The Rise of Evolutionary Spirituality - Chris Zissis

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The Rise of Evolutionary Spirituality - Chris Zissis

Postby SDP on Thu Aug 06, 2009 6:45 pm

The title for this article is taken from the subtitle of the recent (2004) book by Jim Marion, Death of the Mythic God. It refers to an emerging trend in contemporary thought and practice that seeks to combine insights from traditional spirituality with the key modern insights of evolutionary theory. Key among the latter is, simply put, the notion that things change. Prior to the 19th Century the general conception was that things (animals, plants, forms, etc.) remained pretty much the same throughout the thousands of years that the world was taken to have existed. But in the course of that century and the succeeding one, science discerned both a history of changes (disclosed by a close study of the fossil record), and a far greater time span in which these changes had taken place. Thousands of years turned into millions, then billions.

Proponents of evolutionary spirituality argue that neither present-day evolutionary thinking nor traditional religion alone is sufficient for a complete understanding of the Big Picture that so many are seeking. Traditional spirituality has the depth which comes with including the divine in one's worldview, but too often it gets burdened with archaic thinking and old-fashioned conceptions of the deity. Conversely, most evolutionary thinking is weighted too far on the material side, not taking account of the evidence for a deeply spiritual process underlying the outward manifestation of the ongoing change and advancement of forms and consciousness.

In terms of understanding spirituality, it is actually the evolution of consciousness, rather than outward form, that is most relevant. The key here is to grasp the idea that consciousness isn't static, but rather grows and changes over time. Not only this, but its growth occurs in discrete changes or steps.

This at any rate is the thesis of many modern researchers, beginning with names such as Jean Piaget and Jean Gebser, and continuing to the present day with Ken Wilber and A. H. Almaas. (For a good look at the historic predecessors of these more recent thinkers, see Tom Huston's "A Brief History of Evolutionary Spirituality" at www.enlightennext.org/magazine/j35/evo- ... y.asp?pf=1.) And as consciousness changes, so does one's view of everything else. In particular, one's views of God and self.

Using the terms of Jean Gebser, cited by Marion, we have four basic stages of consciousness development: Archaic, magical, mythical, and mental-rational. Collectively, we have largely moved past the first two stages, though remnants remain in other parts of the world where more primitive conditions prevail. But as Marion points out, many if not most people, especially in present-day American society, are straddling the latter two stages, mythic and rational. The result is a long-standing collision and conflict of worldviews, especially in the area of religion. There it plays out as two views of the divine, one largely authoritarian and focused on the image of a God to be obeyed, even placated, vs. one where God is to be understood, and even, ideally and ultimately, known or realized.

Focusing on the latter three stages of this model of consciousness development, we can see clearly how they manifest in differing conceptions of how to relate to the deity. We can also see how these earlier stages persist in various forms of current spiritual practice and belief, while keeping in mind that one's concept of the divine may lag behind while other areas of consciousness may move ahead in step with the larger society. Thus, someone may have a fairly good grasp of the basics of modern science, while simultaneously still clinging to an outmoded image of God.

We begin with considering the second stage of magical consciousness, where the way of relating to divinity is characteristic of this level's general way of perceiving reality. The theme here is reminiscent of Peter Pan: "Do you believe in magic?" When it comes to God, all that is required is belief and allegiance. The world then neatly divides into those who believe in their God, and are thus "saved," and those who don't, thus falling outside of salvation and God's graces. (Sound familiar?)

Those who make it past this into mythical consciousness, take a step further. Here God goes from being a magical figure who requires only belief and a totemic loyalty to the Authority Figure. This is the well-known Sky God so often talked about in discussions of religion. Belief and allegiance alone are no longer enough for salvation. The follower is now expected to adhere to a set of rules and practices demanded by their respective deity. And with this shift we enter into the great teachings of the established historical religions, the great traditions that we usually think of when the word "religion" is used, viz., Judaism, Christianity and Islam in the West, and Hinduism and Buddhism in the East. Sometimes these vast collective forms of spiritual understanding and practice are called "exoteric," to distinguish them from the "esoteric" forms we'll discuss below.

Finally we reach that level of spiritual understanding that is characteristic of the rational stage of consciousness development--and it is harder to find than one may initially think. That is, it may indeed be the view of God that a rational, fully adult person would naturally gravitate towards, but it is surprising how few make it this far! By this time, the magical and mythical forms of relating to God no longer "cut it." One feels dissatisfied with them. Indeed, they can often seem as the principal obstacle to a greater and deeper understanding of who or what God really is.

By now, the taboos of the preceding steps are thrown off, to be replaced by a questioning, reasoned approach to issues of divinity. Did those events described in the holy book really happen that way? Or are these metaphoric descriptions? And when it comes to salvation, isn't it more important that I be a loving being, doing good works, then just placating some authority figure or participating in some magical cultic worship? These are a few of the characteristic questions that arise at this stage. It can be a difficult and disillusioning time for many. Indeed, it often leads to atheism, as the old God-ideas are discarded, and new ones to take their place are not forthcoming. For many, science becomes the new "religion," as it’s a more sophisticated way of knowing and more reliable (and reproducible) outcomes are far more satisfying to the rational mindset than mere beliefs and authorities.

And what happens when one's consciousness goes beyond even this stage, the rational, that is predominant in today's society? What lies beyond, in the post-rational or "integral" stage of spirituality? Here the God-image shifts yet again, to one that is more inward. Now God is not just to be understood, as at a distance, but is to be known, inwardly, directly. No longer is one satisfied with a second-hand knowledge of the divine. First-person experience is required, and is actively sought.

This is where the esoteric or mystical forms of the Great Traditions assume importance. Each has their own form: In Judaism, there is the Kabbalah. Christianity has its long line of mystics and saints. Islam has its Sufis as well. Then of course there are the monastic forms of Hinduism and Buddhism, vs. the less intense and committed lay forms. In every case they represent an intensification of the search for a deeper, more intense relationship to divinity. The shift is also from outward fidelity and obedience, and even past mere understanding, to inner experience. Often there are elaborate stage-models within each tradition that go into details of their own respective forms of the mystic ascent.

For me personally, the approach of evolutionary spirituality has pretty much resolved any lingering sense of conflict between science and religion. Indeed, by now the very notion of a necessary opposition between the two seems downright old-fashioned and outdated. I now feel confident addressing concerns with others who still feel that adherence to one prohibits enjoying the benefits of the other.

Stay tuned! There's going to be a lot more written about evolutionary spirituality from various quarters in the years to come. It represents a very exciting and dynamic way of looking at the spiritual development of the human race.
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Re: The Rise of Evolutionary Spirituality - Chris Zissis

Postby Vidyanet on Sat Aug 08, 2009 8:21 am

Reading the new posts on SDP one by one today I am so far amused at how one appears to compliment (and go along with) the other.

It sounded very interesting to me. Evolutionary Spirituality. My one critical intuition, however, wants to ask me whether looking on earlier stages of spirituality from a modern perspective might be biased.

What I mean is this. When people consider how others see / saw spirituality - when the two sides are separated by centuries and even millenia - and the modern view has to depend on biased inaccurate views put down by recorded history over time, are people today able to truly comprehend how others viewed spirituality?

If one were to go to my church and do an in depth study of the basic dogma and history, would it be fair to call that person an authority on how I myself see spirituality? Likewise, how many people in the past held different, or more personal views from the norm of the dominant society in their day?

A timeline for evolutionary spirituality looks interesting and instructive to me. Though I am only now trying to form ideas about what exactly that is. I look forward to learning more. At the same time, I see a basic template which says more about where people are today than I do about where people actually were in the past, concerning their views on spirituality.

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Re: The Rise of Evolutionary Spirituality - Chris Zissis

Postby Jonathan Reams on Sun Aug 09, 2009 1:41 pm

Hi again :-)

Seems you (Vidyanet) and I are making the round today!

I am glad to see your piece Chris. I have not yet read Gebser, but he is on my list. One thing as I understand it is that Gebser talks about this "integral" consciousness as being "aperspectival." In other words, at all of the previous levels one is viewing the world from within a perspective, and at this stage one can step outside of perspectives and choose consciously among them.

There are also a number of other descriptions of this, (you mention Wilber and Almass), and for those who have a deeper interest in these things, I can highly recommend an article/dissertation extract from Jennifer Gidley - http://integral-review.org/documents/Gi ... 202007.pdf

In it she examines the literature of Gebser, Wilber and Steiner in terms of the evolution of consciousness from a spiritual perspective. It is well researched, and presents a very thorough description of each stage.

Jonathan
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Re: The Rise of Evolutionary Spirituality - Chris Zissis

Postby Arji on Sun Nov 29, 2009 9:50 pm

The described 4 stages of consciousness still fall short of changing consciousness. There are several more in my view. However, I would just continue the discussion with what I believe could be the 5th stage of consciousness. This would involve the viewpoint that "the deity" is indifferent and not at all interested in the personal struggles of the individual. It is the viewpoint that we are ultimately responsible for the conditions of our life. We would ask, "Doesn't God have anything better to do that to be concerned with whether I eat meat of Friday or not?" However, indifference doesn't mean "non-loving". It involves a "big picture" view of the world and of the macro-cosmic nature of individual consciousness. Within each of us lies an infinite universe.....quantum potential...consciousness that is limited only by the ego's small voice telling us we are bound by space and time and we are afraid of life and of what is to come after life. This level of consciousness has translated the old-world belief in Satan to the self-limiting ego. Jesus' struggle in the desert was not with an entity named Satan. It was a struggle between his God-self and his ego-self. The God-self knows unbound love as well as what is right and what is wrong. It is intuitive, empathic and exists beyond the boundaries of space and time. It is a Self that lives in a dimension beyond the earth. The God-self knows what to say and what to do in any situation and that these actions are driven by wisdom, humility, selflessness and divine love. This is the part of us that knows love is the driving force of the universe. On the other-hand, the ego-self is the part of us that seems to want to be on the selfish side. It's only interest is the preservation of the body regardless of whether there are moral implications or not. It's the part of us that does things that it would not want to be caught doing. It is the liar, the cheat or the thief regardless of potential consequences. It is the darkness that mature adults struggle with on a daily basis. It is in acknowledging this dark part of ourselves that we bring our human-ness into balance. It requires brutal honesty in admitting who we really are. Only then can we release this "demon" and realize our God-selves.

There are further stages of consciousness beyond this stage and perhaps this stage could be called Self-realization. I don't know if the author intends to include this aspect of consciousness in one of the four stages but often Self-realization is also mixed up with dogma...shoulds and shouldn'ts. In the 5th level of consciousness, dogma is thrown out the door and pleasing or appeasing God is not in the formula. God is beyond the attributes we tend to place upon IT. God is not so small that IT is affected by the antics of man. IT doesn't get angry or upset at us because we are disobedient. IT simply IS.
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Re: The Rise of Evolutionary Spirituality - Chris Zissis

Postby Jonathan Reams on Mon Nov 30, 2009 10:04 am

Hi Chris,

Reviving the thread I see ;)

My understanding is that those stages are as you say descriptive, but are not talking about the mechanisms for change so much. Most of the time those broad changes in structure in society take place over long time periods. Individuals in a given culture tend to evolve relatively quickly through the earlier stages (thus correlations between Gebser's earlier stags and for instance Piaget's stages of cognitive development) to get to the cultural center of gravity. Going beyond the "norm" of a given time and place is more challenging, and souls taking on this challenge are in some ways I think benefited by being able to more clearly see the limitations and excessive manifestations of the "norm" and so learn how not to be in order to evolve further.

What you describe as the next step in religious belief is similar to how James Fowler talks about the latest stages in his work on stages of faith. The "integral" consciousness you describe in your article would indeed I believe not anthropomorphize God, and would also be able to understand the previous stages' relationship to faith/belief/God as being appropriate to that consciousness.
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Re: The Rise of Evolutionary Spirituality - Chris Zissis

Postby Vidyanet on Sun Dec 06, 2009 3:20 pm

Is it possible that mankind in general has exiled the "higher self" to an immaterial dimension and constructed a mysterious God to sit on a throne up high in the planes and heavens? because mankind is generally too helpless, ignorant and puny to realize that divesting humanity of higher awareness is the prerequisite for those who would control through outer authority?

divest

1563, from M.Fr. devester "strip of possessions," from O.Fr. desvestir, from des- "away" + vestir "to clothe." The fig. sense of "strip of possessions" is earliest in Eng.; reflexive sense of "to strip oneself of" is from 1605. Economic sense (implied in divestment) is from 1955.

http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?sea ... hmode=none

prerequisit

1633 (n.), 1651 (adj.), "required beforehand," from pre- + requisite (q.v.).

http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?sea ... hmode=none

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Re: The Rise of Evolutionary Spirituality - Chris Zissis

Postby Marian on Mon Dec 07, 2009 4:17 am

Hi Jonathan and all,

"and so learn how not to be in order to evolve further"


I was most taken by the above from Jonathan. Only this morning I found myself watching myself - as I debated whether to engage with certain stimulus, which I know to be counter productive for me. The pull/drive to engage was not quite as strong as usual, having been through the scenario countless times previously there was space for dialogue to take place. I was relieved when an aspect of myself stepped in to remind me of just how many times I'd been there; seen the film and wore the t-shirt. :lol: And yet the scarey thing is that I even considered the option.

It IS as though within time and space we hold certain experiences and that to evolve beyond these, we need to be aware of the many aspects of ourselves engaged in the play of the moment and the external stimulus swaying us this way or that. Is this what you mean Arji - by self realisation?

When we gain this awareness are we then able to move to new coditions in time and space?

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Re: The Rise of Evolutionary Spirituality - Chris Zissis

Postby Vidyanet on Fri Jul 08, 2011 4:24 pm

It IS as though within time and space we hold certain experiences and that to evolve beyond these, we need to be aware of the many aspects of ourselves engaged in the play of the moment and the external stimulus swaying us this way or that. Is this what you mean Arji - by self realisation?


By a roundabout way I came to a consideration - taking into account the literal definition of consider.

http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?search=consider&searchmode=none

The consideration was about how sound can sound differently depending on the environment. The same sound - in different environments - can come out sounding differently. Even the same word, pronounced by different people, can sound a little unique to each.

If instead of words and sounds one considers thoughts and vibrations, even feelings, does environment matter?

So I considered next how creation was said to have originated from the "word" of God, and how "words" have a place in religious organizations. Not only words, but sound(s).

In some faiths a "holy book" is important. In others the "prophet" is important. In still others, more important than holy books and prophets, is a living master, or guru.

When contemplating the idea of a primal word/sound from God I naturally considered whether it might"sound" different depending on the environment in which it sounds/vibrates.

This, I believe, does have something to do with "The Rise of Evolutionary Spirituality". It was somewhat inspired by the words in a previous quote: "all together".

This is the reason. No matter how many holy books, prophets, masters and gurus, whatever, these can amount to nothing more than "a finger pointing to the Moon".

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sDW6vkuqGLg

There are so many ways in which "spirit" can make itself manifest, in my opinion. I no longer believe that finding the right book, religion, guru is the goal ... when the goal amounts to a personal experience with what is "spirit" or "God".

Some paths warn against following other paths (other teachings, books, guru's, etc.) at the same time. However, if one were to follow to the end and reach the goal of any one path - if one were to realize, experience and hear the primal "Word of God" in higher spiritual environments ... Would it not be possible to read any book, frequent any church, listen to any master/guru and not walk away contaminated, deaf and/or dumb? What I mean to say is, if all people were to evolve spiritually wouldn't the paths all converge at some point and all come to share a similar experience? If that happened, or if it happened just a hundred people, would it change the environment on Earth in which the others were left to evolve?

I think environment does matter. Does make a difference. And while living here on Earth, nobody is really all alone and other people do matter. Other people, I believe, can make a difference. And it doesn't necessarily matter what the name of their religion, the country of their birth, color of their skin, age, or material status.
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Re: The Rise of Evolutionary Spirituality - Chris Zissis

Postby Vidyanet on Sat Jul 09, 2011 6:27 am

This, I believe, does have something to do with "The Rise of Evolutionary Spirituality". It was somewhat inspired by the words in a previous quote: "all together".


This was the previous quote:

“The way out for the world, the gates of the future, the entry into the superhuman, will not open ahead to the privileged few, or to a single people, elect among all peoples. They will yield only to the thrust of all together (even if it were from the influence and guidance of an elite) in the direction where all can rejoin and complete one another in a spiritual renewal of the Earth.”
- Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

http://www.andrewcohen.org/teachings/history-evolutionary-spirituality2.asp
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Re: The Rise of Evolutionary Spirituality - Chris Zissis

Postby tbellows on Sun Jul 15, 2012 5:43 pm

Greetings!

Interesting article. Fine for reminding me of my own views...and sharpening them. Perhaps we can only evolve our own acceptance of spirit/love.
It seems to me that God, the force of divine love, is always pouring happiness and full spiritual realization on us. How much of this divine essence do we choose to drink in, to be? Every moment is our responsibility.
Yet it's okay if sometimes we are not attuned. But we're better off if we keep nudging ourselves back, back to knowing that we're now swimming in divine love. It's up to us. To use charged words or visualizations to experience God which cannot be described of defined.
And I know, in saying these words, that they are only a rough sketch of what a true Godman might say. Yet if we are sincere, there is some help for readers.
-=-=- Thank you for reading - in the poetry of life,
Tim Bellows, yourpoetryprof
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