By Joe Perez
In truth, there is no division between spirituality and politics that can be found in The Way Things Are. If you believe, as I do, that there is only one True Self and that every unique individual is a completely whole and infinitely valuable Unique Self which is one and the same as that Ultimate Identity, then how can there be a separation?
In an Integral view of ethics, care and justice evolve in ever expanding reach from egocentric to ethnocentric to worldcentric to kosmocentric levels. Ultimately, there is a sense of self-identification with responsibility and empathy for all sentient beings in all times and places. Thus, politics — which I define broadly as the expansion of our circle of concern to ever wider levels of embrace — is deeply wedded to our sense of self and our understanding of the nature of reality.
Spirituality and politics are distinct aspects of our human existence, but not separate ways of being. In other words, every spiritual act is also a political act, and every political act is also spiritual. But if spirituality is related as Paul Tillich formulated to our “ultimate concern,” then politics relates to concerns that individuals share with other individuals in their community.
There are family and tribal/organizational politics, there are national and international politics. And as plans in recent decades for human colonization of other worlds has demonstrated, there is even a politics of the relationship between the inhabitants of Earth and everything extraterrestrial. Politics is inescapable, no matter how apolitical one’s views.
If you scan articles written about politics by members of the World Spirituality, Integral Spirituality, or Evolutionary Spirituality communities, you may come away with the impression that most people are progressive. After all, among those in the U.S. you will frequently hear praise of Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and Barack Obama — all Democrats. You will hear support for remedying income inequality, addressing climate change, and legalizing same-sex marriage.
But read more closely and you will find a more complex picture.
The liberal and conservative writers divide opinions into warring camps of “the ones who are right” and “opponents.” They advocate positions based on their convictions of the values that are most important to them: for example, civic republican virtues such as self-reliance and individual responsibility for conservatives, and progressive values such as equality, protecting the vulnerable, and giving voice to the voiceless. Conservatives often invoke religion to justify their aims, and liberals invoke secular principles (while those who are religious add that they are motivated by their privately held religious or spiritual convictions).
In contrast, a more authentically Integral approach is grounded in a spiritual view that includes people of all faiths as well as secular perspectives. For instance, as we’ve noted, World Spirituality recognizes an evolution of political views from egocentric to worldcentric and beyond. The values upheld by conservatives and liberals are all embraced as valuable if they lead towards greater levels of love and compassion, and the policies they advocate are assessed on the basis of how they enhance the well-being of all sentient beings.
Thus, people embracing an authentic World Spirituality may take stances that look conservative, liberal, or radical … depending on how they discern the merits of particular choices that must be made in particular contexts at particular times and places. I’m not talking about situational ethics, but context-aware and forward-looking decision-making.
Conservative and liberal values are balanced in practical situations, but not out of a desire for warring parties to compromise irrespective of what is right or wrong. Rather, World Spirituality calls for individuals to enter into political life not with our egos, but in a We-space of Unique Selves joining together to discern how our political life together can allow everyone to be more fully who they are, the heart and mind of God. From this vantage point, petty politics is vanquished and a World Politics more noble, humanizing, and inspiring is permitted to emerge.
Some of Joe Perez’s writings on spirituality and politics can be found at his blog for Gay & Bi Men’s Spirituality.