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May 28, 2023

God 9.0: Does Christianity Have a Future? by Tilmann Haberer

By Tilmann Haberer

‘I am spiritual, but not religious‘– many people make this distinction. They describe themselves as spiritual and maybe they mean by this that they follow a more or less intensive discipline such as Yoga, Vipassana or Zen. Or maybe they lay the Tarot. Perhaps they also believe that, for them, the existence of a higher order is self-understood. However, this higher order has little to do with the god spoken about in religion. For the established religions – in particular Christianity, Islam and Judaism in our part of the world – have gambled away our trust, which, for centuries, was taken for granted. Of course there are reasons for this. One of the most important of these must be that, historically, the churches often played a very disreputable role. Crusades, burning of witches, persecution of heretics and those with different beliefs, religious wars, the conquering of Middle and South America with fire and sword! The list is endless, as endless as the streams of blood and tears that the churches have caused over the course of the centuries. This list carries forward to the present day; the abuse scandals scream to heaven.

Many people also experience the church as boring and irrelevant. Those seeking a spiritual dimension search in all sorts of places, but most certainly not in the church.  In fact, it seems as if the entire spiritual development of the last thirty or forty years has taken place completely outside of the church and of Christianity.

I have worked for a long time in different, evangelical church communities. I have witnessed the exodus of youth and the middle generation from church services and traditional parish events. They did not find what they were seeking in the church. Those that remained were very traditional thinkers and believers. They shared a mythical view of god. They believe in a god who rules over all, who answers prayers, intervenes in the course of the world or not, as the case may be. Miracles, the breaking of the laws of nature, were seen as possible. The belief was that everything is possible for God, though one could not quite imagine how this would work.  One just had to believe in it.

Not even a hint of the modern theology, which I learned at University, had filtered through to the parishes. Those, for whom the traditional, mythical view of god was inadequate, left the church and either believed nothing anymore, or searched elsewhere. I remember a Yoga teacher that I once knew. He was raised in the evangelical tradition, but then found his path with Guru Bhajan. For some reason or other he was still a member of the evangelical academic community, but was intending to bid them farewell. “Why should I stay with them?” he asked me, “and why should I remain in the church? What has the church got to offer me?” In those days I was neither smart enough nor confident enough to ask: – “What have you, and people like you, to offer the Church?”

This would not have been just a cheap retort. It is actually an open question:  Do people who have acquired deep experience in other religious and spiritual areas have a message for the church? Have they something to offer? Could they help to further develop the deadlocked doctrine? Would it not be very strange if the great western spiritual traditions were gridlocked in a medieval view of God and the world: if there were no possible development towards a modern, post-modern, integral and holistic understanding; if the essence of Judaism, Christianity and Islam were intolerant, myth-fixated monotheism? Many people have the following view of western religions: – fundamentalist, fossilized and lifeless in their core, authoritarian, hypocritical and unable to open up.

Frankly, if it were really like this I would consider it would be fatal. Were there not the possibility within the Christian belief to further develop beyond the traditional-mythical stage, to take on a modern, post-modern or integral shape, it would mean that the genuine western spirituality would be cut off at the era of Enlightenment. The person wishing to be a Christian would have to engage with a medieval or more ancient world view; critical thinking would have to be surrendered at the church door and patterns of thought accepted, that had absolutely nothing to do with his day to day life as a modern or post-modern human. Were there not the possibility for the large western religions to further develop, this entire branch of human consciousness would, in the end, be a failure.

I became familiar with Ken Wilber’s ideas in his book‚‘Grace and Grit’ in 2004. Immediately filled with enthusiasm, I asked myself: – Why have I never heard anything about this in my church?  No-one seemed to be familiar with these exciting ‘Integral’ ideas. However, the reverse was also true; the Integral movement had not engaged with western religions for a long time. Ken Wilber, in his early books, refers exclusively to Buddhism and Hinduism. Initially it did not occur to him to seriously consider Christianity as a spiritual giant.  Since then, however, this has changed. Christian and Jewish masters such as Thomas Keating, Marc Gafni, David Steindl-Rast or Richard Rohr lecture at the Integral Institute, and Ken Wilber himself has published a DVD with the title ‘The Future of Christianity’, together with Thomas Keating, a Trappist monk. Also, an on-line course on the ‘Integral Life’ with the title ‘Coming Home’ has recently commenced, wherein an Integral-informed Christianity is introduced.

There are also rumblings amongst the Christian grassroots. Many are on the search for a modern shape to their belief.  The book Gott 9.0 – Wohin unsere Gesellschaft spirituell wachsen wird  (‘God 9.0 – In which direction our society will spiritually grow’) is an expression of this search and an attempt to incorporate the development lines of the western spiritual traditions into the Integral area.  It is an introduction to evolutionary, spiritual thinking, which builds upon the insights of Ken Wilber and the system of Spiral Dynamics. Or, put another way, it is the application of the Integral approach to Christianity.  The response to ‘Gott 9.0’ has been astonishing and pleasing. Many theologians, and people, who are as yet still engaged in the Church are writing to the team of authors and are delighted and inspired.  While we are a long way from being able to speak of a movement one can notice a large group of people in the Church who are, at last, prepared to leave the traditional-mythical castle of Christianity and explore new paths and discover new fields.

The Christian’s view of God can, of course, be developed.  In the Bible there is already documentation of a development of the view of God from the archaic, power hungry god of the old testament, to the loving father of whom Jesus speaks.

In the categories of Spiral Dynamics – a system which portrays the evolution of the individual, as well as humanity as a whole, in illustrated steps represented by colours – the development can be described as follows: –

The developmental level of the first Homo sapiens, who has just emerged from the apes, or the stage of the newborn. It concerns basic survival. View of God: – God is the source and the spring of life, nourishing maternal breast, no differentiation as yet from the universal Mother Nature. Picture of Jesus, naked and endangered.

Archaic-magical development level. Everything is alive, i.e. has soul (animism). There are good and evil spirits, who can, with the appropriate magical rituals, be influenced.  The coherence of the tribe is of vital importance.  View of God: – God of the tribe, the god of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Picture of Jesus, the miracle worker who heals the sick, can walk on water and propagate bread.

Consciousness Level of heroic sagas: – Nibelungen, Iliad and Odyssey. It is about power, conquest, raids.  View of God: The God of war, who helps Israel to conquer the land and gives the order to exterminate the opposition totally. Picture of Jesus: – the exorcist who fights with Satan, but also cuts the tie to the family in order to attain a higher goal.

Consciousness level of global riches and world religions. Law, higher order, morality, conscience, sin and forgiveness, hierarchical organisations are fundamental elements.   View of God: – God is the Only, the Almighty, the highest King and Lawmaker, the strict judge.  Picture of Jesus: – the rabbi who does not abolish the law, but fulfills it, the liberator from sin and death.

Up to this point everything is familiar. This is how we know the Christian God. And for many this is how it remains. But, of course, the development continues.

Rational consciousness level, the modern age. Ruling authorities are critically questioned. Personal success. Achievement and freedom play a central role. Science and technology flower.  View of God:  All that is supernatural is critically questioned, right up to the statement ‘God is dead‘. Those who do not wish, or cannot, give up god no longer seek outside of themselves, but turn inwards. First movement towards meditation and mysticism. Picture of Jesus: Jesus is seen as a good person, a revolutionary or a moral teacher, or as the ruling victor, with whom one builds up a personal relationship of reverence, emulation.

Pluralistic consciousness level, post-modern. What counts now is consensus instead of competition, the outsiders and the disadvantaged are included. Equality becomes an important subject. Environmental consciousness develops, the dominance of science and technology are questioned. Psychology and psychotherapy experience a boom.  View of God: – the charitable, motherly god/goddess, all religions worship the same god, though it may be in different ways. Picture of Jesus: the friend of women and children, the gentle Jesus, the inter-religious bringer of peace.

Integrative consciousness. Complex synopsis of different consciousness contents. Paradoxes are not only tolerated, but loved. Yellow is the first of all the consciousness levels to develop an understanding of the distinctiveness and the irreplaceable value of all the previous levels. View of god: – new understanding of the paradoxical statements concerning god, such as the Trinity (God is three in one). Picture of Jesus: – Jesus Christ the godly being, (the cosmic Christ), amalgamates in a paradoxical way with the human.

Holistic consciousness.  Everything is inseparably linked to each other. Every part contains the whole.  Multi-perspective, fractal.  World ethos, intercontinentally connected, virtual communities. View of God: – God as pulsating process, who draws evolution from the future, God as poet of the world. Picture of Jesus: – the cosmic Christ, Christ in each person. Jesus as a model for the god-humanity of each individual.

As yet unknown new level: – god is our ‘Can Be’.

Seen in this way, Christianity absolutely has a future. If the Christians manage to break out of the construct of their blue picture of God and open themselves to the development of their view of God and the world, they can even take on the role as the motor for a change in consciousness; to serve as a conveyor belt for the change with which the community is carried to higher consciousness steps (this is Ken Wilber’s hope)

This is by no means unthinkable. It is not only the blue view of God that exists in the Church despite the fact that it appears so to many. The mystics have already shown the way in the middle ages. For example Meister Eckhart, Nicholas of Cusa, Teresa of Avila and St John of the Cross describe experiences, that still speak to us today, and which are similar to the eastern and mystic ways. But scientific theology had already said goodbye to myth in the middle of the last century. The Bible is no longer regarded as the unquestionable authority (blue), but rather as the witness of people, which can and must be handled like any other literary document (orange). For modern theologians God does not rule over the world, rather, he is in the depth of reality. Creation did not take place in seven days at the beginning. It is executed daily in every millisecond, as God is the living power of evolution. He acts as the cosmic principle of Eros and yet he is also more.  He is not only to be the found in the breadth of the cosmos, but also in the depth of the human soul. And Christianity is no longer the one and only way to salvation, but one path amongst many, which finally leads to the same goal, the merging of God and man.

It is incredibly important that the established religions become aware of these developments occurring in their midst. Not only because they will die out like the dinosaurs if they don’t, but also because there are a growing number of people who hunger for a new view of God. Who, if not the Church will have the task to satisfy this hunger in our region, this hunger which requires nourishing with an easily digested food, not with the old, hard crusts of bread of the traditional belief systems?  The myth is important as a foundation – every person will, as Ken Wilber always emphasizes, be born in beige, and the biblical myths are good and appropriate at a certain phase in development. But most people in our cultural circle have developed far beyond blue towards orange, green and yellow.  Religion must keep up with this development. This it can do, if it allows itself to change.

Tilmann Haberer (born in 1955) studied evangelical theology. After eighteen years as a vicar in various church communities he took a seven year sabbatical from his church employment and worked as freelance minister, journalist, author and translator. In 2005 he returned to church employment and is now the evangelical leader of the ecumenical crisis and life counseling service Münchner Insel. In 2010 he published the book Gott 9.0 – Wohin unsere Gesellschaft spirituell wachsen wird together with Marion Küstenmacher and Werner Tiki Küstenmacher. Visit www.gott90.de

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  1. @Tilmann Haberer: You write “Christ in EACH person. Jesus as a model for the god-humanity of EACH individual”. Don’t you think that, by imposing christian terminology on all of humanity, you are just continuing the old game of separation and/or religious colonialism?

  2. @Hans Jecklin – Thank you for your good question. In fact I think you were right if a christian person would use this christian terminology out of a “blue” perspective. Unfortunately, far too many Christians do so up to now. But speaking out of second tier perspective (yellow, turquoise and higher), “Christ” is understood as one of the names for that which also can be called the Higher Self, the True Self, Buddha Nature or God in 1st person. So in my view it is not separatioon but unification, not colonialism but the realization that we all are one.

    • Then, why don’t you say it or change into a trans-religious language anyway? Using a “blue” language from a turquoise or higher perspective does not seem a convincing solution to me? Using a concise language you can even drop the color scheme, because everyone will understand where you are speaking from!

      • Michael DeBaets says:

        Hans, I disagree. Transcending and including necessarily involves including the language and stories of the previous stages. When a person transcends but does not include the language of the tradition, then they choose to be heard outside the tradition.

        This is fine and surely helpful. I’m reminded of Emerson in particular, who began as a pastor but instead chose language like “transparent eyeball” to describe his experiences.

        I’m called to inhabit the Body of Christ from the inside. Like in yoga, it’s usually not that helpful to go too deep into a stretch (a stretch, in this case, of ideas or doctrines) if the deepness of the stretch has you close down your receptivity to your sensations. Far more sustainable that you go half as far as you think you need, and you never close down. (at least this is often my experience)

        Preaching that Christ is identical with Atman is a lie from all first tier perspectives except green. To say that non-duality is the goal of Christian practice is not integral, as it transcends but does not include blue (amber). To truly make sustainable gains within our tradition, we must bear the weight of that tradition. If we don’t, who else will?

        We ultimately can’t leave *anyone* behind.

        In Christ 😉

        • Thank you, Michael,

          that’s just about what I was going to write myself (except the yoga example as I’m not too deep into yoga…).

          @Hans: I definitely would agree if everybody was in second tier. But since every human is born at Beige and must develop through the stages we need the language of the traditions. As Michael wrote, we must eventually transcend the separate religious traditions but not without including the former.

          And, by the way: Would you also object if I had not written about Christ in every person but about the Buddha nature?

          • I absolutely agree with your language as long as you are speaking to Christians. But by saying “Jesus as a model for the god-humanity of EACH individual” you are going beyond. Of course this would be the same if a Buddhist said that Buddha nature is the model for god-humanity in EACH individual.

            As soon as we transcend religions we must choose a language that includes all of them. That is new territory, I agree, but I think that’s where we want to go when we truly speak about second tier.

            wwww.global-spirituality.info shows a possible way to go. There may be others.

    • If Christ is to be understood as Buddha Nature, True Self or God in 1st Person, where is then the God in 2nd and 3rd person, when I look at the trinity of God, Christ and the Holy Ghost?
      I understand that the nature of these all three is One but why we have then all this different names?

      I agree with Michael that we have to include as well the Blue meme here if we speak with people who are close to a tradition. People with a second tier center of gravity should have the ability to talk in the language of the 1st tier memes. Sometimes it’s hard.

      I agree with Hans, that using words like God, Christ or what every can be irritating for some people who are not familiar with terms of that specific tradition. And at the same time I find it easier to use such terms if I know the person I am speaking to for a better understanding.

      To find new names for God in 1st, 2nd and 3rd person can be difficult, because can you name the unnameable?

      • Thank you, Heinz! Of course second tier people will be able to speak to every level in the appropriate language. But my citation of Tilmann’s are from his description of “turquoise” and this requires a different language.

        In the process of this discussion a different question came up: If we take the Absolute as pure light, all cultural projections of holy figures are masks of the Absolute. They are all to different extent masking the pureness of the Absolute. Spiritual evolution – in all religions – would then mean proceeding to ever more transparent masks – including Christ, Buddha Nature, Shiva and the like – until there is nothing but the Absolute. In one way, this is transcending and letting go. In an another when we still want to retain the ability to assist others in going this way, we need to include the knowledge and the language of the past, but the images will have lost their immediate transformative power, because our experienced reality has become wider.

        While in some aspects of conscious evolution, I will want to fully retain earlier levels (like vital, body, emotional, mental), in spirituality, I see no need to immerse into levels of lesser knowing.

        Maybe that “transcend and include” has a different significance in spiritual evolution than in other areas of conscious evolution?

  3. Thank you for this article on the hope for Christianity. I am a post-evangelical Christian with an Integral view of life. I have many, many friends who are still believing the mythical view of their religion and I honor that. There are some who are ’emergent’ and might hear an article like this, however, often articles like this are written to the ‘choir’ and would be offensive to the religious sensibilities of these folks. I would love to read an article that asks deep inquiry questions…much like Jesus did in his teachings…questions that would leave someone in the blue/orange strata of religion with their own deep questions to come to grips with.

  4. Thomas Frankovich says:

    There are NO SACRED COWS! Everything is on the block. Even this ‘Integral’ teaching must eventually go. No exceptions. All colors of the rainbow radiate by one Light. Any true “spiritual” man/woman must be ready to face the ulitimate Truth:(Music). Of course, nothing can speak the whole Truth. As Truth is beyond sound. Yes, even the well rehearsed march from cave-man belief thru to the Absolute Truth has to go. Everything that was, is, or will be, springs from one Singularity. The One. Absolute. Pure Awareness united as Oneness. This then, when actualized-Self-realized is nonduality.

    Perhaps,in addition, this blog in asking about: What is Truth? As clearly, the words speak of axioms that are use in the Integral System of teaching founded on the current level of the founders consciousness and perceptions of the Real. Ultimately the Truth seeker, regardless of “color” will arrive at precisely the same answer. Truth is the Absolute Fact that is beyond all things relative. How could it be otherwise? All forms of this relative world are merely fragments of the Real. Fragments are still fragments, no matter how brilliantly assembled. Truth is wholly True, Absolutely. The Real is Absolutely Real, always. Only the Real knows Truth.

    What if, for the human being, truth is a symbol that means the perfect nobility of Self? Maximum integrity of the Real? One being as self-sufficiency? No-thing else needed to be perfectly complete? Total equilibrium? Living a life to ones’ highest Principles and Virtues? With each breath manifesting the ideal of Oneness united as One? Absolute Mindfulness? All inclusive pure Awareness beyond space and time abiding as Be-ness within the Infinite? The transcendent fact of what is? Truth is, this moment, just this….?

    Don’t know.

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