Saturday, April 14, 2007

Network of Spiritual Progressives

There is an interesting group under construction by the Tikkun Community and fronted by Rabbi Michael Lerner, author of the book The Left Hand of God: Taking Back Our Country from the Religious Right. According to the website for the Network of Spiritual Progressives much of the organization is derived from the principles put forward in this book, and indeed it is recommended that if you are interested in joining/participating with this group that you borrow or buy a copy and read it first. Of course, you might want some kind of overview before you invest in buying/reading said book.

Here are the basic tenets of the organization:

Basic1. Changing the Bottom Line in America

Today, institutions and social practices are judged efficient, rational and productive to the extent that they maximize money and power. That's the Old Bottom Line. Now Here is the NEW BOTTOM LINE for which we advocate: We believe that they should be judged rational, efficient and productive not only to the extent that they maximize money and power, but also to the extent that they maximize love and caring, ethical and ecological sensitivity and behavior, kindness and generosity, non-violence and peace, and to the extent that they enhance our capacities to respond to other human beings in a way that honors them as embodiments of the sacred, and enhances our capacities to respond to the earth and the universe with awe, wonder and radical amazement.

2. Challenging the misuse of religion, God and spirit by the Religious Right

Educating people of faith to the understanding that a serious commitment to God, religion and spirit should manifest in social activism aimed at peace, universal disarmament, social justice with a preferential option for the needs of the poor and the oppressed, a commitment to end poverty, hunger, homelessness, inadequate education and inadequate health care all around the world, and a commitment to nuclear non-proliferation, environmental protection and repair of the damage done to the planet by 150 years of environmentally irresponsible behavior in industrializing societies.

3. Challenging the many anti-religious and anti-spiritual assumptions and behaviors that have increasingly become part of the liberal culture

Challenging as well the extreme individualism and me-firstism that permeate all parts of the global market culture. We will educate people in social change movements to carefully distinguish between their legitimate critiques of the Religious Right and their illegitimate generalizing of those criticisms to all religious or spiritual beliefs and practices. We will help social change activists and others in the liberal and progressive culture become more conscious of and less afraid to affirm their own inner spiritual yearnings and to reconstitute a visionary progressive social movement that incorporates the spiritual dimension, of which the loving, spiritually elevating and connecting aspects of religion has been one expression (but so has the group-in-fusion experience of the movements of the 30's and the 60's and the communitarian aspirations of many other efforts--social healing and health care, progressive summer camps, the wide appeal of service and service learning, the women's spirituality movement etc).

from the Network of Spiritual Progressives website

Well, if you go on to read a summary of their Spiritual Covenant with America, they are admittedly and uncompromisingly idealistic. I tend to be weary of overly idealistic groups because of some hidden issue/tenet that is not immediately visible, but at least in my initial review of the group via the information provided on their website I haven't raised any red flags yet.

I do see some resistance though by those who advocate that their vision is impractical (which they address) as well as from those who might object to words like religious or spiritual (they address this as well), but it really seems consistent with my general political, social, and spiritual values (sans reading the book itself). Speaking of the book, I went through over forty reviews, most highly positive. The least favorable reviews are from people who disagree with his politics and religious views (no surprise there), neglecting other causes of the problems Lerner identifies, and offering overly simplistic/overly optimistic solutions. If you have anything to add from your own experiences with this or similar groups or comments on the book, please share.


  1. As a progressive Jew I'm sympathetic to Michael Lerner's work but having said that something about him just doesn't grab me. I don't own any of his books although every time I walk into a bookstore I feel like I should be picking up the Left Hand of G-D. I spent several 20 to 30 minute in-store sessions flipping through the pages but the book always winds up back on the shelf. I'm not exactly sure why but I guess there's some subconscious red flag that keeps popping up and preventing me from making the purchase.

    I stumbled across your blog via another blog which has a heavy focus on Ken Wilber and Integral themes, some going to assume you're into the same kind of stuff. My apologies if I'm off the mark.

    On page 297 of Integral Spirituality Wilber writes the following.

    "His latest book, the left hand of G-D, is even more polarized and more intensely green than usual, so in my opinion, this is not looking promising."

    Also if you're not going to buy the book you might want to check out this 80 minute video lecture by Lerner which in my opinion does a good job summarizing the book.

    Be well

  2. I don't know what Green is supposed to be outside of the usual political connotation, but ironically, I have more reservations about Wilber than Lerner. I am generally ignorant of Integral whatsamawhosistz, but I've looked through issues of WIE magazine and saw some interviews with Wilber and once followed a link to his website. I thought his interviews in WIE were exciting in general (even if I disgreed with parts), but it left me asking, "Yeah, OK, and...?"

    As for Lerner, I am just generally wary of any idealistic group that organizes into a political force. This does not mean that the reaction is justified, but take for an example SGI (Soka Gakkai International) which, if you read certain books, sounds like a democratic, rational, spiritual force for good. Yet many ex-members complain about the manner of recruitment (shabuku), the cultish behavior of some district leaders, the questions over how money was being allocated, and the harassment some experienced when attempting to leave (not to mention the general charge that the organization is somewhat a cult of personality centered around Ikeda). So far, I have no real reason to believe any of those things are true for the Network of Spiritual Progressives, and again, the main appeal for me is that I can relate to/agree with their basic tenets which are clearly articulated as goals.

    I appreciate your candid evaluation, especially our mutual instinctual hesitation, and also the link you provided. I hope others who have something to say (whether positive or negative) about Tikkun, Michael Lerner, or the NoSP, will also feel free to give their two cents.

    [added: Ahh, OK, so green is a controversial color/level that is supposed to represent distrust or judgementalism and which some have seen as a backhanded insult used against those who disagree with Wilber, such as those who dismissively refer to his color codes as "neoastrology"; as for the video, it doesn't seem to say anything that isn't essentially covered on the NoSP website]

  3. BTW, anyone who wants to get a deeper sense of what tikkunger is thinking on this topic should visit his blog and read the post he made there. It's worth a look.

  4. Hello and thanks for the reply to my comment.

    First off I would just like to clarify a little bit about the "Green" thing. I think you've oversimplified and missed its essence. It is part of a developmental model which is based on decades of research and is not something developed by or unique to Ken Wilber. It's certainly not some form of Neo astrology and to be honest reading those words felt like the sound fingernails make when pulled against the chalkboard, LOL. None of the memes are necessarily bad they're just developmental stages all of which serve an important part in overall evolution/development.

    However having said that Wilber has his own scale/system which although in my opinion is a great tool  in many ways, it's really not much more than a repackaging or integrating of already existing systems.

    Wilbers comment about the "Mean" Green I believe is related to what he sees as one of the largest problems facing society at this current stage in our evolution.

    As for my concerns around Michael Lerner and the work he does, I will be honest it's primarily intuitive and based on my experiences as a Jew within the larger Jewish community. It just seems to often pop up in the Liberal Jewish community as a finger-pointing kind of thing which comes off as "we know what's best and if you're not with us you're against us". Having said that of course this is not something limited to left-winger social progressives and I see it on both sides of the spectrum and indeed within myself quite often.

    Anyhow it's not a big deal and as you learn more about him and the organization you will come to your own conclusions.

    As for more technical concerns, I have stumbled across this review which is a great job summarizing many of the concerns, not to mention a couple I had never considered before.

    Be well

  5. As far as Wilber goes, I used Google to get some different explanations of what his comment might mean, hence my recognition of the dismissiveness tone in some appraisals, but that aside, I am not "pro" or "anti" Wilber so much as "not into" Wilber. :o)

    As for Lerner, it may seem I am more passionate about the NoSP than I actually am, but I think that comes from my desire when encountering something like that network to question and criticize and dig into it to see how it stands up to scrutiny. If I were reading up on Wilber I would do the same. I appreciate the perspective you've offered, both as a progressive Jew and as an individual. Maybe we'll stumble upon another topic of mutual again.

  6. PS: I just refound this, am listening now and thought you might enjoy checking it out.

    Rabbi Michael Lerner, author of "The Left Hand of God: Taking our Country Back from the Religious Right," thinks the time has come for a "spiritual progressive movement." He explained his vision in a speech Nov. 18 in Minneapolis.


Hello! Thanks for leaving a comment.

Everything but spam and abusive comments are welcome. Logging in isn't necessary but if you don't then please "sign" at the end of your comment. You can choose to receive email notifications of new replies to this post for your convenience, and if you find it interesting don't forget to share it. Thanks!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...