Many great political thinkers through the centuries in various cultures have recognized that if man is to really understand his personal relationship to others he must have an allegiance beyond ego. We are all born with ego; some of us control it and others don’t, depending on our priorities, values, and commitments. I do not believe that this nation or any other can sever its roots from what I call “things of the spirit” and remain strong.
– Mark O. Hatfield, Former Republican Governor and U.S. Senator, Oregon.
Mark Hatfield’s prominence was two generations ago, but several days ago I reflected back as I read this exchange:
Kristen Soltis Anderson:
“Americans are less likely to have a lot of close friends these days. And their friend groups are likely to be made up of mostly those who agree with them on politics.”
David French: “This is one of the most fundamental and important challenges of our time. There are a lot of cultural wounds that deep friendship can heal.”
Anderson is a pollster and commentator and French, an Iraq war veteran, Senior editor of The Dispatch.
In 2022 we are a legalistic society. Polls are conducted to gauge our attitudes and intentions about people whose principal job is to make laws. So here we are once again debating about which gun laws are needed to reduce mass shootings. While I understand the necessity of what we are doing, I am pessimistic. We should be more alarmed by the culture and less expectant about the efficacy of laws and associated bureaucracies.
In my youth I now realize that I was brainwashed. “Under God” was a part of my almost daily recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. And there was a Boy Scout pledge. Plus, on most Sundays I started the day going to Sunday School until, if I recall, sometime in my teens. This was a national, not regional, pattern. The core message: strive to lead a virtuous life.
Virtues today are often defined by grievance—you do not respect me, we need to use the law to make sure you do. In a more spiritual culture grievances would be many fewer. The spiritual dimension would caution the ego. When the ego is unmoored watch out.
Today, society’s pulse is often measured by polls. Do you favor the President? Which political party are you most likely to support? Which candidate? Which position on this or that policy? And, on and on.
I wonder how the public would respond to a poll on spiritual attitudes. Would taking our spiritual pulse remind us of its importance? Could we sweep in houses of worship in such a way that persons of the cloth might sense a deeper calling?
So here are some questions. Do you encounter a force in your life that you would define as spiritual? If so, what effect, if any, does it have in your relationships? Actions?
Perhaps trying to identify cause and effect the pollster might probe further. Do you do anything to nurture your spiritual side? What has the most influence? Do you make use of what is called social media to connect spiritually? Is a house of worship important in your spiritual life?
Now this line of questioning is going to make the naysayers very uncomfortable. Those who only believe in the material, what you can feel and touch or prove scientifically, well they are not going to like the suggestion that there is an important dimension they can’t see under a microscope.
Most of us grew up when standing and singing The Star-Spangled Banner was not questioned. Most of us grew up when those responding to a spiritual calling and wearing a clerical collar were not suspect. Indeed, the breaking of vows has assaulted the spiritual. Preachers becoming politicians in the pulpit or sexual predators in their lives have done immeasurable harm to the spiritual. When those who should be examples turn out to be the opposite, faith is assaulted. Ego unmoored.
It is also crucial that we understand the many faces of spiritual influence. In the United States we are more likely to be in touch with the insistence in Judaism and Christianity, but “love thy neighbor” is universal. Take a look at Hinduism or Islam or Buddhism or others.
And we should also understand that “hate” and its animation is not a local but is a global problem. This is an excerpt from the Toronto Star on hate in Canada: “A growing list of convicted or accused killers have been steeped in an online ecosystem of hate that is transcending national borders, eluding law enforcement and inciting a brand of terrorism experts say is spreading and mutating.”
Regardless of the existence or not of the spiritual, we should not kid ourselves into thinking that there is some mix of laws that will rescue our society from violent death. We will try to find the mix; and should. But if we really want to make long-lasting progress, we should work on the foundation of humanity—a true counter-revolution.
Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al writes on themes from his book, Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.