2014 Religious Trends
Evolutionary Thinning of the Veil
Editors' Note: This article is part of the Public Square 2014 Summer Series: Conversations on Religious Trends. Read other perspectives from the Spirituality community here.
Hegel said, "To supersede is at once to negate and to preserve." A little more straightforward version of that truth is that each evolutionary stage of transformation "transcends and includes" ("negates and preserves") its predecessors. Thus, in the evolutionary sequence, moving from atoms to molecules to cells to organisms, molecules "negate" or "transcend" (or go beyond) atoms, but they also "include" (or "preserve") atoms in their makeup. Likewise, cells "negate" or "transcend" (or go beyond) molecules, but also "include" them in their very makeup. And similarly, organisms negate or transcend cells, but also preserve and include them in their own being. Each higher stage becomes more and more complex, but also more and more unified, fuller, more whole, with more of what Whitehead called "prehension" (or proto-awareness). Thus, the overall evolutionary process is a spectrum of increasing complexity, wholeness, and consciousness.
This process continues when humans emerge. Of the dozens of developmental models that have been proposed to account for the basic stages of human growth and development and evolution, what's so amazing is that virtually all of them agree on the same basic six to eight stages of human growth, which is continuing in an ongoing fashion today. Some of the models are more detailed, with up to sixteen or more stages; others are more succinct, with only four or five stages, but even those are easily seen as variations on these same six to eight major stages, which show up time and time again. Using a slight variation of Jean Geber's terms for these stages, they are Archaic, Magic, Mythic, Rational, Pluralistic, Integral, and Transpersonal/Unitive. Each of those, like all other evolutionary stages thus far, is increasingly more complex, more unified, more whole, and possesses a greater degree of consciousness (running from subconscious to self-conscious to superconscious).
A simplified version of that evolutionary scale points out that a human being's identity evolves from egocentric (an individual identified only with him- or herself), to ethnocentric (where identity expands from the self to a group or groups—a clan, tribe, nation, religion, political party, etc.), to worldcentric (identity continues to expand, switching from a group or handful of groups to all groups universally, a solidarity with all humans, regardless of race, color, sex, or creed), to Kosmocentric (identified not just with all humans, but with all sentient beings, with Life or Spirit itself). It is this last stage in both of those sequences—the transpersonal, the Spiritual, the nondual unity consciousness—that clearly takes on religious or spiritual dimensions, and begins to suggest that evolution itself, when looked at in its overall dynamic, is Spirit-in-action, or the very means and modes of Spirit's creation of a manifest world.
What is happening today is indeed a "thinning of the Veil" between human and Divine, leading, it certainly appears, toward what the Sufis call "the Supreme Identity"—the identity between a human soul and a divine God in a yet deeper or higher Godhead, an Ayin (pure Emptiness) united with all Form to give Ein Sof (nondual unity or "Oneness"), what the Buddhists call the "union of Emptiness and Form," or Freedom and Fullness.
Ken Wilber is a renowned public speaker and the author of many books which develop his philosophy called Integral Theory. He is the founder of Integral Institute, a think-tank for studying integral theory and practice, with outreach through local and online communities such as Integral Education Network, Integral Training, and Integral Spiritual Center. He blogs at "Wake Up, Grow Up."