Paul Smith is a Christian mystic, author, and retired Baptist minister. For the last twenty years he has taught about Integral Christianity. At age 82 he is still pioneering in the further evolution of Christianity in the creation of a world-wide network of small “WeSpace” groups.
All religious traditions were born because of the mystical experience of their founder. In these experiences they met God without any doubt. They understood life and death and the deeper reality of the Kosmos, our planet, Nature and ourselves. As long as the followers could tap into the same source of knowing and wisdom, the religions were practiced in a life enhancing way. As soon as there was the need of just BELIEVE what others told about their experience and a hierarchical structure began to form inside the religious communities, the legitimacy of the religions diminished more and more, to the point when people are naturally growing out of the dependency.
Since the enlightenment, people started to be sceptical of religious beliefs. In modern culture religions are seen as superstitions and therefore not acceptable as any form of guidance. Instead of the “old man with beard sitting on a cloud in the sky”, the new emerging God was SCIENCE, the idea that everything could be explicable by a scientific approach. Materialistic science pretended to be able to decide what is right and what is wrong, as well as what is doable and what not.
Ken Wilber and his 4 Quadrant model of reality shows clearly, that this cannot work. While previously the “left hand quadrants” (the interior perspective) believed to be authorized to decide what is right in the material world – remember Galileo and his fight for the recognition of the earth being round, not flat -, the scientific era tried, and still tries to a certain extent, to colonize the interior world with its exclusive exterior perspective. Only what can be measured is real. Feelings, for example, cannot be measured, and therefore they are not real, they are negligible, they don’t really exist.
It is time now to see reality from all 4 perspectives!
The Christian Church has lasted for 2ooo years. It has created institutions and rules which were crucial for the people to grow up, especially from the highly destructive and war loving egocentric stage to the conventional stage, where morality appeared and the individual responsibility of the people for their actions in the world. It was a huge step “up the spiral” (See “Spiral Dynamics”). It was widely based on suppression of lived impulses by the leading powers. With modernity people started to refuse to be dominated by religious powers and established wordly power systems which went into clear competition, about the meaning of life and how to act in the world.
Growing up into modernity people lost their faith into a higher power. The technological progress proposed to the powerful humans to consider themselves as almighty entities. No God in the skies needed, now we play God ourselves! In the next developmental stage, the post-modern stage, the lack of a reality greater than our small selves became evident and people searched for something which could “bind them back” (=re-legare = religion). The spiritual quest began, mainly by trying out exotic types of religions because Christianity carried the stigma of a suppressing super power which we didn’t want to re-embrace.
We Westerners are deeply imprinted by Christian culture. All achievements today are based on these 2000 years of Christianity in our countries. Adopting foreign religions seems to be more like a band aid on the deep wound which the shadow of the past is still casting on our hearts. Real growth happens by transcending and including what was before. We have transcended Christianity successfully, but we have missed out the second part, the inclusion.
It is time to do so, for our own sake, as a person and as a member of the world society.
Thanks to INTEGRAL THEORY we have a map to guide us in this process. We can learn to discriminate between the essence of the spiritual message and the structure which has been built around it. Stripping away dogmatism and power hierarchies, we can get back to the practices of the first time of the religious movement when community and experience were in the forefront, instead of organisation and power expression. We can go back to experience God ourselves, we do not depend on priests who pretend to tell us what God wants us to do, we are autonomous and independent of dogma in our research for the sacred.
Having said all this, I want to address human life, especially the ageing process. People in our culture are afraid of death. The menaces of our church authorities, their keeping us obedient by attributing us hell after death if we don’t obey their ideas, has created a deep collective fear of what will happen when we die. We do not know how to address this fear, and therefore we try to ignore the existence of death as long as possible. We try to hide that we are getting older, we try to “stay young”, for not being reminded that we don’t have an answer for the ultimate question. Nevertheless, it happens often that people in later years or even shortly before dying have an epiphany of recognition of the Sacred. Where to go with that? Who can help to integrate this experience?
Some people go back to the traditional church after such spiritual experiences. Professional religious people are not necessarily the right conversation partners. Their professional training still excludes the inner experience of God which is accessible to everybody. They are mainly living in their heads, hardly in their hearts, and that is the place where mystical experience would be located. Thanks to Integral Theory we now know about the “Three Faces of God” and evolved people recognise them, practice them and teach them to others. This is a new form of “CHURCH”, very different from what we have known so far. It is especially helpful for the deep existential questions in people who have outgrown their childhood religion and now want to be “bound back” to something higher and bigger than themselves.
Where to go?
Paul Smith, the guest in this episode, has written several books on the topic. “Integral Christianity” has aroused a lot of attention inside the integral community, as well as the German based book “God 9.0” written by a team of German theologians. Both books resolve the felt contradictions of Christianity by explaining the evolution of faith alongside with the personal development. And both bring back the mystical element into spiritual/religious practice. They are real treasures for everyone who is curious about who we are, where we come from and where we are going, in search of the meaning of human life on earth.
Paul Smith, in collaboration with Luke Healey (watch my conversation with Luke HERE) have founded the “Integral Christian Network” and offer regular practice groups for people who want to dive deeper into spiritual experience, together with others. Presently a German speaking group has started to come together with huge enthusiasm and dedication, everyone happy to finally get back “their Jesus” in a way which is right for them. I am sure that, pretty soon, other groups in other languages will be formed in exploration of Christian spirituality. This is a great gift for us individuals and also for our Christianity-based culture which can turn to its roots as renewed fundaments.