“I don’t believe in God but I’m very interested in her.” –Arthur C. Clarke
I recently listened to another great interview with theologian/philosopher, LeRon Shults. Every time I listen to LeRon he challenges me and gets me thinking. I really appreciate this about him.
Reflecting back, though, every time I hear LeRon talk about his “adaptive atheism” (and I’ve listened ((and re-listened)) to quite a few interviews with him over the last year and a half or so, and also read a few of his essays), and hear him mention evolved biases and say things like God-talk and Christianity are not helpful and have to be done away with, I can’t shake the feeling that he sounds so much like an integral philosopher, only more pessimistic, less generous, and less comprehensive. To be clear, I don’t mean this as an insult, I think LeRon is brilliant and has some great things to say about the dangers of theism, but I just wish that if LeRon is going to talk about evolution, and human development, and inherited proclivities (or “evolved biases” as he calls them), and maturation, and pathology, and incorporate scientific and social scientific research into his theology/philosophy that he would do at least two things:
The first thing that I wish he would do is acknowledge what eco-philosopher Matthew Segall has pointed out regarding “naturalism” and “science” (which shouldn’t be hard for him since he likes Deleuze):
““Naturalism” is the product of what Deleuze and Guattari call “State Science,” which is that sort of Science that imposes transcendent and universal laws on physical processes, assuming in advance that all phenomena will fit into its fixed set of pre-established categories of explanation. This is the form of Science long wed to imperialism, militarism, and colonialism…“Nature” as understood by State Science is just as transcendent a category (just as distant from our empirical observation/experience) as the “Creator” understood by supernaturalist religion (in fact the two categories have a genealogical relationship).”
Acknowledging that “State Science,” and therefore “Naturalism,” are in many ways doing the same exact things and re-enforcing the same old evolved biases that supernaturalist religions do, would be extremely beneficial for someone like me or LeRon who are into apaphatacism, deconstruction, or inconoclasm, I would think.
Secondly, I kind of wish LeRon would just come out and say that he thinks his “adaptive atheism” is the next step in human psycho-social evolution. Maybe he doesn’t think this (and he certainly hasn’t said this explicitly anywhere that I have seen/heard) but I really do get the feeling that he believes it should be, especially when he references more predominately secular/atheist countries like Australia, Canada and the countries that make up Scandinavia, indicating that they are more socially accepting, more generous and happy, and less likely to activate and reinforce their evolved biases because they are largely not theists, etc…
If Shults did admit that he thinks human consciousness evolves or develops through stages of some sort (in tandem with culture perhaps, but not neatly or linearly by any means), this would put him in line with integral philosophers who say the same exact thing. However, integral thinkers would leave room for many ways, shapes, flavors, and forms of development. They may indeed recognize that “adaptive atheism” (which sounds very much like a non-duel form of pluralistic pantheism or something) might be one way, in one place, that humans are evolving or developing their religions and understandings/conceptions of God/god/gods; they would also say, perhaps, that, transpantheism, or process-relational panentheism, various Liberal Muslim Movements, and South American/African American Liberationist understandings of God are all other examples of how religions and/or understandings of God/god/gods are evolving/developing/maturing throughout the world…However, integral thinkers would also recognize that these more recent instances/understandings of religion and/or the Divine are not necessarily more important than the ones which came before. According to an integral view, all of the stages, in this case prior conceptions of the Divine, are important because each “higher” stage gets that way by first teasing apart the “dignities” from the “disparities” of the “lower” stages and then building upon and including these previous stages. The “lower” stages could be thought of as more fundamental, and the “higher” stages as more significant, however if we leave out any one of the stages then we are less than integral, less than comprehensive, and less than inclusive in our understanding of religion(s) and/or God/god/gods.
To make a human-psychological analogy, If someone purposefully avoids talking about their various stages of childhood, or feels anxious about doing so, or doesn’t want to acknowledge that they were even a child at all because they’re aware that even thinking about that stuff might “trigger” something that could potentially reinforce a harmful behavior of theirs, we might very well speculate that this person could be neurotically repressing something (the person’s harmful behavior is certainly a problem, but it might be a symptom of something else, something that that person needs to come to terms with). It seems to me like perhaps talking about this persons childhood in great detail (as painful as it may be), and revealing and/or re-introducing some repressed aspects of their childhood, re-examining, re-contextualizing and re-interpreting them, might eventually break the cycle and provide a way forward for that person.
As I’ve written before, I’m of the opinion that we shouldn’t hide from what we are; if humans are naturally religious and ritualistic, that’s ok. We should embrace this, not forget about it and pretend it isn’t so (or try to make it not so). For Euro-Americans specifically, not talking about God or leaving Christianity behind doesn’t make either one go away (we are amalgamations ((personally and culturally speaking)) of everything that has come before, whether we like it or not). Yes, warped versions of theism (particularly Christian theism) have historically done a hell of a lot of damage; various forms of Christian theism have their various pathologies, their shadows, their disparities, and they’re quite embarrassing and shameful, but I am not un-critical about this and wouldn’t deny any of this for a second. However, I’ve heard it said that philosophy can rightly be understood as therapy, in this sense I think theology can be understood in the same way. I still believe that thinking deeply about matters of ultimate concern is something that we must never stop doing. This, for me, means thinking about, and talking about, God/god/gods and religion in great, great detail. It means sorting through the good stuff and the not-so-good stuff, perhaps assuming the active role of mediator or peacemaker and then attempting to transcend but, somehow, also include the understandings of God/god/gods that have come before…Indigenous Theologian, Randy Woodley says this exact sort of thing very well in his book Shalom and the Community of Creation when he talks about the ancient prophets’ desire for Israel to re-member: “While I am not saying that we should all “live in the past,” that is to say, to live as if we are in another time, I am saying that we should not live as if the past has no bearing or reference to the here and now. Jeremiah’s hopes were that his people would return to the sacred reference points from their past in order to live better into the present.” Amen.