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Thoughts on the Spiritual Condition of America's Leftward Half

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[Recently, I posted here a discussion question under the title "What Kind of Sacred Principles Do We Need?" (at It is a discussion that should be an ongoing one, I believe, and it is in that spirit that I post here a few thoughts of my own that bear upon the questions I asked there. I may share some additional thoughts of mine on these themes in the near future.]

Some people have commented that they don't like the word "sacred." Admittedly, finding the right words are difficult whenever one speaks of deep matters. Indeed, as the mystics have said across the centuries, the deeper one goes, the less adequate any words are.

For now, at least, in the absence of any better words to use, I will stick with sacred. But I will also attempt to clarify what I mean by it by citing what I wrote in a discussion question I posted last month on my own website, "Where in Your Life Do You Encounter the Sacred":

For this discussion, the realm of the "sacred" will not necessarily have anything to do with any specific religious beliefs. What is meant, rather, is a sense of meaningfulness that is so big and full -and perhaps transcendent-that it breaks through our mundane experience of our world into something deeper.

I recognize that this will not solve all the problems: some people have such strong and aversive associations with the language of religion that there's no getting around that associative obstacle; other people may lack any direct personal experience of "meaningfulness that is so big and full--and perhaps transcendent" that it requires the kind of language that religions have employed to designate a breakthrough into other planes or realms of value or of our existence.

But there is no net that will catch every fish....


One of my paramount concerns when it comes to the spiritual condition of America --"spiritual": there's another word doubtless problematic for many-- is that the "right" in our times has had a greater spiritual intensity about its values and goals than has the "progressive" (or "liberal" or "left") side of our divided society.

Even if the right has come under the sway of "daemonic" spirits, has been seduced into believing that evil forces represent the righteousness in whose garb they dress themselves, this has not lessened the power that comes from breaking through the mundane. Hitler would never have been able to mobilize his nation so effectively had he not connected them with something big and deep. (One of the more insightful biographies of Hitler is entitled THE PSYCHOPATHIC GOD.)

The discrepancy between the daemonically empowered right and the mundanely proasic liberal part of America brings to mind the famous line from Yeats, in his poem "The Second Coming":

The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.


For someone who lived through, and fully participated in, the 1960s and 1970s, this spiritual shallowness of the progressive element of America comes as a big disappointment. It was not always so.

From amid the confusions and the errors and the sloth that were also part of the counter-culture, there are also a genuinely positive spirit that gave voice to some of the "sacred values" which our nation and our world genuinely need.

Part of this concerned a transformation of the human relationship with the rest of the natural world. In addition to the political dimension of "environmentalism" --indeed, the source of the passion that gave that political movement its impetus-- there was a spiritual dimension. In the matter of just a few years, the idea that there is something sacred about the biosphere --about the Creation, as some would also express it-- became a powerful force in America.

This spirit seems to have dissipated in today's America --even when we bother to talk about environmental issues, one would scarcely think that something deep and sacred is at stake-- but we can still get a sense of the former deeper vibrancy of such values from some old movies.

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Andy Schmookler, an award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, was the Democratic nominee for Congress from Virginia's 6th District. His new book -- written to have an impact on the central political battle of our time -- is (more...)
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