Healing Our World: Introduction
[Adapted from the Preface to the upcoming book, Healing Our World: Crucial Solutions for Urgent Problems (A Call for EcoWisdom, Social Justice and Spiritual Liberation), © Copyright 1999/2006 by Timothy Conway, Ph.D.]
Friends, we are being called. Called to join a powerful global movement of compassionate solidarity with one another, an engaged spirituality that can heal our earth, our society and ourselves.
“The world is in agony. The agony is so pervasive and urgent that we are compelled to name its manifestations so that the depth of this pain may be made clear.” Thus begins the prophetic voice of the memorable Parliament of the World Religions in Chicago, 1993, in its “Initial Declaration of a Global Ethic.” Over 150 deeply concerned spiritual representatives of the Leaders’ Assembly signed this document, including Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist, Shinto, Jaina, Baha’i, Sikh, New Age, and Indigenous faith traditions.
Healing Our World examines in much greater detail the ills mentioned in that landmark declaration, along with numerous other troubles. And, in the face of varied problems occurring worldwide, we consider promising solutions and celebrate positive developments. We explore everything from the dire effects of global warming to globalized economies. Poverty to pollution. Water scarcity to job scarcity. Diminishing species to diminishing middle classes. Attacks on ecology to attacks on democracy. Topsoil erosion to moral erosion. Cruel domestic policies to cruel international policies. Bloated military spending to bloated medical spending. Fossil fuel-addiction to drug-addiction. Political rot from the pernicious influence of big money to spiritual rot from the pernicious influence of big media. Terrorism by al-Qaeda to terrorism by quite un-American “Americans.”
We won’t obsess with gloom and doom. Why get caught in apocalyptic ranting or wild-eyed alarmism? We can be incorrigible optimists—by intuiting the all-pervasive Spirit and trusting in Divine love and grace. This attitude is a wonderful antidote for anyone bothered by the terrible suffering and rank evil rampaging over the world.
Numerous problems described here may break your heart. Mine broke countless times while researching this work over the many years. Great encouragement comes from an old Jewish saying: “There’s nothing as whole as a heart that’s been broken then mended.” Engaged Buddhist Joanna Macy invites us to also realize: “The heart that breaks open can contain the whole universe.”
The massive inertia surrounding some of these difficulties may make them seem unsolvable, leaving us hopeless. But, incredible though it may seem, there are straightforward solutions to almost all of our dilemmas. And thousands of local grassroots projects are already currently helping to shift the tide and begin the process of genuine healing of our world. Yet, truly, so much more remains to be done. Your help is needed. We can have faith that all things are possible with God, inspiring in us a heroic dedication …
Healing Our World is a manifesto calling for a deeply mystical and an engaged spirituality—the two aspects of genuinely transformative religion—to join forces and help remedy our afflictions. It’s time for all spiritually-minded folk to align with conscientious activists striving to implement a truly conservative “deep ecology” along with progressive social-justice programs to end the horrific suffering on our planet.
This progressive liberalism is our great heritage of compassionate democracy and solidarity in America (and Europe) that has ended abuses such as slavery and child labor and provided boons including civil rights, universal suffrage, public education, student loans, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, the minimum wage, overtime pay, worker safety regulations, and so on. This progressive liberalism is “neither ‘left-wing’ nor ‘right-wing’ but out in front,” visualizing a world and a society that truly works for all its members, not just a privileged few.
Therefore, Healing Our World involves two components: “Healing Our Earth”—focusing upon a truly enlightened ecosophy, or earth wisdom, that can remedy our dire environmental situation; and “Healing Our Society”—a compassionate economic program that can heal the sundry social injustices occurring globally and in our United States.
These two subjects clearly involve the spiritual conscience and invite passionate response. Yet I’ve found in teaching work, travels and friendships that numerous spiritually-oriented persons are tragically ignorant, even apathetic, concerning these topics. We have been conditioned to think of ecological, economic and political matters as too intractable or “too worldly.” I beg to differ, and I trust my reasoning here will be persuasive.
Right now, most societies and global ecosystems are in terrible straits. They need our assistance—desperately! Yet most of us have abdicated all responsibility. One is reminded of the famous quote from the Irish statesman, human rights champion and friend of America, Edmund Burke (d.1797), “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men [and women] to do nothing.” There are several reasons for this inaction…
For one thing, many of us simply aren’t aware of the problems. We pay little attention to current affairs—except, perhaps, for the superficial fare that dominates the major media. This inattention usually results because we are so absorbed in our work or play that we have no time to investigate, through careful reading, what is happening beyond our immediate situation. In plenty of cases it can’t be helped: most of us are working longer hours, often more than one job, raising children, and desperately struggling just to survive. But in many instances an obsession with wealth-accumulation, relationships, physical fitness, hobbies or “my spiritual journey” has drowned out our sacred duty to be informed, responsible citizens.
I would especially critique the self-absorbed obsession with a type of “spirituality” that is needlessly complicated, time-consuming and distracting. Having deeply investigated our major sacred traditions for nearly 30 years, fortunate to be tutored by some of the planet’s most acclaimed spiritual adepts, I can readily assure anyone that the way of authentic spirituality is simple, albeit formidable: “Let go, let God.” Abide in the pure heart of Love. Give up all egoic fascination with the body-mind persona and intuit transpersonal Spirit. Relax all binding attachments and aversions, and stand free in the Divinely natural state. Serve everyone by “dying to self” and living in God (Buddha-Nature, Tao, Brahman). Wake up from the alienated dream of “me” into the infinite glory of the One Who Alone Is. Snap out of the hypnotic trance of separation, desire and fear, and shine resplendently in the freedom of nondual Spirit—Divine Being-Awareness-Bliss-Love.
This, in a nutshell, is the essential Perennial Wisdom from the pre-eminent spiritual masters of our sacred traditions, ancient and contemporary, East and West. It may take months or years (or lifetimes) to fully mature in this spiritual realization, but the process is uncomplicated and straightforward. We don’t need to succumb to the busy-ness of creating a major “project” out of spirituality. We don’t need to weigh ourselves down with elaborate regimens of rituals and mental exercises; or pay exorbitant prices for mediocre workshops and materials that purvey half-truths, misinformation or muddled notions on spirituality. All these things can distract us from living Spirit and interfere with our ability to effectively love and serve.
A second factor behind the withdrawal of many persons from civic duty consists in the widespread rise over the last 100 years of distorted forms of evangelical Christianity and the New Thought movement. These aberrations promote a quirky mindset that never wants to look at “negative” issues, lest we experience any emotion other than a banal euphoria. I daresay genuine spirituality looks at the totality of existence, including the troubling aspects along with the joyous and beautiful aspects of God’s manifest world. We must acknowledge the dark while cherishing the Light. Real maturity is to see the potential light in darkness and bring forth this light, not look away from darkness in an escapist preference for some imagined light.
Mahatma Gandhi wrote: “Those who say that religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion means.” The same goes for ecology and economics. A deep spirituality cannot abandon these domains to confused human beings lacking vision or empathy.
And this brings us to the third reason for the ignorance and apathy rampant today. Certain elite, big-money forces, along with politicians and mainstream media of the lapdog breed—all operating from a “philosophy of indifference,” as Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel terms it—have rigged public discourse so that terrible problems plaguing our world and society are chronically ignored. These influential elites, growing ever wealthier and more powerful each year, are quite content with the current status quo that benefits them handsomely. They have a vested interest in keeping up the “happy talk,” brainwashing the rest of the populace with the idea that everything’s fine, glossing over serious problems because the remedies might slow by a few percentage points their fantastic wealth-accumulation. Why change policies that have made them extremely rich and comfortable?
Yet, as the saying goes, spiritual persons must “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” In our “afflicting” or challenging of elite power brokers, we can function from deep compassion, for the real reason these brothers and sisters resist change is fear of change, not any inherent “evil.” Thus, we need a spirit of tremendous empathy. Empathy not just for countless souls subjected to grinding poverty and degradation by our cruel policies, but also a special empathy for our fellow human beings who may appear to be part of the problem rather than the solution. For when considering environmental and socio-economic injustices, it’s easy to fall into a hateful “us versus them” attitude. That is certainly not my intention here. As Martin Luther King would say, nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice, not people; nonviolence recognizes that evil doers are also victims.
We are, truly, brothers and sisters—all God’s children. From the ancient mystical viewpoint of nondual spirituality, we are manifestations of a single God-Self. There’s only one of us here—the Infinite I Am That Am. There are no alienated others as objects “out there” needing judgment or rebuke. This is why we must love our neighbors and any “enemy” as our Self.
So I will be calling attention to problematic behaviors, not persons. Yet certain persons and groups do need to be named. This exposing of wrongdoing is important, for a certain misplaced “civility” has allowed dangerously destructive elements to hide under the cover of relative anonymity for too long. The important thing to realize is that there are no intrinsically evil people. Ignorant, insensitive behaviors, yes, but no incorrigibly evil persons. We do well to remember an old adage from India: “Every saint was once a sinner, every sinner shall be sanctified.” Lack of awareness and fear of change are the root of virtually all our problems. Unawareness is healed through informed wisdom and fear is healed through courageous love.
In the face of our multiple problems, true wisdom and love necessitate a certain enlightened assertiveness, avoiding the traps of passivity and aggression. What is it that conscientious people most need to assert? The commonweal or public well-being. We must leave behind the morally indefensible libertarian (every man for himself), social Darwinist (dog-eat-dog) and moral relativist (why be good?) ethical schemas that celebrate the disconnected, greedy self. We can fulfill the ancient entreaty from our sacred traditions to enact a caring compassion and egalitarian fairness. This is a benevolent ethics of solidarity so that no one is left behind in misery.
It is not enough to enact this through deeds of charity. Most of us are fairly good or even quite diligent in rendering different forms of charitable aid. However, the social gospel also requires that we enact justice to heal the root problems, the “structures of sin,” as Pope John Paul II and Catholic bishops term them, that result in so much physical and psychological suffering for billions of people and countless trillions of animals.
There’s an important issue of integrity at stake here. We frequently tell each other in our churches and in much of our popular literature, songs and movies that the most important virtue is to “love one another” and to serve and care for each other. Furthermore, polls indicate that at least 80% of us Americans consider ourselves “environmentalists.” Yet over recent decades too many Americans have repeatedly refused to vote for truly representative, visionary leaders. Or we have voted for politicians whose policies 1) chronically ignore the middle class and perpetuate injustices and cruelties toward more vulnerable members of our society and 2) allow giant profiteering corporations to enrich their elite beneficiaries by cheating workers out of productivity gains and grossly degrading our ecosystems.
The mainstream media have failed to properly cover the war against our environment and the war against the poor and middle class that have been waged (consciously or unconsciously) by powerful, selfish interests. Small wonder: the major media are owned by a few gigantic, self-serving conglomerates that have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.
Meanwhile, a series of overblown “bogeymen”—in recent decades these have been, in successive order, communists, criminals in the streets, and, more recently, terrorists—are used by regressive politicians and complicit corporate media to distract Americans' attention away from the massive problems in our society and create a fear-based motivation to elect a bunch of right-wing politicians who promise to be “tough on communism,” “tough on crime,” and “tough on terrorism.”
Healing Our World would correct the serious, serious gaps and distortions in mainstream media coverage by functioning as “anti-propaganda” and “de-hypnosis.” Here you’ll find out the real story about what has befallen us and what needs to be accomplished—and is being accomplished—to bring collective healing.
As someone passionately in love with the Divine Spirit and the beauty of our sacred traditions devoted to the One, I would hasten to say that tremendous help flows forth from the depths of our prayerful silence and meditative stillness. When we have learned how to just be, in the fullness of awareness, we become the pure, open instrument for the Divine power of spiritual healing to radiate nonlocally throughout the cosmos.
Yet the Divine Power also moves us to act. And, on the activist level, one of the fastest, easiest solutions to fully resolving many if not most of our troubles is simply voting, and educating people to vote, for compassionate, intelligent political representatives who can, with our guidance and support, rapidly turn things around. In fact, I would argue that voting for conscientious political representatives needs to be considered “a new sacrament.”
And here, because the stakes are so immense, I must be frank about the sad state of affairs in our two major parties and recommend that we stop sending to Washington DC and to state capitols extremist right-wing Republicans and right-leaning “Blue Dog” and “New Dog” Democrats. Their blatantly elitist policies, cloaked behind pseudo-populist slogans, cater almost entirely to Wall Street, giant corporations and the richest upper crust of Americans. Yes, these dear souls are manifestations of God, and I have nothing against them personally (underneath our differences we have so much in common). But these friends are caught in the grip of a bogus ideology that forces them to chronically violate the Divine commandment to love and serve thy neighbor and to care for the Earth.
Michael Lind, former “rising star of the right,” a protégé of conservative pundit William F. Buckley, pulled away from the right in the mid-1990s, urging: “It is time now for intelligent and patriotic Americans of all persuasions to stand athwart History and shout Stop! to the out-of-control train of conservatism as it drags the nation [and world] toward disaster.” Lind and many others were shocked by the right-wing takeover of the Republican Party. They abhor its devastating, plutocratic “class war” economic policies and its distracting, demagogic “culture war” politics that have not only grievously injured our middle class and our poor but have also dangerously destabilized the political order and torn the country apart on social-cultural issues.
We shall learn that a huge factor behind the worldwide horror of poverty, disease and hopelessness—two-thirds of humanity are poor and one-fourth must somehow survive in destitution on less than $1 dollar a day—is the set of elitist policies coming out of extremist power factions in Washington DC. Moreover, the colossal failure to address serious environmental abuse along with the deliberate attack on pro-environment regulations also stem from the strange policies of this radical right holding so much power in our country. (The League of Conservation Voters’ respected “environmental scorecard” ranked all 52 Senate Republicans in the 104th Congress of 1995-6 [the first time they had held power in years] at a shamefully low 13% in terms of how they voted on legislative proposals to help the environment. Of the eight Republicans elevated to positions of power over environmental protection, fully six of them scored a big fat zero. Meanwhile, Democratic Senators tallied a respectable 84%, overall. The trend continued in the 105th, 106th, 107th, 108th and 109th Congresses through 2006, all headed by the GOP, with most Republicans utterly abandoning the health of ecosystems and ourselves.)
It is for all these reasons that, as Lind declared, the right is terribly wrong on all the big issues. Lind sees the peculiar new form of radical-right American conservatism as being, “compared with British conservatism, German Christian Democracy, and French Gaullism, … a bizarre blend of Calvinist moral authoritarianism, social Darwinist economics, and paramilitary radicalism. The contemporary American right is alien not only to conservatisms elsewhere in the world, but to the major conservative traditions of the past…. The chief beneficiaries of the radicalism of the right … are the small number of individuals and families that constitute the economic elite of the United States. Not content with having seen most of the economic growth in the Reagan-Bush era end up in their pockets, the predominantly Republican economic elite seeks to absorb even more of the resources … at the expense, if necessary, of the wage-earning majority.”
In the 1950s a fanatic right-wing McCarthyism demonized and obliterated the political left in this country. (In Europe, fully 13 out of 15 nations have liberal, semi-socialist governments, and even some far-left socialist groups still flourish as a counterweight to the extreme right.) Even more tragically for America and the world, since the 1970s right-wing Congress members, Presidents, pundits and propagandist think-tanks have maligned progressive liberalism, what Lind terms the “radical center.”
By vilifying and marginalizing the progressive center—America’s grand liberal tradition, source of everything that’s wonderful about this country—political discourse and policy-making have been driven farther toward a rightward extreme than at any time in U.S. history. This is bizarre and dangerous. Our founding fathers and mothers would be shocked to see how our beautiful experiment in democracy has been turned into a plutocratic “demon-cracy.” This unfair system redistributes huge amounts of wealth upward to the already affluent (99% of all new wealth over the last 16 years has gone to the richest 20% of Americans), cheats middle-class workers out of their rightful share of productivity gains (pushing the majority of Americans into near poverty or working poverty), and harshly punishes extremely poor persons, while largely abandoning protection of our precious, irreplaceable ecosystems.
Every conscientious person, especially anyone professing love for God and neighbor—that’s well over 90% of us, say the polls—has a paramount duty to rise up and help steer our country and our world in a healthier, safer direction. We must not smugly content ourselves with thinking “we’re the greatest nation on earth” but must truly live up to our potential greatness as instruments of God’s love. As former three-term New York governor, Mario Cuomo has so articulately expressed it, we must leave behind the “New Harshness” of our extremist right-wing friends and even go beyond the early American ideal of “rugged individualism” to deepen and strengthen our greatest American ideal—the way of community.
This is none other than the ethics of benevolence, compassion and solidarity advocated by all our authentic spiritual heroes and heroines.
What I say may trigger the old charge of “bleeding heart liberal” from those in love with unregulated capitalism and libertarian ethics. I can only respond that Jesus, the Buddha, Lao-tzu, Muhammad, Francis of Assisi and most other illustrious spiritual leaders who have walked this earth were socio-economic “liberals”—even radicals—in what they lived and preached: unattachment to wealth, generous sharing of material goods and an adamant call to ending all forms of oppression, exploitation and discrimination. Furthermore, a hugely popular Roman Catholic image of Jesus shows his sacred heart bleeding in compassion for suffering creatures. So becoming a “bleeding heart liberal” like Jesus and other blessed souls actually seems quite commendable!
We’ll be hearing the ardently liberal, that is, progressive, compassionate call for solidarity and sharing that has been issued in recent decades by the Christian liberation theology movement; by the late Pope John Paul II (even more critical of unregulated laissez-faire capitalism than oppressive communism); by the Call to Renewal coalition of Evangelical, Protestant, Catholic, African-American Christian and Jewish denominations that Jim Wallis organized; and by other deeply concerned spiritual leaders.
One clearcut solution is to vote for authentically progressive liberals such as can be found among traditional Democrats in the Senate and in the Progressive Caucus in the House of Representatives. It may seem simplistic to think that voting can do much good. But let’s face facts:
We wouldn’t be worrying about crime or stressing volunteerism to aid the needy had not elite business interests and their political lackeys depressed wages and cut major social programs for low-end Americans these last 35 years while pouring trillions of dollars into hugely wasteful military and prison programs and wealthfare subsidies for big corporations.
We wouldn’t be sickened by the poverty, disease and death rampant throughout Latin America, Africa and Asia had not conservative folks in our government and international economic organizations been keeping the countries of these regions in “debt slavery,” squandering or pilfering humanitarian aid to these regions, routinely funding dictators and death squads, and exploiting these continents’ economies to serve elite financial interests.
We wouldn’t have to be funneling money and energy into environmental groups and faith-based ecology projects had not right-leaning politicians betrayed the public trust by selling out to corporate interests so that certain industries could plunder and pollute in largely unregulated fashion.
Healing Our World presents a wealth of facts and statistics on the crucially important issues in public life facing us. This documentation will help anyone rebut the heavy propaganda on these issues spewed out by right-wing agencies and repeated by the big media. We will also hear plenty of insightful commentary and advice from some of the wisest voices in our midst on how our problems may be remedied.
The right kind of information brings transformation. Through the resources assembled in Healing Our World, we can awaken to the truly shocking state of affairs characterizing our global situation today—and the feasible solutions crying out for implementation. In clearly seeing the evil that is happening and the good that needs to happen, our innate spiritual intelligence will move us to spontaneously engage in appropriate ways of helping and serving.
1 The Declaration Toward a Global Ethic exists in a longer form, written primarily by Christian interfaith theologians Hans Kung and Leonard Swidler (Hans Kung & Karl-Josef Kuschel [Eds.], A Global Ethic: The Declaration of the Parliament of the World’s Religions, NY: Continuum, 1993), and in a shorter form, “Toward a Global Ethic: The Initial Declaration,” written by Fr. Thomas Baima and Daniel Gomez-Ibanez, a synopsis of the longer Declaration—both available from Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions, POB 1630, Chicago, IL 60690.
2 Joanna Macy, “Taking Heart: Spiritual Exercises for Social Activists,” in Fred Eppsteiner (Ed.), The Path of Compassion: Writings on Socially Engaged Buddhism, Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press rev. ed., 1988, p. 207.
3 A paraphrase of a description of the European Green Party by Herbert Gruhl, one of its early leaders.
4 Mohandas Gandhi, An Autobiograpy: The Story of My Experiments with Truth, Boston: Beacon, 1957, p. 504.
5 Finley Peter Dunne, noted muckracker and humorist, evidently first stated this.
6 Michael Lind, Up From Conservatism: Why the Right Is Wrong For America, NY: Free Press, 1996, p. 13. The first part of the quote is, ironically, a paraphrase of a passage written by William F. Buckley over a decade ago.
7 See League of Conservation Voters’ past scorecards at www.lcv.org/scorecard/past-scorecards/. Note that most Republicans in the Senate and House consistently score at zero or nearly zero on the LCV scorecards. Their very infrequent pro-environment votes (if any) are usually only made to please angry pro-environment constituents back home. Note, too, that moderate Congressional Repub-licans in the northeast (e.g., Maine, Vermont) score around 50%, skewing the overall Republican record in a more favorable way.
8 Michael Lind, Up From Conservatism, pp. 70, 263-4.
9 Mario Cuomo, Reason to Believe, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1995.
10 See also Gilbert Markus (Ed.), The Radical Tradition: Revolutionary Saints in the Battle for Justice and Human Rights, Doubleday, 1993.