Integral Spirituality comes under Wilber’s scrutiny in Wilber Phase V. Integral Spirituality is the second book (published after Integral Psychology) in Wilber’s fifth and latest intellectual phase. This is the Part IV of a series of posts on integral spirituality, as dealt with by Wilber in the book. Inspired by Frank Visser’s â€œLord, Give Us Integral, But Without Hypeâ€, and Jan Brouwer’s â€œThe Wilber-Combs Lattice Revisitedâ€, this series consists of Part I, Part II and Part III where discussions have been made on the various dimensions of the Wilber Combs lattice, the variables that influence the lattice, the possible dark zones/pitfalls of the theory etc.
This post is a critical overview of integral spirituality. It analyzes in depth the problem areas in Wilber’s work, right from typographic issues to theoretical issues, offering a comprehensive understanding of integralism and integral spirituality in general.
Need for Postmetaphysical Religion: Integral Spirituality is and can be only postmetaphysical. This is because, spirituality’s metaphysical elements, the byproducts of premodernity are disliked and neglected by modernity and postmodernity. Huston Smith mentions it in his work, The Forgotten Truth that the fundamental difference between premodernity and modernity is one of â€œontologyâ€. Where modernity recognizes only one ontological level, that is matter, premodernity identifies different â€œrealms,Â planes and wordsâ€ all of which are mostly metaphysical levels. Modernity, in fact, collapsed the multi-dimensional worldview of the premodern era and rejected all the premodern metaphysics of religion.
Frank Visser states this in his critique of Wilber’s Integral Spirituality: â€œNow, modernity collapsed that multi-dimensional worldview into the unidimensionality of flatland. Consequently, it rejected all of the premodern metaphysics as hopelessly speculative. And Wilber seems to follow modernity’s train of thought here, though Smith clearly exposes it as a logical error. For whatever science has discovered in the world of matter, to which it has limited itself (for whatever pragmatic reasons), it cannot and should not pass judgment on the validity of notions related to the non-material dimensions of life.â€ Owing to this change in the perspective of modernity and postmodernity, Wilber argues for a â€œpostmetaphysical re-interpretation of spirituality and consciousness.â€
Wilber talks about this in the work, â€œIn particular, the idea that there are levels of being and knowing beyond the physical (i.e., literally meta-physical) is badly in need of reconstruction. This is not to say that there are no trans-physical realities whatsoever; only that most of the items taken to be entirely trans- or metaphysical by the ancients (e.g., feelings, thoughts, ideas) actually have, at the very least, physical correlates.â€ (Integral Spirituality).Â This is the primary reason why spirituality gets a re-interpretation in the book.
Now that we have seen almost all the theories of integral spirituality, including the core thesis of Wilber-Combs lattice, our question is how much has Wilber achieved in defining integral spirituality. Is the work an impressive study of the realm of spirituality? Does it suggest what are needed to break from the past? What are the substantial arguments of the book and how does Wilber prove them with empirical statements? Frank Visser has done an amazing critique of Wilber’s Integral Spirituality: A Startling New Role for Religion in the Modern and Postmodern World in his critical essay, â€œLord, Give Us Integral, But Without Hypeâ€. The essay dissects Wilber’s work on the surface and deep levels, giving us a comprehensive overview of its not-so-good parts. This post will analyze all such falterings of the work by seeing it through Visser’s integral lens.
Integral Spirituality â€“ Criticism
Issues of Style: Visser first lists out what he calls some â€œstyle annoyancesâ€ of the work. Though these are not big blunders, their prevalence throughout the book can make it a difficult read to anyone who is conscious of/passionate about integralism. Though Wilber fans may refute the entire thing, Visser is insistent on pointing out these subtle annoyances that captured his eye. We list them for you below:
No arguments. No empirical findings: It is not that the book is completely devoid of arguments or empirical findings, it is just that they are not sufficient. Visser says, â€œWe get presented with the Wilber-Combs Lattice â€“ the theoretical center piece of the book, more on that below â€“ but never does this get fleshed out with empirical findings, or even striking examples.â€ In much the same way, there are not many arguments raised against the claims presented. Though Wilber states it beforehand – “The correlations I am about to summarize are in themselves contentious and difficult to prove. But we will simply assume them for the moment.” – it is not befitting the scientific literature he is attempting to create.
Integral Mythology: Another accusation against Wilber is lack of/very few real life examples. Visser feels that there are not adequate examples, case studies and references mentioned in the book: â€œOf course, there is the passing reference to the occasional yogi meditating in a cave, seeing his favorite Tibetan deities, but what about ordinary people? In fact, it would have been grand if the eight primordial perspectives were applied to religion as such, to demonstrate their added value. Not so.â€ References to research done is also scarce and often repetitive. Wilber seems to be addicted to his same old researches – â€œthe boomer’s protest against Vietnam, meditation speeds up development, etc.â€ – mentioned in his previous books. The integral critics, including Visser, say that this has become part of integral mythology.
Over-simplification. Or what Visser calls as â€œforced simplificationâ€ of theories. Simply is the â€œall too frequent wordâ€ which is used about 268 times in the book. Wilber engages in over-simplification of difficult concepts so much so that it looks like the book is written for the hip-hop generation.
Visser hits at this over-simplification attempt of Wilber very harshly: â€œSimplifying difficult concepts for a wider audience is a laudable project, no doubt, but why does this have to be stated every other paragraph? In my opinion, this is a rhetorical device that has run out of hand….The tendency to simplify things in this book is stretched to the limits. It’s as if Wilber is making a desperate attempt to explain Foucault or De Saussure or Nagarjuna to the hip hop generation, but is constantly afraid of losing their attention. We are assured ad nauseam: ‘Don’t worry if these terms are unfamiliar, we will cover that important topic later.’ ‘Don’t worry, we will summarize this later.’ ‘Don’t worry, it is much simpler then it sounds!’â€
Redundancy: Visser calls this the most annoying feature in Integral Spirituality. Ideas are repeated throughout in the book. Not that Wilber has run out of ideas it is just that certain facts are mentioned over and over again that the reader may become surfeited with them. But at the same time, certain important questions are left unanswered, even not raised at all. â€œTime and time again we are reminded that spiritual traditions still believe in the ‘myth of the given’, without ever getting a decent range of real life examples. Just why did modernity reject premodern notions? And isn’t this something modernity has to be praised for? Or criticized?â€
This does not however mean that the book is full of repetition. As we saw in the earlier posts, the book offers a unique insight into spirituality and its future. Similarly, there is lack of integration between integral concepts and no application of methodology to religion or spirituality. As Frank Visser puts it, â€œMethodologies get a very cursory treatmentâ€ For instance, cognitive science is given a mere one page.
Self-promotion: This is an assault on Wilber by Visser, but the latter has evidence to prove that he is not wrong. In Visser’s opinion, self-promotion is rampant through the book. Visser opines that even after 178 pages one has to wade through â€œshameless self promotionâ€ like â€œIf you like this, join Integral Institute!â€, â€œintegral is the best, the most comprehensive, the most effective, the most…â€ etc. References to previous books, the integral institute and this or that integral website, as Visser puts it, â€œmarketing has taken overâ€.
Linearity is back. To describe the process of consciousness development is indeed a difficult job. Not many do it well, but Wilber has been so far good at it. One of his first metaphors to describe development was that of a ladder. But â€œladderâ€ met with lot of criticism and hence, he replaced it with the more feminine, â€œwaves and streamsâ€. Now, Wilber has shifted back to linearity. He comes up with the metaphor of the â€œconveyor beltâ€.
Theoretical Contributions: For all its flaws and little falterings, Wilber’s Integral Spirituality is a great read. It offers insight into the current problem of rationality and religion. Wilber opines that the major issue in the field of religion is the level/line fallacy. Religion is still stuck in the mythic-literal level that is not accepted by the rational modern and postmodern worlds. Those on a higher level look at religion as a backward mechanism owing to its metaphysics and premodern traditions. And religious fundamentalists will see modernity and postmodernity as oppression against religious practice and resist it. A blockage in the line of development will lead to things like terrorism. This is, according to Visser, an â€œattractive theoretical contributionâ€.
Wilber has redefined Spiral Dynamics (SD) in Integral Spirituality. Creating his own brand of color-stages (Blue is Amber, Yellow is Teal with future colors like Indigo, Violet, Ultraviolet, Clear Light etc.) which suggest a closer relationship to nature’s laws. However, there is an issue with Wilber’s SD â€“ the color distribution percentages in the world exceed 100% because there are overlaps. Wilber states this in the book, â€œIn today’s (Western) culture, about 40% of the population is at amber [Blue], about 50% at orange, 20% at green, and 2% at turquoise [teal is skipped here, for no apparent reason, FV]. [Foot note added] This is a composite result of several sources, including Kegan, SD, Paul Ray, Loevinger, and Wilber. It doesn’t add up to 100%, because there are overlaps.â€ Beck and Cowan feel that a recalculation is better. And Visser too opines that a recalculation is better: â€œMy two cents here is, that once one decides to use these colors to characterize people, as Wilber does in the above quote, percentages should always add up to a hundred.â€
The Wilber-Combs Lattice is another marvel in the book. We have already discussed it in our previous posts â€“ Part II and Part III. Visser has a comment to make about the lattice: â€œWhat strikes me as rather unrealistic is the fact that all 24 cells in the Wilber-Combs Lattice show a same-size node or globe. It would have been more accurate (but this is all a matter of research, really) if the size of these nodes reflected the likelihood of that particular type of spirituality. Is a subtle experience really equally likely to occur in within a magic mind-set compared to an integral one? And if not, doesn’t that re-introduce the notion of linearity, where the higher stages are somehow closer to the higher states?â€
Critical Overview: All said and done, one does not still get a clear idea of how development of human consciousness happens. Visser ends on a disappointing note, stating that Wilber, quite typical of his writings, ends without be clear about development process/truth. Even Wilber concedes at some point in the book â€œAs for transformation itself: how and why individuals grow, develop and transform, is one of the great mysteries of human psychology. The truth is, nobody knows. There are lots of theories, lots of educated guesses, but few real explanations. Needless to say, this is an extraordinary complex subject.â€
In brief, here’s what Wilber has attempted to do in Integral Spirituality: He has offered insights on why and how integral spirituality needs to be re-interpreted to be taken forward. In the process, he has framed a Wilber-Combs lattice, re-colored Spiral Dynamics, redefined the role of religion and insisted on the need for a postmetaphysical path for religion.
â€œWilber’s Integral Spiritualityâ€ is a series of posts on integral spirituality, Wilber-Combs Lattice and the need for postmetaphysical religion. You can read the Part I, Part II, Part III and Part IV to know more.
1. Frank Visser’s â€œLord, Give Us Integral, But Without the Hype: A Review of Integral Spiritualityâ€ here
2.Â Thomas Maxwell’s â€œIntegral Spiritualityâ€
3. Jan Brouwer’s â€œThe Wilber-Combs Lattice Revisitedâ€
5. Frank Visser: â€œMy Take on Wilber-5â€