Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Rest Areas On The Spiritual Road

I believe I actually zoomed past this very spot on the Texas, New Mexico border. You can't miss the cross and it wasn't the only one of it's kind I zoomed by.

The last three weeks seemed to highlight difficulties I have had dealing with people who maintain different spiritual points of view. Sometimes it seems as if we are speaking an entirely different language, and very often topics I might discuss with some people are strictly off limits for other people.

Leon's funeral brought this point home in context of Native American spirituality. I don't think I had been at Leon's home very long before his Native contemporaries and confidants took some of us aside and told us which subjects could be discussed safely with everyone, and which ones should remain amongst ourselves.

The reason for this was that some of what we discussed fell very much outside the boundaries of Native American Spiritual practice. Essentially, this self censoring was no different than what I would engage in around more fundamentalist Christians or Catholics. There are certain topics you just don't discuss, or certain ways of stating things which fall safely with in a Catholic context but only hint at the totality of one's understanding. This can get frustrating, but I also understand that raising existential fear in people is not conducive to either real conversation or community building.

One of Leon's contemporaries told me that what made Leon such an incredible spiritual teacher is that he constructed his teachings to the audience in front of him, and mostly he was very successful with this approach. Leon understood, for instance, that the creation stories of the Navajo could be approached on multiple levels and so he taught which ever level his audience was at.

Contemporary Western psychology/spirituality has identified a number of stages in the spiritual development of a person. I think it's important to go over these stages, at least somewhat, in order to make some serious points about where Roman Catholicism seems to currently be, and why so many of us seem not to fit. This is important because it is being played out in our politics and it is also currently being played out in other spiritual traditions around the world.

James Fowler of Emory University has identified six stages of spiritual development, but I kind of prefer the thinking of Scott Peck who uses four stages. In Peck's system he calls the first stage "chaotic/antisocial". By this he means people who are basically driven by their own wills and appear to us to be manipulative and antisocial, bouncing from one thing to another, mostly by whatever opportunity presents itself. In this sense it is chaotic, but people with self discipline, many times the self discipline needed to pursuit personal ambition, may rise to prominent positions with in a community.

Non disciplined people in this stage frequently wind up in prison, institutions of other sorts, or on the street. This group will experience conversion to stage two as direct spiritual interventions which they can recount with unbelievable precision. Or as I used to say, Someone throws a major wrench in the wheels of their usual thought processes. At this point they turn to religious institutions for the secure boundaries they need.

Stage two folks Peck calls "formal/institutional". This stage is characterized by a sense of an external supreme being, who organized humanity around a set of dogma and laws, and is essentially up there or out there somewhere keeping track of all of us, granting some of us entrance into the celestial kingdom, while sending most of the rest of us to hell.
In this view people are either "in" or "out" of the Divine loop. This makes perfect sense given that the definition of God is external. For Christians this stage sees Jesus as having come from outside our reality to bring salvation to us through His death and resurrection. Jesus brought us a salvation which we don't deserve and are unworthy to approach unless we follow a spate of stringent rules. Atonement theology is the epitome of the logic of this reasoning.

The third stage is the "Skeptic/Individual" person who has rejected formal institutional religious doctrine and has begun a quest to internalize many of the same ethical concepts taught by formal religions without the myths and illogical propositions. Many of the scientific bent are in this stage, as well as many young people who have been raised in stage two homes but exposed to secular and scientific education. Benedict would call people in this stage victims of godless secular humanism.

Stage four people Peck calls "Mystical/Communal". In this stage people very frequently find out that behind the myths of their stage two religious indoctrination are universal spiritual truths which focus on the inner connectedness of all people and all things, and that the Divine connection is internal and eternal. This stage can involve numinous experiences which don't lend themselves to language but never the less have profound effects on the individual who experiences them. For the stage four Christian, Jesus is not a source of personal salvation, but embodies the Way one lives the truth of inner connectedness and touches the Christ within.

This is short and too the point, but you can read more of Scott Peck's thinking here. I think this gives enough of a picture to see why we have some of the divisions in this country and with in Catholicism.

In my opinion Vatican II was attempting to emphasize stage four Christian spirituality over stage two Christian spirituality. The problem was that VII was truly speaking a different language about a different spiritual experience and Institutional Catholicism had never laid much groundwork for stage four spirituality. Why would it? In order to reach stage four, one has to go through stage three and stage three spirituality is a monster threat to a stage two institution, even though it can lead to highly gifted spiritual people who eventually return to the Church.

In this context it's easy to see why John Paul's retrenchment to a more Vatican I style church has resulted in the mass exodus of people in stage three and stage four spiritual modes. In the secular West it's just about emptied the pews.

Catholicism is not the only major religion which can't bridge the stage three gap between stage two spirituality and stage four spirituality. Islam doesn't do it well, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Indigenous spiritualities, etc, etc. None of them do it well and it maybe that they aren't supposed to do it well. This in spite of the fact all of them have multiple levels of spirituality with in their core teachings. It may be that a real community can't function without all the levels of spiritual development because communities must reflect the balance all organisms strive to achieve, be they biological, social, or spiritual.

As I started out with this post, I experienced this conundrum in abundance on this trip, and not much differently than we seem to be experiencing it in our political and economic lives. The question we need to think about is what kind of future do we want as a sentient species. I personally think it's time to yank the balance forward to a position in which we aren't dealing with stages one through four, but perhaps stages two through five. The fifth being homo transcendent. I think homo transcendent is what Jesus was laying the groundwork for in most of His teaching and where the inner dimensional angelic realm has always been pointing humanity.

Tomorrow I will write about stage three in more detail and why that may truly represent our collective dead end, rather than a necessary stage in which we must pass through. In this respect I agree with Benedict about technological secular humanism.


  1. Thanks Colleen. It is great to have you back! What you have presented here is brilliant and helps to define these different stages of psychology/spirituality.

    Leon was a great spiritual teacher because "he taught which ever level his audience was at." That would mean he had to know the different levels, know the people in the audience, not be critical or judgmental towards the particular stage the audience was in to whom he was to teach something spiritual. It sounds as if he had grasped St. Francis' concept of the importance of being understanding over being understood. I can imagine that Jesus also taught this way and took into account the stage or stance one had in their spiritual development or understanding.

    You are right about every major religion having these different stages within them. Thomas Merton comes to mind in the Catholic faith as one who was in an advanced stage of spiritual development whereby he began studying other religions with an openness that could not come from a Stage Two.

    Martin Luther King, Jr also stands out as someone who realized these different stages and profoundly changed our world in a positive way.

    Mahatma Gandhi is another who transcended to a higher stage of spiritual enlightenment.

    "It may be that a real community can't function without all the levels of spiritual development because communities must reflect the balance all organisms strive to achieve, be they biological, social, or spiritual." I really think you are in the truth here, but am not sure if it would come about if Stage two people are either "in" or "out" of the Divine loop. It would take spiritual tolerance at all stages for unity and harmony to occur, as well it would mean the discipline of self-censorship at times at all stages and especially for the spiritual leader to teach tolerance, love.

  2. But here's the interesting thing butterfly. Stage II's can adopt a stage four mentality in certain environments and establish truthful and effective communities with stage fours.

    The trick is to establish a non threatening environment which insists on all points of view being heard openly and without judgment. It's pretty much the kind of environment a good therapist tries to establish.

    This isn't to say that a stage two will then become a stage three or four, but in that given environment they can let go of the need to hang on to external boundaries because the environment itself establishes safe boundaries.
    What happens when they go home is a different story. This does however, explain why retreats can be so emotionally effective for stage II people even if it doesn't translate throughout their entire life or completely change their world view.

    Leon most certainly saw the world from a stage four perspective, but that allowed him to understand and appreciate that the world itself did not function from his same perspective---much less his tribe.

    Leon ultimately was about homo transcendant, as are some of the rest of us who became a part of his life. I'm pretty sure we all agree that one won't get to play in the quantum universe unless one has attained an appreciation for stage four spiritual understanding.

    All the great spiritual traditions teach a stage four understanding of our connectedness as the doorway to homo transcendant. It's what the Good News was all about.

  3. It's almost as hard to state universal spiritual truths as to live them out - but living them out is what I think it's all about.

  4. Colleen, thanks for your reply. I think I need to rewrite a sentence I wrote because it didn't come out right at all. In referring to yours "It may be that a real community can't function without all the levels of spiritual development because communities must reflect the balance all organisms strive to achieve, be they biological, social, or spiritual." I really think you are in the truth here, but I am not sure if it would come about if Stage two people insist upon their view being the be all and end all and eliminating others and labeling them as "out" of the Divine loop."

    In order for Stage II's to adopt a stage four mentality they would have to include those who are at stage 4 or higher into their community. An environment would have to be fostered to allow for that spiritual growth in the community.

    Do you think that the major religions are in a preparation stage for this type of growth to take place?

  5. Re: incorporating all of the stages

    While it still has its challenges, the Unity Movement founded by the Filmores has been relatively successful in doing that. I say relatively because the movement still has to deal with all the "humanness" attitudes and issues we all deal with, but the movement has fostered and encouraged an attitude of acceptance at all levels of the other levels. It also has fostered an attitude of acceptance for the differences in cultures and beliefs.

    Mainstream christian level 1 & 2 traditionalists frequently attack the movement as a cult, even though the movement meets NONE of the criteria. I suspect that these would be found to be the same traditionalists that support Sarah Palin, the war in Iraq, gay-bashing and other clearly anti-Christ platforms.