This interview, conducted by Beliefnet Editor-in-Chief Steven Waldman, is one in a series with the candidates.
BELIEFNET: A lot of people have strong feelings--positive or negative--about Catholic education. Where do you fit in spectrum?
DENNIS KUCINICH: Very positive. And I attribute it to the [nuns] who dedicated their lives to the religious. I was very fortunate. These are some of the most significant, important people in my life and I treasure their memories.
BELIEFNET: Would it be possible to summarize the message they taught you about the nature of Christianity?
KUCINICH: About always doing the right thing no matter what, about never being afraid to take a stand. About a sense of personal responsibility for one's actions.
BELIEFNET: So what part of your genetic makeup as a politician came from that?
KUCINICH: Social conscience. In the spirit of a Dorothy Day, in the spirit of Pope Leo XIII, in the spirit of Pope Paul VI and Populorum Progressio.
BELIEFNET: Any other Catholic or Christian writers or teachers that have influenced you in particular?
KUCINICH: I would say all the gospels. The letters of Paul to Corinthians. In the Old Testament, the book of Proverbs, the book of Isaiah.
BELIEFNET: In terms of your spiritual practice, did you go to mass regularly or was it a more private practice?
KUCINICH: It was a private practice that included mass.
BELIEFNET: What was the name of church?
KUCINICH: Oh, my family lived in 21 places before I was 17. Are you kidding? I'll give you the names of a dozen churches. You want 'em?
BELIEFNET: Maybe later. The private aspects, anything you want to mention about that?
KUCINICH: Making a connection to anything transcendent--some people feel being in a church helps facilitate that. Other times, the sanctity of one's own thoughts is a church.
BELIEFNET: Do you have a set of prayers that are most meaningful to you?
KUCINICH: I think the Lord's Prayer is a very powerful prayer. And the prayer of St. Francis.
BELIEFNET: You have supplemented or complemented your Catholic upbringing with a variety of other spiritual teachings. What was the nature of your spiritual journey in 1979 and 1980, when you left the mayoralty [in Cleveland]?
KUCINICH: Anyone who really studies Catholicism deeply is aware of the mystical nature of our faith. Even references to Christ's mystical body has connections to that principle. The liturgy of the faith derives from symbology which connects to the universe and which underscores the universality of the church. I had the opportunity to learn about the many different ways in which my Catholic faith connects with the world. And I think this is what was anticipated by Pope John the 23 in the Ecumenical Council.
KUCINICH: I would say there's a sense of which the doctrine of substantiation is connected to the Hindu religion's concepts of shakti, yanim and vipassana.
BELIEFNET: In an essay for Marianne Williamson's book you wrote, "Our greatest challenges are spiritual at their source: a misunderstanding of power, the heavy burden of unrelieved materialism, fear of death. If all that government does is address symptoms, we will always be dissatisfied with the government. Government itself must be moved to a higher level of thought, to a quickened cognizance of its generative role as a convener of consciousness for the country." How can the government play a role of convener of consciousness for the country?
KUCINICH: To create communities. To create dialogue to bring people together in town hall meetings and in universities and to have great discussions and great debates in a society. To recreate the commons, to recreate the public sphere and the commonwealth.
BELIEFNET: What sort of policies?
KUCINICH: That's reflected in everything. It's reflected in the way we build the architecture of cities. It's reflected in our mass transit policies. It's reflected in our health and education systems. Talking about something that's holistic.
BELIEFNET: You are vegan. Why do you follow that path?
KUCINICH: Well, I met someone who I fell in love with, and, basically, as a way of exploring the relationship, I changed my diet. It worked for me. It gave me a sense of connection and energy and clarity and health that I could never have imagined. That's how it started as with many of us, and we meet someone and creates a shift in our lives.
BELIEFNET: Most of those are reasons of physical well-being. At this point, do you view there as being an ethical dimension?
KUCINICH: Look, there's an ethical dimension to everything we do! Not just our choice of food. The choice of interviews I do. There's an ethical dimension to my life and all of our lives, from the time we get up in the morning to the time we sleep including what we sleep on. So I don't separate my choices from ethical choices at any time
It's consistent with a desire to help participate in sustaining the planet which I think this diet does. And it also sustains my health, which creates a reciprocal relationship between self and world.
BELIEFNET: For some vegans it implies or is part of a view about a continuum of life...
KUCINICH: There is an ethical basis for a choice of foods and for people who pursue the diet I enjoy, the ethical dimension is important . It's important to me. I don't want to be construed as saying someone who does another diet is lacking in ethics.
KUCINICH: Yes, I don't insist that anyone follow the diet that I follow. Because there has to be an element of freedom in a democratic society.
BELIEFNET: And so, in the case of abortion you might be personally opposed to abortion but pro-choice?
KUCINICH: I didn't say that. What I said was that in a democratic society, people must be permitted to make their choices and that the choices of women should not be subordinate to the choices of men, otherwise women are less than equal, are second-class citizens. Let women choose, and they will choose wisely. And at the same time with respect to abortion we can create a society where we can all work together to make abortions less necessary which is I think is an important and praiseworthy goal through birth control and sex education.
BELIEFNET: Why do you think it's an important goal to make abortion more rare?
KUCINICH: I think it's self-explanatory. I don't think there needs to be any elaboration on that.
BELIEFNET: I'm not sure it will be necessarily self-evident. Clinton used to use the line that he thought abortions should be legal, safe, and rare, but other politicians have not used the last part of the formulation which tells me...
KUCINICH: I don't think there's any woman out there who wakes up and says, "Gee, I think I'll have an abortion."
BELIEFNET: [The Catholic Church] says that politicians who don't adopt the anti-abortion line are not good Catholics.
KUCINICH: Well, you know when we start to define that, when you get into defining, it begins to establish a latitude that could become problematic.
BELIEFNET: Could you elaborate on that? I'm not sure I understand.
KUCINICH: No. I don't need to.
BELIEFNET: You had interesting comments about the Founding Fathers and separation of church and state. "Our founders wanted a separation of church and state, but never intended that America would become separated from the spiritual principles which animated the founding of this country." What do you think the spiritual principles that animated the founding of the country?
KUCINICH: An understanding of the role of divine providence. An understanding of the connection between God and nature. An appreciation for the possibility that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness flowed from a transcendent source. Things like that.
KUCINICH: Well, they wouldn't ask that question if they knew anything about the State Department. The purpose of the State Department is to support U.S. interests. Those interests are essentially commercial interests and sometimes military interests. The Department of Peace takes no position with respect to commercial and military interests but recognizes the interests of the entire society and of our domestic life in America for creating conditions so that we may have a culture of nonviolence. The way we do it is through creating programs in the schools and programs with community organizations and government organizations and actually create a culture of peace by teaching peace in our schools-by teaching peace giving, and peace sharing and mutuality and reciprocity and seeing the other person as an aspect of one's self.
I mean [this is] very much in line with the teaching of Christ--do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Love your neighbor as you love yourself. The golden rule. To do that in a practical sense. To make it the every day work of the nation to teach our children not just how to get along but why they should get along. Not just simply addressing issues in the school but help families with the difficulties they have with domestic violence and spousal abuse and child abuse. Take a whole new approach that's compassionate and accepting of family's potential to heal and repair the wounds and move beyond their difficult experiences.
BELIEFNET: To what extent should Gandhi's or Martin Luther King's principles [of non-violence] be integrated into our foreign policy?
KUCINICH: They would be with a cabinet level position because that would always be a part of the discussion. Just think if President Bush had that as an option in Iraq.
BELIEFNET: What would that have looked like?
KUCINICH: UN inspectors.
BELIEFNET: How would your personal spirituality affect what kind of president you'd be?
KUCINICH: [I'd be] both grounded and able to envision that place where matter comes together to create the stars and to contemplate both that which is being created and the creator.
BELIEFNET: In terms of your current spiritual practice, do you do meditate or do yoga? What you could you tell us about your current spiritual practice?
KUCINICH: I'm meditating now.
BELIEFNET: What do you mean?
KUCINICH: I'm meditating now. This conversation with you is a meditation.
BELIEFNET: Hmmm. How so?
KUCINICH: In that it is a constant flowing in and flowing out of spiritual principles, connection to thought, which is derived from spirit. It's the way I live every moment.
BELIEFNET: Does campaigning feel like a spiritual practice?
KUCINICH: Every moment of my life. EVERY MOMENT connects to spirit. In fact, that's how I'm here.