From the Amazon summaries:
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.
He's concluded that America is in the midst of a "real spiritual crisis," one that has been recognized and exploited -- but not solved -- by the Republican Party. For the first half of the book, Lerner diagnoses the symptoms and causes of this crisis and argues that "the search for meaning in a despiritualized world ... leads many people to right-wing religious communities" and politics. Among the thousands of people Lerner and his colleagues have interviewed, some common concerns surfaced time and again: eroding societal values, America's troubling emphasis on money and greed, unstable families, the attempt to place monetary value on everyone and everything, and spiritual isolation. Right-wing religious institutions appeal to these concerns by providing communities of comfort and instructions on how to change this status quo; right-wing politicians promise to fix the problem by imposing their own solutions. No wonder voters of modest means are attracted. But as Lerner expertly details, the proffered solutions don't eliminate the concerns so much as they trade on their political value. Concerned about unstable families? Just outlaw gay marriage. Worried about popular culture? Impeach those activist judges.
I completely agree with Lerner's analysis. I believe that caring liberals and conservatives share many of the same concerns - America's troubling emphasis on money and greed, unstable families, the attempt to place monetary value on everyone and everything, and spiritual isolation.
I agree that liberals and conservatives want to fix these problems, but that conservative politicians have been much more successful in speaking the language. However, the Republicans offer quick-fixes which generally attack a scapegoat rather than going at the heart of the matter.
Lerner believes that liberals can do better:
And it's there, he argues, that liberals have the opportunity to craft a progressive "Spiritual Covenant with America," a blueprint that composes the second half of the book. From economic to family to national security issues, Lerner outlines a politics of meaning that connects traditional liberal values to what have been inaccurately defined as conservative concerns. The Left Hand of God is ambitious, sprawling and sometimes rambling, but it serves the vital purpose of articulating a progressive religious alternative to the conservative flavor of religion that has dominated American politics and society for the past 30 years.
I haven't read his book, but I'd like to explain why I believe that liberal/progressive policies are better-suited to solving the problems. Let's take one at a time the problems Lerner outlines as being of concern to Americans.
America's troubling emphasis on money and greedAmerica is incredibly materialistic. We're bombarded with advertising, and corporations like Phillip Morris and McDonald's dominate the American economy, raking in money while harming Americans. Something like 70% of Americans are up to their eyeballs (technical term) in debt because they spend more than they earn to keep up with the Joneses. Predatory lenders like credit card companies encourage this behavior, creating a generation of indentured servants. Americans want big SUVs, big houses, fancy clothes, and fancy jewelry. But deep down, they're unsatisfied.
The religious right blames secularism for the focus on money. Jesus of course preached that the love of money is the root of all evil, so all those focusing on money must be un-Christian. The religious right blames Hollywood, which in fact does fetishize money, and by extension liberals.
The Republican solution is to pay lip-service to religion. Let's put the ten commandments back in schools and courtrooms, tear down the wall between church and state, etc. But these solutions if enacted would do nothing to change the problem! The Republicans support Big Business, opposing minimum wages, environmental regulations, universal health care, higher gas taxes, and progressive taxation.
However, progressive thought is about fairness and equitable sharing. Progressives support universal health care, helping the poor, caring for the elderly and disabled, and progressive taxation. We want government to keep a close watch on corporations to prevent their tendency towards monopoly and unfair treatment of workers, consumers, and the environment. We want those who earn millions of dollars to pay a higher portion back into the country that supported them as they earned their money.
Unstable FamiliesEverybody knows that the divorce rate is out of control in America. Parents don't spend enough time with children, people live in all sorts of newfangled familial arrangements, etc.
Republicans do two things about this. They say, let's get people more religious and let's introduce legislation to encourage families with a mother and a father. They want to ban gay marriage, gay civil unions, gay adoption. They want to penalize unwed mothers, too, although they don't put it like that. They say we need a "culture of life," which refers only to abortion, contraception, and euthanasia, not war, lack of health care, or the death penalty.
Progressives agree that there's a problem. However, our idea is to help existing and future families stay together and provide a nurturing environment for children. We believe that the problem isn't, for example, gays wanting to marry, but that adults are too often thinking only of themselves and not their children or partners. We want to encourage all loving families, gay straight, single-parent if necessary, etc. We want to provide health care to families that can't afford it. We know that the single biggest issue dividing couples in America is money. We want to make it feasible for unwed mothers to raise their children well by providing child care when necessary and a fair, living wage for an honest day's work. We want there to be good educational systems which are absolutely necessary for children whose parents can't or won't provide good educations for them. We want to teach realistic sex ed which reduces unwanted pregnancy and disease as well as making condoms available when needed. We want parents to have access to mental health care when needed even if they can't afford it.
Spiritual IsolationThis one seems to be a slam-dunk for the religious right, right? They want to make religion more pervasive in America. They criticize the "liberal Hollywood elite" with their dodgy morals and many marriages. They criticize secular public schools. They blame "activist judges" and the ACLU for eroding the morals of America. They blame evolution.
But spiritual isolation is caused not by a lack of a specific religion, but a lack of closeness with other people, with love, and with meaning. The religious right contributes greatly to the sense of isolation by focusing on the punishing, angry side of God. They rail against homosexuality and Muslims and sinners. Progressives, on the other hand, focus on God's loving, providing side. We want corporations to treat people as human beings rather than mechanized labor. We want corporations to focus not just on the bottom line but on the effects they have on the nation and on the world. We want to fund the arts. Progressive religious groups focus on love, understanding, meaning, and the quest for peace. We believe that spiritual isolation is caused by the materialistic culture and an economy which requires both parents work long hours. We believe that class sizes in schools should be smaller, with more and better-paid teachers. We believe that we should spend less money on war and more money on helping our fellow humans. What if we spent as much on public health research as we did on Defense? Tens of millions of people could be employed helping others rather than joining the military or working in some bomb-making factory.
ConclusionRepublican rhetoric promises solutions to the "spiritual" problems facing America. Republican policies, however, do nothing of the sort. They focus on a few verses in Leviticus and take Genesis as literal history while ignoring everything God (and Jesus) taught about helping the needy, protecting the weak, and promoting peace. They fuel the greedy, debt-based culture we live in. They force people to work for corporations who show no social responsibility, who pollute our water and our air, who provide insufficient health care, who often don't pay enough for parents to get by on two full-time jobs. They underfund public schools, handicap sex-ed with idealistic "abstinence-only" nonsense, cut financial aid for poor students, fight programs which help the underprivelidged, and make our national debt skyrocket. They're quick to war and quick to draw from the underclass for its soldiers. They cut funds to NIH and politicize science.
Progressives want more for us. We want to help the needy, enable parents to be parents, educate children how they need to be educated, create meaningful jobs for corporations which are helping all people instead of just enriching the top 1%, protect the environment for our children and our children's children, etc. We believe that parents shouldn't be handicapped by the state for being gay. We believe in the promise of science to create cures and treatments for diseases.
If you're spiritually inclined, you should be voting for progressives.