Lerners Left Hand of God doesnt deserve a high five

In his latest book, “The Left Hand of God,” Michael Lerner tries to make sense out of the last election, the success of the Right and the spiritual crisis that the Left finds itself in.

Lerner’s premise is that the right hand of God is a force of power and might, and the left hand of God is a force of love and generosity. The Republican Party epitomizes the right hand — through military spending and the strong “family values” heralded by the Religious Right.

The Left, on the other hand, finds itself in a spiritual crisis. According to Lerner, spirituality on the Left has gone the way of political expediency. Spiritual leaders have left their flocks dangling while angling for political popularity, giving lip service to spiritual activism by encouraging members to participate in social justice activities and peace marches.

Lerner gives a wonderful historical overview of the rise and demise of the Left. He bases much of the demise on the evolution of “scientism,” the utilization of the scientific method as the only acceptable mode of reaching knowledge. Adhering to a philosophy of scientism means that it is necessary to do away with most, if not all, philosophical and religious claims, as any assertions made cannot be proved.

What has evolved, consequently, is a passionate Right fueled by a religious spirit and a dispassionate Left that relies completely on fact. Passion fuels action, Lerner notes, and facts simply put everyone to sleep.

During the last election, the Left indeed got slammed for its judgmental attitude. Lerner writes, “the Left will remain politically vulnerable until it is no longer perceived as anti-God and as sneering at the religious and spiritual aspirations of the American people.”

But Lerner doesn’t espouse the elimination of the First Amendment or a religious Democratic party. Rather, he calls for a Left that embraces religious thought as a valuable and critical voice that should be combined with a spiritual platform — a platform that is value-laden, inspirational and not just reliant on scientism. A platform that embraces generosity and love — or, the Left Hand of God.

Lerner quotes a Christian evangelist who notes, “You leftists don’t operate according to a principle of tolerance when you face what you perceive to be ‘objectively evil,’ as you did when you made wars against slavery and racism in the past or … racism or suppression of human rights in the present. You don’t approach these with tolerance but with righteous indignation.”

There is truth there. Those on the Left do call for tolerance — selectively. Live and let live, as long as you are gay, a minority, have purple hair and vote Democrat or Green. Heaven forbid you should be religious and let that religion direct your vote. At minimum, if you operate that way, don’t let anyone know it.

“The Left Hand of God,” is at its best when exploring the evolution of the Democratic Party to its foundering self today. Unfortunately, this history is sandwiched between a call for personal spiritual renewal (including a 10-step program on personal enlightenment) and a proposal called a “Spiritual Covenant with America,” a utopian ideal that would be funded by raising taxes.

Lerner then describes steps to achieving this spiritual growth and universal utopia, all centered upon himself, his magazine Tikkun and his Network for Spiritual Progressives. He actually goes so far as to imply that the Democratic Party faltered when Bill and Hillary Clinton stopped short of incorporating his politics of meaning.

The scope of the book is too broad and tries to be everything for everybody. The United States is made up of a majority of people who don’t operate in a world of black and white, but who believe in shades of gray. All members of the Religious Right do not operate in a context of fear and might, and neither do all Republicans.

It would not be unreasonable to say that most Americans choose which way to vote through the lesser of evils — they look at who represents them the most and who offends them the least, not because of a total adherence to one ideology over another.

Michael Lerner is at his best when writing as a historian and a rabbi. In the end, however, his broad generalizations and self-aggrandizement overshadow his point that the Left would be better served by incorporating spirituality into its agenda.