Evolution of Religion

 In blog

The ‘momentous leap’ of human consciousness is driving a convergence of science and spirituality, which is evolving the concept of religion. The religion of the future will be an integrated aspect of everyday life, rather than a collection of mythic stories from the past.

‘Everything that is considered spiritual or metaphysical is usually physics that we do not understand yet.’
Nassim Haramein, Resonance Science Foundation

There’s been a global trend away from organised religion over the past 100 years. Currently the third largest spiritual population on the planet (after Christianity and Islam) is labelled ‘unaffiliated’ and comprises around 1.2 billion people. When you consider that most mainstream religious texts are very old, some more than 2,000 years old, it’s reasonable to think those mythic stories are losing their relevance within contemporary society. Let’s face it, over the last 2,000 years our lives have become far more complex and our values have changed radically.

Developmental psychology researcher Dr Clare W Graves found a clear link between the complexity of life conditions and values development. In this context ‘life conditions’ is an all-encompassing term that covers every aspect of our life experience, including (but not limited to) our psychology, skills and behaviours, cultural environments and social systems. When life is simple, then simple values suffice. However when life gets complex, simple values don’t suffice, they actually create problems. Thankfully we have an innate adaptive intelligence that transforms our values when our life conditions demand change.

As a very brief example, consider the different values we apply when interacting with colleagues in a workplace, compared to family interactions with small children at home. We employ different priorities, rules and standards, even for the simplest things such as having a conversation. These different value sets have evolved over time and things we consider childish today (eg believing in dragons and faeries), at some time in the distant past reflected mainstream adult thought. This ongoing evolution of values is one reason why ancient religious texts aren’t always useful guides to contemporary living. Thanks largely to our transport and communications technologies, we now live in a vastly more complex world that enables much wider perspectives and demands more inclusive values.

In his book The Religion of the Future (2017) Ken Wilber discusses the evolution of religion and offers a blueprint for bringing it into the 21st Century based upon Integral Philosophy. Wilber asserts that the process of awakening to our true nature and the nature of reality is at the core of every religious tradition. Historically this core has often been obscured through cultural accretion, a focus on mythology and the manipulation of religion for political ends.

Wilber describes religion as a potential ‘conveyor belt’ for moving people to higher states of consciousness (waking up) and higher levels of consciousness (growing up). He suggests religions of the future must include theory and practices for nurturing both of these, as well as for resolving psychological shadow aspects of personality (cleaning up) and enabling full human functionality (showing up).

Contemplative practices are a necessary tool for personal development but are neglected by or completely omitted from many western religions. Instead they focus on mythic stories and moral discourse. By comparison, eastern religions are more likely to teach contemplative practices such as sitting or moving meditation, which have the potential to accelerate personal growth and can result in profound experiences of spiritual awakening.

The psychedelic revolution of the 1960s and the current psychedelic renaissance have provided powerful contemplative reminders for western society in particular, bringing renewed awareness of the potentially profound benefits of altered states.

I have a personal interest in the evolution of Taoism, an eastern tradition that’s played a central role in my life through the meditative martial and healing art of Taijiquan (my contemplative practice). Although Taoism has often been merged with folk religion in China, its original philosophical form teaches only of the Tao (the Way) as the infinite source of all things and how to live in harmony with its flow. Its core text the Tao Te Ching dates from the 4th century BCE. The development of Integral Taoism is one of my long term projects, bringing an evolutionary edge to the timeless wisdom of Taoism through the integration of state-of-the-art knowledge.

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