The Left Hand of God: Taking Back Our Country from the Religious Right

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Addressing the central mystery of contemporary politics - why so many Americans vote against their own economic interests - The Left Hand of God provides an invaluable, timely, and blunt critique of the current state of faith in government. Michael 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...
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Addressing the central mystery of contemporary politics - why so many Americans vote against their own economic interests - The Left Hand of God provides an invaluable, timely, and blunt critique of the current state of faith in government. Michael 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 which the very real spiritual crisis that many Americans experience every day.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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.
Library Journal
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.
Kirkus Reviews
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.
George Lakoff
“Spiritual commitment requires political action, or amounts to nothing. That is the fundamental truth of The Left Hand of God.”
Cornel West
“Just sharing these profound ideas that Lerner presents in such an accessible manner is itself a great contribution you could make to healing our country”
Walter Bruggemann
“[A] practical, compelling vision of a politics of generosity.”
Tony Campolo
“Lerner’s spiritually based politics is just what this country needs.”
Richard Gere
“Lerner’s proposal is a visionary response to this urgent need …”
John Shelby Spong
“A brilliant and penetrating analysis of the way religion is now used politically …. ”
Matthew Fox
“[T]his book pulsates with life and spirit and the passion of the prophets of old. Bravo! ”
Howard Zinn
“Lerner is a rare voice of sanity and intelligence in a nation where our moral values have been corrupted ….”
Arun Gandhi
“An insightful, inspiring book by Rabbi Lerner that can put America back on track.”
Michael Franti
“[T]he blueprint for transforming the conscious heart of a nation ….”
Karen Armstrong
“In this important book, Lerner shows us how we can reclaim truths that we are in danger of losing. ”
Harvey Cox
“Rabbi Lerner makes sense, finds meaning and sees hope in an America many feel is spiraling downward into destructive divisions.”
Congresswoman - Lynn Woolsey
"Lerner articulates … a vision of hope that taps into the spiritual needs of all people."
Reverend - John Dear
"THE LEFT HAND OF GOD reclaims the common ground of peace and social justice which gird all authentic spiritualities…."
Richard Upford-Chase
“A renewed politics far more profound than either the Republicans or the Democrats have been able to muster….”
Brian McLaren
“Lerner’s needed voice for progressive spirituality will find resonance across many faith traditions. I’m deeply grateful for his work.”
Robert Thurman
“An enormously important book…practical steps we can take to launch a spiritual revolution and save this beautiful planet.”
Deepak Chopra
“The blueprint for the next stage in the spiritual development of our planet.”
Spirituality and Health Magazine
"For those who dare to imagine a country where peace, freedom, and justice prevail...."
Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey
“Lerner articulates … a vision of hope that taps into the spiritual needs of all people.”
Reverend John Dear
“THE LEFT HAND OF GOD reclaims the common ground of peace and social justice which gird all authentic spiritualities….”
Spirituality & Health magazine
“For those who dare to imagine a country where peace, freedom, and justice prevail....”
Spirituality and Health magazine
“For those who dare to imagine a country where peace, freedom, and justice prevail....”
Washington Post Book World
“The Left Hand of God serves the vital purpose of articulating a progressive religious alternative.”
Christian Century
“A provocative invitation to the broad dialogue we need…”
America Magazine
“A serious critique of how both the religious right and liberals have used and abused the influence of religion ….”
Houston Chronicle
“Part social critique, part save-the-world primer, The Left Hand of God brims with hopeful proposals.”
Providence Journal
“Many will find Lerner’s 8-point “Spiritual Covenant with America” revitalizing grist for discussion....”
Boston Globe
“A rallying cry and a theoretical and scholarly analysis of the appeal of the religious right.”
Los Angeles Times Book Review
“A book that sends a clear call to everyone who cares about the future of America.”
Fritjof Capra
“The Left Hand of God is essential reading for everyone concerned about the future of this country.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780641920790
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 2/7/2006
  • Pages: 416
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Rabbi Michael Lerner is an internationally renowned social theorist, theologian, psychotherapist, and the editor of Tikkun magazine. He earned a PhD in philosophy from the University of California, Berkeley, and in clinical psychology from the Wright Institute. Lerner is rabbi of Beyt Tikkun synagogue, which meets in San Francisco and Berkeley.

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Read an Excerpt

Left Hand of God, The

Taking Back Our Country from the Religious Right
By Michael Lerner

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2006 Michael Lerner
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060842474

Chapter One

The Real World's Bottom Line

Before I became a rabbi, I was a social change activist and a psychotherapist. I had participated in sit-ins for civil rights, had organized teach-ins and demonstrations and nonviolent civil disobedience against the war in Vietnam, and had been involved in the early development of the environmental movement. Yet I felt uncomfortable with the way these movements at times seemed more interested in proving their own righteousness than in finding ways to attract and build an American majority that supports peace and social justice.

In the early 1970s I tried to convince my compatriots to link our movements with a critique of the prevailing tax structure, which placed a huge burden on middle-income working people, and so I proposed a ballot initiative to shift that burden onto the rich. But many of my comrades in the movement felt that the Left shouldn't be pandering to the "white-skin privilege" of white American working people, a decision many came to regret a few years later when a tax revolt led by right-wingers did indeed reduce the tax burden but only by cutting social services for the poor. Then, in 1976, I joined with JeremyRifkin in an effort to design a celebration of the country's bicentennial that would focus on what was positive in America's history. But again, I encountered considerable resistance from liberals and progressives whose anger over the war in Vietnam had obscured for them all that deserved to be honored about our past -- the way the American people had successfully separated church and state and had fought against their own economic and political elites to expand democratic rights, to overthrow slavery, to eliminate property requirements for voting, and, more recently, to extend equal rights to women and minorities while empowering working people to organize for a living wage and for health-and-safety standards in the workplace.

As a Jew, I have always been particularly grateful to America for providing my people a safe haven in a world that has too frequently murdered us. I felt blessed to be part of a generation of Jews that could look at this country not as a refuge but as a homeland. For that reason, I wanted the Left to let go of some of its angry rhetoric and its preoccupation with what had yet to be achieved in order to affirm more clearly all that had already been accomplished in America. Having experienced some of that anger myself, I understood the appeal of this dichotomizing between the good guys and the bad guys, but as I grew beyond my own simplistic thinking and began to recognize that we in the social change movements needed more humility and compassion for those with whom we disagreed, I hoped that a movement could emerge that would embrace what was best in America and build a progressive social change movement across class, race, and gender boundaries.

I had hoped that making this case would be easier in post-Vietnam America. The war had been shown to be a disaster, the Nixon presidency had collapsed in disgrace, the Democratic Party had begun to listen to feminists and environmentalists. Surely, I thought, this would be a moment when liberal and progressive forces could consolidate power, end the cold war, and devote America's massive resources to promoting social and economic justice. Unfortunately, though, something different was happening beneath the surface, at least among middle-income Americans. I detected the first inkling of a major shift away from the Democratic Party and the Left on the part of white working males -- ironically, people whose economic interests were far better served by the Left than the Right.

I was puzzled by this phenomenon. So, after completing my PhD in psychology in 1977, I helped found the Institute for Labor and Mental Health to study the psychodynamics of American society. The psychotherapists, union activists, and social theorists who were working at the institute had one question we particularly wanted to answer: why is it that people whose economic interests would lead them to identify with the Left often actually end up voting for the Right?

The answer to that question lies at the heart of this book.

In an effort to discover why working people have increasingly turned to the Right we have spent the past twenty-eight years interviewing middle-income working people in the United States, Canada, England, and Israel. We began by recruiting subjects from the labor movement and by advertising on buses, billboards, and posters. We were seeking people who, apart from the normal tensions everyone faces in the workplace, were not experiencing excessive stress in their lives. In fact, we used standard measures to screen out and refer elsewhere people in need of psychotherapy as well as candidates for marriage or family therapy. We were interested in speaking to people who did not have any particular presenting problem and who would not have agreed to participate had they thought they were going to a therapy session. As part of our program, we ran groups that taught communications skills, stress reduction, and leadership skills. Most of those groups met once a week for a period of eight to ten weeks.

After that initial phase of research, institute researchers conducted follow-up studies using a wide variety of both quantitative and qualitative research instruments. Over two decades we've done phone interviews, one-time in-person interviews, and written questionnaires. In addition, as the political world has changed, we've continued to reassess the results of our observations.

What we have discovered, fundamentally, is that many people need what anthropologist Clifford Geertz once termed a "politics of meaning" and what I now call a spiritual politics -- a spiritual framework that can lend meaning to their lives. They yearn for a purpose-driven life that will allow them to serve something beyond personal goals and economic self-interest. If they don't find this sense of purpose on the Left, they will look for it on the Right.


Excerpted from Left Hand of God, The by Michael Lerner Copyright © 2006 by Michael Lerner. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

1 The real world's bottom line 39
2 Signs of crisis 55
3 The voice of fear and the voice of hope 77
4 Enter the religious right 93
5 Elitism on the left 115
6 The religion of secularism and the fear of spirit 127
7 How the left lost hope 161
8 From power to purposelessness : the fate of the democrats 183
9 The spiritual covenant with America 227
10 The family, sexuality, and personal responsibility 241
11 The caring economy and nurturing society : from social responsibility to human connectedness 279
12 We will make you safer : the strategy of generosity for foreign policy 321
App. 1 Next steps
App. 2 How to do politics with spirit : building the culture of a spiritual politics movement
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