[Image copyright by Don Beck]
[In part one of this series, I introduced the premise that the culture wars in America are not so much about values as they are about the definition of God. Americans are not split between believers and non-believers, but they certainly do not agree on how to define God. Part three in this series will be posted soon. Each section is also cross-posted at Raven's View]
Toward an Integral Politics, Part Two
The God-Stream Along the Spiral
The descriptions for each Meme, as presented here, are taken from the original Beck and Cowan book, Spiral Dynamics©, and from Ken Wilber's Integral Psychology. Any attempt to discuss these complex worldviews in a few words is necessarily an approximation. Please also remember that no person can ever be reduced to a single Meme, even if they seem to be a perfect specimen of that Meme.
I'll start this examination of God along the Spiral at the Spiral's base. At the Beige level of the Spiral, there is no idea of God at all. People at this level are only capable of focusing on survival needs. There is likely very little sense of identity because the self is pre-rational and pre-egoic. A Beige worldview is typical of infants, the mentally-ill homeless, the senile elderly, and the earliest primal human cultures. People at this level are concerned only with day-to-day survival.
When Purple begins to emerge, people perceive a world filled with spirits that can both help and hurt a person or tribe. There isn't one God but many spirits, each with a specific realm of power. Worship is centered on rituals, charms, and talismans. Many of the oldest discoveries of talismanic art originate in the period when the Purple Meme first began to emerge (about 50,000 years ago). Most shamanic cultures also originated in the Purple Meme, while many modern, neo-shamanic movements, with origins in the Green Meme, regress to a Purple worldview (worst case, but most common) or seek to revitalize the Purple Meme in their Meme stack (less common, but more appropriate).
With the arrival of the Red Meme (around 7,000 years ago), for the first time people are beginning to develop a self that is distinct from the tribe, which is then reflected in their view of the gods. Individual gods are imbued with human traits, perhaps nowhere better exemplified than in the early Greek and Hindu pantheons. These gods possess ultimate power over the fate of humans, but they suffer the same weaknesses as the rest of us--lust, greed, hubris, and so on. The predominant mode of life is still tribal, however, and one's tribe defines one's worldview. Twenty percent of the world still operates within this value Meme, which is most obvious in Africa and the Middle East, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan, where centralized government has been weakened or eliminated.
When the Blue Meme emerged about three to five thousand years ago, during the Axial Age, all of the world's major religious traditions emerged along with it. For the first time in Western history, there was one God--a jealous, angry, spiteful God who demanded strict obedience and did not tolerate belief in any other God. The Old Testament God of the Jews was intimately involved in human affairs from Genesis through the Book of Job. With the New Testament, God intervened one last time in human affairs and sent his Son to redeem all of humanity. This act affirmed Old Testament prophecies of the coming Messiah and established Christianity as a revolutionary Jewish movement that quickly developed its own identity in opposition to many Jewish traditions. With the emergence of Islam in the seventh century, Mohammed proclaimed himself the final emissary from God, while acknowledging Jesus and the Old Testament prophets as part of his spiritual lineage. Few seem to realize that Yahweh of Judaism, God of Christianity, and Allah of Islam are the same God seen through different cultural viewpoints (red-BLUE, BLUE, and BLUE-orange, respectively).
In Eastern cultures, the idea of God was also narrowed to a single concept, but it generally wasn't a humanized God. Rather than an entity, God became a state of being, whether Nirvana or the Tao. However, many Eastern traditions, including Hinduism and Buddhism, still have their pantheons of gods, goddesses, and other deities. There are often strict rules for worshipping the various divine figures. In fact, in every culture exhibiting the Blue Meme, rigid social structures, distinct ideas of right and wrong, obedience to the social order, and a variety of other structures enforce conformist rule. Currently, forty percent of the world's population operates within this Meme.
In the United States, the Blue Meme is experiencing a resurgence in power as a result of the past two presidential election cycles--when they got Blue-centered Christian in the White House. The Christian version of the Blue Meme reflects the view that the Bible is the literal word of God, that creationism explains human origins, and that America is a Christian country blessed by God. This Blue Meme rejects post-modern cultural relativism as secular, anti-religious, academic drivel. The Christian Blue Meme opposes abortion but often supports the death penalty. At its worst, the Blue Meme becomes radical fundamentalism, whether Jewish, Christian, Islamic, Hindu, patriotism, or Communism.
During the Enlightenment, three to four hundred years ago, alchemy and astrology evolved into chemistry and astronomy. The emergence of the Orange Meme initiated the scientific revolution, and with it the parallel emergence of self-interest. As rational science grew out of Church-imposed superstition, the Biblical God became more symbolic than literal. However, science could not disprove the existence of God, and many scientists, most notably Einstein, saw within the marvelous mystery of our universe the guiding hand of a divine intelligence. Recently, a few scientists have aligned themselves with a new form of creationism, termed Intelligent Design, that allows for a divine creator who initiated and who guides evolution. Still, the majority of atheists are found within the materialist flatland (no vertical, spiritual dimension to human life) of the Orange Meme. The Orange worldview is held by thirty percent of the world's population, but they maintain fifty percent of the political and economic power.
The weight of American culture is to be found within the transitional space between Blue and Orange. However, George W. Bush resides a half-step or more behind the majority of voters with his mixture of Red political control, Blue religious beliefs, and Orange economic policies, making him unique in the history of American presidents (who are typically a half-step or more ahead of the populace).
With the arrival of the Green Meme, about one hundred and fifty years ago, the first steps toward universal human rights emerged, exemplified by equal rights for women, gay rights, the civil rights movement, and various forms of socialism. The Green Meme at its best is concerned with nurturing and freeing the human spirit through communitarian, ecological, and egalitarian modes of being. Equal value is given to all cultural viewpoints. At this point on the Spiral, God may become Goddess, Gaia (planet Earth as a living entity), Christian mysticism, Kabbalistic Judaism, ecstatic Sufism, or a variety of other approaches that loosen the mythical constraints on the experience of God and allow that God may be an experiential rather than a physical reality. Green is represented by around ten percent of the population.
The Beige through Green Memes represent the first tier of human development. In the first tier, each Meme believes that it offers the only true interpretation of the world. For example, traditional Blue sees progressive Green as godless New Age heathens. Rational Orange sees both Blue and Green as irrational and too focused on other people's concerns. Self-concerned Red sees all other colors as threats to its power and seeks only to bolster its strength. Each of these Memes has built-in virus protection to prevent other Memes from corrupting its content. However, most people operate in several Memes, as shown in part one, even though they may have their center of gravity in a specific Meme.
One brief note is necessary here. Each of these Memes has a healthy and an unhealthy manifestation. For example, unhealthy Blue becomes fundamentalism and seeks to impose its narrow worldview on everyone. Unhealthy Orange can become scientism and seek to reduce all forms of experience to the physical. Unhealthy Green can become the "mean Green Meme," attacking most manifestations of Blue as repressive and rejecting some forms of Orange as reductionism. However, each Meme is crucial to the Spiral and a necessary stepping stone to the next stage. We must allow people to move through the Memes as is their need, while trying to create life conditions that allow for healthy manifestations of the Memes and opportunities to move up the Spiral.
The second tier of the Spiral includes the Yellow and Turquoise Memes, both of which are integrative and holistic in their worldviews. The second-tier Memes have access to the whole spiral and can adopt the first-tier Memes as needed according to current life conditions. A person who has reached second-tier thinking in one or more areas of life may still have other developmental streams that operate only in first-tier Memes. Less than one percent of the population on Earth has reached the second tier.
The Yellow Meme has appeared only in the last thirty to fifty years and is still taking shape. A person in the Yellow Meme is concerned with learning to live as an adaptive organism in a constantly changing world. Accumulating knowledge and understanding how various systems work and interrelate is a priority. The Yellow Meme understands that chaos and change are constants and seeks to establish and maintain equilibrium. At this stage, God tends to be conceptual and is often experienced as an impersonal, unified consciousness.
The Turquoise Meme is emerging right now, and its major traits are becoming more focused each day. However, it is becoming clear that Turquoise seeks a holistic existence in which body, mind, and soul are unified. The Turquoise Meme understands that everything is interrelated and interconnected. At this stage, the self is seen to be both independent and part of an interdependent, cooperative whole. God at this stage is understood much as Yellow understands the concept, but the Turquoise person might experience God as more compassionate and loving.
Despite the relative infancy of these Memes, it is clear that God at the second tier is seen as a consciousness permeating the entire universe that seeks to understand itself through its manifestation in creation. The jump to second-tier thinking is seen as the great leap in human consciousness. Crossing that divide marks the first approach to the higher realms of spiritual awareness as exemplified by the great spiritual teachers: Jesus, the Buddha, Lao Tzu, Saint Francis, Saint Teresa, Zarathustra, and others.
For the one percent of the population that operates within the second tier, each Meme on the Spiral is valued for its contribution to the whole and is crucial to the health and stability of the Spiral. Although no one Meme is more important than another Meme, those higher on the Spiral offer greater options and are more expansive in their understanding of the world. The second tier is the leading edge of the Spiral at this point in history. For the first-tier Memes, those few individuals in the second tier are threats to their identity and autonomy. However, the gift of second-tier perception is an understanding of the entire Spiral and the ability to relate to people in the language of their own Meme, which makes second-tier people ideal leaders and unifiers. Don Beck, Ken Wilber, Sally Kempton, Gandhi, Teilhard de Chardin, Barbara Amrx Hubbard, Jean Gebser, Sri Aurobindo, and Desmond Tutu are examples of second-tier thinkers.
In part three of this series, I will look more closely at how these versions of God manifest in American politics and the current culture wars.
Go to Part Three.