Remember back in 2010 when Nevada’s resident RWNJ Sharron Angle told us she equated her campaign against Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) as a calling from God? [LVSun] Her comments were accurately labeled “Reconstructionism.” “In this regard, Angle’s view of religion’s role in government parallels that of a religious political movement — Christian Reconstructionism — seeking to return American civil society to biblical law.” Whatever ‘Biblical Law’ might be.
And herein we get to the basic problem — the confusion of denominationalism, or sectarianism, with religion or spirituality. The right wing conservatives extrapolate the demands of their confession onto the legal structure of our nation, to the horror of those who hold to other confessions of faith or to none at all. The left’s version of separation is partly reactive — Thou Shalt Not Impose Your Confession Upon Others. However there’s another facet to this as well. In an effort to injure no one some members of the left simply dismiss the role of spirituality in the public sphere. That can be just as unhelpful.
First, let’s assume for the sake of the argument that it is going to be an extremely unproductive task to find anyone, from the most vehement Evangelical to the most ardent Atheist, who doesn’t agree with the proposition that we should treat other people as we would want to be treated ourselves. Secondly, let’s toss in a line from Thomas Jefferson, who in his 1782 Notes on Virginia wrote: “But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”
When we’ve made progress in this country it has been in no small part due to the role of spirituality in our lives — and, no, that doesn’t have to be a function of a confessed faith. The Society of Friends were crucial to the Abolitionist Movement, the Black Baptist churches were necessary for the Modern Civil Rights Movement, however different these two might be in terms of professions of faith and the role of sacraments, the impetus was that the old Golden Rule was not being applied to all members of our civil society. That’s not sectarianism, that’s spirituality.
The answer to the Reconstructionists among us need not be a wall between our religious and and our political selves, but a barrier between our sectarian tenets and our capacity as human beings to seek the best for our fellows. There is space on the left for the Better Angels of Our Nature without diminishing our power to assert that Love is always a better option. This can be expressed in a sermon delivered by Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., or in commentary from a humanist like Carl Sagan who said, “For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love.”
By reducing our religious or spiritual experiences down to a core of selected articles of faith we diminish our own capacity to make the vast spaces of our own cosmos bearable. Sectarianism, as witnessed in Northern Ireland or Iraq, is divisive; spirituality is inclusive.
The moment I say, “I’m right, you’re wrong, I’m cool and you’re going to Hell,” I have immediately separated us, and we’ve become two little creatures in the utter vastness of the cosmos floating away from the comfort which we could be using to anchor ourselves and make our lives more bearable.
If we can get past the alethilogy or epistemology and the attendant judgments thereof, then we can get back to Dr. King’s ideal that hate cannot conquer hate, only love can do that, and to Dr. Sagan’s proposition that: “Every one of us is, in the cosmic perspective, precious. If a human disagrees with you, let him live. In a hundred billion galaxies, you will not find another.”
So, what implications does this have for our political lives? How about the proposition that while sectarianism is a spanner in the works of any democracy, religion doesn’t have to be. Notice the similarities among the following disparate religions:
Quran 49:13 O people, we created you from the same male and female, and rendered you distinct peoples and tribes, that you may recognize one another. The best among you in the sight of GOD is the most righteous. GOD is Omniscient, Cognizant.
Colossians 1:16 For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether [they be] thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him.
In Hinduism, God is the “the eternal, transcendental, original person, the unborn, the greatest from whom everything emanates.” [link]
Shabad SGGS 272 “The God-conscious being is always unstained, like the sun, which gives its comfort and warmth to all. The God-conscious being looks upon all alike, like the wind, which blows equally upon the king and the poor beggar. ”
A fundamental understanding of ourselves, as very small creatures in a very vast cosmos, creatures with which we share a rather small planet in that unfathomable vastness — should lead us toward asking better questions.
Do we ask “How much tax money will I have to pay in order to educate every child in my city?” Or do we ask, How is the best way to insure our children have the best future possible? Do we ask, “How can we best provide for the most ambitious among us?” Or, how can we adequately sustain the lives of our fellow human beings? Do we ask questions which assume that self-centeredness is the best condition of Man, or inquire how we can better the state of all those who are the creations of the Creator?
There is no need to narrow the perspective in order for liberals and progressives to discuss the role of spirituality in political life, we don’t need to completely secularize our experience, nor do we need to adopt the stringent rhetoric of the sectarians. We simply have to recognize our own place in this Universe, and allow for the fact that we share this Earth with 7.046 billion of our fellows.