For those interested in emerging streams of "integral" and "evolutionary" Christianity, this debate between two of its most well-known spokesmen (Bruce Sanguin and Michael Dowd) is worth following. 

Bruce Sanguin, Differentiating from Dowd.

Michael Dowd's Response.

It sounds like a recorded discussion between them will be posted soon.

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Okay, okay.  I give in -- here are my thoughts!

Layman Pascal's teachings on Religionsay that the Numinous is an end in itself.  Sanguin is correct.  But this excessive element of edifying interpersonal redemption is creative (or "access" to it is created) through the convergence/coherence of genres existing at our currrent cultural worldspace.  So Down is correct.  Ecology IS theology... if it is elevated to the degree of religiousness by its merger with other values and activities from different dimensions of current human experience -- in this case at the level of civilization which understands the importance of ecology. 

Sanguin mentions that the story of Christ is a radical shift/subversion of the values of the Judeo-Roman world.  True, but it is also a radical fulfillment and uplift of those values.  We cannot conceive of divinity or novelty entering the stream of time without also conceiving a pattern of local events which rise up to produce that effect.  The image is the same regardless of which end we believe is "active". 

Sanguin may be correct that Dowd should emphasize the subjective, numinous & transcendental aspects more than he does in order to be authentically religious.  However authentic religion IS an embrace of the given world.  That is the social (as opposed to merely spiritual) route of access to the numinous, the surplus, the excess-beyond-the-world-order. 

  • Dowd is specifying certain key elements which any true religiosity beyond the pluralistic level must enfold. Progressive science, ecology, sacred materialism, etc.  It must be based in am embrace of our current culturalized reality.
  • Sanguin is pointing out that the function of religion must be resolutely anchored in the transcendental surplus (resulting from the coherence of existing genres of life) rather than merely dealing with the elements of life as they are given.  It must lift off from our current culturalized reality and enter into a direct relation (even a 2nd Person relation) with the Surplus Coherent Meaningfulness.

Briefly: why stay attached to institutions with such barbaric ongoing history. Leave Christianity;Islam; Judaism; Buddhism; Hinduism, and then talk about ___ detached from the falseness and division of these institutions of thanatos. 

If it turns out to be true that we live in a multidimensional universe, then, I would posit  that inter-dimentionality is perfectly natural . 

Hey Andrew, 

I am a pretty radical universalist.  I see no special reason why "the traditions" out to be kept.  I don't even agree that they are institutions or traditions.  Each of those Great Names covers so much diversity that it outweighs its commonality on almost every point.  However the practicality is that such habits of identification dominate the world we live in and there is no real chance of progress unless we can blur the distinction between Progress and Tradition.  So while we should feel no personal need to consider Religion connect to these apparent groups -- the world requires us to convert, undermine and mutate these groups in the direction of real religion today.  And that means an awful lot of political and theatrical embrace of their terms and social networks.

I hope I didn't ruin your Cheerios this morning LP:) 

I concede a rather unique view on these issues which is hopefully more entertaining than the Kenny says this and I believe it when Kenny says that type of post.

Um, I shall try and lay out my position so that, hopefully, I am not misunderstood. Firstly though, what follows will be based on the probability that life will be destroyed on this planet by two main ways of thinking and acting: the first being that what is false and divisive about religion will in all likelihood lead to the annihilation of most life on this planet. This, imo, trumps whatever religions may have in common. Secondly, an amoral secular worldview based on bad interpretations of what science can know. The main offender here being social Darwinism; which also, coincidentally , looks in real time like rule by divine right. So, we have bad religion and bad science. Now, on the science part of the street the study of physics can tell us nothing about ___. The study of biology and evolution can tell us nothing about ___. The science of chemistry can tell us nothing about ___. That's honest and that is the truth of what science knows. What is a different issue are the personal opinions of scientists. This i don't really have a problem with per se. If Dawkins wants to believe ___ does not exist then that certainly is his right. But another scientist may believe in some form of theism  These are personal opinions, not science! This is acceptable, but when bad science creates a false toxic worldview then I think it right to call that bullshit! And these false world views are creating massive social distortions and are not without dire, possibly cataclysmic consequences. 

Oh, and where to start on religion? How have the christian  liberal moderates stopped the Christian Zionists from bombing the !@#$% out of muslim lands? And how have reasonable jewish people stopped the insanity of the ultra-orthodox rabbi's who are being spurred on by the nationalist right? And how have the moderate muslims stopped the lunatic believers in that tradition? Let's not forget about the Zen generals in Japan who sought world domination in WW2. And no one got into Tibet back in the day because of their strict ethnocentrism. Modi is bringing back nationalist Hinduism which can only lead to disaster in the long run. He may get better sewage but my bet is the net effect will be further entrenchment of the caste system. 

It's for these reasons I would argue for secular societies based on good science ( the kind that doesn't overreach what it knows), and a spirituality that puts a ton of distance between the toxic inheritance of the past. A spirituality that keeps open the possibility of ___. One possibility being a non-dogmatic evolutionary ( without the fetishized hype) panentheism.

Hey Andrew,

It's been a long time since I had Cheerios but I remember loving the way that a few remaining "o"s clumped together in the milk.  Surface tension is easy to forget about but provides such a tidy metaphor for so many aspects of life.  But I digress... let us return to your positions:

Secular societies based on good science & a spirituality which distinguishes itself from the toxic inheritance of the past?  Radical!  Who could possible agree with such a vision?  Well, probably every sane person in the world.

As you probably know I have been clarifying the definitions of spirituality and religion -- as well as articulating what the definition of actual religion is at each level of social and individual development. Most of what we call "religion" is not religious at all.  But we persist in the ridiculous pre-modern habit of allowing ethnocentric dogma-groups and "traditions" to masquerade as the primary examples of religiousness.  Some of them are extensions of healthy religion from ethnocentric phases of history.  But, generally speaking, that age is gone.  Even people who grow up nationalistic parts of the world are aware of the world, the internet, the earth seen from space, the rhetoric of human rights.  That is all in the background of everyone's consciousness now and the only valid religion today is one which performs the function-of-religion relative to that context. 

So, on the subject of your first point -- we should very aggressively point out that divisive religions are not religions, are infidels, etc.  On your second point -- we should assert a definition of modern-friendly religion which includes all the basic variants outlined in my Christmas Wiki entry on modern religion.  It doesn't matter whether a person is "pro-science and believes in No God" or whether they are "pro-natural order and believes in a God of Nature" or "rationally and undecided about God".  These are all variations of a common structure which defines religiousness appropriate to modernity.  Deists, Atheists, Agnostics, Pantheists, etc. need to stop defining themselves in contradistinction to religion and realizing what religion they all already share.  And a rational spiritual life is one component of modern religion.

And then when they are ready to move on... higher forms of religion await their expanded worldspace.  Particularly very flexible and pragmatic forms of panentheism and evolutionary nondualism.

I imagine that's all not too far from your beliefs (sic) on the subject?

Hey LP, here are some links that attest to the amount of people that have moved into the first part of my thesis ( secularism) although I can't guarantee that these cultures aren't influenced by bad/pseudo science or bad /pseudo spirituality:

I think the numbers add up to about a billion people. It's a reasonable assumption that a high percentage of these people no longer identify with toxic religiousness from past eras. It wouldn't be so easy to identify those affected by bad/pseudo science, but I suspect a fair percentage of these people are. Again, here: bad/ pseudo science would be defined as science that oversteps the boundaries about what science can know; science that distorts or perverts authentic theories ( social darwinism/ toxic eugenic ideas) ; new age distortions of scientific theories , etc. ( integral theory/right Frank?)

Anyway, imo, divisive religion is bad religion; not, not religion. I'd agree that the possibility exists for people to experience forms of religion that are compatible with modernism; but I'm not fond of the gambit that calls atheistic people religious.

Religion: the production of, and relationship with, higher levels of coherence in culture.  By this definition "bad religion" is NOT religious.  And by this definition "atheism" is a meaningless term.  It does not mean a person is either religious or non-religious.  But the modernist level of religion is perfectly compatible with many types of atheism -- since all modernist religion involved scientific order, individual humanist rationality and the absence of a dogmatic magic-god.  

Of course there is no particular need for atheists to accept the word "religion".  Virtually all religion has occurred without the word "religion" -- an in fact many of those who accept that word about themselves do not mean the definition of religion given above.  However the cultural sanctivity, holiness & religiousness of any level of society is necessary in order to bring it to its most flourishing and hearty potential.  And that is also what we need in order to overcome primitive/regressive pseudo-religion.  

While no one needs to accept the word "religion" there is certainly no need either to continue to allow regressive social elements to define it in their favor.  It is like letting criminals call themselves citizens and then a whole bunch of decent citizens suddenly deciding they are against citizenship.  Active linguistics takes possession of classic terms and defines them according to the standard of "our" type.  So I am always a bit suspicious of modernists (including atheists) who don't want to be called religious.  It is a bit reactive and short-sighted... although understandable and often situationally practical.

How about this based on the first sentence: would it be fair, then, to call companies like B.P. anti-religious as they are creating massive ecological and social distortion ; instead of creating higher levels of coherence ? Perhaps this is what Dowd is aiming at with his ecology is theology?

Yes. I think it is quite viable to call BP, etc. anti-religious.  Any enemies of bio-cultural coherence at the contemporary level are literally "unholy".  They are thwarting and degrading the people's access to the numinous surplus of coherence which could be the product of our civilization.  Dowd is quite correct on this point.  BP stands beside sectarians and divisive believers as enemies of the GOD-liness which emerges only when culture is operating properly.

A little off topic, but WTF: 

From I.W.: 


I would like to argue that you can only be conscious of one thing at a time. You cannot see with your mind's eye two different things simultaneously. To substantiate the claim I made I would like to draw your attention to the reversible figure known as Rubin's vase, as portrayed on this page. You can see the picture either as two faces facing each other or as a vase. No matter how hard you will try there is no way for you to see the picture concurrently as a vase and as two faces. The vase is not a face and vice versa. The one excludes the other. Thus you see either one or the other. You cannot see vase and face both at the same time.

Let us assume first you see the vase. Then you see the two faces. For the two faces to appear in consciousness the picture of the vase must disappear. Consciousness must have been emptied of the vase, then only can the two faces light up. The faces cannot be brought to light in a consciousness filled with some-thing. If there were already consciousness of some-thing - of a vase or of anything else - the faces could not emerge for you to be seen. The very act of being conscious of some-thing prevents an-other thing from showing up in consciousness.

Consciousness must first be emptied of the thing it is occupied with for any-thing else to appear. If it were already filled with some-thing, no-thing else could arise in consciousness. So consciousness must be pure emptiness for any object, be it a vase, face or plate, to be seen. So I conclude that consciousness as such is emptiness. Now, is this a position you can embrace, dear reader, or are there any objections to above line of argument you would like to make?

I can clearly see two faces and a vase instantly at the same time. Instantly, I also saw a sound wave. So, three things were instantly recognized at the same moment by my awareness. 

Now on topic: I think Sanquin/Wilber are conflating the human potential movement/ideas with evolution . Perhaps, it is okay to call the human potential meme small 'e' evolution. But I am quite sure that the big E is non-personal and cares not one iota whether any particular human progresses to their potential. Anyone of us can be squashed like  a bug any day; perhaps by a bus, and, the big E couldn't give a damn! It's only concerned with mutation, selection, etc. on a large scale. 

Michael Dowd has posted a fuller response in the comments section of Bruce Sanguin's blog entry:

Thanks, Bruce!

And thanks, also, for encouraging your readers to check out my “God in Big History” series and my “slightly more robust response” in the comments section of your original post. (I’m reposting that here so it’s all in one place. I apologize for the one-big-paragraph formatting, but I can’t seem to create paragraph breaks using your platform. I’ll try using ‘carrot p carrot’ and see if that helps.)

Brother Bruce,

If you ever again want me to respond to something you’ve written, I ask you to please refrain from characterizing my position as “materialist” or “reductionist.” I consider this to be an unnecessary slur and an insult to all of us who consider ourselves Religious Naturalists:

I am neither materialist, nor spiritualist. I am an emergentist:

And like Thomas Berry, I am more a geologian than a theologian. (And yes, this includes transcendent mystery, see below.)

You imply at the beginning of your post that you viewed (and were critiquing) my “God in Big History” videos. Yet in the 7th paragraph, you say, “I hear you saying, G_d is Reality. But that just begs the question: what is Reality?”

This is one of the things that leads me to think that perhaps you didn’t actually watch video #3, “Reality Rules!”, because that’s where I discuss three faces of Reality — i.e., what is undeniably and inescapably real regardless of our beliefs — namely, (1) Time, (2) Nature, and (3) Mystery. How you see this as an example of materialism or reductionism is beyond me. “Mystery”, after all, is hardly limited to what science can discover or describe. And it certainly includes most of what I suspect you mean when you speak of transcendent Mind and Heart.

I am hardly the first to insist that any so-called “God” that is not (at the very least!) a synonym or personification or expression of REALITY is hardly a God worth honoring. Rudolf Bultmann, arguably the most significant New Testament scholar and theologian of the first half of the 20th century, was saying things very much along these lines. I invite you (no, I beg you!) to please read (or re-read) this vital essay before we speak:

“What Are We Pointing to With the Word ‘God’?”

As I think you know, I have trained in Spiral Dynamics (with Don Beck) and have taught Spiral Dynamics and Integral theory. My cherished Integral friends and colleagues include Ken Wilber, Steve McIntosh, Jeff Salzman, Cindy Wigglesworth.

My approach, as outlined in my book, “Thank God for Evolution,” and also in both of my TEDx talks and my “God in Big History” videos is very deliberately Integral, or second-tier, just without the Eastern metaphysic.

I am somewhat troubled by your unwillingness or inability to distinguish integral science from mechanistic science and I’m imagining that this may be what leads you to consistently mischaracterize as reductionists those of us who consider ourselves Spiritual Naturalists, Religious Naturalists, or Sacred Realists.

Finally, (THIS WAS NOT INCLUDED IN MY COMMENT ON YOUR PREVIOUS POST), your repeated criticism of my showing how science can help evolve Christianity, but not visa versa, is just goofy IMHO. Which version of a “robust Christianity” do you think I should use to critique the global scientific endeavor? Orthodox or Catholic or Mainline Protestant or Evangelical or Mennonite?

But why only Christianity? Why shouldn’t science (humanity’s global collective intelligence re what’s real (how things are) and what’s important (which things matter) be also critiqued by a robust Buddhism and/or a robust Islam and/or a robust Hinduism and/or a robust Paganism and/or a robust Confucianism?

In any event, this is way more than I wanted to get into in print, so I’ll stop now. I greatly look forward to having a heart-to-heart conversation with you. I know how important subtle non-verbals are for conveying the tender side of a spirited conversation. I frankly don’t trust text to do this very well.

Big love and cyberhug,

~ Michael

I am reminded of an interview with Timothy Leary in a biographical film about Ram Das.  When the interviewer said, "Why don't you believe in a Higher Power?" the old man looked bemused and confused. "Higher?" he said, gestures around the room, especially at the floor.  

Clearly Sanguin has not been making his point in terms Dowd can fully receive (or else they are just enjoying the useless fisticuffs) but the counter-point that neither religious nor spiritual things should be judged to be present or absent based primarily on the display of tradition-based mystical terminology is something we should all enjoy -- any religion which reaches at least Modernity can relate with what Dowd is saying.  And the criticism that it looks too much like it is trapped at the Modernist level is not really appropriate given the many other structural details which skew it up the Spiral.

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