America’s political dysfunction is a symptom of a national identity crisis. Americans are drawn to incompatible views of human purpose. I appreciate how Gary Dorrien (writing in both this issue of Tikkun and in The Obama Question) frames the broken mirror of national identity in two panes. In one is yearning for unrestricted liberty to acquire wealth; in the other is yearning for self-government—that is, a desire for rightful power to apply core values in the creation of public policies and practices, including those that pertain to wealth. Not only do large blocs form around these two yearnings, but many individuals seem internally split by the competing desires. They want leadership, but no clarity comes from political or religious leaders. If this crisis goes unsettled for much longer, the system will founder. That fact should cheer no one, for in the present state of affairs, tyranny, not revolution and reconstruction, will follow.
While these split yearnings have certainly vied with each other throughout America’s history, they are not see and saw, paired off like talk show foes. To the contrary, an absolute hierarchy of values rules here, for the crisis is not essentially political, but spiritual: the crisis goes to the core question of humanity’s purpose.
A spiritual perspective holds that human consciousness is capable of connecting material reality with nonmaterial reality. A spiritual perspective brings a moral imperative to bear: since high and low can touch, they must be allowed to touch as often as possible. Both those who reject this distinction of spiritual and material reality and those who put material values first (regardless of what they say of God and truth) hold what I would describe as unspiritual worldviews. In a spiritual worldview, a person becomes truly human to the degree that she learns how all things can and must be connected to values beyond themselves. Scriptures throughout the world share one mind on this matter: things below must serve the things above. It is absurd when men who claim Jesus as their pioneer also set the acquisition of wealth at the pinnacle of their principles. These men are basically unspiritual, their policies are necessarily inhumane. They have lost touch with the possibility that the integrity of laws and leadership can make space for people to develop both inward and outward expressions of self-government.
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