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.

[Read more…]

How not to explain the QWERTY Effect

Cross-posted from my Facebook Page.

Andrew Sullivan today passes along a link to a study on the QWERTY Effect with a false, inane comment.

Here’s my reply to him:

These authors of the QWERTY Effect have identified a valid phenomenon, but they are utterly clueless as to the explanation (as I wrote the other day on my blog when I first read the report). Just think about it: does it make *any* sense at all that letter combinations on the right side of a keyboard are “easier to type” and therefore words that contain those letters have a more positive feeling? It’s preposterous.

It’s an utterly thoughtless hypothesis to explain something whose explanation would have been obvious if the authors had considered one shred of evidence from the study of sound symbolism or phonosemantics. (Google “sound symbolism” or Margaret Magnus, Ph.D., the MIT-educated linguist who demonstrated the essential validity of Plato’s sound symbolism hypothesis that’s 2,000 years old in her groundbreaking doctoral dissertation.)

Even if you only accept a weak version of the phonosemantic hypothesis and not a strong version (e.g., quasi-Platonic), it’s more than adequate to explain the QWERTY effect. There are more vowels on the right than the left, and vowels generally are more positive than consonants, with unrestricted airflow giving the sounds a more Divine quality according to sacred word traditions in various esoteric religious traditions.

The letters on the right hand side of the keyboard have sounds which happen to be associated with more positive affects (the soft, more precise, particular, and peculiar unvoiced labial “p,” on the right contrasted to the brutish, bawdy, and blasting sound of the voiced “b.” The words which are comprised of sounds carry an emotional or subtle resonance with the sound’s symbol — e.g., stopped consonants tending somewhat to refer more to endings and disruptions and glides tending to refer to sustained patterns.)

You don’t have to be a Kabbalist to see the ridiculousness of this paper’s explanation (although the Kabbalists know a lot more about sound than these scientists seemingly ignorant of the relevant literature).

I’m giving you, Andrew, a break because your post consisted in only one word — “Explained” — but it was a very poor choice of word.

 

Marc Gafni and Joe Perez in Dialogue, Part 2: Where is the World Spirituality Movement at Today?

CWS Board Retreat 2012

CWS Board Retreat 2012

This is the second post in a series on Awake, Alive & Aware featuring short dialogues with some of the leaders of the World Spirituality movement. Today there is a transcript of a telephone call with Marc Gafni, Director of the Center for World Spirituality.

Continued from Part 1: “Marc Gafni and Joe Perez in Dialogue: What is World Spirituality?”

Joe: Where is the World Spirituality movement today?

Marc: The World Spirituality movement has many expressions in the world. There are many people practicing World Spirituality not in an organized way, not in a theoretically consistent way, often not in a dharmically completely sound way, but they have this core intuition and they are grasping and looking for ways to express it. At some point, we are looking to develop means to allow this grassroots world movement expression, and the book you’re working on, The Rise of World Spirituality, I hope will at least in part, the way you described it to me which sounds really exciting, you’ll be able to point to this, that it’s already happening.

The leading institution in the movement is the Center for World Spirituality. We just finished our second annual board meeting. I want to give you a sense of where we are because it’s really exciting. We’ve decided that our mission, our mantle, is to shift something in the source code of consciousness. The evolution of the source code of consciousness is our core mission statement. Some of our board members, Tom Goddard and Kathleen Brownback, are heading a group to work on this. It’s a fantastic board of people from around the world.

What we’ve done is identify what we’re going to do. We identified two things at the meeting. One, what is the theoretical framework of World Sprituality? And two, what are the action items? The theoretical framework is different, so I’ll talk about the action items.

Joe: So by “action items,” just so my readers are clear, you’re talking about this organization, called the Center for World Spirituality, you’re talking about what this organization has in store for the near future. Is that right?

Marc: That’s correct. The Center is one I founded a few years ago with Mariana Caplan and Sally Kempton, and Ken Wilber was involved as a very important member on the Council, and any number of fantastic leaders and teachers from around the world. We’re partnering with our friends who have a Global Spirituality website and we will be integrating that into the Center in a very deep way.

The center is both a lower-left and lower-right expression, actually an all-four-quadrant expression now that I think about it, whose prime purpose is to articulate the dharma of a World Spirituality and to evolve the dharma of a World Spirituality. That’s the job of the Center. The job of World Spirituality itself is to evolve the source code of consciousness.

What are the methods for doing this mission? We’re focusing on three major areas.

First, the Center has decided to focus on acting as a think tank / publishing concern. We actually chartered approximately 12 – 15 major projects of different natures.

Joe: I’m glad you were able to keep track of them. There were about 25 different people in attendance, and just about all of them committed to some sort of project or other key way of supporting World Spirituality. That’s more than I expected. I heard that too from some of the other board members, the newer ones who didn’t know quite what to expect. Once we engaged with the rest of the board, we got a feel for the caliber of the people in attendance, our expectations were exceeded, and we ended up feeling more optimistic than when we sat in our first meeting.

Marc: That’s great feedback to receive. Even though I knew going into the meeting all of the different pieces, but just hearing all the pieces spoken aloud into the room, hearing the interaction of the board community. Of the 20 projects, if the top 10 happen, we’re in really good shape. The top 10 include a book on The Rise of World Spirituality, a collection of essays on the Enlightenment of Fullness. There will be a major book on World Spirituality based on Integral Principles with Ken Wilber. There will be a book on shadow work – Lighten Up. There will be a World Spirituality practice book. Without going down the entire list, there’s … people like yourself, to Kathy Brownback, to Ken Wilber, to Warren Farrell, Wyatt Woodsmall, Helen, Tom, Mariana. And there were some board members who weren’t there who all have fantastic contributions to make. So we’re very excited about the think tank / publishing dimension.

The second dimension is training. We’re working on creating a new series of trainings which are rooted in World Spirituality and Unique Self technology.

And third we are calling “community lab.” Instead of creating one big World Spirituality Center or Church, there will be smaller circles meeting around the world, circles of people. That’s a big deal, that’s exciting, that’s good. At least at first, those circles will be circles of study – whether in Holland at Venwoude or Shalom Mountain or San Francisco, perhaps in Seattle something will emerge.

And finally a very strong Web presence which we are going to be working on in the next six months. I hope by six months from now the Web presence will reflect this vision of World Spirituality, its five-part theoretical framework – which we won’t get into on this phone call – but which is a beautiful, modular way of understanding the core principles, which you can understand on a popular level and a deep mystical level, will appear as the core of the website as the core module of all the books. It’s a lot.

Joe: We’re running out of time today. On this topic, we could drill into detail on all of these and talk much longer, so we’ll need to look for updates on the CWS website, watching for news as it develops. I know there’s a lot of information coming in the future. But if somebody wants to get started today practicing World Spirituality in Toledo, Ohio, or the jungles of the Amazon, what are they to do?

Marc: We’re not completely yet prepared to fully receive that question, meaning, the framework is not yet completely articulated. I would say, go to the website, go to the teaching tab – “Core Teachings” – and they’ll be able to read the basic principles of World Spirituality, which will give someone a framework for practice which they can immediately implement.

Joe: What about the book Unique Self which we’re all waiting for?

Marc: I don’t have a final word. But the last word I have as of a few days ago is that it’s supposed to come out in mid-June or July. The latest it would come out is the fall. We’ve just completed the transactional pieces of that book. We’re very excited that Your Unique Self: the Democratization of Enlightenment, will be out by the summer. And there’s already some key pieces on the Web. On our website, there’s a keynote address I gave at J.F.K. on Unique Self, and there’s the Journal of Integral Theory & Practice, Vol. 6, 1, on Unique Self. There’s a core article there, a 40 or 50 page article there, which gives you the core of the teaching, which is already available and will be fully fleshed out over the book. We hope over the next 18 months there will be about 5 volumes coming out covering these dimensions even as we’re writing the next stage for the library.


Addition: I found an additional post by Marc Gafni called “Notes on comparing Interfaith spirituality, inter-religious diplomacy, Dalai Lama’s views, interspirituality, perennial philosophy, and world spirituality” that are relevant in this context.

Joe: Thank you for your time today. I’m excited to be working with you on this movement.

Towards a new theology of gay marriage

Wedding Rings

In “Out and Ordained,” Brett Webb-Mitchell tells of his journey as a gay Presbyterian pastor and offers his prayers for the Church. In 2011, the Presbyterian Church formally allowed openly gay and lesbian ministers. Now, there are new challenges ahead:

Webb-Mitchell writes:

In order to become more inclusive, there are many “next steps” to be taken in righting past wrongs. For example, as more states permit LGBTQ people to wed, churches will need to craft a theology of marriage that includes LGBTQ congregants.

To this, I offer my prayer that theologians in the Presbyterian communion realize that their work is not to be done in isolation, looking mainly to the Bible and the Westminster Confession.

We live in times in which people in every religion are awakening to see their sacred texts as historically conditioned and requiring much discernment to see how their authority can be reconciled with recognition of the dignity of gays and lesbians and others.

A theology of marriage must not rest content with looking to old texts to seeing how they have been misinterpreted; we must be willing to see our knowledge of God evolving over time in the fullness of history. A theology of marriage inclusive of gays must be one which acknowledges spiritual evolution, or it will only be a stopgap, an ethnocentric adjustment made at a time when what is most needed is a worldcentric transformation.

Affirming the sacredness of gay marriage isn’t about people embracing diversity for diversity’s sake, but finding in committed same-sex partnerships a new and essential expression of the Divine Love.

That’s why the perspective I staked out in Soulfully Gay is so relevant to the future discussion about the sacramental worth or sacredness of gay marriage.

In my book I take a step beyond the “diversity for diversity’s sake” rationale offered by postmodern religionists for affirming gay marriage, staking out an argument for gay marriage based on a philosophical and spiritual anthropology (that is, a vision of human nature) which describes how understanding the proper nature of gay love is essential to understanding the nature of God’s love for creation.

Theologically, affirming gay marriage is an evolutionary step forward in humankind’s understanding of the nature of Divine Love, a gift from God for all people, not just a tiny minority. The love of Same to Same is viewed as theologically distinct from the love of Same to Other, one giving us a mirror to self-immanence and the other a reflection of self-transcendence. Heterophilia gives us a picture of how humanity loves God; homophilia gives us a picture of how God loves humanity.

Such a vision is not merely a Presbyterian theology or even a Christian vision. It’s a philosophical-spiritual statement about human nature that can be affirmed by integral Christians, integral Jews, integral Muslims, integral Buddhists, integral Hindus, and even — by looking at self-immanence and self-transcendence as biological drives situated within a general theory meta-theory of evolution — integral secular humanists.