by Lydia Howell
Rabbi Michael Lerner is most known for what he calls “a progressive middle path that is both pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian.” He has abhorred Palestinian suicide bombers as well as Israel’s violent repression in the Occupied Territories, earning the ire of some on both sides.
Lerner weighs in on another hot-button issue—the concept of morality in politics —with his newest book, “The Left Hand of God: Taking Back Our Country From The Religious Right.”
liberal activists need to welcome people with religious and spiritual beliefs,”
Lerner asserts. “We’re also challenging the misuse and misdirection
of right-wing religious communities that use the Bible but missed the points
about ‘turning the other cheek’ ... [and] to care about the powerless.”
Lerner edits TIKKUN, a progressive Jewish magazine, and co-chairs, with African-American
minister and distinguished professor Cornel West, the Network of Spiritual Progressives
(NSP). Lerner says NSP is “a whole different vision of what politics should
be about,” taking positions from anti-racism to anti-war, grounding them
in spiritual values and offering some fresh solutions.
“People have heard progressives be about a fairer distribution of money
and political rights—which we are totally for. We totally believe spiritual
vision has to incorporate inclusion and material fairness, but that’s
not enough,” Lerner explains. “It doesn’t speak to the hunger
people have for a framework of meaning and purpose to their lives that transcends
the materialism and competition of the marketplace. A politics of meaning or
a spiritual politics addresses those needs. We’re about restructuring
our institutions, so they’re no longer judged by the old bottom line,
which says people are valuable to the extent that they maximize money, power
or the egos of those who control our society’s institutions.”
Lerner’s proposed “New Bottomline” boldly redefines “success,”
by prioritizing values other than the current ones of competition and profit:
love, caring, kindness, generosity, ethical and ecological sustainability, while
enhancing what he calls “our capacities to respond to the universe with
wonder and radical amazement.”
Lerner’s “Left Hand of God” concretely applies these idealistic
aims with eight planks of a “Spiritual Covenant,” which takes on
the most serious issues of our time: beleaguered families of all kinds, from
“traditional” to single parents and GLBT—people working longer
hours with fewer social supports; poverty, both at home and globally; crime,
environmental destruction and war. Such a concept has produced many initiatives,
such as TIKKUN’s restorative justice project, started 15 years ago.
“You start seeing that people engaging in crime are human beings, distorted
by the realities of their lives, doing stuff that runs counter to the impluse
we all have to be caring. They’ve LOST an essential part of their humanity.
We need to help repair them,” Lerner explains. “It’s also
extremely important they engage in acts of reparation to those they’ve
hurt, to deeply understand what their victims’ lives are like and how
they’ve been hurt.”
criminals would also be part of crime prevention, sharing their own transformation
to guide others—especially youth—away from crime.
Corporate crime would be addressed by passing a Social Responsiblity Amendment
to the U.S. Constitution. Corporations making $50 million or more annually would
be required to have their charter renewed every decade. Corporations would have
to prove they’re socially responsible. Juries of ordinary citizens would
make that determination based on testimony by workers, community organizations
and the corporation.
Lerner recognizes poverty’s role in war, calling for a global Marshall
Plan, alluding to America’s post-WWII rebuilding of Europe and Japan.
“It’s possible to protect our country from the crazies in the world
by putting 5 percent of the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of the U.S. and other
industrial Western nations toward ending global poverty, homelessness, hunger,
inadequate education and health care. That’s a different vision for being
a human being and being safe,” he says. “For 5,000 years,
people have been taught that the way to deal with violence is more violence
That we have to be MORE violent than the violent ones and then, there will be
less violence. For 5,000 years that has NOT worked. It’s time for a different
May 17 to 20, the Network of Spiritual Progressives hosts a conference in Washington,
Lerner sums up the perspective he hopes to inspire: “The fundamental change
we need is to recognize that our individual well-being and our society’s
well-being depends on the well-being of every person on the planet.” ||
Rabbi Michael Lerner speaks Wed. Feb. 15, 7 p.m., Joan of Arc Church, 4537
Third Ave. S., Mpls. FREE.