On the importance of service and purpose: Something I learned in the last five years

It’s become fashionable these days among the conservatives in the United States to call their leftist and Democratic opponents as “socialists.” To the FOX News talking heads, Chuck Schumer is a socialist, Elizabeth Warren is a socialist, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is the next worst thing that happened after Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro.

I’ve spent many years in leftist activism and had lots of contacts and collaboration with the far-leftists of all types.

As a community organizer, I worked to connect this group of mostly far-left progressives in hope of accomplishing some tangible policy goals.

Instead of getting anything done, the organization (even calling it an “organization” was a stretch) was in disarray because of incessant infighting–and more commonly, because of flakiness.

The self-styled “revolutionaries” and “radicals” and “activists” consistently failed to show up and do the hard work. Meetings were sparsely and sporadically attended. Few made personal commitments to volunteer or donate on an ongoing basis. Most of them had no sense of loyalty or stick-to-it-ness. Many of them couldn’t even explain what they stood for.

They would then abruptly drop out, saying something like they were “burned out” or they needed “self-care.”

These people were no equivalent of the Bolsheviks or Maoists or Jucheists.

I came to a conclusion that there is a crucial difference between the “real” socialists in those socialist countries and what passes today for “socialists” of the United States: to the former, socialism is the cause, the purpose, and that which is far greater than their individual self; to the latter, activism and ideologies are merely another personal lifestyle brand.

No one pledges their lives to a lifestyle brand. They may be walking around an “anarchist” patch they bought online, or wearing a Che Guevara T-shirt they procured from Amazon. But they are not willing to die for socialism, like their counterparts in Beijing, Havana, Caracas, or Pyongyang would.

Like other denizens of this postmodern world, they lack the roots that ground them to a firm foundation.

After I’ve left the world of activism, I have noticed the same thing about many churches and spiritual teachers. Historically, religion was something people would also die for. Now in the United States, especially among those who call themselves liberals and progressives, spirituality is just another lifestyle brand that is there to serve their self-centered interests: to make them feel good, or for the sake of “self-actualization.”

No wonder why church membership and attendance are dropping sharply unless they are churches that demand a life of public commitment and dedication to faith.

By definition, faith and spirituality are to be transcendent; in other words, they are meaningless unless they unite us to that which is far larger and greater than the total sum of who we are, and compel us to make a total commitment to that which is far larger and greater than the total sum of who we are (whether we call it God, or the faith, or the tradition, or the divine law). This is where the true meaning of vocation comes from.

Even though the socialist ideology is officially atheist, they share much in common with faith in this regard. The adherents of Bolshevism, Maoism, Juche, or Chavismo commit their lives and honor to their cause of patriotism, national liberation, and class struggle. In some socialist countries, their fervent devotion is literally likened to a religion, as such is the case in North Korea. Despite their apparent lack of a supernatural deity, these people live with a profound sense of purpose and a total commitment to their cause–which give them a sense of meaning in everything they do, unshakable resolve, a strong motivation, and inner strength.

Commitment, by definition of that word, is something you make by renouncing the easy ways out. Making a commitment means we show up even when we don’t feel like it, instead of flaking out.

Any “spirituality” that does not demand a high level of commitment does not offer a strong sense of purpose. It is just another lifestyle brand that will not withstand the challenges of life.