Is Integral a Religion?



“Religion is a means toward ultimate transformation.” (from Part 4 of “What Is Religion? An Integral Approach” posted earlier)

The simple answer is yes. Ken Wilber’s book Integral Spirituality could have been titled Integral Religion (if it had been, its appeal to readers, I suspect, would have been reduced significantly). I can imagine many feeling upset at my answer, because, as I pointed out earlier, even followers of Integral Philosophy have a deeply grooved tendency to think of religion as living solely at the levels below orange-rational, all of them based on magic and mythic worldviews which ‘we’ consider childish and inappropriate for an adult.

However, if we can shake off the bias against premodern religions and recall that all religions or faith systems or spiritual orientations are directly focused on our ultimate concerns, that each challenges us to transform our lives in response to those concerns and offers means for achieving an ultimate transformation, the implication is plain to see: the Integral system can be a religion, a comprehensive means toward an ultimate transformation.

In detail, here is my argument. First, that Integral addresses our ultimate concerns is obvious. Secondly, as I pointed out earlier, Wilber himself considers the AQAL system as a whole to be a means toward transformation. Third, following Herbert Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (Figure 6), the system acknowledges six levels of basic needs or values, each of which can be seen as ultimate by an individual at whatever level they happen to be at a given time in their lives.
Recall the three criteria for characterizing a life as religious. If we replace Maslow’s term ‘need’ with ‘concern,’ the spiritual line of development comes into view as a hierarchy of ultimate concerns. Thus, there is an archaic ultimate concern—physiological needs; a magic ultimate—safety; a mythic ultimate—belonging; a rational ultimate—esteem; an integral ultimate—self-actualization; and a super-integral ultimate—self-transcendence. The current version of the Integral spectrum is more granular than Maslow’s, positing several additional stages at 2nd and 3rd tier, but the main point is that, whatever system of values you choose to map will exhibit an ultimate concern at every stage in the spiritual line. This satisfies the first criterion of religion.

The second criterion—a challenge to transform the self—is also central to the Integral message. In The Integral Vision, Wilber issues the challenge as a call to “wake up:”

The awakened Sage is not merely a rare oddity, living alone in a cave in India or perched on a mountain top in Tibet. The awakened Sage—or simply awakened Human—is actually the nature of our very own consciousness, even here and now, in the deepest forms and highest waves. Realizing that is the goal of Integral Life Practice.

Integral Life Practice is the third criterion of religion: the means of transformation to the highest possible spiritual level in an individual’s life. “To cultivate body, mind, and spirit in self, culture, and nature” is the epigrammatic summation of the 2008 handbook of the Integral movement, Integral Life Practice: A 21st Century Blueprint for Physical Health, Emotional Balance, Mental Clarity, and Spiritual Awakening, one of the most comprehensive guides to human growth ever written.

We see then that the three defining characteristics of religion are present in Integral Spirituality, a system we can now, without embarrassment, also refer to as Integral Religion. However, we must not take this to mean that persons who embrace an integral worldview are thereby spiritually transformed to an integral or super-integral level. Remember, the worldview and spiritual lines of development are largely independent of each other. It is possible, therefore, for a person to accept AQAL as a philosophy, i.e. the best available model of reality, without buying into the spiritual ideas. However, the tendency, the internal pressure on the self, is surely for spiritual development to catch up with the worldview.

As I wrote earlier, definitions are neither true nor false. Instead, we should think of them as more or less useful. I make no final or absolute claim for the definition of ‘religion’ I am recommending. Streng Theory calls it “a working definition,” recognizing that it is open to amendment or replacement by a better formulation. In this essay, I have argued that the ST definition is the most useful one available today for understanding the many forms of religious life. Religion is a means toward ultimate transformation, when incorporated into Integral Theory, embraces the best of premodern, modern, and postmodern approaches while rejecting the narrowness, reductionism, and vagueness that have afflicted earlier attempts.
When included in the Integral Model, the ST definition provides, I believe, the maximum possible unity of conception, which is always the aim of Integral. We may still talk about the great spiritual traditions using their traditional names, and there may still exist contexts that call for the distinctions contained in Wilber’s and others’ definitions of religion and spirituality. There will, of course, also still be a place for objective studies of religion in philosophy and psychology, anthropology and sociology, and even neuroscience. But while exploring those ideas and domains, it is important to remind ourselves from time to time that the phenomenon we are examining is fundamentally about a real person’s living of a certain kind of life motivated by an impulse we all share, an impulse to direct our lives toward an ultimate transformation of our deepest selves.


Love the discussion Max! A few comments:

It’s interesting, because Ken’s latest book is titled “The Religion of Tomorrow” :slight_smile: But of course, he is talking about how the qualities and principles of integral spirituality can be better encoded and institutionalized within the various lineages.

If Integral qualifies as religion, it is thankfully one of the most decentralized religions we have ever seen, where self, culture, and nature become our primary church.

I would be careful about replacing Maslow’s “needs” with “concerns”, only because these are looking at different lines of development. In a sense, we could see Maslow as looking at the interface between our inner drives and our exterior life conditions, while “concerns” are more looking at the spiritual line of development (which is different than states of consciousness), and discloses a different hierarchy that includes a different set of drives, sense-making strategies, and interpretations of “purpose”. And of course these two hierarchies can be compared and correlated from a meta-paradigmatic point of view, but they won’t always have a 1:1 relationship with each other. There are some people who have satisfied the lower rungs of their own needs, and yet whose spiritual intelligence (“ultimate concern”) is still anchored to an early stage of development. And there are others who continue to struggle with meeting their physiological, safety, and belongingness needs, and yet have a spiritual intelligence that is blasting into turquoise.

“The second criterion—a challenge to transform the self—is also central to the Integral message. In The Integral Vision, Wilber issues the challenge as a call to “wake up:””

You might consider adding “Grow Up, Open Up, Clean Up, Show Up” to the list of transformational messages!

So is Integral a “religion”? Of course it depends on how open or narrow our definition of that word is. A cursory google search suggests religion is simply a set of “organised beliefs and practices, usually shared by a community or group”. In which case, yes integral is very much a religion. But this definition is so broad, it can also include any number of “non-spiritual” groups, such as physicians, biologists, physicists, and social workers!

But as you point out, Integral does have a number of important components. We have an emphasis on “translation” (which can be correlated with “beliefs”) and on “translation” (“practices”). However, I am not sure that integral quite has the sort of nexus-agency that we often associate with religions, where large groups of people are “doing something” together. Integral mostly continues to be a constellation of individuals who share many translative deep structures, but often disagree (passionately, even!) when it comes to our perception of the surface structures.


With respects to defining religion vs other transformation vehicles

Can we agree that Religion by definition is:

  • organized?
  • shared beliefs?
  • shared practices?

The meaning of religion will be significant in how I read your paper.


Yes and no. You have correctly identified three of the four fundamental dimensions (quadrants) of religion: organization - LR; shared beliefs - LL; and shared practices (ritual actions) - UR. What’s missing is what I argue is the most fundamental dimension, the foregrounded quadrant where authentic religion unfolds - the consciousness of the individual religious person. So, again, my definition - religion is a means toward ultimate transformation - captures the essential process of an individual’s interior religious life where organization, shared beliefs, and shared practices are appropriated as means toward the desired transformation of the self.


You wrote:

“I would be careful about replacing Maslow’s “needs” with “concerns”, only because these are looking at different lines of development.”

I agree that the two lines of development are different in important ways, including the ones you have mentioned. I did not mean to entirely conflate the two, but there are clear points of overlap. At Maslow’s Physiological Stage, for example, a person’s needs (food, water, warmth) are identical with their ultimate concerns. There is no need/ultimate concern dichotomy. Also, Maslow’s sixth level, “Self-transcendence” is clearly a spiritual (transpersonal) stage of development where the individual enacts an ultimate transformation through spiritual discipline. At the other Maslow stages, I maintain that a person could regard the need at that level as an ultimate concern but need not do so. My main point was that it is possible to identify a possible religious aspect (an ultimate concern) in lines of development other than the Fowler/Integral spiritual line. The point is perhaps not required by my larger analysis, but I found it interesting.

You also wrote:
“So is Integral a “religion”? Of course it depends on how open or narrow our definition of that word is. A cursory google search suggests religion is simply a set of “organised beliefs and practices, usually shared by a community or group”. In which case, yes integral is very much a religion. But this definition is so broad, it can also include any number of “non-spiritual” groups, such as physicians, biologists, physicists, and social workers!”

Yes, dictionary definitions are of only limited use to philosophers. The one you quote is very popular even among philosophers of religion, e.g. the “New Atheists,” who assume that their sole job is to analyze and evaluate the religious beliefs that people hold and the behavior that follows from them. Hardly adequate to capture the full richness of a person’s spiritual life. Communities, churches, sanghas, etc., do not go to heaven, do not attain moksha, become bodhisattvas, or become “born again.” Only individuals do. So I claim that Integral is a religion, not in the shallow sense of a community who share certain views about the great questions of human existence, but as a system of theory and practice that can be embraced and enacted by an individual as a technology of spiritual development, a means toward ultimate transformation. At the end of the day, isn’t that what Integral is for?


Yes, I tentatively propose (maybe with a few exceptions) that the three I listed are necessary for it to be a religion, and when it lacks one of the three we start to call it something else: superstition or spirituality, for example.
The one you add on or the “fundamental dimension” I also agree but with two major caveats:

  • Not all religions progress towards ultimate transformation. This is unfortunate but true.
  • Many practices and beliefs that lead towards ultimate transformations do not have all or even any of the other three I listed. The LSD / DMT experience is an example of this. The public figure Joe Rogan experienced a transformation without any organization or shared beliefs or practices whatsoever. Mike Tyson is another pop figure who has publicly talked about his entheogenic transformative experience.

I believe this may be where the crux of the matter is. In today’s society, I see a hunger and great progress towards transformation of individuals and communities, but outside of the way I define religion (my three points). If you say a person’s experience smoking DMT or smoking frog saliva or other entheogen is religion categorically because there was an ultimate transformation, I believe that is where there will be problems.
Yes, there are some people who would be completely on board with you and say smoking marijuana is a religion because it offers ultimate transformation - but many of these people have been jailed by the DEA and their property confiscated without due process of law.
Honestly, if we could get the DEA to classify use of entheogens as a religious practice without the other three requirements and therefore protected by freedom of religion - I would be on board.
So I’m not against this definition categorically - but I find it problematic to use definitions that are not shared by governments and other religions.


You wrote: “So I’m not against this definition categorically - but I find it problematic to use definitions that are not shared by governments and other religions.”

How could intellectual progress be achieved if no one challenges conventional definitions?


I’m not sure the definition of religion used here is comprehensive enough to encompass what religions provide people today and throughout history. .
From my perspective Integral is primarily an intellectual description/discussion about the world and about potential spiritual practices.

How were Integralists participating in Integral in a way pre-COVID that might be considered religious if viewed by an observer?

I wouldn’t want the communal and physical components of religion to get lost in the academic discussions. Coordinated physical world time/location meetings at defined spiritual/religious structures takes the “ideas of” into intersection with the real world we breath in. These “intersections with reality” are extremely powerful when done well providing an almost automatic heightened spiritual experience both individually as well as in community.


Indeed - we then get into a place where organizations that currently call themselves Religions are not actually Religions unless they work towards the ultimate transformation of all its members. Religions that are based more on a God who acts Unilaterally are not actually Religions, which would be an interesting turn of events. I’m not sure, but Islam might fall into this category if they do not practice Jihad. I believe also Catholicism has an aspect of “you are bad and nothing you can do about it so just beg for forgiveness for your sins”.
I believe transformational spirituality and the idea that you will be saved through your actions while you are still on this earth are fairly a new concept and will encounter a lot of pushback by religions as they currently exists, which wouldn’t be a bad thing. For millennia religions have operated under the myth that they were the only door to salvation - and killed anyone with competing beliefs.

It may happen that if we equate religion = spirituality, then Religions that do not offer a reliable path to personal transformation will fall by the wayside. Up to now all they have had is “we are a religion and thus all our crazy whacko beliefs are valid and protected by law while yours not officially condoned by a religion are not”.
Then also, a while back I discussed with @FermentedAgave that Christianity (as well as Islam and most major world religions) have a virtually nonexistent methodology to transformation, while Buddhism, Yoga and several others have clearly defined methodology, pedagogy and evaluative rubrics with clear pathways to transformation. You can pick ways or the long steady ways, and dozens of ways besides. You can clearly see your progress in measurable ways.

It’s a very interesting situation when we observe that Religions increasingly have to transform themselves to compete in the open marketplace of transformative spirituality.


@Charles_Marxer said it well at beginning of this thread with “even followers of Integral Philosophy have a deeply grooved tendency to think of religion as living solely at the levels below orange-rational, all of them based on magic and mythic worldviews which ‘we’ consider childish and inappropriate for an adult” . From my perspective, I see much “Integral Altitude” in at least my little branch of Christianity and have no reason to doubt that other branches/religions would not also have “conveyor belts” to ultimate transformation.

You raise a very interesting point. Is Christianity transforming? How about Judaism, Islam, Native American Shamanism? And if they are, are they not transforming beyond the oft beat drum of “Literal Mythic” that seems to be the overwhelming evaluation by many in the Integral community?


Christianity and Islam - to many sects to generalize. Some are some are not, and this varies geographically as well, or even varies vastly with just a border crossing.
Judaism - I don’t think so? But maybe someone more informed will know. I do know Kaballah was released to the masses and even to women, but Judiaism =/= Kaballah
Native American Shamanism - ok … let’s set this straight here because it keeps coming up. Shamanism is a specific North Asian indigenous practice. Shamanism as practiced by westernizers in modern times is an appropriation of that name and applied generally willy-nilly to anything and everything that they imagine might have existed before 1492. Europeans have taken the name “Pagan” or other names to identify reconstruction of European pre-Christian religions. The summary is that “Shamanism”, “Paganism”, “Wicca” and the rest that are similar are exactly what we are talking about - a reformation of what we imagine an older belief might have been and re-building it for a modern world view.
Also, again - it’s not possible to generalize. Some “New Age Shamans” embrace a literal mythic and others don’t. The one’s who do fully embrace the literal mythic tend to be “off their rocker”. Not always, but generally so.


Not quite @raybennett . Shamanism was/is practiced globally in a multitude of forms with differences and many similarities, from Tierra del Fuego to Alaska, Finland to Capetown, New Zealand to Siberia.
You might want to check it out as with or without Entheogens there are amazing, perhaps transcendental, experiences and benefits to be had. And of course you can also find yourself in a group of pot smoking hippies worshiping the next bong hit trying to figure out who’s going to make the beer run.


You are hilarious.
These groups are a part of my social community. Both with and without entheogens.

I don’t know anyone from this group personally. I suspect it’s another one of your straw men. I do know many people who believe Marijuana is sacred - but that contraindicates using it casually or in combination with beer. So I guess these people exist as you imagine them - but I don’t know any.

But again - off topic. The question @Charles_Marxer seems to be asking - would it be religion and would it be Integral if such people do actually practice their religion this way?


[quote=“FermentedAgave, post:8, topic:24461”]

You wrote: “I’m not sure the definition of religion used here is comprehensive enough to encompass what religions provide people today and throughout history.”

Can you be specific? What in the deep structures of traditional faiths do you think the definition does not cover? Being a second-order definition (one which aims at transcending and including all others), it necessarily leaves out many translative benefits (comfort, sociality, pleasures of various kinds, money) that people might derive from traditional religious practice. My claim is that, beneath the surface features, religion is a means toward an ultimate transformation captures the essence, the sine qua non, of any commitment that is entitled to be called religious or spiritual. If a system of thought and practice does not offer what adherents/participants understand to be a possible ultimate transformation for them, that system would not be a religion. Examples are easy to come by: a poker club, a bingo group, a business practicing management Theory X. It would be quite odd for anyone to claim that experiences in those settings are ultimate transformations for them. All the great traditions, as well as many secular systems, exhibit this core element. So if my definition captures the essential characteristic of all past traditions, contemporary secular faiths, and any new faith systems that might appear in the future, wouldn’t you have to concede that it’s “comprehensive enough?”

You also wrote: “From my perspective Integral is primarily an intellectual description/discussion about the world and about potential spiritual practices.”

It seems you haven’t read my essay. Part 4 quotes Ken Wilber’s characterization of AQAL as a transformational model and points out the obvious transformational aim of Integral Life Practice. Of course, one can investigate Integral entirely from a 3rd person perspective as merely an interesting philosophical theory and ILP as a cool manual of self-development but without seeing in it any relevance to one’s own life. But the Integral message to inquirers is unmistakable: “Try this; it can profoundly change your life.” Integral is a complete religion.


I don’t think you can leave out the communal, community benefits that all major religions provide when defining “what is religion”. Creation of community with the aim of “ultimate transformation” is one of the primary characteristics of all religions.

Consider the deconstruction that Integral Theorists apply to religions. One of the key “issues” is that these religions do have communities that are like/similar minded.

Internal development is crucial to “climb the ladder” for any spiritual path.

Agree here. Without the intention for Ultimate Transcendence, it might be great fun or socially rewarding in different ways but of course do not constitute a “religion”.

Let me tease on a Religion/Spiritual thread which you might be using as a therapeutic for the IT community. Let me know if this resonates, or not.
Perhaps we could look at using spiritual and religious interchangeably. You very clearly detail some of the Integral Community’s traps but I think discriminating between “Religion” and “Spirituality” is valid and separate. Fixing IT’s “we’re much more enlightened, those people aren’t” problem is a different problem likely more directly addressed separately.
While I agree that the IT community oft falls into the trap of “religions peter out somewhere Orange’ish at best” (after getting past the stuck in Archaic/Literal Mythic arguments) does as you describe very conveniently create a space “on top of traditional religions”.

By defining Ultimate Truth/Ultimate Transcendence as Interior only and relegating exterior/Community as background does this not salve over Integral’s biggest downfall? Wouldn’t it be “lack of community”?

Apologies that I wasn’t more articulate. Integral Theory is seemingly, yes from my academic and observational viewpoint, very much an “intellectual” endeavor trying to gain traction as a “practice”. My academic/intellectual comment was very much based on lack of community.

Perhaps my assessment is incorrect, but as a practicing traditional religious person even Integral Life is far from having the ability to provide. I life in a top 10 US city by population. Can I meet regularly with an Integral community to jointly develop towards ultimate transformation?

But then again we are back to a community being a requirement for a “religion” in the classical sense, at least in my experience. I would highly recommend emphasizing this importance in the essay as I think community is very much more than a background characteristic.


As I see it, I would not ascribe the word religion to Integral because the word religion has been used and abused in countless ways. In this respect, this is what Alan Watts had to say about religion.

“The problem with our ecclesiastical goings-on is that we run a talking shop. We pray, we tell God what to do or give Him advice, as if He did not know. We read the Scriptures. Jesus said, "You search the Scriptures daily, for in them you think you have life." Saint Paul made some rather funny references to "the spirit which giveth life and the letter which kills.” I think the Bible ought to be ceremoniously and reverently burned every Easter, in faith that we need it no more because the spirit is with us. It is a dangerous book, and to worship it is of course a far more dangerous idolatry than bowing down to images of wood and stone. Nobody can reasonably confuse a wooden image with God, but you can very easily confuse a set of ideas with God, because concepts are more rarefied and abstract. This endless talking and preaching in church does nothing, by and large, but excite a sense of anxiety and guilt. You cannot love out of that. No scolding or rational demonstration of the right way to behave is going to inspire people with love. Something else must happen”

I believe Susan Cook Greuter follows along the same lines as Watts regarding IT when she said in the 2013 Journal of Integral Theory and Practice that

"I wonder whether the Integral movement actually lacks a basic perspectivre on its own flavored assumptions. It seems to privilege a linear, future-oriented, and anthropocentric view despite its claim of being multiperspectival, transdisciplinary, and inclusive. Is it possible that we are letting ourselves be hi-jacked by the integral evangelical promise? A positive bias seems to me just as potentially blinding as a negative one. Because most everyone in the current integral movement celebrates the benefits of an evolutionary view of realty, I feel I need to raise the issue of the possible costs and limitations of this view to invite more balance and reflection"

Elsewhere she said

"I invite all of us in the integral movement to remain open and to inquire into our own motivations, needs, and preferences. Let’s be alert when we are attracted to an interpretation of reality because it makes us feel more secure, special, and important. Let’s be vigilant about not confusing the map with the territory, or our favored interpretations with the seamless underlying and felt sense of experiencing life as it unfolds. We better be skeptical when someone asserts a specific view of reality as the discovery of all discoveries rather than as a useful hypothesis, a tentative new map, and a basis from which to continue to explore the mystery of being".

So as Alan Watts said about religion, let’s burn the Integral Bible (if you can call it that) and stop talking ad nauseum about it (sorry Corey) and focus more on the direct means on how to free ourselves from our limited awareness. But where is the urgency on this?

We need to get it through our thick skull that we, as humans, are so fucking irrational and you don’t need to be a psychologist to figure that out. We have so many problems facing us right now. Whether it’s Covid deniers, climate change deniers, political corruption, televangelists who reap millions from their congregation, crimes of passion, and all manner of violence that we perpetrate towards each other. All because we vastly underestimate the danger of human irrational emotions that I fear will end humanity as we know it as Dr. Solomon pointed out here

In our universities we go about with endless scientific research as well as in the humanities that has become an end in itself and all the while those in power are corrupting reality with all kinds of lies and conspiracy theories that infects the minds of the masses making them, in effect, dumb and stupid.
The masses of people have no idea they are being duped then we wonder why the emotional and psychological evolution of humanity crawls at a snail’s pace.
As Watts said, something else must happen and what must happen is to inform the masses that the way we go about living our lives is fucking madness; that the enemy is not outside us but inside us: our irrational passions that even our most astute psychologists are losing their own minds trying to make sense of it. Like covid-19, our mind is vulnerable to credulity and the society we live in is much sicker than we realize. I believe we must face this head on. As Dr. Sheldon said in his TED talk quoting the poet Thomas Hardy “if a way the the better there be, it lies in taking a full look at the worst”
As long as we are deluded by believing that America is great or our God is the only true God or our political ideology is better than others, such stance is the height of stupidly. We need to get passed this as if we had a gun to our head because that’s how dangerous such thinking is.
We can read and study IT until we are blue in the face, but no amount of it will make a difference until we get past the theories and discover experientially a greater awareness of being human.


Ray Bennett wrote:

“Then also, a while back I discussed with @FermentedAgave that Christianity (as well as Islam and most major world religions) have a virtually nonexistent methodology to transformation, while Buddhism, Yoga and several others have clearly defined methodology, pedagogy and evaluative rubrics with clear pathways to transformation.”

It is not true that “Christianity (as well as Islam. and most major religions) have a virtually nonexistent methodology to transformation.” See the chart on p. 9 of my essay for a summary of some of the methods offered by Creation of Community Through Myth and Ritual, (e.g. Christianity) and Daily Living That Expresses Cosmic Law (e.g. Islam). All major religions have clear teachings on the ultimate problems of life, what the solution is, and what the means are by which to achieve ultimate transformation. Those are well known and set out in a multitude of introductory texts on religions of the world.

As my essay explains, there is no one valid means of ultimate transformation in the spectrum of religious expressions, as you seem to assume. You seem to be defining ultimate transformation exclusively in terms of Enlightenment (Nondual?) and “methodologies” in terms of Buddha dharma or yogic disciplines. That’s philosophical absolutism, setting up a negative hierarchy between 3rd and 1st tier spirituality - very far from integral thinking.


Indeed, but the term will not go away any time soon. My essay attempts to define ‘religion’ in a way that any thoughtful follower of any faith system could agree with, including Integral. Integral clearly offers us a transformational world view and a program of means for working toward an ultimate transformation. Check out the essay for my argument.


I don’t think you understand what I mean by methodology, or how it is used in education.

I think with Judeo-Christian-Islam, we have to divide it at least into two groups.

In the first group - it is not possible for you to gain salvation from your acts. God will save you or not according to his will, not yours. So I think that’s my most obvious point. There are branches of Christianity and Islam where this is exactly what is believed. You may say that their actions of living a life according to the rules of their religion is “ultimate transformation” - but some traditions might disagree with you and see it even as heresy. I even saw funny video along these lines last week:

So I’m not getting where you think I’m only seeing this from one view. That’s probably what you want to believe about me, and a story you invent.

How can there be a methodology for a person to attain ultimate transformation when it isn’t up to them or their actions. God made that man slip and fall and 3 liters of water fell into his mouth along with tahini and some … bread? Should he continue to fast or see it as a sign from God that he was supposed to eat?

Then with regard to some other religions where you actually do have to do something to be “saved”, they have to accomplish something, but are often not told how in a step by step manner, nor any ways to determine if it has actually occurred. This is what pedagogy and methodology means to me and in common usage. Taking a goal and breaking it down into steps that can be taught and measured to see how students are doing at each level. I stand by that many traditions in the Judeo - Christian - Islamic tradition do not have this. I am not saying that this is a requirement for religion, but it does tend to make attaining a goal more difficult. Imagine if you were just told “learn nuclear physics” but there were no actual clearly laid out way to do that, and no way to evaluate if you had learned it?

I gave the examples of Buddhism and Yoga, but there is also the tradition of Judaism as well. For thousands of years Kaballah was limited to only the few and it has very clear step by step ways for the “creature” to experience the “creator”, and ways to measure if this is happening or if you are engaging in a forbidden practice (to them) like witchcraft or Mysticism. It’s just a fact that the vast majority of those practicing Judaism had no access to this methodology, and only some men over 40 were allowed to learn it. As a result, the actual original themes within the Torah taught through the language of branches were not taught through Christianity.

I agree there is not one valid means of ultimate transformation. I am actually going a step further and saying ultimate transformation in some religions isn’t even up to you (which is fine if they believe that), and then as a separate issue also many religions don’t actually explain how to get from point A to point B. Some religions have detailed maps with a bunch of markers while others have vast empty areas with “Here be Dragons”, the “edge of the Earth”, and so forth meaning their maps leave a lot to be desired.

Discussing how effective or efficient a belief system is in getting people from 3rd to 2nd or 1st tier isn’t philosophical absolutism. I think you’re repeating that phrase without actually considering what “absolutism” means. If it was absolutism I’d say something like “everything is religion”, or “all beliefs are equal and if you disagree with me, I will call YOU an absolutist”. This is a shadow of green tier where we are forced to say every belief is not just equally valid, but equally efficient and equal in every way - which is nonsense. If you want to see all forms of rankings for efficiency effectiveness as a “negative hierarchy”, the negative judgement is only coming from you. If people only see judgement in a discussion of the pros, cons, effectiveness or efficiency of Buddhism vs Mysticism vs Shamanism vs Christianity vs Philosophy then that itself is the problem.

Regardless of all these things and how you or I stand on this or that - I think what I am seeing is that the paper tries to force a kind of universal usage of the word “religion” with a universal and simple definition when it doesn’t actually work and systems of belief are much more complex. But the paper doesn’t actually come out and say this and so there’s a kind of “saying but not saying”.


For someone whose center of gravity is amber-traditional, belonging is a basic need (Maslow). For such a person, if he/she is religious, membership in and participation with a mythic-ritual community is a means of ultimate transformation - definitely, as you stated, not a background characteristic when they are participating in communal worship. For them, the LL quadrant is foreground and the others (always manifesting, of course) are background.

Here’s a way of thinking about the foreground/background distinction. Let’s recall that a person is a 4-quadrant holon; we say that moment-to-moment, each of us is tetra-arising. But the quadrants are not equally involved in every experience. Consider a mathematician alone in his study working with equations. He is performing behaviors that can be objectively observed (UR quadrant, zone 6), but those behaviors - scribbling on paper, scratching his head, etc. - are obviously not the most important thing going on. Our mathematician is also functioning harmoniously as a member of various systems - physical, environmental, legal, etc., but that dimension (LR quadrant) is obviously - for him - not the most significant thing going on. The same must be said for his membership in various cultures and subcultures (LL), e.g. the community of mathematicians. M is not interacting with any other mathematicians so that quadrant is in the background. What is foreground for M, what is front and center in his consciousness, what he is paying 100% attention to, is working out a mathematical problem. That activity belongs to the UL quadrant principally, so a quadrant map of M’s consciousness would show the UL standing out from the rest as if outlined with neon lights.

And so it is with religion. My analysis does not “lack community.” It simply and appropriately characterizes the function of community in certain spiritual acts (e.g. solitary prayer or meditation) by a religious holon as background reality to a process of consciousness which is foreground to that religious holon.**

The foregoing is an elaboration of a claim I make in the essay, namely that religious communities and religious organizations do not achieve an ultimate transformation; only individuals do.