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. 😉

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