A recent Google search of “spiritual evolution quotes” led me to a brilliant mind who spoke specifically about the focal point of this blog, the intersection of spirituality and history. I was led to the words of none other than Albert Einstein. Einstein believed in following his intuition (the spirit moving in the individual), and he understood our interconnectedness with one another and with the universe.

Many people believe that Einstein was an atheist, but this is far from the truth. Rather, he saw the Divine in the order, rationality, and harmony that he found while searching for the underlying principles of the universe. After making his ground-breaking discoveries, including the general theory of relativity, he spent the remaining decades of his life trying to discern what he called “unified field theory, a single law that would encompass all the fundamental forces of nature. Einstein himself had this to say about his unfulfilled quest, which many of his contemporaries considered foolish:

“Quantum mechanics is certainly imposing. But an inner voice tells me that it is not yet the real thing. The theory says a lot, but does not really bring us closer to the secret of the ‘Old One.’ I, at any rate, am convinced that He is not playing at dice.”

The search for a unified theory continues. I can profess to only to the most superficial understanding of  Einstein’s work and of quantum mechanics. No matter (no pun intended!). It is Einstein’s thoughts about society that interest me:

“When considering the actual living conditions of present day civilised humanity from the standpoint of even the most elementary religious commands, one is bound to experience a feeling of deep and painful disappointment at what one sees. For while religion prescribes brotherly love in the relations among the individuals and groups, the actual spectacle more resembles a battlefield than an orchestra. Everywhere, in economic as well as in political life, the guiding principle is one of ruthless striving for success at the expense of one’s fellow men. This competitive spirit prevails even in the school and, destroying all feelings of human fraternity and cooperation, conceives of achievement not as derived from the love for productive and thoughtful work, but as springing from personal ambition and fear of rejection.”

Einstein made this statement in 1948, but it seems to me that it describes today’s political and economic scene rather well.

I am repeatedly disheartened when hate- and fear-mongering political dialogue comes from people who cloak themselves in the garb of religiosity, and who apparently believe that we are incapable of rising above greed as a motivating principle to live by.

Einstein had similar sentiments in his day:

“There are pessimists who hold that such a state of affairs is necessarily inherent in human nature; it is those who propound such views that are the enemies of true religion, for they imply thereby that the religious teachings are utopian ideals and are unsuited to afford guidance in human affairs.”

I believe that humans are destined for more, for better than this, and that in time we will learn to support, rather than break down one another. It will not be religious dogma, but the human spirit, harbored within each individual soul, that will take the world to this better place. All in good time…

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“Power is only important as an instrument for service to the powerless.”  -Lech Walesa, human rights activist, Polish president, Nobel laureate (b. 1943)

We’ve got to stop passing the buck.

On this, and perhaps nothing else, I agree with Republican Mike Huckabee, who spoke on July 4 at the “part religious revival, part political rally” at First Baptist Church here in Charlotte.

The 2008 Wall Street debacle, said Mike, was caused less by a lack of regulation or a failure in finance policy than by the business traders’ flouting of ethical principles. Huckabee called on his audience “to get involved in politics as a way of restoring America’s moral bearings.”

Yes, we have ethics problems in America, where greed and treating one another with contempt have become socially acceptable behaviors.

And yes, we had all better get involved. The two recent collossal regulatory failures, first of financial markets and now of oil producers, are compelling evidence that government regulators can’t save us from ourselves. The regulators and top managers at the industries they regulate  play musical chairs, and the interests the regulators protect the best are their own, not ours. Our legislators, who write the regulations, are also part of this game.

But if the powers that be want to play musical chairs, it’s the American people who turn the music on and off, and it is time we stop letting ourselves be the ones who end up without a chair.

Even as we despair that government as we know it has become gridlocked and corrupted, new forms of citizen involvement are evolving that may dramatically change the way government and politics work in our country. For example, social networking sites can now connect us individually with organizations that can keep us informed about issues we care about. These new organizations make it easy to contact legislators and can make us aware of other, perhaps new ways to take personal action. (This link will take you to a MSNBC report on the BP Makes me Sick Coalition.)

These new non-governmental organizations are embryonic, but hopefully the period from gestation to maturity of this new modus operandi will be short,  just as the evolutionary cycle of new technologies has accelerated in recent years.

It seems to me that systemic change is necessary for us to work our way out of the mess we have gotten ourselves into. As the saying goes, “if you always do what you’ve always done, you will always get what you’ve always got.” In so many areas–energy policy, education, national and individual fiscal status, health care, the environment, even the way we produce our food–we have gotten ourselves into situations that make us vulnerable both as individuals and as a nation.

So it is as individuals that we must find a way to act that will change the course of our nation. That is the way our system of government was designed to work, and if there is a system of government on this planet that offers more hope to the individual, I and the millions of immigrants that clamor to our shores don’t know about it.

So, evolve people, evolve! Don’t wait for somebody else to fix things for you, because we are all in this together. You and me and Mike Huckabee are all in the same boat, and we all better start rowing, even if just to keep from capsizing, while we figure out which way leads us out of the storm.

 


Apocalypse Now

June 7, 2010

“Apocalypse Now” the cartoon jeers, satirizing the cuts in local government services. If only it were funny. But can we afford to laugh as we are forced to make dramatic cuts in the school budget, even as we fail to educate all of our children? We must drastically reduce library hours, cutting job-hunters off from the computers they need to search for jobs in a stubbornly sluggish economy. If you play tennis in a public park rather than at a country club, who will maintain your tennis court when the Park and Rec budget is cut? When the new budget year starts the first day of sizzling hot July, will the children who rely on public swimming pools to escape the heat be disappointed?

Listening to public radio in my car, I learn that AIDS activists in poor countries are angry that America is reneging on pledges for treatment of people who will die without our help. Americans are angry too, and are throwing tea parties to protest…what? That their taxes are too high, even as governments around the country are unable to provide even the most basic of services?

Forgive me if I seem confused. Because in truth I am not perplexed at all. An economics major in college, I have feared this meltdown for a long time, although I confess that I am stunned at the reality of my wealthy and beloved country faltering in such apparent disarray.

Economics, you see, is all about resource allocation. Where did all of our wealth go? You might start by looking inside the oversized houses located far from workplaces that no longer exist, houses that no one can now afford to heat or cool. Check out the kitchens where families eat their McDonalds take-out on granite countertops amid state-of-the-art appliances. Look in closets and consignment shops and yard sales and even in landfills for the purchases we made when 70% of our country’s annual spending went for consumer goods and services. Purchases of goods and services that were not necessary, and that I knew would be easy to forego when times got tough. But then, where would such belt-tightening leave our economy?

It left us right here, with bridges in our highway system no longer safe due to our failure to fund infrastructure maintenance. With a health care system capable of the greatest medical miracles on earth, yet unable to efficiently deliver basic care to tens of millions of uninsured citizens. With a government no longer able of to govern because its participants are incapable of compromise, the underlying principle on which this country was founded. With an oil well spewing millions upon millions of gallons of oil into the environment, while the people we trusted with our vital natural resources scramble about helplessly.

We have let each other down. We have let the world down, as we have allowed ourselves to squander our resources, exploiting one another in the process. We have even failed to take care of the planet that sustains us. We are indeed the “foolish school of fish on wheels” that James Taylor dubbed us in his elegy for the earth “Gaia.”

I am nonetheless optimistic. Technology has brought us a new world order, one in which the individual is empowered as never before. And some of those individuals, people who seem motivated by a different ethic than the ethic of greed that has for so long been condoned in this country, are creating enterprises that I believe will take us in a new direction.

I see this trend at the Apple computer store, abuzz with customers who paid only $100 for a vast array of resources to help them learn to use their computers, customer-friendly resources hard to imagine coming from any PC vendor. “We want our customers to know how to get the most out of our products,” an Apple trainer said sincerely. I see it in the human services organization Common Ground, started in 1990 by one woman in her twenties, now mobilizing resources worldwide to end homelessness. I see it in the revolutionary use of technology that helped to elect our current president.

It may look like an apocalypse now, but economics calls this a “dislocation.” Like a dislocated joint, this is a painful experience, confirmed by the yelling and screaming of those most fearful of the new day coming.  But from among the ruins, I expect to see new leaders with a new morality arise to mobilize the vast human capital now lying fallow. Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote, “The old order changeth, yielding place to new, and God fulfills himself in many ways.” May this fulfillment be a world in which we take care of our planet and of one another. Or we will be destined for Apocalypse Anew.