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An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber

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Ray Harris Ray Harris is a frequent contributor to this website. He has written articles on 9/11, boomeritis, the Iraq war and Third Way politics. Harris lives in Australia and can be contacted at: [email protected].


Ray Harris

In responding to Chris' critique of my article Christianity: The Great Lie (see Multi-perspectival Religion) I'd first like to acknowledge the overall respectful tone of his writing. I hope I can respond likewise. I also have a confession to make. I was being intentionally provocative in my article. It was a strategic decision on my part to be polemical and to use a few rhetorical tricks to generate controversy. I wanted the article to have an impact. It is not the style I would have used in other contexts – noting that this is a specialist forum.

I'm glad Chris took the time to respond because it gives me the opportunity to clarify some things. Firstly I'd like to address the issue of epistemological relativism and the related concept of integral relativism.

To help clarify the issue, epistemological relativism might more accurately be described as epistemological skepticism combined with cognitive relativism. The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy describes epistemological skepticism as falling into two broad categories; knowledge skepticism, which denies that anyone knows anything, and justification skepticism, which argues no-one is justified in believing anything. There are strong and weak versions of both. In regard to cognitive relativism the Dictionary says; “Cognitive relativism holds that there are no universal truths about the world: the world has no intrinsic characteristics, there are just different ways of interpreting it.”

I'm not suggesting that Chris is a 'strong epistemological skeptic', but he does fall into the error of a weak justification skepticism and into a version of cognitive relativism I have previously called integral relativism (which could also be called developmental relativism).

He tells the sweet story of a young child pretending to hide. He is quite right to then remind us of Piaget. The example of the child covering its eyes and thinking it is invisible is actually a common example used in developmental psychology – there are no surprises there. He then goes on to explain that in the child's worldspace the tooth fairy and Santa Claus are real and suggests that I might not understand the concept of worldspace. Actually Chris, I do. However, I understand the term as worldview (Weltanschauung - following Wilhelm Dilthey) - and I understand that Wilber uses the term worldspace also. In fact I have in mind to write an article called 'Developmental Hermeneutics' in which I explore the idea that the spectrum is really a spectrum of meaning. So I believe I understand quite clearly what you are trying to say.

But here's the thing. No matter what the child believes, we all know what really happens. There is no Santa Claus and the parents buy the presents. The child is wrong in its belief. This is where Chris makes his major mistake – he confuses reality with interpretations of reality. He confuses what is actually true with what people believe is true, or says that because someone believes a thing to be true within their worldspace it actually is true. This comes from a misuse of the word 'true', which in a purely philosophical sense is defined in the Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy as “specifying what is in fact the case”. In this way the common phrase 'my truth' is meaningless and should be restated as 'my interpretation/belief'. To give an example from his reply.

“Integral epistemology is primarily concerned with describing the contours of these worldspaces (truths and limitations), the order in which they arise (enfoldment), and the means by which they are co-created (injunction).”

In this case he has completely confused the meaning of the word 'truth' as used in epistemology with interpretation/belief as revealed by hermeneutics. It's a massive category error that renders the term 'integral epistemology' meaningless.

Another example:

“So if the Ethical Imperative is to speak truth, then the question remains---which truths?”

Again, the same confusion. Truths? There is not a plurality of truths, truth is singular. There is however, a plurality of beliefs. Ken Wilber either has an apartment in the LoDo district of Denver or he does not. Either he wrote SES or he did not. Either Elvis is dead or he is not. The idea of multiple universes is only a theory (one of the consequences of string theory), but in any case, we do not inhabit multiple universes simultaneously, which is the only way there could be multiple 'truths'.

Chris makes this error through a misreading of Wilber's integrative epistemology, although, I can't blame him for doing so, especially when Wilber says stuff like this:

“This does not mean that the phenomena are not objectively there in a meaningful sense; it means the phenomena are not there for everybody. Macbeth exists, but not for my dog.” Excerpt B

Whilst I understand what Wilber is trying to say he is, in one way, quite wrong. If he were to pick up his copy of Macbeth and throw it at his dog it would exist for his dog. It doesn't matter if his dog knows it or not, Shakespeare existed and he is credited with writing a play called Macbeth. Yet Wilber admits he knows this and says that it does NOT mean it is not there in an objective sense.

I think the error arises in the phrase “it means the phenomena are not there for everybody.” This needs further explanation. On my desk I have a book by an Australian author called Norman Lindsay. This is true. But unless you are in the room with me you cannot say you 'know' this to be true, or 'know' it to be false. You can take my word and believe it is true or suspend your judgement and say it may or may not be true. However, being completely unaware of what a book is or who Norman Lindsay might be does not affect the 'fact' that I have one of his books on my desk. In other words, the book does not cease to exist because Wilber's dog doesn't know what it is. Not knowing something, or not being able to know something to be true, does not make it false. Furthermore, it is not possible for there to be a worldspace in which Norman Lindsay's book is not on my desk at this moment (it clearly is), or where it is simultaneously on my desk yet not on my desk. It's on my desk for all worldviews. And please, let's not try and be cute about this and suggest a hypothetical paradigm in which this might be the case – that is just playing silly buggers.

What Wilber is concerned about is people who inhabit a particular worldview/paradigm stating they know something to be true or false about another worldview/paradigm which they cannot possibly know to be true or false, such as a scientist saying causal meditation experiences are not true because they can't measure them on any instruments.

Worldviews are interpretations, that's all. They do not change reality (except of course when they change human behaviour and that behaviour then acts on the real world, for example, by building a dam and changing the course of a river). There's a simple proof for this. Let's call it the jump proof. Let's take a group of people who hold different worldviews, line them up along a tall cliff and get them to jump. Will the worldviews they hold affect gravity? Suppose one of those people believes they can defy gravity? Will their belief 'in fact' affect gravity? Yes, I know some in the Transcendental Meditation movement believe they can levitate, so let's put them to the test as well (all they ever demonstrated was that they could bounce around on cushions and look silly – the issues of miracles and siddhis is still an open question and in any case, it doesn't help Christianity because miracles are not exclusive to Christianity). This is the thing about reality. It's a harsh task master and it has dashed the beliefs held by many a worldview. In fact I rather like the definition of reality as that which will kill you if you ignore it, like the delusional man who jumped into the lion's enclosure at a zoo to pat the nice kitties - he got mauled and died. I particularly like the belief held by some African tribal militias who inhabit a magical worldview informed by traditional shamanism. One such militia in Liberia believed that if they wore a charm and went naked they were impervious to bullets. Guess what? They got shot. Worldviews can be wrong; even dangerously delusional.

Integral relativism makes the mistake of confusing developmental worldviews with reality and then giving those worldviews the same epistemological status as 'truth'. It doesn't matter what level one is at, everyone is subject to what is true. Truth transcends every level and what is true at one level is still true at another level, whether they know it or not. If it is not valid at all of the levels then it cannot be said to be true. The book cannot be on my desk for orange and green but not for blue and red, that's a nonsense. Nor is it on my desk for a Muslim but not a Christian. In other words, if something can be known to be false at one level, it cannot be known to be true at another level. Again, please, let's not get confused between belief and truth, or for that matter provisional truth, because I can imagine some readers finding examples of different paradigms holding different theories. True, but a theory is a provisional truth. The fact that different paradigms might suggest paradoxes is only a statement about provisional truth, something we strongly believe to be true but cannot say with final certainty we know to be true.

Nor is the Kosmos co-created. Interpretations are co-created. What we are doing here on earth, in this small corner of the universe, has very little impact on the Kosmos. Where is the evidence that the Kosmos is actually co-created? This is New Age mumbo-jumbo.

I have read Wilber carefully on this and I believe Chris misunderstands what Wilber is saying. In fact I regard Wilber to be quite strict about validating truth claims.

“The first useful integrative principle is nonexclusion. Nonexclusion means that we can accept the valid truth claims (i.e., the truth claims that pass the validity tests for their own paradigms in their own fields, whether in hermeneutics, spirituality, science, etc.) insofar as they make statements about the existence of their own enacted and disclosed phenomena, but not when they make statements about the existence of phenomena enacted by other paradigms. That is, one paradigm can competently pass judgments within its own worldspace, but not on those spaces enacted (and only seen) by other paradigms.”

The key is to keep in mind which paradigm you are in and to not confuse paradigms. As embodied beings we exist in a physical world subject to certain laws of nature. That is a paradigm, in fact it's a meta-paradigm as the jump test proves. Worlviews exist in the subjective and intersubjective quadrants, or more specifically, in people's minds. These minds are in bodies and these bodies exist in the physical meta-paradigm, and Christians live in the same paradigm as atheists. Destroy the mind and you destroy the worldview. There's a crude proof for this I call the 'blow your brains out' proof. It's similar to the jump proof. Suppose someone holds the view that consciousness does not exist in the brain, or that they are immune from bullets. They are invited to prove this by putting a gun to their heads and blowing their brains out. If consciousness does not exist in the brain they will be able to tell us this. If they are immune to bullets they will also be able to tell us this. Any takers? Of course not – all discussion about these matters occurs between embodied minds subject to the laws of physics. I mean, are there any disembodied minds out there who'd like to disagree with my assertion?

What Christians do consistently is make claims that are dubious even within their own paradigm and then claim them to be true for other paradigms. For example, that Jesus was bodily resurrected. Here they are making a truth claim about what can happen in the physical world. They assert they know this to be true when in fact they can only say they believe this be true. Hands up how many believe it really happened?

Chris also seems somewhat confused about what epistemology is and what it says. He gets into particular trouble in the 'Jesus and the Myth of Historicism' section of his reply. He says:

“Modernist epistemologies have, on the whole, reduced truth to material determinism---“


“In a reductionist modernist epistemology truth is defined as “what happened”.

I am unaware of epistemologies as a plural, nor am I aware of such a thing as 'reductionist, modernist epistemology'. I think Chris needs to go back and study his epistemology (and his Wilber), but his confusion explains much. He is confusing a paradigm with epistemology, paradigms do not have different epistemologies – epistemology is a process applied to all paradigms. Epistemology is concerned with what we can 'know' and I regard Wilber to be properly disciplined in this regard. He does not doubt that we can know something. His criticism is about worldviews making truth claims outside their experience and expertise.

There are different schools of thought within the discipline of epistemology; foundationalism, coherentism, causalism, contextualism, scepticism, etc, but not a reductionist, modernist epistemology – or for that matter a post-modernist epistemology. Post-modernism may entertain various forms of skepticism and cognitive relativism but it is pretty clear I'm not a skeptic or a relativist, nor is Wilber. And I would add that I do not accuse Wilber of being an integral relativist – this is an error people who have misunderstood him make. It also occurs when people misinterpret what 'partial truth' means, particularly that a partial truth can be negated by a later, greater truth.

You see, I thought it was a fundamental principle in Wilber's model that each successive level is better at interpreting the world. The transcend and include tenet means there is an evolutionary move toward a higher and better worldview. The rational worldview is better than the mythic and magical worldview – and the integral is better than the rational, although it includes what is good about the rational (which I would argue includes logic and reason). I happen to think that some within the integral movement have not understood logic and reason, let alone integrated it. I would also add that the prime directive is all about evolution, about shifting magic and mythical worldviews toward the rational and integral. Chris, you seem to interpret the prime directive to simply mean honouring magical and mythical worldviews. This is a difference between Wilber and Beck. Beck can be somewhat non-evolutionary in his use of the Graves material. He will advise activating the purple, red, blue and orange vMemes to help a sporting team win or a company to increase its profits. In this sense all he is concerned with is the exploitation of the theory to achieve a limited goal. I have seen this in other members of the SD community – it's the health of the spiral that matters, not progress as such. But I would suggest the Wilber model argues for more than that, it argues for radical evolutionary progress. It argues that the world will eventually be a better place when all archaic, magical, mythical and rational worldviews have been transcended (and it doesn't matter which sporting team wins). That cannot happen if we include the misguided interpretations of particular worldviews. The health of the spectrum is only important inasmuch as it leads to evolution. A static but healthy spectrum is irrelevant.

This means that worldviews must be examined critically. It also means they cannot be afforded equal epistemological status. Some worldviews create bad maps and bad models of reality.


Now, in the spirit of self-disclosure let me admit that I was born a Christian, Anglican to be precise. My maternal grandfather was an Anglican lay preacher who traveled to small country churches to give the sermons. I even went to Sunday school as a child. But my family was never particularly religious. In fact Australians aren't particularly religious, only 15% are church going Christians, most just say they are Christian because they were nominally raised that way. However, during my teenage years I decided it was all nonsense and I became a declared atheist, although I was still intrigued by spiritual issues. In my twenties I became interested in Eastern religions and nearly all of my thirties was dedicated to following a strict Yoga discipline, even living in an ashram for five years. I have been privileged to experience a number of higher states, including a transformative nondual peak experience. The radical clarity of that experience allowed me to cut away much of the extraneous junk that surrounds religion. I would now describe myself as a universalist who regards the peak spiritual experiences to belong to all of humanity. I don't particularly identify with any religion. I prefer to keep a critical distance from them all. But I will admit to finding some aspects of Buddhism and Kashmir Shaivism to be closer to the 'truth' as I've experienced it, than any other 'interpretations' or 'explanations'. In this way I also regard other religions to be way off the mark and even regressive. The traditions I admire are those that are evidence based and which have a lively philosophical approach. So yes, I have a bias toward the Greek and Eastern philosophical mystics. I would say I judge religions by their success in describing the full spectrum of spiritual experience and their success in helping people achieve the higher states.

This means I have a score card, albeit a rough score card. I find Buddhism and nondual Hinduism to have been consistently successful at helping people to become realized. The mystical traditions within the Abrahamic family have had an inconsistent success rate and the fundamentalist and 'legalistic' branches have been hopeless, even downright regressive (to the point of declaring enlightenment to be Satanic). The Eastern traditions have provided generation after generation of enlightened masters. The Christian tradition it would seem, has provided only one fully realized master, Jesus. Yes, certain Christian mystics have attained high states but they didn't pass those states on to a lineage of successors. So based on the facts and assuming your goal was to achieve enlightenment, which tradition would you turn to?

But back to Chris' critique – let's look at some specific points he raises.

“He (Harris) says that “today orthodox Christians still defend their beliefs against an ever increasing amount of contrary evidence by arguing from faith.” What exactly this contrary evidence is remains unclear.”

I mean scientific, historical, philosophical, psychological, anthropological, ethnographic, etc, etc, etc evidence. Christianity gets a thorough battering from many disciplines, too many to mention.

“Has science or history disproved the existence of God or the notion of salvation recently? Did I not get the memo on that one?”

You missed that memo? And I don't know about restricting it to 'recently', or to just science and history, but I rather thought the Buddha disproved the existence of God even before Jesus was born. By God I assume you mean 'theism'? And salvation? By asking if science or history has disproved salvation you assume that it has first been proved. Has it? Is salvation a fact or is it a belief? Rather than try to prove the negative, prove the positive.

“Again, I'm not sure exactly to what (or whom) Harris refers. The word faith is left undefined, which is problematic. James Fowler, a development psychologist, wrote a work on stages of faith development.”

I wouldn't have thought it necessary to define faith. I think its meaning is clear, check your dictionary. Mine says faith is a “strong and unshakeable belief in something, esp. without proof”. I read Fowler's article with great interest but I note that he does not clearly define what he means by faith either. He uses the term in a rather unique way. To me it reads as the 'belief condition', a term used in epistemology to refer to the first of three important conditions for knowledge, the other two being 'truth' and 'justification' (knowledge is that which is justifiably believed to be true). Although I note that at the end of the article he uses the term 'faith tradition', in which case he uses a different meaning of the word faith, a meaning synonymous with religion.

“The rare persons who may be described by this stage have a special grace that makes them seem more lucid, more simple, and yet somehow more fully human than the rest of us. Their community is universal in extent. Particularities are cherished because they are vessels of the universal, and thereby valuable apart from any utilitarian considerations. Life is both loved and held to loosely. Such persons are ready for fellowship with persons at any of the other stages and from any other faith tradition.”

Note that Fowler says that people at this stage are ready for fellowship with people from any faith tradition. Here, here. But I rather suspect you've misinterpreted Fowler. His system would seem to apply to all faiths and is not exclusive of any. Therefore he would not argue in favour of theistic faiths over atheistic or polytheistic faiths. If you read Fowler more carefully you will see that he allows for the engagement of faith/belief with fact and reason and the subsequent transformation of faith/belief. In which case I see no real contradiction with what I have been saying. But perhaps I should rephrase it.

I believe that at the rational stage one begins to dismiss the unsubstantiated beliefs within a faith tradition. As one progresses to the integral stage one no longer identifies with exclusionist beliefs and instead moves to a universalist position based on an increased capacity to separate truth from belief. Particularities are not allowed to get in the way of the universalist project. It is not so much faith that changes, but what one has faith in – exclusionist particulars or universals? Take your pick.

In which case we return to the earlier point of choosing the most efficient path rather than holding onto unnecessary beliefs that actually inhibit spiritual growth.

Elsewhere Chris complains that I have only chosen one side of the story and that I purport to claim to know the real story. Yep, got me on that last point. I allowed rhetoric to get the better of me, but remember, I did place a caveat on that where I admit no-one knows anything for certain. But in regard to the first point – I only need to provide just one valid exception. I don't need to explain every exception. If someone claims that a theory is true then all that is required to negate the claim is to provide a reasonable counter-theory. And that is what I did. I provided a set of counter arguments. What Chris would need to do is prove that these counter arguments are false and he has not done so.

So what really is the Christian lie? That it claims things to be true which it cannot reasonably claim or 'know' to be true. Every Sunday tens of thousands of Christian ministers and priests stand up in churches all over the world and assert things to be true which are not 'known' to be true. The consequence of this is that people are mislead and in being thus mislead they are denied access to knowledge that will lead them to a more likely chance of becoming enlightened.

Christian mysticism

Which brings me to my next point – Christian mysticism. Rather than prove the truth of Christianity it proves the truth of the mystical approach, or contemplative path. When we look at what is common in the practice and experience of contemplatives we find a universal truth that does not need 'belief' in particulars. Christians are not the only ones to experience the higher contemplative states. There are valid contemplative traditions within nearly all religions. But here we have to note an exception within the Abrahamic traditions and that is that in these traditions their mystics have had to face condemnation from forces within the tradition. It is true that the Catholic arm of Christianity has produced some fine mystics but what of the Protestant arm? How many evangelical mystics are there?

Christianity shares a contemplative tradition with Buddhism, Taoism, Sanatana Dharma, Sufism, Judaism, etc. So, in this sense it is not exceptional, nor can it claim to be better at achieving the highest spiritual states. If this is the case then why bother to say you are a Christian, why hang onto the label?

But what Christianity shares with its wayward sibling, Islam, is a tradition of persecuting and condemning mysticism, including their own mystics. And the reason for doing so is always doctrinal, that the mystics have begun to make heretical statements and to dilute the exclusivist doctrine. Mystics are dangerous because they are not rule bound and they also have the bad habit of being friendly to mystics from other traditions. In India Sufis and Hindus have a doctrine busting habit of recognizing and worshipping each others saints.

Historicism and phenomenology.

I struggled to find a convincing argument in this section. I do not regard that I was putting up an historicist versus hermeneutic argument. I clearly indicated, I thought, that there have been an enormous variety of meanings attached to the person of Jesus, non of which have a solid, historical foundation. Chris is quite correct to say that each of the non-canonical gospels only really tell us what certain Christians believed. But this applies equally to the canonical gospels. They only tell us what that particular branch of Christians believed. It doesn't tell us what really happened. What we get instead is a group of Christians telling us that the canonical gospels are true and the non-canonical heretical. We either believe their version or not.

But the mistake Chris makes is again try to raise a belief to the same epistemological status as truth and he tries to do this by trying to load his rhetorical weapon with the bullet of phenomenology – but he completely misses his target.

“The problem with such an exclusively horizontal version of truth is that it has, of course, no room for meaning. What were the implications of the Pearl Harbor Attack? Was the attack right or wrong? What did it mean? Physical evidence and slave-like devotion to historical facts can answer none of those questions. Other methodologies are necessary.”

But it doesn't have to make room for meaning (which incidentally is more about hermeneutics than phenomenology). This is confusing paradigms. But it does raise an interesting issue – what does it say for an elaborate explanation of an event if that explanation proves to be based on error? We know from neuroscience that people's perception is often faulty. There is actually a time lag between an event, the reaction to the event and the subsequent narrative created to explain the event and the reaction. Indeed, the unconscious mind can react to an event before the conscious mind is even aware of the event. This phenomenon is exploited in horror movies. A sharp sound is placed on the sound track a fraction before the image. The unconscious mind reacts to the sound, the audience jumps in shock and the conscious mind then registers the image and relaxes – false alarm. The problem of perception is particularly acute in sorting through eye witness accounts. This problem is evident in the gospel accounts of the Jesus narrative, they don't all agree and some of the variations and contradictions are well known.

So, narratives can be wrong. In which case we return to the principles of epistemology to determine if the narrative is true or false, or which parts are true and which are false, and I have no problem with applying Wilber's integral approach to do so. But this will not help Chris in any way because most Christian narratives begin with a foundational statement along the lines of 'this is what really happened and therefore…' so if it didn't really happen then the 'therefore' does not stand.

Of course people believe all sorts of things and no harm is done. It does become an issue however, when people try to convince others of the truth of their narrative and warn them of dire consequences if they fail to believe or make promises they cannot hope to deliver. So if you claim there was an historical Jesus, as many Christians do, then stand and deliver.

But if you have a personal narrative in which a being called Jesus has great meaning to you then great – but so what? That is a subjective experience that may or may not resonate with and easily be translated to my subjective experience, and which may not have much of a life in a larger intersubjective space. In other words, it may not have meaning outside a narrow subjective and intersubjective hermeneutic circle.

And there are billions of hermeneutic circles involved in this issue, millions within the Catholic tradition alone – and millions of permutations and combinations. It's like Venn diagrams. Sheesh, imagine entering into such a complex matrix of paradigms to try and determine meta-paradigmatic truths? Yikes! And you see, this is the problem with the hermeneutic approach – its far too complex to unravel each hermeneutic circle. Meaning can be very subjective.

Memes n'stuff

Okay, first thing. I don't accept Wilber's post-metaphysical stuff. When I met Wilber this is what we mostly talked about. I doubt he will remember (I'm probably just a gnat to him, which is okay by me, really) but I shared my concerns, which are:

  1. Sheldrake's theory of morphogenetic fields is still a marginal theory and does not provide a solid foundation on which to base a post-metaphysic.
  2. It's a category error - I'm not convinced morphogenesis can be applied outside the paradigm it was intended to explain
  3. There's another explanation – parallel evolution. The laws of nature determine structure. As we explore other planetary systems we find they follow the same pattern as ours. In Australia marsupials have evolved that look like placentals – a marsupial mouse, possum, dog, lion (now extinct), a monotreme otter and spiny anteater, etc. They evolved identical forms because the niche they adapted to fit into necessitated that form. Placental and marsupial carnivores evolve into very similar forms because the carnivore niche demands it. What this means is that the higher stages are predetermined by the fact that it is the only way it could evolve. You don't need morphogenetic grooves.
  4. Wilber confuses deep structure with surface translations. The Tasmanian Tiger looks like a dog but there are important surface differences. The deep structures of the higher stages have always been present as potential and have been experienced in the past, but they can only have been described by the signifiers available at the time. The Neolithic shaman may have had an authentic nondual experience but he would have had a limited set of signifiers with which to explain it. Wilber has a far greater set of signifiers to use because of the historical accretion of knowledge. We cannot assume that because the pre-literate Neolithic shaman could not describe and record his experience that he did not have it.

This means that the entire spectrum as potential is as old as humanity, what has changed is the number of people centered at any one stage. So I disagree that the purple 'meme' is 50,000 years old and the red 10,000 years old. It must also be remembered that the population has expanded a great deal and that competition pushed people into the next evolutionary niche. There weren't too many orange memers 50,000 years ago because there weren't too many people, period.

Second thing: tidying up confusion. Note how Chris uses the term 'purple meme'. I believe I made a point of using the correct term, 'vMeme'. Meme has become shorthand for vMeme and it can cause confusion. Richard Dawkins first used the term meme and it is in this sense that I use it – a cultural artifact that can be passed on like a gene.

“Jungian archetypes properly only delineate the deep structural, conditioned, co-constructed elements of the red and blue memes. All of the levels are not Jungian archetypes as suggested by Harris.”

Chris is just plain wrong about this. Jungian archetypes cannot be explained in terms of SD, nor can they be reduced to the red and blue memes. See my article 'Revisioning Individuation' for a more thorough explanation of archetypes. Furthermore, I doubt Chris has read much of my Temenos model (few have) and so he has no basis on which to judge what I mean by suggesting that the levels act like archetypes.

“When Harris says that Christianity is nothing but symbols, signifiers, and memes, this is a very naïve view. Christianity consists of injunctions and praxes: injunctions concerning how to interpret the Bible, how to make theological arguments, how to form communities, liturgical and ritualistic injunctions with different sets of each at each corresponding level of development.”

What, injunctions and praxes about how to organize all the symbols, signifiers and memes? Sure, there are injunctions in theology but what does it matter if the theology is based on a false premise, namely that God exists? What does it matter if there are liturgical injunctions if the liturgy is based on a fantasy?

Despite all this talk about post-metaphysics and grooves Chris skates over the central point. The full spectrum is accessible to everyone without Christianity. The Buddha had supposedly mapped out the highest state of awareness 500 years before Jesus was born. Buddhism had already developed a system of monasteries and universities and had sent monks to the Middle East. The spectrum didn't need Christianity. It was actually doing quite well without it.

“What Harris fails to note is the way in which these Christianities are built on praxis and therefore embed themselves into the very Kosmos fabric over time. They are not simply memes, easily bandied about and changed like a pair of pants, nor simply to be dismissed as only functioning as a means of social conformity and control.”

For the reasons stated above I would deny that Christianity is embedded into the very fabric of the Kosmos. Christianity is a surface phenomenon. But I would agree that it is deeply embedded into the surface structure that we call Western culture. So much so that even avowed atheists have absorbed Christian ideas. This has nothing to do with the fabric of the Kosmos and everything to do with how we learn culture. It's about what we are taught and the many unquestioned assumptions we absorb. These are not, I would stress, unconscious assumptions – they are simply unexamined assumptions. If you are raised to believe the human body is shameful then you will be shocked by casual nudity and perhaps be surprised to learn that the first Christians were baptised naked.

“There is not just reality. Worldviews are literally worldspaces—they are entirely different realms with different phenomena arising in them.”

I would strongly disagree. They are not 'literally' entirely different realms. Chris is confusing states with stages, and worldspaces with both. There is not a Christian worldspace in which different phenomena arise. Again, read Wilber. There are phenomena that arise within a certain paradigm that cannot be disclosed using the injunctions of other paradigms. Again we return to a fundamental mistake.

“I have a argued that the traditional doctrines of orthodox Christianity refer to causal states and the signifieds of those signifiers can only be correctly adjudicated in that state accessed by the injunctions and background filters (Christian belief systems).”

That may be Chris' belief but it is not the belief of the vast majority of Christians. How many Christians have read Wilber and reinterpreted Christianity using the Wilber model? It would be a very small hermeneutic circle. I wonder if the leading theologians of the different denominations would agree? But Chris needs to be careful here. The causal state can be entered by non-Christians. What he is saying is that the truth of Chris' interpretation can only be determined by following the injunctions he regards as valid. This is a form of narcissism. I understand that Chris believes that the above is so, but how many are prepared to go on the same ride?

Irenaeus, literalism and fundamentalism

You see, it's all a matter of degree. Fundamentalists believe everything in the bible is literally true, and then you get different Christians believing only some things are literally true. There's actually been a steady drop off of things believed to be literally true. Many Christians used to believe the Genesis story, but most don't now. I think many are struggling with the idea that Mary was a perpetual virgin, or even a virgin at all. But I think it's fair to say that most Christians believe Jesus was literally the saviour and was resurrected.

What Irenaeus did was mount a powerful rhetorical attack on his contemporaries who interpreted the Jesus narrative in a symbolic way and who argued against a literal interpretation. Certain Roman and Greek thinkers had long held that the gods weren't real, that they were simply symbols of deeper truths. But Irenaeus rejected this sophisticated position and said Christians are defined by faith in

“one God, Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth, and the seas…and in one Christ Jesus, the son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation, and in the holy spirit…and the birth from a virgin, and the suffering, and the resurrection from the dead, and the ascension in the flesh”

literally – not symbolically. Yet Chris argues that Irenaeus “taught a causal-level state theology interpreted through a mostly mythic dogmatic level structure…” If I read Elaine Pagels correctly (Beyond Belief – where I got the above quote), a noted expert, then I think she might beg to differ with Chris. Who's right? The reader will have to decide.

A small correction

“Or John of the Cross claiming the Christian mystic would experience an inner pain so profound that one would be mystically united to Christ on the cross and feel one's soul crucified as actually as had Christ's body.

“And contra, Harris, who argues that this tradition is only derivative of Greek spiritualist teachings, particularly Neoplatonic, this causal level Christian theology is unique to Christianity—as established by scholars of mysticism.”

Actually, that's not what I said. I didn't raise the issue of specific Christian mystics, like John of the Cross. Of course causal level 'Christian' theology is Christian. What I believe I was trying to say was that the Greek mystery traditions, particularly the Pythagorean and Platonic schools, had an enormous impact on Judaism and therefore on early Christianity and that subsequent Christian theology relied heavily on Plato and Aristotle. It was said that Pythagoras was born of a virgin and that he performed miracles. My claim was that Christianity is not as unique as it makes itself out to be.

I do not doubt that Christianity produced mystical geniuses who were able to clearly articulate new discoveries about spiritual states. I just dispute that these states can only be accessed by Christians or only if you believe in the Nicene creed. Dogma and literalism are irrelevant, indeed, they are often obstacles.

I should add that as far as I understand the philosophy of Kashmir Shaivism explains John's experience quite well. Meditation on a spiritual symbol, such as Jesus, can create a powerful sense of identification. So if you meditate on Jesus' suffering it would be no surprise you would experience the suffering. But as the Buddha said, there is a middle path and you don't need to suffer. Isn't it a gruesome pathology to concentrate on the 'passion' of Jesus? Why beat yourself up in meditation?


I found Chris' explanation of the differences between orthodox and Gnostic mystical states interesting, but not very convincing.

“The most critical issue is that the interpretations of the high causal by Gnostics were almost uniformly pathological in nature. The orthodox mystical low/mid causal interpretations were generally sound and healthy.”

Surely, to know if this was true Chris would have to enter the Gnostic worldspace? But in order to do so he would have to make sure he was following Gnostic injunctions accurately. There are two problems with this. One is, which Gnostics? Karen King has explained that there were in fact different groups of so-called Gnostics and that the term is actually redundant. The second is that one would need to talk to an actual Gnostic to make sure they were interpreting them correctly. The information we have about Gnosticism is second-hand, and much of it extremely biased. We can try and reconstruct what they believed and practiced, but we can never know with certainty.

I will note that Chris acknowledges Plotinus, a pagan, as a non-dual master, proving again that it was not necessary to be a Christian to attain the highest spiritual states – and that the spectrum was fully available to the Greco-Roman tradition. It's a pity we don't know more about the Pythagoreans. I rather suspect they had the complete package.

Burning books

The literalist Christians tried to make sure their interpretation would be the only 'truth'. Here's a list of important books they destroyed.

  1. 'The True Logos' by the pagan philosopher Celsus
  2. The 24 volume 'Interpretations Upon the Gospels' by Basilides
  3. 36 volumes by the Neoplatonist, Porphyry, including the 15 volume 'Against the Christians'.
  4. The 500,000 plus library at Alexandria

This list is from 'The Pagan Christ' by Tom Harpur, an Anglican priest and professor of Greek and the New Testament. Harpur has reconsidered his faith and his book makes for interesting reading.


Chris admits that it is not necessary to be a Christian to access the highest spiritual states. Given this the question for me is whether or not Christianity, as it is commonly practiced, opens the Christian community to the possibility of those states. I have never denied that some Christians have accessed high states, but is this widely acknowledged and advocated? If you go to your local church are you going to hear a sermon on causal states?

So finally, I have a question for Chris. Is dogma necessary to attain the highest states? Do we have to believe Jesus was resurrected, that he was born of a virgin and that he was literally the only son of God? Do we even need to hold theistic beliefs?

If we don't need to believe these things then why entertain them? What would be lost if they fell away?

If they are not necessary then why keep them when these beliefs are used to divide and marginalize people?

At the moment the Christian right in both Australia and the US are acting to ban gay marriages. This action is based on Christian doctrine. Does anyone in the integral movement believe gays cannot achieve nondual enlightenment? Should they be discriminated against in any way? So, if the belief that homosexuality is a mortal sin is irrelevant to an authentic spiritual practice and wrong, then why tolerate it? Indeed, why tolerate the thousand and one irrelevant beliefs from all religions?

Why say you are a Christian if being a Christian doesn't matter? Surely you don't actually have to be a Christian to follow Christian contemplative traditions if you find them effective? Isn't it the case that it is the contemplative injunctions that are effective and not the fact they are Christian? I've known a couple of Christians, including a Catholic nun, who have practiced Eastern meditation techniques.

Surely we can do without the cant and dogma?

Ray Harris, June, 2006

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