"Transcend and include... this is the self-transcending drive of the Kosmos—to go beyond what went before and yet include what went before... to open into the very heart of Spirit-in-action." Ken Wilber, A Brief History of Everything

"Wouldn't it be wonderful if a group of people somewhere were for something and against nothing?" Ernest Holmes

Thursday, February 11, 2010

"Boomeritis" vs. "36 Arguments for the Existence of God"

I was only a chapter in to the smash new novel "36 Argurments for the Existence of God," when I realized how much it has in common with Ken Wilber's "Boomeritis"--and with my own true story.

I had dashed out before a looming blizzard to get "36 Arguments" as my snowed-in companion. From the dust jacket, it might be mistaken for a Dan Brown thriller:
"After Cass Seltzer's book becomes a surprise best seller, he's dubbed, "the atheist with a soul" and becomes a celebrity. He wins over the stunning Lucinda Mandelbaum, "the goddess of game theory," and loses himself in a spiritually expansive infatuation. A former girlfriend appears: an anthropologist who invites him to join in her quest for immortality through biochemistry. And he is haunted by reminders of the two people who ignited his passion to understand religion: his mentor and professor--a renowned literary scholar with a suspicious obsession with messianism--and an angelic six-year-old mathematical genius who is heir to the leadership of a Hasidic sect. Each encounter reinforces Cass's theory that the religious impulse spills over into life at large...."

As in "Boomeritis," some of the action in "36" takes place as our hero is listening to a lecture on "The Myth of Moral Reason" while flirting with a comely anthropologist and flashing back on transcendental experiences he had as a child. In both novels, these experiences are really, really well described, such that they may recreate such experiences for many readers. I sure floated out there.

But the first paragraphs of "36" told me that author Rebecca Newberger Goldstein is also fascinated by the same trend of retro religion that Wilber mines and that has ignited my life. She writes
"Something shifted, something so immense you could call it the world.

Call it the world.

The world shifted, catching lots of smart people off guard, churning up issues you had thought had settled forever beneath the earth's crust. The more sophisticated you are, the more annotated your mental life, the more taken aback you're likely to feel, seeing what the world's lurch has brought to light, thrusting up beliefs and desires you had assumed belonged to an earlier stage of human development.

What is this stuff, you ask one another, and how can it still be kicking around, given how much we already know? It looks like the kind of relics that archeologists dig up and dust off, speculating about the beliefs that once had animated them, to the best that they can be reconstructed, gone as they are now, those thrashings of proto-rationality and mythico-magical hypothesizing and nearly forgotten.

Now it's all gone unforgotten, and minds that have better things to think about have to divert precious neuronal resources to figuring out how to knock some sense back into the species. It's a tiresome proposition, having to take up the work of the Enlightenment all over again, but it's happened on your watch."
Ken Wilber's Integral Theory also concerns itself with how religion expresses through the levels of human development and is currently re-emerging in its magic/mythic forms. And from just the first chapter of "36 Arguments," I smell that Newberger Goldstein is pursuing a variation of Wilber's rallying cry: that postmodernism has thrown out the baby of Truth-Beauty-Goodness with the bathwater of mythic religion and thus set itself up for a rebound bigtime.

And that rebound is what I am still living through as told in my book, "The Bishop and the Seeker: Wrestling for the Soul of the 21st Century." Dan Brown's novels feed the desire to replace traditional religion with something more like the metaphysical New Thought movement I followed for 20 years. Whereas my experience of stumbling into an amazing fundamentalist church taught me to re-value and include the good parts of traditional religion while transcending the rest.

As I continue reading "36 Arguments" I expect to have a lot to say on the comparison between my experience and the novels of Wilber, Goldstein, and Dan Brown.


Donovan said...

Nice post and happy to see others who want to explore the boundaries of spirit without going off the proverbial cliff. I too have been influenced by Ken Wilber and am also one of those that have "left" the "true church"- in my case fundamentalist Christianity.
Gotham, WI USA

Karl Higley said...

Which part, in your view, is the baby of traditional religion, and which part is the bathwater?