I enjoy watching Bill Maher’s program “Real Time” on HBO. Being progressive in my beliefs, I generally agree with most of his political positions—and I find him funny. However, I frequently find Bill to be somewhat limited in his take on spirituality. When it comes to most social issues, Bill appears to be a post-modern cultural creative in his worldview. When it comes to spirituality, he is firmly planted in a rational-modern viewpoint. His take is that all religion and all spirituality is the same–that is, it is “non-rational” and therefore is obviously “wrong”.
Recently, there was a heated debate on his program about Islam (view here). Bill and his guest, Sam Harris, were taking the position that certain tenets of Islam are so unconscionable (such as the ideas of either Jihad or Apostasy) that liberals needed to speak up and criticize the religion—and that the reason they don’t is because liberals see any criticism of “Islam the religion” as being the same as criticism of “Muslims the people”. There is probably some small amount of validity to their point–liberals are typically post-modern cultural creatives who value all relationships and as a part of that honor the rights of others to follow their own spiritual path. Although liberals generally disagree with those traditionalists who espouse fundamentalism, they tend to bend towards seeing that everyone is walking their own spiritual or religious path and “agree to disagree” on their differences in order to maintain the relationship.
Yet others on the show, especially actor Ben Affleck, pushed back seeing that Maher and Harris’ position was condemning all who believe in Islam without regard for the differences in how people interpret the provisions of their faith. Their position was that those Islamists who promote violence based on certain aspects of their teachings are a minority and we can’t condemn an entire religion based on this group’s extreme beliefs. Yes, let’s never condone any acts of violence in the name of religious faith and hold the perpetrators responsible for their acts, but let’s not conflate their misguided acts to judge an entire religion. I would agree with that.
This debate hit home for me due to two recent personal experiences…..
First, I have been in conversation with two friends who live in Islamic countries and who are members of the organization Centers for Spiritual Living with whom I work. As we discussed their spiritual activities, both expressed concern about the challenges of being non-Muslim in a Muslim country. Both indicated that you could inadvertently bring negativity to you if you were “too visible” in your spiritual faith.
Secondly, I found myself in a recent discussion with a good friend around what they saw as the “evils of Islam”. His position which he says he came to “after studying the religion for many years”, was that certain aspects of the faith are so steeped in distrust and hatred of others that they could not be overlooked by non-Muslims. His belief was that the goal of Islam was world domination and control of all religious faith. He believed that that there ultimately was no room for peaceful co-existence. There may be some of you who are reading this and believe the same.
However, I disagreed with his overall take and in our conversation attempted to make the following points:
Basic aspects of our major religions were codified around 2000 years ago and the rules that were put in place were written for a different time in our human history. Yes, there are aspects of the Koran (or the Bible for that matter) that when they are extracted and attempted to be literally applied in our modern times, are harsh and obviously inappropriate.
That all humans are evolving through a sequence of worldviews, a lens by which they look at life. Each worldview is a product of the individual’s life conditions. Based on things such as our education, country, culture, family, and so on, we settle into a particular outlook which guides us for most of our lives. Although our life conditions can change and we can “evolve” further in our viewpoint, by adulthood most of our mindsets are firmly established.
Currently, we have large numbers of people in our modern times who are living side by side with different worldviews. There are four different worldviews at play here in our conflicts between the western world and Islam.
The dire circumstances at hand in many areas of the middle east have led many individuals to be stuck in what is considered an egocentric “power Gods” worldview. Here the outlook is that the world is about “haves” and “have nots” and the goal is to be in the first group at all costs. You want to be the one with the power and you will fight and die for such without any sense of guilt. Violence is an accepted part of life. Except for some gang activity, not too many people in the western world are “stuck” in this viewpoint.
People evolve out of that worldview into one of becoming a “traditionalist”. The fundamentalists in any of our religions who believe in a literal reading of their religious books (be it Islam or Christianity) hold this “traditional” worldview. The goal is order, stability, fairness, adherence to rules and deferring immediate gratification for a later reward. Although this is a natural stage through which people evolve in their consciousness, there are many in the middle east as well as the west who are mired into this mental framework. They are alike in their belief structure but differ in the details of “what they believe”. Fundamentalists of Islam and Christianity (and any other belief system) are exhibiting the same way of seeing the world, they are just holding different books offering different rules to follow.
If the conditions are right, traditionalists evolve into the rational-modern viewpoint. Life is about rational thinking and the scientific method and then using these tools to create better technology and wealth. Our goal should be to create better and better stuff and the personal accumulation of more and more of it. There are many in the middle east and the west who are obviously at this stage of development. The desire of both sides to control the oil supplies to fuel our material growth certainly comes into play here. But in regards to religion, this is where we begin to see people either leave their religion seeing it as an old superstition or they only give it token acknowledgement in their lives seeing it as only important so as to position them better in society for their continued wealth accumulation.
Yet, there is another level—the post modern cultural creative worldview—that comes into the consciousness of those who evolve beyond the modern viewpoint. Life is not about wealth accumulation, it becomes more about our relationships and valuing one another. Yet, there is a return to an appreciation for spirituality. At this level one begins to see that even though it has given us great gifts there are limits on materialism. Life is not about manipulation and control and gathering up more “stuff”, there are deeper questions of meaning that need to be pursued.
And, there are even further and higher levels of consciousness in our evolutionary journey–frequently termed “second tier” or “integral”—where we begin to see this entire evolutionary sequence and to value how it has served our individual and collective growth.
Therefore, instead of condemning Islam in total, our efforts should be on changing the conditions in the middle east to allow more Muslims to grow through these worldviews in their natural sequence. If the standards of living and education were improved, then (in my opinion) Muslims would evolve in both their consciousness and in their expression of Islam. The unfortunate unintended consequence of ongoing war is that the life conditions remain such that many have difficulty growing beyond the lower worldviews.
Although my friend liked my optimism, he did not share it. He ultimately believed–as Bill Maher appears to believe–that the “rules of the religion” would never allow its believers to evolve beyond a fundamentalist viewpoint. Both seem to believe that our only hope for a peaceful and prosperous future is if act to limit the influence of Islam. I have to hope that they are wrong. I have to hope that a natural uplifting of the conditions of that area of the world would better serve us collectively. Yes, we have to deal effectively and appropriately with those who act violently—but let’s not stop there. We must work to improve the standard of living for everyone and allow our natural evolution of consciousness to take its course.
I am not alone in my hope and intentions for the area. Obviously, my “worldview evolutionary” description is embedded in the concepts of both Spiral Dynamics and Integral Theory. One of my heroes, Don Beck, was instrumental in working towards the end of apartheid in South Africa and now expends great effort working with others (including his colleague, Elza Maalouf) to address the conflicts in the middle east employing Spiral Dynamics evolutionary ideas. (If Bill Maher wanted to consider a different take on the debate, he should have Don or Elza on his program!) In addition, the website Integral Life published a take on this Bill Maher debate that shares my viewpoint over what is needed in this situation.
There are also many website articles and op-ed pieces about this debate one can read if you choose to do a quick search….yet one that I resonated with was the commentary by CNN host Fareed Zakaria who acknowledges that there is too much violence perpetrated in the name of Islam but our actions should not be to condemn the entire religion.
So what are we each called to do here that would move our world towards a positive and peaceful future? Yes, I think we would all agree that those who commit acts of violence should be held accountable for their crimes. But beyond that, I would suggest that we all consider the following:
- Become aware of our own worldview and how it impacts our judgments and actions concerning Islam and all religions. (Yes, a modern rational viewpoint such as Maher’s may lead one to saying that we all need to band together to point out the flaws in the teachings of Islam in hopes that the religion will “go away” along with all things that are “irrational”. Yes, a post-modernist may hold back from criticizing certain religious teaching out of concerns that they may offend someone’s faith.)
- Become aware that there are other worldviews and that they each have validity for the life conditions of the person who holds them. We don’t have to agree with them….and we never condone violence. (We can all honor –no matter what our worldview– that Islam and all religions have served to give meaning to individuals navigating life, yet we can also hold firm boundaries towards fundamentalists actions that mistreat others in the name of those faiths.)
- Become aware that a more appropriate response to the differences is to peacefully meet people where they are and to lovingly and kindly treat each other with dignity and respect while simultaneously working to lift up the life conditions (standard of living, education, peaceful environment, etc) for all. The more we can work towards everyone meeting their basic needs (think Maslow’s hierarchy’s lower levels), the more we can facilitate the natural evolutionary process and allow the consciousness of the planet to reach higher levels. (We can all seek to stop the endless war and support initiatives that improve lives. One example of such an initiative is the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.)
- Take action in your sphere of influence to become a peaceful change agent that acts from this awareness.
We can end our polarization on this issue and move the planet in a positive direction.