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Public Theology: Is the Left Opposed to Religion?
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Is the Left Opposed to Religion?
Rabbi Michael Lerner discusses why the left is hesitant about religious believers.

By Michael Lerner

Rabbi Michael Lerner of Tikkun Magazine is promoting a new organization of the "spiritual left." He is finding that many on the left are resistant to the idea that religion can be of help in politics. He sent the following email expressing his thoughts on March 15, 2005. I do not agree with everything Rabbi Lerner says in the following piece. However, his thoughts are worthy of reflection.


Anyone who doubts the tremendous hostillity toward religion on the Left should read the set of letters I received to my last communication in which I critiqued some of that hostility.

My basic point was that this hostility fails to distinguish between the agenda of the ultra-Right and their misuse of religion to support a reactionary political agenda, on the one hand, and the rest of the religious world, some of which is politically progressive and some of which has at times sided with progressive causes and at times voted for more conservattive candidates.

I argued that to the extent that religious and spiritual people find a climate of hostility toward all religion in progressive circles, and an insensitivity to the spiritual crisis that most people face simply by having to live in a society whose bottom line is materialism and seflishness, then many people who might otherwise have been attracted to progressive causes will end up being pushed away, finding themselves unable to function in the liberal and progressive world, and some even becoming attracted to right wing communities even though they might not fully agree with the politics there, just because they feel more accepted there, less under attack for caring about religious or spiritual concerns.

In response, I received a large array of letters telling me how bad the fundamentalists are and how they seek to impose their agenda on everyone in the society. But all of those letters were precisely proving my point--that people on the Left too often fail to distinguish between those religious people who are trying to impose a reactionary agenda on everyone else, on the one hand, and those who are not. Instead, the typical progressive reaction is:" Those religious people are suspect." And the impact on religious people (who, according to the polls, are the vast majority of Americans) is this: "If those on the Left don't want me, why should I listen to them?"

Of course, I understand the reasons why so many people on the Left have anger at the way some religious communities have been supporters of patriarchy, homophobia, racism, etc. But then again, many other religious communities have been in the forefront of the struggles against patriarchy, homophobia, racism, etc.

We need a Network of Progressive Spiritual Activists. I can no longer abide the possibility that we will continue to have Right wing governments just because too many people on the Left feel so angry at religious or spiritual people that they keep on pushing them away, alienating them, making them feel that they have no place in the liberal and progressive world.

We need to challenge that behavior by creating a place for progressive or liberal religious and spiritual people, while simultaneously challenging those on the Right who mis-use religion to justify reactionary and hateful policies.

We need to give honor to the kinds of people who are in religious communities that support the statement that follows below--a statement reflecting the high ideals of many religious communtiies.

And yes, it needs to be safe not only for spiritual people, but even for those, like the people writing the statement printed below, who are in religious communities, and identify specifically with a religion.

I've heard many people say, "spirituality, o.k.==but religion, no." Again, I understand the impulse. But we need to be inviting not only to those who agree with a universalistic spiritual agenda, but also to those who have a specific religious commitment, whether it be Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist or whatever, as long as that commtiment also is consistent with a peace-oriented and social justice oriented poltiics. And, in fact, we need to challenge some of the diffuse spirituality of the New Age world--to ask them to start making public statements as clear as this one below, rather than to just make loving statements that never actually engage with the specific poltiical realities of war and economic injustice being played out today in our society (and if they say, "but we don't have an organization of spiritual people that could make this kind of statement," then I say, "fine, then join the Network of Progressive Spiritual Activists because here you can integrate yuour spirituality with a progressive politics."

So, if you are a person who has a spiritual part of you, or a religious dimension, or you know someone who does, and who shares an openness to the peace and social justice agenda, you should be coming to this event or helping convince others to come, or at least joining the Network of Progressive Spiritual Activists because creating this kind of space in politics may be the one thing that could transform American politics before it is too late.

I hope you'll join me in that enterprise by coming to the founding gatherings of the Network of Progressive Spiritual Activists, either in Berkeley, ca. July 20-23,2005, or in Washington, D.C. Feb. 10-13, 2006. Please read the agenda and register at

Warm regards,

Rabbi Michael Lerner

Editor, Tikkun

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Date Added: 3/15/2005 Date Revised: 3/15/2005 7:32:33 PM

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