Blame It on the Hundredth Monkey
By Kevin Quirk
Online Journal Contributing Writer
May 19, 2006, 01:26
Have you seen the new book, The Left Hand of God: Taking Back Our Country from the Religious Right by Michael Lerner? If not, get it. Lerner, editor of the magazine Tikkun, is on to something vitally important.
But he’s only got half the story.
Lerner says that if we’re ever going to seize power from the Religious Right, we have to talk their language -- well, some of it anyway. We need to talk about values, about our country’s moral crisis, and about spirituality. He calls upon a vast network of “spiritual progressives” to shift their message away from rebutting Fundamentalist leaders and followers with logic and reason, while often ridiculing them for being stupid or foolish, and toward a guiding perspective of what he outlines as the Left Hand of God. There’s plenty of room under the umbrella of his life-affirming, environmentally aware, solidly progressive definition for non-Fundamentalist Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, and even secularists to snuggle in and feel right at home. Even if you call yourself an agnostic or atheist, read it and see if you’re offended by being included. I bet not.
The Left Hand of God is an intelligent, aware, energizing call to arms. But here’s the other half of the story, the second major reason why the Religious Right and the leaders they breed and enable continue to operate without a clear, powerful, evocative, and effective counter-message and movement. While Lerner tells us that those who are already politically active need to get spiritual, I would add that those who are already spiritual, in a very non-Fundamentalist way, need to get politically active.
For several years I traveled inside the circle of what my former Omega Institute teacher and co-worker Elizabeth Lesser calls the new American spirituality in her book The Seeker’s Guide. Paul Ray and Sherry Ruth Anderson call us the “cultural creatives” in their book by that title, and they estimate there must be at least 50 million of us: people inclined toward personal growth, spiritual exploration, holistic practices, a concern for the world’s ecosystem, peace and justice, interconnectedness, and living an authentic, purposeful life. Years ago you might have called us New Age, before that term became ridiculously pigeonholed, distorted, and lampooned. I would say we’re simply American Spiritualists: we’re all about searching, seeking, exploring, diving into new terrain, saying yes to new experiences, dreaming things that never were instead of just seeing things as they are. You know, the American way?
But while the Fundamentalists have spent the last 30 years integrating their beliefs into politics and all of life, American spiritualists have sat passively by and watched. Why? I blame it on The Hundredth Monkey.
Remember the term? It sprouted from some 1950s scientific study of the habits of monkeys on a Japanese island. A bunch of monkeys who picked up sweet potatoes that had been dropped in the sand learned that if they washed them in the stream, they tasted better. Other monkeys who observed this practice started doing it themselves. Suddenly, monkeys who had never seen another monkey wash their sweet potatoes just organically picked up on the practice. Soon monkeys everywhere on the island, and even in far-off inland areas, were washing sweet potatoes in the stream all on their own. A new way had mystically and magically spread and taken hold!
Ken Keyes, a hot New Age teacher back in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, picked up on the story and wrote a book on it, and millions of American Spiritualists started jumping up and down. If it could work for monkeys, it could work for people, right? As the idea of The Hundredth Monkey evolved, it was described as some point at which if one more person independently tunes into some new awareness or belief system, some strong energy field takes over and that awareness or belief system instantly gets picked up by huge numbers of people, creating a sea change in life around us. Instant, natural, effortless, almost invisible transformation!
Even after the original story was debunked as myth, American Spiritualists continued to faithfully swear to and live by the creed. The Hundredth Monkey became their version of “Jesus saves.” It became their answer to anything in politics or any other arena that they didn’t like and wanted to be different. If I just change myself and live by the right beliefs, and enough of us start changing collectively, then America and the whole world will just organically change in the image I envision because the consciousness will have changed.
Well, not exactly. The Fundamentalists, meanwhile, took to the streets. And the voting booth. And the media. And the courts. And the schools. And the debates about social lifestyles. Fundamentalists didn’t just wash their own sweet potatoes in that stream, they took pictures of what they were doing, wrote books about it, formed clubs and organizations to teach the practice the right way, held rallies to swear allegiance to it, and made strikingly clear every day that all those who did not wash their sweet potatoes in the stream before eating them, just like they did, were doomed to choke on their dirt and die.
And they’ve been having their way with us ever since. Yup, I really do blame it on The Hundredth Monkey, at least to the same degree that Michael Lerner would say that the mess we’re in can be traced back to left-leaning political activists yielding the whole field of values and spirituality to that other crowd for 30 years. Like Lerner, though, I agree that there’s still time to change.
For we American Spiritualists, that means taking the first critical step of burying The Hundredth Monkey concept back in the sand. Or maybe we can adopt the new mantra of The 101st Monkey - the one who tells all his or her friends that it’s time to start speaking up about what the Religious Right has made of our country, to say loudly and clearly, “This is not okay!” And then backing it up with aggressive, tangible, spiritually grounded action in politics, education, the media, and all those other arenas where the Religious Right has bolted inside, seized control, and tried to bar the door.
Remember, Martin Luther King was an American Spiritualist too. But he didn’t just say a prayer for Bull Connor and trust that he and those of his ilk would just disappear when the collective consciousness changed. He went out and stopped him. For the American Spiritualists of today, it can no longer be enough to just live by our beliefs, no longer enough to just meditate on the change we’d like to see in our country and our world. It’s time to go out every day and be an active part of making it happen.
Let’s march down the street toward that band of political activists that Michael Lerner is re-visioning as spiritual progressives. We’ll meet up on the other side of the bridge. Going forward together, I like our chances.Kevin Quirk, a former journalist and author of "Not Now, Honey, I’m Watching the Game," is an editor and ghostwriter with A Writer’s Eye and a counselor with Authentic Living. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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