Belief, Faith, Experience and Adaptation, Part 3

Sorry for the delay in continuing this series. I misplaced the book this series is based on, Ken Wilber’s A Sociable God. Now that I’ve found it let’s continue. In this entry I’ll be taking a peak at what Wilber has to say in regards to “experience.” Before we get into the book, I think it might be helpful to point out that there is some terminology that Wilber tends to use in his writing that can be difficult to understand if you haven’t read his more complete works. You have two options: A) just sort of glide by and ignore the terminology and just glean the more general point he’s articulating or B) I’ll try to provide some links if you feel compelled to dig in a little bit more. As Wilber unpacks “experience” in the book, the subject matter becomes a bit more dry and complicated. You might find this helpful or just complete mumbo-jumbo. With that said, here is an excerpt from the book regarding “experience”:

Experience goes beyond faith into actual encounter and literal cognition, however brief. Experience, as I am using it, means peak experience, a temporary insight into (and influx from) one of the authentic transpersonal realms (psychic, subtle, causal-for more on these terms, check out this link) In my opinion, authentic religious experience must be differentiated from mere emotional frenzy, from magical trances, from mythic mass-enthusiasms, all of which result in a temporary suspension of reason via regression to pre-rational adaptations, a slide that is altogether different from trans-rational epiphany. (Read here for more on the pre-rational, rational, and trans-rational) Pre-rational frenzies are usually chthonic in mood, emotionally laden, body-bound, and non-insightful– an emotional short-circuit that sparks and sizzles with unconscious orgiastic current. Trans-rational epiphany can be blissful, but it is also numinous, noetic, illuminative, and–most importantly–it carries a great deal of insight or understanding.

Actual faith seems conducive to experience; belief systems seem to inhibit it. When they occur to a person who previously rejected religious involvement, such experiences might effect a “conversion,” with the individual subsequently adopting a particular religious belief system in order to make sense of “what hit him” (e.g., Saint Paul)

If an authentic peak experience occurs to a mythic-religious true believer, it often has the awkward effect of energizing his or her mythic immortality symbols. The result is a “born-again” believer, a particularly explosive affair. To begin with, analytic experience has consistently disclosed that the mythic true believer often possesses a particularly harsh superego (internalized aggression)–an excessive guilt, a surplus repression, often forged in the atmostphere of overly oppressive/puritanical parents. One of the reasons the mythic true believer might have a become a true believer in the first place is to attempt to redress surplus guilt by establishing relations with a fictive-mythic parent who this time around would forgive the guilty transgressions. At the same time, the unacceptable and guilty impulses can be projected as a world of dirty sinner out there. (I believe that is shy a “sinner,” in such cases, is usually two things: a disbeliever, or a threat to the immortality account, and a “dirty disbeliever, or contaminated with emotional-sexual guilt.)

When that type of belief system is hit with an authentic peak experience, the system translates it into terms of it own immortality symbols. The whole ideology thus appears to receive a jolting sanctification; this allows the harsh superego to be extroverted, even more than usual, into a moralizing and proselytizing fury; and the true believer, now with the absolute approval of God Almighty Himself, sets out to remake the world in his own image.

On the other hand, but more rarely, an authentic peak experience might jolt a true believer into a person of faith, with subsequent diminution of particular-belief passion and opening a more universal tolerance.

So in other words, depending on where we are in terms of religious perspective (belief, faith, non-religious), an authentic trans-personal experience pours an energy into our religious “location,” for lack of a better term. Maybe the metaphor of the ladder can serve us here. Lets imagine a man, a “true believer,” who is camped out on the lower rungs of the ladder. He has a peak experience while walking on the beach. The sun is setting, the waves are gently crashing on the shore, the sand feels cool beneath his feet. In that moment he is overcome with an immense sense of love, joy, bliss, as if God is blanketing him with her very presence. For a brief instant our true believer on the beach gets a glimpse of what it looks like from the very top of the ladder. This peak experience is typically translated by whatever stage one is at. For our man on the beach, he will most likely feel a vivid sense of the greatness of God (a good thing indeed) but as a true believer, this experience has energized the already existing impulse in him to defend his right beliefs all the more. On the other hand, this experience might cause him to rethink his position on the ladder. Maybe what he’s just experienced illuminates a world that is mysterious and unknowable in so many ways. “How do I know my beliefs are right? And is what I believe about God more important than devoting myself to experiencing God to the fullest?” He would then be making a move upward from true believer to person of faith.

Next up, adaptation. If you’ve read this far, thanks for bearing with me. 😉

Gays in the Church Part 2: What Conservatives Should Keep in Mind

In my last post, I talked a bit about the commonalities in this debate that both those on the affirming side and conservative side share. I also offered up some food for thought for liberals in the debate. This post I want to focus on what conservatives could try to keep in mind while engaging the issue.

While I tried to identify some common ground in the previous post, I think it might be helpful to talk about fundamental differences and why they are important to recognize and understand. For someone arguing from the conservative side of the debate, they making a case for how they believe God has ordered the world we live in, our sexual ethics and, as a result, how we allow Scripture to inform how we live today. As I pointed out in the previous post, these are all very significant and valid issues to wrestle with but they pale in comparison to wrestling with one’s very own identity and how that identity informs their deepest desires and longing to be accepted and loved. While conservatives are struggling to make sense of the world around them, homosexuals are struggling to make sense of a universe within themselves. This is a profound difference and I believe it’s one that conservatives should honor. The pain cause by such a struggle is very unlikely understood by heterosexuals who bypass being unjustly made to feel like human malfunctions who are sexually disordered. It isn’t until I’ve heard the stories of friends who’ve endured this do I begin to understand their experience. It is sad to admit that there is no other institution over the course human history that has more blood on it’s hands in this regard than The Church. It’s something as Christians we must face and understand. Until we do, I don’t believe whatever dialogue take place will matter a whole lot.

The current development with the ELCA brings to light this very problem. Many conservatives in the ELCA are feeling hurt and confused by the ELCA’s decision and are considering leaving the denomination altogether. These feelings are valid and understandable but one must also consider what faithful church-going homosexual Lutherans have absorbed their whole lives while remaining committed to their parishes. If you have a hard time empathizing, I’d encourage you to talk to someone you know who is gay and ask them their perspective. If you don’t know anyone who is gay, then maybe that sort of explains part of the problem. I’ll end this post with a profound quote from Andrew Sullivan explaining why, as a gay man, he remains a devout Catholic:

“I am a Catholic and people often ask me, how can you be openly gay and be a Catholic? And my response is always I’m openly gay, because I’m a Catholic, because God taught me not to bear false witness to who I am and my faith is something that I really have no choice over. I’ve tried. I’ve had a terrible struggle with my own faith, but God wouldn’t let me go and he keeps bringing me back and he keeps saying to me, in the Eucharist and in the church I love you and you belong here. And I want you to have a loving relationship and I feel that my own relationship is a gift from God. I cannot alone in my conscience before God believe otherwise. So I can do no other. I’m here because I have no choice.”


Transform Your Pain

“Is your religion helping you to transform your pain? If it does not, it is junk religion. We all have pain—it’s the human situation, we all carry it in a big black bag behind us and it gets heavier as we get older: by betrayals, rejections, disappointments, and wounds that are inflicted along the way.

If we do not find some way to transform our pain, I can tell you with 100% certitude we will transmit it to those around us. We will create tension, negativity, suspicion, and fear wherever we go. Both Jesus and Buddha made it very clear to their followers that “life is suffering.” You cannot avoid it. It is no surprise that the central Christian logo became a naked, bleeding, suffering man. At the end of life, and probably early in life, too, the question is, “What do I do with this disappointment, with this absurdity, with this sadness?” Whoever teaches you how to transform your own suffering into compassion is a true spiritual authority. Whoever teaches you to project your doubt and fear onto Jews, Muslems, your family, heretics, gays, sinners, and foreigners, or even to turn it against yourself (guilt and shame) has no spiritual authority. Yet these very people have often preached from authoritative pulpits.”

— Richard Rohr, The Authority of Those Who Have Suffered

Gays in the Church Part 1: Commonalities in the Debate and What Liberals Should Keep in Mind

There seems to be a good amount of debate on the web regarding the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) approving the full recognition and blessing of monogamous, same-sex relationships. You can read the statement from the ELCA right here.

John Piper made his thoughts well known here, if you’re in the mood for some comedy. Here is a thoughtful response to Piper from Greg Boyd. I’ve really appreciated Nadia Bolz-Weber’s perspective as a Lutheran minister in Denver. Tony Jones has been blogging regularly on the subject as well. Tony’s effort has been both brave and helpful but reading his comments section leads me to believe that there are some profound differences in the assumptions we all bring to this debate and until we do our best to identify those differences and set the stage, the debate inevitably leads us not very far. Rather than drawing the lines in the sand and duking it out, I think some mutual understanding is critical right now. The central purpose of this debate shouldn’t be to win but to better understand the other side. Maybe I’ve missed it in what reading I’ve done on this subject but I think there are a few things that are worth wrestling with before we lace the gloves up.

First, I want to talk a bit about what both sides have in common. An important commonality is that we all share is foundational longing to belong, to be accepted and to do so in a safe and stable environment. This same impulse fuels both sides of the debate and it might be helpful if we all could recognize this in all of our brothers and sisters and not demonize these desires but allow them to inspire empathy between ideological foes.

With that being said, the purpose of this specific post is to explore what those who are on the affirming side of this debate should keep in mind when engaging conservatives on this issue. Conservatives are genuinely fearful that the Scripture on which they base their understanding of the world and it’s proper order is being pushed aside. Right or wrong, conservatives take Old Testament law and/or Paul’s words at face value and for anyone to do otherwise is a marginalization of God’s Word. This reliance on Scripture is a foundational element of their sense of belonging, their desire for order and their understanding of the world in which we all live. Whether one agrees with them or not on their view of Scripture, it is understandable that this debate immediately puts them on unstable ground which can be an immensely troubling experience which inspires much fear, anxiety, even anger. It might be as if someone was dancing on the grave of your grandparent, mocking the life they’ve lived. While I don’t believe for a moment that this is the intent of the vast majority of those who affirm same-sex relationships, this might be how it feels for conservatives who’ve entered this debate. For those of us on the opposite side of the debate, we must do all we can to empathize with this anxiety and fear, especially when things get ugly.

Next I’ll write a bit about what conservatives should keep in mind when engaging folks who affirm monogamous, same-sex relationships. Thanks for reading.

The Virtue of Hospitality

We tend to equate hospitality with parties and social gatherings or gracious resorts and expensive restaurants. To us hospitality is an industry, not a practice, one that summons Martha Stewart to mind more quickly than Jesus Christ. But to ancient Christians hospitality was a virtue, part of the love of neighbor and fundamental to being a person of the way. While contemporary Christians tend to equate morality with sexual ethics, our ancestors defined morality as welcoming the stranger

Unlike almost every other contested idea in early Christianity, including the nature of Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity, the unanimous witness of the ancient fathers and mothers was that hospitality was the primary Christian virtue.

Diana Butler Bass, A People’s History of Christianity

When reading this passage I can’t help but think about the health care “debate” going on right now in the U.S.. One so often hears of the inherent “Christian” nature of our country but it seems very strange that providing health care for all is a kind of blasphemy. When reading the gospels, it’s hard to find a sliver enthusiasm for the free market philosophy where it’s just tough shit if you can’t afford care.

The fact of the matter is that hard working people are denied basic health care in this country each and every day. We’ve failed as a society to be hospitable, be it privately or publicly.


This is a really interesting clip. It eloquently illuminates the ridiculousness of the debate surrounding health care in this country. It boggles my mind that doing what we can as a society to ensure health care for everyone has become such a controversy. This is not a debate about “socialism vs. capitalism” but about priorities. We have plenty of money to alleviate our failure to provide health care for everyone but we like our fighter jets, aircraft carriers and over 700 military bases a little too much to give them up.