Wilber’s integral approach could be improved by becoming even more integral, I think.
Epistemologically, when we “transcend but include” all quadrants [AQ] and all levels [AL], it
would be best to do that at all times [AT]. And by “time” I mean “kairos” not “chronos,”
which is to say – not at every moment in time, temporally, but – every time we fully realize
a value, axiologically.
This distinction is subtle but important. What it means is that a truly integral interplay of
quadrants and levels is required for all optimal human value realizations. No quadrant or
level, alone, is sufficient and all are necessary for every significant value realization. Wilber,
contrastingly, tells us that there are different realms of knowledge and different modes of
knowing, each realm or mode both necessary and sufficient for yielding valid knowledge.
That’s not true integrality, just a mere inclusivity.
I’ll provide an example. We could divide human knowledge up into 4 methods or types of
questions: 1) descriptive – What is that? 2) evaluative – What’s that to us? 3) normative –
What’s the best way to acquire (or avoid) that? 4) interpretive – How do we tie all of this
back together (re-ligate)? Each method is distinct, hence autonomous. But all are necessary
to complete the picture and fully realize a value. We could say, then, that these questions
(probes) are methodologically-autonomous but axiologically-integral.
We might more broadly conceive the descriptive as our sciences, the evaluative as our
cultures, the normative as our philosophies and the interpretive as our great traditions. We
could describe their integral relationship thus: The normative mediates between the
descriptive and the interpretive to effect the evaluative.
What’s the difference? Without this important nuance, religion can claim a special gnosis –
not just interpreting reality, but – describing reality. This isn’t new; it’s fideism. Science, for
its part, would not only describe but also interpret reality, which is not a new conflation but
a tired old scientism. They’re suggesting, then, that each of these these different methods
are both methodologically and axiologically autonomous.
The nondual, epistemically, entails the robustly relational aspect of human value-realization.
It describes the enjoyment of fellowship, of simple awareness. It goes beyond our dualistic
problem-solving epistemic suite (empirical, logical, practical, moral, etc) but not without it.
For example, we could conceive of a nondual value-realization in terms of a spousal
mysticism, which is caught up in the throes of ecstasy with our Bride (let’s not be coy, we’re
talking about “knowledge OF” in the Biblical sense). Sticking with that particular example of
the nondual, one dualistic value-added contribution might be realized in terms of some
“knowledge ABOUT” our love-partner; for example, we could suggest that that knowledge
about our love-partner came about as we determined beforehand that it was not, rather,
our wife’s identical twin sister to whom we were going to be making love (persistent &
seductive as she had been over the years, the little devil).
I’ll return with a few comments on the nondual from an ontological perspective.
As we consider the nondual realizations of the East, we must be clear in distinguishing
between epistemology (how do we know what we know?) and ontology (what’s the basic
stuff of reality?). The nondual realization, itself, speaks to neither epistemology nor
ontology but, instead, of an ineffable phenomenal experience (which characteristically
leaves one with little of which to effable). The take-away is practical more so than
theoretical, existential more so than metaphysical and conveys a sense of radical solidarity,
which then produces the fruit of an immense compassion. If you meet the metaphysical
Buddha on the road, kill her, I say.
The West has a tendency to process Eastern experiences through metaphysical lenses. Now,
the nondual experience does arise in the context of practices, which are epistemically
fraught. But those practices have implications much more so dealing with how it is we SEE
reality and much less so dealing with how it is we PROCESS reality. Those practices gift us
with perceptual purity and conceptual clarity but do not otherwise involve conceptual mapmaking. They help us fruitfully engage our participatory imaginations (or hometown
knowledge – that skillset that gets us around town while meeting our needs with great ease
but which may not, with equal facility, otherwise allow us to provide an out-of-towner with
a clear set of directions to this or that destination, notwithstanding our own long familiarity
Wilber’s nondual theology/theodicy has undeniable ontological implications and it’s no
better (really worse in some ways) than many other onto-theology projects, as I see it. The
chief problem that I have with mixing metaphysics and theology is that we come off proving
too much, saying more than we can possibly know, telling untellable stories. That’s not
living with paradox; it’s trying to banish mystery because we cannot bear the anxiety of
reality’s ambivalence toward us and ambiguity for us.
Don’t get me wrong; I say we should let a thousand metaphysical blossoms bloom. But their
value-added take-away is in framing up our most pressing questions and most insistent
longings, orienting us existentially to Whomever it is that might answer them -not
academically & theoretically with formulaic answers, but – relationally & compassionately
with a consoling Presence.
So, of course, we will have our sneaking suspicions metaphysically but we best leave them
in the form of vague questions and not definitive answers (even those answers conveyed
1) How can the Creator interact with creatures if we do not together participate in some
type of Divine Matrix of the same STUFF (forget the root metaphors: being, substance,
process, experience, etc)? The placemarker I use for this question is intra-objective identity.
2) How is it that the Creator and creatures dance together in an inter-subjective intimacy?
3) How can each of us best grow integrally with intra-subjective integrity?
4) If there is something wholly transcendent, ontologically, certainly, we cannot successfully
DESCRIBE it (even though we might successfully REFER to it) due to its inter-objective
Now, there is truly something to Moltmann’s “tzitzum” and Simone Weil’s “divine
delimitation” and the Kabbalistic “shrinking of God” that also appeals to me in Wilber’s
creation theology/theodicy. But we can improve this account, I believe, with a healthy dose
of apophatic theology, such as can be found in Robert Cummings Neville’s approach to the
One (indeterminate) & the Many (determinate vis a vis the act of creation).
Theodicy problems arise from the presumption that we know more about God’s essential
nature/divine attributes than we could possibly know, especially vis a vis Her supposed
moral character (a truly anthropomorphic move). The problem of human suffering, even
when supposedly dismissed on theoretical grounds, will always perdure practically. Even a
workable academic solution will not ever be existentially satisfying? In the end, most come
across as cruel, anyway? Ultimately, we just do not know WHY things are wrong or exactly
HOW they will be set right but can only live our lives with hope because of WHO it is who
told us THAT everything will be alright?
Finally, there is nothing magical about preserving paradox. We do not know ahead of time
(a priori), in any given encounter of paradox, which we can 1) dissolve via a paradigm shift
2) resolve via some Hegelian dialectic 3) evade for all practical purposes 4) exploit by
maintaining its creative tensions. This is to make the point that some dualistic realities are
not illusory but real (good and evil) and, while we may not be able to satisfactorily account
for their origin, theoretically, we definitely must approach them with the practical goal of
evading them (through more than denial or wishful thinking). Even though explicitly asked,
neither the Buddha nor Jesus satisfied our theodicy questions, theoretically, but they did
both offer practical prescriptions grounded in a new way of looking at reality: nondually.
This assertion invites much nuance but …
Let me suggest a distinction between the unitary and the unitive.
When we’re talking vaguely about the STUFF of primal reality, we intuit that it all somehow
has to share certain attributes in order for it to be able to interact, otherwise our accounts
will suffer what the philosophers call a “causal disjunction.” How could a Creator, Whom we
only describe metaphorically, ever interact with creatures if all we have to work with are
analogues? Try to have an analogy tonight for supper and see if that fills you up! This refers,
then, to a putative UNITARY being, hence INTRA (within) OBJECTIVE (an object).
At the same time, when talking about the self as a true agent, it violates common sense long
before it becomes a metaphysical conundrum to deny the reality of authentically interacting
subjects. This refers, then, to our UNITIVE strivings, hence INTER (between) SUBJECTIVE
Combining these insights we might affirm a panentheism. I call it a vague
panSEMIOentheism because this meta-critique is a step away from the more metaphysically
robust panentheisms, which rely variously on different root metaphors like substance,
process, being, experience and so on. In other words, it is a semiotic realism, which suggests
that, even though I’ve only offered a putative heuristic with some vague placeholders that
lack robust descriptions (root metaphors), still, those placeholders might very well make
successful references to a putative primal reality in a way that we can realize some
SIGNificant value vis a vis our God-talk.
To be sure, much of what we seem to take away in our more Eastern-like experiences of the
Indeterminate Ground of Being (just for example) seems to correspond to an experience of
absolute unitary being (cf. Andy Newberg, neuroscientist) or intra-objective identity. Our
more Western-like experiences of a determinate Creator and creation seem to correspond
to an experience of our unitive strivings or inter-subjective intimacy.
Interestingly, people who’ve experienced either/both the unitary or/and the unitive come
away with a profound sense of solidarity & compassion for all sentient reality and deep
gratitude for all reality. These general categories are much too facile though for authentic
interreligious dialogue for there are prominent devotional elements in the East (bhakti and
such) that affirm the value of our intersubjective experiences.
Most of the valuable take-aways from Western encounters with the East have been in the
realm of practices and asceticisms, more epistemic than ontological. There’s more to be had
by the West, though, in further cultivating the Eastern wisdom of remaining silent on all
things metaphysical as it pertains to God’s essential nature? Not that the West doesn’t have
a great apophatic tradition of its own. Let’s just say it’s been under-employed in many
circles, just like our contemplative tradition, the reawakening of which remains in its infancy
Was I too harsh on Wilber? I see the self as a quasi-autonomous agent, free-enough to
realize values and not as some vestige of divine amnesia. In other words, there is a true
ontological distinction from which we realize value, inter-subjectively, vis a vis God and
other persons in our UNITIVE strivings. This is not to deny — but to held in a creative
tension with — the notion that we and God, in some mysterious way, also share some of
the very same “stuff” from which we may have issued forth vis a vis primal reality, creatio
ex nihilo notwithstanding. Otherwise, whither any divine interactivity?
I’ve always thought the Hesychasts of Mt Athos might have been on to something with their
distinction between the divine essence and the divine energies. Maybe they were on to
something — not in a robustly metaphysical way, but — and providing us a vague metacritique? So, I’m only suggesting that Wilber’s account would be fine once sufficiently
I’d also like to affirm Cynthia Bourgeault’s notion that our experience of “constriction” is an
encounter with a sacrament and all that that would efficaciously entail! It matches my
intuition that we, as co-creators, amplify risks to augment values. I’m not suggesting that
those values that are derived from all of the suffering attendant to that risk-taking could not
have been gotten some other way (how could we know?), only that there IS value and I
embrace it even as I positively eschew the suffering and would love to realize values
without having to make sacrifices! Some day we’ll all understand … cried Fogelberg. I
adamantly maintain that that day hasn’t arrived and that no theodicy is good that does not
contain a huge measure of MYSTERY.
re: the case for the sacramentality of creation as informed by Edwards, my dear late fellow
Yat (NOLA native), Donald L. Gelpi, S.J. published: Incarnate Excellence’: Jonathan Edwards
and an American Theological Aesthetic,” Religion and the Arts 2 (1998) 423-42
RE: Nondual Week: Panentheism & Interspirituality – What’s Jesus Got to do With It? | Mike
Morrell – January 31, 2012 – want to follow up yesterday’s Ken Wilber interview with this
blast from the past – something I wrote for the previous iteration of TheOOZE
It would be difficult to improve on that BLAST!
Let me offer a strategic note re: interreligious dialogue
If one accepts that, formatively, in most traditions, belonging precedes desiring which
precedes behaving which is last followed by believing …
If those desires are largely formed by practices which engage us participatively and
If so much of the early stages of the journey within most of our great traditions thus entails
evaluative attunement to reality via participatory praxes prior to any interpretive
indoctrination via conceptual map-making and is thus much more nonpropositional than
Then there is an INTERFAITH BONANZA that awaits us if we would only [BRACKET] the
[propositional elements] of our interfaith exchanges, at least at the start, to lead with the
Then, when we do begin to engage the propositional elements of our respective traditions,
there is yet a further INTERFAITH BONANZA to be enjoyed if we would only [BRACKET] our
[Christology], at least at the start, to lead with our pneumatology (the Spirit)!
Now, some might offer the objection that many doctrines are inextricably intertwined with
certain practices and that may well be true but, for all sorts of reasons (some listed above),
the converse is manifestly not true.
If we’d approach interfaith exchanges in this manner, we’d have so much to celebrate in the
way of belonging, desiring and behaving and even regarding some rudimentary shared
beliefs regarding the Spirit! And this could help pave the way for a more fruitful dialogue
regarding the propositional elements of our faiths, which are not unimportant.
Importantly, even the term inter-religious dialogue reveals a certain rationalistic, dualistic
hegemony in its emphasis on the dia-logical. I now prefer the term inter-faith exchange
because it goes beyond the logical and propositional, but not without them, to include the
more robustly relational and nondual approaches to such human value-realizations as
solidarity and compassion.
Finally, I don’t advocate this approach only for the academic and theological guilds but feel
strongly that we need to popularize it and make it more accessible, perhaps through
storytelling vehicles like The Shack. In a country and a world so torn apart by destructive
polarizations that are grounded in religious differences, this strategy for engaging the
religious-other could be a viable route to more peace, less war.
There are two ways that panentheism is most often conceived. The first, a fundamentalist
take, panen-theism, sees God as part of all things but more than the sum of all things; the
second, an orthodox parsing, pan-entheism, sees God indwelling in all things. My pan7
semio-entheism suggests that there’s value to be realized in both of those parsings, panentheism via our realizations of intra-objective identity (absolute unitary being), pan-entheism
via our realizations of inter-subjective intimacy (relational unitive strivings). What it also
suggests is that we can (maybe even better) realize these values by relaxing with our vague
conceptions and questions, holding (exploiting even) these creative tensions while abiding
with mystery and paradox, rather than anxiously rushing forward with specific root
metaphors and answers, imagining that every paradox is ours to resolve dialectically,
dissolve paradigmatically or evade practically. This is to say, for instance, that it doesn’t
ambition a theodicy. In fact, the theodicy “problem” doesn’t arise precisely because it
hasn’t tried to say more than we could possibly know by “proving” too much regarding
God’s essential nature or divine attributes.
It seems clear to me that our panentheisms begin within the faith as theologies of nature, as
poetic reflections of our affective attunements and participatory imaginations, as anagogical
expressions of our hope in a God Who deeply cares for us and desires to be with us. They
cannot credibly proceed from a natural theology or metaphysics, which at best could only
raise the plausibility of a deism, which could have no inkling of whether or not primal reality
is ultimately friendly or not (nature being so red in tooth and claw).
I have come across some beautiful neo-pagan reflections which did seem to link their
panentheist intuitions and anarchist inclinations via what I would call a divine spark
anthropology. (Now, when it comes to theological anthropology, even Rahner’s
transcendental thomism was too optimistic, so, we must take care with any “divine spark”
anthropology to avoid getting too dualistic, too Kantian. Human knowledge is way more
problematical and a gnostic rationalism is no cure for other epistemic vices.) I have
elaborated my own “norms for intervention” based on my reflections on nature as it dances
with both freedom and coercion (from an emergentist perspective). I’ll simply say this –
that, notwithstanding the initial, boundary and limit conditions of the cosmos and the
constrictions we experience, we are generally free enough to love and the normative takeaway is that our default bias must be on freedom. The rub has always been whether or not
freedom can be absolutized, for all practical purposes, and this speaks to anarchist and
pacifist stances. And this comes full circle back to just what type of Kingdom the Good News
Ted wrote: “I think there is corollary here to what I consider one of the key dynamics of
Christian anarchism: that the Christian anarchist’s allegiance is to Christ as king who is
primarily present by dint of having his spirit poured out on all people (that’s a theologically
sloppy gloss but I’m trying to keep it succinct). It seems to me the relationship some are
articulating between panentheism (and similar constructions) and anarchism would be at
least tangentially related to this.”
Ted is spot on here. Let me extrapolate to suggest that, only articulating my view,
panentheism is such a corollary in the sense that it would follow as a direct inference from
this or that pneumatology (stance re: the Spirit) which, for Christians, would follow from this
or that Christology (view of Christ). What I am implying is that, as with the
Transcendentalists, any compelling intuitions of God in nature will be articulated from
insights gathered from within some faith perspective rather than derived merely
philosophically, much less metaphysically.
To what values, then, does the Good News really aspire? temporally vs eternally? How
might any Christian, in general, articulate and practice anarchist-pacifist norms or reconcile
them to extant historical, social, cultural, economic and political realities? How might a
panentheist, in particular?
Niebuhr employs a temporal dialectic, drawing normative distinctions between now and
eternity, eschatologically. It’s as if he’s saying that anarchism and pacifism will indeed enjoy
their MOMENT, just not yet? Now, it has been claimed that Yoder employs a spatial
dialectic, drawing normative distinctions between the world and the Kingdom,
ecclesiologically. And that would sound as if he’s saying (he’s not?) that anarchism and
pacifism enjoy their PLACE, just not everywhere?
What if, in keeping with our hesitance to resolve such tensions dialectically, dissolve them
paradigmatically or evade them practically, we aspire to exploit them creatively as cocreators? Our panentheist intuitions might then employ a pneumatological imagination
inspired by such a fivefold Christology as would see the Spirit at work “orienting” us through
all of history (an implicit eschatology), “empowering” us through all social gatherings (an
implicit ecclesiologly), “sanctifying” all cultures (an implicit theology), “nurturing and
healing” through every economic sphere (an implicit sacramentology) and “saving” in every
political order (an implicit soteriology)? (This is not to suggest that cooperation with the
Spirit, hence realization of the fruits of the Spirit, does not present in varying degrees from
time to time, place to place, as best we can communally discern.)
Now, it takes a radically nondual perspective to imagine that the Spirit has, always and
everywhere, been thus gently coaxing us along orienting, empowering, sanctifying,
nurturing & healing and saving us? However, if this is true, then, while Niebuhr may be
correct, descriptively, insofar as we enjoy merely proleptic (anticipatory) realizations of a
Kingdom that is both now and to come, still, normatively, who could reasonably deny that
anarchism-pacifism is a realizable vocation, NOW? And while it would not be incorrect to
recognize with Yoder, descriptively, that our world seems to enjoy so few wholly “voluntary
associations of wo/men” (as Dorothy Day might say), still, normatively, it would
nevertheless be wrong to imagine that he would suggest that anarchism-pacifism is not a
realizable vocation, EVERYWHERE, for there is no antinomy between the sacred and
profane, the church and the world, precisely because the reality of God permeates the
reality we call this world?
This panentheistic view is really catching on, too, for just yesterday, a Lucky Dog vendor in
New Orleans’ French Quarter asked: “Would you like me to make you one with everything?”
I would elaborate further but I was trying to be succinct.
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