(Yes, this is religion. Yes, we are socialists. But how can we not be moved by the presentiment of hope contained in these words?)
Pope Francis’ Laudato Si plea for environmental sanity and a serious recommitment to the Bible’s call for humanity to be stewards of this planet earth just might make a huge difference by puncturing through the emotional depression that keeps most of the people of the earth paralyzed in face of the growing crisis.
It is not that people don’t know about the environmental crisis that keeps us stuck in our current situation. It is rather that most people are unable to see any way out of the mess that global capitalism has created for us. Feeling hopeless about the possibility of the kinds of fundamental transformations needed to save the planet, much of humanity has chosen the ostrich strategy: deny the problem, and focus instead on getting as much as one can for oneself in the decades ahead as the planet whimpers under the increasing destructiveness of the capitalist imperative to growth without limits and accumulation of money, power or things as the only meaning to life. Yet it is this very growth and accumulation of things, produced at the expense of the earth, that guarantees earth-destruction if not of the planet than at least of its life-support-system that makes human life on it possible.
The Democrats have been a huge failure at developing a serious strategy to stop climate change and preserve the earth for the same reason that most of the environmental groups have failed: they are not prepared to take on the capitalist system with its inherent dynamic that requires growth and requires endless conditioning of people to believe that they will achieve happiness and meaning in life through accumulation and growth.
Nor have they been willing to recognize that people impoverished by global capitalism around the world will not jump onto an environmental bandwagon proposed by the richest countries of the global North when the imperatives of feeding their families seem easier to meet by cutting down rain forests to grow cash-rich produce like cattle that will feed the global North’s hunger for beef, pork, and other animal products.
The Pope recognizes the centrality of eliminating poverty to an environmental program. So do many socialists, but socialist-style global redistribution of wealth is only a necessary but not sufficient condition for addressing the environmental crisis, because giving the poor more money to spend may only increase demand as long as we are operating within the materialist, looking out for number one, growth-as-necessary, more as better consciousness created by capitalist societies.
And that is why the Pope is providing a unique kind of leadership. He is the first international spiritual progressive voice who can go beyond the “common sense” of global capitalism and articulate a different world view.
The essence of the Spiritual Progressive world view is this: We need a New Bottom Line, so that all institutions, corporations, economic policy, governmental policies, our legal system, our education system, our media, and even our personal lives get to be assessed as productive, efficient or rational not to the extent that they maximize money or power (the Old Bottom Line) but to the extent that they maximize our capacities to be loving and caring for each other and for the planet earth, generous and kind, promoting economic and social justice, treating everyone else on earth as equally valuable and equally entitled to share in the benefits of our planet and equally responsible to protect it, responding to others as embodiments of the sacred and not simply as means to our own ends, and responding to the planet earth and the entire universe with awe, wonder and radical amazement rather than simply treating it as a “resource” to satisfy human needs
. It is from this standpoint that spiritual progressives can challenge the values that underlie global capitalism and materialist versions of socialism and instead chart a path to a fundamentally different global economic, political and social world. We at the Network of Spiritual Progressives have begun to do that with our proposed Global Marshall Plan (please download the full version at www.tikkun.org/gmp) and our proposed ESRA–Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (please read it at www.tikkun.org/esra).
The reason why Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and most secular humanist organizations have not yet embraced this path is that they are dependent for funding both from the capitalist class and from many in their membership who are attached to the materialist and looking-out-for-number-one worldview of global capitalist societies and hence dismiss any fundamental alternative as “unrealistic.” Ironically, it is precisely the undemocratic and hierarchical nature of the Catholic Church, and its previous accumulation of huge wealth, that frees the Pope from these concerns and hence made it possible for someone who genuinely is rooted in the spiritual values of the Bible to actually ask the world to remake itself in accord with those values. I don’t recommend the undemocratic or hierarchical path, but I do rejoice that this made it possible for a religious leader and a religious movement to develop that would be unequivocal in its critique of capitalism without falling into the narrow economistic and materialist worldview that has characterized most Left movements. It is their economistic, materialist and religio-phobic perspective that keeps most people on the Left from embracing the path of the spiritual progressive, even though in their hearts most people on the Left simultaneously embrace the values of the New Bottom Line (and were they to do so more explicitly, and get progressive organizations to publicly embrace and emphasize the New Bottom line the Left would be far more successful).
Of course, the Pope’s stand is generating considerable opposition from conservative Catholics who have already found ways around the Bible’s social justice teachings so that they could explain why they are champions of the rich and still call themselves Christians. All the more reason for the rest of us to embrace this Pope, even as we gently and lovingly chide him to consider applying his message of caring for everyone more fully by embracing full rights for women and homosexuals.
The best way to support the Pope is to build an interfaith movement based on these values articulated in the New Bottom Line. It is only when people begin to see a spiritual progressive movement in the public sphere with a strategy for how to save the planet that is willing to challenge the fundamentals of global capitalism that they will be able to imagine overcoming their own passivity, emotional depression, and mistaken certainty that “nothing will ever make possible a new economic system.” It is only when they see millions of us working together for a fundamentally different world that they will overcome this mistaken commitment to “being realistic” and instead recognize that “we never know what is possible until we join with others to struggle for what is desirable.” So I invite you to become a member of the NSP–Network of Spiritual Progressives at www.spiritualprogressives.org/join. You don’t have to believe in God or be part of a religious or spiritual community to be a spiritual progressives–you only have to embrace the New Bottom Line articulated above–so the NSP is not only interfaith and welcoming people from every religious community in the world, but also welcoming to secular humanists and atheists who want the kind of world we are seeking.
But neither are we some flaky New Agey kind of operation that believes everything will be fine if we just change our own hearts. We seek both an inner transformation and an economic, political, and societal transformation, and welcome those who will join with us in actually building a social change movement based on the principles of the New Bottom Line–a movement that is compassionate towards not only its own members but toward those who do not agree with us, a movement that is psychologically and intellectually sophisticated, and integrates humor, playfulness, joy and love even as it seeks to challenge the institutions and economic arrange3ments that are destroying the planet. JOIN US, pretty please!
Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of Tikkun Magazine www.tikkun .org (a free subscription to which comes with membership in the NSP), rabbi of Beyt Tikkun Synagogueo-without-walls in Berkeley, California www.beyttikkun.org, , co-chair with Vandana Shiva of the Network of Spiritual Progressives, and author of 11 books including 2 national best-sellers: The Left Hand of God: Taking Back our Country from the Religious Right (Harper, 2006) and Jewish Renewal: A Path to Healing and Transformation (Putnam, 1994; HarperCollins, 1995). He welcomes contact with anyone joining the NSP to become an ally with him and wanting to support the direction articulated in this article: firstname.lastname@example.org
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