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The Left Hand of God

Over the spring of 2007, I read two recent books, The Left Hand of God by Michael Lerner and Attention Deficit Democracy by James Bovard. They offer interesting perspectives on the current political environment in America.

On one level, I felt that The Left Hand of God had many points that I definitely agree with. I agree that there are strong religious feelings present in the American culture. The observation that America seems to be in a spiritual crisis is also one that was motivation for this web site. There have been many stories of bad behavior of Christian leaders (Catholic priests and child abuse, certain evangelicals being hypocritical like James Bakker and Ted Haggard) and also questionable teachings (like the Catholic directives against birth control or abortion). With the findings of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Gospel of Judas (among others) there is now doubt on the common interpretation for the stories in the New Testament. I would summarize the spiritual crisis as simply doubt about one's understanding of how one relates to the universe. If the Biblical stories are myths then what is the real story about man and his place in the world?

I also agree that the religious Right, the Christian evangelicals, has found a way to tap into those feelings by falsely preaching that those leaders represent those people. By trying to portray their stance as consistent with God's teachings the religious congregations feel their religious feeling of inadequacy will be addressed when following this leadership. These religious leaders have formed a partnership with the Republican Party where the Christians will vote for the Republicans in exchange for pushing a Christian agenda in the political arena. I agree that the secular Left has been unable to match the focus and determination of the religious Right.

I also agree that the human values of compassion, sharing and tolerance are missing from this push from the Religious Right. That set of human values also seems to be a good basis for an opposing force to the current emphasis on military aggression and on the enforcement of religious intolerance of gays and of a woman's right to choose abortion.

On another level, I felt that The Left Hand of God is suggesting a plan that does not recognize the current political context. Lerner's plan is for the Democratic Party to tap into the less militaristic religious currents in our culture. The title of the book comes from an interpretation where the Left Hand of God represents the New Testament Jesus who emphasized caring for each other (like those human values mentioned above) as compared to the Right Hand of God that represents the Old Testament God who destroyed those in opposition to His will and to His chosen people.  This plan suggests that the competition for the American voters using this compassionate political platform will win out.

As Attention Deficit Democracy details, the American political process is now broken. After Bush won in 2004, he talked as if his slim margin of victory gave him a mandate to do whatever he felt inclined to do. Shortly after the elections, Bush's military destroyed the city of Fallujah, with the murder of many innocent civilians in the free-fire zone, even using white phosphorous and a new form of napalm to destroy any opposition. Bush called the elections the 'accountability moment' as if once an election is done he has approval to do anything, even though the voters certainly were never told of any such military plans before the elections. All of the lies and fear mongering (like the issuance of a code orange after any Democratic party gain in the polls or coincident with any bad news for the Republicans) prior to the election are quickly ignored as those in charge resume whatever they wish, regardless of any claims or promises made during the campaign.

Every two years, the American electorate votes for their representation in Congress and during the intervening years the representatives in the House and Senate pass legislation that keeps them in good graces with all the special interests that fund their campaigns. A number of authors have pointed out that few in Congress even read any of the legislation being passed. The most important facet of any bill being considered is its title, never its content. As was pointed out years ago, the Patriot Act, a huge document obviously written before 9/11, was rolled out right after 9/11 (with claims this legislation was critical to America's survival even though the government had just failed to prevent those attacks!) and was quickly pushed through with lopsided majorities. Few read this act that gave the federal government new powers beyond anything imagined by the Founding Fathers that had written the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. A Clear Skies Initiative had little to do with reducing air pollution. There have been many recent bills with misleading titles. Even with the 2006 elections giving the Democrats slim majorities in both houses of Congress, earmark legislation continues unabated with congressmen making sure that their financial backers receive their bills to the detriment of the common citizen.

The federal government is awash in so much money, with roughly a trillion dollars now spent on military related activities (scattered among several departments, based on military hardware, veterans affairs or even spy satellites). With so much money and so little accountability, the government bureaucracy doles out money to its preferred companies. The American electorate is given no visibility to these financial dealings so there is no accountability for the voter to recognize whether his/her wishes for the government spending (of their hard earned tax dollars!) are being met. The earlier book Democracy The God That Failed by Hans-Hermann Hoppe also conveys the message that our American democracy does not respond to the needs of the populace.

Michael Lerner's hope is for the American government to become one that emphasizes compassion for others who are less fortunate. The wealth of this country could fund significant initiatives to address many problems in foreign countries.

The big problem is that the last 6 years have presented the world with an American foreign policy that amounts to 'if you do not agree with us we can attack you.' I doubt that any sales pitch for a new foreign policy can quickly turn around all the animosity that has been generated. Other authors are also writing of how American foreign policy must change after Bush leaves office, a recognition of the magnitude of the problem.

The other big problem with this plan for intervention is that such interventions typically will not work. For many years our country's foreign policy has had as a very high priority the maintenance of access for our companies in the other country's economy. If a company wants access to something in another country our government will try to make that happen even if such foreign business ventures ruin the country's domestic businesses or economy. In other cases, our financial aid to other countries serves to prop up an ineffective government.

Handouts will distort the local economy. The foreign country's infrastructure, like education, health and basic utilities (power, water, waste treatment, etc.), must be improved for any real economic improvements to follow when entrepreneurs seek ways to offer the products and services needed in that culture. Part of this transition probably requires a change when foreign companies have below market contracts for local resources - either mineral resources or labor. In some parts of the world, foreign companies take advantage of the lack of clout in that local government to use the labor at low wages and to use the land for dumping pollution (that might be illegal in other parts of the world because of the associated health concerns).

There remains in the American political debate the myth that government can solve problems. In many cases, IT is the problem. To assume a new program can be funded by more tax dollars and will efficiently and effectively solve any defined problem is unrealistic.

As Ron Paul recently pointed out (in the course of a Presidential debate), in 1900 the entire city of Galveston Texas was wiped out by a huge hurricane (with much loss of life and property). The city was completely rebuilt including a better sea wall with very little federal funding. Any reliance on a federal bureaucracy for any service is risky. To propose new, very ambitious federal programs is ludicrous.

The hope for a solution to this spiritual crisis must reside in an informed electorate not from a government initiative. In times of crisis, people can act without government intervention to help those in need. I imagine Michael Lerner's plan for a reform of the Democratic party will work only as far as it changes the political debate, hopefully leading to discarding all the current policies that prevent the education of the American people. There must be a free flow of information about government policies so that the people can hold their government and those they elect accountable. If the government cannot be held accountable for what it is doing now then to suggest new comprehensive plans is to just invite new areas of corruption.

created - July 2007
last change - 07/14/2007

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