Spiritual Activism

If you're on John MacEnulty's "eman8tions" mailing list, you've already seen his little blurb for today, which I'm including here:

Well, today is the first day of the Tikkun spiritual activism conference. I'm in
Berkeley staying in a room at a student center that has no telephone but does
have high speed internet connection. I'm not able to access my aol account
so if you have written to me at my eman8tions@aol.com address I may not
respond until next Monday night late.

The question for the next few days will be how to bring peace and love into
the world, how to become effective in the so-called real world of the social
and political, how to bring true spirituality bubbling to the surface for
governments and corporations.

It is probably THE challenge to the spiritual collective, to find true relevance in
the way things happen in the world.

I ask your prayers and thoughts for the success of this conference, that we lay
a foundation for truth and beauty in the world to guide us to a world of peace,
love, caring, honesty, and would (sic) in which we don't hurt anybody.

Copyright © 2005  by John MacEnulty
7/20/05, St. Louis, MO

What immediately strikes me about it is what he's really saying. I don't mean that he's deliberately trying to mislead anyone by saying one thing while he actually intends to say something else. I mean that he's saying more about himself than he realizes. I mean that, if you have any understanding of what motivates human behavior and you apply it to what "the Tikkun spiritual activism conference" purports to be about, you realize...well, the spiritual and moral bankruptcy of such an endeavor.

The simple truth is this: The only way to bring peace and love into the world is...

== Radical Concept Alert! ==

...to bring peace and love into the world yourself. (Gasp!) You don't need a spiritual activism conference to do that. If you want to bring peace and love into the world, you only need to do it. When one behaves spiritually in one's interactions with others, that is the most potent form of "activism", by its very nature. It's called setting an example, being a role model, walking your talk, and practicing what you preach. Isn't that enough?

Evidently not...at least as far at the spiritual activists are concerned. That's not what "spiritual activism" is about. Spiritual activism is about being more than spiritual; that is, it's about being more spiritual than those who are "merely" spiritual. It's about being aggressively spiritual.

I'm not saying that any of the people who attend such conferences are actually advocating interference in others' lives against their will. I suppose that's a possibility, but even if that's true, that's not my point here. My point is that the entire concept of "spiritual activism" is antithetical to true spirituality. Here's the principle:

True spirituality, by its very nature, is its own activism.

That is, true spirituality in itself is the only activism that it needs in order to be effective. This stuff about "how to become effective in the so-called real world of the social and political" is just another case of what Jesus was talking about in Luke 6:41.

"How can you say to your brother, 'Brother, let me remove the splinter from your eye,' when you yourself don't see the log in your own eye? You hypocrite! First take the log out of your own eye; then you will see clearly, so that you can remove the splinter from your brother's eye!"

I don't think the people who organize and attend such conferences have thought the matter of spiritual activism through in any great depth. What are they really saying about themselves by their actions?

Let's assume that they're NOT advocating some sort of in-your-face activism, wherein the "spiritual activists" openly and aggressively interfere with others against their will. I mean, if that's where they're going, they've already committed themselves to being a significant part of the problem. So, let's give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that they're smarter than that. But then, what are they actually saying?

Here it is: They are saying, "We want other people to be more spiritual than they are now." Well... OK, I guess that's fair. They're free to want whatever they want, as long as they're prepared to accept the price of wanting it. If they stopped there and accepted the consequences of wanting something they might not get, they would cross no moral boundary.

But that's not where they stop. Even if they confine their activities to "praying for peace", what does that entail? In other words, what are the consequences of praying that other people will change their behavior? More to the point, what does it actually mean that spiritual activists are willing to take action — including prayer — to cause others to change their behavior? Do they have a moral right to pray that others will change?

You might say that is depends on whether prayer actually works. It doesn't. It depends on whether the person who is praying believes that prayer actually works. We do not have to argue the question of whether prayer works, much less agree on an answer to that question, to determine whether the praying person has a moral right to pray that someone else will change. If the praying person believes that prayer is irrelevant to what actually happens, then the answer is that anyone is morally justified in praying for anything at all. Go ahead and pray all you want. Of course, it's not entirely clear why you would pray if you don't believe it will work, but hey...you're free to do whatever makes you happy as long as it doesn't interfere with anyone else.

But if the praying person believes that prayer actually works, then the answer is no; no one has any moral right whatsoever to pray that anyone else will change their behavior.

Heresy, you say? I think not. Here's the key: In the real world, the only time that people willingly change their behavior — in this case, "changing their behavior" means that all the politicians and other "leaders" become more spiritual — is when they WANT to change their behavior. So what are the "spiritual activists" REALLY saying? They're saying that their purpose is to make other people want something other than what they want now. In other words, the purpose of spiritual activism is to make other people want what the spiritual activists want.

That is a perilous road to take. I'm not sure I can believe that they're smart enough to know what other people "should" want. I know that I'm definitely not smart enough to know that. What other people want is up to them. I don't want to take responsibility for that. It's a big enough job being responsible for what I want. I don't think it's a very good idea to bind up my own concept of the pursuit of happiness by making it so deeply dependent on whether others want the same things that I want. That sounds more like a prescription for UNhappiness through enslavement to the whims and moods of others. I have no desire to control what other people want.

In any case, people who believe that prayer works and then pray that another person will want what they want are abusing their own belief in the purpose of prayer. They are, essentially, attempting to interfere with that other person's right to determine his or her own concept of the pursuit of happiness. They are imputing to others the responsibility for the negative state of the world. They want power without responsibility. They can't see the logs in their own eyes.

In other words, they're just another version of the thought police, only this time they're dressed in pseudo-spiritualistic clothing. They can't see it, but they are part of the problem, not part of the solution. The problem is the universal belief that it's OK to interfere with other people's lives. The solution is simple: stop it. It has nothing to do with others. You cannot solve a problem by proliferating it.

You may question whether such spiritual activists consciously intend such interference. I may question it too, but their intentions don't matter. Intent is difficult to prove, and in any case it's irrelevant. Their actions are capable of interfering with others regardless of whether they intend such interference, and regardless of whether they are conscious of such intent. Nevertheless, it's likely that they are utterly convinced of the purity of their intent. That ought to be the first tip-off that their activism is on shaky moral ground. It certainly convinces me that their intentions are anything but beneficent. It looks to me more like social irresponsibility than spiritual awareness. 

They probably don't believe that. I know a person who is committed to spiritual activism, and she believes that intention is everything. She has told me that in so many words. Any negative consequences that might befall others as a result of her actions are not her responsibility because she never intends that there be any negative consequences to anything she ever says or does.

Jeez...that's pretty convenient. According to that philosophy, all people have a pass to wreak all kinds of havoc on the world around them, and they never have to accept any responsibility for those consequences because they didn't "intend" them to happen. That kind of moral relativism is precisely opposite to true spirituality. It amounts to a claim that there are no absolute principles, no natural laws, no fundamental governing constraints on human action. All that matters is what you intend; intentions trump everything else. Nice work if you can get it, but in my experience, there's a helluva reckoning in store for those who believe in such a success-proof way of life. No one will have to lift a finger to enforce the laws that govern such things. They enforce themselves.

The point is that it's not necessary to impute any ill intent to these "spiritual activists" to know that they're still missing the mark. They have no moral business concerning themselves about what other people want. That is the fundamental flaw in all forms of political activism — and that is precisely what "spiritual activism" per se constitutes. Political activism in all its forms is essentially an assertion of arrogance. It is a de facto statement to the rest of humanity that the activist is more than they are — more wise than, more judicious than, more spiritual than, more "environmentally conscious" than, more fiscally responsible than, more anything and everything than —in other words, better than everyone else. And then they call that "being a leader".

You don't have to worry about making other people "more spiritual than" they already are; it's not your job. Your job is to be spiritual yourself, and if it's such a great thing to be, you won't be able to hide it. Your behavior — by which I mean the way you treat others — will tell others what's really in your heart more clearly and more eloquently than anything you say. Others who are ready to let that instruct them will see it, and they will recognize it as the way that will lead them toward what they already want for themselves. It's not your job, my job, or anyone else's job to "make" them want anything else.
©2005 - The Native Alien
2005, July 20
Scripture quotations are taken from the Complete Jewish Bible, copyright © 1998 by David H. Stern. Published by Jewish New Testament Publications, Inc. www.messianicjewish.net/jntp. Distributed by Messianic Jewish Resources. www.messianicjewish.net. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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