Dust and Ashes, Egos and Religion

The two Dem candidates were asked spiritual/religious questions yesterday, and IMO their answers spoke volumes about how they see themselves and their campaigns.

This is from a CNN town hall meeting last night, a question asked by Rabbi Jonathan Spira-Savett, of Temple Beth Abraham in Nashua, NH:

Rabbi Simcha Bunim taught that every person has to have two pockets, and in each pocket they have to carry a different note. And the note in one pocket says the universe was created for me. And in the other pocket the note says I am just dust and ashes.

I want you to take a moment and think about what you would tell us about your two pockets. How do you cultivate the ego, the ego that we all know you must have—a person must have to be the leader of the free world—and also the humility to recognize that we know that you can’t be expected to be wise about all the things that the president has to be responsible for?

This is a great question. It comes close to being a koan. And may I say it’s so refreshing to glimpse a bit of mature spirituality in mass media.

Anyway, Clinton’s answer — which you can read in the CNN transcript — focused on her desire to be of service, and on the relationships she has with clergy. Here is part of it:

I have friends who are rabbis who send me notes, give me readings that are going to be discussed in services. So I really appreciate all that incoming.

And the final thing I would say, because again, it’s not anything I’ve ever talked about this much publicly, everybody knows I — I have lived a very public life for the last 25 or so years. And so I’ve had to be in public dealing with some very difficult issues and personal issues, political, public issues. And I read a, um, a treatment of the prodigal son parable by the Jesuit Henri Nouwen, who I think is a magnificent writer of spiritual and theological concerns. And I — I read that parable and there was a line in it that became just a lifeline for me. And it basically is practice the discipline of gratitude.

So regardless of how hard the days are, how difficult the decisions are, be grateful. Be grateful for being a human being, being part of the universe. Be grateful for your limitations. Know that you have to reach out to have more people be with you, to support you, to advise you, listen to your critics, answer the questions.

But at the end, be grateful. Practice the discipline of gratitude. And that has helped me enormously.

This is an excellent answer. It reveals more genuine spirituality than all of the Bible-thumpers in the GOP put together.

And here’s a question aimed at Bernie Sanders:

COOPER: You know, I want to follow up, because Jason also mentioned faith, which is something you’ve spoken a little bit about. You’re Jewish, but you’ve said that you’re not actively involved with organized religion.

What do you say to a voter out there who says — and that who sees faith as a guiding principle in their lives, and wants it to be a guiding principle for this country?

SANDERS: It’s a guiding principle in my life, absolutely, it is. You know, everybody practices religion in a different way. To me, I would not be here tonight, I would not be running for president of the United States if I did not have very strong religious and spiritual feelings.

I believe that, as a human being, the pain that one person feels, if we have children who are hungry in America, if we have elderly people who can’t afford their prescription drugs, you know what, that impacts you, that impacts me.

And I worry very much about a society where some people spiritually say, it doesn’t matter to me, I got it, I don’t care about other people.

So my spirituality is that we are all in this together and that when children go hungry, when veterans sleep out on the street, it impacts me. That’s my very strong spiritual feeling.

I would have liked Sanders to respond to the rabbi’s question also, but this was good, too.

Both candidates stressed concern for the well-being of others as a religious motivation for running for President, which to me reveals a more sincere and mature level of spirituality than the nonsense spewing from the likes of Ted Cruz about how God wants him to be President in order to make America the country God wants it to be. If the great host of dead Christian theologians going back to Augustine — indeed, maybe Paul as well — could rise up and speak, they would denounce such presumption. Probably most of the rabbis would, too.

Clinton also spoke to how religion strengthens her and helps her keep going. And that’s fine, in the Christian tradition. Sanders, however, didn’t speak about himself as much as about the great interconnection of human beings.  What happens to one, happens to all of us. This is closer to a Buddhist perspective.

I read a few days ago that a big difference in the two campaigns is that Clinton tends to emphasize her resume and how she is battle-tested and ready to do the job. Sanders rarely refers to himself at all, and instead speaks of the problems we face and change he wants to see.

And if there were some way to combine those two qualities, boy howdy, would that be a great candidate.

31 thoughts on “Dust and Ashes, Egos and Religion

  1. “You’re Jewish, but you’ve said that you’re not actively involved with organized religion”

    Nice job Cooper, you got the “he’s a Jew” out there and the “secular progressive-not really religious” !

  2. This is truly impressive — both the question and the answers.

    What passes for political debate in this country is typically so inane that I find it too depressing to watch. Apparently, we’ve made some progress from the days when whether or not a candidate would wear a flag pin if elected president was considered the most important question that could be asked.

  3. I have known a few “Jewish” people. For them it was not always about religion but genetics. Also, there are “gentiles” who have converted to the Jewish religion. I also had a white classmate in acupuncture school who was Muslim. Religion, beliefs and faith can be a complicated issue. This is probably why the founders wanted to keep it out of government.

  4. Well, it’s certainlyly refreshing to hear how these two spoke about religion and spirituality, instead of the in-you-face uber-“Christianity” that the Republicans wear like a t-shirt that says, “I’ m OK with Jesus, and you suck ’cause you’re not, so YOU’RE DOOMED!!!”

    Religion and spirituality should be what’s in your heart and soul, not in your lungs and on your tongue to be bellowed for all to hear.
    They should be worn like undergarments, and not flashy outerwear.

    I’m an Agnostic, but I believe I’m spiritual.
    I won’t go into any details, because I don’t think I want to, nor do I think I need to.

    So, take THAT, Teddy Cruz-ader and Marco Rubio!
    You consider yourselves “Christians,” but I’ve never heard or seen of a deed you did that would verify it. I hear and see the exact opposite.

    You want to see a real Christian, who was a politician?
    Look at Jimmy Carter, the man and former POTUS, you loathe and mock.
    The whole Republican Party isn’t a blister on the hands of this elder statesman, who helps build houses for the poor!
    You assclowns sure talk that talk!
    But as for walking that walk?
    Not one of you has actually ever even taken a baby-step.
    And I doubt you ever will.

  5. I wish it could be both, also. Awesome. The either/or thing seems so old fashion. A coalition would be fantastic.

  6. 5 hour, and I’m still in moderation?
    And I didn’t even say anything bad!

    BTW – I had surgery to remove the metal halo on my reconstructed ankle this morning, and had a cast put on.
    I feel almost human, now that 4 1/2 months of torture in ‘The Ankle Iron Maiden’ has finally ended!

  7. Bob Elliott, has joined his fiend and partner, Ray Goulding, in the aferlife.
    He was 92.

    Boy, those two never failed to crack me up, whether it was a beer commercial, or an appearance on TV or radio.

    Their routines are still funny and applicable today, because they usually played simple people in stupid situations, or stupid people in simple situations, or pompous radio hosts, business owners, or politicians.

    Tonight, I’m going to YouTube some of their classic routines, and laugh and chuckle my way to sleep.

    Bob Elliott
    You and Ray made the world a better place through laughter, with your unique comedy routines.

  8. I think you touched on this general theme in a previous post about the internal and external locus of spirituality, and whether people were inclined to submit to a list of proscriptions, or compelled to engage the world and act, as a result of their spiritual beliefs.

    Those inclined to submit to an external power need a means of signifying that they all belong to the same club, and the Republican Party has become that club. After nearly two decades in NC, and the contact with fundamentalists that comes along with that, I still haven’t had an exchange with a white fundamentalist that evidenced even a nodding acquaintance with Jesus or his teachings. Discussions have been overwhelmingly loaded with citations of Old Testament scripture that justified some recent Republican initiative. It’s a spirituality that is built on a kind of pyramid scheme. The flock submits to their pastor, their pastor submits to a creed or dogma, and the dogma and creed are tweaked and exploited by whomever has seized the top spot for the moment. The creed itself is drawn from Republican talking points and the Book of Revelations adds a bit of spice and gravitas.

    People like Mike Huckabee, Franklin Graham or Rick Santorum seem spiritually vacuous to me. Yet, they have all had their submissive flocks. They achieve this by providing a shortcut. There is no need for your spirituality to wrestle with the real world, when you can just sign up for the memos and email feeds. As those amusing guys from Red Sate Update asked, “Why read the Bible when you can ride it?” (see “Creation Museum” Red State Update)

    On the other hand, people from African American churches or the Episcopal church seem much more engaged and compelled by their beliefs, and they vote accordingly.

  9. C***Dgulag, I’m glad to hear that you lost your halo.

    My favorite Bob and Ray schtick was probably the “Toothbrush Hall of Fame,” done on “Sesame Street.” But, this one shows the virtues of a trickle down economy.


  10. “Artful Smear”

    I watched very little of last nights debate maybe 30-45 minutes what I saw was Hillary mopping the floor with Bernie, she’s a damn good debater if not a great public speaker!

  11. Right, she definitely did well and is probably as qualified a candidate as we’ll ever see, why do I get the feeling she can’t win the general? The long negative media and rightie smear campaign combined with my general hatred for all things Bubba tells me shes doomed, I hope I’m wrong.

  12. People like Mike Huckabee, Franklin Graham or Rick Santorum seem spiritually vacuous to me.
    That’s because they are. Franklin picked up where Judas left off..He’s got the bag!

  13. Yes, Swami. I often hear conservative Christians claim that Islam is “not a religion.” The next time I hear that I think that I’ll take them at their word on “political correctness,” and make a similar criticize of fundamentalist Christianity. Although, there would be no profit in it, just more anger and hurt feelings, without introspection.

    Huckabee and Graham are unvarnished faces of the patriarchy, where Santorum is a bumbling fool, who managed to bumble upward for a time.

    There are still things that I like about rural NC. I am basically a hayseed myself. But, the guns and the Bible belt culture are beginning to wear heavily on me.

  14. I loved Mort Saul’s line about Norman Vincent Peale:

    “I find the apostle Paul appealing and the apostle Peale appalling.”

    I am not sure that I would go that far, St. Paul gets on my nerves. (I like Matthew, however.) This about sums it up, and I thinks it’s funny:


  15. Goatherd: NC is beautiful country. My ancestors came from Scotland and settled there and eventually moved north to Indiana. However, I get what you say about the Bible Belt, etc. I have many relatives in southern Indiana who never got out of that mindset. Both my parents were from a family of 12 children so you can imagine how many cousins I have that I don’t even know. My sister (Baptist fundamentalist) goes to my dad’s family’s reunion every year even though she lives in Indianapolis. So she reinforces her beliefs that way. I’m glad I moved away. My area is conservative in some ways. There is a big Adventist community here but I don’t find them as judgmental as the Baptists. And on the plus side, they are very health oriented. And there are also some very progressive people here. I have found them and become friends so I have someone to talk to.
    I could write more but Mr. Spock (my dog companion) is woofing at me cause it is time to get out for a walk so may come back later.

  16. That should be FRIEND, not fiend, in my Bob Elliott comment.

    In the 70s when apartheid South Africa was in a state of hostility with its neighbors, the leading newspaper and government mouthpiece in Zambia published an editorial referring to SA’s hardline Prime Minister P.W. Vorster as a “white friend”.
    It caused much confusion in Zambia — was this signalling a major change in policy? Then the newspaper published a correction the following day — they had meant to write “white fiend”.

  17. Sorry. Not feeling it. I have a Pavlovian eye roll response to the word “spirituality.” What does that mean? To Hill’s credit; somewhere in there she sort of answered the question. We are not the center of existence. As dust and ashes in an indifferent universe; we need each other to get things done.

    No, Bernie, everybody does not “practice religion in different ways.” Some of us don’t practice it at all. So we don’t exist to you. You won’t miss my vote then. As I understand the question it was: Should somebody’s religion influence public policy? A simple “no” would’ve worked for me.

    But I’m not his audience, and Bernie was smart enough to use the old “faith inspires me” answer. Somewhere out there there’s a candidate who’ll say “none of your business” to the requisite holy men. He or she will never get elected; but at least they’ll go down fighting.

    As theists go I’ll take the policy wonk over the insurgent. Sure Hill is evil but she’s an evil genius. She can be pragmatic. Ask her to be specific and she’ll talk all day. Sanders can rouse the rabble, Hill can organize them.

    • Omar — there’s religion, and then there’s religion. (I wrote a book about this, which makes me opinionated, if not an expert.) I am a long-time student of Zen Buddhism and don’t believe in a god, or in anything supernatural, yet I am religious. If you expand your understanding of religion to take in all of the world’s religions, and not just the monotheistic ones, the only thing they all have in common is that they are all, in some way, a way to expand the limited, individual self to become something larger. A lot of people use the word “transcend” for this, but IMO the self is not necessarily transcended but realized as everything. God in the Abrahamic religions is just a metaphor for this that people take too literally. It’s a realization of inter-being, of inter-connectedness. Yes, we are but dust and ashes, but at the same time we are the moon and stars and planets.

  18. In Carl Sagan voice:
    ‘We are made of star stuff.’
    (Probably not a direct quote, since I’m going from memory).

  19. Granny, I don’t want to appear ungrateful for what I have. Despite everything, I still a lot to like about rural NC. But, once in a while, it can wear a fellow out. The few progressives that I’ve found here have all moved away. We joke about the grocery store curse, which means that every time we find a product that we really like, it gets discontinued. The sun dried tomato bagels only lasted two weeks! When we meet people that we can really connect with, they’re off to Portland or Seattle. That’s happened a few times. Asheville has a progressive community and great music, but it’s getting commercialized to the hilt and the starving artists are beginning to resent it. I don’t blame them a bit.

    I actually get along with my fundamentalist neighbors very well. But, there are certain restrictions on our interaction, as with anyone. I don’t see the purpose in pestering people with the differences in our beliefs, if there is no chance that we will both benefit from the exchange. That being said, I definitely respect them and I have learned from them, even if I don’t agree with them. It seems that we all have more to learn from those whom we disagree with, as long as we both remain open and rational. That doesn’t mean that I would buy into the Biblical world view or the politics that comes with it.

    It sounds like you have wisely searched for the best wherever you are, and I think that is the best way to use the short time that we have on earth. I hope you walk with Mr. Spock went well. Dog’s make life a lot richer.

  20. gulag … Love the Carl Sagan voice.. 🙂 Sagan used to get the creationists in a tizzy when he made reference to mankind crawling out of the primordial soup.

  21. Gulag: That sounds like what Sagan said. He also said in his book “Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors” (which is about evolution) that “We are all kin”. He meant all of life, creation, and the cosmos. He said “The cosmos is all that is, all that ever was and all that ever will be”. I consider him to be a very spiritual person even though I am unaware of his religious beliefs.
    Goatherd: I don’t perceive you to be ungrateful and understand how being around “the others” can wear you down. Portland and Seattle are not perfect either and it is very expensive over there. Not as bad as LA or San Francisco but still pricey to live there. However, it’s always that way in coastal areas.
    I have found the only way to deal with views I cannot tolerate is just walk away, go home and kiss Mr. Spock. He is always loving and always makes me feel better.

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