Seeking Spirit in a Scientific Age

By Rod Mitchell in Articles

discussion of world views

Seeking Spirit in a Scientific Age
We are all aware of the dramatic and rapid changes of the last five hundred years. What is more difficult is the understanding and categorising of these changes in a way that can enable us to live authentically and fully in an emerging world.
Ken Wilber is recognised as one of the key voices of our time and in his many books he has addressed the nature of these changes. Prior to the most recent five hundred year period of our history, the influential disciplines of Arts, Morals and Science (which Ken Wilber refers to as "The Big Three") had been nurtured and parented by religious communities (in the West). Science, Arts, Morals and Spirituality were closely integrated. However, about 1500 C.E., the 'Big Three' began to grow away from the Churches, with a new-found sense of independence. This separation was anything but comfortable. Over the last 500 years, the Churches have retreated into a static religious spirituality that is growing increasingly detached from the evolving world.
One only needs to follow the often bitter disputes between scientific enquiry and the opposing dogmatic stance taken by various Church authorities to see this conflicting view. A sampling of issues from the most recent 500 years provides a range of examples: for example - astronomy, cosmology, evolutionary theory, birth control, same gender relationships, women in leadership, stem cell research (to name but a few). These debates confirmed a separation and distinction between spiritual and scientific matters - people had to choose which path they would follow. It seemed near impossible to have an integration of science and faith.
The point I want to stress is that the separation has come at a cost. The cost is that this separation has been at the expense of 'Spirit', which is unable to play a central role in our understanding of reality. The 'Big Three' and in particular scientific discipline have been so successful they have almost obliterated the 'spiritual' dimension from our human awareness of reality. For thousands of years the dominant philosophy - a religious outlook on life - was to acknowledge that reality was made up of matter, body, mind, soul and spirit. Over the last five hundred years this primary outlook on life has been seriously eroded.
Ken Wilber and many other people have written about and are researching this dismissal of 'spirit'. Their proposal is that healthy dynamic religious claims need to be able to stand in partnership with The 'Big Three' thus allowing the 'spiritual' dimension to add a credible contribution to the meaning and significance of reality.
Today, in the midst of our rapidly changing ways of life and thinking, we find ourselves at a time of needing to make seriously important choices. Now is the time to embrace a spirituality that is authentic for our scientific age. In making those choices, we might consider Ken Wilber's four different world views which have emerged during this 500 year period. The first three world views have emerged in such a way as to make it almost impossible to bring the 'Big Three' together in any creative way. A fourth worldview is just emerging which offers some encouraging signs.
TRADITIONAL WORLDVIEW [Pre 1600 C.E. but still strongly present today] The world is an ordered existence governed by a higher authority. [Not necessarily divine]
People who see the world through this lens tend to value belonging, stability, order, security, conformity, and morality as defined by traditional values (in whatever tradition they were raised and socialized in-frequently religious but not necessarily) and tend to follow leaders
who are perceived as having positional and/or moral authority. In other words, people with this mindset tend to prefer leaders with an Authoritarian Leadership Style.
MODERN WORLDVIEW [1600 C.E. - Present] The world is a playing field full of opportunity to achieve. People who see the world through this lens tend to value opportunity, achievement, success, winning, status, and recognition and tend to follow leaders who are perceived to have the most expertise and ability to achieve goals. In other words, people with this mindset tend to prefer leaders with a Strategic Leadership Style.
POSTMODERN WORLDVIEW [1960's - Present] The world is a diverse ecosystem where cooperation leads to synergy. People who see the world through this lens tend to value personal growth, emotionally intimate relationships, equality, dialog, consensus, interdependence, inclusivity, sustainability, collaboration, and making a difference. They tend to follow leaders who are perceived as being aware, sensitive to the wellbeing of others, value consensus, and always treat others as equals. In other words, people with this mindset tend to prefer leaders with a Collaborative Leadership Style.
INTEGRAL WORLDVIEW [Just emerging 2000 - ] This mindset tries to see all previous worldviews as having both something of value to offer while hosting within them some unhealthy pathologies. Which means a major task for the church in the coming years would be to learn how to discern the difference between values of substance and cunning pathologies. This will require a style of Leadership embracing new depths of wisdom, spirituality and compassion.
The Church community prior to 1500 lived comfortably with a traditional worldview or what Charles Taylor in his large book 'A Secular Age' called the age of 'enchantment'. However we now live in
what Taylor calls an age of 'disenchantment', a global world where God's spirit is ever actively unfolding new possibilities while people argue about the existence or not of a living 'God' [Death of God debate]. In this kind of world, if the church remains frozen in a static traditional worldview, it will be in danger of being caught like a rabbit at night in the sharp headlights of life's exciting, forward, unfolding moment. In Mornington and Glenaven I am inviting members to continue to explore how a bigger evolutionary creation story, that still values and embraces the best from within the Bible, can provide an Integral framework to help Christians engage creatively with not only the 'Big Three' but with other religious traditions as well.
Rod Mitchell