Finally a member of the Left presents a fresh approach to challenging the Religious Right.
In his new book, The Left Hand of God: Taking Back Our Country from the Religious Right, internationally renowned social theorist and psychotherapist Rabbi Michael Lerner provides a blueprint for the Democratic Party to win the White House. He provides an analysis that is half diagnosis, half cure.
Lerner is co-founder of the Institute for Labor and Mental Health, which studies the psychodynamics of American society. Thirty years ago Lerner and his colleagues set out to answer a question the Left continues to ask to this day, “Why is it that people whose interest would lead them to identify with the Left often end up voting for the Right? Lerner’s diagnosis: Americans are suffering from a spiritual crisis.
The Left Hand of God is a result of interviews with middle-income working people spanning twenty-eight years. During the course of the interviews a common theme arose. Americans hunger for a meaning to life, a purpose driven life. The discovery is either ironic or just plain obvious considering The Purpose Driven Life is the title of a book that has sold over twenty-five million copies in the last three years. However, for decades many on the Left have dismissed this hunger as outright stupidity. For example, the Left blamed its defeat during the elections of Ronald Reagan, Bush Sr. and Bush Jr. on the votes of hopeless reactionaries. Lerner believes it is this tendency that has isolated and turned away a significant block of voters. The Right recognized the spiritual crises Americans were and are suffering and latched on to what Lerner calls the “right hand of God.” It has grown more and more powerful by attracting Americans who wouldn’t normally subscribe to its policies.
Lerner defines the right hand of God as that which encourages fear, while the left hand encourages hope. It’s an analogy that demonstrates there is no in between. It is the result of the Left’s failure to develop and articulate a vision that has led to its decline. The Left cannot afford to stand by dazed and confused. Lerner challenges the anti-religious and anti-spiritual biases of the political Left, urging it to take hold of the left hand of God. “Religion is not the problem,” he says. “While it is true that most religions and political movements have fundamentalists and intolerant factions, there are also voices of the left hand of God.”
Lerner is a co-founder of the Network of Spiritual Progressives (NSP), an interfaith movement seeking to address a part of the human condition that past social change movements haven’t – the spiritual condition. Ideally the NSP is meant to be to the Democratic Party what the Religious Right is to the Republican Party. The second half of The Left Hand of God lays out the NSP’s eight-point Progressive Spiritual Covenant with America. The covenant is an alternate solution to not only the intolerant and militaristic politics of the Right, but the spiritually empty politics of the Left as well. It challenges the misuse of religion, God and spirit calling for “a new bottom line” in America.
Lerner’s ability to practice while he is preaching is refreshing. While speaking in the familiar “Left and Right” language he presents an inspiring message of hope that challenges all who take God and spirituality seriously.