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Back Down Memory Lane At Berkeley

Mark D. Tooley

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Michael Lerner assembles the "Religious Left"

MICHAEL LERNER was back on campus at Berkeley. But this time he is a portly Jewish rabbi leading 1,200 mostly middle-aged "spiritual progressives," and not the young Students for a Democratic Society agitator targeted by J. Edgar Hoover in the 1960s.

The "Politics of Meaning," Lerner's label for his spiritual liberalism, peaked in the early 1990s, when his supposed fans, Bill and Hillary Clinton, ascended to power. But Hillary disavowed Lerner when his quirky views attracted fire, and the old Berkeley activist, though still publishing Tikkun, seemingly faded.

Now Lerner is back. And his "Conference on Spiritual Activism," held at Berkeley this summer, tried to present a left-wing alternative to the dreaded Religious Right. Amid opening "visualizations" directed to Jesus, Buddha, Muhammad, and the "goddess Divine Mother," Lerner hosted a fairly prominent array of Religious Left luminaries.

Although professing to transcend political labels, Lerner seemed pretty un-transcendent: "In Europe they [the right] turned against the Jews," he declared. "In the U.S. they demeaned African Americans and Native Americans. Increasingly that role [targets of the right] is played today by gays and lesbians, feminists, liberals, and secular humanists."

Conservatives get away with this because liberals "don't get it" about religion, Lerner explained. His message dovetailed with the bestselling Why the Right is Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get it, by evangelical left activist Jim Wallis, who shared the podium with Lerner. A former SDS himself, Wallis founded Sojourners, a journal of liberal Christian activism, over 30 years ago. Although ostensibly more moderate now, Wallis inevitably resorts to nostalgic talk of arrests and demonstrations. "This is how you do interfaith work," Wallis joked. "You all get arrested for your faith and talk theology in jail."

Mark D. Tooley directs the United Methodist committee at the Institute on Religion and Democracy.

Read the entire article on the Weekly Standard website (new window will open).

Posted: 14-Oct-05



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