Understanding The Religious Right
February 13, 2007



Rabbi Michael Lerner states, “The essence of the spiritual crisis of the Western world is this: our economic and political order rewards us for selfishness and punishes us for openheartedness and caring for others.” In his book, The Left Hand of God: Taking Our County Back From the Religious Right, he shows that the Religious Right responds to this spiritual crisis, the Left ignores it and that there are solutions. Many caring Americans seek the Religious Right because it is the one place where they find a challenge to the depersonalization of daily life, a drive more sublime than the pursuit of money and the experience of a supportive community in an otherwise daily life of alienation and spiritual loneliness.

Abraham Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs states meeting material needs is a priority over self actualization (spiritual needs). However, for many Americans, the major crisis in life is not a financial one but a lack of meaning, in fact a spiritual crisis. Many of these Americans support the Political Right in their activities instead of the Democrats who were only addressing economic needs.

The world of television, the movies and the business culture shows a pattern of selfishness and materialism. “Our children grow up to be narcisstic and self-indulgent believing that their highest mission on the planet is to accumulate as much money, power and social status as possible and that it is perfectly acceptable to do without regard for the consequences to others in their lives.” Those in the Religious Right seek a “purpose-driven life that will allow them to serve something beyond personal goals and economic self interest.” When these individuals approached liberal intellectuals, therapists and social change activists who did not know what they were talking about when they related a search for meaning that went beyond money, power, fame, sexual conquests, sports and pleasures.

When Rabbi Lerner asked Religious Right people about specifics of conservative agenda, they did not necessarily think that the programs would solve their spiritual concerns. When reviewing the specifics, they did not necessarily agree with them. They stick with the Political Right because the Right recognizes their pain.

Most Religious Right leaders are honest and straightforward which is a refreshing change from most politicians in the Democratic Party who advocate some moderate policy changes without any alternative vision or values. Democratic politicians listen to too many media pundits and political consultants, who tell them to be “realistic,” i.e., not too far left. They substitute a laundry list of reforms instead of a vision. People like Congressman Dennis Kucinich who have a vision and argue for it before it is popular are rare.

Although the Religious Right offers people a more caring community than leftist religious communities, the Right sometimes shows hostility to liberals, gays, lesbians, Muslims, secular people and less frequently to African Americans, Catholics and Jews, limiting Christ’s message of unrestricted love. They talk as if they were an embattled minority when, in fact, their supporters occupy the White House, until recently much of the Congress and still have significant influence on the judiciary. Instead of criticizing the overwhelming force of American corporations in our culture, they join forces with the Political Right.

Although the Bible has a social gospel, the Religious Right until recently have been voting for Bush 43 and politicians who categorically reject the needs of the poor. The Bush Administration has cut taxes for the rich ensuring budget deficits of several trillion dollars in if left in place. Conservatives have presented the theory that the tax cuts stimulate investments and job growth with trickle down effect on poverty. The wealthy use the tax cut benefits for yachts, third and fourth homes, diamonds and luxury items. Their extra disposable income does not go into manufacturing, technology or job-creation sectors of the economy.

Religious Right adherents seek love and understanding in their private religious community. They gave up changing the wider world of globalization, environmental degradation and the unregulated market place. There is an assumption that love and kindness is central in their own church but has no application to the real world.

Although social mobility has declined for several decades and the gap between rich and poor has grown, our culture is still permeated with the idea that people can still achieve material wealth and social status if they are smart and determined. When this does not happen, they blame themselves. Instead of joining protest groups, many escape from economic and psychological pressures by joining a religious community.

Predominate left wing thought is to treat the spiritual crisis as a right wing fabrication. In 2004, the Democrats collectively did not have any united view other than returning to power and that they would favor the public rather than the corporations and the rich. The Democratic Party tinkered with kinder, gentler versions of Republican views. Instead of nominating someone who opposed the war, they nominated john Kerry because he was a decorated Vietnam War hero who plan for Iraq was to involve more countries, a view that was scarcely distinguishable from Bush’s. Democrats felt that if they presented a vision of a just world, a humanitarian society and a candidate like Howard Dean who opposed the war from he beginning, the voters would reject them. On the other hand, Republicans have been steadfast in their views since 1964.

Lerner maintains that the Left needs an alternative view of who God is with a progressive description of what causes deprivation and show how the society can foster spiritual awareness. The Left should proudly state that all families deserve a living wage, full employment, affordable high-quality child care, affordable health care, access to excellent education, starting with flexible work schedules. Now, out of 19 wealthy nations, American children are the most likely to live in poverty.

These are my recommendations:

Restore the Sabbath. Every family should have one day a week when the computer, cell phones, television and electronic distracters are turned off to walk in the park and enjoy themselves. The United States has a number of national holidays. Add some more holidays to see that there is one per month. During these 12 days, hopefully the shopping malls and major stores would be shut down and even real estate people would have the day off. Treat this time as a day off, not taking time to catch up or do chores.

Go to a four-day workweek. This means fours days times 8 hours a day, not four days multiplied by ten hours per day.

Regulate television and video content. These programs are filled with violence and sex. In the 1950’s, Sky King, the Cisco Kid, the Lone Ranger and other heroes never killed anybody. If the networks and video producers cannot figure out how to produce high quality shows, the government should not allow them on the television screen.

These are Michael Lerner’s recommendations (with my embellishments):

Initiate a single payer health care system, the same kind that the President and the Congress have.

Start a Global Marshall Plan to eliminate homelessness, hunger, poverty, inadequate education and inadequate health care. When this happens the recruiting pool for terrorists will dry up and illegal immigrants will no longer endure the risks currently entailed by getting into and working in the United States and the European Union. To reduce mismanagement and corruption, ”set up an international body of internationally recognized spiritual leaders, academics, health care workers, educators, and community organizers to supervise the expenditures – to guarantee that they are not siphoned off by selfish national (or religious) leaders but instead are used in creative ways to achieve the goals cited.”

Reduce the number of abortions to zero by establishing a caring society. “When people feel that they can count on each other more, there is a great willingness to bring babies to term. So if you are in the section of the population that is financially unstable or outright poor and are surrounded by messages that tell you that this is your own fault and that you should fend for yourself, it is harder to convince young pregnant women that they are living in a world that is safe. If they live in a world in which they can count in others to help them out, it will seem less dangerous to risk having a child as opposed to aborting it.”

Make sure that all of God’s children live in a healthy environment. Between 20,000 and 30,000 children in the world die every day from malnutrition or preventable diseases. This stinks. The Global Marshall Plan or other world-wide anti-poverty measures will reduce this number, hopefully to zero.

Isaiah said that without vision, the people perish. Many Americans have vision. May they be able to persuade the media and the politicians to pay attention.