Imagine America

America’s democracy is in extreme danger. Over and over I’ve said to myself “I can’t imagine this (outrage du jour) is happening!”  I also couldn’t imagine the Republican Party would deliberately sabotage democracy to take power away from regular people so their elites could run the country. Solid evidence built up over the past ten years confirm that what I could not imagine has indeed become a reality. I hung onto the idea that leaders of the Democrats would rise to the occasion.  And, that the mainstream media would report honestly on the radicalization of the Republican Party.  And, that Democrats would make gains in the Congress. This did not happen.

I CAN IMAGINE ordinary American citizens mounting a massive grass roots movement to stop right wing extremists from destroying America. The current incredible outpouring of citizen action to affirm that everybody matters, that all people have value, confirms this belief.

I CAN IMAGINE millions of Americans making citizen participation in democracy an integral part of their lives, taking power away from oligarchs and religious extremists. We can make America again be government of the people, by the people and for the people!

One of the major components of a winning strategy is a coherent, consistent narrative about what Democrats stand for and our vision of America.

We the people need to talk about:   How do we know right from wrong?  —   True from false?  —   Smart from stupid?

How do we the people, through our democratically elected government, make the wisest possible decisions for now and future generations?

What kind of country and world do we want to create for our children and grandchildren? We are at a trajectory moment in history – actually, a tipping point in civilization – when we must accept our responsibility as citizens and learn the truth about our history, face today’s reality head on, make choices about the future and take action . Our increasingly fragile democracy — and our world — is at stake.

Conservatives and progressives have very different ideas of right and wrong. These worldviews are drastically at odds and affect every facet of democracy. Much of the time citizens hold different understandings of even the basic facts related to the topics we are debating. Citizens must understand how the political system and parties have changed, learn the critical implications of these culture wars, choose sides and fight for our grand children’s future.

The mission of this website is to help develop a powerful narrative for the progressive movement for long term, systemic change.

With audacious faith, Phyllis Stenerson — editor/curator of ProgressiveValues.org

“We must move forward in the days ahead with audacious faith. The moral arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

(This was the website’s home page from late 2014 until February 26, 2015.)

Imagine America – Moral Politics

“All politics is moral.” George Lakoff

All of the various fields of human inquiry — theology and philosophy and morality and psychology meet rather beautifully in politics. And sometimes I wonder if politics isn’t exactly that, it’s the taking of all the sort of great ineffable and trying to make them have some meaning in the actually historical moment on earth in which we live.” Tony Kushner – writer of “Lincoln” interview with Bill Moyers

We live in an anti-political moment, when many people — young people especially — think politics is a low, nasty, corrupt and usually fruitless business. It’s much nobler to do community service or just avoid all that putrid noise…. you can do more good in politics than in any other sphere…Politics is noble because it involves personal compromise for the public goodpolitics is the best place to develop the highest virtuesWhy We Love Politics By DAVID BROOKS, New York Times, November 22, 2012

The Spiritual Crisis Underlying American Politics By John Amodeo, PsychCentral.com, October 14, 2013

America is NOT a Christian nation

America Is Not a Christian Nation and Never Has Been: Why Is the Right Obsessed With Pushing a Revisionist History?

Conservatives Want America to be a “Christian Nation” –  Here’s What Would That Would Actually Look Like 

Religion wars

Why the Christian Right Believes It Has Once-in-a-Decade Chance to Impose Its Radical Worldview on America

…Wall or no wall, politics and religion have always been inextricably intertwined, and we won’t win until we recognize and deal with that fact…Why Progressives Can’t Ignore Religion By Mike Lux

…The increase in coverage of the religious right’s longterm strategy to transform American culture has led to a number of responses charging “leftists” with fearmongering… Reconstructionists themselves  hold a view of knowledge that says that there are really only two possible worldviews (a biblical one and a humanist one that comes in several varieties) and that both worldview are in a conflict for dominion (so in their view “we” are fighting for it too)…It is not fearmongering, paranoia, or religious bigotry to try to understand their goals and strategies. In fact, it’s irresponsible not to. The Pundits and the Dominionists by Julie Ingersoll

…[Karl] Rove’s real skill lay in finding how to use religion as a political tool…In Head and Heart: A History of Christianity in America By Edd Doerr, UU World, Winter 2008

Why We Must Reclaim The Bible From Fundamentalists

The Spiritual and Political Warfare of the New Religious Right

Right wing religious extremism

…The Republican Party is no longer a political party—it’s a full-fledged religious movement. The political ideology fueling this movement is religious to the core; and while it might be easi­est to label the religious element “Christian,” that designation is too broad and generous for the true complexities at work here…Republicanity is a culture that merges politics and religion…and unashamedly and unreservedly blows apart the longed-for “wall of separation” keeping the two spheres separate. Now more than ever the case can be made that our pol­i­tics are a form of reli­gion and that reli­gion is the new politics. ‘Republicanity’—The GOP Transformation is Nearly Complete By Gary Laderman

… what I’m willing to do, which the mainstream church is not, is to denounce the Christian right as Christian heretics…what they have done is acculturate the worst aspects of American imperialism, capitalism, chauvinism, and violence and bigotry into the Christian religion… I think the great failure of the liberal tradition that I come out of is they were too frightened and too timid to stand up. I don’t know why they spent all the years in seminary if they didn’t realize that when they walked out the door they were going to have to fight for it. And they didn’t fight for it. Chris Hedges on Christian Heretics, Truthdig.com, Nov 2, 2013 -

How the Unholy Alliance Between the Christian Right and Wall Street Is ‘Crucifying America’

American Theocracy — Clear and Present Dangers by Alan Brinkley, March 20, 2006 by the New York Times

Progressive and secular spirituality

… the rise of secular spirituality in this country, a liberated set of values that exists largely outside organized religion… 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.….secular spirituality…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…Nothing less than spiritual renewal is needed across the board… Obama And the Rise of Secular Spirituality by Deepak Chopra and Dave Stewart, Beliefnet.com, January 18, 2009

…Spiritual Left did not, of course, originate with the 60s.…it dates back at least to 1838, when Emerson and other Transcendentalists began their quest for a path “away from the old ‘religions of authority’ into a new ‘religion of the spirit.’”…Rooted deep in the grain of American culture, the Spiritual Left has long acted as the progressive conscience of the nation, championing as it did from its very beginning unpopular causes like abolition and women’s rights…While many in the Spiritual Left are politically active, many others eschew direct participation in the Political Left because it remains locked in a destructive cycle of conflict with the Political Right…Amorphous and anti-authoritarian, the Spiritual Left is perhaps best defined as a borderless association of leaders. Free thinkers and independent seekers of spirituality beyond dogma, its members engage in–and disengage from–political activism as a matter of personal conviction, not ordained groupthink…The Political Left will need to return to the moral high ground of progressive American thought and give voice to the American conscience of compassion if it is to recapture the imagination and heart of its spiritual counterpart. It has to want to change the world for the better, not just get elected… Idealism, Conscience And The Spiritual Left by William Horden, Huffington Post, March 1, 2010

…the history of the progressive movement has shown us, over and over, that there are things that the spiritual community brings to political movements that are essential for success, and can’t easily be replaced with anything else…abandoning the entire landscape of faith to the right wing amounts to political malpractice…To our credit, a lot of our best organizers and activists are starting to realize the magnitude of this mistake. We’re paying a lot more attention these days to learning to clearly articulate progressive values, to express ourselves in explicitly moral language, and to put forward more strongly progressive frames, narratives, and future visions to counter the bankrupt conservative worldview that’s brought us to this sorry place in history… If we’re going to overwrite their [right wing] brutal and anti-democratic story of how the world works, the most important step we can take is to tap into the vast reach and deep moral authority of our remaining progressive faith communities, and amplify their voices every way we can.…there’s very little agreement about the nature of God — but a very strong consensus that the act of radical community-making is the most intensely holy and essential work that they do… Six Reasons We Can’t Change the Future Without Progressive Religion By Sara Robinson, AlterNet | News Analysis, 09 July 2012

Susan Jacoby on Secularism and Free Thinking, Moyers and Company, March 1, 2013

America’s Soul

There is such a thing as a crime against the soul of a nation. A person or a political party can deliberately incite actions that diminish the strength, the integrity, and the over­all well-being of a nation’s inner core. America’s soul is in a fragile state. It has suffered severe violations over the course of this past decade and to lesser degrees, in previous decades…A conscious effort to “dumb down” the education of this nation qualifies as a crime against the soul of America.…I deeply believe the soul of our nation can’t take much more of their strategy of deliberate division against the peo­ple of their own nation. That is a true crime — and perhaps their greatest crime — against the soul of this great nation. Crimes Against the Soul of Amer­ica by Caroline Myss 

...The biblical purpose of government is to protect from evil and to promote the good…That vision of “common good” is what we have lost, and there is nothing more important in our public life than to find it again…To be opposed to government per se, especially when that opposition serves the ultimate power of other wealthy and powerful interests, is simply not a biblical position. Transparency, accountability, and service are the ethics of good government. “Of the people, by the people, and for the people” is still a good measure and goal of civil authority… Why the Government Shutdown Is Unbiblical by Jim Wallis, Sojourners, posted on Huffingtonpost.com, Oct 3, 2013

the moral responsibilities of citizens and politicians in a democratic society… politics should be a high moral calling… A moral and intellectual state cannot be established through a constitution, or through law, or through directives, but only through complex, long-term, and never-ending work involving education and self-educationit might be called spirit. Or feeling. Or conscience… politicians have a moral obligation to call their followers to be true to their best selves rather than pander to or inflame their followers’ worst instincts… Building an intellectual and spiritual state — a state based on ideas — does not mean building an ideological state. Indeed, an ideological state cannot be intellectual or spiritual. A state based on ideas is precisely the opposite: it is meant to extricate human beings from the straitjacket of ideological interpretations, and to rehabilitate them as subjects of individual conscience, of individual thinking backed up by experience, of individual responsibility, and with a love for their neighbors that is anything but abstract… Václav Havel: Democracy as Spiritual Discipline by Peter Montgomery, Religion Dispatches, December 18, 2011

Universal values

…In the United States, where it is almost impossible to get elected unless you profess a strong religious faith… Not one of the hundred US senators ticks the “No Religion/Atheist/Agnostic” box, for example, although 16 percent of the American population do…This is a common belief among those who rule, because they confuse morality with religion…politicians, religious leaders and generals in every country, are effectively saying that my children, and those of all the other millions who have no religion, are morally inferior to those who do. It is insulting and untrue. The False Equation: Religion Equals Morality by Gwynne Dyer, CommonDreams.org, December 19, 2011

It is no longer necessary to invoke the name of God to explain or promote compassionate action. Today we understand we have evolved that capacity… the capacity for empathy, fairness, and altruism is wired into human beingsSimilarly, the laws of civility from the Eightfold Way and the Ten Commandments to the Magna Carta, the Geneva Convention, and the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights — are the culturally transmitted legacy of thousands of years of human social evolution overlaid upon older, natural reproductive-selective processes. Whereas laws of civility may once have needed the rhetorical force of God-talk to establish themselves, today they can be embraced rationally in the service of peace and prosperity. Another Word on “God and the Twenty-First Century” by Michael Benedikt

A Values and vision based political dream

Imagine America – an overview of culture/religion/class wars of 2014

Imagine America — crises/opportunities, the world and our human family

Imagine America — culture, economic justice, education, communications, history

Imagine America — democracy, citizen participation, government, politics

Imagine America — worldview: faith and/or reason

Imagine America — moral politics

Imagine America — America’s story, progressive movement, transformation

Big Ideas

“What is miss­ing I think from the equa­tion in our strug­gle today is that we must unleash rad­i­cal thought. … Amer­ica has never been moved to per­fect our desire for greater democ­racy with­out rad­i­cal think­ing and rad­i­cal voices being at the helm of any such a quest.” We Must Unleash Radical Thought, Harry Belafonte,  February 2013  - 

 “Millions of people around the world find themselves searching for a more meaningful, relevant, and profound way to engage with life. Not only do they want to become more conscious as individuals, they want to personally participate in the creation of a better world…The fourteen-billion-year project that is our evolving universe has reached a critical juncture where it needs conscious, creative human beings to help build the next step, together.” Andrew Cohen, Conscious evolution for thinking people, EnlightenNext magazine

The big picture

The Big The­o­ries Under­writ­ing Soci­ety Are Crash­ing All Around Us — Are You Ready for a New World? by Ter­rence McNally, Alter­Net, Jan­u­ary 27, 2010…Many of the ideas and insti­tu­tions that define our cul­ture are break­ing down — and that’s a good thing…today’s crises are part of a nat­ural process — clear­ing out what no longer serves us to make room for a new way of being…We can no longer afford to indulge out­dated world­views. In order to deal with the crises we now face, we’ve got to act on the new real­i­ties and under­stand­ings revealed by science…Rather than focus­ing on what’s com­ing apart, we want peo­ple to under­stand that this cri­sis makes it pos­si­ble to move to a much higher level of evolution.…Every cell counts. Every human counts.

Human nature

Scientists find visions of a benevolent future society motivate reform By Eric W. Dolan, Wash­ing­ton Post, March 21, 2013 — Activists, take note: Peo­ple sup­port reform if they believe the changes will enhance the future char­ac­ter of society…people sup­port a future soci­ety that fos­ters the devel­op­ment of warm and moral individuals… If you can com­mu­ni­cate how a pol­icy will serve its pri­mary func­tion and help community-building, our research sug­gests you will gain broader pub­lic support.

Multiple crises

The Fate of Humanity Is at Stake Noam Chom­sky, Alter­Net, Octo­ber 5, 2012…There are two issues of over­whelm­ing sig­nif­i­cance, because the fate of the species is at stake: envi­ron­men­tal dis­as­ter, and nuclear war…gov­ern­ments have not responded to the change with any…urgency…This reac­tion demon­strates an extra­or­di­nary will­ing­ness to sac­ri­fice the lives of our chil­dren and grand­chil­dren for short-term gain. Or, per­haps, an equally remark­able will­ing­ness to shut our eyes so as not to see the impend­ing peril… Pas­siv­ity may be the easy course, but it is hardly the hon­or­able one.

Civilization

What is civilization by Will Durant — Civ­i­liza­tion is social order pro­mot­ing cul­tural cre­ationIt begins where chaos and inse­cu­rity end.Man dif­fers from the beast only by edu­ca­tion, which may be defined as the tech­nique of trans­mit­ting civilization…

Values

The Values Question by David Brooks,New York Times, November 24, 2009 — …all great public issues…[are] a debate about what kind of country we want America to be. During the first many decades of this nation’s existence, the United States was a wide-open, dynamic country with a rapidly expanding economy. It was also a country that tolerated a large amount of cruelty and pain — poor people living in misery, workers suffering from exploitation. Over the years, Americans decided they wanted a little more safety and security. This is what happens as nations grow wealthier; they use money to buy civilization…

Global values

Global economic crisis also values crisis - Davos poll — by Tom Henegan, Religion Editor, New Frontiers, Reuters, January 27, 2010 – Two-thirds of people around the world think the global economic crisis is also a crisis of ethical values that calls for more honesty, transparency and respect for others, according to a World Economic Forum poll. Almost as many name business as the sector that should stress values more to foster a better world, said the poll for the Forum’s annual Davos summit that opened on Wednesday

Compassion and empathy

The Empathic Civilization by Jeremy Rifkin, Interview by Amanda Gefter, New Scientist.com, February 17, 2010 …before we can save ourselves from climate change we have to break a vicious circle and embrace a new model of society based on scientists’ new understanding of human nature…We have to think deeper, to think as a human family… Empathy is the invisible social glue that allows a complex individuated society to remain integrated…

Wisdom

Wisdom: The Forgotten Dimension?  by Mary Jaksch,  January 12, 2013…Wisdom means having the moral will to do right by other people, and to have the moral skill to figure out what doing right means. This is not a new idea; it is something that Aristotle taught that in ancient Greece.…A wise person takes the overviewCompassionate action – the outflow of wisdom – happens when we stop being the center of our concern . Then we can open up to a wider view of reality that includes the suffering of others, as well as our own – and  respond with compassion.

Critical thinking

Dark Ages Redux: American Politics and the End of the Enlightenment by John Atcheson, Common Dreams, June 18, 2012 — We are witnessing an epochal shift in our socio-political world… Much of what has made the modern world in general, and the United States in particular, a free and prosperous society comes directly from insights that arose during the Enlightenment. Too bad we’re chucking it all out and returning to the Dark Ages…Now, we seek to operate by revealed truths, not reality.  Decrees from on high – often issued by an unholy alliance of religious fundamentalists, self-interested corporations, and greedy fat catsare offered up as reality by rightwing politicians…Second, the Enlightenment laid the groundwork for our form of government. The Social Contract is the intellectual basis of all modern democratic republics, including ours.  John Locke and others argued that governments derived their authority from the governed, not from divine right.  Governments could be legitimate, then, only with the consent of the governed. Jefferson acknowledged Locke’s influence on the Declaration of Independence and his ideas are evident in the Constitution. Here again, our founders used reason, empiricism and academic scholarship to cobble together one of the most enduring and influential documents in human history.  For all its flaws, it has steered us steadily toward a more perfect union. Until recently… We are, indeed, at an epochal threshold.  We can continue to discard the Enlightenment values which enabled both an untold increase in material wealth and a system of government which turned serfs into citizens.  A system which – for all its flaws – often managed to protect the rights of the many, against the predatory power of the few. Or we can continue our abject surrender to myths, magical thinking, and self-delusion and the Medieval nation-state those forces are resurrecting. Republicans and Tea Partiers may be leading this retreat from reason, but they are unopposed by Democrats or the Press. And in the end, there is a special place in Hell for those who allow evil to prosper by doing nothing. 

Climate change and overcoming denial

The Earth Is Full by Thomas L. Fried­man, New York Times, June 7, 2011 — You really do have to won­der whether a few years from now we’ll look back at the first decade of the 21st century…and ask our­selves: What were we think­ing? How did we not panic when the evi­dence was so obvi­ous that we’d crossed some growth/climate/natural resource/population red­lines all at once? “The only answer can be denial,” argues Paul Gild­ing… “When you are sur­rounded by some­thing so big that requires you to change every­thing about the way you think and see the world, then denial is the nat­ural response. But the longer we wait, the big­ger the response required.”…we are cur­rently grow­ing at a rate that is using up the Earth’s resources far faster than they can be sus­tain­ably replen­ished, so we are eat­ing into the future. Right now, global growth is using about 1.5 Earths.…That is what hap­pens when one gen­er­a­tion in one coun­try lives at 150 per­cent of sus­tain­able capac­ity….…We will real­ize, he pre­dicts, that the consumer-driven growth model is bro­ken and we have to move to a more happiness-driven growth model, based on peo­ple work­ing less and own­ing less. “We are head­ing for a crisis-driven choice,” he says. “We either allow col­lapse to over­take us or develop a new sus­tain­able eco­nomic model. We will choose the lat­ter. We may be slow, but we’re not stupid.” 

Common good

How the Com­mon Good Is Trans­form­ing Our World by Dou­glas LaBier, HuffingtonPost.com, Octo­ber 17, 2010  … a steadily grow­ing con­scious­ness and behav­ior that refo­cuses per­sonal lives and pub­lic poli­cies towards pro­mot­ing the com­mon good. By the “com­mon good” I’m refer­ring to a broad evo­lu­tion beyond val­ues and actions that serve nar­row self-interest, and towards those guided by inclu­sive­ness — sup­port­ing well-being, eco­nomic suc­cess, secu­rity, human rights and stew­ard­ship of resources for the ben­e­fit of all, rather than just for some….It’s an aware­ness of inter­con­nec­tion of all lives on this planet, and a pull towards act­ing upon that real­ity in a range of ways. They include rethink­ing per­sonal rela­tion­ships, the respon­si­bil­ity of busi­ness to soci­ety, and the role of gov­ern­ment in an inter­de­pen­dent world.

Politics and power

America’s War for Reality by Robert Parry,  Jan­u­ary 15, 2013 by Con­sor­tium News — The real strug­gle con­fronting the United States… is test­ing whether fact-based peo­ple have the same deter­mi­na­tion to fight for their real-world view as those who oper­ate in a fact-free space do in defend­ing their illu­sions.….Sim­ply put, the Right fights harder for its fan­ta­sy­land than the rest of Amer­ica does for the real world. The Amer­i­can Right’s col­lec­tive depar­ture from real­ity can be traced back decades, but clearly accel­er­ated with the emer­gence of for­mer actor Ronald Rea­gan on the national stage…Facts didn’t mat­ter; results did… this strat­egy wouldn’t have worked if not for gullible rank-and-file right-wingers who were manip­u­lated by an end­less series of false nar­ra­tives. The Repub­li­can polit­i­cal pros manip­u­lated the racial resent­ments of neo-Confederates, the reli­gious zeal of fun­da­men­tal­ist Chris­tians, and the free-market hero wor­ship of Ayn Rand acolytes…That these tech­niques suc­ceeded in a polit­i­cal sys­tem that guar­an­teed free­dom of speech and the press was not only a tes­ta­ment to the skills of Repub­li­can oper­a­tives like Lee Atwa­ter and Karl Rove. It was an indict­ment of America’s timid Cen­ter and the nation’s inef­fec­tual Left. Sim­ply put, the Right fought harder for its fan­ta­sy­land than the rest of Amer­ica did for the real world…This post-modern United States may have reached its nadir with George W. Bush’s pres­i­dency. In 2002-03, patently false claims were made about Iraq’s WMD and vir­tu­ally no one in a posi­tion of power had the courage to chal­lenge the lies… the nation lurched off into an aggres­sive war of choicethe United States con­tin­ues to see the con­se­quences of three decades of right-wing delusions…The coun­try is going to need its con­scious inhab­i­tants of the real world to stand up with at least the same deter­mi­na­tion as the deluded denizens of the made-up world. Of course, this fight will be nasty and unpleas­ant. It will require resources, patience and tough­ness. But there is no other answer. Real­ity must be recov­ered and pro­tected – if the planet and the chil­dren are to be saved. 

It’s Time to Fight the Status Quo by Bill McKibben,  Solutions Time For Outrage On Behalf of the Planet, June 7, 2012…slogans and proposals and will mean nothing without the requisite power standing behind themAll along, two things have been clear. One, the scientists who warned us about climate change were absolutely correct…Two, we have much of the technological know-how we need to make the leap past fossil fuel…We need politicians more afraid of voter outrage than they are of corporate retribution…So, if we have an emergency, and we have the tools to fight it, the only question is why we’re not doing so. And the answer, I think, is clear…They go against the power of the status quo, and hence they will be enacted only if we build movements strong enough to force them…We’ll never get the solutions we need—the solutions everyone has known about for two decades—unless we build the movement first.

Culture wars

We the People, and the New American Civil War by Robert Reich, Com­mon Dreams, Novem­ber 6, 2012 .…I think the degree of venom we’re expe­ri­enc­ing has deeper roots.…In other words, white working-class men have been on the los­ing end of a huge demo­graphic and eco­nomic shift. That’s made them a tinder-box of frus­tra­tion and anger – eagerly ignited by Fox News, Rush Lim­baugh, and other peddlers of petu­lance, includ­ing an increas­ing num­ber of Repub­li­cans who have gained polit­i­cal power by fan­ning the flames. That hate-mongering and atten­dant scape­goat­ing – of immi­grants, blacks, gays, women this degree of divi­sive­ness would have taken root had Amer­ica pre­served the social sol­i­dar­ity we had two gen­er­a­tions ago. The Great Depres­sion and World War II reminded us we were all in it together. We had to depend on each other in order to sur­vive. That sense of mutual depen­dence tran­scended our disagreements…The chal­lenge – not only for our pres­i­dent and rep­re­sen­ta­tives in Wash­ing­ton but for all of us – is to redis­cover the public good.

America’s story

The Con­sti­tu­tion is inher­ently pro­gres­sive by John Podesta and John Halpin, Politico.com, Octo­ber 10, 2011 - Pro­gres­sives dis­agree strongly with tea party views on gov­ern­ment, tax­a­tion, pub­lic spend­ing, reg­u­la­tions and social wel­fare poli­cies……As pro­gres­sives, we believe in using the inge­nu­ity of the pri­vate sec­tor and the pos­i­tive power of gov­ern­ment to advance com­mon pur­poses and increase free­dom and oppor­tu­nity…Cou­pled with basic beliefs in fair play, open­ness, coop­er­a­tion and human dig­nity, it is this pro­gres­sive vision that in the past cen­tury helped build the strongest econ­omy in his­tory and allowed mil­lions to move out of poverty and into the mid­dle class. It is the basis for Amer­i­can peace and pros­per­ity as well as greater global coop­er­a­tion in the post­war era…the story of Amer­ica has also been the story of a good nation, con­ceived in lib­erty and equal­ity, even­tu­ally wel­com­ing every Amer­i­can into the arms of democ­racy, pro­tect­ing their free­doms and expand­ing their eco­nomic opportunities…

Democracy of the people, by the people and for the people – the only countervailing force sufficient to stand up to the power of money

Democracy Should Be a Brake on Unbridled Greed and Power - Bill Moyers…Interview with Amy Goodman, Democracy Now — The greatest change in politics in my time has been the transformation of democracy, America, from a citizens’ society, the moral agency…to a consumer society, where most of us are caught up on that treadmill, trying to get more…I think this country is in a very precarious state at the moment….the escalating, accumulating power of organized wealth is snuffing out everything public… I think we’re at a very critical moment in the equilibrium. No society, no human being, can survive without balance, without equilibrium…We don’t have equilibrium now. The power of money trumps the power of democracy today…democracy should be a break on unbridled greed and power, because capitalism…can turn from a servant, a good servant, into an evil master. And democracy is the brake on my passions and my appetites and your greed and your wealth. And we have to get that equilibrium back… you have to exercise your will optimistically, believing that each of us singly, and all of us collectively, can be an agent of change. And I have to get up every morning and imagine a more confident future, and then try to do something that day to help bring it about.

Threats to democracy

Democracy in America Is a Series of Narrow Escapes, and We May Be Running Out of Luck by Bill Moyers, May 17, 2008 , CommonDreams.orgThe reigning presumption about the American experience…is grounded in the idea of progress, the conviction that the present is “better” than the past and the future will bring even more improvement. For all of its shortcomings, we keep telling ourselves, “The system works.” Now all bets are off. We have fallen under the spell of money, faction, and fear, and the great American experience in creating a different future together has been subjugated to individual cunning in the pursuit of wealth and power …there is a class war and ordinary people are losing it.extremes of wealth and poverty cannot be reconciled with a genuinely democratic politics. When the state becomes the guardian of power and privilege to the neglect of justice for the people as a whole, it mocks the very concept of government as proclaimed in the preamble to our Constitution…Our democracy has prospered most when it was firmly anchored in the idea that “We the People” — not just a favored few — would identify and remedy common distempers and dilemmas and win the gamble our forebears undertook when they espoused the radical idea that people could govern themselves wisely.

Republican extremism

Let’s just say it: The Repub­li­cans are the prob­lem By Thomas E. Mann and Nor­man J. Orn­stein, Wash­ing­ton Post, April 27, 2012
….We have been study­ing Wash­ing­ton pol­i­tics and Con­gress for more than 40 years, and never have we seen them this dys­func­tional. In our past writ­ings, we have crit­i­cized both par­ties when we believed it was war­ranted. Today, how­ever, we have no choice but to acknowl­edge that the core of the prob­lem lies with the Repub­li­can Party….The GOP has become an insur­gent out­lier in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics. It is ide­o­log­i­cally extreme; scorn­ful of com­pro­mise; unmoved by con­ven­tional under­stand­ing of facts, evi­dence and sci­ence; and dis­mis­sive of the legit­i­macy of its polit­i­cal oppo­si­tion.
When one party moves this far from the main­stream, it makes it nearly impos­si­ble for the polit­i­cal sys­tem to deal con­struc­tively with the country’s challenges.

Citizen education and participation

We have an open­ing in this cri­sis for a deep trans­for­ma­tion in Amer­i­can politics…But it requires peo­ple — this is the hard part — to get out of their sort of pas­sive resignation…and engage among them­selves in a much more seri­ous role as citizens…to force the chang­ing val­ues of the sys­tem. William Grieder being inter­viewed by Bill Moy­ers, July 24, 2008 

Education

“The new edu­ca­tion must be less con­cerned with sophis­ti­ca­tion than com­pas­sion…The old empha­sis upon super­fi­cial dif­fer­ences that sep­a­rate peo­ples must give way to edu­ca­tion for cit­i­zen­ship in the human com­mu­nity…Human des­tiny is the issue. Peo­ple will respond.”  Nor­man Cousins

Economic justice

Trickle-Down Cruelty and the Politics of Austerity by Henry A. Giroux, Truthout | Op-Ed , July 11, 2011 …Any society that allows the market to constitute the axis and framing mechanisms for all social interactions has not just lost its sense of morality and responsibility; it is given up its claim on any vestige of a democratic future. Market fundamentalism along with its structure of extreme inequality and machinery of cruelty has proven to be a death sentence on democracy. The time has come…to rethink what a real democracy might look like and to consider what it will take to actually organize collectively to make it happen.

Imagining a new economics

Reclaiming Our Imaginations from ‘There Is No Alternative’ by Andrea Brower, Fri­day, Jan­u­ary 25, 2013 by Com­mon Dreams — We live in a time of heavy fog. A time when, though many of us dis­sent and resist, human­ity seems com­mit­ted to a course of col­lec­tive sui­cide in the name of pre­serv­ing an eco­nomic sys­tem that gen­er­ates scarcity no mat­ter how much is actu­ally pro­duced. To demand that all have enough to eat on a planet that grows enough food, that absurd num­bers of peo­ple do not die from pre­ventable dis­ease, that utter human depri­va­tion amongst plenty is not tol­er­ated, or that we put the nat­ural laws of the bios­phere above socially con­structed eco­nomic “laws” — is pre­sented as unre­al­is­tic, as the fan­tasy of ide­al­ists or those who are naive to the “com­plex­ity” of the world’s prob­lems. If we cre­ate and recre­ate the world every ­day, then how has it become so sup­pos­edly absurd to believe we might actu­ally cre­ate a world that is hon­estly mak­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ties of egal­i­tar­i­an­ism, jus­tice and democracy? Cap­i­tal­ism — the logic of sub­or­di­nat­ing every aspect of life to the accu­mu­la­tion of profit (i.e. the “rules of the mar­ket”) — has become today’s “com­mon sense.” It has become almost unthink­able to imag­ine coher­ent alter­na­tives to this logic, even when con­sid­er­ing the most basic of human needs — food, water, health­care, edu­ca­tion. Though many have an under­stand­ing of capitalism’s fail­ings, there is a res­ig­na­tion towards its inevitability…What sus­tains the tragic myth that There Is No Alter­na­tive? Those com­mit­ted to build­ing a more just future must begin re-thinking and reveal­ing the taken-for-granted assump­tions that make cap­i­tal­ism “com­mon sense,” and bring these into the realm of main­stream pub­lic debate in order to widen hori­zons of possibility…

Failure of the main stream media

How the Mainstream Press Bungled the Single Biggest Story of the 2012 Campaign by Dan Froomkin, Huff­in­g­ton Post, 12/07/2012 — Con­tribut­ing edi­tor, Nie­man Reports … cov­er­age in 2012 was a par­tic­u­larly calami­tous fail­ure, almost entirely miss­ing the sin­gle biggest story of the race: Namely, the rad­i­cal right-wing, off-the-rails lurch of the Repub­li­can Party, both in terms of its agenda and its rela­tion­ship to the truth… Democ­rats were hardly inno­cent but…the Repub­li­can cam­paign was just far more over the top.”…[Mann and Orn­stein] dra­mat­i­cally rejected the stric­tures of false equiv­a­lency that bind so much of the capital’s media…The 2012 cam­paign …exposed how fab­u­lists and liars can exploit the elite media’s fear of being seen as tak­ing sides… if the story that you’re telling repeat­edly is that they’re all…equally to blame — then you’re really doing a dis­ser­vice to vot­ers, and not doing what jour­nal­ism is supposed to do…

America’s Soul

Crimes Against the Soul of America by Caroline Myss, Huffington Post, September 5, 2009  There is such a thing as a crime against the soul of a nation. A person or a political party can deliberately incite actions that diminish the strength, the integrity, and the overall well-being of a nation’s inner core. America’s soul is in a fragile state. It has suffered severe violations over the course of this past decade and to lesser degrees, in previous decades…of all the crimes covertly and overtly committed by the Bush administration against the soul of America, none is as vile as the deliberate efforts they poured into turning American against American. We see that in the near hatred between the Republicans and Democrats, between liberals and conservatives, between free-thinkers and evangelicals that continues to fester. This crime was a strategic one, a well thought out plan to fragment the people of this nation in a type of contemporary replay of the Civil War. And sadly, the Republicans succeeded. Thank you, Karl Rove. The result is that the soul of America is exhausted, wounded, mistrusting, suspicious, fearful — and compromised. This is not a soul that can rebuild a country, not if you know anything about the laws of nature and the fundamentals of healing…A conscious effort to “dumb down” the education of this nation qualifies as a crime against the soul of America.…I deeply believe the soul of our nation can’t take much more of their strategy of deliberate division against the people of their own nation. That is a true crime — and perhaps their greatest crime — against the soul of this great nation.

Moral politics

A Values– and Vision-Based Political Dream by Benjamin Mordecai Ben-Baruch, Tikkun, Winter 2011, We need leaders and organizers to inspire people and communities to act on their values and hopes. We need help articulating our values and vision of the ideal future. Right-wing successes have been achieved by appealing to peoples’ fears, hatreds and prejudices. But the politics of hope is stronger than politics of fear. Imagining our future based on our highest ideals can mobilize us to overcome the paralysis of fear and hatred. The politics of hope is not issue oriented, and people who share the same values and vision often disagree on the issues…We need to go beyond issue-oriented politics and the politics of fear to a public discourse focused on articulating our vision for the ideal future and what that future would look like. We need a vision of a society without the injustices of poverty and social inequality. We need a dream..

Spiritual progressives

Idealism, Conscience And The Spiritual Left by William Horden, Huffington Post, March 1, 2010  …Spiritual Left did not, of course, originate with the 60s.…it dates back at least to 1838, when Emerson and other Transcendentalists began their quest for a path “away from the old ‘religions of authority’ into a new ‘religion of the spirit.’”…sought a first-hand experience of the divine grounded in nature and community rather than institutionalized dogma. Rooted deep in the grain of American culture, the Spiritual Left has long acted as the progressive conscience of the nation, championing as it did from its very beginning unpopular causes like abolition and women’s rights… Amorphous and anti-authoritarian, the Spiritual Left is perhaps best defined as a borderless association of leaders. Free thinkers and independent seekers of spirituality beyond dogma, its members engage in–and disengage from–political activism as a matter of personal conviction, not ordained groupthink…The Political Left will need to return to the moral high ground of progressive American thought and give voice to the American conscience of compassion if it is to recapture the imagination and heart of its spiritual counterpart. It has to want to change the world for the better, not just get elected…

Imagination

A Time for ‘Sublime Madness’ by Chris Hedges, Jan­u­ary 21, 2013 by TruthDig.com - The planet we have assaulted will convulse with fury. The senseless greed of limitless capitalist expansion will implode the global economy. The decimation of civil liberties, carried out in the name of fighting terror, will shackle us to an interconnected security and surveillance state that stretches from Moscow to Istanbul to New York. To endure what lies ahead we will have to harness the human imagination…It is the imagination that makes possible transcendence…“Ultimately, the artist and the revolutionary function as they function, and pay whatever dues they must pay behind it because they are both possessed by a vision, and they do not so much follow this vision as find themselves driven by it,” wrote James Baldwin. “Otherwise, they could never endure, much less embrace, the lives they are compelled to lead.”

Global Convergence

A Global Convergence of Social Movements?  By Joe Brewer, Chaotic Ripple, Cognitive Policy Works In Collaboration, Economic Patterns, Social Change on May 24, 2011 — What will the world look like in 2050? 2070? 2100?…Imagine if the major social movements of the world — sustainability, global justice, world federalism, corporation reform, open collaboration, and social finance – were to congeal into a new way of being.  There are trends that suggest this is already happening.  We can help amplify this convergence.  Or we can suppress it…

Global Consciousness

We May Be Wit­ness­ing the First Large Global Con­flict Where Peo­ple Are Aligned by Con­scious­ness and Not Nation State or Reli­gion By Naomi Wolf, Al Jazeera Eng­lish, Posted on AlterNet.org, Novem­ber 1, 2011  …Sud­denly, the United States looks like the rest of the furi­ous, protest­ing, not-completely-free world. Indeed, most com­men­ta­tors have not fully grasped that a world war is occur­ring. But it is unlike any pre­vi­ous war in human his­tory: for the first time, peo­ple around the world are not iden­ti­fy­ing and organ­is­ing them­selves along national or reli­gious lines, but rather in terms of a global con­scious­ness and demands for a peace­ful life, a sus­tain­able future, eco­nomic jus­tice and basic democ­racy. Their enemy is a global “cor­po­ra­toc­racy” that has pur­chased gov­ern­ments and leg­is­la­tures, cre­ated its own armed enforcers, engaged in sys­temic eco­nomic fraud, and plun­dered trea­suries and ecosystems…

Transformation

The Great Turn­ing: The End of Empire and the Rise of Earth Com­mu­nity by David Kor­ten, Jan­u­ary 27, 2008 …find­ing a path­way to a viable human future is the Great Work of our time…Our envi­ron­men­tal, social, and eco­nomic sys­tems are col­laps­ing around us….This is a defin­ing moment for the human species. We have a brief win­dow of oppor­tu­nity to nav­i­gate the pas­sage from a self-destructive Era of Empire, char­ac­ter­ized by 5,000 years of vio­lent dom­i­na­tion, to an Era of Earth Com­mu­nity char­ac­ter­ized by peace­ful partnership.…This is arguably the most excit­ing time to be alive in the whole of the human expe­ri­ence. Cre­ation is call­ing us to rein­vent our cul­tures, our insti­tu­tions and our­selves. It is in our hands. We have the power. We are the one’s we’ve been waiting for.

Peace and prosperity for all

5 Ways to Achieve World Peace and Prosperity — 2048: Humanity’s Agreement to Live Together  …One of the most pernicious myths is that peace and prosperity are hopelessly complicated and unattainable…This is untrue. Peace and prosperity can be attained through the realization of five basic fundamental freedoms, for all people, everywhere in the world. They are: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want, freedom for the environment, and freedom from fear…The problem is those who are presently profiting…have an interest in maintaining the status quo. It is time for the human rights community to have the strength and daring to band together so that we have the clout to stand up to this narrow-minded view…Awareness can be created with … only 1% of humanity to share the news…This 1% of humanity already exists…now the Internet and 2048 are bringing all these communities together…


Why is the Charter for Compassion so Important?

by Karen Armstrong, Huffington Post.com, November 18, 2008

Excerpt

… at the core of every single one of the world religions is the virtue of compassion…Each one of the world religions has developed its own version of the Golden Rule — Do not treat others as you would not like to be treated yourself — and maintained that this is the prime religious duty… wherever I go — east or west — I find that people are longing for a more compassionate world. The aim of the Charter for Compassion is to change the conversation, make it cool to be compassionate, and bring the Golden Rule back to the center of religious life…

We need to implement the Golden Rule globally, so that we only treat other nations as we would wish to be treated ourselves. We need a global democracy, where everybody’s voice is heard with sympathy and absolute respect. Any ideology — religious or secular — that breeds hatred or contempt is failing the test of our time, because if we do not build a more compassionate global community it is unlikely that we will have a viable world to hand on to the next generation.

Full text

It is bitterly ironic that our world is so dangerously polarized at a time when we are linked together — electronically, financially and politically — closely than ever before. The powerful nations can no longer ignore trouble spots in other parts of the world; what happens in Iraq, Gaza or Afghanistan is likely to have repercussions tomorrow in London or New York. But the atrocities of September 11, 2001 and its tragic aftermath split the world into rival camps that are growing daily more estranged.

The religions that should help to heal these divisions have themselves been gravely implicated in the terrorism and violence of our time. Actually, the chief cause of our present troubles is political but in regions of the world where warfare has become chronic — the Middle East, Afghanistan, Kashmir, Chechnya — religion has been sucked into the vicious cycle of aggression, strike and counter-strike.

Yet at the core of every single one of the world religions is the virtue of compassion, which does not mean “pity”; its Latin root means to feel with the other. Each one of the world religions has developed its own version of the Golden Rule — Do not treat others as you would not like to be treated yourself — and maintained that this is the prime religious duty. Everything else in the Torah is “only commentary,” said Rabbi Hillel; you can have faith that moves mountains, said St Paul, but without charity it is worthless. The Prophet Muhammad said that a person who did not fulfill the Golden Rule could not be called a believer. And each of the faiths also insists that you cannot confine your compassion to your own group. You must have “concern for everybody,” love your enemies, and honour the stranger.

Yet — some magnificent exceptions — rarely hear our religious leaders speaking of compassion. All too often the message is strident, intolerant or else overly concerned with dogmatic belief or a particular sexual ethic. But wherever I go — east or west — I find that people are longing for a more compassionate world. The aim of the Charter is to change the conversation, make it cool to be compassionate, and bring the Golden Rule back to the centre of religious life.

So please contribute to the Charter on line. We need everybody’s insights — atheists, Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, Jews, Muslims — everybody! We need to implement the Golden Rule globally, so that we only treat other nations as we would wish to be treated ourselves. We need a global democracy, where everybody’s voice is heard with sympathy and absolute respect. Any ideology — religious or secular — that breeds hatred or contempt is failing the test of our time, because if we do not build a more compassionate global community it is unlikely that we will have a viable world to hand on to the next generation.

 

 

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/karen-armstrong/why-is-the-charter-for-co_b_144666.html

 

 

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/karen-armstrong/why-is-the-charter-for-co_b_144666.html

 

Dif­fer­ent world­views – Dif­fer­ent futures

Imag­ine Amer­ica in 30 years when today’s chil­dren are rais­ing chil­dren. What kind of coun­try will Amer­ica be? What we believe, how we think and what we do now will make a dif­fer­ence. Imag­ine if we make these choices:

We’re one human fam­ily liv­ing together on planet earth instead of Social Dar­win­ism
World cit­i­zen instead of Amer­i­can excep­tion­al­ism
Diplo­macy instead of mil­i­tary inter­ven­tion
Sus­tain­abil­ity instead of envi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion
Com­pas­sion and empa­thy instead of  fear and hate
Tol­er­ance and uni­versal human val­ues instead of reli­gious fun­da­men­tal­ism
Power by edu­cated, involved cit­i­zens instead of big money
Cre­ative, crit­i­cal, sys­tems think­ing instead of ide­ol­ogy, myth and toxic cer­ti­tude
Qual­ity pub­lic edu­ca­tion for all instead of pri­va­tized edu­ca­tion for elite
Pol­i­tics of pur­pose and mean­ing instead of pur­suit of money and power
Democ­racy with oppor­tu­nity for all instead of plu­toc­racy or theoc­racy
Strong mid­dle class instead of obscene inequality

2012 © Phyllis Stenerson, Paideia LLC, updated 1/28/13

The Progressive Conscience in Action by Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite

Center for American Progress, April 6, 2009

A progressive moral vision is deeply connected to the exercise of conscience…For progressives, a crucial guiding principle in regard to public policy is to secure the common good while protecting individual liberty to the fullest extent possible. The progressive understanding of the “common good” is based on the conviction that not only is each individual endowed with human dignity, purpose, and worth, but also that human society as a whole should reflect these characteristics. Therefore, human beings together should strive to realize social relations based on these universal values…  many religions emphasize its centrality to human goodness and dignity and have done so from ancient times. Increasingly, nonbelievers have also asserted the right of conscience as a central part of their value formation as well—a perspective that has prevailed in the courts…Among both religious and secular traditions, conscience is often depicted as residing in the heart…Another approach to integrating personal conscience into the larger social agenda has involved the cultivation of the faith community—essentially a faith-bound network of diverse human hearts... The simultaneously individual and social natures of conscience—and the recognition that it is necessary to accommodate these equally important demands of conscience—are fundamental aspects of conscience for progressives. This balanced perspective on conscience is especially crucial in relationship to democratic policymaking, which by definition requires individuals at times to sacrifice their self-interests to the interests of others or for the larger good…it would be a useful start to agree that even the most deeply felt conclusions of conscience can still benefit from honest discussion and from a periodic review of the fundamental goals that we, as a deeply faith-enriched but ultimately secular society, hope to achieve togetherConscience is at the heart of progressivism because conscience is not just a feeling but a palpable urge toward improvement—a call to action or engagement. Conscience is the way our moral sense and our moral formation come together to inform our actions in the world…the progressive perspective asks more than that. It also asks, “What do we believe is right?” and “What should we do about it?” That’s because in the progressive view, conscience is not only inward and individual but is also directed toward creating a more just and equitable society…one of the central differences between progressive views of conscience and other views is the willingness to change those views with time based on new information and the social needs of the day. By contrast, conservative religious or social traditions tend to focus on divine proclamation or fixed political views and teachings, irrespective of emerging crises of social justice or changing sensibilities about the nature of the common good…In the progressive view, diverse voices of conscience come together through the democratic process and the engagement of individual and institutional values in policy debates... A progressive approach to conscience in public policy must constantly hold freedom and accountability in tension…

 

Excerpt

A progressive moral vision is deeply connected to the exercise of conscience…For progressives, a crucial guiding principle in regard to public policy is to secure the common good while protecting individual liberty to the fullest extent possible. The progressive understanding of the “common good” is based on the conviction that not only is each individual endowed with human dignity, purpose, and worth, but also that human society as a whole should reflect these characteristics. Therefore, human beings together should strive to realize social relations based on these universal values…  many religions emphasize its centrality to human goodness and dignity and have done so from ancient times. Increasingly, nonbelievers have also asserted the right of conscience as a central part of their value formation as well—a perspective that has prevailed in the courts…Among both religious and secular traditions, conscience is often depicted as residing in the heart…Another approach to integrating personal conscience into the larger social agenda has involved the cultivation of the faith community—essentially a faith-bound network of diverse human hearts... The simultaneously individual and social natures of conscience—and the recognition that it is necessary to accommodate these equally important demands of conscience—are fundamental aspects of conscience for progressives. This balanced perspective on conscience is especially crucial in relationship to democratic policymaking, which by definition requires individuals at times to sacrifice their self-interests to the interests of others or for the larger good…it would be a useful start to agree that even the most deeply felt conclusions of conscience can still benefit from honest discussion and from a periodic review of the fundamental goals that we, as a deeply faith-enriched but ultimately secular society, hope to achieve togetherConscience is at the heart of progressivism because conscience is not just a feeling but a palpable urge toward improvement—a call to action or engagement. Conscience is the way our moral sense and our moral formation come together to inform our actions in the world…the progressive perspective asks more than that. It also asks, “What do we believe is right?” and “What should we do about it?” That’s because in the progressive view, conscience is not only inward and individual but is also directed toward creating a more just and equitable society…one of the central differences between progressive views of conscience and other views is the willingness to change those views with time based on new information and the social needs of the day. By contrast, conservative religious or social traditions tend to focus on divine proclamation or fixed political views and teachings, irrespective of emerging crises of social justice or changing sensibilities about the nature of the common good…In the progressive view, diverse voices of conscience come together through the democratic process and the engagement of individual and institutional values in policy debates... A progressive approach to conscience in public policy must constantly hold freedom and accountability in tension…

Full text

A progressive moral vision is deeply connected to the exercise of conscience. But the interface between conscience and policymaking is poorly defined, making the concept of conscience susceptible to hijacking by conservative political forces.

This is an especially important point today given the renewed debate over what has been called the “right of conscience” of individuals and institutions to decline health care or other services that they find morally objectionable. Specifically, President Barack Obama’s proposal in March to rescind a broad conscience rule adopted by the Bush administration in January—alongside a federal call by the Obama administration for public comments on its proposed rule change by April 9—demand that Americans think carefully about what it means to be true to one’s conscience in a pluralistic democracy such as ours.
Many who support the Bush rule argue that they are defenders of conscience and portray their opponents as its enemies, but that is simplistic. What it is being played out in the public debate over this rule are different approaches to thinking about how conscience informs public policy and how public policy accommodates conscience.

For progressives, a crucial guiding principle in regard to public policy is to secure the common good while protecting individual liberty to the fullest extent possible. The progressive understanding of the “common good” is based on the conviction that not only is each individual endowed with human dignity, purpose, and worth, but also that human society as a whole should reflect these characteristics. Therefore, human beings together should strive to realize social relations based on these universal values. People can differ, of course, in their view of how to define these terms and achieve that balance. In fact, given the generally sacrosanct status of the voice of conscience—its religious and secular value—it is not surprising that conscience-based conflicts arise.

But a close look at conscience through the lens of philosophical, political, and religious history shows that it was the Bush approach, and not the Obama approach, that veered from a longstanding centrist and socially responsible position on conscience. To appreciate this perspective, progressives must understand their own roots among the many traditions on conscience, and the valuable contribution that progressivism can make as we all wrestle with the question of how conscience should be adjudicated in the public policy arena.
The roots of conscience
Conscience may or may not be a uniquely human capacity, but it appears to be most highly developed in humans—attributable, according to some, to our having been created in the image of God and, according to others, by sheer dint of our ability to reason as taught through countless lessons of evolution.

Whatever the roots of conscience, many religions emphasize its centrality to human goodness and dignity and have done so from ancient times. Increasingly, nonbelievers have also asserted the right of conscience as a central part of their value formation as well—a perspective that has prevailed in the courts. In 1970, during the height of the Vietnam War, the Supreme Court ruled in Welsh v. United States that “depth and fervency” of beliefs qualified a soldier for conscientious objector status, regardless of whether those beliefs were religious in nature. This was a long overdue recognition by the courts of the role of conscience in secular values.

Among both religious and secular traditions, conscience is often depicted as residing in the heart—an indicator of its vital role in life. In the Hebraic view, for example, it is the heart that bears witness to the moral worth of our acts and that ultimately condemns or exonerates us. Muslims also focus on the heart when engaging in ethical decision making. According to the Koran, “God lies between the human being and his heart.”

In virtually all traditions, “listening to the heart” can bring one’s own voice into harmony with that of God or Truth. And virtually all religions, as well as a number of secular traditions, have constructed mechanisms to encourage heartfelt reflection as a means of finding truth and achieving justice, among them Ramadan (the Muslim month of fasting), Yom Kippur (the Jewish holy day of atonement), Lent (the Christian period of prayer and fasting), and Buddhist meditation.

But individual reflection offers no guarantee of resolution when it comes to making social policy, and religious dictum can’t settle all conflicts in a secular society.
One approach to dealing with this reality has been to develop teachings that explicitly show how to apply religious rules to everyday life. Judaism, for example, has the Halakhah, a set of practical texts whose purpose is to resolve conflicts between the teachings of scripture and the rules of civil law.

Another approach to integrating personal conscience into the larger social agenda has involved the cultivation of the faith community—essentially a faith-bound network of diverse human hearts. According to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, for example, the Roman Catholic Church in the 20th century has increasingly emphasized a tolerance toward individual consciences that may differ from official teaching, though it should be noted that the Church deviates from its tolerance for individual conscience when it comes to abortion and has been a stalwart supporter of Bush’s exclusionary expansion of the “right to conscience.”

Protestants, especially in the 20th and 21st centuries, have found conscience not only in the individual and the community but also in social movements. The Social Gospel movement of the early part of the 20th century, which applied Christian ethics to an array of social ills and helped sow the seeds of the U.S. civil rights movement, exemplified this broader view and application of conscience.

The simultaneously individual and social natures of conscience—and the recognition that it is necessary to accommodate these equally important demands of conscience—are fundamental aspects of conscience for progressives. This balanced perspective on conscience is especially crucial in relationship to democratic policymaking, which by definition requires individuals at times to sacrifice their self-interests to the interests of others or for the larger good.

Especially relevant to the current debate over “right to conscience” is that many traditions acknowledge that individual and even communal conscience is not infallible. History has repeatedly shown that even very deeply held and age-old “obvious” truths, based on individual or societal conscience, can be mistaken. Slavery and the acceptability of torture are two examples of “rights in good conscience” that prevailed in a former era and that today are almost universally viewed as deeply flawed. The death penalty and today’s bans on gay marriage may someday be viewed in a similar light.

It may seem a small thing, but it would be a useful start to agree that even the most deeply felt conclusions of conscience can still benefit from honest discussion and from a periodic review of the fundamental goals that we, as a deeply faith-enriched but ultimately secular society, hope to achieve together.

The progressive conscience

Conscience is at the heart of progressivism because conscience is not just a feeling but a palpable urge toward improvement—a call to action or engagement. Conscience is the way our moral sense and our moral formation come together to inform our actions in the world. As a result, conscience is not fully conscientious unless one acts on that conscience. Put differently, conscience is a guide to answering not only the question, “What do I believe is right?” but also the question, “What should I do about it?”

But the progressive perspective asks more than that. It also asks, “What do we believe is right?” and “What should we do about it?” That’s because in the progressive view, conscience is not only inward and individual but is also directed toward creating a more just and equitable society. Progressives emphasize this aspect of conscience and therefore struggle with moral reflection on the question, “What is it right to do that provides the most good for the whole society?” Caring for others and not just for oneself or one’s kind is, of course, a universal value found in both religious and humanist writings.
Almost by definition, the social aspect of conscience defies unanimity. Thus there will be some tension between the individual conscience and the idea of the social good. This is a necessary tension, not only because of the predictable differences among individuals but also because of the need to allow an ongoing evolution of ideas of what constitutes the social good as social conditions change.
Indeed, one of the central differences between progressive views of conscience and other views is the willingness to change those views with time based on new information and the social needs of the day. By contrast, conservative religious or social traditions tend to focus on divine proclamation or fixed political views and teachings, irrespective of emerging crises of social justice or changing sensibilities about the nature of the common good.

To be clear, this relative stasis in conservative traditions is not the result of a lack of compassion or a failure to accept change, but comes from the belief that one’s longstanding take on conscience will best serve individuals and society in the long run. Still, the result is that new social challenges find themselves having to adapt to old and potentially outdated ideas, instead of the reverse.

In the progressive view, diverse voices of conscience come together through the democratic process and the engagement of individual and institutional values in policy debates. This is not a smooth or easy process and conflict is bound to occur. However, isn’t this precisely the test of true conscience—a willingness to test limits, to allow and even demand introspection and counterpoint?

Similarly, sound public policy in a democracy comes from adjudicating among the individual claims of conscience, protecting principled dissent, and making conscientiously vigorous policies that serve the greatest good for the whole society.

The “conscience” rule must be rescinded to protect conscience

A progressive approach to conscience in public policy must constantly hold freedom and accountability in tension. The sweeping expansion of individual rights to allow unmitigated “religious refusal” in the last-minute Bush rule destroyed this tension. It destabilized the previously balanced relationship between individual liberty of conscience and the rights of patients to safe and reliable care. It permitted doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and other health care workers to decline their participation in any procedure they found morally objectionable, including not only abortion, but contraception, artificial insemination, and potentially even nonreproductive health care services as well.

The Bush rule is so widely applicable that it extends not only to doctors and nurses but to anyone who works in and around places where such procedures are performed or products dispensed. It also protects institutional entities such as health insurance plans. The exclusive priority placed on the provider’s conscience tilted the scales radically from any notional center of moral gravity and made it impossible for patients to be able to rely on a uniform standard of care.

In short, under the Bush rule all the “conscience” protection is weighted toward those who object to certain reproductive procedures and technologies, while the right of conscience of patients, their families, and other health care providers whose consciences dictated differently is explicitly dismissed.

It is important to note that a number of protections are already in place for health care workers who might object to providing certain services. Most notably, the so-called Church Amendments—named after former Senator Frank Church of Idaho—offer conscience protections to individual health care providers. In addition, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act allows certain organizations to make employment decisions on the basis of religion and to accommodate employees’ religious-based refusals to perform services under certain circumstances. Title VII makes clear, however, that the refusers’ rights are not absolute. It assures, for example, that in a health care setting, patient care—which is, after all, the employer’s raison d’etre—has robust standing. But the law seeks a sensible assurance of balance.

In addition, some court decisions, including Catholic Charities v. Serio and Catholic Charities v. Superior Court, have affirmed the importance of not allowing refusal rules to go too far—especially when an institution invokes a right of refusal. In both cases, the courts found that laws exempting religious employers from providing coverage for contraception in their employee health benefit plans did not apply to religiously affiliated social service agencies that employed a religiously diverse workforce, did not engage in proselytization, and served the general public. These cases sent a clear legal signal that Bush decided to ignore when he promulgated his expanded conscience rule.
All members of our society deserve to know that they will be provided a professional standard of health care. Patients must be able to have confidence that health care workers will put their lives and well-being first. In the words of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, a “patient’s well-being must be paramount” when conflicts arise over the moral beliefs of professionals and patients.
While providers’ preferences should certainly be respected whenever possible, it is simply wrong when, in a secular, pluralistic society, a rape victim’s legal prescription for emergency contraception goes unfilled by a pharmacist opposed to such medicines, as happened in Texas, or when a woman with a life-threatening embolism is refused a medically indicated early abortion because of the hospital’s religious affiliation, as happened to a 19-year-old in Nebraska.
It is unconscionable for health care professionals to put a patient’s life and well-being at risk. It is time to restore the balance of individual American consciences through clear rules that uphold professional standards in health care and fully serve those who are in need of care.

Susan Thistlethwaite is a Senior Fellow in the Faith and Public Policy Initiative at the Center for American Progress. To read more about this program at the Center please go to Religion and Values page of our website.

http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2009/04/health_conscience.html