Properly Integral: A Response To Frank Visser’s Three Disappointments

I read Frank Visser’s “Reaching Out to the World” with appreciation and, at times, exasperation, particularly the conclusion in which he instructs the reader as to the “proper” way of approaching Integral philosophy. Here are my initial reactions, for what they’re worth.

Reading Visser’s essay, which he calls a new chapter of his decade-old book Ken Wilber: Thought as Passion, helps me to know Wilber better and see the Integral community and its detractors more clearly. That is a huge gift. I wish Frank nothing but good tidings for the future of his projects, especially Integral World.

For those who don’t know who he is, Visser is an intellectual biographer of Wilber’s who over time became one of his greatest detractors. After all these years, Frank admits that he is “disappointed”, actually a kind of “triple disappointment.” He regrets (1) that Wilber’s understanding of science was not “that deep”, that (2) Wilber did not respond to online critics who contributed to his website (which was formerly called The World of Ken Wilber, BTW), and that (3) the Integral community didn’t seem to mind.

All three of these disappointments color Frank’s new chapter, which is really sort of an old chapter for those of us who have been paying at least a little attention over the past decade. Let’s take a look at each of them.

The First Disappointment

I guess Visser’s critique of Wilber’s take on neo-Darwinism is almost supposed to be self-evidently true, a knock down by a giant of a 98-pound weakling in a grotesquely mismatched prize fight. But it doesn’t really convince. These two paragraphs are the crux of Visser’s argument, beginning with a Wilber quote:

In Integral Spirituality (2006) he [Ken Wilber] states:

That drive—Eros by any other name—seems a perfectly realistic conclusion, given the facts of evolution as we understand them. Let’s just say there is plenty of room for a Kosmos of Eros.[33]

This can be considered the core of Wilber’s philosophy—more central than holons, heaps, or artifacts; quadrants, levels, lines, states and all that jazz—not only the process of biological evolution, but the cosmos as a whole, is governed by a mysterious spiritual Force. Apparently, for Wilber, there is no other way to explain nature’s complexities. He is inspired in this respect by A.N. Whitehead’s process philosophy, which postulates an immanent divine force in evolution.[34]

While I have defended similar notions in the past, and have even criticized Wilber for misrepresenting the esoteric view of evolution[35] which postulates a divine upward drive towards complexity, after years of studying the field of biological evolution I would no longer hold that view. On the contrary, I discovered that science has offered many plausible explanations for the existence of cosmological and biological complexity. This makes the postulation of a spiritual Eros in the Kosmos rather premature. So instead of challenging Wilber from the perennialist position, which I did in my earlier writings, over the years I have challenged him on Integral World from the naturalistic position of science.[36] Let’s really get post-metaphysical. Let’s get physical![37] Though Wilber may be strong in the fields of mind and culture, his coverage of the domains of life and matter leaves much to be desired. This casts grave doubts on Wilber’s claim for a Theory of Everything.

How about that! If you hadn’t been paying attention, when Wilber opposed metaphysics Visser was for it, but later apparently Ken sort of came around and acknowledged that his work had one metaphysical premise, and just then Visser coincidentally turns around and becomes anti-metaphysical. Well, okay, fine. They’re both permitted to evolve, aren’t they?

I would ask you to notice two things about the Wilber quote chosen by Visser. First, that Wilber describes Eros as a “perfectly realistic conclusion”. Second, Wilber says that “there is plenty of room” for Eros in his philosophy. Wilber nowhere invokes Spirit as an “explanation” for the universe.

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The role of conservative religionists in fighting homophobia

Note: The following post is reprinted from Rising Up: Reflections on Gay Culture, Politics, Spirit, a book available as an inexpensive ebook or a print-on-demand paperback from It was first blogged on my now-defunct blog Rising Up on January 9, 2006.

I don’t usually write about the antigay messages of conservative religionists. Everyone knows religious traditionalism and antigay bias go hand in hand, so it’s not exactly a man bites dog story.

But it’s nice to be able to occasionally find examples of religious conservatives pointing out another conservative’s antigay bias and offering constructive corrections. While it’s not exactly a heartwarming tale of conservatives losing their bias to soothe my liberal heart, it does speak to the ways that individuals can make a small difference by speaking out.

A popular Roman Church priest tells his parish that he’s gay but celibate and abides by the Roman Church’s teaching. So conservative Roman Church blogger Mark Shea opines:

But as a layman, I am no more interested in the fact that he is a celibate SSA [person with same-sex attraction] guy than I am in knowing whether the guy in the pew next to me made love with his wife last night. It’s not information that concerns me and it’s not information that my kids need to be subjected to in a homily. Priests who use the homily as a chance to engage in True Confessions like this seem to me to be engaging in a none-too-subtle form of narcissism.

There the traditionalists go again—always making the attributes of the previous developmental stage of egocentrism the preeminent bugaboo of our age, and then misinterpreting higher-stage responses from that warped perspective. Shea’s remarks prompted a comment box reply from Courage Man, a conservative Roman Catholic struggling with same-sex attraction:

Assuming the complaint is “Too Much Information,” then the proper analogy to the guy in the pew next to you would be the priest saying he abused himself last night. At the level of personal disclosure and specific information, the priest is doing nothing more than the guy in the pew next to you does by wearing a wedding band or introducing “my wife.”

Excellent point! Now to hear this comment from a typical gay man would be expected, but to hear it from a conservative Roman Catholic is most encouraging. I advocate the approach of combating homophobia in social institutions by using strategies grounded upon divergent rationales. Among religiously conservative institutions, that means arguing against homophobia by challenging bias without necessarily challenging the orthodoxy of the institution.

If a church teaches that homosexual sex is sinful, then religious conservatives can avoid challenging that assumption while focusing on other areas such as combating negative stereotypes and double standards. Persons who self-define as “ex-gay” or “living with SSA” are among those religious traditionalists leading the way in this sort of important transformative work. Their internalized homophobia and alienation from the mainstream gay culture buys them invaluable credibility in the eyes of the leaders of the institutions where change from within is most desperately needed.

A STEAM-based perspective to fighting homophobia within conservative institutions must include and strongly encourage the ameliorative efforts of folks like Courage Man. We must encourage people to take the little steps at correcting bias when they happen upon it in ordinary life. If mainstream gays don’t like where conservative religionists like Courage Man are coming from, that’s our problem, not theirs. Although conservative views of homosexuality may be repugnant to those of us who see the world from a more complete lense, serious change in religious institutions cannot happen without religionists on the inside doing what they can to discourage homophobia given the limitations of their institution’s strictures. Folks like Courage Man who are closer to the belly of the beast are in a far better position to effect positive change than most of the rest of us.

P.S.: April 2007. As careful readers of Until will notice, this blog post used to be distributed as part of a “free sample” of my ebook Rising Up. As of today, I have discontinued offering the free ebook sample on Until. The reasons are too numerous and dry to bother enumerating at this time. Suffice to say that readers who want the content from the sample chapters of my book can (a) spend a few bucks to buy the ebook or book, and/or (b) search the Internet archives (you know where to look for those, don’t you?).

About the book, Soulfully Gay

This week I’ve gotta get the paperwork back to the publisher to finalize the book deal. They asked me to write a 200 word description of Soulfully Gay as if it were going to be used on the back cover. Here’s my first draft:

Sex, Culture, Spirit. Sex and spirituality, faith and skepticism, morality and freedom, mysticism and madness. Joe Perez, a former student of comparative religion and philosophy at Harvard, writes at the intersection of these conflicts. A man struggling to understand the meaning of human sexuality, Perez uses his own homosexuality as the terrain for exploring … and ultimately resolving … these troubling conflicts in his life. The outcome of his search for understanding is a theory that places the ground of homosexuality (called gayness) at the root of human nature and the heart of religious revelation, and he traces the development of cultural attitudes towards gayness through levels or stages of increasing adequacy. From there he takes a fresh look at debates over morality, gay culture, political strategy, AIDS, and religion. And as he works out the implications of his theory in his own contemplative life, he discovers that he must tunnel into buried memories for a forgotten secret that could either help him reach wholeness or destroy his sanity.


Perez’s journey is shared in the form of journal entries and other short writings arranged chronologically. This book depicts the universal quest to be soulfully, gaily human.

Not sure that I’ll send this in to the publisher or not. If I do, I don’t know that they’ll use it. But it’s a start.