This is the third and final instalment of my brief overview of Carter Phipps’ new book Evolutionaries:Unlocking the Spiritual and Cultural Potential of Science’s Greatest Idea.
Chapter 10: Spiral Dynamics:The Invisible Scaffolding of Culture. “A developing brain is a sort of snowballing cognitive Leviathan that adapts to everything and anything close to it. Learning is one aspect of extreme plasticity, and creativity another. Any species that can do such things as play with the world, imagine it, remember it, and expand its circles of experience…will ultimately start to experiment with its own fate”
—Merlin Donald, A Mind So Rare
Spiral Dynamics was developed by Don Beck and Chris Cowan, based on the research of psychologist Claire Graves. According to this spiral map, structures or waves of consciousness and culture emerge in response to shifting life conditions. (They are also called “value memes”, which form worldviews, which themselves function as invisible lenses through which we see and interpret reality. We don’t look at these worldview so much as we look through them. Therefore, it is truer than most of us care to admit that we don’t see reality as it is, but rather as we are.
The successful resolution of specific problems gives rise to the next set of problems, and or crises, which evoke new intelligences. Thus consciousness continues to spiral onward in such a way that earlier waves are contextualized by emergent waves of consciousness and culture. Beck colour-coded these emergent waves, thus popularizing the model. This carries inherent dangers such as oversimplification and a tendency to colour-code people! “He’s at green”. “She’s at orange.” This horrifies Beck who perpetually reminds users that the goal is to identify the spiral within people and culture, and not put people on the spiral. The later emergent waves of consciousness are not “better than” earlier ones. If I was dropped into the jungles of Papau New Guinea, I’d want a fully activated tribal consciousness. In truth, all of these waves are activated in the course of any day in all of us. We want to honour the healthiest expression of every worldview/meme within us and others. To be an evolutionary is to consciously engage with the critical issues of our day, both in our personal lives and our civic lives, with deep curiosity and anticipation. There is a ham-fisted way to use this model, (our egos love to measures and judge others) and a nuanced practice (which supports deep empathy and pragmatic problem-solving).
I have written about how one’s understanding of Christ and life practice will be determined to a large extent by the worldview through which we interpret scripture and the tradition. (See The Emerging Church)
Chapter 11, The Integral Vision. This is a great introduction to the work of Ken Wilber who developed a comprehensive theory of everything. It’s called AQAL (all quadrants, all levels (stages/waves), all states, all lines, all types). The goal is to recognize the ways in which our particular views of reality are true, but partial, and to consciously realize what we are excluding. To some it’s geeky and too linear. Personally, AQAL blew my mind wide open, and continues to function as a a kind of cognitive operating system. My frustration is that so many people “kind of” know about Ken Wilber, but haven’t actually delved in before they level their critique. This includes academic specialists, some of whom are driven mad by the contextualization of their narrow field of interest.
Part 4 (Reenvisioning Spirit) begins with Chapter 12, Evolutionary Spirituality. Phipps begins by cautioning the reader about the myriad theories that reduce religion and spirituality to the survival advantage it gave to our species. While there may be elements of truth to this, such reductionism reflects modernist and materialist assumptions about reality. Evolutionary spirituality is “evolution-inspired, world-embracing, and future-oriented. It is a creative, anticipatory, spiritual path in which salvation, however we define that word, is to be found not in connection to the ancestral spirits of yesteryear, in promises of a heavenly beyond, in achieving a transcendent state of inner peace, or even in letting go into a timeless present, but in fully embracing the emergent potential contained in the depths of an evolving cosmos.” Amen, brother!
Aurobindo wrote about the two negations, which lead to disastrous consequences; the “materialist denial”, by which rationalists reduce reality to matter, and the even more serious move which he calls “the refusal of the ascetic”, which is to reduce the material world to illusion, and escaping it as the essence of the spiritual path.
Chapter 13, Conscious Evolution. Here Phipps covers the work of Michael Dowd, Brian Swimme, and Barbara Marx Hubbard, the Preacher, the Cosmic Bard, and the Matriarch, respectively. All three have been mentors, and two (Michael and Barbara) I consider friends, so I hope that you’ll read their work. Each come from different places, and understanding the differences is important, but essentially they are united in their realization that evolution has become conscious, in, through, and as us—and that knowing this, and assuming deep responsibility for this truth, changes everything.
Chapter 14, The Evolution of Enlightenment. Here Phipps has an opportunity to introduce the work of his own teacher, Andrew Cohen, who underwent an awakening in India, realizing his identity with the formless and the timeless—and the freedom from suffering that is the blessing of traditional enlightenment. But Cohen also realized that he was infused by another impulse, to evolve, and that this impulse was not about escaping suffering, but rather undergoing an undeniable and irrepressible urge to transcend the self in space and time—which he called the evolutionary impulse. This is the evolution of enlightenment itself. As we identify with this urge to become, we transcend the cultural definitions of self, and want above all else to press into an emergent future, both as individuals and collectively. As we align and identify with this blessed unrest we discover the joy of living purposefully and ecstatically. We become centers of cosmic urgency, where the whole manifests through the part that is us.
Chapter 15, An Evolving God. “Has creation a final goal? And if so, why was it not reached at once? Why was the consummation not realized from the beginning? To these questions there is but one answer: Because God is Life, and not merely Being.” (Frederich Schelling). Here Phipps takes us on a tour through Process Philosophy, represented by Philip Clayton. I found this choice interesting, because I wouldn’t have identified Clayton as an evolutionary. I would have appreciated a more comprehensive overview of evolution and theology, but to be fair, liberal theology is stuck in the postmodernist fear of any model which hints at progress. Strange, given that Paul, for example, felt an urge to complete what Christ had begun, and to strive toward a perfection/wholeness. There are other theologians, like Denis Edwards, Ilya Delio, and John Haught who could have provided a little more depth to this chapter.
Chapter 16, Pilgrims of the Future, is a delightful conclusion, based upon Jean Houston’s meeting with Teilhard de Chardin as a young girl. That meeting was a part of Houston’s destiny to emerge as a a true pilgrim of the future.
Thanks Carter for a great introduction to the key evolutionary players and a great summary of the foundational ideas that have shaped the hearts and minds of this emerging tribe of “evolutionaries”.
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