Last weekend the American spiritual activist Marianne Williamson denounced the 2016 Republican Presidential Nominee, Donald J. Trump. Over the years Williamson has been criticised by some of her followers for getting involved in politics, but she is adamant that spiritual seekers should not avoid getting involved in the political arena. Williamson publicly showed her support for Senator Bernie Sanders during the Democratic Party presidential primaries 2016 and came under attack for announcing her candidacy for California's 33rd Congressional District in 2013.
In summer 2016 the spiritual teacher and author Dr. Deepak Chopra received criticism for speaking out against Donald J. Trump. Dr. Chopra condemned Trump as representing "America's shadow" but was lambasted on social media for entering the online political conversation.
Similarly, Pope Francis came under fire from the 2016 Republican Presidential Nominee after saying, "A person who thinks only about building walls... and not of building bridges, is not Christian". Unsurprisingly, the aforementioned Donald Trump reacted with predictable fury. Less than a year ago His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama was mocked for suggesting the West should consider holding a dialogue with the terrorist organisation ISIS.
Many who reconnect with their spirituality (in adulthood) are often emotionally battered and yearn for inner peace. I understand this. When I got clean and sober from substance misuse, aged twenty-one, the last thing I wanted to do was discuss politics and I sought to avoid heated debates which could lead to animosity amongst my fellows. Politics, after all, can bring out the most unfortunate of human characteristics. Why, then, would any spiritual leader wish to enter the fray of the political arena?
When Marianne Williamson announced her candidacy for California's 33rd Congressional District elections in 2013, I feared that she would get caught up in day-to-day politics and lose focus on assisting people to demonstrate forgiveness to one another. Two years ago, however, I started to revisit my beliefs with respect to the role of a spiritual leader. Was I being intransigent in my views (all or nothing thinking) by insisting that spiritual teachers should "rise above politics"?
Essentially, many wonderful social improvements have emerged from spiritually inspired men and women who put themselves into the political consciousness. Think of the impact Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. (a brilliant Christian leader) had in the United States of America. His hero, Mahatma Ghandi (another deeply spiritual human being), defeated the British Empire without resorting to violence (passive non-resistance). An objective person could point to Muhammad Ali as becoming a global symbol of peace after his retirement from boxing. Similarly, we can observe the early suffragette movement and see how their spiritual convictions gave them the courage to be the catalysts for change which allowed women to vote.
If enlightened and tolerant people are not involved in creating a strong political will to effect change for the greater good, then who? The more compassionate people get involved in the political process, the easier it will be to pass compassionate laws. Lastly, spiritual leaders are fellow human beings and have a right to express their views, just like every other citizen.
Christopher Dines' new book, The Kindness Habit: Transforming our Relationship to Addictive Behaviours, co-authored with Dr Barbara Mariposa is out now.