Addressing Spiritual Crisis with Hope

Rabbi Michael Lerner, leader of the Beyt
Tikkun synagogue and founder of the Tikkun magazine and community, told
participants that the political right has addressed the spiritual crisis people
feel in the materialistic society in the U.S. more effectively than
progressives. Progressives have not identified the crisis and responded to it
in a meaningful way, he said.

People in the materialistic societies of the West are experiencing a spiritual crisis because materialism cannot address the deeper needs and desires of our spiritual yearnings according to Rabbi Michael Lerner, founder of the Tikkun community and magazine of the same name. Rabbi Lerner is also spiritual leader of the Beyt Tikkun synagogue in Berkley.

Rabbi Lerner told participants in the Network of Spiritual Progressives that the political and religious right correctly assessed the feeling of spiritual crisis and offered responses that captivated those who feel their lives are threatened by the coarseness and materialism of secular society. He said those who identify themselves with progressive values have not been as vocal and effective at stating values which stand in contrast to the individualism and acquisitiveness of much of mainstream culture today.

The challenge to religious progressives, he said, is to express values that create hope and offer community to those who feel that the family is threatened, human dignity is in jeopardy and who feel left out by values that they can’t accept. He said those values include a reliance on aggression, domination and control as an extension of foreign policy.

He said the biblical view of life is that we come into the world “fundamentally connected.” “We have the capacity to be safe with others. We can be loving and compassionate.”

Some view the world as a harsh place, he said. They feel they must protect themselves through aggression, domination and control. He said the biblical view is that we see the world in awe as a mystery of grandeur and miracle.

If the world is about material values, others become important to us for what they can contribute to the bottom line. Relationships that reflect a market exchange leave us feeling alienated, incomplete and left out. As a result, he told the group that friendship is “thinner” than it has been in the past and it’s more difficult to develop relationships of trust because market values change the quality of our interactions.

He admonished the group to see people for who they are, as holy in and of themselves, and to avoid viewing others “for what they can do for you.” He said, “We need a new bottom line of love and caring.”

“We have to speak of love, kindness and generosity. Of course we’ve all been let down by others. We’ve been scarred. But as spiritual people we know our flaws and we accept that we are flawed beings. Never the less, we must come out of the closet as spiritual persons and say so in the public sphere. If we repress these values we repress this voice and the only voice heard is the voice of power and domination.”

Lerner said he is not advocating abandoning the real need for security in a dangerous world, but he said addressing the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable is a way to address conditions that foster instability.

He also proposed a global Marshall Plan in which industrialized nations contribute 5% of their gross domestic product for the next five years to eliminate extreme poverty.

He told the group that they must seek to move social energy toward a more hopeful world.

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