Me/Integral Christianity in Vancouver Sun

I got a very kind mention in the Vancouver Sun today from Doug Todd, the religion reporter for that paper.  Doug was a recent student in my Integral Christianity class (which is I guess how I got the label “educator” that he tags me with).  The article is predominantly about bringing back some natural hierarchy (er holarchy) within the development of faith and spirituality.

For those who are not familiar with the background on some of this, see here (Levels and Lines) and here specifically on James Fowler’s work.  Or just read Doug’s summary of Fowler in the article.

Note these are human constructs like mile markers which require thinking in terms of miles as opposed to say kilometers or feet–they measure something but are still our constructs.  They are helpful insofar as people become educated experientially to estimate miles or whatever the unit of distance is.  There is according to this metaphor a kind of interior distance that can be measured.  What is being measured is a person’s description of their own views on their core held meanings.  What is NOT being measured is better or worse persons, i.e. who is of more and who is of less value qua human-ness.

The element of development, re-constructed through scholarship as a series of fluid levels/stages, is but one of the elements that we would call “spiritual”.

Other definitions of spiritual would include the mystical life (in Wilber’s language state-bodies of consciousness and the corresponding transformation of behavior/meaning that goes along with them…or at least can).  Wilber uses a four state pattern (what he calls state-stages as opposed to structure-stages like in Fowler/Piaget) from Vedanta-Vajrayana Eastern spirituality:  waking-gross, dreaming-subtle, deep sleep-causal, Nondual.   In the native language of Christianity that is (exact correspondence):  purgation, illumination, union (of spirits), indistinct union.

One of the classes in the course Doug took was to walk through each of the states in the native Christian experience-way via classic forms of Christian meditation calibrated to each state.

A third understanding of spiritual is (again using Wilber’s typology) the higher/highest levels-stages in any of the lines (e.g. transcendent art, music, sports, emotional sensitivity).  The Fowler Stage of Faith is considered a separate line of development.

The Fowler stage is a sketch of human reconstructions of their answer to the question “What is Ultimate?”  It’s one piece only of the puzzle.  Moreover no one is ever 100% at any one stage.   The use of structural-stages are what Wilber calls “probability waves”.  They are simply probabilities of life experience of “locating” people’s expressions, outlooks, attitudes, ideals, etc. within certain parameters of human interaction.  They do not exist separate from people making discriminatory fallible judgments in other words.  Fowler’s stages do not exist outside humans in some pre-planted fashion. That said, it is a very helpful tool in seeing and dealing with people in regard to questions of spirituality.

Published in: on March 7, 2009 at 1:24 pm  Comments (1)  
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integral calculus: avery dulles and the death penalty

For the introduction to this series, here. For the first post like this one, here.

Article in Weekly Standard on Cardinal Avery Dulles and his somewhat nuanced reiteration of traditional Catholic teaching on the Death Penalty. The author Mark Tooley pretty accurately in my mind represents Dulles’ views. When I was a Jesuit I spent my last year in studies at Fordham where then Cardinal Dulles was still teaching (that was in 2003-2004). Dulles died recently (RIP and pray for us). He was flat and dry as a a piece of wood in class but he was a really kind and gracious person. And a brilliant scholar. The basic gist of the position re: death penalty is that the Catholic Church grants the state the right to have the death penalty but particularly in countries with modern penal systems probably doesn’t ever actually need to use it. And should proceed if ever with extreme caution. Certainly issues in the US system like the number of cases of DNA exonerating people either after death or while on death row, the execution of the mentally challenged or disturbed, and the massively disproportionate number of poor people (poor white, black, and Latino) as those executed all suggest a mass moratorium across the country on the practice. For anyone interested here is a really well done sorta fan page of Dulles with video, articles he’s written, and the like.

Anyway off to the perspectives…  (Warning: Dense-ness  ahead). (more…)

a little more ruminating

In my on-going reflection on what I should do with this here blog I’ve changed the subtitle to “intelligent sounding nonsense.” That line is cribbed from here. I’m guessing its author meant it in a different way than I’m taking it, and just so it’s clear I’m not doing this to re-start some beef between us. I actually think non-sense is the direction more and more I need to go–to becomes less sensical, less practical. Sensical and practical in the common usage. I’ve been thinking for awhile now of how exactly to capture it in a pithy phrase and lo! the Universe responds. Part paradox, part social criticism, part self-mocking. I find what is generally understood in the blogoic-sphere as sensical and practical to not have much relevance for me. Plus the stuff really worth reading on the blogsophere is already out there. I don’t have much to add by way of that conversation anyhow. Or anything to add by way of practical creative originality. I suppose here and there I can just link to things of value (according to what I think is valuable that is) and I might do some of that here and there.

The old subtitle of the blog was Christianity, Integral Philosophy, and Politics. The Christianity stuff has largely (though not entirely) migrated over to my blogging at Credo @ Culture11. Politics is something I find I have less and less to say (maybe it’s less of a need to say?) and might just link here and there as I feel. Probably won’t be able to completely rid myself of some commenting but I expect that to be decreasing in amount. Plus the Skypecast Dialogues with Scott are far more interesting and fun way of discussing politics than straight blog posts.

So that leaves Integral Philosophy.

I’m not sure if what I do constitutes real philosophy. My background is in history so when I came to study philosophy it generally has been more through a history of philosophy stance.

Also I’m only working with one strand or really one camp within Integral (e.g. Wilber, Edwards, McIntosh). A camp that in some fashion or other emphasizes development, worldviews, quadrants, premodern-modern-postmodern-integral sequencing, the integral cycle, etc. That version of integral (in its various sub-formulations) does very well with things like evolutionary components, the interface between technology-economics and ideology, patterns of large scale political-organizational formation, the brain-mind problem, aligining traditional spiritual maps of consciousness with modern science and postmodern hermeneutics and so forth. There are a number of other issues on which it’s not well suited (or helpful).

More than a theory of everything it is as Mark Edwards says a theory for anything. Except it’s really not [which is ok :)]. I’ve never been a huge fan of the language around integral being the most comprehensive and so forth–at least as comprehensive is normally understood as piling on, bigger, more stuff. Most comprehensive as in Whitehead’s understanding of com-prehension now that’s another story for another day.

That being said, I have a bit of history doing commentary on various works in integral-land. I might continue every so often with one of those. But I really want more and more to investigate and experiment with this notion of a perspectival glossary. In Wilber’s book Integral Spirituality he only does a brief introduction on the concept of the integral/perspectival glossary (what he calls a Giga-Glossary) the few examples he gievs are all nouns. Would verbs or adjectives work?

Diderot & Crew in the founding of modernity in The Enlightenment had The Encyclopedia. Derrida had his Glas-sary as one of the key texts of postmodernity. So it makes sense, but how exactly to proceed?

My buddy Joe Perez used to do a series of posts called Holons of the Day (for what a holon is here). He would post a photo of something he felt of value. By affixing the holon label it had a way of subtly shifting the photo into a new lens (at least for me). What I’m thinking about doing here would be something like that except more in the realm of writing. In other words, nonsense.

The notion (via Wilber) of returning philosophy to perspectives–and the Glossary as a way of categorizing terms in light of that philosophical shift–is something like a meta-archaeology. (This version of) integral thought as Wilber says is (essentially) content-less as it deals with the quasi-universal existential structures (of development through lines, of states, 1-2-3 modes of being, the four dimensions of any arising moment, and the self system).

I’m here dealing more with the tone of thought, the tone of thinking, more than anything else. Understanding the same stuff in a different light (to switch my metaphors).

Published in: on December 26, 2008 at 8:51 pm  Comments (2)  
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Random Ruminations on Blogging

I apologize for the lighter posting over here recently.  I’ve been sitting on some stuff, but have not been sure how to articulate it.  I’m still not sure I have a totally clear sense of what I’m getting at, so some of this will be pretty free form.  I’m still groping my way towards verbalizing some incohate (but strong) feelings.

The basic version is:  I just don’t feel like I have anything to say.  I feel drained of a motivation to blog or to take much interest in anything going on in the blogosphere.  I thought maybe at first this was just the inevitable post-election comedown but it goes much deeper than that alone.  Maybe there is just a natural cycle of push/pull, but somehow this one feels different to me.  It’s not a bad feeling.  I actually feel quite relieved in many ways.  Lighter, freer.  Unburdened of the need to say something, respond to events, give my opinion on X, Y, or Z.

The blogsophere is very good it seems to me at responding in quick fashion to unexpected events, particularly black swans.  The worst case of this is excessive political rumor mongering, fauxtrage (whether left or right, see Rick Warren selection), but at its best information streams much faster than the traditional media outlets.  Think Russia-Georgia war, Mumbai bombings, and so forth.  As a consequence right now, many of the best blogs to be reading are econ blogs, since that is where the action is at.  If some foreign policy, global event takes place, then those blogs shift back in.  Perhaps we will see some good blogging coming out the attempted coup in Guinea, breaking as I write.

Another kind of a blog that would work well is something along the lines of a time-specific event-centered blog that runs for a few weeks/months and then naturally dies its proper death.  Perhaps my favorite work of C.S. Lewis is A Grief Observed where he (in diary format) recalls his reflections on his grief process after the death of his beloved.  You can find similar type writings in blogs of folks who are recounting an experience of living abroad.  In my experience you (the reader) typically need to have lived or visited that country (or a nearby one in the region) to really get the gist of what is going on.

But in the interim periods of those events or domestic-based bloggers, what are blogs really about?  Back to first principles kinda stuff. I’m asking myself that question as well as when I read others.  Good blogs, bad blogs, whatever.  I feel like something is missing.  I’m not sure what but I can’t shake the feeling.  At the point of supposedly the most connection, biggest spread of blogs, I feel like the format is already in decline in some fashion.  Feels to me like it’s increasingly just running on steam and becoming corroded from within.

I don’t think (at least I hope I never did) have any grandiose dreams that blogs would bring universal enlightenment or whatever.  But I’m really wondering if the creative novel moment (in process terms) of all this is now passed and everything from here on is just various forms of quasi-reaction.  There are a slew of really sharp folks blogging (far sharper than me), but it still all comes across to me as fixed positions for everyone which they simply repeat over and over again in sundry ways.  Depending on the proclivities of said individuals, agglomerations or teams come into being, and then they tend to interact with the other teams.  Not always so fruitfully.  Some of this undoubtedly is bound to occur, but I wonder if I a different way could be found.

It’s been four years now (with about a year break at one point) since I started this blog.  When I first started I mostly wrote content-dump long-form meditations.  Mostly around integral philosophy.  That phase eventually ended, I took some time off to re-think, and then returned and tried to enter more into the format itself instead of just using the format/medium for thoughts I already had.  I also read more deeply in strategy to put some flessh on the bones/structure of the integral overlay.  That period had its pluses and minuses–I feel like I learned pretty well what I had set out to achieve.  I’m at least functional in both of those directions.  That phase it seems now I feel is coming to an end, is dying it’s natural death.  I mean it’s not like I won’t ever do posts in that vein anymore–I still occassionally do posts like I did in phase 1.   The subject of one stage becomes the object of the subject of the next.  What’s not clear yet is what is the next subject? What are his interests and goals, his commitments, his motivation?

I need to really think of what I have to offer given my limitations as a human being.  I’m not an artist so that is not a way forward.  While I flirt with political philosophy and read in it, it’s not really a prime target area for me.  A. There are already people out there doing that work who do it much better than I ever could.  Just read them.  B. I find those discussions, as illuminating as they can be (and are in many cases), too often abstracted from history and context, floating in or on a kind of ether.  Philosophy philosophy, the kind I read in my off-school time is not well suited to blogging.  Or at least I haven’t found the way to merge medium with such thinking to date. What then?

I don’t feel the need to take time off like I did last time this occurred. For the next while I’m guessing that I will be experimenting with attempts at different writing forms.  The failures hopefully will teach me as much (if not more) than the successes.  Failure and success being in some measure in the eye of the beholder in what I’m talking about here no doubt. I should say I suppose this will be the case–who knows with this stuff, it’s totally unpredictable what course it will take on and what time line.  I certainly don’t.

Published in: on December 23, 2008 at 1:30 pm  Comments (3)  
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Some extra thoughts on Integral Life Practice–Religion

I had some extra thoughts on Integral Life Practice that I couldn’t figure out how to fit within my earlier post/review.  They are part of the same general discussion of communal verification/interpretation that I had goin’ in the last one. I apologize for the slightly scattered, mish mashed feel of this post.

In The Life We Are Given, in some ways the forerunner text-scheme to ILP, Mike Murphy and George Leonard put a good deal of focus on communities of practice.  The book grew out of their experiences with teaching classes undergoing their practice.  I think that was the one piece missing from Integral Life Practice book.

And the question of communities inevitably leads to another question–the freaky deaky “r” word of religion.  [For what it’s worth, I’ve also argued for the creation of atheist religion that is simply not rabidly anti-theist, so I’m actually in some sense pro many kinds of religious creation].

One definition of a religion, according to Wilber, is any organized form of spirituality. By that definition, ILP is aiming (whether intentionally or not) at religion-creation in some form or other.

Now, I’m someone who comes from an already existing spiritual lineage and am trying to bring integral into that world. It’s hard work, but it’s also fairly clear how to proceed. Similar movements are afoot with Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, and so forth.  So I stand somewhat outside this process.  For those however who are not now within a tradition or have never been traditioned at all and for whom something like an ILP would function as their primary spiritual practice, there is then this question of a specifically integral path (generic integral? I don’t know what we call it). Integral without some other qualification I mean. Since I’m coming from a different angle on this one, I’m not sure I have a good answer what to do about that specific issue. I can see it’s there and the authors certainly can as well. It seems clear enough to me that even with a renewed more integrated form of the various (so-called) Great Religions, a number of individuals will still not be draw0n to those paths and will be left with this other category (Integral Integral?). If, as I argued in the earlier post  to enter the integral lifeworld for real–as opposed to just using integral theory to help achieve earlier life needs/goals in earlier lifeworlds, like making a whole wad of cash–means coming to face the issue of spiritual life. And somehow that is going to be organized by humans, since that is how we operate, and religions are at least partially about organized spirituality, then…irresistible force meet immovable rock.

The religion-issue is a very subtle and very tricky one. It usually un-subtly comes up as questions about whether integral  (or whatever) is a cult or not– religious and/or marketing in nature.  Cult, interestingly, in its original understanding (cultus) is a classic mark of a religion.  Before it became equated with mass suicides, spiritual ponzi schemes, or dark mysterious specter groups that control the world’s wealth-media-resources, cult was a positive term.  Cult was conceived as a duty, a part of being a human maturation and flourishing.  [I happen to still think that original definition is better, but I’m old fashioned].

Regardless of one’s view on that particular question, everyone starts at square zero and moves through the already well-patterned stages of existence (magical, mythic, rational, pluralistic) before entering integral.  To argue, as I do, for coming to terms with the intersubjective in the spiritual path, is to question some of the idols of the American pantheon (many forms of American Christianity included):  namely the  heresy of questioning the separate atomized self.  Spiritual practices can work that separate self, even dis-solve it, but never actually question its relation or relationship to others.  What theology calls “The Spirit (or the Gospel) of the Age.”

A large part of spiritual practice, in my mind, is coming to undo this culturally accreted patterns.  Or at least to begin to examine them, to surface them (as much as we can), to study their history, how they came to be, become aware of us performing them in the presence of others (and watching them similarly do so).  Spiritual experiences never come without interpretation and the interpretative framework, usually unconscious, that one holds in mind, already pre-sets (or limits/horizons) the potential view or outlay of an experience.  For a fascinating way in which logical positivism (materialist, ideal language, and reductionist philosophy) can meet with consciousness of near-death-experience, check out this description via A.J. Ayer (h/t Ross Douthat). Notice how it is not just after-the-experience reflection that is guided by philosophical framework, but also the feeling and reactions and even the picture within the experience that is shaped so fundamentally by his prior psychological and cultural commitments.

So if individuals are going to practice in common or with others, then this background questions or going to the come to the fore.  As are questions about power, sex, finances, communication, rules of engagement, maybe even authoritative texts, and you see where I’m going with this line of thought.

This is a really rich vein of thought–I hope some others in the integral-tron-sphere maybe pick it up and provide some thought or commentary.

One parting thought:  another definition of religion according to KW is to act as a conveyor belt across the levels of development.  Therefore for there to be an integral integral path would require–especially as the first generation of integral-ers all start having little ones–movement through early stages.  A “condescension” (meaning both condensing as well as a stepping-down in the classical Christian incarnational sense) to the earlier waves.  These stages exist and not dealing with them then leads to the inevitable unconscious mythicization of integral.  The mythicization is inevitable–it might as well as be plumed for what it’s worth than unconsciously doing it.  But in our myth-averse society, where religious arguments are controlled by (mythic) rationalists on both sides–creationism/fundamentalist as faux religious rationalism and militant neo-atheism as its own failed rationalism (plus repression of earlier mythic-magical wisdom structures)–then it becomes damn near impossible to consciously engage myth.  [And I don’t mean some New Agey Warrior Man Myth kinda thing either].

Published in: on December 22, 2008 at 6:53 pm  Leave a Comment