Tag Archives: spiritual maturity

Progressive Christianity – a critique

This is a post critiquing progressive Christianity.

First off, I don’t consistently label myself as a progressive Christian (mostly because this means different things to different people). While there is diversity within this group, most Progressive Christians would affirm evolution, the humanity of the Bible, they would be LGBTQ inclusive, and would tend not to see Christianity as exclusive. There is a lot more that could be said, but this is a very brief summary that would describe the majority.

Second, it is a critique from within. In other words, it is a critique coming from inside – not to show it is wrong, but to point out what I see as a weakness.  It is a critique to share what I believe is most lacking within.

Progressive Christianity rightly embraces science, critical biblical scholarship, the intellect, and accepts truth wherever it is found.

JOEMARINARO

My biggest critique?

Progressive Christianity has a tendency to play the same game as conservative Christianity – i.e. it is all about being right, correct, and can be a mere exercise of the mind. As Richard Rohr writes, “it is the same game on the other side of the playing field.”

As one who would best fit within the progressive camp, I think they have a political correctness and an orientation toward social justice, esp. concerning the poor, oppressed, and marginalized, that is often lacking in more conservative groups. Interesting that much of the Biblical narrative is a prophetic critique concerning those who mistake the means for the end – the religious acts (e.g. sacrifices, fasts, prayers, services) for the point. This is never the end point, but only meant to help us to become more compassionate toward others esp. and those on the margins.

As I have journeyed from a more conservative tradition I have found that sometimes (not always) there is still something lacking in many progressive places. Progressives can be passionate for social justice and fight against systemic evil (things conservatives often neglect), yet it is their approach that often doesn’t sit well with me.

Richard Rohr states, “I’ve seen far too many activists who are not the answer. Their head answer is largely correct but the energy, the style, and the soul are not. So if they bring about the so-called revolution they are working for, I don’t want to be a part of it (especially if they’re in charge).”

This speaks to my experience of some within progressive Christianity. If I’m honest, this has also been true of myself on more than one occasion. Progressives can sometimes have the same harshness, egocentricity, antagonistic attitude that comes from the other side.

What then is the answer?

I don’t pretend to have the answer, but something that I am finding extremely important personally is spiritual maturity. A maturity where the ego is no longer in control, and there is little need to defend one’s position – this is no easy thing! (This is also not the same as passivity!)

“Jesus and the great spiritual teachers primarily emphasized transformation of consciousness and soul.” – Richard Rohr.

In other words, both conservatives and progressives are tempted to work from the outside in. If we only legislate our beliefs then it would be better. If we only expose how ignorant the “other side” is then they will see.  If they are just more informed then they would understand.

Actually, seeing is more of a spiritual process that begins from within.

Both conservatives and progressives are often playing the same game.

It’s all about right beliefs.

Conservatives focus on individual salvation, and on having correct doctrine, and progressives focus on knowledge, information or reason – as if this is what brings about enlightenment!

Neither correct doctrine, nor mere knowledge or information will really transform a person. Either side can be harsh, judgmental, egocentric, and arrogant.

What is needed is healthy spirituality, something Rohr says comes more by subtraction than addition. It’s not about more; more Bible, more correct doctrine, more truth, more information, more science, more church, more Christians. All these things can be helpful, but they do not, in and of themselves, create mature, healthy people. It’s about surrender, release, and liberation – primarily from our own egos.

What does this look like?

I think that an enlightened person does not need to constantly defend their beliefs, doctrines, or worldview. Of course they will still believe certain things, but they will hold these beliefs in a very different way – they will hold them lightly. Their ego is not in control. They will work for what they believe in, but don’t feel the need to exclude others, or judge others based upon their beliefs. They will not feel superior, more intelligent, or more correct. They see that God is working in all religions, in all people, in all places. They see life as a gift and it is theirs to simply enjoy. They live in the present moment or the now.

Being conservative or progressive isn’t the point. In fact, it can be a practice in missing the point entirely.

What’s the point?

The point isn’t addition (more), but subtraction (less ego)!

Pre-rational, rational, and transrational

I don’t usually write a post that is sort of me “thinking out loud,” but this post is just that.

Last week I wrote a little about stages, states, and connected that to spiral dynamics. I don’t think I can overemphasize how much this has helped me makes  sense of the world, where different people are at, and why people think the way they do. This is especially true concerning the current religious climate.

Now, on top of that or along side of that, I recently heard someone speak about about three different stages and named them –

Pre-rational

Rational

Transrational

pre-trans-rational

As I am learning about this and reflecting on these three stages, as well as where I am at personally, I thought I would share a little about my thoughts currently – just remember they are developing and in no way do I claim they are right, but are just the way I am piecing this together.

Pre-rational– this is sort of a pre-enlightenment (pre-modern) state. When I think of pre-rational, I think of many people who accept the status quo, or accept truth, religion, facts, from people in authority without thinking through it themselves. As far as Christianity, many people read the Bible literally and when scientific or archeological evidence suggest something different, they are quick to reject this because the Bible must be accepted as completely true in every way.

I think for many in this state, critical thinking, asking questions, or being open is seen in a negative light for we should just accept our faith and beliefs. We all start out in this state.

Rational – this is an intellectual state that often pushes against the Pre-rational mind. In other words, the rational state understands that the mind is a wonderful tool and critical thinking is more favorable than blind obedience or acceptance. I would say this is a modern or enlightenment understanding that draws heavily from science and technology. People in a rational state tend to try to explain everything with the intellect and to reject anything that cannot be explained or proven. As far as Christianity, progressive or liberal leaning people often fall into this state (some moderates do as well) as they emphasis that we have a mind and thus should be able to think critical to help us make sense of the world.

Transrational – people in this state have moved from pre-rational (pre-modern) and rational (modern), into something deeper (something along post-modern, but even that doesn’t fully capture this). These are the few people who engage both the mind and the heart, yet hold open that which cannot be fully explained only experienced. Though they accept mystery and that which cannot be fully explained (pre-rational), they ask critical questions and use modern disciplines such as science, archeology, cosmology, etc (rational) to engage the mind as well. I think many mystics from all religious traditions have moved in this state, though I’m not sure someone has to be a mystic in order to be in this state.

I think those in this state have a very deep awareness and appreciation for the other states. While the rational often pushes against the pre-rational and vice versa, the transrational is not antagonistic or against the other states, but simply sees them as necessary for growth.

I think those in the transrational state are more inclusive, non anxious, non dual and don’t fully side with either of the pre-rational or rational – though they resonate and understand both they both include and transcend them. While they can engage with people on both states, there is something more, something deeper that they carry that is often difficult to explain.

So, taking this more simplified three states and reflecting upon spiral dynamics here are some of the questions I have been wrestling with.

Which state am I in?

How do I better understand where people are at? Where religious people are at? Where the world is at?

How do I allow for space for people at other states or stages? (I think a lot of this comes first by understanding the different states or stages)

How do I move to a place where I understand other states as necessary? (I think a lot of maturity comes from recognizing the goodness and influence of the previous states and thus doesn’t force or try to push people to other states – that being said they do continually hold open the invitation to move deeper)

In my own religious tradition, how do I bring together the mind and the heart in a way that includes critical thinking, science, and modern biblical scholarship as well as contemplative spirituality? (How do I allow critical scholarship while also being open to that which cannot be fully explained?)

How do I move from a dualistic way of seeing and thinking to a non dualistic, inclusive, and more holistic spirituality and way of living in the world?

Anyway, something I have been chewing on a lot recently.

Stages, states, and spiral dynamics – this has changed the way I see the world

Richard Rohr recently wrote a meditation (it’s very much worth the read here) concerning the differences between stages and states.

To summarize, he was specifically referring to the dessert fathers and mothers in the Christian tradition who, while being at a more enlightened state, where still very much at an early stage (per-critical).

This has caused me to reflect upon the connection here to Spiral Dynamics.

Spirals_0_380

If your not familiar with spiral dynamics, it speaks to the different stages (consciousness) of humanity. Each stage transcends and includes the previous stages, and as you travel through the stages each one brings more complexity and inclusion. This has really helped my understanding of the current religious climate esp. as it concerns the conservative/liberal polarities and all the stages in between.

Basically, one can be at any stage and yet become a spiritually mature or enlightened person. As someone who is personally more open and inclusive in my perspectives, it is easy for me to write off someone who is less open or who is conservative as spiritually immature, but this would be inaccurate. Usually, conservatives are at the blue stage and they tend to see the world as black and white. At the blue stage certainty, doctrine, and dogma are very important (Most AA programs are at this stage). That doesn’t, however, mean that they cannot have a deeply spiritual life or connection to the divine – in fact if someone is coming out of the red stage they are in desperate need of the blue stage.

Each stage is important and even necessary.

Confused? Let me try to clarify.

One can be in the blue stage (I think that this is the stage that most of the conservative church is at), see the world as clearly black and white, yet can be racist, prejudiced etc. We have probably all known people like this. (Blue stage, early state)

One can also be in the blue stage, see the world as clearly black and white, yet can be loving, forgiving, full of grace and understanding – even though they will likely see the world very differently than those at other stages in life. (Blue stage, enlightened state)

One can be at a green stage (I think this is the stage that most of the world, at least the modern western world is currently at), be inclusive, loving, tolerant, and yet lack spiritual depth and can easily get frustrated at those in earlier stages. (Green stage, early state).

One can be at a green stage, be inclusive, tolerant, and loving, while extending grace to those who are at earlier stages while experiencing a deep connection to the divine (Green stage, enlightened state).

Hopefully this helps, as it has truly revolutionized my thinking and has helped me understand the world we are living in.

Here a couple of ways this plays out today.

With the recent Pew Research Center religious landscape survey, it is clear that Christianity in the U.S. is in decline. I think the reason for this is complex and I do not consider myself an expert, but I think spiral dynamics can speak to this.

I think most of the church, esp the conservative church, is at a blue stage or level of consciousness. I think most of the rest of the U.S. population is at an orange or green stage. Thus, Christianity seems archaic, out dated, and irrelevant because it speaks to a world that no longer exists for the majority of the western world (where Christianity is growing, I think it is at least partially because they are at a red or blue stage). No one in a orange or green stage thinks it is better to be in a blue stage as that would mean going backwards, and it can feel like regression. But this also goes the other way. Most of the conservative church  see those in an orange or green stage as walking down the road to relativism or secular culture and is thus fighting against it. Interesting isn’t it?

A second example can be taken from how one reads the Bible. The Bible is an outdated, archaic book that oppresses and marginalizes people right? Well, it depends on how you read it and if you can understand at least some of the the different stages of the people living at that time – remember this was 2,000-4,000 years ago, of course it seems archaic! Many of the author’s were living in a beige, purple, or red stage, yet that does not mean people living in the 21st century need to be pulled back to this stage. Yet, simultaneously, many of these people were living at an enlightened state, so it can still speak to us today. In other words, they were progressive for their time and had a deep understanding and connection to the divine.

Some may object and say that God was clearly working in and through these people. I agree, yet that doesn’t mean that God approved of that specific stage as if that was the stage we all need to remain at. I think God is far more inclusive and transcendent than that and I think God realizes that God must work in and through people at whatever stage they are. I think this is exactly what God continues to do today.

I think God is pulling us forward into deeper stages where we can transcend and include previous stages. Unfortunately, we can work against God’s movement in the name of church, truth, religion, or the Bible. I think the invitation is to have grace to people who are at different stages, yet also realize that everyone can have a connection to the divine or the sacred at whatever stage they are in. Maybe for leaders, the key is not to push people to other stages, but to be aware of their stage and to help bring people to deeper states. Of course, this takes an integrated leader who has grace and patience which is no easy task.