Religion and Politics, Mysticism and Morality
On the eve of the political conventions, the various religious and spiritual forums I belong to have been abuzz with discussions about the role of faith in politics. CNN’s recent debate featuring Pastor Rick Warren’s faith-based interviews with both candidates have kicked off a flurry of discussion too. I personally enjoyed this debate more than any other political event covered by the media thus far this season, if for no other reason than Pastor Warren conducted a civil and respectful discussion – a rare feat.
I rarely discuss politics in my meditation and spirituality classes, not because it is not important to me, but simply because I don’t view it as my role – just as many celebrities believe they should not make their political preferences known, while others believe they should. I view my primary role as a spiritual facilitator. It is my job to facilitate an individual’s own search for a connection to their spirit, to God, to enlightenment, to faith, to moral or political certainty – or to whatever it is they are searching for. So I also don’t teach within any particular religious context. Or actually, I try and pull material from all religions, focusing on the common elements.
Those common elements are found within the mystic branches of each religion. Gnosticism and medieval mysticism in Christianity, Tantra and Zen in Buddhism, meditative Yoga in Hinduism, Kabbalah in Judaism, Sufism in Islam, and several other indepedent traditions like Taoism, Shamanism, and Wicca. What you find when you read the spiritual biographies of the great teachers and saints within any of these traditions is a focus on personal spiritual experience. This is what defines mysticism. If you are a mystic, you focus on developing your relationship with God (by any name) first. Then, when that relationship is clearly established, and your personal ego is quiet (or at least quieter), you allow yourself to be guided, in a sense, to a greater service or moral cause.
This is the reverse of how most religion functions. In religion, you follow a set of rules – whether those rules are the Ten Commandments or a vegan diet – and the rules, or morals, are supposed to lead you to grace. The problem with this approach is that it feeds right into the ego. The ego always thinks it has interpreted the rules correctly, while everyone else has it wrong, and then the ego gets off on the feelings of superiority being right engenders. And when the ego is inflated, there is no connection to God. In other words, putting morality first, ahead of a true personal, mystic spirituality, can lead straight to arrogance, not faith.
So, what does all this have to do with politics? All the recent discussion about which candidate has more faith, which one has stronger moral values, and which one lives Christianity more ‘truly’, misses the mark in my view. Constructing a faith-test based on a candidate’s position is just like approaching religion as a set of rules to be followed. It doesn’t really tell you who is able to put their ego aside and ask for higher guidance when needed. And God (by any name) knows, the leader of the free world better be able to put his personal ego aside.
So that is actually one of the things I am looking for when I watch the candidates speak about their faiths – a sincerity and humility when it comes to their relationship to God. It is a tough read, because they are both great actors and projectors at this point. And I am not advocating making a voting decision based solely on this. Both candidates are part of political machines, and will be held to their policy platforms, so of course those platforms matter. But it is one more angle to look at. And with all the ‘moral issues’ discussions that have dominated politics for the last decade, I think it is time to look at religion and morality, in and out of politics, with a fresh eye.
For more info on mysticism, go to the Women Mystics category on this blog.