Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Portrait of the Religious Left

From the liberal online journal Slate, an article about how liberals are hoping for a left-leaning religious movement to counter the Religious Right.

One of the leaders of the would-be movement is a fellow named Michael Lerner, and the article gives a description of a gathering that he hosted.
Last month, Lerner hosted a four-day conference to kick off his aggressively eclectic new interfaith group, the Network of Spiritual Progressives. . . .

Lerner believes in a cosmically big tent. His target is liberal people of faith who feel alienated by the narrow politics of the religious right, and the 26 percent of Americans who self-identify—according to a recent Newsweek/Beliefnet poll—as “spiritual but not religious.”

There was a strong Christian presence among the 1,200 attendees at the NSP conference, but it leaned heavily toward liberal denominations. Quakers and Unitarians outnumbered Evangelicals and Catholics. They were joined by scores of liberal Jews, fewer Muslims, and a sprinkling of Buddhists, Sufis, Baha’i, Wiccans, Native American shamans, and various metrospiritual seekers. Even secular humanists were welcomed.

Together the attendees all prayed in concentric circles, sang John Lennon’s “Imagine” (with the line “and no religion too” tastefully amended), and meditated while eating vegan boxed lunches. At times they seemed like a flock of black sheep. My breakout group of eight—led by a stunning Jewfi woman (Jew + Sufi = Jewfi) in ventilated Crocs sandals—included Unitarian and United Church of Christ pastors, a retired scientist looking to marry faith and reason, and a gay former Christian fundamentalist turned theatrical performance activist. Everyone was highly motivated, but I couldn’t help wondering: How big can such a constituency be?
Good question. The answer is: in spite of the spiritual rhetoric, this is fundamentally a secular group. The inclusion of secular humanists is the giveaway. Whatever the good and bad points about secular humanists, one thing is clear. They are secular.

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