I was invited to host a conversation at Trinity Church in downtown Manhattan on Wednesday, February 1st from 1-2pm EST (a recording is available here).  The subject I chose is "Occupy as a Leap of Faith."  As I note below, my initial inspiration was the work of Frances Moore Lappe.  I also want to acknowledge the influence of my time with the FOUR YEARS.GO campaign.  Much of the language that came to me in my opening comments at Trinity were a direct expression of the basic message of that initiative, and echoed the words of Lynne Twist (who was central to the launching of 4YG) in particular.  

The conversation began here before the event, seeded by a Cafe Call on January 6th.  I have reframed the core questions, and look forward to our ongoing dialogue on this theme:

  • How has the Occupy Wall Street movement changed your sense of what might be possible?
  • To what extent do you live as if we truly have enough goods, goodness and time to create a world that works for all?

Initial post for this discussion, from January 4th:

For me, the essential power of the Occupy movement has been its ability to inspire a very large and diverse group of people to move out of a place of disempowerment into one of possibility.  It is easy to understand the resigned, cynical and dis-empowered perspective given the current state of affairs on this planet. That makes the decision of so many to take a stand based on the possibility of something new all the more remarkable and precious.

France Moore Lappe's wonderful book Getting a Grip 2 presents an elegant framework that addresses this dichotomy directly, with the twin premises of scarcity and sufficiency at the heart of two different spirals.  She moves from these core premises all the way through to the specific political and economic dynamics that have created a world where the 1% are increasingly able to dominate and exploit the 99% on the one hand, and a world where we work collaboratively to meet the needs of all, on the other.  You can study the two spirals on her www.smallplanet.org website here [and we have also now posted them below as well].

The "spiral of powerlessness" begins from the assumption that we don't have enough "goods or goodness" (to which I would also add "time") to go around and that as a result, human nature is inherently "selfish, competitive and materialistic."  The "spiral of empowerment" is based upon an assumption that we do have enough, both materially and spiritually.  As a result, we can trust our "deep needs for fairness, cooperation and effectiveness," harnessing them to transform the systems by which we organize and govern ourselves so that the voices and the needs of the 99% are heard and met.

The Occupy movement emerged out of those "deep needs."  The encampments were grounded in the Occupiers' faith in "fairness, cooperation and [the] effectiveness" of the people.  And they were energized by the discovery of sufficiency, as the basic needs not only of the Occupiers themselves, but also of the poorest and weakest among us, were met with grace and love, despite extremely challenging circumstances.

Now almost all the encampments are gone.  Perhaps they will reemerge, perhaps not.  But it is their lesson that holds the greatest power, in my opinion.  How can we nourish that precious faith in human goodness and the sufficiency of the universe that is the source of our ability not simply to "solve our problems," but to step into a realm of possibility in which the true genius of humanity can be unleashed with all the incredible power and brilliance that is within our grasp?

Perhaps we might start by looking within ourselves. In that spirit, I suggest that we begin our conversation with these questions:

  • When have you experienced a deep and powerful sense of sufficiency?
  • What would it take for you to trust that we truly have enough goods, goodness, and time to create a world that works for all?

[Note: I suggest that we move from these initial framing questions to the ones that are now posted at the start of this thread above]

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I am finding a deep sense of hope through the work of our team at DirectCongress.org.

We invite all Americans to join us on this platform where any citizen can propose and vote on laws directly.  The news about this movement  for Tea Party and Occupy enthusiasts alike, is just starting to get out.

Find out how we can together make the best laws possible for America. 

Until all have opportunity & justice,


Watching the conversation @ Trinity via streaming today.  The conversation articulates so clearly that we may not have the "answers" at our ready.....but it is the coming together IN the conversations that will begin to provide more answers to the ways forward.  

RE: the questions above: I experience sufficiency when I am willing to look at FEARS and then take them apart so I can move beyond the parts of self that keep me in fear.  So processing self is a responsibility that can be very uncomfortable, but we must look within ourselves FIRST....stop blaming and being victims....The more of us that DO that, the more real power is unleashed through us.  We find each other that way, as the OCCUPY MOVEMENT is demonstrating.

It would be powerful to see shifts "from the top" down that are taking place as a result of what we, the bottom UP are speaking and doing via community.  I believe we DO have all we need.  I do TRUST our awakening as a whole humanity.  But I'm still not much at ease with the power structures the 'govern' to carry out the vision of the peoples' voice.  

Thank you for these reflections, Mary, and for tuning in today!  For those of you that missed it, please check out the recording at www.trinitywallstreet.org.

I agree that it would be nice to see more evidence "at the top" that our voices are being heard.  And I also think there is much that we can do ourselves without waiting for our "leaders" to act.  Perhaps even more importantly, I believe that there is already so much more moving and awakening around the globe that we can easily recognize or quantify or than the standard "stories" we tell ourselves about the world describe.  

If we work together to honor "the inherent worth and dignity of all people" and "respect the interconnected web of life of which we are a part," (two of the seven Unitarian Universalist principles!), I believe that "miraculous" things can happen.  And yes, it may take a "miracle" to put us firmly on a track towards "a world that works for all."

Keep the faith, baby!

You are so kind to reply.  And I TOTALLY agree that much is occurring that the eyes 'can't see YET...but I'm keepin' the faith.  THANK YOU for all you are doing.  

It was fun to see you moving about, Ben.  Great guests!  And no one disputed your declarations of urgency.  Congratulations.

Hi Ben,

Having watched the vid, I thought that good points were made about interconnectedness. Heart can be interpreted as being social conscience which arises here because of the patently unfair distribution of resources and because of the observation of unconscionable acts of government. Issues of conscience, as equity, typically arise because of failure of the law to deliver justice. The issue of justice came up only once, and in this context I wouldn't expect it to be addressed, i,e.if people have faith that a just and loving deity would intend that an innocent man be tortured to death for no good reason, then you are in the wrong venue for asking that question.

Another point made was the conflict between commerce and spirit. Spirit is found in the common law of King Alfred the Great, which conflicts with the civil law, which is the framework by which commercial law is supported. Common law in fundamentally theistic, and this fact is actively suppressed by advocates of the civil law.

At my request, based on a sense that this conversation might be more generative if we opened it up to all of OC.org, member Lynne Monds has agreed to share an email exchange between the two of us that emerged out of her response to my remarks at Trinity Wall Street.  Here is Lynne's initial email to me:

Hello Ben,

I have just watched the Trinity Wall Street Dialogue that occurred yesterday and was very impressed by both the questions from the audience and the answers given.  I loved especially Jennifer Chinn's discussion of the Martian who came to dinner.

The only thing that took me aback somewhat was your reference to your atheistic beliefs and how they tie into this movement.  I am wondering what foundation the Occupy movement is standing upon when demanding rights for the 99%, if not of rights given by God?

This morning I listened to President Obama give his talk at the annual White House prayer breakfast, and many of the things he said are still ringing in my ear.  I'm going to post a few here, because after this I would like to ask you a question:

"...far too many neighbors in our country have been hurt and treated unfairly over the last few years, and I believe in God's command to "love thy neighbor as thyself." "

"It's also about the biblical call to care for the least of these -- for the poor; for those at the margins of our society.

"To answer the responsibility we're given in Proverbs to "Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute." And for others, it may reflect the Jewish belief that the highest form of charity is to do our part to help others stand on their own.

"Treating others as you want to be treated. Requiring much from those who have been given so much. Living by the principle that we are our brother's keeper. Caring for the poor and those in need. These values are old. They can be found in many denominations and many faiths, among many believers and among many non-believers. And they are values that have always made this country great -- when we live up to them; when we don't just give lip service to them; when we don't just talk about them one day a year. And they're the ones that have defined my own faith journey."


Additionally, we know that the founding fathers based their notion that our right to pursue happiness (read "equal opportunity for the 99% to pursue the American dream") was endowed by our Creator.

Finally, the Magna Carter of 1215-- the United Kingdom version of our Constitution -- which took ultimate power away from Prince John, begins " KNOW THAT BEFORE GOD, for the health of our soul and those of our ancestors and heirs, to the honour of God, the exaltation of the holy Church, and the better ordering of our kingdom...." -- signifying that the barons who wrote it knew that the only authority that could trump that of a king were men representing the will of God. 

My question then is: if we of the human race are not called "to care for the least of these -- for the poor" by God, then by what justification are we called to care for them?  By what authority, if not that of God, do we tell the Koch brothers or Mitt Romney that we should have concern for the poor as well as the middle class or the rich?

The airwaves today are filled with pushback against Romney's comment, yet isn't that righteous indignation standing upon thousands of years of teachings by the major religions of the world regarding the concern for the poor?  Who else taught us that we should “give alms” to the poor?

Today Obama quoted Jesus' statement "to him that is given much, much is asked."  Really, Jesus?  By whose authority do you make such a unequivocal statement?

Who else but "the Father" could have given Jesus the teachings that authorized overturning the existing power structures?  To overturn a social infrastructure, you must have something of a higher moral order to replace it with -- or you just have a coup d'etat.  Who is the final authority on whether or not it is a higher moral order?

Perhaps we should base the reformation of a state on the notion that somehow our ultimate survival as a species depends on making sure that the poorest among us have the same opportunity for upward mobility as the rich? 

The argument that sustainability is strengthened when the weak are helped is actually no more self-evident than the argument that sustainability is strengthened when the strong are encouraged to push forward unfettered to build their edifices.

The feudal systems of Europe were stable for thousands of years -- until the American Declaration reminded the common people that intertwined with their Judeo-Christian belief in God was the concurrent belief that He endowed them with the freedom to define and pursue their own goals.  Then they began making demands of their respective aristocracies.

 If there is no God to say to the aristocracies of today "to him that is given much, much is asked", why shouldn't they simply pursue their goals without concern for the rest of us?

That is my question....

Thanks, Ben

Here is my initial reply to Lynne:


The 99% certainly includes a large number of atheists, as does the Occupy movement.  Perhaps I am misunderstanding you, but if you are suggesting that a belief in God is required for one to be a moral person, I could not disagree more.  Indeed, I find the suggestion insulting (although I don't take it personally!).

As a Unitarian Universalist, I affirm and promote these seven principles:

  • The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
  • Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
  • Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
  • A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
  • The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
  • The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
  • Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

My congregation is filled with many other atheists who do the same, and there are many atheists who are not affiliated with any spiritual practice who would agree that these principles, or some similar set, provide the moral ground on which they live.  No belief in God is required to accept these values.  Their "authority," as far as I'm concerned, is self-evident.  A world guided by them will be a much better place for all of us and for our descendants.  

It's the basic logic of the Golden Rule and follows from a choice to be loving rather than fearful.  I believe we all carry within us a deep desire for fairness, justice and equality.  Just look at kids playing games together where they make up rules and enforce them by consent.  Do they do this because they believe in God?  I believe they do so because it's in our DNA.  And we're not the only animals that display altruistic behavior.

As I said yesterday at Trinity, we need to come together around what unties us. Religion has separated us in so many ways for far too long.  Our UU congregation works seamlessly with other denominations to support good works throughout our area.  Similarly, atheists, theists and agnostics all collaborate for good in many other contexts as well.  Let Occupy (and Occupy Cafe be one of them.



Lynne replied as follows:

Hello Ben,

 As I sit down to reply to you tonight, it just happens that Melissa Harris Perry is on the Lawrence O' Donnell show talking about President Obama's statement that if people believe in the Bible they should also understand that Jesus was more concerned with poor people than he was with the typical Republican social issues….

 I am sorry if you found insulting my suggestion about God being required for morality, and I appreciate the fact that you did not take it personally.

 Perhaps I could say it in a different way:  it is not so much that God is required for one to be a moral person, it is more that the entire question about what is a moral person seems out of place to me if God is not part of the conversation.  It might be that the designation of “God” is the semantic problem here.  It doesn’t matter to me what title you give to it; what I am referring to is a universal standard of moral action.

 Unitarian Universalists have seven principles.  Do they believe only UUs should have to live by these principles?  If yes, then they should not protest against the 1% when they do not adhere to the principle of “Justice, equity and compassion in human relations”.

 On the other hand, if UUs believe all people should live by these principles, then I would ask by what authority do you request this of the rest of us?  Shouldn’t we be able to determine our own principles?  Shouldn’t the Koch brothers be able to determine for themselves that it is moral for them to buy five yachts rather than pay higher taxes so that a fellow American can have breast cancer surgery?  By what authority do we say what they are doing is wrong – if not by some universal standard of moral action, which many but not all of us call God?

 You say these things are self-evident and in our DNA – but then I would ask, if that is so, why don’t we all just naturally proceed in the most just, equitable and compassionate manner every time we are called upon to act?  Why do some of those children who harmoniously come up with rules for games together grow up to become the hedge fund managers who run Ponzi schemes?  Those aren’t very harmonious games – what happened to the kids along the way?

 I believe that what happened was they failed to align their own moral compass with the universal standard of good – they thought they could just make it up according to what benefitted them.  And I believe that before organized religion, the entire world consisted of a bunch of tribes acting in accordance with what benefitted the most powerful: there were no policies for protections of minorities or governments based on the will of the people. 

 The American Declaration of Independence is an acknowledgment that we the people have no right to demand government of the people without the Creator or the Great Spirit or the Great Pumpkin endowing us with that right.

 Can you and I at least agree that our rights derive from a Universal Endowment blessing us all equally, even if we do not agree on how that UE should be addressed?

 Thank you, Ben--


And here is my last reply to Lynne:


Why is it important to you, Lynne, that we align around some kind of common language for God?  Indeed, might it not be a good and useful thing to learn that many of us are passionate advocates for universal human rights without such faith?  I am curious (really!) why it is apparently not comforting to hear that many people have faith in the fundamental goodness of the human heart (when it is offered conditions under which it can flourish) that does not depend upon a metaphysical explanation.

You ask if UUs believe that "only UUs should have to live by [our] principles," and also "by what authority do we say what [the Koch brothers] are doing is wrong – if not by some universal standard of moral action?"  Implicit in these questions is the idea that exercising authority--i.e. force-- is the means by which positive change occurs.  

I believe that the patriarchal (and hierarchical) imposition of force is at the core of what is taking us on a headlong path towards self-destruction.  We cannot create a better world by demanding that others believe, or behave, as we wish them to.  What we can do is show that the alternative to force is superior in all ways; that a life, and a world, grounded in love is infinitely preferable to one based on fear.

You suggest that "before organized religion, the entire world consisted of a bunch of tribes acting in accordance with what benefited the most powerful: there were no policies for protections of minorities or governments based on the will of the people."  Actually, the anthropological evidence is otherwise, and I believe we have much to learn from our tribal ancestors, and the world's remaining indigenous peoples, who in many ways are repositories of that ancient wisdom.  

When we live in small close knit groups, the notion that "we are all in this together" and must look out for the well being of the whole is self-evident.  We don't need money, or even barter.  Fairness, justice and equality have a far better chance of emerging as the ground of our relations than in more complex and authoritarian/hierarchical systems.  

The story of The Fall is interpreted by many as a parable of our leaving the relative ease and comfort of our tribal hunter-gatherer societies (the Garden of Eden) and entering the authoritarian and patriarchal world of agricultural civilization.  Archeological evidence indicates that our health and longevity suffered dramatic declines when this happened.  I don't mean to sentimentalize early human society, or the ways of modern indigenous people, but simply to suggest that we have lost something along the way and that there is much wisdom to be be re-learned even as we evolve as a species towards something altogether new.

Our challenge at this moment in history, in my view, is in part to create the global equivalent of that ancient tribal sensibility.  To recognize that we are (literally!) one human family and we all need to get along or we, and much of the rest of the life on our planet, will suffer and perhaps perish.  Our tendency to fear "the other" (i.e. those not part of our own tribe) runs deep, as does our tendency to fight for control if we fear that scarcity is our fundamental condition.  Our evolutionary/spiritual challenge, therefore, is to nurture our higher selves with the idea that what unites us all is far deeper than what divides us; that if we can tap into our common humanity, we can let go of our fear that there is not enough and discover the joy of coming together to create a world that works for all.



Thank you for sharing your conversation here.  I can claim NO debate experience and in fact, find it very challenging!  But I would like to offer a view...Not an answer.

Belief systems of any sort demand that we meet on mental levels of our being.  What I saw yesterday at the Cathedral, were 4 participants of extremely varied "beliefs" sitting like wise human beings, holding their differences with respect and without a need for one person to be right.  To do this, more of a person's heart must be available.  There is no language for GOD other than silence....For none of us has ultimate knowing.  However, each of us carries a divine spark.  And when we can see one another through that lens, mental differences fall away...and an atheist and a priest can share...can in some ways, say the same thing.  Atheist and Priest are, after all, only mental labels.  Occupy can begin to help opposites find oneness.  But that can only occur as people can manage to set aside beliefs momentarily, self-empty, and become filled instead, with brotherly love.  This is the time for all of us to take a good, long hard look at our innate goodness as well as anything that prevents us from LIVING that innate goodness in this world.

I wish for our Oneness...


In response to Lynne's comment about the poor, this doctrine is essentially Pauline, the primary message of the Messiah was a call to repentance. Paul, the thirteenth apostle, was a liar and a Pharisee, and the book of Revelation was written for the disciples who had rejected him, not the Christians of Rome/Babylon. There is no direct connection between religion and morality, although the consideration of the issue of the origin of mankind on this planet leads to the question of the role of deity, given the high level of development of ancient civilizations.


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