It’s Insane To Believe There Is No Truth

truth-672x372
By Joe Perez

Note: The following post was originally published on February 2, 2012, on Joe-Perez.com, and has been modified on this date.

I’m fortunate to have had the opportunity to have had a good education in philosophy, theology, comparative religion, psychology and sociology of religion, and so on. This has given me the chance to see how the brightest minds, past and present, have addressed the fundamental question in philosophy: “How am I to live?”

Those smart people haven’t always agreed. In fact, the study of these subjects in college is pretty much an exercise in learning the different schools of thought and how to argue one side against another. In ethics, there are consequentialists and Kantians. In psychoanalysis, there are Freudians and Jungians. And then there are about a million different views of religion.

It wasn’t really until over a decade after I finished my formal study of religion that I encountered the work of the philosopher, psychological theorist, and mystic Ken Wilber. His work was remarkably different because he didn’t care less how exactly one thinker disagreed with another thinker. In a sense, he was only really interested in what they had in common. He asked how they were looking at the world in such a way that he could understand that in a way they weren’t really disagreeing? He saw that they were only talking past each other, comparing apples to oranges.

For Ken Wilber as I interpret him, there really is something that you might as well call Truth with a capital “T,” to distinguish it from all of the various perspectives that people have about truth. He doesn’t think we ever really are able to talk about Truth or grasp it intellectually without diminishing it to truth with the lower-case “t.” There is Truth. It is unqualified only in the unmanifest realm. And then there are perspectives on Truth. And we are always, everywhere, in the manifest order, taking a perspective.

Continue reading “It’s Insane To Believe There Is No Truth”

Truth from a World Spirituality perspective

Truth
Photo Credit: koppdelaney

I’m fortunate to have had the opportunity to have had a good education in philosophy, theology, comparative religion, psychology and sociology of religion, and so on. This has given me the chance to see how the brightest minds, past and present, have addressed the fundamental question in philosophy: “How am I to live?”

Those smart people haven’t always agreed. In fact, the study of these subjects in college is pretty much an exercise in learning the different schools of thought and how to argue one side against another. In ethics, there are consequentialists and Kantians. In psychoanalysis, there are Freudians and Jungians. And then there are about a million different views of religion.

It wasn’t really until over a decade after I finished my formal study of religion that I encountered the work of the philosopher, psychological theorist, and mystic Ken Wilber. His work was remarkably different because he didn’t care less how exactly one thinker disagreed with another thinker. He was only really interested in what they had in common. How were they looking at the world in such a way that he could understand that in a way they weren’t really disagreeing? He saw that they were only talking past each other, comparing apples to oranges.

For Ken Wilber, there really is something that you might as well call Truth with a capital “T,” to distinguish it from all of the various perspectives that people have about truth. He doesn’t think we ever really are able to talk about Truth or grasp it intellectually without diminishing it to truth with the lower-case “t.” There is Truth. And then there are perspectives on Truth. And we are always, everywhere, taking a perspective.

The most important thing Wilber helped me to realize is that just because we can’t know Truth without taking a perspective doesn’t mean we can’t know Truth fully and absolutely. We absolutely can know Truth, he assures us…and I believed him…because it was something I already knew. The Truth we know fully and completely and confidently is the Truth of our real nature. Ken Wilber sometimes calls this our Ultimate Identity, drawing on an important term from the Hindu spiritual masters and people they’ve influenced. Another important integral thinker, Marc Gafni, drawing on the Hebrew enlightenment tradition, calls this our True Self.

And one thing Ken Wilber, Marc Gafni, other integral thinkers, and the entire lineage of mystics and enlightened sages, points us to is the same Truth, each putting that Truth into perspectives…turning that Truth into truths. Because that Truth is something we know with our whole being integrally — body, mind, soul, and spirit — not just intellectually. And we can’t express Truth without taking a perspective because that Truth is always communicated with language in societies that are evolving — biologically, culturally, socially, spiritually — and so every religion and philosophy colors that truth in different and interesting and unique ways.

The Truth of enlightenment is that there is a True Self — our Ultimate Identity or Absolute Spirit — and that there is only one.

So it’s no wonder that Wilber’s integral worldview lacked an interest in dividing the world according to methodologies, philosophies, religions, ideologies, and so on. From the integral vantage point, such divisions could only tell us relative, partial truths…disguising the path to Truth. He saw that the deeper you looked at all of these divisions in thought, the more their boundaries began to blur and hidden patterns of unity began to emerge. Constructing a map of those common threads became his dharma, a pandit’s work that has already produced over 20 major books.

Sean Esbjörn-Hargens reviews Wilber’s dharmic path as follows:

In 1977 American philosopher Ken Wilber published his first book, The Spectrum of Consciousness. This groundbreaking book integrated the major schools of psychology along a continuum of increasing complexity, with different schools focused on various levels within that spectrum. Over the next 30 years he continued with this integrative impulse, writing books in areas such as cultural anthropology, philosophy, sociology of religion, physics, healthcare, environmental studies, science and religion, and postmodernism. To date, Wilber has published over two dozen books and in the process has created integral theory. Wilber’s books have been translated into more than 24 languages, which gives you an idea as to the global reach and utility of integral theory. Since its inception by Wilber, integral theory has become one of the foremost approaches within the larger fields of integral studies and meta-theory. This prominent role is in large part the result of the wide range of applications that integral theory has proven itself efficacious in as well as the work of many scholar-practitioners who have and are contributing to the further development of integral theory.

(For a great concise overview of Integral Theory, see this paper.)

There are many potential uses of Integral theory in academic studies and practical applications for people working in a variety of fields (business, law, organizational development, coaching, psychotherapy, etc.) But what concerns me most in Awake, Aware & Alive is the application of integral principles in the realm of World Spirituality.

It is far too dangerous for our world to ignore the many difficult issues we face together. We’re all in this life, this world together…because we are all ultimately one. The root of the problems we face, I believe, is that far too few people know this truth, believe this, and put it into practice. We act as if we are separate beings, when the truth is that we are not.

As Ken Wilber, Marc Gafni, and many other people have taught me, an authentic World Spirituality needs to grow out of an integral worldview because no other worldview can do better the task that most needs to be done: show us how we are all really, truly connected and one at a time when vast billions of people act blindly as if we weren’t.

As religions lose faith, a crisis of meaning

At a certain point in my spiritual journey, the words of the Roman Catholic faith in which I was raised ceased to have clear meaning, and I was at a loss as to say whether or not I considered myself a Christian. I knew what various groups of people understood by the claim that “I am a Christian;” I knew what prominent writers and theologians meant when they said “I am a Christian;” but I did not know what those words would mean for me.

One way of looking at this situation is to say that I was lost in the Babel of religious language, striving to make sense of different dialects of faith and reclaim a relationship to the words of faith that might restore sense and sensibility. Without having discovered an integral or evolutionary understanding of spiritual development — such as the writings of theologians James Fowler and Jim Marion and psychological theorist and philosopher Ken Wilber — I might have remained stuck in this painful place.

What the Integral Framework provided was a new approach to religious language, a robust set of meta-linguistic tools that allowed me to see a compelling vision for organizing Christian language (and the worldviews in which they are expressed) into a comprehensive picture that could be correlated to the language of a vast array of religious, scientific, psychological, and philosophical traditions. In essence, the Integral Framework acted as a sort of “meta-language,” allowing me to hold meaningful conversation with “Integrally-informed” individuals, form new communal connections of an interfaith and interspiritual nature, and shift of our modes of thinking and being into ever more holistic directions.

There is a certain “Integral language,” a rapidly evolving new way of communicating about personal and collective development, complete with a variety of dialects and accents. The most dominant dialect is AQAL, the version of the Integral Framework in development by the Integral Institute. Its vocabulary is rich with a glossary of terms compiled by Matt Rentschler such as Agape, agency, altitudes, AQAL, artifact, autopoiesis, causal body, center of gravity, deep structures, depth, and so forth.

Not all of the terms in the Integral Framework mean what someone who has never read a book about Integral Theory might think it means. For example, altitude isn’t something an airline pilot talks about with air traffic control. In order to understand AQAL’s definition of altitude as

A general degree of development (i.e., degree of consciousness or degree of complexity), applicable to any given line

you must first have an understanding of such concepts as “degrees of consciousness,” “complexity,” and “lines of development.” It also is important to understand why Ken Wilber introduced the term in his 2007 book Integral Spirituality and the problems it was intended to solve with the previous version of Wilber’s Integral Theory (i.e., Wilber IV).

The Integral language isn’t for everyone. And even many people drawn to the embodied practices and holistic sensibility of the Integral movement aren’t particularly turned on by talking in the abstract terminology of psychological meta-theory and post-metaphysical ontology, empistemology, and methodology. Hardcore “Integral geeks” are to be found, but whenever Integrally-informed people gather together they seem to self-create a new dialect for communicating what is important to them and sharing it with people not “in the know.”

In time, I want to tell you more about the progress of my spiritual journey in the six or so years since penning Soulfully Gay, including shifts in my understanding of Christianity and how my attention shifted over time to the dream of contributing to a “meta-language,” one that could help to bridge the communication stumbling blocks that I suspect will becoming vitally important to rapidly increasing numbers of people in the years ahead. But today, let’s just sit with the question: what is it to have a “religious language,” how does it relate to philosophy or theology, and how do we best develop fluency?

Today I heard about a new book that promises to shed some light on these questions. I’ve read the excerpts available online and look forward to reading Speaking Christian: Why Christian Words Have Lost Their Meaning and Power – And How They Can Be Restored by Marcus J. Borg, the Portland-based theologian at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral.

Borg discusses the crisis in contemporary Christianity as a problem of losing a common language, and he targets especially the linguistic problems caused by overly narrow and literal translations of Christianity’s traditional language of “heaven/hell,” “sin/redemption,” and so forth. In the Introduction to Speaking Christian, he writes:

Every religion has a basic vocabulary: its “big” words and collections of words, spoken and heard in worship, embodied in rituals and practices.

Thus to be Jewish means “speaking Jewish”; to be Muslim means “speaking Muslim”; to be Buddhist means “speaking Buddhist”; and so forth. By “speaking” I do not mean merely knowing either the ancient languages or these religions or their modern descendants. I mean something more basic: the way practitioners use the concepts and ideas from their religion as a lens through which to see the world, the way they use them to connect their religion to their life in the world.

To use an illuminating phrase from recent scholarship, religions are “cultural-linguistic traditions.” What this means is both simple and important. Every religion oriented in a particular culture and thus used the language of that culture, even if in ways that radically challenged it. If a religion survived over time, it became a cultural-linguistic tradition in its own right, with its own language, its basic vocabulary, sacred texts and stories, rituals and practices. These are often organized into comprehensive systems of thought — what Christians call theology, including doctrines and dogmas.

Borg’s agenda in the book is to “reclaim” the language of traditional Christianity, building fluency in the “true meaning” of the words of the faith. The book has received positive attention in publications such as the Christian Post and So What Faith as well as other progressive spiritual sources. Also, Prickliestpear, the pseudonym of The Way Ahead blog on integral Christianity, has a favorable take:

Borg … prefers redeeming the language, and I agree with him…. Language is such an integral part of a religious tradition that it cannot be replaced to any great extent without becoming another religion. There is much to be gained by reclaiming traditional language and much to be lost by replacing it.

Until I get the chance to read the book, I’m sitting with a suspicion that Borg will likely oversimplify the issues it addresses to some point of increasing muddle and nonsense. So long as we are trying to look back to the original sources of religious language and find the “true meaning” of a word, we are already buying into a host of philosophical assumptions that may be useful at some early stages of development but are probably less useful the further along we progress.

In “Integral-speak,” we could say that Borg’s Speaking Christian appears to offer an interesting perspective on the Lower-Left Quadrant from a stage of consciousness somewhere on the “subtle floor” (i.e., Orange, Green, or Teal). Put simply, it has part of the picture, but its wholeness may be less than fully developed. Nevertheless, I think the book’s attention to religious language couldn’t be more welcome or important to raise to a wider audience at this time.