BY HARV BISHOP
Conservative critics of the mission of creating a world that works for everyone fear that individual choice in New Thought churches will go the way of the dodo bird if helping others becomes the norm.
Some conservatives believe they will be forced to sit through sermons grounded in liberal politics, for them something akin to wearing rough, itchy wool underwear. They fear church-goers will be forced to give time to liberal causes in order to feel like they belong.
Where, I ask, is this mythical New Thought church where conservatives are being forced to do things they don’t want to do?*
Were they drugged and came to at a Bernie Sanders rally?
Were they forced to sit through Al Gore documentaries at church?
We’re they compelled to buy cakes at LGBTQ-owned bakeries?
Do they fear that the power for good in the universe is all bottled up by liberals and they can’t use it anymore?
And, more seriously, does working for a world that works for everyone in any way imply that the longstanding New Thought hallmark of individual growth and helping people heal their lives will go away? Can we focus on the inward and the outward at the same time?
Of course we can.
When did simple human decency and helping people become liberal or conservative?
One interesting model of a spiritual organization both healing individuals and helping in the world is the International Association for Human Values founded by the Indian teacher Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. The organization offers both programs for people to reduce stress and live happier lives and reaches out to affect the world at large.
“Since my childhood, I’ve never seen so much of water in the stream and in my farm” said an Indian farmer in an area plagued by drought. The grateful farmer and many other people benefited from the Al Jagruti Abiyaan project sponsored by the organization. The program stemmed erosion, recharged wells and supplied clean drinking water.
And here is another remarkable thing.
These International Association for Human Values programs are driven from the bottom up by volunteers rather than the top down. No one is forced to do anything and it’s the same in New Thought.
Shankar (who has spoken at Mile Hi Church of Religious Science, the largest New Thought center in the world) believes in setting a big vision, says Lata More, a meditation teacher for the organization. A big vision draws volunteers because people fundamentally want to be of service, she says. Volunteers create and design the projects, which are then supported by the organization. Other projects include empowerment programs for Iraqi women, disaster relief, and meditative stress reduction for veterans and prisoners that has been proven to help PTSD.
There you have it: No coercion, volunteer driven.
Creating a world that works for everyone certainly qualifies as a big inspiring vision.
To those who say a world that works for everyone is unattainable and Utopian, remember that representative democracy, ending slavery and child labor, voting rights for women and African-Americans and same-sex marriage were once also regarded as Utopian.
A world that works for everyone will always be a journey more than a destination, but heaven help us if we give up on that journey.
*This is not an idle challenge. If you know of a New Thought church that has crossed the line and not been politically inclusive, leave a comment.