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The Left Hand of God (revised and updated)
Over the past few decades, the Republicans have achieved political dominance by forging a union with the Religious Right. This marriage has provided a sanctimonious veneer for policies that have helped the rich get richer while ignoring the needs of the middle class and the poor, dismantling environmental and civil liberties protections, and seeking global domination. The Right champions the materialism and ruthless selfishness promoted by unrestrained capitalism and then laments the moral crises of family instability and loneliness experienced by people who bring these commercial values into their homes and personal lives. In response, the Religious Right offers insular communities for the faithful and a culture that blames liberals, activist judges, homosexuals, independent women, and all secular people for the moral and spiritual emptiness so many Americans experience.
Yet, however distorted both the Right's analysis and its solutions to America's spiritual crisis may be, it wins allegiance by addressing the human hunger for a life with some higher purpose. The Left, by contrast, remains largely tone-deaf to the spiritual needs of the American people. It is the yearning for meaning in life, not just the desire for money or power, that lies at the core of American politics.
Addressing the central mystery of contemporary politics -- why so many Americans voteagainst their own economic interests -- The Left Hand of God provides an invaluable, timely, and blunt critique of the current state of faith in government. Lerner challenges the Left to give up its deeply held fear of religion and to distinguish between a domination-oriented, Right-Hand-of-God tradition and a more compassionate and hope-oriented Left-Hand-of-God worldview. Further, Lerner describes the ways that Democrats have misunderstood and alienated significant parts of their potential constituency. To succeed again, Lerner argues, the Democratic Party must rethink its relationship to God, champion a progressive spiritual vision, reject the old bottom line that promotes the globalization of selfishness, and deal head-on with the very real spiritual crisis that many Americans experience every day.
Lerner presents a vision that incorporates and then goes far beyond contemporary liberal and progressive politics. He argues for a new bottom line in our economy, schools, and government. This is a fundamentally fresh approach, one that takes spiritual needs seriously in our economic and political lives. Presenting an eight-point progressive spiritual covenant with America, Lerner provides a blueprint for how the Democratic Party can effectively challenge the Right and position itself to win the White House and Congress. By appealing to religious, secular, and spiritual but not necessarily religious people, The Left Hand of God blazes a trail that could change our world and reclaim America from the Religious Right.
From The Critics
Named one of Utne's 100 American Visionaries, Rabbi Lerner, editor of Tikkun magazine, delivers an ambitious proposal called a "Spiritual Covenant with America." Before detailing his plan, he provides an extensive survey of American history and ideology, rife with examples of dominant and controlling attributes favored by those on the right (the "right hand of God") who believe in a frightening world replete with evil and ruled by an avenging God. This contrasts with what he considers the loving, kind and generous tendencies of those at the "left hand of God," who instead believe in a compassionate and merciful deity. These delineations occur on both sides of the political aisle-and not solely within one religion. Rabbi Lerner addresses both the "intolerant and militaristic" tactics of the political right and the "visionless... often spiritually empty" tenets of the political left with an even hand. His vision of a country devoid of poverty, homelessness, unemployment and uninsured citizens comes with an actual blueprint, in which Americans rededicate themselves to traditional values of love, kindness, respect and responsibility. Unfortunately, the rays of hope delivered in this impassioned proposal are buried in an often rambling and repetitive dialogue that may alienate those most likely to respond. (Feb.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Lerner, a social change activist and psychotherapist, now a rabbi, calls for politicians, Democrats in particular, to address the "spiritual and moral crisis in the daily lives of most Americans." Lerner believes all people are and want to be caring, loving, and generous ("spiritual or meaning-oriented") as opposed to a view that people are out for themselves and life is a battle and dangerous; that they will indeed respond to a new kind of a society; and that needs will be met and the world will no longer be competitive, threatening, or dangerous. In other words, Lerner advocates both a Domestic Marshall Plan and a strategy of generosity for foreign policy: a Global Marshall Plan to make the United States less threatening and therefore safer for all. He advocates a massive domestic housing program, guaranteed full employment, and universal health coverage, among other things. Unfortunately, Lerner does not adequately address the current danger posed by radical Muslims, and he selects only Scripture that emphasizes a human desire for good and neglects, for example, the history of Israel and the rule of Law, as in Deuteronomy, that covers man's proneness to sin. Still, the author is well known and has an audience. Recommended for large libraries.-George Westerlund, Palmyra, VA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
The political and religious right have produced a spectacular train wreck, writes Tikkun editor Lerner (Spirit Matters, 2000, etc.). How have they persuaded the American voter to buy wholesale into militarism, ecological irresponsibility, fundamentalist antagonism to science and rational thought and insensitivity to the needs of the poor and powerless? It's because, Lerner suggests, people are repulsed by the technocratic rationalism that has come to guide everyday thinking, which zeroes in on a bottom line of power and the almighty buck, putting self-interest ahead of all else. Lerner believes that we are theotropic souls who turn toward the sacred (a word used in the deepest, elemental sense) as a flower pivots toward the sun. Humans yearn for what he calls "a spiritual politics," a purpose-driven life guided by values beyond self-interest. This desire has been co-opted by the religious and political right, but their agenda is driven by fear rather than aspiration for the greater good. The universe is a scary place, the right tells Americans, needful of an avenger to dominate and control. While this mentality is ascendant, Lerner asserts that it is not carved in stone. If we had political figures with the gumption to advance notions of eliminating poverty, encouraging sustainability and rebuilding the nation's infrastructure, voters might respond. If we had a foreign policy that promised support for education and health, we might be on a better path to confront terrorists. Unfortunately, Lerner notes, the political left is clueless about the spiritual needs of the country's constituents. Lerner fashions a set of national and international precepts to guide American political policy thatare hard to pooh-pooh, putting forth a covenant of peace, social justice and ethically and ecologically responsible behavior revolving around kindness, generosity, opportunity, creativity and diminishing the schism between rich and poor. "The new bottom line," as he sees it, "emphasizes the importance of social responsibility and the common good."A highly decent and challenging critique.