Response to Andrew Sullivan: In defense of the Qur’an

Quran

Today on the Daily Dish, Andrew Sullivan asks his readers a fair question, crudely stated:

“If there is an argument for why the Quran is so good, please bring it forward. I’ve read the Quran several times and it’s not that good. In fact, it’s conspicuously bad as a moral map, and a spiritual map. You can wander blindfolded into a Barnes & Noble, and the first book you pick off the shelf will have more wisdom than the Quran. The Quran is uniquely barren of wisdom relevant to the 21st century. It’s got a few good lines about patience and generosity, and the rest is just vilification of the infidel,” – Sam Harris. Can any readers counter?

To which I responded today:

Dear Andrew,

The Qur’an is a classic of world spiritual literature far exceeding the disposable drivel that you will pick off the shelf in the vast majority of the books at a Barnes & Noble. I would have thought you know this and could have written a defense yourself. In any event, as non-Muslims, there are many people better qualified than you or I to give a defense of the Qur’an’s merits as a guide to Islamic life and culture.

My own defense as an enthusiast of a world-centric spirituality enthusiastically inclusive of Islam would start with the observation that a classic is to be judged not by reference to its compatibility with the New Atheist mindset of a small minority of people in early 21st century America (i.e., Sam Harris and his readers), but by its enduring influence over well more than a millennium. The claim that the Qur’an is “so good” begins by noting that many millions of people have for many centuries thought it so good, and that in a world of constant cultural evolution it is hermeneutically garbage to assess their aesthetic and spiritual opinions crudely by certain contemporary standards.

You can’t throw the Bible out as barren of wisdom because it sanctions social practices we find offensive today, and you can’t judge spiritual depth simply by how frequently a text enjoins virtues such as patience and generosity. You need to judge the Qur’an more holistically and as a mystical vision, not a self-help tome spouting chicken soup platitudes nearly everyone today will agree with.

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What is an authentic World Politics?

 

World Flag

In truth, there is no division between spirituality and politics that can be found in The Way Things Are. If you believe, as I do, that there is only one True Self and that every unique individual is a completely whole and infinitely valuable Unique Self which is one and the same as that Ultimate Identity, then how can there be a separation?

In an Integral view of ethics, care and justice evolve in ever expanding reach from egocentric to ethnocentric to worldcentric to kosmocentric levels. Ultimately, there is a sense of self-identification with responsibility and empathy for all sentient beings in all times and places. Thus, politics — which I define broadly as the expansion of our circle of concern to ever wider levels of embrace — is deeply wedded to our sense of self and our understanding of the nature of reality.

Spirituality and politics are distinct aspects of our human existence, but not separate ways of being. In other words, every spiritual act is also a political act, and every political act is also spiritual. But if spirituality is related as Paul Tillich formulated to our “ultimate concern,” then politics relates to concerns that individuals share with other individuals in their community.

There are family and tribal/organizational politics, there are national and international politics. And as plans in recent decades for human colonization of other worlds has demonstrated, there is even a politics of the relationship between the inhabitants of Earth and everything extraterrestrial. Politics is inescapable, no matter how apolitical one’s views.

If you scan articles written about politics by members of the World Spirituality, Integral Spirituality, or Evolutionary Spirituality communities, you may come away with the impression that most people are progressive. After all, among those in the U.S. you will frequently hear praise of Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and Barack Obama — all Democrats. You will hear support for remedying income inequality, addressing climate change, and legalizing same-sex marriage.

But read more closely and you will find a more complex picture.

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Why The Avengers convinces that Thor is a (mythic) god

Thor-Avengers

Whatever your taste in movies, it’s hard to deny that Hollywood does a brilliant job of selling comic books to the world, illuminated with dazzling computer-powered, imagination-dazzling on-screen effects. Many adults find these action packed movies to be a guilty pleasure, and we ponder whether they have a redeeming educational or morally transcendent worth beyond a day’s entertainment. Given their prominence and durability, let’s hope that they do.

The first thing I want to say about The Avengers, Josh Whedon’s latest superhero summer blockbuster, is that it at times provoked in me surprising delight. The interactions among Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, the Hulk, the Black Widow and Hawkeye were intriguing in unexpected ways. These superheroes each inhabited their own excellence, their own uniqueness, with superb effortlessness … and they frequentlly argued, fought, and learned how to get along.

Superheroes, like all heroes of myth, wear their interior self on their external nature. The spirit of their uniqueness is writ large, thanks to the power of myth. Hulk’s raw, primal, Kali-like power of creative destruction; Thor’s instinctual, impulse-driven, noble brand of heroism; Captain America’s truth-oriented, duty-driven, God-loving brave soldier warrior; Iron Man’s postmodern, quip-slinging, irony-noticing, eco-technologist playboy billionaire, for starters. And all of them coordinated by the mastermind strategist of Nick Fury, the man with the power to deliver Manhattan from a nuclear blast while operating behind a veil of mystery.

The symbols embodied by the heroes fall all along the spectrum of human developmental capacities from pre-modern magical to mythic to rational to integral as spelled out in the Integral Framework, though there’s room for debating precisely how the symbols align. Personally I didn’t find myself identifying strongly with any of the characters, so much as with the feeling of the cosmic drama itself, I think, but I most admired the cunning and chutzpah of Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury. If there is Integral Consciousness on display among these characters, it couldn’t be better embodied than by Fury.

But that doesn’t stand in the way of my gushing over Chris Hemsworth’s hyper-masculine performance as Thor, god of Thunder. I find Whedon’s portrayal of the macho macho god as a being of almost child-like innocence to be an endearing expression of the ego-less, enlightened nature of the authentic power of the Unique Self. If Thor passes muster as divine, it is only because we believe that is is truly being himself — that he simply cannot be any other way — that he is not holding anything back, and that he wields power not for its own sake but only for an ideal greater than himself: the protection of the Earth and realms beyond.

Joe Perez and Stuart Davis in Dialogue: The Future of Art and Integral

Stuart DavisOriginally posted on Spirit’s Next Move.

Last month, I engaged in dialogue with Stuart Davis, a contemporary American musician, actor, and stand-up comic. With over 10 full-length music albums to his credit, including the brand new Music for Mortals, Davis has bravely brought depth and spirituality into popular culture — including the topics of God, sex and death — crafting them into lyrical and memorable pop songs.

This is the first of a three-part series of posts. In this section of the interview, I speak with Stuart about the topics of the future of Integral, spirituality, celebrities and popular culture.

Part 1: The Future of Art and Integral

(or: What if Kim Kardashian Endorsed World Spirituality Tomorrow?)

Joe Perez: As an introduction to this interview, let me say that I did a board retreat for the Center for World Spirituality last month [February] and met a couple of dozen of people contributing to World Spirituality in different fields working in this area that nobody even knows about. The more I am exposed to that, I think, there really seems to be something bubbling up in the world right now. And then there is the article by Terri [Patten] and Marco [Morelli], “Occupy  Integral!” that people are talking about… Did you read that?

Stuart Davis: I think I did read that, a couple weeks ago.

Joe: Their basic idea being that there is something about Integral that hasn’t completely entered the cultural consciousness yet, and so there’s a discussion around what needs to happen, where are we at, what is this moment, and how can we best rise to the potential of the moment. What’s your take on all that, Stuart?

Stuart: I couldn’t agree more for starters. To go back to the initial, for me when this first started, the passion about integral entering the public consciousness at large, however you want to frame that, let’s say crossing over the threshold into something that’s bigger than our own private club, whatever that means in different domains. When I first encountered Integral, I encountered something that many people probably do, and I didn’t realize what it was. But when you get that initial hit of Integral and you begin to crackle alive in that regard, you have this sense, almost tactile, not just an idea or a promise, but you can feel it in your gut. And that promise is Integral taking its place and inhabiting its portion of the body of humanity, growing, being a truly emergent, novel dimension coming to life. And we all sense that.

SESAnd what I think has been interesting to navigate and process is that when I first felt that, I felt it was just a few years away. I felt it was just a few years away. It was 1998. When I first read Sex, Ecology, and Spirituality and first met Ken [Wilber]. I just had this certitude that it was pregnant, that we were giving birth, and it felt to me that the baby was crowning. Right, so I began, much in the fashion that people who think the apocalypse is coming, and that’s been going on for centuries, I began to prepare and anticipate and behave and conduct myself as though that promise was emergent and it wouldn’t be long, it would be just a few years, that you could turn on the NBC, or feel it coming from the White House, that it was going to enter into every domain.

I was really intoxicated for many years, and I was really wrong about a lot of timelines. I’ve felt the same certitude that I felt back then. It’s either inevitable because we’re talking about human development here. Either this is coming down the pipeline… or there won’t be humans around. Because we’ve never seen humans not develop. But on the other hand I will fully admit that I was really wrong about the timeline, what it was going to take, and specifically in the realm I can speak most precisely from, which is entertainment, because where I work is movies and film, television and books. I felt an immediacy that has turned out to be much more difficult. This inevitable process occurring I way underestimated in the people that I work with. I would say the way that I feel about it is that: Yes, I read that article and I have felt ever since day one that it’s occurring and I would qualify it by saying I’ve also been wrong about the timeline and how hard it would be. “Hard” in quotes. It’s a beautiful difficulty. It’s tough.

Joe: I was reading an article recently about youth today – specifically 18-to-19-year-olds. They’re less political, less concerned about the environment, and they’re turned off by organized religion, thinking it’s become very judgmental. But what’s most interesting in what I noticed is in what they ARE engaged with. If young people are to be recruited into politics, they said, it will be from selective use of entertainment media, celebrities, Facebook, Twitter and mobile technologies with forms of participation limited in their duration, sophistication, and intensity. You’re closer to this than I am. Do you think entertainment, celebrities, and social media can help to reengage youth into a developmental path?

TrendingStuart: What a great question. That brings to mind the pop song. That has been my experience with the pop song since day one. The greatest triggers and invitations I have experienced have come through these brief, concise, but potent pop song type piece of pop art. Some of them literally pop songs.  I have had moments of mystical insights that were unrivaled, more effective than anything I learned in church … Does that mean that pop songs are more effective, or is it just my typology, or something about how I’m put together? I do think that there is in a deeper place, my conviction is that art existed before organized and conventional religion, and it will exist after.

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