any particular path. This is an example of what it might look like to take our New Bottom Line seriously in the work world.
Imagine a political system in which decisions in Congress or in other parts of government are based in part on which policies would foster the greatest amount of nonviolence, replace domination relationships with cooperative relationships, promote the well-being of everyone on the planet equally (not just the well-being of one’s own country), and you get some sense of how different political life could look.
And when people are spending all day in work worlds that promote these kind of caring values, they will bring those values home into family life and personal relationships, replacing the values of individualism, selfishness, dog-eat-dog competition and ruthless advancement of self without regard for others that tends to be what many people bring home daily in our society from the work worlds shaped by the ethos of global capitalism.
As stated above, to live in a world that promotes love and care, we need a fundamental transformation of our economic and political lives. We believe that will only happen when a mass movement emerges that is not only clear in its commitment to a world based on love and generosity, environmental sanity, and awe and wonder at the grandeur of the universe but that also embodies those values within the movement itself.
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 platform is seen as just using the family issue for its pre-existing agenda rather than addressing the fear that many feel about the breakdown of loving commitments and the resulting feelings of loneliness. We agree with the economic supports proposed by most liberals: we see them as necessary but not sufficient.
CONTRAST: CONSERVATIVE AGENDA — Conservatives promote their “family values” agenda out of a belief that they will strengthen families. Within conservative ideology, family support 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, and opposing abortion (but giving little support to the child when it is born). They also promote the idea that families should be embedded in religious communities. Progressives could recuperate the positive potential of this last idea by creating “communities of meaning” (be they secular, religious or spiritual) that are free of right-wing ideology.
2. We will take personal responsibility for ethical behavior.
Taking personal responsibility for ethical behavior requires us to shape a purpose-driven life connected to our highest values, devote energy to caring for each other, affirm pleasure and joy, revive the sacred element in sexuality, and 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. And we will take responsibility for our own personal and communal missteps along the way. We will adopt practices for reflection, gentle self-criticism, repentance, and atonement. We will seek to develop our capacities to be forgiving toward others, generous in our understanding of their motivations, and helpful in providing them with support. While we will challenge and hold accountable those who are engaged in destructive practices, we will avoid demeaning them, always recognizing that they too are embodiments of the sacred. We approach the building of a compassionate and loving society with humility recognizing our capacity to make serious mistakes. This is one of many reasons why we insist on a spirit of generosity in dealing with each other and empathy towards those with whom we have political differences, and even with ourselves (too often we are own worst critics, and that self-punishing part of ourselves can in some people become the springboard to being harsh with others as well).
We encourage people to develop an internal covenant with themselves and an external covenant with their family members. The internal covenant includes a commitment for how we will live in integrity with our loved ones, our community, the world and ourselves. The external covenant with one’s family members is an agreement amongst family members for how we will create a loving, sustaining, and nurturing environment for all family members. The reason it is important to create these covenants is that we are constantly faced with intriguing and alluring attractions that appeal to our base desires but in fact distract us from our highest values and make it harder for us to live in alignment with those values. These covenants can help us return to our highest selves, ground us as we face life’s challenges, and help us navigate difficult situations in our families or in other parts of our lives. As part of a regular spiritual practice, we encourage spiritual progressives to write out these covenants and read them daily alone and/or with family members.
We commit to giving ongoing attention to “working on ourselves” even as we work to change the larger society. For some, a spiritual or prayer or meditation practice may facilitate a healing of parts of ourselves that are self-punishing or hurtful to others, for others, learning skills of empathic communication will be helpful, and for still others, the guidance of a spiritual coach, a counselor, or a psychotherapist could serve us best. Movements for social transformation should regularly encourage its members to engage in some form of working on oneself, even while challenging people to not fall into the narcissistic fascination with self that undermines their ability to fully commit to the adventure and struggle of healing and transforming our society. Personal and societal transformation must go hand-in-hand. For that reason, it is important for us to develop approaches to psychotherapy, religion, spirituality and counseling which validate both personal, familial, and societal aspects of the healing and transformation (tikkun) that is needed.
CONTRAST: LIBERAL AGENDA — Liberal politicians 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 do not agree that they have no appropriate place in the public arena. A movement can foster an “ethos” as well as legislation, and that is exactly what we did when we fostered the ethos of respect for women, LGBT people, and minority groups. Taking personal responsibility is not just a personal issue. It involves creating a community that encourages, supports, and nurtures people in taking responsibility for their actions and caring about others. Liberal discourse often neglects the importance of this sort of community building and ethos-shaping.
CONTRAST: CONSERVATIVE AGENDA — Conservatives propose increased “personal responsibility” as an alternative to badly needed social programs such as health care, welfare, education, and shelter for the homeless. They claim to be concerned about poverty, but then slash the social programs that ameliorate it, saying that individuals should take responsibility for eliminating poverty by getting jobs. They fail to acknowledge and address that unemployment is a structural issue and that many jobs do not yield adequate incomes to support a family, particularly given the inadequacy of our childcare systems.
In contrast, when spiritual progressives talk about taking personal responsibility, we do so not to replace government and societal programs, but rather to address areas in our own personal lives where we could have a huge impact.
3. We will build social responsibility into the normal operations of our economic and political life.
As a manifestation of our commitment to treating every human being as equally valuable and an embodiment of the sacred, we propose The Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment (ESRA) to the U.S. Constitution. The ESRA is a comprehensive plan to restore democracy in our politics and economy. It requires corporations with incomes of more than $50 million to get a new corporate charter once every five years. Such a charter would only be granted to those corporations that could prove to an Environmental and Social Responsibility Panel that it had a satisfactory history of social responsibility.
We see the ESRA (which is published online at tikkun.org/ESRA) as one powerful and concrete step toward our larger goal of transforming the bottom line in our economy, government, and social institutions. While seeking support and endorsement for the ESRA we will encourage public officials on the city, state, and national levels of government to include a social responsibility clause in every contract-awarding process. The process would require corporations that are competing for public funds to present a detailed social responsibility report, and private citizens and local community groups and unions could challenge the accuracy of that report to the governmental body deciding on awards of city, state, and federal contracts over $1,000,000. The contract would then go to the corporation that both can competently fulfill the terms of the contract and at a reasonable cost and has the best record of environmental and social responsibility.
To make this happen, we will seek public funding of all state and national elections as called for in the first section of the ESRA. It calls for the banning of all private and corporate donations, prohibiting any monies in elections except an equal amount provided by the government to all major candidates, so that elected officials do not have to spend their time or attention playing to the interests of those wealthy enough to make substantial contributions to their election or re-election.
CONTRAST: LIBERAL AGENDA — Liberals continually seek to legislate minor restrictions on corporate avarice and social irresponsibility, and usually fail to get such laws adopted because of the tremendous power of corporations to influence financing for the legislators who must pass these bills and because the U.S. Supreme Court continually eviscerates any meaningful efforts to impose corporate environmental or social responsibility or to limit the power of individuals or corporations to shape the outcome of elections. We seek one comprehensive reform that would end the need for countless smaller reforms. While the ESRA may take several decades to pass, the struggle for it will concentrate attention on the systemic nature of the problem we face and will generate a new societal consciousness about what needs to be changed in order to restore our democracy and protect the environment.
CONTRAST: CONSERVATIVE AGENDA — Conservatives typically oppose any attempt to constrain corporate social irresponsibility. They argue that the best good for all will be achieved if each corporation pursues its own self-interest unrestrained, suggesting that the profits amassed by the corporation will “trickle down” to the rest of the population.
4. We will reshape our education system so that it teaches values of love, caring, generosity, intellectual curiosity, tolerance, nonviolence, gratitude, wonder, democratic participation, and environmental responsibility.
We believe our schools can teach these values without abandoning necessary reading and writing skills. We will resist the corporate control of childhood as manifested in child-oriented media, branding, advertising, publishing, and school curricula. And we will insist that schools foster and support our children’s capacities to be playful, spontaneous, joyous, loving, excited by ideas, emotionally and spiritually intelligent, creative, and compassionate.
The influence of money and power is increasingly a factor in distorting higher education and religious life. Faced with a public seeking to reduce their own tax burdens by cutting funding for education, universities seek to prove their usefulness to government and the public by becoming service stations to society, reducing emphasis on their historic function to introduce students to the richness of Western or global culture, philosophy, history and social theory and instead replacing it with a focus on developing the narrow set of skills needed by corporations with whom their graduates might receive employment. As they have become more and more dependent on the wealthy to sustain their existence, they have similarly become more and more detached from their highest educational, moral and spiritual essence. So a new bottom line in education challenges this cheapening of our universities and the intellectual life that had once flourished there.
We seek to develop a new reform movement in universities and in grade schools that seeks to foster students’ ethical, spiritual and environmental consciousness while carefully avoiding the imposition of any particular religious tradition.
CONTRAST: LIBERAL AGENDA — Liberals focus on getting better pay for teachers and more money for building schools with lower teacher-student ratios without challenging the competitive nature of education and its implicit reinforcement of the meritocratic fantasy that those who are smartest and work the hardest will receive the greatest rewards in adulthood. They’d be far more effective in getting support for these important demands if they gave more attention to the ethical content of what is being taught and the emotional and spiritual environment in which it is taught.
CONTRAST: CONSERVATIVE AGENDA — Conservatives correctly criticize the values that are being taught in our schools (materialism and competitiveness) but fail to note that these values reflect the values of the marketplace that conservatives champion. 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.
5. We will seek a transformation of our entire health care system not only providing free universal health care in our own country and around the world, but also creating a system that addresses the spiritual, psychological, and physical dimensions of human beings and the impact of social and environmental influences on their well-being.
We support “Medicare for All”: a single-payer system that ensures we all receive the health care we need. Physicians for a National Health Plan has published a detailed plan for how this would work (pnhp.org). We believe health care professionals (including doctors, nurses, dentists, mental health professionals, chiropractors, and other alternative health practitioners) should be able to receive free tuition and fully subsidized training and internships in exchange for their commitment to charge dramatically reduced fees for their services. Similarly, pharmaceutical companies must provide medications at costs that are affordable and we must fund extensive research on health interventions including drugs and separate that from the profit-oriented pharmaceuticals. Research on pharmaceuticals, preventive care, and treatment strategies should be funded by the government and separated from any profit motive.
Yet our approach goes beyond the issues of access to health care. As spiritual progressives, we recognize that physical health cannot be divorced from environmental, social, spiritual, and psychological realities. The entire medical system has to be reshaped in light of that understanding to focus on prevention and fund alternative forms of health care practice along with traditional Western forms. We believe health care should reflect the reality that human health cannot be reduced simply to our physical mechanics.
Human beings are fully integrated into a mind/body/psychological/spiritual/communal totality. To become truly holistic, health care must address the patient’s full being, their experience at work and in family life, their emotional lives and their spiritual lives, their play and their exercise, their loves and their fears. It will seek to understand, diagnose, and intervene on all levels of our being at the same time. People will be seen by practitioners who have multiple levels of knowledge, and by teams of health care workers who together bring a broad interdisciplinary approach to the process of diagnosis and treatment. To successfully integrate health care in this way, we need to transform our medical training so that practitioners see their patients in all their beautiful complexity.
CONTRAST: LIBERAL AGENDA — Liberals seek the 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 health care reforms unreasonably costly. The provision of free universal health care will decrease, not increase, the total amount spent on health care by the United States.
Furthermore, liberals often fight for health care using narrow economic arguments. Spiritual progressives seek to return the conversation to what it’s really about, namely, caring for everyone on the planet, not only because that is the ethical thing to do, but because that caring gives us all an opportunity to actualize our deep yearning to care and to be cared for.
CONTRAST: CONSERVATIVE AGENDA — Conservatives 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 manifestation of the sacred obligation we have to care for each other. They see health care as a privilege of those who can afford it. The irony is that our current health care system ends up costing us billions more than a universal health care system would.
6. We will be stewards of the environment and reshape the global economy in sustainable ways.
Earth being the natural and sacred home of all its peoples, we are committed to developing personal behavior, societal practices, and corporate and governmental policies aimed at enhancing environmental sustainability of human communities and the planet Earth, and transforming and repairing behaviors that have had an adverse impact on the planet’s long-term environmental welfare. Among other goals, we seek to alleviate global warming, reduce pollution, restore the ecological balance of the oceans and assure the well-being of all forests, agricultural land, the air, and animal life.
To achieve this, we will champion voluntary simplicity and ethical consumption, humane ways to reduce population growth, and an end to global poverty and economic insecurity so that people do not find themselves confronted with a dilemma of having to choose between the economic well-being of their families on the one hand and environmentally sustainable behaviors on the other. We are committed to healing the psychological and spiritual dysfunctions that make people believe that a good life comes through the accumulation of material goods. We also will develop strategies to provide a guaranteed annual income sufficient to provide for the material necessities of everyone on the planet. This can be achieved in part through practices of sharing resources such as, housing, energy, and consumer goods and in part through challenging the belief that we can “own” part of the earth and have a right to more of its resources than others.
Spiritual practices and wisdom can give us the inner strength to lessen our addiction to endless consumption and challenge the belief (reinforced by the media) that the price and number of things we own are the measure of our worth. And through the ESRA, as mentioned in #3 above, we will ensure that corporations are required to transform how and what they produce, what services they provide, and how they advertise and communicate their products and services in ways that demonstrably serve environmental sustainability and the goal of healing and repairing the past damage done to the planet by global environmental irresponsibility, selfishness, and a massive failure to care for the wellbeing of future generations. The ESRA also requires schools (at all grade levels, including graduate and professional) to provide environmental education that includes skills in how to live in cooperation with each other and the earth.
We emphasize the strong connection between environmental well-being and environmental justice, and challenge practices that effectively dump our environmental problems, garbage, waste, and destructiveness on those with less political power or money to resist these practices.
Part of a spiritual approach to the environment involves learning how to see nature and the universe not just as a “resource” but also as fundamentally valuable. Learning to respond to the world with awe, wonder and radial amazement will help us be successful in our efforts to transform our relationship with the environment. In this respect, we will encourage people to celebrate a sabbatical day each week dedicated to celebrating the universe, and a sabbatical year each seventh year.
CONTRAST: LIBERAL AGENDA — Liberals fight for partial reforms that rarely take into account the systemic and global nature of the problem and rarely note 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 so as to make our planet environmentally sustainable. And they avoid any serious discussion, much less fostering, of an ethos of voluntary simplicity.
CONTRAST: CONSERVATIVE AGENDA — Conservatives spearhead policies that 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 they often deny the urgency of global warming and other environmental disasters.
7. We will address our desire for “homeland security” through a strategy of nonviolence, generosity, genuine caring, and respect for the well-being of others.
The most effective path to world peace is for the major economic, political and military countries to practice generosity, respect, nonviolence, and caring for the well-being of everyone on the planet. There may always be some deranged people who engage in acts of terrorism or violence. They can be dealt with by effective international policing. The path to homeland security is not through wars, demonstrations of military might nor though drones and targeted assassinations, but rather through showing so much caring and respect to the peoples of the world that these deranged individuals find themselves isolated and thus cannot garner the support of the very people whose interests they thought their violence was serving.
We in the advanced industrial capitalist societies, through the exportation of capitalist culture and values, through the sometimes environmentally destructive and economically exploitative behaviors of our multinational corporations, and through our military interventions in developing countries to support local elites willing to give our multinational corporations free reign to benefit themselves at the expense of local populations, have acted disrespectfully and hurtfully to hundreds of millions of people around the world. So one place to start creating a path to homeland security is to publicly acknowledge, repent and seek forgiveness for the damage the West has done to the peoples of the world, without denying the good that we have also done by popularizing ideas of democracy and human rights.
A second step is to begin to rectify the damage we’ve already done through the implementation of a Global Marshall Plan as outlined at tikkun.org/GMP. We will be more successful in obtaining public support for this effort when people in the advanced industrial capitalist societies recognize that the well-being of people in each and every country depends on the well-being of every other person on the planet and of the planet itself. If we want safety, we must manifest generosity. The Global Marshall Plan would devote 1-2 percent of the GDP of advanced industrial countries each year for the next twenty years to end global poverty, hunger, homelessness, and inadequate education and health care.
It is not the material deprivation of money alone, nor the economic exploitation and military domination that have driven resentment and violence against the advanced industrial societies of the world. In our arrogance, Western powers have conveyed the notion that those who are economically less developed are less deserving of real respect. Yet in some important respects the countries of the global south and East are culturally, ethically and spiritually far more developed than many of us in the West.
We will challenge the globalization of selfishness promoted by national and transnational corporations and promote the spiritual values of solidarity, caring for others, and love as the most effective way to build a sustainable society and achieve “homeland security.”
The Network of Spiritual Progressives’ version of the Global Marshall Plan, as introduced into Congress by Rep. Keith Ellison as House Resolution 439, makes it clear that our plan is not only about providing funding but also about revising the trade agreements imposed on the impoverished by the powerful Western imperial countries. Trade agreements and treaties that are directed toward creating the material and spiritual well-being of everyone on the planet must replace our current agreements. And we advocate for this not only for the narrow self-interested reason that a Global Marshall Plan would likely reduce the resentment and resulting anger that our policies, corporate practices, and the values of global capitalism have generated but also because we genuinely recognize every person on this planet as an embodiment of the sacred.
We support the creation of an international nonviolent peacekeeping force to prevent conflicts from escalating. We do so in the context of a coherent global policy that immediately implements the Global Marshall Plan in cooperation with nongovernmental organizations committed to human rights, democracy, environmental sustainability, and respect for the range of their cultures and traditions.
We seek full rights for all immigrants who have made it to our shores. 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 for repressing the desire that so many immigrants have for a life free from extreme poverty and political oppression, we will support a Global Marshall Plan to ensure that the world’s wealth flows to all people and not just to economic elites, and support governments that take human rights seriously, thereby dramatically reducing the economic and political incentives that currently underlie some of the reasons why so many people wish to move to Western societies. We seek a world in which open borders (or no borders) are the norm.
While we value the integrity, creativity, and dynamism of multicultural societies and want to provide support and validation for the continued development of those societies, we want to separate those rich traditions from forms of nationalism and chauvinism in which they sometimes find expression. We hope to see the replacement of nation states by environmental districts that can address the major problem facing humanity in the twenty-first century: the environmental crises. And we hope to see mechanisms created for a global democratic procedure that can make decisions about what investments of time, energy, and money will best serve the well-being of humans, animals, and the earth.
Overcoming the reckless and destructive struggles among the nations of the world is a pressing necessity for humanity. Currently decisions that impact billions of people are made by wealthy and powerful elites, and there is no mechanism to hold them accountable for the impact of their unjust or destructive decisions. A first step to transform this imbalance of power is to strengthen democratic procedures in all nations so that decisions that impact billions of people are made in consultation with the very people those decisions impact. We are certain that some of those democratic decisions will themselves be off-base or even hurtful or environmentally destructive, but to the extent that democracy persists, people will be able to correct their own mistakes. Moreover, we will come to realize that we have shared interests that stretch across all previous boundaries and that those boundaries need to be made much more permeable. We strive to move toward global cooperation and decision-making without the legacy of nationalist and cultural chauvinist traditions distorting that decision-making, and with a genuine respect and love for all the peoples of our planet.
Militaristic approaches, often glorified in our media, legitimate the quick resort to violence to solve frustrating world problems. This domination approach increasingly permeates the consciousness and popular culture of our entire country so that many citizens come to believe that using power over others and violence are plausible strategies to solve problems or get their way. We seek to foster an ethos of open-hearted generosity and caring towards others and empathic communication as a more effective approach to solving problems whether they are individual, societal or global.
CONTRAST: LIBERAL AGENDA — Still stuck in the militarist assumptions of the past, liberal politicians compete with conservatives to project American power and domination around the world. They are more eager to prove that they are “tough” than to address the issues that drive people into wars and terrorism. They are terrified that acknowledgment of the sins of Western societies, including our own, will leave them vulnerable to charges of being unpatriotic, and they are unwilling to challenge the notion that we can be secure in a world that is filled with avoidable suffering. Most of all, liberals are unable to transcend their own economistic views of human nature to see that it is not only economic deprivation, but a deprivation of respect and caring, that generates intense anger at us from countries that have been mistreated by the West, or that various forms of irrational religious fundamentalism have at times provided people with a sense of solidarity and caring that is increasingly absent to the extent that capitalist values have begun to shape the ethos of their own societies. Without these understandings, liberal programs systematically fail to speak to the heart of people in their own countries or in the countries where people have become adversarial toward us
Similarly, liberals’ correct desire to avoid repression of immigrants is not accompanied by a coherent answer to skeptics’ concerns about what can be done to prevent future millions from risking their lives to get across our borders.
CONTRAST: CONSERVATIVE AGENDA — Though quick to demand proof of the effectiveness of liberal programs, conservatives have failed to prove that their strategy of providing security through wars and domination of other countries is in fact an effective strategy for homeland security. Distorted by their own “arrogance of power,” they cannot acknowledge that 5,000 years of war-making has not worked to bring peace and security. Conservatives fail to see that their wars have actually undermined the internal life of Americans and increased our propensity to rely on violence as a solution to otherwise frustrating problems. They call for more repression of immigrants and of countries that do not follow our rules, but seem unable to acknowledge that such programs do not work.
8. We support a strong 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 that attempts to keep all spiritual values out of the public sphere.
We will protect science from pressure by the state and religious and corporate priorities. Science is under attack from the religious right and needs strong defenders to insulate it from pressures to reach conclusions contrary to what scientific evidence provides. The inordinate influence and concerns of the funders of scientific research (whether corporations, universities or government) impose other more subtle pressures on the focus of scientific research. To ensure that scientific research focuses on the accumulation of knowledge and wisdom and on potential contribution to people’s health, environmental sustainability, and cooperation and mutual caring, we will promote independent scientific institutes with adequate public funding and independence from corporate, university or government pressures. We will also promote the exploration of approaches to the physical, biological and social sciences that may be contrary to the contemporary dominant paradigms in each field whatever they might be.
While enthusiastic supporters of science, we challenge “scientism,” a pop culture religion that claims that everything capable of being known or seen to be intellectually “objective” and credible can be subject to empirical verification or falsification or can be measured, and anything that cannot meet this criterion cannot be considered objective knowledge and hence ought not to play any role in shaping the economic, political or educational decisions we make as a society, nor can they be used as a foundation for making ethical claims or guiding rational decision making. Scientism thus takes what works as a methodology inside science and illegitimately proclaims it as the guide to all aspects of reality.
We call scientism a religion, because its claim that “everything that can be known or is objective and credible must be empirically verifiable, falsifiable or measurable” is a claim which itself cannot be empirically verified, falsified or measured, so by its own criterion it cannot be known and is not intellectually objective or credible. Unaware of the absence of a verifiable foundation for their own claims, people in the scientism religion dismiss ethics, religion, spirituality, aesthetics, love, and so many other important aspects of life as “merely” subjective and having no place in public life. Just as vigorously as we support scientific research do we oppose this misuse of science to legitimate a worldview that has no scientific foundation and which seems to bolster the worldview of capitalism with its glorification of money – the ultimately most empirically verifiable and measurable aspect of the contemporary world. Many working scientists agree with this critique of scientism.
Spiritual progressives believe that public life should seek to support behavior which embodies caring for others, generosity, love, kindness, compassion, empathy, non-violence and many other values that spring from the religious and spiritual traditions of humanity in the past ten thousand years, but which today are also embraced by many atheists and secular humanists. Our Network of Spiritual Progressives is composed of these kinds of atheists and secular humanists as well as people from every religious tradition who seek to make these values the New Bottom Line for reshaping our communal lives and our economic and political arrangements.
CONTRAST: LIBERAL AGENDA — Liberals confuse the separation of church and state with the separation of spiritual values from any state funded institution including education, the judicial system, the health and welfare system, foreign policy, and economic life. They claim to defend the neutrality of public space but fail to realize that there already is a religion operating in the public space: the religion scientism and the secular worship of the dollar. Thus, liberal defenses of the First Amendment are based on the false assumption that we actually have a neutral public space and that it must be protected from all values.
We, to the contrary, want to introduce the values articulated in our New Bottom Line to challenge the values that already dominate in the economy and public life and manage to present themselves as “value neutral” because they are values like competition, looking out for number one, getting ahead at all costs, seeking power over others, and maximizing one’s own wealth. These values have become so dominant in Western societies that they appear to be “common sense” rather than what they really are (namely, a specific set of values backed-up by the power of ruling elites and the educational and media institutions that those elites own or control).
So, for example, we think that education at all levels, programs to deal with alcohol and drug abuse, or programs to support childcare, elder care, and physical and emotional healing will be more effective to the extent that they address human beings in all their rich complexity, including their emotional and spiritual needs as well as physical or material needs. These programs get impoverished when the providers of these services worry that introducing the values we champion in the New Bottom Line would put them on the path of a slippery slope toward religion.
CONTRAST: CONSERVATIVE AGENDA — Conservatives often seek to privilege Christian values in the public sphere. They get support from parents who want to resist the corrupt values that cause their children to come home obsessed with “making it” in the larger society (either through good grades to get the best career or through their ability to dominate others physically) and “making it in their peer group.” Or they want to protect their children from the cheapening of sexuality that pervades the media and is increasingly prevalent in middle schools or even earlier. Conservatives mistakenly attribute this to “public education” and hence advocate for private schools freer to teach conservative values, often unaware that it is the ethos of the capitalist marketplace, not the public nature of public schools that is decisive in distorting values. Yet conservative critiques of government and the public sphere will continue to resonate as long as liberals fight to keep all values out of the public sphere and shaping of public education and government-supported programs.
9. We will rebuild our economy to provide economic security, fundamental equality, and meaningful work that contribute to some higher good beyond maximizing money or power.
We will dramatically reduce economic inequality by insisting on 1) a living wage, not just a “minimum wage,” 2) a guaranteed annual income for all, 3) free child care, and, 4) free elder care. Because we value adequate time for family, joy, reflection, engagement in community, and contribution to the well being of all on this planet, we will insist on a reduced workweek of thirty hours per week.
We will create a public banking system that seeks to benefit those least able to provide adequate financial support for themselves and to provide financing for socially and environmentally valuable projects. Public banking frees the credit potential of public revenues and then harnesses this public wealth to create sustainable, abundant and affordable credit. This credit — our credit — supports our economy and citizens if it is then used to build economic capacity (think renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, etc. — things that private banks do not fund). And we will replace the Federal Reserve with a system governing the production and distribution of money that serves the public interest rather than the richest individuals and corporations.
We will replace the economic ethos of “growth” with an ethos of sustainability and inner (emotional, intellectual, and spiritual) growth.
Spiritual progressives seek a fundamental redistribution of wealth such as the Jubilee first articulated in the Bible (though there are plenty of non-religious reasons to embrace this biblical vision). The Torah’s idea of Jubilee requires that land revert back to its original equal distribution every fifty years. How to achieve this goal of periodic redistributions of wealth so that the society can break free of cycles of inequality is a question that remains open for us.
We would like to see income taxes at close to confiscatory rates on incomes above $2 million a year (and indexed to future inflation), as well as a wealth tax on wealth in excess of $12 million per person or $20 million per family unit. Correspondingly, we want a guaranteed annual income for everyone in the society at a level sufficient to support their families so that their basic necessities are ensured (food, clothing, shelter, health care, child care, elder care, education, and basic home energy supplies). And we want to see a massive program to build environmentally sustainable energy supplies and transportation systems, and to reshape cities to enable people to live and play close to where they work.
To develop the capacity to let go of consumerism, and the capitalist addiction to endless growth of the economy, we seek to foster a spiritual life, encouraging our communities to follow any religious or non-religious path that increases our ability to be satisfied with fewer material goods. Some of this involves encouraging (not mandating) practices like meditation, prayer, artistic creativity, dance, playing musical instruments, community singing, walks or camping in beautiful settings in nature, and a weekly Sabbath day of rest and removal of attention from the world of “getting and spending” or otherwise exercising domination over nature.
Another contribution to developing this consciousness will be the introduction of a yearlong sabbatical every seventh year. During the six years prior to each sabbatical, we would be organizing ways to adequately meet basic needs. Most people would take the sabbatical the same year, creating a year in which they would be encouraged to expand their intellectual and cultural interests, explore new occupations, develop spiritual practices, celebrate nature, revel in play and pleasure, and participate in democratic decision making to shape the economic, political and cultural realities of the next six years. Those who must work to keep the hospitals, energy supplies, food, and medicines available would get an even longer sabbatical on a different year. How to make this work in the best way for the greatest number of people is a question that remains open for us.
We seek to build a society in which people are able to find meaningful work that contributes to the public good or connects to some higher purpose than the accumulation of money or power. Even meaningful work is not always fun or intellectually stimulating 100 percent of the time. But even difficult work can be filled with a sense of meaning when we know that it serves the common interests of humanity rather than the interests of a few corporate profiteers. Every workplace should be mandated to grant some time each week for working people to develop their own intellectual, spiritual and political interests, as well as time to exercise and care for their physical well-being. In such a world, where work feels meaningful and workers (and retirees) of every type are recognized for making a valuable contribution to the common good, most people will feel respected in ways that they do not in the current capitalist society.
One reason we believe it is possible immediately to dramatically reduce the work week from forty to thirty hours a week is that much of the labor expended today is dedicated to the production and delivery of goods and services that would not be deemed necessary if the advertising industry and the media had not produced in us a desire for them. And in our current economy where consumer demand often shapes what is produced, on the principle of one dollar one vote, the 1% of the population that owns 40% of the wealth and hence has vastly more votes than the rest of us, can waste the resources of our planet by consuming luxury items that are often more about status symbols than about fulfilling basic needs. In other words, many jobs are unnecessary from the standpoint of the sustainability of the planet and human well-being. Once we eliminate unnecessary work and the production of unnecessary goods and services, it will become possible to cut our hours and create a sabbatical year.
CONTRAST: LIBERAL AGENDA — Liberal programs rarely challenge the fundamental inequalities that have increased over the course of the past fifty years, though they publicly bemoan inequalities. They seek to restore the economic safety network so that no one falls “too low,” but they do not embrace radical redistribution efforts. Or they focus on measures to enhance the fairness of the competitive marketplace so that racism, sexism, homophobia, disabilities, and injuries do not impair anyone’s ability to compete effectively.
In contrast, spiritual progressives do not believe that competition for scarce resources is the right model for building a loving society. We want a society and economy that produces solidarity and caring rather than competitiveness and domination. We seek to establish an understanding, reflected in both income and wealth, that everyone who does socially necessary work (from physicians, to teachers, to computer technicians, to scientists, to child care workers, to garbage collectors, to agricultural workers) all deserve the same societal support and financial rewards for the same amount of time expended at work (though the years spent in developing various societally-needed professional expertise must be fully publicly financed so that these professionals have no loans to pay off and have not disadvantaged themselves financially by spending years in training).
CONTRAST: CONSERVATIVE AGENDA — Conservatives oppose programs that seek to foster the benevolence of human beings, either because they think that the capitalist market is already fostering the qualities human beings need or because they fear that the government will use excessive power to serve its own interests.
We believe that the goals we articulate can only be achieved through a collective, global, communitarian decision to build a world of love, generosity, and environmental sanity or else face the possibility of an end to human life on this planet. Building support for this goal is a major focus of the Network of Spiritual Progressives.
10. We seek to protect individuals from coercive powers of the government and the marketplace, while affirming our interdependence.
We seek to ban all forms of spying by governments and corporations on anyone not reasonably believed to be a spy of an enemy country or a terrorist operative. Prior to any such spying, a panel of civil libertarian activists shall determine if the suspected spy fits one of those two categories. We oppose any invasion of our privacy, and recognizing how this information can be used to manipulate or control us, we oppose the accumulation of detailed information about our political, economic, social, and consumer behaviors by governments or corporations.
We seek to decriminalize personal behavior that does not hurt other human beings and, contrary to our current culture, we will promote a culture that honors those who extend care to others.
We seek to reform our legal system so that it promotes peacemaking, understanding and respectful problem-solving with the overarching goal of restoring people’s dignity, respect and connection with community. In the criminal justice system, we will give priority to restorative justice aimed at repairing the social damage to trust and a sense of security for people in which the offense took place, repairing personal damage done by individual criminals and corporate criminals, to foster reconciliation and forgiveness, and to seek rehabilitation and transformation of those in prison rather than to privilege punishment. We shall seek a transformation of the penal system, including the training of guards to be compassionate. Management of prisons should be supervised by panels of compassionate psychologists and clergy who are empowered to hire and fire all prison personnel according to their capacity to demonstrate this compassion in a daily way in the prisons. Prisons must train inmates with skills capable of getting them employment, and connect them with halfway houses that provide financial and emotional support for newly released prisoners in the fist year after their sentence has been served.
In the domestic arena, both family courts and child protective services, we shall seek compassionate resolution of family disputes and challenges so that families experience an environment where their needs for connection with family members, care for the well-being of all members and promotion of healthy parent-child relationships are promoted and encouraged and where parents and others receive adequate support and guidance as to how to improve their parenting capacities with empathy and compassion rather than with coercion.
In the area of tort law, we shall seek repair for the damage done and appropriately structured re-workings of any corporate, medical, government or other institutional systems so that future harm is minimized as much as possible. We shall create a public fund so that anyone injured in any tragic accident has his/her needs for adequate support and long-term care met.
In our struggle to bring about the sweeping social transformations we seek, we must be careful not to empower a new totalitarian force of the Right or the Left, or to create social movements that impose “political correctness”, stifles free expression, individual creativity or idiosyncrasies. We don’t want any form of Stalinism or coercive group think, whether that is perpetrated through social media, government-administered loyalty tests, corporate manipulations, or warped social change movements.
Instead, we strive to respond compassionately and empathically to those who disagree with our spiritual progressive worldview articulated here. That same empathy and compassion should be shown to all activists in the movement, including those who insult, criticize or put others down, use power over others or use high ideals in manipulative ways, because we recognize that our social change movements will attract many wounded people who need healing. Yet at the same time we will remain firm in refusing to allow those who are hurtful or manipulative to shape the inner culture of our social change movements or divert our movement from its focus on the New Bottom Line.
So we approach this whole enterprise of tikkun (healing and transformation of the world) with a spirit of humility, even as we simultaneously embrace the excitement of living at a moment in which the forces of love in the universe are beginning to assert themselves and demand that the world be changed so that love can flourish.
In every aspect of life, we will give priority to enhancing our capacity to respond to other human beings as embodiments of the sacred, recognizing that our well-being depends on the well-being of everyone else on the planet and on the well-being of the planet itself. In this way we hope to make our lives congruent with the unfolding of the spiritual reality of the universe around us.
11. As an organization that welcomes and includes people of all races, religions and ethnic groups, we will challenge and undo ongoing institutional racism that permeates our society at all levels.
Our anti-racist program includes creating an educational system and transforming media and the legal system so that undermining racist ideas and practices becomes one of their central goals. We will provide material support and champion those institutions and social practices that are most successful at fostering respect and caring for previous targets of racism. And we will foster education and public policies that help people understand why racism is counter to their interests and why solidarity with Black and Brown peoples and other groups that have been systematically excluded, marginalized, and targets of violence actually serves their interests and values.
If we want a loving and caring society that truly values the lives of Black and Brown peoples, we need to recognize and come to terms with how our country was founded and the impact of the past policies on the present. We also need to acknowledge and transform present day policies and practices that are discriminatory. The issues addressed in the previous 10 points of this platform are all relevant to the issue of institutional and individual racism in our society. Without a fundamental challenge to the economic and political practices of capitalist society there will always be some groups left out or left far behind, and those people will be encouraged to find a scapegoat in some “other,” so it is unlikely that racism can be eliminated without this larger transformation. But, on their own, the policies we’ve suggested in the first ten parts of our program and even the emergence of a powerful transformative movement aimed at the goals of the New Bottom Line are inadequate to address the harm and trauma with which Black and Brown peoples live.
We are witnessing at this time in history a continuation of the pervasive fear of black bodies and a denial that black lives matter. This is coupled with a rise of white terrorist and hate groups that no political party challenges and the impotence of the news media and police to unveil the existence of underground hate groups that are becoming more visible and vocal. Today, blatant racism and violence, particularly against African Americans, Native Americans and Latinx Americans, are manifesting in the form of extrajudicial police violence and killings, a school-to-prison pipeline that has resulted in more African American people in jails than were enslaved in the past in our country, the dumping of toxic waste and chemicals in communities where Black, Brown and low-income and poor people live, unequal educational opportunities beginning before children even start kindergarten and so much more.
Manifest destiny and American exceptionalism justified the genocide of Native Americans and deadens protest against present racist policies that keep Native Americans on reservations. These principles still inform and drive domestic and foreign U.S. policy resulting in oppression and violence at home and abroad. America’s ruling elite continues to use war to expand territory, to gain access to resources, and to increase its power. The military industrial complex leads to profits for private industry at the expense of the safety and welfare of Black and Brown communities at home and abroad.
Racism, however, is not only a structural problem built into the economic, political, and cultural heritage of our societal institutions, but also a psychological issue. It becomes particularly prominent when large numbers of people are alienated and in pain because they feel “dissed” by the society in which they live. They experience this pain because they buy into the ideology of the competitive marketplace with its insistence that we live in a meritocracy in which we “create our own reality” and hence we have no one to blame for the pain in our lives but ourselves. The resulting painful self-blaming is often dealt with through alcoholism, drug abuse, or other forms of addiction, but the pain remains.
In response to that pain, reactionary movements or leaders come forward and tell people that the reason for their pain is because of some “Other” (primarily African Americans or Latino/a, but also refugees of every sort, Muslims, LGBTQ people, Jews, or even all liberals or progressives). As Tikkun editor-at-large Peter Gabel puts it, racism and other forms of “othering” allow people to develop a “false self” in which they imagine themselves as worthy and powerful through seeing themselves as members of an idealized “white race” that provides them with a substitute sense of worth and value covering over their inner emptiness and sense of valuelessness. Yet because this sense of collective value is what Gabel calls “false” or imaginary, many people feel constantly under attack from an imaginary demonized “other” which in the historic context of the U.S. is African-American people, Latinx, Muslims or other refugees who they imagine are “taking over” and trying to recreate their experience of humiliation. To undo this dynamic will take fundamental transformations in the way we organize our society so that people no longer feel humiliated. To move in this direction, we will need millions of people to be trained in empathic communication so they can help others dismantle their inner self-blaming, recognize that their alienation is caused by the values and daily operations of the competitive marketplace, and mobilize people to change that economic system.
Institutional racism is maintained also by the largely unconscious assumption of white supremacy that is internalized by white people in a white dominant society. Overcoming the racism embedded in U.S. educational, legal and other systems requires white people to actively commit to becoming aware of the white supremacy that permeates their lives, exposing it, understanding how it diminishes the humanity of white people, and seeking to undo it. At the same time, we do not wish to participate in a general demeaning of white people in this society or to ignore the ways in which their lives have been negatively impacted by living in a society that uses racism to pit groups against one another. We refuse to perpetuate divisions based on race, class, gender, or ethnicity while recognizing that unity amongst all peoples cannot be fully achieved without dismantling racism. The vision we put forth in this entire document is one that would lift up all peoples. That requires not only a change in consciousness, but also a fundamental transformation of our economic and political system.
Yet the transformation needed cannot be achieved by attempting to recreate socialist forms that spoke to economic equality but missed the deeper transformations in how we relate to each other, to the Earth, and to our own inner development as loving and caring human beings. To address these systemic problems, we believe we need a New Bottom Line as discussed above so that all our institutions are determined “successful” based on whether they prioritize the well-being and needs of the people who live in our country and the world and the planet itself, rather than whether they maximize money and power. And, in addition, we need to engage in specific activities and adopt particular policies that address the problems that constitute or unconsciously perpetuate racism.
Among the steps a loving and caring society will take:
Reparations for slavery and the past destruction of Native American populations.
A guaranteed income for every adult in this society sufficient to pay for healthy food, housing in healthy living conditions, clothing, energy bills and transportation, and a “living wage” (http://livingwage.mit.edu/) for all working people.
A Global and Domestic Marshall Plan that re-directs monies from our Gross Domestic Product to communities that have suffered from unfair distribution of resources and wages, including white, black and brown working class people in the U.S. and around the world, and also “undocumented” workers and all migrant laborers who work in our fields, hotels, etc. who have then been deported to their native lands, separating and devastating families.
Equal funding for all public and private childcare centers, preschools and schools no matter where they are located in the U.S. or the income level of the families that are served by those schools. If wealthier parents are allowed to provide better schooling, better paid teachers, more options for study and for individualized attention at the schools which their children attend, their children will inevitably have greater resources than those who have gone to less funded schools. If parents know that the schools serving the poorest communities set the standards for what their own children will be offered in public and private schools, they will have a stronger incentive to make sure that all schools have these same benefits that are now primarily available to school districts with higher incomes and private schools partially financed by wealthy parents.
Higher level salaries for teachers who teach in communities with lower average incomes than the wealthier communities to ensure that all schools have highly qualified teachers.
Required courses at every level from 4th grade through college that explain to students the legacy of slavery, discrimination, classism, sexism and homophobia and their ongoing impact on the lives of all of us today. Such courses will teach techniques to address racism, empathic communication, and insights that help in overcoming racism.
Media must dedicate at least one quarter of their prime time viewing to shows that aim to creatively challenging racist practices, prejudice and biases.
Create a truth and reconciliation commission to generate a highly visible public tribunal to put our country on a path toward truly facing and healing the legacy of slavery and the treatment and slaughter of Native Americans, and the ongoing discrimination we see today.
To help ensure that schools become learning environments for all children rather than school-to-prison pipelines for some, we support the adoption of restorative justice as a primary form of response to wrongdoing in schools and in the criminal justice system as a whole.
Funding for jobs, education and housing for people being released from prison.
In recognition that many police departments have unequal policing that results in the loss of liberty and life for black and brown peoples all over this country, every community that has a police force which has faced significant numbers of complaints about systematic abuse or profiling of African Americans or other minority groups must establish a publicly-elected police review commission that has the power to fire both individual police and replace the leadership of that police force, and the ability to impose heavy civil fines or criminally indict police and police leadership for violating the civil rights of people within their jurisdiction.
Mandatory training for police officers in anti-racism, bias and prejudice and comprehensive screening and vetting of applicants to help ensure that police officers are not racist. Mandatory training in de-escalation and nonviolent responses when conducting stops and arrests.
Any surveillance equipment that police departments request must be reviewed by a civilian board that includes members of the communities that are and will be impacted. If body cameras are used, any tapes from those cameras must be made available to family and community members when an officer’s actions are in question.
A wholesale rethinking of policing including demilitarizing of police forces, reducing and eventually eliminating higher levels of surveillance, and creating more transparency, accountability and transformative and restorative policing and justice models.
Full access, guarantees and protections of the right to vote for all peoples through universal voting registration, automatic voting registration, pre-registration for 16-year-olds, same-day voter registration, voting day holidays, enfranchisement of formerly and currently incarcerated people, local and state resident voting for all undocumented people, and a ban on any disenfranchisement laws.
In recognition that poor and disempowered communities often bear the brunt of environmental devastation and destruction, we promote the Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that, among other things, mandates that all corporations with incomes of greater than $50 million a year have to prove, once every five years, a satisfactory history of environmental and social justice to a jury of ordinary citizens who can hear testimony from people throughout the world who are impacted by that corporations practices.
CONTRAST: LIBERAL AGENDA: Liberal politicians rarely speak about Institutionalized and systemic racism. Instead, liberals tend to blame racism on individual bad apples, failing to acknowledge the legacy of slavery and discrimination that still pervades our schools, housing opportunities, political system, police force, criminal justice system and the like. Or they promise to provide equal opportunity in the capitalist marketplace without acknowledging how the psychic wounds of the past, and the fundamental wealth and income inequalities of the past and present shape what financial base there is to start new businesses, make investments, qualify for loans at low interest rates, provide quality education for their children, or feel safe from arbitrary arrest or even murder from police. To add insult to injury, when liberals reluctantly pay lip service to anti-discriminatory policies and actions, they simultaneously speak about the need for African Americans (and other people of color) to address their shortcomings and faults, blaming them for the struggles they face that are in fact largely a product of the foundation on which our country was founded as well as the ongoing policies and behavior of our police, educators, politicians, media, etc.
CONTRAST: CONSERVATIVE AGENDA: Conservatives blame the struggles that Black and Brown peoples face as their own shortcomings and completely fail to acknowledge any institutionalized racism in our society. In addition, they actively promote policies that do and would undermine and directly overturn efforts made and laws passed during the Civil Rights era that began to address systemic racism. They also insist that all legacies of the past will magically be healed if the society expands its production and consumption of goods, which they believe will happen by reducing taxes on the wealthy who will then feel impelled to expand their investments in companies that will hire the previously unemployed (ignoring all the times that this approach has failed to significantly change the situation of Black and Brown peoples, but rather has only further enriched the wealthy and deepened the gap between the one percent (1%) of highest income and wealth people and the rest of the population in the US, UK, Israel, and wherever else these policies have been tried).
How Realistic is the Spiritual Covenant?
This vision, needless to say, is “unrealistic” in the sense that it does not conform to the assumptions of politicians and pundits in the mainstream mass media. For most politicians, that ends the discussion because they’ve consistently been unwilling to risk any electoral loss for the sake of a longer-term higher good. But that is precisely why so many Americans have come to distrust their representatives—because if they won’t fight hard for their own beliefs, how can they be counted on to fight for the best interests of U.S. society when the going gets rough?
The women’s movement in its early years, the civil rights movement in its early years, and the environmental movement in its early years were all dismissed as “unrealistic” because they too stepped outside the frame of politics as it was understood at the time by the media and the politicians. Only a few years ago the idea that gays and lesbians would be given the right to marry seemed utopian and politically foolish. But you can never know what is possible in the realm of politics and society till you struggle for what is desirable.
The Network of Spiritual Progressives is a consciousness-raising movement, so our primary task, like that of the other major movements that have had a lasting impact, is to refuse to compromise our ideals for the sake of short-term political gain. We must instead advocate for our fullest vision and insist on why it makes the most sense as the path to heal American society. Please use this Spiritual Covenant to create a neighborhood discussion about the kind of society your neighbors want. Bring it to your workplace, your professional organization, your union, your civic organization, and your religious or spiritual community. If you are a teacher or professor, share it with your students. If you are a member of the clergy, have your institution teach it or use it as the basis for an ongoing discussion group.
If you join the Network of Spiritual Progressives you’ll also get a free subscription toTikkun magazine, where many of these ideas are developed and refined. Create a local chapter of the Network of Spiritual Progressives and seek to get endorsement of the Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment and the Global Marshall Plan from professional, political, and religious organizations, as well as from sports heroes, media celebrities, and elected officials. We encourage people to meet with elected officials every year, but this 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 are not about winning this or that electoral or legislative battle so much as we are about fostering a new way of thinking. Direct action like those taken in the early days of the Occupy movement to dramatically demonstrate their opposition to oppressive institutions can be helpful, but only if they are simultaneously articulating the alternative vision that we’ve presented here. You can also help us popularize these ideas by writing music, songs and poetry, creating videos, movies, and television shows, creating a neighborhood or workplace reading group to study articles in Tikkun or books related to our vision (e.g. Rabbi Lerner’s books Spirit Matters and/or The Left Hand of God: Taking Back our Country from the Religious Right, Peter Gabel’s The Bank Teller and other Essays on the Politics of Meaning and his Another Way of Seeing, and Cynthia Moe-Lobeda’s Resisting Structural Evil).
The Spiritual Covenant is a document that can grow and change with the needs of humanity. We welcome feedback and suggestions from current and prospective members of the Network of Spiritual Progressives. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org with your specific suggestions, keeping in mind that the point of this document is not to name every valuable goal and demand, but rather to shape a movement of spiritual progressives that has a coherent vision of the kind of world that will nurture and sustain life on Earth. Our hope is that this Spiritual Covenant gives you some sense of what it would be like to approach social transformation with a keen awareness of the spiritual dimension of life and a desire to build a world that reflects that awareness. Please help us build this movement. Join the (interfaith and secular-humanist-welcoming) Network of Spiritual Progressives at www.spiritualprogressives.org.
Further Reading: An in-depth discussion of the Spiritual Covenant and its implications appears in The Left Hand of God: Taking Back our Country from the Religious Right, by Rabbi Michael Lerner (Harper San Francisco, 2006).
Contact Info: Network of Spiritual Progressives, 2342 Shattuck Avenue, #1200, Berkeley, CA 94804 • Phone: 510-644-1200 (9 a.m.-noon Pacific Time) • Fax: 510-644-1255 • email@example.com • www.spiritualprogressives.org.
One-Page Summary of the Spiritual Covenant
- We will create a society that promotes rather than undermines loving and caring relationships and families.
- We will take personal responsibility for ethical behavior.
- We will build social responsibility into the normal operations of our economic and political life.
- We will reshape our education system so that it teaches values of love, caring, generosity, intellectual curiosity, tolerance, nonviolence, gratitude, wonder, democratic participation, and environmental responsibility.
- We will seek a transformation of our entire health care system not only providing free universal health care in our own country and around the world, but also creating a system that addresses the spiritual, psychological, and physical dimensions of human beings and the impact of social and environmental influences on their well-being.
- We will be stewards of the environment and reshape the global economy in sustainable ways.
- We will address our desire for “homeland security” through a strategy of nonviolence, generosity, genuine caring, and respect for the well-being of others.
- We support a strong separation of church, state, and science.
- We will rebuild our economy to provide economic security, fundamental equality, and meaningful work that contribute to some higher good beyond maximizing money or power.
- We seek to protect individuals from coercive powers of the government and the marketplace, while affirming our interdependence.
- As an organization that welcomes and includes people of all races, religions and ethnic groups, we will challenge and undo ongoing institutional racism that permeates our society at all levels.