Paul Smith talks to Ken Wilber about his latest book, Integral Christianity: The Spirit’s Call to Evolve, laying the groundwork for a truly integral approach to Christianity that identifies, honors, and includes the very best of all previous interpretations of the Gospel, while clearing the space for radically new understandings, expressions, and experiences of Christianity to emerge.
Religion evolves. Here are two words that, in many people’s minds, might seem to cancel each other out. But in reality, religion is truly not anti-evolutionary, despite many of the religious belief systems that insist otherwise. Likewise, evolution is not truly anti-spiritual, despite many of the materialistic belief systems that usually tend to deny interior realities altogether. In fact, our spirituality and religious expressions have evolved a great deal over the course of human history, growing through several major stages of psychological and cultural development, which Paul identifies as Tribal, Warrior, Traditional, Modern, Post-modern, and Integral.
Listen as Paul and Ken discuss how each of the eight major elements of Christian thought (the Bible, God, Jesus, Sin and Salvation, Heaven and Hell, the Kingdom of Heaven, and the Mystical) are interpreted very differently from each of these major stages of consciousness.
Religion can be rational. Most people are accustomed to thinking of “religion” and “rationality” as existing on two ends of an axis, with the optimal result being an eventual transition from religious myth and superstition to rational science. But both science and religion have both mythic and rational forms—that is, religion is just as capable of rationality as any other human endeavor (though there are some very interesting reasons why rational religion has not been able to flourish in recent times), and writing off religion entirely because of its mythic roots would be like writing off modern science and medicine because of its roots in alchemy, phrenology, and leeching.
Simply opening the dialogue about rational approaches to religion is actually one of the most important contributions that Integral consciousness can make to this world. The gap that currently exists between traditional worldviews and rational worldviews has grown to staggering proportions, so much so that the great majority of human suffering in today’s world can be said to exist within this evolutionary wound, simply because there is no perceived bridge that can take us from mythic religion to rational religion and beyond.
This seeming lack of rational versions of religion has caused the great majority of religious individuals and cultures to place an artificial ceiling on their own spiritual and psychological growth, resulting in all sorts of insidious pathologies, including arrested development, shadow projections, and the compartmentalization of beliefs so that otherwise rational people never allow the light of reason to illuminate their pre-rational mythic belief systems—a recipe for contradiction, hypocrisy, and inner turmoil.
A return to experience. As Paul puts it, “Christianity began in Palestine as an experience, it moved to Greece and became a philosophy, it moved to Italy and became an institution, it moved to Europe and became a culture, and it moved to America and became a business! We’ve left the experience long behind.” One of the most important goals of Integral Christianity is to return to this emphasis upon direct experience, with the understanding that each of us is capable of having the exact same experiences as the great mystics themselves.
Additionally, this return to experience is vital for the rational levels of religion and beyond, as it is the basis for a truly empirical approach to spirituality and other interior realities, which consists of the following three-step process:
- Injunction (perform the experiment, e.g. look through the telescope, or through the instrument of meditation)
- Apprehension (have an experience, e.g. see the moons of Jupiter, or have a direct experience of transcendence, satori, or God’s presence)
- Confirmation (confirm your experience with a community of peers, e.g. compare your observations of Jupiter’s moons with other adequately-equipped astronomers, or your experiences of divinity with other accomplished spiritual practitioners)
These are just three of the most important insights offered by Paul and Ken—though there are many more to be gleaned from this exceptionally rich dialogue. Whether you are a long-time practicing Christian who is trying to revitalize your spiritual path, a “recovering Christian” trying to make amends with the tradition of your childhood, or a non-Christian who is simply trying to better understand the Christian tradition and the social and cultural impact it continues to have upon our world, there is no better place to start than this extraordinary and foundational conversation.
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About Paul Smith
Paul Smith is the author of Integral Christianity: The Spirit's Call to Evolve. He is a teacher and has recently retired after serving 49 years as minister at Broadway Church in Kansas City, Missouri. While in high school he founded a series of spiritually transforming youth camps and college retreats that were attended by thousands of young people annually over a period of ten years. After his undergraduate degree from Washington University and Master’s degree in theology and biblical studies from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, he came to Broadway Baptist Church in midtown Kansas City, Missouri in 1963.
About Ken Wilber
Ken Wilber is a preeminent scholar of the Integral stage of human development. He is an internationally acknowledged leader, founder of Integral Institute, and co-founder of Integral Life. Ken is the originator of arguably the first truly comprehensive or integrative world philosophy, aptly named “Integral Theory”.