honoring your evolving faith

honoring your evolving faith August 28, 2014

RohrMany historians, philosophers, and spiritual teachers now agree that collective history itself is going through an evolution of consciousness. We can readily observe stages of consciousness or stages of “growing up” in the world at large (e.g. today Christians do not believe that slavery is acceptable, but many at one time did). The individual person tends to mimic these stages, and they seem to be sequential and cumulative.

You have to learn from each stage, and yet you can’t completely throw out previous stages, as most people unfortunately do. In fact, a fully mature person appropriately draws upon all earlier stages. “Transcend and include” is Ken Wilber’s clever aphorism here. Most people immensely overreact against their earlier stages of development, and earlier stages of history, instead of still honoring them and making use of them (e.g. liberal, educated Christians who would be humiliated to join in an enthusiastic “Jesus song” with their Evangelical brothers and sisters even though they would intellectually claim to believe in Jesus, or adults who can no longer play, or rational people who completely dismiss the good of the non-rational).

C. S. Lewis believed it was undemocratic to give too much power to the present generation or one’s own times. He called this “chronological snobbery,” as if your own age was the superior age and the final result of evolution. I would say the same about one’s present level of consciousness. Our narcissism always tends to think our own present stage of consciousness is the ultimate stage! People normally cannot understand anybody at higher stages (they look heretical or dangerous) and they look upon all in the earlier stages as superstitious, stupid, or naïve. We each think we are the proper reference point for all reality. G. K. Chesterton stated: “Tradition is [just] democracy extended through time.” And I would say that enlightenment is the ability to include, honor, and make use of every level of consciousness—both in yourself and in others. To be honest, such humility and patience is rather rare, yet it is at the heart of the mystery of forgiveness, inclusivity, and compassion.

Richard Rohr

Daily Meditation, August 26, 2014

Adapted from The Dean’s Address, Living School Symposium, August 2013

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  • this is what keeps me going too many days out of the year. Without this perspective, it would have been tough to figure out what to do with this Christian faith and all of biblical and church history.

  • Ross

    Good points, though a fair bit of me recognises some form of evolution, or at least change, but wonders if it is “growing up”. Maybe this is the same or similar to the “myth of progress”. We sort of grow or change but replace yesterday’s errors with today’s.

    I would say as individuals, quite a few do progress and grow up, I for instance at 48 years in the flesh have almost reached teenagehood in the mind! But I don’t know if the same has occurred to the “collective”.

  • Andrew Dowling

    I generally agree, although I think he makes the dichotomy much more extreme than it really is (the wide majority of ‘modern’ people still retain traditions of all sorts despite embracing the present) I also think, as Ross alludes to, you have to acknowledge through history a general shift towards progress, albeit it’s often “two steps forward, one step back.” The human race is altogether engaged in less violence, racial oppression, gender oppression, religious oppression (religious tolerance is an incredibly new concept in human history, with perhaps a couple of exceptions with enlightened rulers of some city-states), torture, child abuse etc. than it did 1000 years ago. Not to mention the incredible advances in medicine and life expectancy. Plagues that wiped out half of towns used to be fairly common . . .now we freak out about Ebola, which hasn’t even killed anyone in the U.S. and which is actually fairly difficult to spread.
    At the same time the potential pitfalls are much larger; climate change, nuclear war etc.

    I for one certainly expect (and hope) this general progression continues; would love to know that in 500 years people will be saying “can you believe those people in 2014 did that . . .barbaric!!”

    • I caution you against defining freedom and ‘goodness’ of an age in a solely negative manner: freedom from A, B, and C. It is also possible that the heights of humanity are also being depressed, such that the possibilities for human thriving are being gradually lowered, into mediocrity. Can you imagine, for example, how those who gave their lives in WWI and WWII would have to say about the world they saved? I suggest looking not only into how the US viewed this, and how Europe viewed it. Peter Hitchens’ The Rage Against God gets at this in the UK: many there saw the two wars as a waste of their best and brightest, and I am told this impacts the country even to this day.

      Our world is increasingly focused on the here-and-now, not caring so much for a future which is more than five years ahead, and not caring to understand a past before the last president (except for some blame-shifting). In America at least, the great emphasis on next quarter’s profits and the mere acceptability of high frequency trading should induce a double-take. Look at the speeches of America’s politicians, and ask yourself how much democracy is actually happening, and to what extent it is better described by Jacques Ellul’s Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes.

      I also hope that there is true progress (e.g. beyond base consumerism), and I think it is possible, but I think it will require a tremendous fight. Take a look not only at the consolidation and concentration of capital, but also of political power. Examine whether education is becoming more equal or less equal. Figure out whether people are truly investing from the future, or mostly borrowing from it.

      • Andrew Dowling

        Luke, we certainly have significant problems . . as you cite the concentration of wealth and the hallowing out of democracy by monied interests. But you need to see the forest through the trees . . .500 years ago democracy is not even an option in the wide majority of the world outside a few indigenous tribes (nor is education beyond the wealthy). Only in this century have women and people of color been able to fully participate in the democratic system. And those freedoms “from” enable thriving . . just the medical advances I cited . . your chance of just SURVIVING past the age 30 are so significantly greater than any other time of human history, let alone thriving, it’s unreal. FAR more people receive education; far more have access to the basic necessities. The amount of sheer leisure time and social engagement many of us have has never been an option for most of human existence.

        Those who survived WWII have lived to see an age in which we have had the longest peace between the world’s superpowers since the Roman Empire. I don’t think they consider that a “waste.”

        • There has been material progress, but as far as I can tell, there has been a terrific amount of philosophical and spiritual regress. For the fracturing of political unity in the US, I suggest UCSD law prof Steven D. Smith’s The Disenchantment of Secular Discourse, which I found via NYT op ed Are There Secular Reasons?. For general philosophical health, I suggest Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind and Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue. There’s also Harvard faculty & dean Harry Lewis’ Excellence Without a Soul: Does Liberal Education Have a Future?.

          I do hope that I am wrong and that you are right—that I am being pessimistic, not seeing the forest for the trees. However, when I look at the polarization which Americans are letting happen and promoting—see Nate Silver’s data analysis of redistricting—I see terrible danger. When I look at the state of US education, I see the future of a two-class society, with traversing the classes becoming increasingly difficult. When I look at how much people plan for the future, I see that horizon shrinking more and more.

          The most damning thing, though, is just interacting with people around me (LA, Boston, SF) and seeing what they hope to accomplish in life, and how trivial and/or small it tends to be. There’s virtually no fire, no passion, except perhaps for TV and sports. Oh, there are also people who want to develop some skill, to be used in science or creating the next social media app. The individual seems intend on retracting into himself/herself, with the most base interactions with others. I hope I’m wrong about this.

          • Andrew Dowling

            Luke, respectfully you are responding with examples of various philosophical treatises and not any data. It’s commonly accepted any mental or psychological/cultural health is not maximized if you are unable to have the basics (food, health, housing, education, freedom from harassment/violence). More people have those than in any other time in history.

            Frankly, one commonality we have with humans of the past is that philosophers have always loved to preach prophetic doom about how their era is the worst and how virture/goodness are in rapid decline. They are always written, and for the most part they are looked back in retrospect as mere curiosities of their era.

            I mean the “fracturing of the political unity of the U.S.?” We used to sell and buy a significant portion of the entire population of the U.S. as slaves! We in turn fought an entire civil war over it whose death toll . . despite rapid advances in both instruments of war and population . . remains by far the largest this country has ever suffered.

          • Luke, respectfully you are responding with examples of various philosophical treatises and not any data.

            There is actually quite a lot of data in every link I gave you. One of the links even has “data” in its text. What I merely meant to indicate is that there could be more problems lurking, of greater severity, than you wish to admit. If you want more data, you could look at Fortune’s How to fix public education in America, which has the following:

            The U.S. spends more on education than almost any other developed nation. We spent $11,193 per primary student and $12,464 per secondary student in 2010, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and total spending was 7.3% of GDP. Despite this, American students lagged their international counterparts, ranking 36th in mathematics, 28th in science, and 24th in reading globally.

            But perhaps I should stop here, and ask you: What you would consider “sufficient evidence”? I’ve got my doppleganger criticizing me [for insufficient evidence?]; perhaps you could indicate what kinds of evidence would start convincing you that there are greater problems than you will currently admit?

            Frankly, one commonality we have with humans of the past is that philosophers have always loved to preach prophetic doom about how their era is the worst and how virture/goodness are in rapid decline.

            Most definitely; I am attempting to make predictions which I can falsify/verify later on in life, so that I do not fall into this trap. I don’t see where I really got to the level of “doom… worst… rapid decline”, though. The hardest thing about identifying potential problems early on is that virtually nobody identifies them as such—otherwise they would be solved, instead of left to fester. A question I have been asking lately is how Israel in the Bible was able to be evil for so long before being conquered. I think the answer is that very few saw what was happening; the rest either didn’t, or so quickly went into denial that the effect was the same. I wonder if and when that might start happening to us, if it hasn’t already.

            I mean the “fracturing of the political unity of the U.S.?”

            Did you look at Nate Silver’s data analysis of redistricting? Do you understand what happens when fewer politicians need to compromise to get into and stay in office? I should think you would make a little more of the recent government shutdown than to simply compare us to slavery, declare us better, and leave it at that.

          • Andrew Dowling

            We seem to be having completely different conversations. I’m comparing times now to times past. You are talking about problems with gerrymandering and education . . do you understand that 500 years ago the wide majority of people received no formal education at all? That modern democracy didn’t exist? That non-whites were considered essentially subhuman? These are kind of major things one has to address if they are going to claim that the trajectory of modern civilization has not been overall a positive one, despite major problems.

          • I hope you are correct.

          • I, for one, think that Andrew IS on the right track. Yes there are serious threats such as you refer to and more. But I don’t think those “undo” or make invalid the point about general progress and “enlightenment” or greater maturity to which Andrew is referring, as does the article by Richard Rohr.

          • You and Andrew have had me thinking a lot. There is also an older guy at a Bible study I lead who has pushed in the same direction. I have a clarifying question: to what extent do you think the weightings used, to assert “progress”, would need modification if e.g. we have a global climactic catastrophe, resulting an an appreciable decrease in global population? What if we end up at a de facto two-class society in America, separated by education and perhaps access to life-extension drugs? It seems like these clear and present dangers need to be addressed, before we can claim quite what you and Andrew are claiming.

            Perhaps one thing that bothers me is that neither you nor Andrew show any evidence of having tried to argue against your own position, of falsifying it. I therefore don’t have much insight into how you actually conducted your reasoning. Maybe the above two questions will help tease out some presuppositions.

          • I won’t take the time right now, Luke, to think through all the ways I HAVE “argued against” my own position, but be assured I have… or that my “trying on” various interpretations is rather constant. But I don’t switch major views quickly because they were adopted slowly, upon gathering diverse data points and weighing alternative interpretations. My curiosity and multi-disciplinary education have made my mind an always-operating sponge/analytical system.

            As to a maturing (positively) world or Western society, I do think its stability is precarious. Not only might a climate or astronomical catastrophe create too much social/economic chaos to “handle” but the growth pains of much of the Middle East and developing world could create such extensive conflicts as to reverse the current trend of lessened world conflict overall…

            However, don’t forget that the development of boundaried nation-states is only about 200-300 hundred years old (short in world-developmental time) in “The West” and even less for Germany, Italy, etc. It is only decades long in much of the rest of the world, as far as sovereignty, and the effects of colonialism are far from over. Additionally, colonial powers created borders of “countries” that made/make no real sense societally, and complicate already-difficult problems. But I do see them gradually being worked out… though with many years of bloodshed yet to come in the process.

            Anyway, I do realize I could be wrong, so I guess that is one aspect of ideas being “falsifiable”.

          • Andrew Dowling

            I don’t see much benefit in hypothesizing catastrophic “its” . . what if we had a nuclear war? All the ice caps melted tomorrow? We get hit by an asteroid? One can surmise any number of potential catastrophes until the cows come home. But the very fact that one has to do that to try to argue against a trajectory of progress, I think strengthens my point. Back in the 1300s . . one didn’t have to ponder “what ifs” . . they happened all the time. 80% of some cities/towns were wiped out by the plague; wars regularly involved the wholesale slaughter of men, women, and children. Torture and execution were routine public spectacle. The concept of “human rights” didn’t exist.

            I don’t mean to infer life was horrible for everyone all the time, but I can’t find a logical argument that for MOST (clearly not all) people in the world, their overall quality and length of life are far improved from what it was in times past. Sadly in parts of Asia, Africa, and the Middle East they have probably faced actual DECREASES of living due to the horrible effects of colonialism and the ensuing global-economic structure, but still, in most of the world (including large swaths of Asia and even Africa) . . one can expect to live a longer life filled with less concern about violent subjugation and disease.

          • I’ll let other readers discern whether there (a) was serious threat of worldwide nuclear war; (b) is serious threat of catastrophic climate change. You treat these as ridiculous possibilities; I don’t see them as even close to ridiculous. I claim that the more likely they were/are, the less credit we should give to ‘progress’. Growing scientific knowledge is dangerous if we do not also grow in responsibility to use it well.

            Back in the 1300s […] wars regularly involved the wholesale slaughter of men, women, and children.

            It’s not clear that this is true. Based on David Bentley Hart’s Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies, it was actually the Thirty Years’ War which was close to what you describe:

                Every age, obviously, has known wars and rumors of wars, and cruelty, injustice, oppression, murderous zeal, and murderous indifference; and men will obviously kill for any cause or or none. But, for the sheer scale of its violences, the modern period is quite unsurpassed. The Thirty Years’ War, with its appalling toll of civilian casualties, was a scandal to the consciences of the nations of Europe; but midway through the twentieth century, Western society had become so inured to the idea of war as a total conflict between one entire people and another than even liberal democracies did not scruple to bomb open cities from the air, or to use incendiary or nuclear devices to incinerate tens of thousands of civilians, sometimes for only the vaguest of military objectives. Perhaps this is the price of “progress” or “liberation.” From the late tenth through the mid-eleventh centuries, various church synods in France had instituted the convention called the “Peace of God,” which used the threat of excommunication to prevent private wars and attacks upon women, peasants, merchants, clergy, and other noncombatants, and which required every house, high and low, to pledge itself to preserving the peace. (97)

      • Guest

        “Our world is increasingly focused on the here-and-now, not caring so much for a future which is more than five years ahead, and not caring to understand a past before the last president (except for some blame-shifting).” – Luke

        There you go AGAIN making a sweeping, grandiose claim about a large group of people (in this case it is the entire world). Simply amazing.

        • Guest

          At a minimum, what would be enough to justify such a claim?

          • Guest

            God, alone, is qualified to judge what is written upon the hearts of people.

          • Guest

            So inferring what a person cares about = “judge what is written upon the hearts of people”? I’m confused.

          • Guest

            You stated your view re. our world as brute fact. Only God knows what is truly written upon the hearts of people. If you are going to profess your opinion, kindly acknowledge it as just that… your opinion… and not brute fact.

          • Guest

            What world view did I state?

          • Guest


            Luke Breuer stated a viewpoint re. our world as a brute fact. Only God knows what is truly written upon the hearts of people. If Luke is going to profess such an opinion, Luke can kindly acknowledge it as just that… Luke’s opinion… and not as brute fact.

          • Guest

            It also seems disingenuous to criticize for “sweeping, grandiose claims” if the actual criticism is that the heart of >= 1 person was judged. Why not just start there?

          • Guest

            Luke Breuer stated a viewpoint re. our world as a brute fact. Only God knows what is truly written upon the hearts of people. If Luke is going to profess such an opinion, Luke can kindly acknowledge it as just that… Luke’s opinion… and not as brute fact.

    • Jeremiah Henson

      These comments are not true in other parts of the world where violence, racial oppression, etc., are in fact (with data to prove it) increasing. In fact there is more slavery and sexual trafficking today than the last 100 years combined!

      • Andrew Dowling

        “In fact there is more slavery and sexual trafficking today than the last 100 years combined!”

        100 years ago many of the European colonies in Asia and Africa existed essentially as slave states through their economic structure and discriminatory laws (not to mention Jim Crow in the South). Also the caste system in India which is still horrible but not what it once was. To say we have more slavery today is simply false . . more organized sex trafficking of children? Probably yes . . but given how many children 100 years ago (including the U.S.) were used as laborers in incredibly dangerous conditions with no legal protections, overall a child born in 2014 is better off than during the turn of the 20th century. Far more children receive education, healthcare, and will not be killed in a war by the time they reach 25. Of course some areas are exceptions (Central Africa, parts of the Middle East) but most have definitely progressed from a century ago.

      • Benjamin Martin

        “It is hard to have a southern overseer; it is worse to have a northern one…” ~Henry David Thoreau [Journal, 1845-47]

  • Owen Barfield, fellow Inkling and best friend of C.S. Lewis, is pretty big on the evolution of consciousness; the ‘systematic’ treatment is in Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry, a dialogue treatment is in Worlds Apart: A Dialogue of the 1960’s, and a more mystical treatment is in Unancestral Voice.

    The importance of understanding the evolution of consciousness is supported by social critic Os Guinness in The Gravedigger File:

    When people can trace a line from a thought to the thinker and then to the world in which the thought arose, they are halfway to seeing how ideas are influenced by their social contexts. (39)

    For some reason, we Protestants seem to have lost sight of this. When will we realize that stuff like Stephen’s speech itself traces the evolution of ideas and consciousness? Contrary to timeless philosophy, to impersonal reason, the Bible has history, which involves important, meaningful change: “Behold, I am doing a new thing!” And yet we so easily slip back into utter parochialism, both in time and in space. 🙁

  • For it’s brevity, this is a great article on stages of growth. Gradually, as one matures and moves “up” in stages, one is less reactive to earlier stages of oneself or of others. It’s also important to remember that the several “lines” (Wilber and Integral Theory) of development generally don’t all progress at the same time… some lag behind. And the cognitive line is often the kingpin that can keep one from progressing overall. That is one reason that rigid dogmas and tying them to things like being pleasing to God, accepted by God, etc. often keep people from making progress to higher stages. Fundamentalism and, to a lesser degree, Evangelicalism, has serious problems with this.