Bruce Sanguin: What The Incarnation Means To Evolutionary Mystics

Bruce Sanguin is an evolutionary mystic who believes that evolution is “a divine strategy for making a world that can make itself”. From this Integral perspective, he addresses the question of Jesus’s divinity. He writes:

I’ve been asked by one of our members to differentiate my position from Marcus Borg’s on the question of Jesus’ divinity/humanity.  Just to be clear, I didn’t write the post because I wanted to highlight our differences. I liked Marcus’s carefully considered response.

Perhaps it’s best if I simply clarify where I stand on this issue. First, I agree that Jesus didn’t believe he was G_d. As a devout Jew this notion would have struck him as blasphemous. Jesus was pissed when an admirer called him good, let alone G_d! And I agree that the early church gave him all the titles we subsequently came to associate with him—the Christ, the Word, Son of G_d, second person of the Trinity (incarnate Word).

Where I differentiate myself from many progressive Christians is that I may have a slighter more elevated notion of what constitutes our humanity. This is because I believe that we are, among all creatures, the ones gifted with the capacity to consciously evolve. Other creatures are perfect, in the sense that they are not likely to transcend themselves. A lion is an exquisite creature. But a lion is not stretching out consciously toward becoming more, deeper, or a higher expression of lion. It took a very long time for the universe to arrive at a lion, but once there, the lion is complete —perfected.

Not so with humans. We are the imperfect ones, incomplete, and able to strive towards completion, or better, participate consciously in the process of completion. Whether our development is ever complete is another question for another time. Our bodies and brain seem to be staying pretty much the same, (although when you watch the new crop of athletes in every sport, I am amazed at the evolution of the athlete’s body and capacities in every sport), but consciousness and culture continues to evolve.

We are the creatures who are meant for growth and development—at least in terms of expansion of consciousness and the realization of new potentials. Our intelligences are able to evolve, kinaesthetic, aesthetic, mathematical, emotional, moral, spiritual. We pass through stages of measurable development. When you read Evelyn Underhill’s description of the mystic’s path, or Sri Aurobindo description of higher levels of mind, you realize that there are stages of evolution in human consciousness and culture.

Now, this is where postmodern scholarship starts to have a conniption. Higher and lower stages of human development?! Hierarchy, eugenics, elitism, Nazism, colonialism, etc…  But, as Ken Wilber points out, there are dominator hierarchy (bad) and natural hierarchy (just the way a universe does its thing). Wholes become parts of larger wholes, which can exert an upward influence. G_d’s agapic Love is the largest Whole, if you like, which exerts a non-coercive, unifying pressure on the whole cosmos. G_d as Love is the largest Whole, drawing on all things into communion, ultimately with and in G_dself.

Read Bruce’s entire post.

The topic of Incarnation is a hefty one, and it is skillfully addressed by Sanguin’s blog post. As one contemplates divinity and humanity as a continuum rather than rigid opposites, one is better able to appreciate Jesus — proclaimed as Christ for Christians — along this continuum somewhere remarkable. There’s more to be said about this topic, and I plan to return to it as the Christmas season progresses.

Interstellar From An Integral Perspective

interstellar-movie-2014-hd-wallpapers-fullScience fiction movies frequently offer stories at the intersection of science and spirituality, melding intimate human drama with larger-than-life themes and plots. Some of the greatest sci-fi movies have created enduring myths which have shaped the worldview of more than one generation of moviegoers. But they are not all created equal.

The new film Interstellar, directed and co-written by Christopher Nolan, bends the space-time continuum of Armageddon plot-lines. It is created with much of the hero worship of Batman Begins, the intensity of The Dark Knight, and the creative reality-twisting of Memento and Inception. If you’re like the vast majority of moviegoers and critics surveyed by meta-critic websites, you are bound to have a good time and give the flick two thumbs up.

But you are not reading this review in order to decide whether to spend $12 and a Saturday night on this movie. Since this is Integral Blog, you are likely wondering how to approach this movie from an Integral perspective or maybe what the movie offers an Integral worldview. I cannot satisfy those curiosities completely, but I will offer some salient observations.

In my view, there is no point to watching the vast majority of movies made every year (about 700 by one count), and who has the time? Indeed, most forms of popular culture entertainment are soul-denying wastes of time and precious brain cells. At the end of sitting through a typical movie, there is no greater or deeper extension of knowledge of the human condition or inspiration to make the world a better place.

I love very good movies. Very good movies are meant to be transcendent and elevating. They help wake you up without being preachy. They engage your feelings, mind, soul, and spirit in harmony. And great movies give you moments you will never forget and change your life.

Interstellar is a great movie. It is everything a very good movie is, and then it goes the extra mile. I don’t care if it has imperfections, whether it lacks humor or contains improbable twists, whether its characters are memorable enough or the music too loud. It’s not perfect.

Continue reading “Interstellar From An Integral Perspective”

World to U.S. Occupiers: Stop whining, you are also the top 1 percent!

Occupy Los Angeles
Occupy Los Angeles

Last fall, the eruption of the Occupy Wall Street movement in protests in major cities across the U.S. and elsewhere focused attention on income inequality. At the time, I expressed my support for the cause, when it is viewed not as a power play between haves and have-nots, but as a movement of integration towards greater fairness and balance in the world’s evolving consciousness.

From Spirit’s perspective, as I noted at the time, we are all the 99% and we are all the 1%. But there’s a much wider global lens that I did not speak to, which is now being observed by writers including Charles Kenny, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development.

Writing in Foreign Policy, Kenny says:

First things first: America’s rich are really, really rich. U.S. Census data suggest every man, woman, and child in the top 1 percent of U.S. households gets about $1,500 to live on each day, every day. By contrast, the average U.S. household is scraping by on around $55 per person per day. But the global average is about a fifth of that.

So by global standards, America’s middle class is also really, really rich. To make it into the richest 1 percent globally, all you need is an income of around $34,000, according to World Bank economist Branko Milanovic. The average family in the United States has more than three times the income of those living in poverty in America, and nearly 50 times that of the world’s poorest. Many of America’s 99 percenters, and the West’s, are really 1 percenters on a global level.

Why are so many Americans in the world’s 99th percentile of income, and much of the rest of the world poorer? Not owing to merit, continues Kenny:

Nor did the Western 99 percent “earn” most of their wealth, any more than the top 1 percent “earned” theirs. It’s the luck of where you’re born, according to the late Nobel Prize-winning economist Herbert Simon, who estimated that the benefits of living in a well-functioning economy probably account for 90 percent of individual income.

Based on the notion that there is no moral reason why some people make more than others, economist Herbert Simon argues for radical global wealth redistribution:

“On moral grounds,” he wrote, “we could argue for a flat income tax of 90 percent to return that wealth to its real owners” — i.e., everyone else in the country. That radical suggestion makes the Occupy Wall Street crowd look like a bunch of free-market libertarians.

Kenny doesn’t go so far as to back Simon’s plan, but he is definitely not giving comfort to the Occupy movement in the U.S. which feels indignant about wealth inequality when it concerns people richer than themselves, but feel nothing about their own relative wealth compared to the rest of the world. Kenny continues:

Plus, taxing the West’s obscenely rich to help a Western middle class that is merely very rich doesn’t seem like the highest of priorities, frankly. We need to deal with inequality all the way down to the bottom of the income pyramid, for everyone’s sake.

IMF research suggests that countries with high levels of inequality are far more likely to fall into financial crisis and far less likely to sustain economic growth. But this is not just about taxing the richest 1 percent to help the middle 60. It’s about taxing the middle 60 to help the bottom 20. And ensuring that rich and poor alike worldwide have access to basic health care and education, with their well-documented effects on income and productivity, will work to the benefit of the Western middle class. If Americans and Europeans want to export their way out of recession, they need rich consumers elsewhere.

So stop whining, Occupiers. It is high time for the richest 1 percent to help the rest catch up. But don’t fool yourself — if you live in the West, you probably are that 1 percent.

Read the whole thing.

To repeat, if you make more than about $34,000 a year, YOU are part of the 1%.

So now, tell me again how angry and resentful and hateful you got as you stood outside the Wall Street sign, broke the windows of banks, and hollered to the moon about the evil rich millionaires and billionaires?

Sorry, I goofed. That wasn’t you; it was somebody else. Never mind.

Income inequality deserves to be a topic high on the agenda for discussion in the U.S. and around the world, as part of a larger discussion about global economic development and the best relationship between government and private sector initiatives. People making $4,000 or $14,000 or $24,000 or $34,000 a year don’t deserve nutritious food, quality health care, and college educations any less than those of us in the top 1%.

Taking an integral perspective means trying to look at the income inequality topic sympathetically from as many different perspectives as possible, and not simply resting content with one’s own opinions and prejudices. By challenging ourselves to see the world from the view of both the 1% and the 99%, and looking at ways that we can increase the level of love and compassion all the way around, we can avoid falling into some serious mistakes.

There is reason for urgency around this. Everywhere in the world, there are people who have no clean water, no job, and no hope for a college education for their children.

World Spirituality tells us that as we find our Unique Self, we understand increasingly that there is only one True Self anywhere in existence. We are all the True Self, and being kind and just to both the 1% and the 99%, and seing through the illusions that seem to divide us, is all part of our urgent work of Self-love.

Physiognomy and the Pre/Trans Fallacy


Physiognomy, according to Wikipedia, is “the assessment of a person’s character or personality from his outer appearance, especially the face.” Wikipedia continues:

The credence of such study [physiognomy] has varied from time to time. The practice was well-accepted by the ancient Greek philosophers, but fell into disrepute in the Middle Ages when practised by vagabonds and mountebanks. It was then revived and popularised by Johann Kaspar Lavater before falling from favour again in the 20th century.

It is now being revived once more, as some new research suggests that people’s faces may indicate such traits such as trustworthiness, social dominance and aggression. The latter trait seems to be determined by the level of the hormone testosterone during puberty, which affects the ratio between the height and width of the face – aggressive individuals are found to have wider faces.

Two news articles came out recently which support the notion that facial appearance is connected to either personality type or intelligence. In “The Face of Leadership” on Psychology Today, we learn that men with wide faces are perceived as stronger leaders than men with narrow faces. Christopher Peterson writes:

A “gee whiz” study was recently described by Elaine Wong, Margaret Ormiston, and Michael Haselhun (2011). These researchers were able to predict the financial success of Fortune 500 companies from the facial width-to-height ratio (WHR) of the CEO. That is, how wide was the CEO’s face relative to how long it was? These researchers limited their analyses to male CEOs, and they assessed WHR from stock photos by measuring facial width from cheek-to-cheek and facial height from brow to upper lip.

Then they correlated the ratio with the return on assets of the company, controlling for industry standards as well as its financial past performance.

Wider faces predicted better performance, especially for companies judged to have low cognitive complexity in their communication and decision styles, as assessed from content analyses of a company’s letters to shareholders. Lower cognitive complexity companies frame issues in black-and-white terms, whereas higher cognitive complexity companies convey issues in multidimensional and nuanced terms.

via Psychology Today.

Presumably the article’s author remarks that the study is “gee whiz” because the notion that a classical and medieval wisdom tradition which has been regarded as superstitious and debunked for most of the twentieth century may have now just been given fresh scientific support. To be clear, the premise of the Wong/Ormiston/Haselhun research was based on a preexisting line of scientific research into facial structure, and probably were not inspired as an attempt to confirm the works of Aristotle or Zopyrus.

Slate Magazine explains that people are able to recognize intelligence by looking at a headshot more often than you would expect if the link between intelligence and appearance were merely random:

The idea that an ugly face might hide a subtle mind has attracted scientific inquiries for many years. At first, scientists wanted to know whether it was possible to read someone’s intelligence from the shape of his face. In 1918, a researcher in Ohio showed a dozen photographic portraits of well-dressed children to a group of physicians and teachers, and asked the adults to rank the kids from smartest to dumbest. A couple of years later, a Pittsburgh psychologist ran a similar experiment using headshots of 69 employees from a department store. In both studies, seemingly naive guesses were compared to actual test scores, and turned out to be accurate more often than not.

Many such studies followed, and with consistent results: You can learn something about how smart someone is just by looking at a picture. But scientists couldn’t figure out where that information might have been hiding in the photographs. The Ohio researcher said that some of his subjects were “greatly influenced by the pleasant appearance or smile, but for some the smile denotes intelligence and for others it denotes feeble-mindedness.” The author of the follow-up in Pittsburgh wondered if the secret of intelligence might not be lurking in “the lustre of the eye.”

via Slate Magazine.

Wasn’t it another ancient Greek, Plato, who was convinced of the esoteric unity of Truth and Beauty? There does seem to be some empirical connection between physical attractiveness and intelligence, beyond what would be anticipated by dumb luck. And yet without the recent research projects such as described by Slate, who would have dared to investigate a notion that has been discredited by mainstream thinkers for centuries?

Scientific research into physiognomy and other sources of traditional wisdom can be valuable in assessing the nuggets of disregarded truth that may have been thrown aside with the rush of modernity to annihilate oppressive authorities. And where all this research might lead, and how it can be applied to benefit in real life is very much a topic open to debate and experimentation.

What an Integral perspective offers is the ability to frame the research in terms of forming a postmodern and evolutionary self and worldview. An evolutionary worldview tells us that beliefs generally evolve in stages from pre-rational to rational to trans-rational, and non-rational beliefs must be carefully parsed to discriminate between irrational or ego-centric (pre-) and genuinely spiritual or world/cosmo-centric (trans-). We do not fallaciously confuse the pre- with the trans-, but we are open to truth wherever it appears, even if it seems odd.

In the words of socionics theorist H.C. Linguere, “The body never lies.”

In the words of socionics theorist H.C. Linguere, “The body never lies.”

The guilty pleasure of guilty pleasures


Chocolate Chip Cookie by Laura604 (Flickr)

Matthew Yglesias in “Against ‘Guilty Pleasures'”:

I think the whole conceptual framework of “guilty pleasures” speaks to some weird underlying puritanical elements in American life. Despite the whole “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness” thing in the Declaration of Independence, our public culture is very resistant to the idea that people should try to spend more time doing things they enjoy or that producing enjoyment for others is a good thing to do in life.

Alyssa Rosenberg dissents, comparing the guilt of liking pop music to the guilt of enjoying cheesecake. She writes:

It’s about social positioning through cultural positioning, with a fluctuating definition of what’s guilty and what’s not. Sometimes it’s the opera, or the ballet, or the symphony that’s non-guilty, and sometimes it’s TV On the Radio.

Four QuadrantsAs I see it, the concept of “guilty pleasure” isn’t necessarily weird at all, though there do seem to be different usages when it is applied towards food and when it is applied to the fear of having other discover one’s lowbrow or embarrassing tastes. In Integral Theory, the different usages can be mapped to quadrants: the former usage pertains to intersection of individual subjective feelings (UL) and individual objective behavior (UR); the latter relates to individual subjective feelings (UL) and collective subjective culture (LL).

When the conversation between Matthew and Alyssa is mapped out in quadrants, you can notice that “guilty pleasures” are only being discussed in two of the four quadrants … and can now ask, what is missing? what is being left out of the discussion? Taking an integral perspective can point the way.

There are the collective objective systems,  the lower-right quadrant (LR), which would include the phenomenon of taking pleasure in doing something harmful to the environment or social system (e.g.,  enjoying the way that Styrofoam cups keep your coffee hotter than paper cups, enjoying riding around in a Hummer, etc.)

And there’s also the “guilty pleasure” of the individual subjective perspective taking a perspective on itself (UR to UR). This would include taking guilty pleasure in having guilty pleasures!

I’m not going to weigh in just now on Matthew’s dislike of “guilty pleasure,” because it isn’t in my character to have strong likes and dislikes about things that I haven’t considered with deliberation. Instead of pronouncing on the goodness or badness of something, I’m more interested in understanding why it is our culture and language has given us this phrase, “guilty pleasure,” and see how people are using it, what it gets for them, and what it blinds them to.

Looking at the phenomenon in four quadrants helps me to make sure I’m not leaving anything out. Was Matthew Yglesias considering the collective subjective or collective objective quadrants when he proclaimed “guilty pleasure” a Puritanic holdover? Was Alyssa Rosenberg considering the collective objective or individual subjective quadrants when suggesting that they may not be such a bad thing?

I don’t know, but if an integral perspective teaches me one thing it is to not leave anything important out of the equation when making a decision. If we rely only on our unconsidered opinion, our biases and cultural conditioning and settled structure of consciousness take over, and leave precious little room for innovation and growth.