America’s refusal to fund and sustain its intellectual and cultural heritage means it has lost touch with its past, obliterated its understanding of the present, crushed its capacity to transform itself through self-reflection and self-criticism, and descended into a deadening provincialism. Ignorance and illiteracy come with a cost. The obsequious worship of technology, hedonism and power comes with a cost. The primacy of emotion and spectacle over wisdom and rational thought comes with a cost. And we are paying the bill.
The decades-long assault on the arts, the humanities, journalism and civic literacy is largely complete. All the disciplines that once helped us interpret who we were as a people and our place in the world—history, theater, the study of foreign languages, music, journalism, philosophy, literature, religion and the arts—have been corrupted or relegated to the margins. We have surrendered judgment for prejudice. We have created a binary universe of good and evil. And our colossal capacity for violence is unleashed around the globe, as well as on city streets in poor communities…. The marriage of ignorance and force always generates unfathomable evil, an evil that is unseen by perpetrators who mistake their own stupidity and blindness for innocence.
Those few who acknowledge the death of our democracy, the needless suffering inflicted on the poor and the working class in the name of austerity, and the crimes of empire—in short those who name our present and past reality—are whitewashed out of the public sphere.
I recently have had several conversations with a friend whose church has lost many members and who is thinking of new ways to restore its moral place in the community. One idea he has been working on is to create a group comprised of those from both in and out of the church, both religious and secular, to discuss issues of concern but not according to the liturgy of one church but of a whole community.
In the past, I have suggested that non-political organizations in a community or state come together to develop ethical standards that should guide our mutual lives, political and otherwise. Imagine, for example, if various churches, business groups, educators, mental health workers, and others were to tackle together the overwhelming bribery of politicians contained in Citizens United. What standards might they develop and could we convince the media to take them as seriously as it now does the political bribers and bribees?
In an case, the first step is not to solve the moral problems but to create structures that makes communal decency central again. Here is just one example of how it might be done:
The Network of Spiritual Progressives — the interfaith advocacy arm of Tikkun magazine — seeks to transform our materialist and corporate-dominated society into a caring society through consciousness raising, advocacy, and public awareness campaigns that promote a “New Bottom Line” based on generosity, peace, and social transformation. The NSP shifts mass consciousness by challenging status-quo ideas about what is possible.
Founded in 2005 by Tikkun Editor Michael Lerner, Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister, and Princeton University Professor Cornel West, the NSP has current campaigns for a Global Marshall Plan and for an Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The NSP is not only for members of religious communities but also for people who do not believe in God or do not associate with any religion but do realize the need for a New Bottom Line in our world today.