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One Nation under God?

July 31, 2011

 With this debt “crisis” looming, and no apparent solution in sight, I’ve been pondering the connection between spirituality and politics. In spite of Americans making it a matter of pride that we are supposedly a nation of faith, and insisting that God bless this nation of ours, it seems to me that our collective actions speak otherwise.

The Founding Fathers, mostly men of faith, believed that the way to a harmonious and successful nation lay in the virtue of its individuals. They believed in a separation of Church and State, yet fully trusted that the spirituality of each American would ensure that the ideals, on which this nation was founded, would be pursued.

America is no longer a country full of Puritans. Quite the opposite – while Christianity is still the most professed belief system, we are a nation of many faiths, many religions. And while nobody could say that America is not a religious country, I think a very compelling argument can be made that America is not a spiritual country. Somehow spirituality and pragmatism has gone by the wayside, while religiosity and dogma, has taken center stage.

Since all faiths, religions, and belief systems teach in one way or another interconnectedness of all things, it would seem that in a country so hell-bent on appearing pious would have no problem celebrating differences of opinion and acknowledging similarities. And yet, America is becoming more and more partisan by the day. The state of our politics is a direct reflection of our people. Our elected officials were put in their positions by us, and yet we express shock and amazement when “they” can’t come to an agreement.

Our political system is so divided because we are so divided.  And why are we so divided? How did we get here? Again, I come back to the connection between spirituality and politics. If the majority of Americans are trapped in an “us” vs. “them” mentality, it cannot help but be reflected in our national policy. From the current wars, to taxes, to healthcare, to the economy, and yes, the current debt “crisis”, we have demonstrated over and over again that Americans as a whole are not willing to sacrifice personally for the greater good. We have lost sight of what all of our collective faiths tell us: everything is everything, everyone is everyone, we are all connected, and everyone on this planet is more alike than they are different.

Spiritually-minded people can see this connection; religiously-minded people cannot. The difference between the two, in my mind, is the difference between the internal and the external. A spiritual person has in internal connection between themselves and their idea of the Divine. A religions person has an external connection between themselves and a series of beliefs, rituals, and behaviors. Many religious people are spiritual and many spiritual people are religious. But at the end of the day, it is spirituality and not religion that keeps us connected to the greater whole. No amount of religious ritual, done void of an internal spiritual connection, will produce a person who feels they are a part of something bigger than themselves.

And yet, it is this feeling of being part of something bigger than the individual self that leads to bi-partisanship. If we really were the god-fearing nation we professed to be, it would be evident in our politics. We would think twice before electing people who run on campaigns of anger and hate against the “other”. We would think twice before passing legislation that does not serve the greater good. We would think twice about our insistence on personal freedoms and liberties over the freedom and liberty of the vast majority.

This debt “crisis”, to me, is just another indication of how far we’ve drifted from spirituality. I keep putting the word crisis in parenthesis because I do not think that the debt ceiling is a true crisis. The media, which plays a huge role in this issue of politics and spirituality, would have us believe otherwise. It behooves the media to encourage partisanship and rancor because in this climate, in this spiritually bankrupt place, nobody wants to read and hear about everybody getting along. We want further validation and proof that our feeling that we are right and they are wrong is accurate. A media that tells us “look, we all want pretty much the same thing and the fact is that the two sides are not that far off from each other”, is a media that does not sell ad space, and does not have millions of angry and nervous Americans tuning in to watch the talking heads dissect the very problem that they helped create, while “breaking news” scrolls across the bottom of the screen.  No, the true crisis in America is the lack of one of conscience. We should be questioning if we have been unfair, if we have been morally wrong, if we have strayed from the virtues our forefathers so deeply believed in.

Earlier this year the House Republicans produced a report that said an 85%/15% split between spending cuts and raised taxes was the historical average that would lead to the successful reduction of government deficits and limit further growth of the national debt. At the beginning of these debt ceiling negotiations the White House offered an 83%/17% split, along with a promise all of the revenue increases would come from eliminating tax loopholes. So, the story should have been how close the two sides were. The story should have been how wonderful it was that a compromise was so easily in sight. This could have easily been the “debt negotiation of 2011” rather than the “debt crisis of 2011”.

So, what’s the solution? I don’t know. I do know that to begin even thinking about a solution, we all have to be willing to awaken to the spirit in some way. We have too long been focused on the mind and the body, and all that these entail, in this country. If we want a more cooperative and less dysfunctional political system, we need to be more cooperative and less dysfunctional ourselves. We need to find a way to connect to that part of ourselves that knows that we are not all that different from our neighbors. In fact, we’re quite alike. Rather than ask God to bless America, we need to offer blessings of compassion to each other. Perhaps this will be a start.

I do know what the Dalai Lama says. The Dalai Lama of late has been talking about the importance of secular values and ethics. You can watch him here talking about how in order to create a  compassionate society we need to acknowledge the universality of values between the world of faith and the secular world. He says people of faith need to practice what they preach. I couldn’t agree more.

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