For many of us, using a phrase such as “spirituality and politics” is like saying “oil and water” – they just don’t mix! In fact, many people believe that we should do everything in our power to keep these two human systems separate and apart. But is this truly realistic? In my view, it’s not. Our spiritual beliefs are so a part of who we are that there is no way they can be divorced from our politics.

Yet, let’s look at this by first defining some terms…

What do we mean by “spirituality” and “politics”?

Let’s start with the term – “spirituality”. Right off the bat, we need to make the distinction between religion and spirituality. Religion, as I see it, relates to an organizational structure and a system of dogma that have both arisen around a set of spiritual beliefs and teachings.

In most cases, an individual (Jesus, Buddha, Mohammad, etc.) had some mystical experiences which formed the basis of their beliefs which they began to teach. Over time, the people who accepted their beliefs and teachings created the churches/organizations with their structures and dogma. It is these outward expressions which I consider as “religion”.

On the other hand, “spirituality” relates back to the core essence of these individuals’ mystical experiences and the beliefs they created. Spirituality relates to our personal relationship with an understanding of the greater universe beyond us. Each person has some relationship with the larger world and a story they tell themselves about its ultimate meaning.

In one of my more popular articles, I wrote about what it means to be spiritual and that our stories of meaning we tell ourselves all relate to our “experiencing our true connection to all that exists”. In that article I pointed out that there are three key worldviews at play in modern life and that each worldview determines how we see and experience everything.

In many people’s opinions (mine included), there are three prominent worldviews at play in modern life –

First, there is the traditional viewpoint held by most religious fundamentalists and many who are socially conservative. For most of these individuals, their spirituality is so interconnected to their religious beliefs that it is impossible to separate them. Their “spirituality” is tied to what their church leaders preach as well as the written books and dogma that support their faith.  Here their purpose is to follow these teachings strictly in the present so that we might receive rewards later.

Second, there is the materialistic-scientific worldview held by most people who place all of their values around scientific evidence and the accumulation of wealth. Most of these people would not consider themselves either religious or spiritual, believing that such things are irrational and small minded. Yet these individuals did have a sense of relationship to the universe. Their “spirituality” relates to a faith that materialistic science will ultimately answer all questions.  Their purpose here is to manipulate things out there (including other people) and compete in the world to ensure personal success.

Third, there is a humanistic worldview held by most people who place their values upon treating all humans with dignity and respect, recognizing their inherent equality – as well as treating this world we all live in kindly. Most of these people feel an inner urge to develop a relationship with something beyond themselves – a power and presence they sense existing in the universe. They realize the value as well as the limits of both religion and science. Their “spirituality” relates to developing this personal relationship with this greater essence and beginning to understand the interconnectedness of everything.  Their purpose here is to support all parts of this greater oneness.

The point is this – whether we choose to label it as “spirituality” or not, we all have spiritual beliefs – we all have a way of experiencing our true connection to all that exists and then making choices in the outer world based upon those beliefs. One of the many ways we act in the outer world is through our political beliefs and actions.

Politics, simply stated, are our opinions and activities that relate to the actions and policies of our governments. But where do these opinions and activities come from if not from our greater beliefs about life?

In a recent interview, popular spiritual teacher Neale Donald Walsch and author of the Conversations with God books stated:

“The major problem facing the world today, in my observation and in my view, is that there appears to be a huge disconnect between people’s most basic fundamental beliefs about life, about themselves, and about this thing called “God”…if anyone even has a belief in this thing called “God.” Even those who don’t have a belief in God – those beliefs as well – impact their positionality with regard to economics, politics, and just about everything else in life. So when I say politics are your spirituality demonstrated, I mean exactly that. That politics is just a means by which we put into action, either by voting or in some even larger way in the democratic societies of the world, our most deeply held, most profound, most sacred-if you please- belief. If that’s not what politics is, if politics are not that, then politics are bankrupt.”

He goes on later to add:

“I believe that all politics is love demonstrated as well. I think people do use politics to demonstrate their love, but it’s a question of what they’re loving. Every act is an act of love, I’ve been told and advised. Every single act, including every political act, is an act of love, so in fact I think people do use politics with full awareness that their political expression is an expression of what they love. So the issue is not that there is a disconnect between love and politics. The issue is: what are they loving?”

Neale’s point and mine simply stated is that we all have a body of beliefs that drive our relationship with the world.  These beliefs are forged by what we think is true about our greater existence here in this life.  What we believe to be true guides us towards where we place our attentions, our actions, our energy, our emotions, our love.  One of the arenas in which we direct our energy–our love–is in our political actions.

As we look out at the political debates in our country—from the role of government, to the size of the military, to our rules and funding on education, immigration, business, race relations and, well, basically everything—consider how the speaker’s beliefs — their “spirituality” — are driving their positions.

We all make choices as to where to give our attention or love.  Where are you giving yours?

Mark Gilbert

Note:  These two topics have been coming together in my life for many years. Although I would never consider myself very religious, I have long held an interest in understanding the meaning of life which has led me on an interesting spiritual journey. Eventually, this path led me to become an ordained Religious Science minister. Simultaneously, I have been around the government and politics most of my life. Although I never ran for office, I served the federal government for over 33 years. Many of those years, I interacted with elected officials and political appointees and became a very astute student of the political process. Hence, it would seem only natural that my spirituality has fed my politics while my politics have impacted my spirituality….and to have led me to play in “both arenas”.

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Photo credit: desertdutchman / Foter / CC BY