The Network of Spiritual Progressives

By: Rabbi Michael Lerner

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Many of us are involved in or greatly admire the accomplishments of social change movements like the peace movement, the women's movement, the environmental movement, the movement for economic justice, the civil rights movement, the gay rights movement, the labor movement, struggles for civil liberties, and the disability rights movement, to name just a few.

And yet, we believe that these movements have tended to underplay or even deny a very important dimension of human life—the spiritual dimension. And this deficit has limited the potential impact that all these movements could have. It will take a very different kind of movement—one founded on and giving central focus to a spiritual vision--to create a real alternative to the political Right, to the fundamentalists (religious and political), and to our society’s ethos of selfishness, materialism, and cynicism.

We seek to create that alternative. We are a community of people from many faiths and traditions, called together by TIKKUN magazine and its vision of healing and transforming our world. We include in this call both the outer transformation needed to achieve social justice, ecological sanity, and world peace, and the inner healing needed to foster loving relationships, a generous attitude toward the world and toward others unimpeded by the distortions of our egos. Our movement will encourage a habit of generosity and trust, and the ability to respond to the grandeur of creation with awe, wonder and radical amazement.

We are guided in our work by our belief in the principle of solidarity. For us, this principle has spiritual roots in the Jewish commandment to remember that we were all slaves in Egypt; we believe that we are all harmed by oppression directed at any group or individual. This is a message which is common to most of the religious and spiritual traditions of the human race for the past several thousand years, and is part of the tradition also of many secular and even "orthodox atheist" groups that came into existence in the past few hundred years when the religious and spiritual communities that supposedly were committed to these values actually failed to take them seriously and became, instead, embedded in economic and political realities that were oppressive.

We in the Tikkun Community use the word "spiritual" to include all those whose deepest values lead them to challenge the ethos of selfishness and materialism that has led people into a frantic search for money and power and away from a life that places love, kindness, generosity, peace, non-violence, social justice, awe and wonder at the grandeur of creation, thanksgiving, humility and joy at the center of our lives. We believe that many of the secular movements that exist in the world today actually have deep spiritual underpinnings, but often they are themselves unaware of those foundations, unable or unwilling to articulate them and sometimes even holding a knee-jerk antagonism to explicit spiritual or religious language. This antagonism limits their effectiveness, though it derives from legitimate anger at the way that the language of spirituality and religion has been sometimes used to justify war, oppression, sexism, racism, homophobia, ecological indifference, or insensitivity to the suffering of the poor and the homeless of the world.

Solidarity means that we affirm our responsibility towards each other within our families, within our nation, and within our spiritual/religious community—and also beyond the narrow boundaries of ethnicity, religion, and geography. We affirm the obligation to actively resist injustice and refuse to take part in it even when we can't prove that our resistance will produce change. In solidarity with the oppressed, we wish to see the democratization of economic and political institutions and a redistribution of wealth so that all people can share equally and sustainably in the benefits of the planet. We hope to have the courage-- in the tradition of the Jewish prophets and interpreters of Torah, In the spirit of Jesus and the early Christian communities of resistance to Rome, in the spirit of Muhammed, in the spirit of the activists of the labor & civil rights and feminist and gay rights movements-- to speak truth to power. Tikkuin is a Jewish magazine, but the Tikkun Community is an interfaith organization (and welcoming to agnostics and orthodox atheists as well).

At the same time, we will challenge the lack of a spiritual dimension in the agendas of our allies in progressive social change movements. That gap has allowed the Right to present itself as the force that cares about spiritual issues. And the Left’s failure to address spirituality has led many to believe their hunger for a larger framework of meaning and purpose must be separated from their involvement with social transformation.

Social change activity gets focused on a narrow political agenda that lacks the depth that can inspire sustained commitment or nourishing involvement. Imagine an international group of people who would see themselves as allies to each other in advancing this way of thinking, people who are unashamedly utopian and willing to fight for their highest ideals, yet unashamedly humble in knowing that we don't know all that we need to know to do the healing that needs to be done.

Imagine that this group would help each other in our individual as well as group activities, affirming what is good and brainstorming with us about how to create a movement that gives equal priority to our inner lives and to social justice, that takes loving and caring as serious goals for social healing, and that rejects the utilitarian and materialistic assumptions of the contemporary world and actively fosters awe and wonder in its participants. Imagine that you could be part of creating that.

The Network of Spiritual Progressives has 3 goals:

This is the ground floor of building a new kind of paradigm for progressive politics, and it could have a major impact in making the liberal and progressive forces far more successful in healing and transforming American society. As I’ve shown in my new book The Left Hand of God: Taking Back our Country from the Religious Right, many people agree with the Left on specific issues but still end up feeling that their greatest pain is the deprivation of love, a sense of meaning in work, and a feeling that they are surrounded by materialism, selfishness, and moral insensitivity, that their children are subjected to sexual pressures before they are old enough to handle them, and that the Left seems oblivious to these kinds of issues and only addresses economic entitlements and political rights.

We in the NSP (the Network of Spiritual Progressives) care very much about eliminating poverty, fighting for equal rights, ending the war in Iraq and the militarist assumptions that led to it, but that these important struggles will not be won until the Left also seems to care about these other “meaning” issues in the lives of many Americans.

Moreover, the Left is only clear on what it is against, but rarely has it communicated clearly what it is for. That’s why we are taking our demand for a New Bottom Line to the Congress and the media May 17-20—along with a detailed SPIRITUAL COVENANT WITH AMERICA that is meant to provide a positive vision of what a progressive spiritual politics is about (you can read it fully explicated in The Left Hand of God, which, I’m happy to say, has become a national best-seller since it was published by Harpers in February).

Editor's note: This posting (above) is a mix of several letters & articles by Rabbi Michael Lerner. We strongly commend his books and writings to you. Also, you will find that the website for The Network of Spiritual Progressives is very much in alignment with the core ideals of Jesus as understood by the authors of our Jesus is A Liberal website.

Please visit the Network of Spiritual Progressives at:

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