Frank Visser, CLIMBING THE STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN: Reflections on Ken Wilber's “The Religion of Tomorrow”
INTEGRAL WORLD: EXPLORING THEORIES OF EVERYTHING
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
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Elliot Benjamin is a philosopher, mathematician, musician, counselor, writer, with Ph.Ds in mathematics and psychology and the author of over a hundred published articles in the fields of humanistic and transpersonal psychology, pure mathematics, mathematics education, spirituality & the awareness of cult dangers, art & mental disturbance, and progressive politics. He's currently the director of the Transpersonal Psychology Program at Akamai University. He has also written a number of self-published books, including Numberama: Recreational Number Theory In The School System, Modern Religions: An Experiential Analysis And Exposé, and The Creative Artist, Mental Disturbance, and Mental Health. Elliot enjoys playing the piano, tennis, and ballroom dancing, and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. See also: www.benjamin-philosopher.com.
PRISONERS AND CULTS
A RESPONSE TO FALK
I would like to take this opportunity to respond to Geoffrey Falk's series of comments (see his Pandits and Prisoners comments on Integral World or on his website plus his follow-up blog entries of 7/21 and 7/22)) related to my article “On Ken Wilber's Integral Institute: An Experiential Analysis” that was featured last week on the Integral World site.
The main concern I have with Falk's comments, which I have conveyed to him personally, have to do with what I believe is a mis-leading and inappropriate inclusion of Zimbardo's prisoner study as a numerical comparison of cult dangers with “real” spiritual organizations. Here is what I conveyed personally to Falk about this:
“My main serious disagreement with you is what I referred to about using the Prisoner study in comparing “real” spiritual organizations. Yes it is an excellent learning experience that has direct relationships to groups with cult dangers, but this does not mean it makes sense to go through the Bonewits scale and assign numbers to it and then equate these numbers to SRF (Self-Realization Fellowship) or I-I or Scientology or any other actual spiritual organization. The Prisoners study is in a totally different category and I do not think your focus upon them as a comparison is an appropriate way of showing there are more cult dangers in I-I than I have experienced. On the other hand, your portrayal of the cult dangers in SRF is entirely appropriate to me, as I have not had very much experience with them, and I make it clear that my experiential analysis is just that, based upon my own experience and is not meant to be any kind of more extensive scientific analysis. I value your input and experience in SRF for my own learnings, as I value all you have brought to light about so many gurus and their organizations. But the Prisoners study in my opinion does not belong in your book it belongs in a different kind of book in my estimation.”
Falk has criticized me for being naive and giving too much benefit of the doubt regarding the cult dangers of I-I and SRF and has suggested that this may well be the case for many of the other spiritual organizations that I have written about. He is concerned that people take my viewpoints based upon my experiences as the truth about the organization that I am writing about. And I must say that if this is the case, it would indeed make me feel quite uncomfortable. My writings and my Modern Religions book is meant to convey my own experiences in these organizations, and not more than this. When I assign numerical ratings to a spiritual organization, I am doing this not as any kind of overall objective account, but simply from my own experiences in the organization, and of-course someone else is likely to come up with a different set of numbers based upon their own experiences in the organization. My whole writing style and what I am conveying is very different from Falk's research and factual exposes that he has set forth in what to me is quite impressive scholarship and wit in his Stripping The Gurus book.
I do not consider myself or want to be considered by anyone to be a “cults expert” as Falk phrased it. If someone finds value in my experiential writings, whether or not I decide to quantify my experiences, that makes me feel good. But I do hope that Falk's criticisms of my portrayal of cult dangers are his own concerns and not something that truly is representing how people are viewing my writings. But I do want to be clear that my experiential analysis is by no means to be taken as a definitive objective evaluation of the cult dangers of these organizations. It is merely descriptive of my own experiences, and perhaps it can be of value if taken in conjunction with a wide variety of other writings about the organization, which I give recommended readings for in my Modern Religions book, including Falk's Stripping The Gurus.
Aside from Falk's Prisoners study comments, there are a few other points of disagreement we have which I would also like to respond to. The whole issue of Ken Wilber's responsiveness to critic is an explosive issue at this time, and I made the remark in my article that I believed he handled criticism of his work appropriately and constructively as described in the 1997 book Ken Wilber In Dialogue. Falk gave a brief excerpt describing a very different point of view about this, and I think that the real answer is somewhere in the middle. Here is my reply to Falk about this.
”It is difficult to come to a consensus about how Ken responded to his critics in the book Ken Wilber In Dialogue but having read all of the dialogues I would conclude that his response was varied but generally constructive. I think he did listen to some of the views that were critical of him, in regard to the feminine focus and the teaching focus and Stan Grof's views, etc., but I agree that in other more conflicting viewpoints (such as Bremer) he was not at all receptive. And yes he does not acknowledge that he is incorrect at best he will “assimilate” the views into extending his own philosophy, which is his essential “integral” thesis. But I do not at all agree with the description that you quoted as I think it is quite simplistic and does not fairly and accurately represent the dialogue.”
Falk also described Neopaganism as “fiction based” and after reading his latest blog entry I now understand what he was referring to. There are certainly various historical interpretations of the real or fictional occurrence of Goddess workshop and the original Pagans. My own viewpoint is that there was indeed an original Pagan culture and Goddess workshop though we do not know much about this in historical detail. However, I would like to emphasize that my dominant interest in regard to discussing the cult dangers of Neopaganism has always been with the ways and practices that are occurring in present time. This is the whole focus of my section on Neopaganism in my Modern Religions book that is also available in a Pagan magazine referenced in my "Spirituality & Cults" article at www.integralscience.org. Perhaps what is most significant here in regard to my “Favorable” rating of Neopaganism is that Falk himself has stated in his 7/22 blog entry: “Incidentally, I don't doubt that the Neopagans are one of the safer spiritual groups around.”
There are also a number of points Falk has made which I am in essential agreement with, and one or two points for which I stand corrected.
He is correct that the way I described the Monistic/Dualistic category in the Anthony Typology was not accurate, as it is a “spiritual” distinction and not a “sociological” distinction. I was trying to say things too concisely, as I described the category quite completely and accurately in my "Spirituality & Cults" article, and there are certainly “sociological” secondary distinctions as described in the book Spiritual Choices, but Falk is correct in this regard. And I don't disagree with him about his concerns regarding Dick Anthony's support of various cults that I myself have ranked as “high” cult dangers, including the Unification Church and Scientology. However, I still do think that the Anthony Typology can be a useful device to utilize in conjunction with other cult danger scales, as I have done in my experiential analysis. He is also correct in his mathematical observation that given the ratings in the Bonewits cult danger scale are all whole numbers, I should have taken the average scores to only one decimal place, not decimal places.
And finally, to end on a positive note of agreement between myself and Falk, here is what I wrote to him regarding some of the concerns I do share with him about Ken Wilber:
“I am in agreement with you about Ken's being naive regarding the dangers of cults, and I had this sense very keenly when I met with him in person and was trying to describe the dangers of Scientology to him. I also agree with you about his use of 2nd (and 3rd) tier to condescend to people who he can categorize on the lower level of “mean green” meme, and yes he does have quite the ego and I have gradually felt more and more that there is the “right” integral way of going about things. But once again, in comparison to say Scientology this is where I am still not willing to say there are serious cult dangers in I-I.”
In conclusion, I would also like to add that I do share Falk's concerns that he has written about in his book Stripping The Gurus regarding Ken Wilber's support and indulgence of gurus Andrew Cohen and most especially Adi Da (formerly Free John). When I had my personal meeting with Wilber, although he did admit that Adi Da got carried away with bizarre practices over time, he strongly recommended to me to read some of his books, as he said that Adi Da was one of the greatest spiritual writers he had ever read. Specifically he suggested that I read The Dawn Horse Testament as one of his all time favorite spiritual books.
Well, first I read Adi Da's book Scientific Truth Of The Existence Of God Will Soon Be Announced By The White House! and although it was quite challenging for me to get through the too many God/man descriptions that Adi Da gave of himself, I must admit that I also found some insightful and well written reminders about not falling into the traps of mundane reality and continuing to seek your own spiritual life. However, I tried my best to find something of value in The Dawn Horse Testament and I must say that after forcing myself to read around 500 or 600 pages of the book, all I found was quite nauseating continuous passages of the supreme being entity that Adi Da believes he is, with virtually nothing else of value whatsoever. And when I think of how much Wilber personally raved about this book to me, and the amazingly extolling public praise that he lavished on this book, as Falk describes and quotes in Stripping The Gurus, then I must admit that this strikes quite the chord of taking away some of the magic I originally did find in Ken Wilber.
Yes some of the magic is gone that I originally found in Ken Wilber but I still consider Wilber to be a “great philosopher“ and I still have not experienced the cult dangers in Integral Institute that Falk and others have conveyed are there. But please understand that this does not mean the dangers are or are not there it only means that I have not experienced them personally and this is all that I am saying.