Protestors gathered in New York City yesterday in response to Zimmerman's acquittal for the killing of Trayvon Martin. Credit: Jay Stephens.
…………… The jury’s acquittal of George Zimmerman, who shot and murdered the unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin, was emblematic of the consistent racism and double standard used in the treatment of minority groups or those deemed “Other” in the U.S. and around the world. Where is there justice in a world in which so many people suffer oppression and in which those who choose to use violence as a way to address and deal with their hatred and fear often seem to triumph?
Jewish theology holds that there is a karmic order, so that evil actions will not always run the world. Justice and compassion are both essential to the survival of the planet. Unlike many religions that focus on individual sinners and imagine that they will be punished in some future not currently verifiable – for example in a heaven or hell after life, or in a reincarnation in some form that provides rewards or punishments for how one lives in this world, most of Jewish theology sees karma as playing out on a societal scale, and over the long run.
There may never be a this-world punishment for George Zimmerman. Murderers and other perpetrators of evil too often get rewarded instead of punished. James Comey, who played an important role in approving water-boarding and indefinite detention without trial when he served in the Bush Administration, was appointed last week by President Obama to head the FBI. The Director of National Intelligence James Clapper lied to Congress in denying NSA surveillance of American citizens, but it is Edward Snowden who is now seeking asylum for whistle-blowing and revealing the extent of that lie. Henry Kissinger who played a central role in prolonging the Vietnam war (causing thousands of deaths) still receives public acclaim. Those bankers and investment brokers who were responsible for the 2008 meltdown of the economy and the loss of homes for millions of Americans received rewards and huge bonuses instead of prison sentences. And corporate leaders who have been responsible for polluting our air, water and land around the planet remain firmly in power while environmentalists are scorned and their message largely ignored by the Obama Administration.
So where’s the justice?
The environmental crisis is the no. 1 spiritual challenge facing the human race in the 21st century.
Spiritual Progressives should provide leadership in this struggle. We understand the dimensions of the issue, understand that we cannot save the planet without defeating the globalization of materialism and selfishness which provides the engine for unlimited exploitation of the earth without regard to the future consequences, and understand that a serious environmental movement would not only be involved in the day-to-day challenging of the worst offenses (as will happen at the demonstrations this weekend) but would ALSO be seeking to change the fundamental underlying assumptions about what is rational, productive and efficient in our economy, politics, and daily life. That is what we do with our “New Bottom Line” which is at the center of our Spiritual Covenant with America, and with our proposed ESRA–the Environmental and Social Responsiblity Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
No wonder then, that the Network of Spiritual Progressives has joined with over one hundred other organizations to support the Forward on Climate Rallies this Sunday, not only in the big rally in D.C. but also in the many other rallies around the country. Below is a list of locations we just received. If you can, bring copies of the ESRA to the rally, and signs indicating that you are one of the many Spiritual Progressives involved in this struggle (because doing so will encourage other spiritual progressives to feel safe to come out of the closet despite the religiophobia many people report experiencing in some liberal, progressive and/or environmental circles–and it will help alert secular demonstrators that they have spiritual progressive allies in this struggle to save the earth).
Hope to see you there this Sunday at one of the many sites!
Eli Zaretsky is one of many Tikkun Daily bloggers, and the blog posts on Tikkun Daily and articles on www.tikkun.org are all perspectives we value but do not necessarily agree with. For example, in Zaretsky’s recent blog post, “The Obama Presidency: An Assessment,” we think Zaretsky a bit more negative about Obama than we feel. On the other hand, Zaretsky reads as a good counter-balance to the wild claims of the New York Times on Jan. 22, 2013, which stated that Obama’s second inaugural speech presented a progressive worldview. What Obama did was to list a set of liberal issues, including the need for government to play a role, supporting fair treatment for immigrants, and including gay rights — causes that did not get the support they needed through most of his first four years till he started running for reelection.
There was no unifying theme or progressive vision, no critique of the role of corporations in pursuing self-interest at the expense of societal well-being, no challenge to the distorting role of big money in elections and a reiteration of the basic foreign policy that both Democrats and Republicans (but not progressives) have pursued for the past decades in which we (the United States) try to get our way and serve our economic and political agenda around the world without much sensitivity to the need, much less the human rights of others (in fact, Obama may well be remembered for having initiated an extensive use of drones and for signing on to a policy of legitimating lifetime imprisonment without trial of those suspected of being terrorists).
In her interview in the Fall 2012 issue of Tikkun magazine, Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein predicted Obama’s betrayal of the interests of poor and working people (the “middle class”) which she now documents in her analysis of “the compromise” between Obama and the Republicans which was worked out as the alternative to “the fiscal cliff” two weeks ago: “The Real Obama Emerges Again.”
“Obama better than Romney?” In regard to the economic interests of the poor and working class, almost certainly. But for those spiritual progressives who voted for Obama (and our information leads us to believe that most did) the ethical question that emerges is: “knowing who he was after close to four years in office, and choosing to vote for him rather than a protest candidate (even in states where the election wasn’t close), what level of responsibility do we have for the programs he is now enacting when they hurt the poor and the most vulnerable in our society, when he continues to support drone killings around the world, when he refuses to push for a carbon tax or other measures appropriate to saving the planet, when he continues to support the jailing of people who use marijuana, when he continues…. (well, you can add your own here)?”
At the Philadelphia “Heschel/King Festival” last week, on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of Abraham Joshua Heschel’s death (his Yarhzeit), I was asked to speak about what this man, now recognized as the most significant American Jewish theologian of the 20th century (and my mentor at the Jewish Theological Seminary) would have been advocating or what would he want from us were he alive today. Here’s much of what I said:
What Does Heschel Want from Us Today?
Abraham Joshua Heschel, z”l (Zeecrhono Lee’vracha — “may his memory be a blessing”), taught that
Judaism is spiritual effrontery….The most urgent task is to destroy the myth that accumulation of wealth and the achievement of comfort are the chief vocation of humanity. How can adjustment to society be an inspiration to our youth if that society persists in squandering the material resources of the world on luxuries in a world where more than a billion people go hungry every night? …[we must] insist that life involves not only the satisfaction of selfish needs, but also the satisfaction of a divine need for human justice and nobility.
(This excerpt is from the essay “existence and celebration” in the collection MGSA Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity).
Heschel insists on the centrality of a tikkun olam, a transformation of the world. He is not talking of the trivialized notion of Tikkun Olam that got adopted by the Reform Movement in Judaism and is now mostly about maneuvering for liberal legislation in Washington D.C. or about once a month inviting homeless people for a warm night in your synagogue, valuable as both of these activities really are. No, he is talking about fundamental global transformation.
Lawmakers from the Senate and House met in a closed-conference and released the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) Conference Report Tuesday night, whereby conferees reinserted language in the bill that allows for the indefinite detention of Americans without charge or trial. The NDAA is unconstitutional and un-American.
Tell your representative to say NO to indefinite detention and vote NO on the NDAA!
To close the Guantánamo prison was a hallmark of the president’s 2008 campaign. Urge President Obama to VETO the 2013 NDAA and tell him that he campaigned on the promise of a renewed commitment to the rule of law, and by signing the defense bill, he will not be able to fulfill his commitment to closing the infamous detention center in Guantánamo once and for all.
Connecticut State Police lead children from the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., following a shooting there Friday. Credit: Newtown Bee.
Some thoughts and a prayer after the latest mass killings, this time of elementary school students:
Banning all guns is necessary but not sufficient in light of the increasing violence in our society. We need a fundamental transformation as well as banning guns. Otherwise, we will now revert to the normal debate between liberals wanting more gun control and conservatives saying that it’s not guns that kill but people. Both are right. So here is what we need to do:
1. A constitutional amendment to ban all guns, and to create special holding units for hunting rifles to be held in control of locally elected officials in every neighborhood who keep the rifles under lock and key except when given to hunters during a hunting season and to be returned immediately thereafter, with all necessary criminal controls and penalties for those who do not return them in a timely manner and those who continue to hold on to their guns privately. No private ownership of guns of any sort. Police must similarly be disarmed, and allowed only to use billy clubs and mace, except in emergencies in which a judge signs a warrant for the temporary use of lethal force against someone who is using lethal force. Lesser measures (background checks, banning only extreme assault weapons, etc.) are insufficient and will have only slight impact.
2. We must create a track of education in every school and every grade level that teaches nonviolence both as a philosophy of life and as a practical way to live one’s life. This track must also teach nonviolent communication skills. Moreover it must teach children and teenagers and college students:
All the usual suspects are cheering on their respective sides in the latest struggle between Israel and Palestine being fought out at the expense of some Israeli and more Palestinian civilian lives. I’ve been overwhelmed with sadness at the tragic loss of lives and harm to the bodies of Israelis and Palestinians, and outraged at all those who continue to justify their side and demean the other, implicitly cheering on the violence even as they officially deplore it! Enough is enough. Stop the violence immediately!
First step: the international community, led by the U.S., should impose an immediate cease-fire on all sides of the struggle, and should introduce an international peace force to restrain and if necessary arrest anyone involved in any side of this struggle who is acting to continue the violence. That force should be equally charged with arresting any military figures on the Israeli side or guerrilla forces on the Palestinian side that are attempting to engage in hostilities.
I hope you’ll read both of my post-election reflections, though they do have slightly different foci. On the home page of Huffington Post this Monday morning you’ll find my article “In Praise of the American People“,while on the home page for Truth-Out.org you’ll find a report of what liberals and progressives have been sharing with me in regard to their concerns that Obama will only be a “lesser evil president” unless we ourselves organize to become as effective a pressure on him and Congressional Democrats as the Tea Party was on Congressional Republicans in the past four years. Please check it out here.
Perhaps the most generous teaching of the God or Spiritual Reality of the Universe comes in the second paragraph of the Shma prayer (in Deuteronomy), where it tells us that if we do not create a world based on love, kindness, generosity, ethical and ecological sensitivity, social justice, and peace then the world itself will not work, and there will be an environmental catastrophe and humans and all other animals are in danger of perishing.
These are not the words of an angry patriarch threatening to do this to us, but rather a kind warning that the universe is sending us–a warning that tells us that the ethical and the physical are intrinsically bound together in such a way that when we build a society based on greed, selfishness, materialism, and endless consumption without regard to the consequences for the earth, disaster will follow.
Growing up, I thought this an extravagant and foolish claim tied to an authoritarian, patriarchal, and judgmental god in whom I could not believe; but as an adult I encountered environmental science and learned that it was all true. There are now a host of books that show the concrete steps that lead from ethical irresponsibility toward the earth and toward each other to the resulting environmental crisis (and we regularly review them in Tikkun magazine).
Hurricane Sandy is only the latest manifestation of this truth, and compared with what is coming, a relatively mild reminder. Bill McKibben, who often writes about these issues in Tikkun, recently discussed Hurricane Sandy and climate disaster with Amy Goodman and climate scientist Greg Jones. It’s very well worth your time to listen to it. Here’s an excerpt: