Thursday, November 30, 2006

Max Weber, Rudolph Steiner, Jürgen Habermas, and Ken Wilber

The Integral movementin social andhistorical context
Integral Esotericism - Part Two Alan Kazlev
2-iii Secular Modernity
Secular and materialistic developments, and hence the loss of the sense of the sacred and the rise of dualism and materialism, can be traced back to classical Greek (beginning with the birth of Western rationalism with the Ionian philosophers and the other presocratics), Chinese (as explained in Jacob Needham's monumental Science and Civilization in China), and other cultures, and to Medieval nominalism and scholasticism (the rejection of Plato in favour of Aristotle). Additional impetus was provided by the rise of Western scientific method (Galileo, Francis Bacon), and of course the "modern" Western worldview that developed with the rise of science and rationality and the "Enlightenment" of 18th century European philosophy and society. As Max Weber, Rudolph Steiner, and Jürgen Habermas and, following him, Wilber, have all in different ways shown, the rise of rational thought brought about the end of the old premodern, mythological worldview and its replacement with an understanding of discrete scientific (objective), a social (inter-subjective), and a psychological and spiritual (subjective) realities, thus allowing the development of these separate fields and of modern society. (Also included in the sphere of religion/spiritual/subjective would be traditional pop gurus; intermediate zone[3] pop gurus, etc).
What the Enlightenment Age represented was a change, an evolution of the collective worldview; not the individual consciousness, but the collective consciousness. It was a movement from a more mythic and intuitive collective worldview, to a more rationalistic, mechanistic, and "ahrimanic" pone . This meant that people, who had previously used their rational minds to understand the mythological world, could now use their rational minds to understand the natural, social, and religious and psychological; worlds. This led to the development and specialisation of knowledge, such as we see today.
It also led to the loss of the sense of a sacred or transcendent dimension, and the retention only of the secular. This takes as its authority scientism and the scientism-based physicalist worldview which forms the basis of the worldview or creation narrative of modernity (hence my term "secular modernity"). Hence among some intellectually-orientated types there will automatically be a preference for a sceptical, anti-metaphysical perspective as given, and tendency to see empiricist knowledge and methodology as the only reliable source of knowledge. This is also the case with postmodernism with its "deconstruction" of all underlying narratives and metaphysical and scientific assumptions (it is however important to note that one also finds a less widely known tendency towards spirituality in postmodernism as well[4]).
2-iv. Modernity and (Exoteric) Religion
Although modernist exoteric (conventional, non-mystical) religion preserves a sense of the sacred or transcendent in the personality of Deity, even here there is a loss of mythology and mystery, whether it be by the liberalising tendency of progressive monotheism, or the literalist tendency of fundamentalism that began with the Protestant revolution, and which approaches the Bible in the same way that science approaches nature, as a set of facts out there to be understood and analysed, but not altered (indeed the scientific revolution itself probably only succeeded because it built upon the early Protestant revolution, but transferred the empirical method from the Bible to the natural world). The result is an impoverished theology, an impoverished metaphysic, in which - as I once commented to a friend, Steven Guth, after perusing an evangelical Christian youth magazine - "all that exists is you, God, and nothing else" (or more precisely, "you, God, the physical world, and nothing else" but I was being expressive). In reply, Steven said "yes, it's Ahriman", referring to Rudolf Steiner's interpretation of Ahriman (originally the Zoroastrian and Manichaean polarity of darkness) as the principle of materialism and of consciousness becoming too imbalanced and caught up in matter. And this is the very well secular world that modernised exoteric religions portray, there is no sacredness of the natural world, no intermediate spiritual realities, no angelic or celestial hierarchies.
"Premodernism" does still survive in the West in "old style" fundamentalism such as Catholicism and Orthodox Judaism. Even there it is impossible to totally separate the original "pre-modern" from the larger world of modernity, unless one lives a very insular life (this in fact is the option preferred by Orthodox Judaism). Outside the West, religion and religious fundamentalism is likewise a mix of "pre-modern" and "modern"; this includes both benign forms of fundamentalism and extremists such as Islamism which for example incorporates elements of 20th century Western fascism[5].
The Wilber-Beck flavour of Spiral Dynamics interprets exoteric religion as "blue value meme", which will be supplanted by or evolve into, or rather the individuals who hold these views will mature into advocates of, the "orange value meme" of empirical knowledge and scientism. But this simplistic analysis ignores the fact that even exoteric religionism is quite different, according to overall worldview. Thus the worldview and the state of consciousness of the born-again Christian bible literalist is not necessarily the same as the old-style Orthodox Jew or Catholic who still retains a sense of the original "perennialist" wisdom (albeit distorted by the fundamentalism of their faith)
2-v Western Esotericism
Esoteric has already been defined (sect 1-ii). Esoteric and occult knowledge and practice is as old as humanity. Shamanism is the earliest religion and belief system; there is for example the famous paleolithic image of a bird-headed shaman at Lascaux, the site of many important cave paintings.
But the idea of unified "big picture" explanations of the inner realities and the popularity of the theme of a "perennial philosophy" only came about with the rise of modernity and Western external knowledge that esotericism became a distinct field in itself. This was because the secularisation of "official" knowledge in the West created as a counter balance esotericism, in the current sense of the term. Although the word "esoteric" is used to refer to the inner or mystical side of a religion, as opposed to the outer or "exoteric" - e.g. Kabbalah in Judaism, Sufism in Islam, Tantra in Buddhism - in the past "esoteric" always assumed a literalist and fundamentalist acceptance of the exoteric scriptures and teachings, but provided a hermeneutic for interpreting them in a less restrictive way.
This newer and more contemporary form of Western esotericism dates from as recently as the early 19th century[6]. It is similar to Western secular enlightenment in that it adopts a critical, questioning, and non-naive attitude to traditional religion and spirituality. At the same time, it avoids the limitations of materialism, reductionism, and scientism that define secular modernity.

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