Over the years I've had the good fortune to accumulate a lot of friends. Some are fellow writers or artists like myself, some are spiritual sojourners, and others are just interesting people I enjoy being around. Naturally, my friends exhibit a broad range of personality types, backgrounds, and political affiliations, which can make for some interesting times, but I treasure each experience I have with them. Among those I consider a friend is a fellow aspiring novelist named Victor who is what one would call, "left of center" when it comes to politics. In fact, I might even classify Vic as something of a socialist (though I suspect he would prefer to be thought of as a "progressive".) In contrast, I'm what might be considered "right of center" politically-though I would consider myself more of a moderate than a true conservative. However, since we live in a world of labels, he would consider me a "right winger" in much the same way I'd consider him a "left winger," which seems to work for us.

In any case, one thing Vic and I do share in common besides our love for writing is our interest in spirituality. We don't necessarily see eye-to-eye on everything, of course, but for the most part we are on the same wave-length when it comes to that particular subject. The reason I bring this up is because of what happened during one of our discussions. I was regaling him with some of my spiritual philosophies when he simply shook his head in wonder and asked me how a "conservative" could be "into" spirituality the way I was. The implication, of course, is that liberalism is the natural byproduct of spirituality, making a spiritually conscious conservative, from his perspective, something of an oxymoron-sort of along the lines of being a compassionate Nazi or a non-bigoted Klansman.

I found his sentiment amusing and merely shrugged it off, but it was reflective of a larger perspective that is prevalent among those who consider themselves spiritually attuned, and that is an underlying assumption that conservatism is inconsistent with spirituality. However, to embrace such a position is not only inaccurate, but is a misunderstanding of the nature of spirituality, which is supposed to transcend politics. It is the effort to turn spirituality not into a journey of the heart, but into a political consensus, which can be an extremely dangerous thing to do.
How could it be dangerous? By making spirituality synonymous with progressivism (or liberalism), it shuts the door to many who may be looking for a spiritual life but resist doing so because of the perception that it will mean that they must eventually become a liberal. In other words, imagining that spirituality is synonymous with liberalism can often result in alienating those from the right and keeping them from considering its benefits or pursuing a spiritual journey of their own.

In doing so, unfortunately, one demonstrates not only a lack of understanding as to what spirituality is trying to accomplish, but even worse, it diminishes its inclusivity by making spirituality incompatible with conservatism, thereby eliminating an entire subgroup of the population from embarking on a spiritual journey of their own.

Of course, this phenomenon isn't confined to the left. Christian fundamentalists do much the same thing by giving the impression that Christianity is synonymous with fiscal conservatism, small government, a strong national defense, and traditional family values, thereby limiting its potential appeal to those of other political stripes. Obviously, no one is going to feel comfortable exploring the claims made by Christ if they feel their political views are not acceptable to the majority of the congregation. No doubt this conservative bent in many mainline churches has been one of the reasons for the mass exodus the churches have experienced over the last few decades. We naturally tend to gravitate to those groups and organizations we feel are more in tune with our world-view, and it is this tendency to confiscate what is a spiritual message and turn it into a political one that is hurting both mainline churches and new thought congregations as well.

That's not to say, however, that our understanding of the Divine shouldn't or won't affect our political perspective over time. In fact, it's inevitable that it will, at least if you take your spiritual journey seriously. The problem comes in how this affect might manifest itself. My friend obviously thought that a sort of socialist cradle-to-grave system of government best reflects the underlying thrust of spirituality, which is to love thy neighbor as thyself. He saw that played out in terms of forced redistribution of wealth and multiple government programs designed to provide everything from health care to free higher education to housing. The problem with such a perspective, however, is that it sets up a type of class warfare mentality, in which the government demands that the affluent give up large portions of their wealth for the betterment of all.

Spirituality, however, is not about forcing anyone to do anything. It is about enlightenment, not taxes. It works on the heart, softening and changing perspectives rather than simply confiscating property and goods in some misguided attempt at "fairness." In fact, it has been this attempt to insist that the wealthy provide for the poor that ultimately destroys wealth and generally reduces the populace to the status of wards of the state, thereby giving the state ever greater degrees of control over people's lives.

On the other hand, spirituality is incompatible with greed and materialism, making capitalism no more spiritual than socialism. At its worst, capitalism can be a cruel and uncaring task master, as evidenced by the excesses of the industrialists of the nineteenth and early twentieth century who frequently worked their employees to death in often unsafe conditions for miniscule wages. My friend was right in his observation that we do have an obligation to see to the plight of the poor, especially as how we relate to the poor is a reflection of our own level of spiritual enlightenment. Turn your backs on the needy and you turn your back on God, for the needy-indeed, all people-are a manifestation of the Divine.

So what is the proper form of government (or, more precisely, what type of system is to be considered most "spiritual")? In another article I wrote, I maintained that a truly spiritual society would maintain only the barest government necessary, and that, further, there would be little personal wealth. The spiritually conscious would require little of either as they would understand the transitory nature of both. Of course, we are far from reaching such a level, meaning that we will require some form of government for the foreseeable future. Additionally, there will always be people who will have more than others, either for legitimate or illegitimate reasons, so affluence is not going to go away anytime soon either. So how do we balance these two different worldviews in a way that maintains fairness and provides opportunity while encouraging innovation and entrepreneurship?

I suspect the most spiritual approach would be a type of enlightened capitalism that would both encourage economic productivity and profit while maintaining a social conscience. In this scenario, corporations would be free to market their goods or services with minimal government interference while recognizing their obligation, both individually and collectively, to provide many of the services required to maintain a healthy, educated, and happy populace.

Sounds nice, but how might this work in a practical manner? One key would be that corporations would voluntarily set aside a fixed percentage of their profits to provide for basic services and educational opportunities with the realization that doing so would ultimately be to their own benefit. While this may sound very much like what we see with government-levied corporate and income taxes, in my imaginary enlightened society, this profit-sharing would not be government mandated but done freely as a means of maintaining the health of society. In effect, businesses would be willing to invest in people because they realize it is people that manufacture the goods and services and make their businesses solvent and, in doing so, create a more stable society. In turn, government would no longer perceive corporations as a threat but be naturally business friendly because they understand that it is businesses that provide jobs, produce goods, advance technologies, and produce the material means to maintain society. In effect, both sides would perceive the other as essential in the maintenance of a mutually beneficial symbiotic relationship.
I know people will automatically discount this concept out-of-hand as being hopelessly naive and impractical. It's almost impossible to imagine any Fortune 500 company voluntarily giving up a significant percentage of their profits to provide for the needs of the population without being forced to do so by the government, but the question here is not what is practical by today's standards but what a spiritually enlightened society might do. Clearly, humanity is far from reaching this level of consciousness, either corporately or individually.

However, such a world as I describe is not necessarily out of reach, either. According to Forbes magazine, there are a number of major corporations that provide hundreds of millions of dollars each year to charitable organizations. For example, the Target chain of retail stores corporate by-laws state that it must give five percent of its pre-tax profits to charity-and this is on top of its regular corporate taxes-making it one of the biggest corporate contributors in the world. As such, the idea that major companies are unwilling to provide a percentage of their profits for the betterment of others is unfounded. It may not be common, but it's not unheard of either.

Imagine, however, what the world would be like if every major corporation in the world (at least those with earning profits in access of, say, one billion dollars a year) agreed to set aside just ten percent of their profits each year for college funds, vocational training programs, health services and housing subsidies for the lowest income families? Not only would the amount of revenue be staggering, but if it were responsibly managed-which would be a caveat to the entire process-it would negate the need for most government assistance.

Unfortunately, such a scenario is largely impractical today because of the pressure on major corporations to show ever increasing profits for their investors, thereby reducing incentive to give up a chunk of their earnings and risk hurting the "bottom line." However, what would happen if one takes the investor out of the picture entirely? Suppose that the New York Stock Exchange were shuttered (or perhaps only limited to start-up companies until they could get on their feet)? Without the need to keep investors satisfied, reaching profit goals would no longer be the major driving force, permitting a company to operate without needing to worry so much about maintaining appearances or making money for their investors. In fact, eliminate investors and speculators and the free market system, no longer encumbered by outside pressures or manipulative traders, might sing. Of course, it would take a high degree of spiritual consciousness to pull this off and I hold no illusions that such is likely to be seen soon, but I believe this is very much what a spiritually attuned corporate world would look like.

But what would be the role of government in such a scenario? I already said it would be "business friendly"-by which I mean minimal regulations and mandates and a reasonable tax rate-but how else might it look? For one, it would likely be considerably smaller than it is today, with greater authority given to local, state, and regional authorities rather than being focused on the federal level. It would realize that each state and region has its own unique needs and so would wisely permit those "on-the-scene"-so to speak-to make the decisions rather than having policy dictated by some Washington bureaucrat or mandated by congressional leaders who have no real understanding of the repercussions their legislation will have upon different areas of the country. Its job would be mainly to maintain the local infrastructure and provide basic emergency services while the Federal Government would take responsibility for national defense and foreign relations as, it could be argued, it was originally designed to do.

Finally, to make all this work, it would be up to the citizenry to contribute to the common good by taking advantage of the opportunities afforded them, whether that means going to school to learn a trade or earn a degree, or merely taking advantage of opportunities to start a business. What they wouldn't be able to do, however, is simply live off the government for extended periods of time or decide that it is for others to provide them their livelihood. Laziness is no more spiritual than is greed or indifference, and in a spiritually evolved society it would not be tolerated. Of course, individuals unable to provide for themselves due to physical limitations or old age would still be provided for, ideally by the funds from the aforementioned enlightened corporations, the assistance of family and friends, and through the charitable giving of each individual (with government funding being the resource of last resort). Those who can work in some capacity, however, would be expected to do so or, at a minimum, contribute in some meaningful way. There would be no penalties for not doing so, of course, but in such a world, voluntary idleness would be looked upon with the same distaste normally reserved for thieves and scam artists.

And, finally, what of private ownership? Would it disappear in such a world? No. People may still own property, a home, vehicles, and all the other things people enjoy owning. What would be different would be the attitude behind them. People would no longer perceive having a million-dollar home as a status symbol but would see it instead as an immense waste of resources and a monument to their own vanity. In such a world, the obsessive acquisition of material things would be seen as a sign of spiritual unconsciousness and, while it would be tolerated, it would never be considered "healthy." Instead, people would buy only what they needed, recognizing how easily things can become their master if they're not careful.

The point of all this is simply that while such a society may be difficult to build and while it may not even be possible to realize such a society for centuries yet, within the realm of spirit it is possible and, perhaps, even inevitable. We may be only to speculate as to what such a society might look at and how it might function at this point, but even imagining such a thing is a start and a necessary agent for change. All great ideas first start as a mere thought but within each thought is contained the seeds of societal evolution, which is the machinery that both runs and reflect our spiritual progression toward the future.