Friday, April 1, 2011

Pre-rational, Rational and Trans-rational Religion

In an extremely insightful preliminary to his video discussion with Father Thomas Keating, integral theorist and philosopher Ken Wilber looks at the differing perspectives humankind has on spirituality and religion, distinguishing the esoteric from the exoteric, and (broadly outlining his theory of “integral dynamics”) the pre-rational, rational and trans-rational religious worldviews.

“Part of what religion in its highest effort can do is help men and women move from the pre-rational forms of religion, to the rational forms, to the trans-rational,” he observes, noting that  “(t)here is an enormous amount of evidence that it can do that.”

Nevertheless, Wilber notes that all of these forms of religion are equally valid for those holding such religious views. The difficulty, he points out, is convincing each group that they are not exclusively right, thereby creating a conversation that can integrate all three viewpoints, and allowing all three viewpoints to evolve.

“Those who look into spirituality or religion for more than an hour realize that there are at least two very different types of spirituality and religion," Wilber observes, "and there are many different ways to categorize them. Traditionally, they are referred to as esoteric and exoteric, the inner and outer forms. Another way of looking at it is that some of the forms of religion are clearly ‘pre-rational,’ ‘magic’ and ‘mythic.’ And, yet other forms are ‘trans-rational.’ They are deeply, deeply contemplative, and move beyond any ordinary categories of reason and logic, but not beneath it. They transcend and include reason. They are not anti-rational."

Wilber continues:
“So how, indeed, to get this kind of conversation going in the modern world is very difficult. Because if you look at some of the more dogmatic forms of religion . . . not that dogma is bad, it has it’s place . . . but if you look at these types that we are calling exoteric, or religion of myth and dogma, its arguably the cause of more human suffering and death than any other man-mad cause on the face of the planet.”

“And yet if you look at the great paths of liberation, those (are) contemplative paths that have claimed to show men and women a doorway in the deepest part of their own consciousness to that realm which is timeless and spaceless, and beyond death and pain and mortality.”

“So on the one hand we have religion causing the most human suffering imaginable, and on the other hand the only path out of human suffering that we know of. How to get that conversation going is extraordinarily difficult and yet there arguably is no more important conversation we can have.”

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