By Deepak Chopra and Dave Stewart
It's rare enough for an incoming President to inspire such a flood of hope and optimism, or so much relief that our long imprisonment in the political doldrums should be ending. But Barack Obama has done more than that. He has become a symbol of the rise of secular spirituality in this country, a liberated set of values that exists largely outside organized religion. Perhaps he himself is unaware of secular spirituality by that name. In lockstep with all previous presidents, Obama must be seen attending church regularly, and that church must be close to mainstream.
However, if you consider what he stands for, Obama's worldview is more congruent with alternative theology than it is with churchgoers, 70% of whom were supporters of George Bush in his two election victories. Where organized religion has opted to stand by the right wing, millions of Americans who consider themselves spiritual have longed for peace, unity, nonviolence, and freedom that isn't imposed by the force of arms. We think Obama stands for the same values. In that regard, he is taking up the mantle of Martin Luther King, jr., who should be honored as one of Obama's spiritual forebears as much as Lincoln.
Religion was hijacked for political gain by the right wing beginning as far back as the Nixon era, yet there is a much stronger current of secular spirituality running through our history. The Founding Fathers were mostly Deists, rational Christians emerging from the Age of Enlightenment for whom a present-day Southern Baptist would have been totally foreign, if not anathema. They were tolerant believers in a benign God who transcended narrow denominations. They considered the rights of man to be the basis of enlightened belief, and when freedom was labeled an inalienable right, they meant that is was God-given, just as all men being created equal was God-given.
One senses a blessed return to rationality and the end of intolerant dogma as Obama prepares to enter the White House, but secular spirituality has expanded since the days of Jefferson and Adams. It now includes the following principles that we urge the new President to espouse (several of them he already has):
-- A spiritual duty to be benign stewards of the Earth and to preserve the ecology.
-- A responsibility to revere Nature and to be humble before it.
-- A duty to further peace among nations.
-- A pledge of nonviolence that will lead finally to total nuclear disarmament in our lifetime.
-- A refusal to use America's super power for militaristic ends.
-- A sense of compassion for the poor and wretched beset by pandemic disease, lack of political influence, and denial of basic human rights.
If Obama can further any of these values, he will be leaping miles ahead of his predecessor. Nothing about secular spirituality is radical. Most of its principles are articles of belief for millions of average Americans who have largely been shut out of politics for eight years. Our hopes for the new President won't be fulfilled until he adopts all of them. If he truly wants to reform the ways of Washington, he must extend his vision to the Congress, which under Republican domination served basically to block anything good and progressive.
But secular spirituality isn't limited to the left or the progressive movement in general. It is a national phenomenon, one that will swell steadily in the coming years, particularly among the young. Born after the divisive culture wars that gave the right wing its main chance, the younger generations yearn for new values. Obama appeals to that yearning, and we hope he takes full advantage of it. It's not good enough that he becomes the first African-American President, the first green President, or the first digital President. Nothing less than spiritual renewal is needed across the board, and there is no one of equal stature to lead it.
In the spirit of celebration, please watch to the music video created for this occasion by Dave Stewart and Deepak Chopra.