Welcome back! If you’ve noticed, we’ve been re-framing eschatology, sharing the good news of what we call Integral theology, and presenting the life-changing insights of many of our friends. As President of Presence, I wanted to pause for a moment today and give you a bird’s-eye view, from my perspective, of why we’re doing all this.
Should we be surprised that religion (by which – as Presence – we’re speaking first and foremost of our inherited tradition, Christianity) is changing so quickly?
For those who continue to understand the Biblical narrative through a traditional lens – what Spiral Dynamics names the Blue Meme – these are troubling times. The children of families with a long Christian heritage are abandoning the institution of church and Christianity itself. Their buildings are emptying. How should this be understood?
Examining the history of the Christian religion through the lens of Spiral Dynamics, the answer becomes clear. As we explore this, questions emerge: What can we learn from the history of Christian religious evolution? Where is the world’s largest religion going?
We want to be careful, of course, when discussing something as complex and diverse as the last 2000 years of Christianity. Even so, we want to raise bold questions and imagine, together, where the next steps into Interspirituality and beyond can lead.
Presence sees the human quest for knowing God (or Spirit if you prefer) as a process. While we trace historical developments and suggest a new meta-narrative for a future beyond religion, we are thankful for all of God’s children who are contributing to the evolution of spiritual consciousness and understanding. We are richer for having access to multiple – even divergent – lenses. Here is ours.
The seedbed for what became Christianity – and its institutionally-controlled place in the world – stood on the foundation of the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth and the apostles in the first century CE. At this time in history, the center of gravity for human consciousness was solidly rooted in Blue (or traditional) ways of being. The Spiral model helps us see the primary elements of this worldview.
(For those not familiar with Spiral Dynamics, please see our posts on this tool, and Dr. Don Beck’s excellent site here.) These Blue Meme traits can be observed in their understanding of empire and institution. Going back to the Moses tradition of Hebrew religion, God was mediated by a (male) hierarchy that took responsibility and authority for the masses, expressed socially through temple and priesthood. In the Traditional epoch, one did not question this authority. The same element could be observed in the Roman Empire and its power structures. People were judged to be good citizens not by questioning, but rather by being loyal. In religion, this would translate as “being faithful.”
Given this paradigm, it’s logical to understand how the teachings of Jesus and his apostles were seen as merely a new religion among many, either superseding or displacing an old one. After all, didn’t Jesus’ earliest apostles frame what was occurring as a New Covenant replacing an Old Covenant?
The impact of a supercessionist worldview established Christianity as another form. The boundary markers for this form were many, consisting of various creedal statements, dogma, and sacraments. The internal form was represented by the boundaries of faith and belief.
Note: in a traditional Blue Meme worldview, boundaries of identity come from self-as-source. You must believe and you must have faith. How else can you be known as “Christian”? When Jesus is reframed, we propose that salvation is the trans-forming of both faith and belief so that they point away from self-as-source.
Continuing a Spiral approach to Christian history, let’s fast-forward some 1500 years. This general era denotes the advent of modernity – known in Spiral nomenclature as the Orange Meme. For the first time on a significant cultural scale, a few bold people started asking questions. This would be the beginning of deconstructing long-held paradigms. This deconstruction would be marked by several significant separations: including science from religion, church from state, the contemplative from the cerebral, and the questions that led to an eventual split of the Christian religion into Catholic and Protestant factions.
History seems to be telling us: attempts to maintain spiritual identity cannot be achieved through self-as-source –either by attachment to internal or external forms. In fact, the continued attempts to this day to maintain a common Christian identity have not only failed, they have produced thousands of denominations. The very word denomination means to separate.
As humanity progressed through the Orange consciousness of modernity (and still does for an estimated 30% of earth’s population), the emphasis on physics over metaphysics further separated science and religion, even while the former brought Form-Critical Schools to the study of the Biblical narrative in its influence over the latter. No creed, dogma or belief was safe from critique. Some of the Form-Critical School’s proponents included Herman Gunkel, Martin Debelius and Rudolph Bultmann. While this approach contributed to the overall understanding of the historical setting and applications of the narrative, it offered little in the way of deep spirituality. A spiritual void was created, and people were again hungering for connection to something greater than themselves.
Now enters postmodernity, known as Green Meme in Spiral Dynamics. For the last few decades, many have sought a more universal connection with Spirit, as well as with our fellow brothers and sisters in common humanity. In the postmodern age, attempts for coming to oneness have lead to a relativizing of religions. In his book A Theory of Everything, Ken Wilber calls this postmodern effort flat-landing. Through the Green Meme lens, each tradition is to be respected and held equal with all other traditions.
One of the fruits of this worldview is interfaith dialogue. The positive (and deeply spiritual) aspects of this interfaith initiative are the peace and love expressed between those who seek common identity. This stands in complete contrast to the Blue Meme, where each religion defends itself as absolutely true. History is painfully clear regarding the fruits of this absolutist understanding.
But while postmodernity contributes greatly to interfaith movements, it reveals a barrier – one which prevents a full flowering into an Integral worldview.
The postmodern/interfaith proposes attaching to any or all forms rather than fighting over “one, true” form.
The challenge remains, though, to find spiritual identity beyond attachment to a form – which is to say, a religion.
As we consider the evolutionary leap of spiritual identity beyond form or religion, let’s think a moment about the concept of interspirituality. For those not familiar with this paradigm, please see the ground-breaking work of Dr. Kurt Johnson and David Ord, The Coming Interspiritual Age.
Even in interspirituality, the common postmodern prefix of “inter” is employed. Moving from inter-faith to inter-spirituality represents continued growth and seeking of a universal unity consciousness. Even so, we can’t escape the implications of the prefix, “inter,” which points to combining forms.
Presence sees Spirit as formless – which is to say, without boundary, founded on God as the source of identity. In this way, faith and belief are trans-formed from first-tier boundary markers into second-tier aspects that play a role or function; they point away from themselves as source and toward God as source.
Presence supports both interfaith and interspiritual discussions and fellowships as a beautiful movement from the violence, prejudice and even hatred that is the shadow of our shared religious past. Even so, we ask: “What would identity look like in a truly Integral setting, where all humans are simply spiritual offspring of that which we understand as God?”
At Presence, we believe that the Interspiritual movement represents the beginning of transformation into an Integral understanding of universal spiritual identity. This last step of first tier-consciousness, if you will, is the ceiling for the continuation of Christianity and religion as an identity. We’ll continue to explore this bold proposition, right here: from theology basics to the application of Integral consciousness to the connectedness of quantum physics, the identity of every human is the same: simply spirituality itself.
It is here that God is Source, not small-self.
We see the goal of the biblical narrative of one as religious-self transcendence – where God is revealed to be All-in-all, not All-in-some.
Spiral Dynamics: Mastering Values, Leadership and Change by Don Beck and Christopher Cowan
Emerge!: The Rise of Functional Democracy and the Future of the Middle East by Elza Maalouf
The Coming Interspiritual Age by Kurt Johnson and David Ord
The Spirit of Prophecy by Max King