The beloved story-teller and insightful defender of Christian faith, C.S. Lewis, is often noted as having said that there are really only two basic religions to choose between: Christianity, with the idea of distinct supernatural and natural realms both controlled by God, and Eastern pantheism (which takes various religious forms) in which everything is God.
Although I’ve read a number of his books, I don’t recall how he works Judaism or the other very large monotheistic religion, Islam, into the picture. What’s important is that, couched as Lewis expressed it or not, most people do, in fact, see the world and their spirituality from one of these basic perspectives. They see the world they live in either as a pure “uni(ty)verse” — all is One — or a two-tiered supernatural/natural “universe” (“biniverse”?)
What such a viewpoint (from either of these worldviews and their related religions) does is reinforce a tendency we already have… one that is gets us in trouble when we apply it too strictly to this matter, as most people do. That is to see things in either-or categories or polarities — basically opposites.
Are there really only two viewpoints to see (and interpret God and life) from?
Readers of this blog know that I frequently refer to or promote a 3rd option… a sort of “in between” position sometimes called panentheism. The word basically means God is in all things but not equated with all things, being also “beyond” them. I suppose it is simpler to think that God either really is the creation or stands apart from what he/she created.
Now, science gives preference to the simpler explanation of things, all other factors being equal. I’m not so sure theology does that very much, though I think it is an aim (and I “do” a fair amount of theology). On the surface, either of the two main worldviews are simple.
However, we have to face the fact that simple just doesn’t get it when it comes to either God or ourselves, and the nature of reality. (Those who say, “I’m a simple person” sometimes puzzle me the most.) That’s why an increasing number of people in modern, postmodern and now “integral” times and stages of thinking no longer find satisfaction in conceptualizing God as manipulating the natural realm (including us, loving us as they believe “he” does) from “outside” it. If you are theologically astute, know that I realize “incarnational theology” goes a good ways towards seeing God closer, as the popular song suggests: “What if God was one of us?”
But the bulk of Christianity still envisions things in terms of God working from the outside-in (to us) more than the inside-out (or from everywhere to everywhere). Many, many of the faithful, via misreadings of Genesis, specifically affirm goofy ideas of how God created from outside. It’s critical to them to stand against the idea that God might actually be in and behind the evolutionary process – that God might be in everything. And their God coerces from “out there” via punishments or threats of them (damnation particularly), while “he” is also seen as loving. This also holds for many who do not so adamantly oppose the idea of evolution.
My only point, for now, is to point out that more than two ways of envisioning God-in-the-world exist. We are not forced to choose between a simplistic one or two-tiered universe in which God either coercively controls everything from beyond it or effectively doesn’t exist (being identified completely with the universe). There are ways of understanding “relationship with God” without reducing God to mere humanity or difficult-to-reach divinity.
What do you know of third options? The main one I know of which has been developed systematically and extensively as a coherent picture for almost a century is called “process philosophy” and/or “process theology”.
I have found it very helpful and even inspiring for a number of reasons — both in my personal spirituality and in my hopes for the future of interfaith and science-religion relationships. Neither of Lewis’ (or most people’s) two major options provides much hope in these areas, that I can see. Happily, I observe that in various ways religious leaders, lay people and “spiritual but not religious” folks are moving toward more nuanced views akin to or specifically within a “process” perspective. It is not my purpose here to discuss this further, but will note that on the sidebar to the right are some resources that can get you started in exploring this perspective and the many things it speaks to and has to offer.
Integral Christianity is a fairly new thing… at least the name is. (It is not a lot like traditional or even “modern/liberal” Christianity.) The worldview or theology it operates within actually is a relatively new perspective, on any sizable scale. I will admit the Christian form of Integral theory is fairly new to me — maybe a couple years, and I’ve been pretty attentive to the many varying forms of Christian faith for decades now.
The focus of this article will be Integral Christianity’s take on and use of the Bible. I’m writing this on the way to soon finishing the definitive book to date on this understanding and expression of Christianity, Integral Christianity: The Spirit’s Call to Evolve, by Paul R. Smith. I will then be reviewing the book on the Naturalspirituality blog.
So I thought it would be helpful to first give a mini introduction to Integral theory as it applies to Christian faith and practice; and particularly to how it interfaces with a Bible which means so many different (and often conflicting) things to people. Integral theory is very closely identified with the overall work and many books by Ken Wilber. His work has essentially formed (initially) and guided this way of understanding both personal and societal development, a perspective that is “integrated” or “integral”.
One might call it a meta-theory in the sense of being a system drawing from but also standing “above” or beyond most theories trying to explain human experience in relation to broader reality. Scientists (theoretical physicists particularly) speak in terms of a “theory of everything”. Wilber and his Integral colleagues do so also, with the key difference that they deliberately include and seek to understand the non-material, often very subtle forces and factors in the universe, which people most often speak of by the term “God” or “spiritual reality”. And the focus is more on human experience and consciousness relative to the matter-energy focus of the hard sciences.
So when we take the kind of structure (a quite elaborate one I can’t get into describing here) that Integral Theory provides and lay it over the Bible and the Christian faith, some very perplexing things begin to make better sense. We might also envision that process as viewing the Bible and Christian traditions through the lens of an integral perspective. We all are forced to use whatever lens (or lenses) we’ve gained anyway. The deliberate acquiring of a more expansive Integral view and applying it to the Bible merely enhances the views of biblical stories, insights and truths we all, at some level, have taken in. This is the case for anyone conversant with the Bible, whether or not they are a “believer” or take the Bible as any kind of personal guide. In other words, familiarity with Integral Christianity can benefit anyone, Christian or not. This is particularly true for people of Jewish faith, given their use of well over half of the Christian Bible.
One of the key aspects of Integral theory is its understanding of stages of development seen both in individuals and, often almost as clearly, in groups or institutions. Central to its stage theory, like many stage theories it draws from, is that levels must be attained and then gone through, or fulfilled, in order. You can’t skip a stage. Similarly, that which is of value gained in prior stages is not lost although the limiting points or distortions of the stage drop off.
Let me apply this to just one aspect of the Bible from an Integral Christian perspective. The Bible is loaded with stories of power (miracles, ecstatic states, etc.), both in the Hebrew (“Old Testament”) and Greek sections. What to make of this?
Traditionally, Christians accepted all the miracles at face value. They were seen as God breaking into the normal order of things or even over-riding the laws of nature. Most also believed their valid expression ended with the Apostolic age or completion of the New Testament.
During and after the Age of Enlightenment and the rise of science, liberal Christianity took the miracles as either symbolic or mere stories for persuasion… all or almost all of them, indiscriminately. As good “reason-able” and rational beings, such Christians had (and many still today have) no interest in mystical spiritual experiences. Their lack of openness to or interest in special “peak experiences” or ecstatic (altered) states during prayer, meditation or worship lead to an increasingly “flat” religious life and reading of the Bible. Jesus became mainly a moral teacher and example, despite that the Gospels and Acts are filled with examples of healings, exorcisms, and various ecstatic states and miracles. They are probably not all historical or strictly factual, but is it “reasonable” (or rational) to think none of it happened; that those things weren’t common “in the day” even though they are in many settings yet today?
Well, Integral Christianity and its kin in certain kinds of Progressive Christianity are the first systems to wisely and carefully return to seeing the mystical, “wonder working” side of Jesus and his earliest followers as legitimate and important… something we can emulate and reproduce, just as Jesus said we could. I say “return” to indicate reincorporating in this stage what much of Christianity threw out too readily — the spiritual baby with the supernatural bathwater. The earlier stage, from pre-modernity on through to now for many, that of “traditional” faith, doesn’t seriously question the idea of valid biblical miracles. In it there is no major problem with a disjuncture — part of a two-tiered universe — between supernatural miracles, trances, healing, etc. and the “ordinary world”. Pentecostals and Charismatics at this level of understanding accept (and seek to practice!) these things as continuing to the present, but only expressed through Christians. Having been a traditional-level Charismatic myself, I see it as a healthy balancing and broadening from an overly rationalistic faith, yet a standpoint that benefits greatly from a move onto further stages, one of which is Integral.
In Integral, various spiritual experiences and “states” are not only accepted but eagerly engaged, and concepts and experiences of unity are greater than at lower stages. My purposeful use of “lower” here reflects how Integral respects comments by both Jesus and Paul to the effect that certain truths are not able to be grasped at a given stage of growth and spiritual maturity. Integral recognizes that some things are higher or better than others, unlike the typical Postmodern perspective. There are ways of discerning this.
Almost any experience or “spiritual gift” can be had at any level, but it may not be properly understood or utilized until deeper understanding, at a higher stage, is developed. So Integral Christianity respects and draws from the extensive scholarly work on the Bible that many call “higher criticism”, with its many important findings and insights. Yet it takes seriously and values highly the mystical experiences, the intimacy with God, as well as the radical “otherness” of God portrayed in the Bible and lived out in the person of Jesus.
What exposure do you have to Integral theory or Integral Christianity? Does the concept of progressive stages, which have clear identifying markers, appeal to you and ring true?
Are most of the younger generation, especially those about 18-29 years old, on a truly different kind of spiritual track than older folks? Is it a genuine spiritual pursuit, although it may appear haphazard or even self-centered on the surface? That they are and it is (taking a different approach, and a genuine one) is the point of an excellent article by Rory McEntee and Adam Bucko in the Huffington Post religion section.
After discussing how younger adults (and others) today don’t necessarily need a single religious tradition for adequate grounding and guidance, nor do they necessarily need a particular “new age” practice or group, McEntee and Bucks contend, “….Rather, they need an intimacy in which life is shared deeply, where they can be mentored in a way that brings them into the depths of their own life experience and aspirations, and where they can begin to articulate a new, more universal storyline that springs from their own experience and inner contemplative unfolding, which so often exists outside of a particular wisdom tradition.”
To be clear, the authors are not dismissive or critical of a commitment to one or multiple spiritual traditions (Christianity, Buddhism, etc.). They recognize the value and power in these more historically typical approaches, through which those they name as current “interspiritual” leaders or elders have come. A couple of these are Father Thomas Keating, founder of Snowmass Interspiritual Dialogue Fellowship, and Brother Wayne Teasdale, a Catholic/Hindu (!) Monk, who coined the term “interspirituality” in 1999.
The point of the article seems to be in full harmony with the Integral vision of Ken Wilber and his many Christian and other colleagues: the concept of an interspiritual quest and process of dialog and fellowship is beyond mere “tolerance” of other beliefs and spiritual “paths”. It is beyond religious pluralism, which is, for sure, a step up from religious superiority or attempts to dominate. It is a reflection of the maturation happening by the Spirit who has originally inspired the breakthroughs of spiritual leaders and still inspires the ever-so-gradual spiritual development of humanity’s shared spirit.
Wow! If you didn’t already realize how diverse and in-flux are the beliefs of Muslims, you’ll see it here at the Pew Forum site. This is no brief “boil it down to a few general statements” kind of report. (Note: map below is from a 2009, earlier survey)
Rather, it is very specific to any primarily Muslim countries…. Some pretty surprising statistics on things like the application of sharia (traditional Islamic law) as the official law for different countries! There are, of course, lots of complications implied if this popular idea were widely implemented. When thought through completely, the numbers may become a lot different. The report shows that the Muslim world is in the kind of rapid transition that we would expect, given the meteoric rise of new communication “connectivity”, globalization of commerce and other powerful economic, political and social forces. No religion is an island in relation to such forces.
While the immediate future looks troubling, probably from within as well as outside Islam, one can see in the report that the world is being forced to mature and its second largest religion is right at the center of that.
What have you done for yourself lately? Not in the sense of something fun or indulgent (which is important, too)… but in the sense of advancing your own growth as a person?
Most of us have an area or two where we do this naturally. If we love to read, we grow our minds and perhaps our emotional or relational selves. If we love to interact, we learn (hopefully) from others directly. But what about broader growth and balance in all key areas of life, including the spiritual (which I mean as including religion but not restricted to formal religion)? Are you advancing not only within yourself but also in your understanding of others who may be either a step or two “behind” you, or maybe a bit ahead?
I wrote two posts recently on stages of growth and learning to recognize and think in terms of key developmental markers, transitions and certain stages that are broadly observed in Western societies. They are found similarly in all cultural settings. You can find those posts here and here. Today I want to point out that these stages and their characteristics — strengths and limitations — can be seen within Christian churches and other institutions. Such knowledge, and the ability to “locate” your own church or group in relation to others, can link up with your self-knowledge to help guide you… perhaps to a new religious involvement (or non-involvement) or to a place of greater understanding and effectiveness for others and your own growth.
Maybe an understanding of stage characteristics will help you understand a friend or relative as well as yourself. The “locating” of a group goes beyond just its set of outward beliefs, although the beliefs are usually an integral part and a strong factor in placing them in one of several stage-styles.
The catalyst for returning to this subject (as I intend to periodically since it is a key foundation in most of my research and writing) was starting to read a new and highly enlightening, recently published book, Integral Christianity, by Paul Smith. I will be writing a review of the book when I’m finished with it…. I already know enough of Smith’s work and have perused the book to be assured I will find it more than worthy.
I will share one important tidbit from Integral Christianity here, in relation to an issue of my own growth: Paul Smith speaks about having and then growing beyond anger with the ideas or the people most representing, to us, a spiritual stage we have recently “outgrown”. There are various legitimate reasons for such anger which I’ll not go into here. I merely want to mention that, while my anger was never intense, I certainly had some, toward the style of “Evangelicalism” I’d spent childhood and much of my adult life in. It was seldom, if ever, directed toward any single person or institution. It gradually moved into mainly a sense of understanding, with mild frustration still lingering.
Perhaps because of my psychological and theological education and serving experiences, I always retained gratitude for the many positives of my background and earlier experiences… a perspective that Paul encourages in the book along with moving beyond one’s nearly inevitable anger. With this comes the graciousness of allowing everyone to be at the stage they need to be and with the people they find important and supportive at a given time.
Still, this acceptance is not the same as postmodern “tolerance” which seeks to place everything believed or practiced on a single level of one’s personal “truth”. Rather, it makes an informed and experiential “judgment” (non-judgmentally) that one has gone “beyond” or to a “higher” stage, without demeaning or belittling anyone who has not made such a transition or remains a step behind.
Thus, one can be comfortable with, even supportive of a person within the style of thought and practice where they are. I have people close to me for which this is the case. I know that the wisdom and grace to take this perspective (which I see as ultimately being from God) is liberating and powerful, both for me and for them.
So, do you have a practice, goals, or some kind of guideline for stimulating your growth? What is it? Is it in a form you can describe and somehow share with us? Or with others?
Today, a rare disclosure of my thought-process as it is unfolding. Partly because I think I tend to be, on this blog, too “academic” and not enough an “everyday real person.” Even today I won’t leave the intellectual and conceptual aside entirely. But I will share on a critical subject without first trying to have all my ducks in a row. And with that, invite you to please share your interests, impressions, feelings or whatever.
The subject, as my title suggests:
What should go into an up-to-date “psychology” of religion that would include the social aspect of our selves, so a “socio-psychology of religion”?
First, do you like this term? Is it meaningful to you? I frankly don’t know if others are using it much… I have encountered it, though not often.
I have actually thought about such a personal and societal “socio-psychology” as it pertains to religion and spirituality quite a lot (and have lots of formal and informal education on it)… just not formalized a detailed outline. Here are a few elements that I so far think are vital:
- Worldview perspectives – both personal (family and individual experiences, etc.) and cultural
- Personal “philosophy of life” (based on temperament, education, etc.)
- Religious belief system followed
- Religious experiences (or “extra-normal” ones so labeled) or lack of them
- Social forces influencing one’s religion via needs for affiliation, loyalty (or rebellion/independence), friendship, etc.
- Stages of general maturation and specific “lines” of growth (cognitive, relational, moral/ethical, etc.)
I know I’m not including everything I’ve thought about in this list, but intentionally won’t try to. I would really like to get input on what comes to your mind, or how you might be thinking of your own self-analysis regarding religion and spirituality. For example, what have you found adequately addressed or not in books, blogs, etc., of the things you wonder about or enjoy exploring? What area(s) among those above have been particularly significant for you?
“Scripture” is the core of Western religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Few of us think much about how our Scriptures got written, edited and handed down to us. Herein lies a big problem! … a woeful ignorance about religion itself and the psychology and sociology of religion more specifically. I will speak, as I normally do, mainly about the non-religious and about Christians in this post. If you are American and not raised in one of our small-minority religions (Islam, Hinduism, etc.) you probably have at least some exposure to the Bible, perhaps mainly from hearing about it more than reading it directly…. or hearing short quotes without context.
It has been well documented by many scholars of religion and American culture that the Bible and how it is interpreted by traditional Christianity particularly, has had massive influence on our worldview and culture. I say this because we sometimes fail to realize how religion and the overall life of our nation intertwine so heavily. This raises the question:
How should we look at and treat our Jewish and Christian Scriptures?
Uses of the Bible range all over the map from common quotations to intense study of it, generally by book or section or by themes such as salvation, prophecy, gender roles and women in ministry, etc., etc. What interpretations and applications people make of scriptural statements depends a lot on how they think their scriptures were constructed and with what authority. Traditional Christians believe the Bible was revealed by God, in one manner or another, and comes with God’s authority. Most of them reject the idea of any substantial role of later editing after the original authors.
Now, either the books themselves or later traditions often assign authorship to a well-known or authoritative figure. There is a gigantic amount of scholarship that deals with precisely issues of authorship, dating and editing of biblical works. In the interest of brevity and readability I won’t cite from it here; but will note that one can pursue such issues in depth for individual books or sections of the Bible. Anyone serious about understanding the Bible, for whatever reasons, should indeed make this part of their reading and study.
Can we trust the history in the Bible?
One key issue of the authority and impact of the Bible is tied to how it is thought to present history and facts. Is it reliable historically? Does it report strictly facts about events, including possible miracles of various types, in both its “Testaments”? To probably a majority of Christians, its reliability as a revelation about God and salvation is directly dependent on its reliability in reporting facts. There is often a kind of backward logic in this, however. It goes like this: “Since I know what the Bible reveals about God is correct [statement of faith], what it reports of human history and events must be entirely correct also [resulting statement of faith without serious historical checking].”
So how do scholars of history, the Bible and related disciplines say the Bible handles history? I will make only a brief and very summarized few statements here. It’s a very controversial subject with widely varying views, so one should proceed with caution. There is no simple way of deciphering or explaining the situation. Perhaps most important to say is that most people probably have it wrong on one side or the other — that either the Bible is entirely historical or it is not at all.
I’ll just say this for now:
The Bible is a collection of widely varying types of literature, all religiously oriented to one degree or another but not all even of historical nature (the Psalms and Proverbs, e.g.). Other parts often read as factual, such as early parts of Genesis, are clearly of another genre, often called “mythological” (not meaning untrue, but not scientific either). They almost certainly were never intended to be taken as historical.
However, other large sections do report things in a more or less historical manner, interwoven with theological interpretations. Key sections of this nature are the bulk of the early books of the “Old Testament” (prior to the “Wisdom” and “Prophetic” sections) and particularly the Gospels and Acts in the “New Testament.” They present a lot of detail about the formation and history of Israel as a nation and as a religious and ethnic group. Can or should we merely take this as valid history, whether the Exodus story, or the powerful “United Kingdom” period under kings such as David and Solomon, or the grandeur (and associated symbolism) of the First Temple? Whether or not we do has lots of implications, including geopolitical ones that affect international issues like Israeli and Palestinian relationships and prospects for peace.
Why may the majority of scholars be right, that the Bible is not a reliable book of history, although much of its historical sections are indeed based on actual events and real places in the larger picture?
And with this, that the Bible should be treated as one source of historical information, when examined carefully, cross-checked when possible, and taken in the light of the authors’ stated or implied purposes and slants? It simply won’t do for any educated American to merely assume (or take it on light or one-sided evidence) that either the Bible is historically worthless or that it is completely reliable.
I’ll just introduce the basic answer for now: The Bible is the product of a centuries-long process of oral traditions of actual history becoming written stories with theological interpretations attached then or later. Then came subsequent editing by contemporaries or later editors, new theological slants sometimes added based on evolving views. (Even the most conservative of traditionalists recognize this has happened though they still attribute the process to God’s revelation — timing “his” accommodation to human response to earlier revelation — progressively.)
So it goes history (events) to story (oral, then written) to theology (religious interpretation of events/stories) which then results in a new story or embellishments, refinements and such on a prior story… all with relative continuity. This allows new theology to emerge and subsequent events become more stories with the new theological interpretation (the “repeat” aspect of my title).
Rarely do readers notice this going on in the Bible, partly because the Bible is not arranged chronologically, in either “Testament”. For example, the story from Paul about witnesses to the resurrection of Christ is our earliest written source, but seldom thought of as such, being placed well after the Gospels which give much greater detail of such events. These elaborated “events” it appears Paul is unaware of or else they happened very differently than described in the Gospels (whatever the case, they are confused and partially contradictory accounts). Paul’s report is clearly closer to the events in time, and probably in actuality as well…. They are seemingly visionary experiences only, not touching of a corporeal body of Jesus. It appears the stories developed over time, having been originally based on something “real” (post-crucifixion visions of Jesus by numerous disciples).
In this example (among many others that could be cited), we also can see the editing process in a significant way. Mark’s Gospel is almost certainly the first-written of those making it into our Bible. His original ending does not include any appearances of Jesus to any of his followers, only an empty tomb. There is virtually universal agreement (because of evidence from various ancient texts of the book) that the last section of his final chapter was added at some point probably decades or more after Mark concluded his work. Only in this section do we read of numerous appearances of Jesus.
Additionally, in these final few verses of Mark still in most editions of modern Bibles, we have powerful theological points such as Jesus’ “commission” to spread the Gospel, his ascension to the right hand of God, and a confirmation of “…his word by the signs that accompanied it.” (9:16, NIV) This is vivid illustration of the kind of process that went on at varying levels in many books of the Bible… for understandable religious reasons as beliefs evolved and needed to be reflected in authoritative sources.
Does the process invalidate either the history or the theology contained in the Bible? Not in the broader sense.
Yet it does clearly, to me and a growing number of progressive Christians, put limits on the kind of authority we ascribe to Scripture, however. We look for multiple attestations of truth and of wisdom as we seek out that which nourishes and guides a community or our personal spirituality, not the single witness of a single biblical author. And not just a supposedly “systematic” theology seeking to weave diverse teachings of the Bible together. Yet the Bible remains fascinating and often inspiring reading, an invaluable glimpse into how people have long dealt with the most challenging questions of life and reality.
What do you see in the Bible… how does it nourish you, dismay or disgust you, or whatever?