Posted by: Mark Nielsen | July 29, 2011

Trusting Reality – Jesus & Ken Wilber’s Integral Psychology

"Baptism of Christ" - Perugino, 1498


“Everybody’s right, and some people are more right than others.” -Integrative psychologist & spiritual teacher Ken Wilber

Wilber said this (though probably not for the first time) at a conference in 2003. A good portion of his talk/interview at that “JFK” (or JKF?) conference can be found here.

Wilber is a little too loose and “post-Hippie” for me to say I agree with him on every level. Nevertheless, he does come highly recommended by Father Richard Rohr and a few other of my highly respected mentors.

Plus I can see for myself the fundamental wisdom of his Integral model. So I believe Wilber does have many terrific, well-studied, theologically and philosophically sound approaches to helping us understand human nature, and our position within God’s Nature.

Wilber started early in his career with a passion for “connecting the unconnected”, and by asking “How can everyone be right?”

Be careful how you respond to that question, friend.

“How can everyone be right?”

If one responds too emotionally, or perhaps starts right away with a closed consciousness (some Christians might call it a hard heart), then one is inclined to simplify… to say “We can’t all be right.”

This may be logical, based on some very old –perhaps Greek in origin– views of reason and the nature of the universe. But with another set of more “open” eyes, I would suggest  this quick answer is right away limiting the field of inquiry before we need to (maybe in the name of  our limited understanding of truth, God, and scientific processes… with science [or theology] as our sole method for interpreting reality).

Thus we may jump to that “it can’t be” foregone conclusion based on fear… fear of what many Protestants for over a hundered years have called the “slippery slope” of relativism. We stake our claim to what must be true, based on potentially limited evidence, simply because it might “feel” wrong, or dangerous,  or logically untenable.

And for humans, perhaps it is untenable, to consider that every rational mind inherently has some portion of understanding, a sense of what is right. But considered in light of a perfect Creator, who is free to continue doing what S/He wants indefinitely, it is not such a crazy idea. And depending on your view of whether we are born with a level of godliness (dignity, holiness of spirit), or whether it is granted later based on life choices or God’s mercy, we might say that each of us is a product of this struggle between truth and fallacy, or grace and sin, from the moment we draw our first breath.

So then what is that impulse to say “It can’t be true!” What makes us retreat so consistently to the highly rational (but affectively alienating) position of “One of us must be wrong.” ?

When we start this line of questioning, of doubting our own human, fallible perspectives and their validity, then to our surprise the picture actually clears up a bit.

I am of the opinion that this arrogant, dualistic starting place (the “I’m right, you’re wrong” place) is in many ways the basis for all Western style debate, argumentation, scientific study, political and even physical/violent conflict.

The natural human discomfort with this moment of debate, disagreement or conflict (or perhaps what evolutionary scientists call competition) leads more often than not to alienation, psychic wounds or fear of a complex and diverse Reality itself.

Fear (essentially the mistrust of Providence, and also therefore the “enemy” of Love) usually cannot help but lead to defensiveness, which then leads to still *more* retreat into the perceived “safer” space of “I’m right, but you’re wrong.” (Which may then lead to conflict — or physical/power-based defense of my position, no matter what the cost.)

This happens so often because a fearful mind or an insecure heart finds it hard to live in the tension, in the space of welcoming Mystery, in the space of “Maybe”.

Or –put another way, in psycho-spiritual language– the immature ego, dominated by sinful instincts to indulge its own self-involved desires, can actually derail our generally cooperative, forgiving, generous spirit (or our “godliness” , if you will)., if we give it free reign. 

As a rule, I find that my spirit actually WANTS to trust other people, and God. Yet I can’t always surrender to that non-controlling, non-anxious trust, nor can I get past the fearful “survival” strategy of competition/self-preservation as a first response.

This tension or insecurity is the point at which a scientist and a theologian should meet. For competition is in large part the ancient and immature evolutionary animal instinct within a human being. It is the “leftover” of our younger selves,the fight-or-flight tendency that we have not yet been able to grow beyond, as we have fallen short of the potential that Jesus demonstrated. And of course we are destined to fall short of perfection, or else what would the purpose of Christ and the Holy Spirit be, if not to be the agents of our journey back to God. Our perfection (and security, and peace, and growth) is only achievable through union, or re-union, with this Being who is the source of all Reality.

That journey back to God is inclusive of all Creation as well, which is why we must consider what integral or connective or “environmental” theology has to tell us about God, the universe, and our deepest self.

Unfortunately, our Euro-influenced minds find “I don’t know” and “maybe” to be scary places to remain, psychically, for too long. We long for the “blessed assurance” that one of those great old hymns talks about. and that’s okay, too. It is human to want certainty.

The ability to trust God, or Reality, to be at worst benign (or neutral, if you prefer), or at best loving and wildly gracious, is severely limited in our competitive, answer-addicted, scientific, “show me the money” era. Thus the impulse for a self-protective power grab– whether personal or political– so that the tension/mystery/anxiety can be resolved (or at least so our “nervous energy” cwn be channeled into a struggle to control the outcome, to create Reality in our own image… as if we could).


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