Decoding Human Consciousness


Decoding Human Consciousness
Michael H. Ducey, Ph.D.


Sunday Morning: Aspects of Urban Ritual (New York, The Free Press, 1977)

Outgrowing Catholicism (Madison, Wisconsin, The Windhover Press, 1990)

Millard: How does one start on the path?

Trungpa: Make friends with oneself. Start sitting.1

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Truth of Trauma


Chapter One: How I Got Here
Chapter Two: Secularism Defined
Chapter Three: Damage
Chapter Four: Repair
Chapter Five: Two Kinds of Faith
Chapter Six: The Jesus Question


Chapter Seven: The Development of Spiritual life: Theory
Chapter Eight: The Development of Spiritual life: History


Chapter Nine:  The Mainstream Protestant Churches
Chapter Ten: Those Catholics!
Chapter Eleven: Evangelical Insurgency

Epilog:  Bishops and Children


Historical Note.

All religion, all the time, everywhere, is part of the first stage of trauma treatment for that pandemic trauma experienced by homo sapiens in our evolutionary climb out of our primitive animality.

The object of the exercise (religion) is the intuition of transcendence, which is our natural destiny.

So, for me, liturgical trance is not just a theory, it is personal experience. Anyone can duplicate this by visiting cathedrals, in person or photographically.  The vaulted ceiling as womb-recall. Incense, candles, chanting….. the expression “hocus pocus” comes from what the Latin words of consecration of the Eucharist (“Hoc est enim corpus meum.”) sounded like from back in the nave. (The rubric for that part of the Mass instructs the celebrant to pronounce the words in a loud whisper. In fact the whole performance of the Eucharist is meticulously and explicitly constructed for maximum theatrical effect.) “Saying Mass” (which I have done) is a distinct oxytocin input. Without that oxytocin input, the Catholic priesthood would be a completely unsustainable social phenomenon.

Think of the power of this device over the emotions of Europe for a thousand years.

However, now, we have better tools: contemporary techniques of trauma treatment. And of course, Buddhists have always known about the core practice: “Make friends with yourself. Start sitting.”



I want to explain why religion cannot possibly be the future of human consciousness, and why sensory self-observation is that future.

In the history of homo sapiens, religion has had the function of supporting the first stage of recovery from trauma. So, it is the past of human consciousness, but not its future. The first stage of trauma recovery requires stability and safety, and so sedative is an important part of it.

Three Stages.

In Trauma and Recovery, Judith Herman notes that there are three stages in the recovery from emotional trauma, and this where religion enters the picture.

The stages are physiologically grounded and so they always happen.

  1. Safety-Stability — stop the bleeding, restore boundaries, release tension , sadness, shock, rage, venting … the body starts to recover damaged emotional processes. Of great help at this stage of recovery (often even necessary) is the use of sedative. In emergency rooms, in cases of severe traumatization, sedatives are commonly used to prevent anaphylactic shock.
  2. Self-exploration, mourning — the body works on detecting specific emotional lesions and repairing losses. Practices such as meditation are classic forms of self-exploration. Herman notes that “the second most common error in trauma treatment is premature or precipitate engagement in self-exploration without sufficient attention to establishing safety and securing a therapeutic alliance.” (TR, 172.)
  3. Personality re-integration — as the body succeeds in repairing damages, new emotional pathways are established.

Traditional religion, as we will discuss at length below, is, historically, a Stage One treatment for the pandemic trauma experienced by homo sapiens.

Let me repeat, to emphasize. Stage One requires stability and safety and so a sedative is almost essential.  If humanity is to survive at all in those times when it is experiencing trauma on a massive scale, it must fashion an instrument that can stabilize its emotional condition.  For many centuries and everywhere on earth, religion provided this stabilizer.

To refine this point even further, the best historical-cultural research I know of finds that all cultures of all time have had an intuition of human transcendence.  My favorite scholar on this point is Eric Voegelin (1901-1978)  In that inimitable Germanic way, he embarked on telling this whole story in a six-volume work called Order and History.

In the middle of this project, he found that he had to abandon his initial hypothesis, that the emergence of this intuition would be chronological. Earlier civilizations would not have it. Only later societies would have it.

By the end of Volume 2 of Order and History he realized that this was completely wrong. This intuition is found everywhere in recorded history.

And so, in the introduction to volume 3 he described the human situation:

“The In-Between [i.e., between time and eternity] of experience has a dead point from which the symbols [of ultimate values] emerge as the exegesis of its truth but which cannot become  itself an object of propositional knowledge. …… Unless precautions of meditative practice are taken, the doctrinization of symbols is liable to interrupt the process of experiential reactivation and linguistic renewal. When the symbol separates from its source in the experiential Metaxy [Plato’s word for in-between] , the Word of  God can degenerate into a word of man that one can believe or not.” (The Ecumenic Age, 105.)

Doctrinization separated from its source is precisely the problem of organized religion. Doctrine becomes the sedative.

Furthermore, we now know

(a) that the “dead point……which cannot become itself an object of propositional knowledge” is exactly the kind of  information that exists in the right hemisphere of the human brain;

and (b) getting full access to the content of the right hemisphere involves introspection (hence “the precautions of meditative practice”).

“Our right human hemisphere is all about this present moment. It’s all about right here, right now. It thinks in pictures and it learns kinesthetically through the movement of our bodies. Information in the form of energy streams in simultaneously through all of our sensory systems, and then it explodes into this enormous collage of what this present moment looks like, what this present moment smells like, and tastes like, what it feels like, and what it sounds like. I am an energy being, connected to the energy all around me through the consciousness of my right hemisphere.” (Jill Bolte Taylor)

So, I have never been a “skeptic” or an atheist.  My personal spiritual roots were always introspective. This plus the findings of historical and cultural science have made me completely dismissive of the recent trend of rationalistic skepticism and atheism that has found its way onto American bestseller lists.  [Hitchens, Dennett, Dawkins, Harris] (Historically, atheism is complicated. It has often been a sensible reaction to religious authoritarianism and utterly stupid god-talk.) One of the culprits in this trend is the completely exclusionary left-hemisphere mental process of a certain form of science. The other culprit is the overwhelming left-hemisphere bias of American culture itself.

The trouble is that the left hemisphere’s far simpler world is self-consistent, because all the complexity has been sheared off – and this makes the left hemisphere prone to believe it knows everything, when it absolutely does not: it remains ignorant of all that is most important.

And of course, what is true of exclusively left-hemisphere science, is also true of left-hemisphere religion: religious doctrine divorced from religious experience. Neither form of consciousness experiences the fullness of human consciousness, and that fullness is the actual destiny of homo sapiens.  

Hawking’s Mistake

Stephen Hawking is obviously a very important human being.

I forget where he ended up: does time have a beginning or not? If it does, then creation is scientifically safe. But either way, physics and math are both left-brain activities, and our intuition of transcendence is the product of the right hemisphere of our brain, not the left. The left hemisphere cannot touch that intuition. So, even Hawking’s “theory of everything” is only a theory of almost everything. Apparently he ends up with the Law of Gravity as the source of everything. (But where does the Law of Gravity come from?)

I am not fond of the word “God”. It is the vehicle for so much crass stupidity. “God-talk” cannot keep up with our intuition of transcendence, because the right hemisphere of the brain produces pure experience, and no amount of talk can duplicate that.

I see that the “professional” discussion of these issues is now ruled by “atheists” (Harris, Dawkins, Dennet, Hitchens). On the one hand, they are all completely asinine, and on the other hand, they cannot influence anyone with an active right hemisphere. So the moral landscape is safe.

The Hebrews had the right idea. They said “Thou shalt not take the name of Y H W H.” That name was Yahweh (the present participle of the verb “to be” = “Being”.) Whenever those consonants came up in the Torah, they substituted “Adonai” or “Elohim” for Yahweh. So, the Hebrews understood that the intuition of transcendence is a product of the right hemisphere of our brain.  So they said, “Do not try to talk about God.”

Gautama the Buddha also got it right. He said that to discover reality, “Cease the chatter of the mind.” Only our left hemisphere chatters.

Our four reigning atheists do not get that.

For me, that makes it time to get very quiet, and contemplate the state of human consciousness around here.




I was born into a middle-class Irish Catholic family in Chicago in 1933, the sixth of seven children.  My childhood was marked by the garden-variety traumas of the parenting practices of the time. Absorbing the consequent neuroses, I joined the Jesuits at age nineteen, went to India as a missionary at age twenty-six, and had an identity crisis at age thirty-three which got me out of the Jesuits and the church.

Looking back, I can now identify seven transition points in my own trauma recovery process.

  1. In 1963 I was studying theology in the Jesuit seminary near the town of Kurseong in India. The location is in the Himalayas at an altitude of about 7,700 feet, about 20 miles from the famous British military resort of Darjeeling. Incredible scenery. In what I remember as my very first formal class in New Testament exegesis, Fr. Herman Volkaert, S.J., had us read to ourselves John 20, 19: “In the evening of that same day, the first day of the week, the doors were closed in the room where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews. Jesus came and stood in their midst.” Then he shouted at us, “What happened?” (In his manner of teaching, as I recall, he did a lot of shouting.) In the moment of that question and the discussion that followed, I realized that all I had been previously taught about Christianity was superficial and lame. I was 30 years old at the time and had been in the Jesuits for 11 years. But it was only at that moment that something shifted in my body, and I realized that Jesus was part of a reality that was open-ended and mysterious.

The shift was so subtle that I had no language for it at the time. I did not acquire language for it until about 25 years later. In that interval I did not even seek language for it. I just lived my life according to its impact. Only when I started working on my book Outgrowing Catholicism in 1987 did I go back into my memory banks to see if I could account for the steps in my life’s process. When I did that, I realized right away that that moment in 1963 had been a crucial turning point. Even in 1987 the language I had for it was crude. I could only say that “something shifted in my body.”

Now that I know much more about the workings of the body, the neurology of emotions, and the brain, I realize that the shift that occurred in 1963 was an awakening of the connection to the right hemisphere of my brain.

Our right human hemisphere ….. learns kinesthetically through the movement of our bodies. Information in the form of energy streams in simultaneously through all of our sensory systems, and then it explodes into this enormous collage of what this present moment looks like, what this present moment smells like, and tastes like, what it feels like, and what it sounds like. (Jill Bolte Taylor, 208 TED talk.)

Fr. Volkaert pointed out that obviously, from the text, the body of Jesus that John reported on was not exactly the same kind of body that I have. The text is very clear: the doors of the room were closed. (I remember him asking the class in the discussion, “Do you have a body like that?”) In order to answer the question, I had to do a somatic scan. So this was the moment in time when I started to recover my body. It was the moment when I started to realize that I was in the Jesuits because of disembodied images playing in my head (i.e., neo-cortex), and that if I listened to my body, I could not stay in that social location. But this “realization” was not verbal at that time. There was no actual conversation with myself. The realization was entirely somatic, and it was nascent. I only began tentatively to think differently. It took another three full years before I consciously decided to leave the Jesuits.

  1. Three years later, on the eve of my actual departure from the Jesuits, I got to the point where I knew I was going to leave, and so I planned out the day when I would stop saying my daily morning Mass. On that day I went to the chapel where I had been doing it, in order to see what, if any, emotional reaction I would have. I was prepared for a twinge of sadness or guilt. But what actually did happen was quite different. I stood there and looked at the little altar, the chalice, the vestments and missal that I was never going to use again, and what went through me was a gentle but definite feeling of relief. It was actually quite startling. It was as if my body was releasing toxins it had been holding on to all my life. This took place in St. Stanislaus Retreat House in Parma, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland. The time was December 1966.

(A few years later, when I was experimenting with hallucinogenic drugs, I did have the experience of my body actually releasing chemical toxins when I was coming down from an acid trip. The LSD on the market in those days was often lightly laced with strychnine. I remember standing on the third floor back landing of the house on Wrightwood Avenue in Chicago, looking out the little square window across the frost-laden garage roofs of Chicago back yards in the early morning light of All Saints Day (the day after an all-night hippie Halloween party). We had been up all night. I had taken the acid about twelve hours previously. I was now near the end of the “coming down” cycle. I felt a slight shiver through my whole body as the level of strychnine released another notch. And the thought passed through my mind, “Why, this is exactly what I felt that morning at St. Stan’s when I said goodbye to the altar.”)

I have since concluded that the practice of saying Mass is a trance-induction technique that induces a state of dissociation from the body. This eases traumatic pain but also dulls the generic body sense that is mediated by the reptilian brain. It mobilizes the endogenous opioids.



Throughout history, human beings have made running away from trauma imprints a custom deeply embedded in everyday life. Culture itself is escapist. Escape is one of the things we human beings do best together. It fuels the economy. But more basic still than drugs are simpler practices: occupation, illusion and trance. Think of elevator music. Think of prime-time television. Think of “keeping busy.” The research psychologist Charles Tart refers to culture as “consensus trance” and “the sleep of everyday life”. The escape function of culture is so important that we can state it as a principle: the conspiracy of culture is to escape trauma imprints. Trance is, quite simply: selective awareness. The items we most want NOT to be aware of are our internal injuries:  trauma imprints.

We are all traumatized. We are all in recovery.

  1. In the 1980s I was investigating the offerings of “New Age” therapeutic workshops. In three separate events I had a series of powerful introspective insights, what psychologists would call the release of childhood memories, in which certain garden-variety moments of trauma in my early life came to the surface of my consciousness. Each of these experiences had its own grounding and completing effect on my life. Each of them contributed towards a more secure sense of my self. Each of them reduced the areas of my body and the areas of my brain that were numbed by habitually mobilized opioids.
  2. During this period of time I embarked upon the project of writing out the whole story of my experience with Catholicism. This resulted in a book called Outgrowing Catholicism — A Study. A Practical Guide. A Personal Reflection. The writing of this book was extremely cathartic for me, but it only analyzed the break-down of the old belief system. It did not offer anything to put in its place. As a religion editor at Doubleday tersely put it in turning down my manuscript, “You have to give them something.” So I ended up having to publish it myself. I sent out review copies and in the end sold a few hundred books. The rest have been consigned to a public dumpster in Chicago. (But the text is still available on this web site.) The book was a commercial disaster, but a therapeutic success. I got my past out of my system.
  3. When I finished writing Outgrowing Catholicism, I realized that now indeed it was time for me to focus fully on learning more about my body. This was in 1991. It so happened that I encountered at that moment a woman by the name of Kay Ortmans, who was then 84 years old, and had been teaching body awareness for over fifty years. She is well-known in bodyworking circles for her seminars conducted over many years at The Wellsprings Foundation in Ben Lomond, California in the Santa Cruz mountains. In 1991 she was living in semi-retirement in Madison, Wisconsin, where I was, but was still taking students, giving massages, and holding small workshops.

I ended up studying with Kay for two years. She and her followers and other students gave me my apprenticeship in the workings of somatic energy. I spent hundreds of hours assisting and giving and receiving bodywork, in movement workshops and free-associational drawing, all to the accompaniment of classical music. At the end of that training I moved back to the Chicago area (in 1992).

  1. In Chicago I discovered other methods of bodywork and the whole emerging field of trauma treatment. My first teachers were the trainers of Hakomi Integrative Somatics, originally created by Ron Kurtz and Pat Ogden. Their work endures to this day, but has changed its name more than once.

Trauma treatment turned out to be the mature destination of my recovery from religion. My work with Kay Ortmans quickly became transitional once I discovered that.


Contemporary Clinical Trauma Treatment

  1. The neuro-science of the brain.

It was only in about 2009 that I discovered the neuro-science of the hemispheres of the brain. My two main sources for this were (a) the 2008 TED video of Jill Bolte Taylor, a neuro-anatomist who survived a stroke that incapacitated her left hemisphere, and finally recovered enough to give a step-by-step description of her experience. My second source was The Master and His Emissary by British psychiatrist, Lain McGilchrist.

Here are two brief excerpts:

“The world of the left hemisphere, dependent on denotative language and abstraction, yields clarity and the power to manipulate things that are known, fixed, static, isolated, decontextualized, explicit, general in nature, but ultimately lifeless. The right hemisphere, by contrast, yields a world of individual, changing, evolving, interconnected, implicit, incarnate, living beings within the context of the lived world, but in the nature of things never fully graspable, never perfectly known, and to this world it exists in a certain relationship. The knowledge that is mediated by the left hemisphere is, however, in a closed system. It has the advantage of perfection, but the perfection is bought ultimately at the price of emptiness.”


So who are we? We are the life-force power of the universe with manual dexterity and two cognitive minds and we have the power to choose moment by moment who and how we want to be in the world. Right here and right now I can step into the consciousness of my right hemisphere where we are, I am, the life-force power of the universe, the fifty trillion beautiful molecular geniuses that make up my form, at one with all that is. Or, I can choose to step into the consciousness of my left hemisphere, where I become a single individual, a solid, separate from the flow, separate from you … These are the we inside of me.

It is no wonder, then, that the “cease the chatter of the mind” of Gautama has lasted for 2,500 years as a path to “enlightenment”. Only the left hemisphere of our brain “chatters”. In traditional Zen, they say that the practice of meditation is about “doing nothing”. In Revisionist Zen, we say that meditation is about having the left hemisphere of your brain do nothing. We shut down the left hemisphere. We stop thinking, and engage only in experiencing. Experience leads us to becoming aware of all the energy transactions going on in our body all the time. It is an intense form of being awake. [See my video: – “21st Century Zen”]

[And, looking back to 1963, I now realize that at the moment when Fr. Volckaert asked us, “Do you have a body like that?”, the right hemisphere of my brain kicked in. This is because only the right hemisphere has access to all the energy transactions going on in the body, not the left. I now call this event “hemisphere-switching”, but I am saying this 50 years after that event took place. 50 years!]



 In Europe, “secularism” is the second phase in the historical process of recovery from trauma that humans must engage in.

The first phase was the Christianity of Europe: (a) a sedative, and (b) authoritarian. The cathedrals and the Eucharist were the genius sedatives that saved the sanity of Europe for a thousand years.

Then, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, a transition occurred. This was the rejection of churches, i.e., the beginning of “secularism”. The Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 was the event that ratified this transition.

People had reached the point in their recovery from trauma when they wanted to do two things: (1) modify their sedative and (2) explore human consciousness more fully. So, this gave rise to many different forms of Christianity, to science, and to political regimes that professed to be guided by “reason”, what Thomas Hobbes called the imperium rationis.

So, secularism is not a particular philosophical position proposed by some individual thinker, as some would propose [E.g., Charles Taylor]. It is that whole process of exploration of human consciousness that began in Europe about 400 years ago, rejecting the authority of churches and embarking on the unfettered exploration of human consciousness.  It was, and still is, a process of trial and error, and it has now, finally, come to fruition in a method of self-exploration that does full justice to the nature of human nature.

So, there can be secular theists as well as secular humanists. There can even be secularists who think that Jesus of Nazareth is the incarnation of the second person of the blessed trinity while at the same time discarding all church affiliation and practice.

Given the sedative function of religion, we should not be surprised that in history it has regularly been the vehicle for unthinkable violence. In fact, religious fanaticism is commonplace in human affairs rather than exceptional. So, any religious fanaticism now remaining in the world is simply a cultural holdover. We would expect to find it in isolated social or geographic pockets where modern global institutions of education and commerce have not reached. In societies characterized by harsh child-rearing practices in support of a warrior culture, everyone is afraid of their unconscious.

One segment of conventional wisdom today says that secularism is some form of spiritual decline. But if we look at its actual history, I think we find that it is a form of spiritual growth. This would be in support of Ken Wilber’s position:

I agree with sociologists in general that the course of modern development is marked by increasing rationalization. What perhaps distinguishes my viewpoint from other spiritually sympathetic theorists is that I believe the trend of rationalization per se is necessary, desirable, appropriate, phase-specific and evolutionary. It is therefore perfectly religious in and by itself (no matter how apparently secular): an expression of increasingly advanced consciousness and articulated self-awareness that has as its final aim, and itself contributes to, the resurrection of Spirit-Geist.31

I propose that the essence of secularism is precisely this choice of conscience over religious authority as the vehicle to guide the quest for ultimate fulfillment.

It is clear that in the fourth century of the Christian era — the time of St. Augustine of Hippo — the consensual choice of western culture was for religious authority.  In the time of the Protestant Reformation, the choice was for individual conscience.

How did this happen? Clearly, in the thousand years between the two decisions, some growth in emotional maturity took place.

And indeed, gods must die that men may live and grow. Image-breaking is no less a part and parcel of human life and history than image-making; it is also no less part and parcel of man’s religion, and no less essential to it. For the fixed image evokes the fixed stare, the fixed loyalty which may blind man’s vision to the claims of further and wider loyalties, and so paralyze the human spirit and crush its inherent will to advance and to venture. The painful recognition of the clay feet of old idols is indispensable to human growth; it is also indispensable to the emergence of more appropriate figures for human awe, devotion and service. This is the inexorable law of growth both in the individual and the group.32

[This 1952 book, God and The Unconscious, is by a Dominican priest trained in Jungian psychology.]



The recent history of China has shown us how important it was that the secularism of Europe was decentralized. If self-exploration is to work, it must be allowed to operate freely. In China at the time of the Communist revolution, religion came to be suppressed in an authoritarian manner. Mao claimed that “Marxism-Leninism” was more than enough to replace religion. In Maoism we have a prime example of secular violence as opposed to religious violence.

It has only been sixty years since the imposition of that policy, but now we are seeing that it is showing signs of collapse. Twenty years ago there was the suppression of the Falun Gong, a native Chinese form of introspection. The leaders were arrested and public performances forbidden, but it is not at all clear that the practice was eliminated. Furthermore, there are now reports that Christianity, Buddhism, Confucianism, a cult of the thought of Chairman Mao and other experiments with self-development are gaining substantial numbers of practitioners.

The problem, as many view it, is that China’s one-dimensional pursuit of prosperity has destroyed the emotional bonds of community.

Such a development would fit the view of human nature as needing to explore the self in order to find the self.  An exclusive program for handling this issue cannot succeed. This is as true for Marxism-Leninism as it is for the Papacy.

So, in China, secularism has been a step backward in trauma recovery, and it will have to retrace its steps to move forward.

The Birth of Secularism

For centuries in Europe, through the hegemony of the Papacy over the emotional and cultural lives of the whole continent, “faith” had been the ultimate arbiter of reality. It was of course a sectarian faith, a stage-specific faith [See the stages chart, and the discussion in Chapter 7.], but as Robert Bellah noted, it had a noble and important evolutionary function. Rome’s evolutionary task — as the caretaker of one of the “historic religions” that appeared on this planet three to four thousand years ago — was to preserve the “discovery of the self” that was still at its early stages, and thus “increase the freedom of personality and society relative to the environing conditions”:

At each stage of religious evolution the freedom of personality and society has increased relative to the environing conditions. Freedom has increased because at each successive stage the relation of man to the conditions of his existence has been conceived as more complex, more open and more subject to change and development. The distinction between conditions that are really ultimate and those that are alterable becomes increasingly clear though never complete.

The historic religions discovered the self; the early modern religion found a doctrinal basis on which to accept the self in all its empirical ambiguity; modern religion is beginning to understand the laws of the self’s own existence and so to help man take responsibility for his own fate.33

However, by the end of the fifteenth century, the rule of the Papacy in Europe was in the final stage of a parent-like arrangement between a clerical elite centered in Rome and an increasingly powerful middle class festering with unfulfilled and legitimate desires to control their own destinies. And so, when Martin Luther posted his Ninety-Five Theses on the cathedral door in Wittenberg in 1517, that was not some isolated event coming out of the blue, but just the spark that ignited a flame ready to burn in a climate of widespread discontent with Roman rule. It quickly became a cultural and political event that tore Europe in half.

Within twenty years Protestantism was the dominant religion in northern Germany, Scandinavia and the Low Lands, in the traditionally independent enclaves of Bohemia and several of the Swiss Cantons, and a powerful minority in France. Italy and Spain remained Roman Catholic. Issues of conscience became embroiled with politics and economics, and the use of military might came into play. Independence was the cause of the day, and physical violence was the instrument of choice. The Holy Roman Emperor Charles V wanted to retain the commerce and wealth of the Netherlands. The burghers of Amsterdam and Ghent wanted to keep their own books. The royal families of the Habsburgs and the Bourbons eyed each other’s power bases with lethal competitiveness, et cetera and et cetera.

All hell had broken loose and in the chaos that ensued, the spiritual leadership of Europe shifted quietly, momentously over from the church to the state. The shift was decisive and consensual. It was clear to the preponderance of the population at that time that “faith” was no longer a viable instrument of peace and justice. There was something about “faith” that was just too outrageously violent to govern the human condition.

The shift from a “one truth” culture in Europe to pluralism started with the Lutherans’ Confession of Augsburg in 1530. The right to practice the new orthodoxy was gained in several regional Diets in the next two decades and finally agreed to by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V in the Peace of Augsburg in 1555. In that treaty, the Emperor agreed that religious practices would be those determined by local secular authorities (cuius regio, ejus religio). This was at the same time decentralization and secularization.

But the Peace of Augsburg applied only to the territories within the Holy Roman Empire. It did not apply to France or the Low Lands. There followed another hundred years of simmering local warfare, persecution and generally bad behavior that culminated in the large-scale hostilities of the Thirty Years War (1618-1648). When the (Protestant) nationalist enthusiasts of Prague defenestrated the officials of Ferdinand II, the major military maneuvers began. They were long and tiring and expensive. Probably 300,000 people died violent or untimely deaths in Germany in the next thirty years. The collective psyche of the continent was suitably impressed. In the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, they returned to the arrangements of Augsburg, reinforced and expanded them, and the modern nation-state was born, with ultimate control over public human behavior.

This was a transfer of spiritual control. Religion is now “private”, not public. When you transfer the control of behavior from the court of faith to the court of reason, you are transferring spiritual control as well. For, as an extremely contemporary commentator observes: “The essence of churches continues to be ‘the Word’ — the teachings, the beliefs and the discourse, and the behavior that arises from them.”34

So, it was in this manner that the institution of “secularism” was born. Therefore, from 1648 forward secularism is not some sort of competitive idea jousting with faith in the marketplace of meaning for control of the minds of men. It is rather the law of the land. You can publish tracts and produce television shows to your heart’s content, but in modern Western society, you better not cross a certain line of respect for the freedom of others or you will find yourself in court, in jail, in “trouble.” And by the way, when you are in this kind of trouble, you are out of the forward flow of history.

But the arrangement of Westphalia was not a finely tuned finished product. It was rather a pretty rough-cut piece of work, a kind of historical lurch forward prompted by massive disruption and pain, rather than a confident step forward fully thought-out and packaged. So, there was still much work to be done in sorting out the claims of faith and the claims of reason over the hearts and minds of men.

That sorting out still goes on, but it is the only game being played on the field. The field itself is secularist, and so are the referees and the rule book. It could not be any other way. If the human race is to come to spiritual maturity, it has to learn by doing. If one views the history of Western civilization for the past four centuries as the story of Reason discovering its limitations, I think many things fall into place.

The Limits of Sectarian Faith

The paradox of religion is that it is both inquisitive and repressive with respect to human interiority. It seeks emotional/spiritual depth and is terrified of it. Insofar as it is repressive, sectarian faith will always have the two-fold problem of a tendency towards violence and lack of self-awareness. The tendency towards violence comes from the repressed anger left over from childhood. This anger also shows up as various forms of extreme boundary-setting between the in-group and out-groups: techniques of intolerance, shunning and self-separation.

The lack of self-awareness comes from the fact that the unconscious is, unfortunately, unconscious. Religious orthodoxy is a defense mechanism. It helps suppress unconscious fear and anger. But of course it would not be a useful defense mechanism if it did not successfully suppress. So, people with positions of religious orthodoxy inevitably have things going on inside themselves that they cannot see.

Thus, even though religionists speak of God and grace and altruism, the judicious observer knows they cannot be trusted because they are not aware of their own unconscious fears and anger. The way this plays out on the stage of politics and social governance is that even though their language is bathed in transcendent innocence — in fact because their language is so adorned — they have a deep and abiding commitment to the social deployment of a central feature of their psyches, the control mechanisms of the super-ego. Their political stances tend to be rigid, and when they get political power, they do not manage freedom well.

The early twentieth century Catholic jurist Carl Schmitt saw in the Catholic Church a structural model for a connection between internal spiritual life and external social life. He thought that this was a better model for conducting human affairs than what he saw as the Protestant model of religion as separated from public life, Protestant “inwardness.” However, even though he liked the Catholic Church as a structural model because it connected inwardness with social behavior, he was equally clear that he did not like it as a de facto ruler. When the Catholic thinker Josef Pieper once asked him why he never spoke of the bonum commune, Schmitt responded, “Anyone who speaks of the bonum commune is intent on deception.” And in his work entitled Political Theology he says, “Everyone agrees that when antagonisms appear within a state, every party wants the general good — therein resides after all the bellum omnium contra omnes.”35

Furthermore, “religious” thinkers such as Pieper never get this. They always seem to be completely convinced of their own innocence and good will, which is why Pieper could ask Schmitt that question. But what Schmitt is saying is that sectarian religion always has hidden agendas, and it would be fatal for the state to forget that.

So the secularist judgment of religion on the social and political level is that it is simply too controlling, too rigid, too unaware of self and therefore too prone to violence to be trusted to govern society. The secularist judgment of religion on the individual level is that it is too controlling and rigid psychodynamically to permit emotional (i.e., spiritual) growth. The pragmatic political judgment is grounded in the intuitive personal judgment. A few decades without warfare were enough to stabilize the political arrangement, but it took a widely distributed positive self-regard to make the arrangement stable over centuries.

The Limits of Reason

If the problem of religion is that it shuts down the unconscious too much and trusts the ego too little, the problem of the rule of reason was, when it first came on the scene, that it was naïve about the power of the unconscious and trusted the ego too much. But now that we have come about four hundred years along under the regime of reason, we are older and wiser.

The choice to end the rule of sectarian faith was originally a pragmatic political judgment made by the native good will and intelligence of hereditary princes at the end of the Thirty Years War, in this case the Habsburgs Charles V and Ferdinand III (at Augsburg and Westphalia respectively). No “religious genius” here; just native human pragmatism.

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the shift in political principle in Europe was identified as the imperium rationis by Thomas Hobbes, and the realm of an objective reason “beyond theology” by Hegel. The 1700s were a kind of honeymoon of reason for Europe. The American colonies were being developed. Voyages of discovery were circling the globe. Science was making great discoveries.

But the darker energies of the European unconscious were not gone. They were expressed in the extra-punitive exercises of colonialism as well as periodic warfare. But these activities did nothing to prevent the rise of a self-conscious congratulatory episode called “the Enlightenment”. Its confidence in the power of reason to solve all problems turns out to have been naïve, of course, but that does not make the shift any less necessary historically.

During the past four centuries, rationalists and theologians have had great fun speaking ill of one another. Clearly many secularists had authoritarian religious parents whose rejection they never overcame, and theologians had the same kind of parents, with whom they then identified. And there seemed to be general agreement that “reason” is non-religious or even “anti-religious.” Thus the term “secular humanism” arose as one of those polemical buzzwords that has no analytic depth, and therefore has no significant meaning beyond its evocation of repressed emotions.

But if we keep the bigger picture in focus, we only have to note that now, four hundred years into the process, we know that the choice of freedom from sectarian faith was seriously risky. In making this comment we should also note that at this point in the discussion we are at the heart of the matter.

For the question inside the comment is: how do human beings grow spiritually? The answer is: by engaging more and more of the unconscious. For holiness is wholeness. That is to say, wholeness is holiness. Wholeness is all there is.

This is the statement of a theist who sees the completion of the human spirit in the ineffable communion with the ground of all our being. When you are “whole”, you get everything, including the temporariness of time, the ebb and flow of history, the necessity of staying involved in the dialog of civilization, the historical reality of Jesus, etc., etc., etc.

There is always risk in making the choice for growth. There is the possibility of substantial pain in taking on an unconscious filled with the repressed emotions left there by harsh child-rearing practices. There is also the possibility of corrosive narcissism in the escape from overbearing parental authority. And so, as one leaves the safety of the controls provided by traditional religion, one is faced with the task of designing new tools to manage the unconscious. It turns out that this is not easy. There are many mistakes to be made along the way. However, there is also no choice. The whole process is driven by the central spiritual drive of the human organism.

So, the history of secularism is a history of seeking, of mistakes, and I would argue, of ultimate success. I would make the argument that the history of the last four hundred years, since the break-up of the Augustinian Arrangement [See Chapter 8], is a testament to the frailty, yes, but also the ultimate validity of the native human spirit. If we track the efforts to promote freedom and equality during that time, I think we will find that it was pragmatic secularists rather than religionists who doggedly, inventively and successfully pursued their establishment in human life.

Nones and Others

Surveys of religious affiliation in the USA in the 1990s kept track of “Nones” or “Others”. These are the secularists. “Nones” and “Others” grew from about 3 percent of the population in 1955 to about 13 percent in 1995. As the National Opinion Research Center said:

During this same period the proportion without any religious affiliation has also been rising. While the net trend has been upwards at about .0014-.0027 per annum, it has not been a simple, monotonic increase and has varied by house. The number without religion appears to have dipped from the late forties to the late fifties before increasing until the mid 1970s. From then to the present the proportion None has apparently remained constant. Signs of a large and growing segment of token religionists or of the unchurched are limited.

Overall these indicators provide at best mixed support for the secularization hypothesis. The secularizing changes have been 1) small in magnitude, 2) intermittent in time, and 3) restrictive in scope. However, whenever there has been change, it has been in the secular direction. 36

Percentagewise and in actual numbers this is a significant increase. If we add to it the numbers of those who have experimented with alternative religious practices or who continuously experiment with them while still identifying socially with their traditional affiliation, then we have a group of Americans that is culturally very significant. It would not be too extreme to say that the “Nones” and “Others” in American society no longer represent some socially marginal group of oddballs, but are in fact a major religious grouping. And, this is something quite new in industrial society: a major, indigenous, growing religious grouping not from any traditional western religious tradition.

It is beyond my resources to write a spiritual history of the regime of reason. To do that would require examining the causes of the major spiritual successes and failures of the past 400 years. These would be failures such as colonialism, slavery, the Holocaust, Hiroshima-Nagasaki, and successes such as the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, the Gettysburg Address, the end of Apartheid, the International Red Cross and Amnesty International, to name but a few.

But there are many possible “case studies” of the learning curve of reason, as it wrestles with our unconscious awarenesses, and acts as the vehicle for the spiritual growth of the human race.  I have included one that covers the period from the end of World War I to the end of World War 2, a momentous learning period for humanity.


The Rise of the Nazis (1919-1947) 

 Where We Are Now

Religion has been successful at its twofold task, and so it has rendered its opiative function obsolete. The successor to religion in exploring human consciousness is secularism.

Under secularism, now, there is the possibility of positive self-regard, and “reason” has finally discovered how to heal the repressed.  Instead of going to church, we turn to science.  It has taken a while. Traumatized humanity sank into the pathology of the Holocaust in the mid-twentieth century on the way to a full understanding of itself.  Yet, because secularism relies on the native powers of the psyche instead of the artificial controls of religious trance-induction, it is the only system than can support the later stages of emotional development.  [See the discussion in Chapter 7.]

But, the sedating/regressing technologies for spiritual growth designed for the earlier stages of personality development are still in play.  Humans still do not know very much about hemisphere switching.  So, it is a time of confusion and anxiety.  For many people it is a loss of familiar and reliable reference points in the spiritual landscape that feels dangerous and threatening.


Is Richard John Neuhaus the Author of Just Another Popish Plot?



We are damaged in a way that makes self-study difficult.

Self-study was completely impossible for centuries.  So, religion invented brilliant trance-induction techniques.

We are coming to the end of that period of history.

The Swiss psychiatrist Alice Miller published three books in the 1970s (in German) and 1980s (in English) that developed the observation that child-rearing practices themselves regularly traumatize children.2 She uncovered very specific evidence in the form of nineteenth century German child-rearing manuals. For example she comments that:

In the mid-nineteenth century a man named Schreber, the father of a paranoid patient described by Freud, wrote a series of books on child-rearing. They were so popular in Germany that some of them went through forty printings and were translated into several languages. In these works it is stressed again and again that children should start being trained as soon as possible, even as early as their fifth month of life, if the soil is to be “kept free of harmful weeds”.3

Miller calls this “poisonous pedagogy”. A central feature of it is “the conviction that parents are always right and that every act of cruelty, whether conscious or unconscious, is an expression of their love.”4 She says that this claim of parental figures to unchallenged authority comes from unresolved experiences of their own childhood.

The pedagogical conviction that one must bring a child into line from the outset has its origin in the need to split off the disquieting parts of the inner self and project them onto an available object. The child’s great plasticity, flexibility, defenselessness, and availability make it the ideal object for projection.5

The first thing to note about this situation is that these child-rearing practices traumatize. Traumatic child-rearing leads to the split-self: “Splitting the human being into two parts, one that is good, meek, conforming and obedient and the other that is diametrically opposite.”6

How can it have come about that the split I have just described is attributed to human nature as a matter of course even though there is evidence that it can be overcome without any great effort of will and without legislating morality? The only explanation I can find is that these two sides are perpetuated in the way children are raised and treated at a very early age, and the accompanying split between them is therefore regarded as “human nature.” The “good” false self is regarded as the result of what is called socialization, of adapting to society’s norms, consciously and intentionally passed on by the parents; the “bad”, equally false self is rooted in the child’s earliest experiences of parental behavior, visible only to the child who is used as an outlet.7

Such practices also give rise to “the illusion of existential worthlessness”, which the British psychiatrist Michael Balint called “the basic fault”. Balint was trying to explain certain difficult cases he encountered in psychoanalysis. He came to the conclusion that “analytical work proceeds on at least two different levels, one familiar and less problematic, called the Oedipal level…”, and the other “…I propose to call the level of the basic fault.”8

The term “basic fault” does not refer to a moral condition and implies no guilt. It is a metaphor drawn from the physical sciences. “In geology and in crystallography the word fault is used to describe a sudden irregularity in the overall structure, an irregularity which in normal circumstances might lie hidden but, if strains and stresses occur, may lead to a break, profoundly disrupting the overall structure.”9

It shows up as an extremely painful “gap” in the deepest recess of the human psyche. It is a chasm, a crevice, an abyss, possibly of fearful darkness, into which the conscious ego is in danger of irretreivably falling. It projects out into the world as an array of binary oppositions, e.g., between self and other, we and they, sacred and profane, grace and nature, safe and dangerous, etc. Balint says of the patient’s emotions when aware of the basic fault:

The only thing that can be observed is a feeling of emptiness, being lost, deadness, futility and so on, coupled with an apparently lifeless acceptance of everything that has been offered. Everything is accepted…but nothing makes sense. ……Although highly dynamic, the force originating from the basic fault has the form neither of an instinct nor of a conflict. It is a fault, something wrong in the mind, a kind of deficiency which must be put right. It is not something damned up for which a better outlet must be found, but something missing either now, or perhaps for almost the whole of the patient’s life.10

Balint says that “…the origin of the basic fault may be traced back to a considerable discrepancy in the early formative stages of the individual between his bio-psychological needs and the material and psychological care, attention, and affection available during the relevant times.” 11 This is of course a reference to child-rearing practices.

This basic fault or something very much like it is undoubtedly the experiential foundation for the “original sin” of Christian theology. The theological doctrine of original sin turns an experiential defect into an ontological defect, a clear case of projection.

A short time before Balint’s work, there appeared a more popular description of the basic fault that has produced a slightly different language. It is The Aristos, a philosophical essay by the novelist John Fowles, first published in 1964. The Aristos is a literary rather than a scientific work. He speaks of the existence of the “nemo”.

…I believe each human psyche has a fourth element, which, using a word indicated by the Freudian terminology, I call the nemo. By this I mean not only `nobody’, but also the state of being nobody — `nobodiness’. In short, just as physicists now postulate an anti-matter, so must we consider the possibility that there exists in the human psyche an anti-ego. This is the nemo.12

Fowles expands for many pages on the manifestations of the nemo in personal, social and political life. Some examples:

7 The nemo is a man’s sense of his own futility and ephemerality; of his relativity, his comparativeness; of his virtual nothingness.
8 All of us are failures; we all die.
9 Nobody wants to be a nobody. All our acts are partly devised to fill or to mask the emptiness we feel at the core.
16 I can counter my nemo by conflicting; by adopting my own special style of life. I build up an elaborate unique persona, I defy the mass. I am the bohemian, the dandy, the outsider, the hippie.
37 I vote because not to vote represents a denial of the principle of right of franchise; but not because voting in any way relieves my sense that I am a pawn, and a smaller and smaller pawn, as the electorate grows. 13

The basic fault shows up in many accounts of spiritual life, but not all of them. It is “the dark night of the soul” in St. John of the Cross, “the shadow” in C. G. Jung, “the gap between subject and object” in D. W. Winnicott, “the nemo” in John Fowles, “the leap of faith” in Soren Kierkegaard, “the heart of darkness” in Joseph Conrad, “dread” in Jean Paul Sartre, and so on and so forth. In each case it is an experience of darkness, meaninglessness, isolation and self-worthlessness at the “center” of human experience.

But it does not show up in all spiritual literature. I do not find the basic fault in the works of Lao Tzu, classical Buddhism, the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, the biblical prophets or the four Gospels. It is however pervasive in popular culture, modern literature, the letters attributed to St. Paul, and the history of organized religion.

In recent years, especially since the First World War, there has arisen a body of scientific literature on the effects of trauma. We now know a lot about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. That knowledge is being applied to the diagnosis and treatment of military personnel, former prisoners of war, victims of torture, and victims of physical or sexual child abuse.

The level of trauma being treated in modern hospitals is obviously deeper than what is produced by child-rearing in the culture as a whole. That is why its symptoms stand out. However, the symptoms will be the same in both cases, except those due to cultural traumatization will be milder.

Dr. Judith Herman (Trauma and Recovery, 1997) gives this overview of those symptoms:14

It is a kind of fragmentation, whereby trauma tears apart a complex system of self-protection that normally functions in an integrated fashion. Abram Kardiner described the essential pathology of the combat neurosis in similar terms. When a person is overwhelmed by terror and helplessness, “the whole apparatus for concerted, coordinated and purposeful activity is smashed.” (p. 34)

The symptoms of PTSD fall into three main categories: hyperarousal, intrusion (the permanent imprint) and constriction (numbing). (p. 35) Pitman and van der Kolk suggest that trauma may produce long-lasting alterations in the regulation of endogenous opioids (endorphins), which are natural substances having the same effects as opiates within the central nervous system. (p. 44)

Traumatized people become adept practitioners of the arts of altered states of consciousness … dissociation, voluntary thought suppression, minimization , outright denial … Perhaps the best name for this complex array of mental maneuvers is doublethink (Orwell), “the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.” (p. 87)

The ability to hold contradictory beliefs is one characteristic of trance states. The ability to alter perception is another. Prisoners frequently instruct one another in the induction of these states through chanting, prayer and simple hypnotic techniques. (p. 87) These include the ability to form positive and negative hallucinations and to dissociate parts of the personality. (p. 88)

Alice Miller pointed to the evidence of “poisonous pedagogy” in child-rearing manuals in German, but not just one linguistic culture is at issue. The Germanic tribes were after all only one of the numerous groups that entered Europe from the steppe of Central Asia and became the forebears of all Caucasians. In The Chalice and the Blade (1987), Riane Eisler notes that the Kurgans replaced the Old Europeans in the second millenium before the Christian Era. The last surviving example of Old European culture was on Crete. Old European culture in the Bronze Age — starting around 8000 BCE — had a highly developed agricultural organization, female goddess figures, social planning and non-warlike economies. It was much more peaceful and comfortable than its successor cultures. Old European culture was matrilineal, but not matriarchal. It was a “partnership culture”.

Two salient characteristics of the Kurgan cultures were the centrality of violence in their economies and their pre-occupation with death. They were also of course patriarchal, highly stratified, practiced slavery, and subjugated women. The Old Europeans did not appear to make a very big deal about death, but the extremely elaborate funerary practices of the Kurgans — especially for their chiefs — expended great energy in trying to “overcome” death.

If the second millenium before the Christian era seems like a long time back to go to find the source of contemporary child-rearing practices, recall that World War I is generally conceded to express tribal hostilities that went back over a thousand years. So, 2000 BCE is not too far back to go, because child-rearing practices are the product of an evolutionary learning process, and cultural evolution, as we know, is quite slow compared to some other human processes.

Judith Herman notes that when Freud talked about childhood trauma in “The Etiology of Hysteria” in 1896, the effect on his colleagues and his culture was so dire that it prompted him to suppress the whole topic forthwith and never return to it in his lifetime. The whole idea of the presence of trauma in western culture had to be subsequently re-discovered three times before its existence was publicly acknowledged: (twice by Abram Kardiner, that is, after World War I and after World War II, and for the third time by Vietnam veterans and women working on issues of rape and domestic violence in the 1960s and 1970s).

This history powerfully suggests that childhood traumatization is indeed a regular feature of all cultures. Indeed, if we look at the symptomatology carefully, there is no reason to suspect that any cultures on the whole planet are free of this phenomenon.

Peter Levine (Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma, 1997) is one of the leaders in contemporary trauma research. He cites a study of aboriginal societies that finds that “societies that practiced close physical bonding and the use of stimulating rhythmic movement had a low incidence of violence. Societies with diminished or punitive physical contact with their children showed clear tendencies toward violence in the forms of rape, war, and torture.” He then adds:

The work of Dr. Prescott and others points to something we all know intuitively: that the time around birth and infancy is a critical period. Children assimilate the ways that their parents relate to each other and the world at a very young age. When parents have been traumatized, they have difficulty teaching their young a sense of basic trust. Without this sense of trust as a resource, children are more vulnerable to trauma.15

So, the Alice Miller finding is that we are all traumatized, and all prone to being dissociated. Miller herself says that in her clinical work, she came to the conclusion that “every perpetrator was once a victim.” This leads to the corollaries that terrorists are terrified and torturers are tortured. This is not to excuse. This is only to correctly diagnose, strategize and respond.

A Special Case: The Right-wing Personality

 So, human beings can be damaged. There is a special case of PTSD that occurs very early in life, and is the source of widespread damage. It shows up in politics in times of serious social stress. I call the condition: Early Emotional Stress Disorder (EESD). So, it is a special case of PTSD. Very special. It is the right-wing personality.

The first two years of life are crucially important for emotional health.

When we are newly born, we need a range of energy inputs. These are things like

(a) touch, contact with body warmth, being held lovingly. The larger, stronger body sends scannable physical signals to the smaller, weaker body.

(b) sound input: singing, cooing, lullabyes.

(c)  eye contact and facial mirroring.

All of these inputs are essential for human growth at this stage of life. “We are energy beings, connected to the energy all around us by the right hemisphere of our brain.” (Jill Bolte Taylor)

When this nurture is either missing or deficient, a certain emotional malaise takes over the infant. Since there is no language ability yet, this malaise takes a purely sensory form. It is a feeling of confusion, rage, and self-doubt that can crystallize into a fundamental question about its very existence. Am I of value? Am I worth anything at all? Do I exist?

We now know that all emotions are neurological events. Popular consciousness usually does not recognize this and considers emotions to be mysterious, insubstantial forces that come from I-know-not-where. But scientific consciousness knows that they are neurological events based on the condition of certain neurons in the human body, mostly neurons in the brain. These damaged neurons send messages of tension to the several other organs of the body that mediate overt behavior.

[See the video: — “The Sanity Project for a Contemporary World”, which references the work of Athene and Jill Bolte Taylor, and the video: http:/— “The Heart of Darkness”, for a particularly vivid description of a case of EESD.]

So, EESD is the result of failing to nurture certain neurons in the brain, which then experience a state of partial atrophy. Note that this is a biological condition independent of other human functions such as thought or language. Even though the18-month-old infant cannot talk about the experience or process it with its mature cognitive abilities (the fully-developed brain is needed for this), or recall it later on in life, this organism is damaged.

We see this in trees and other plants which grow up stunted or twisted by early deficiencies of nurture. In human beings this shows up as emotional stuntedness or twistedness.

The occurrence of this condition so early in life, before the development of mature cognitive abilities, gives it a curious quality of invisibility.  Throughout life it continues to generate thoughts and behavior, for example, blind beliefs, persistent irrationality, lack of empathy.

Deprived of parental attention, the infant is now saddled with an imperative of self-involvement. It must take care of itself. But, again, because of the early occurrence of the trauma, this imperative has no “voice”, or self-dialog. It is a blind and silent urge and impulse.

And this blind and silent neuronal damage destroys the natural social awareness of the human organism. This social connection is the primary characteristic of what psychological science calls “the authentic self.”

When the first few years of life produce this strong element of self-doubt, we certainly do not give up. We still actively seek confirmation of our worth from our immediate surroundings. As we grow in our abilities to negotiate our environment, we use all of our new tools to obtain positive feedback. But at this stage of the game, these are substitute, compensatory gratifications from outside the self, not an intrinsic sense of well-being.

Thus is formed what science has called “the false self”, or the persona, as distinguished from the authentic self, which is capable of owning all the feelings that it actually feels. The problem of the false self is that it must be in denial about those feelings of self-doubt that it accumulated in the earliest stage of life.

Almost all human beings experience some degree of emotional deprivation in early childhood. But when the degree is high, certain adult personality traits develop: rigid, blind beliefs (whatever is your parents’ state of mind), failure of empathy, and dissociation. This is the right-wing personality.

EESD produces these symptoms more subtly than in the case of overt physical trauma later in life. Because the trauma is purely neuronal and not overtly physical, there is indeed anger, rage, panic and dissociation, but they do not appear loudly, dramatically, on the surface of behavior. They are still fully present in the emotions of the subject, and deeply influence choices of strategy and tactics for survival and well-being.

The false self has pain and does not know where it is coming from, and so it builds a worldview that includes beliefs that (a) blame others for its pain, and (b) render invisible those who beliefs are different.

Ah, so. EESD is the right-wing disease, the Conservative disease. It is the foundation of right wing-political and social movements, and widely distributed generally in the human population. It surfaces as a social movement in times of cultural stress.

So, the Tea Party is a right-wing movement, only held in check by the still healthy elements in American culture, but supported by the economic difficulties begun in 2008.  That is why they are commonly referred to as “the Crazies”. And a survey of the ranks of American corporate, financial and political elites reveals hosts of individuals suffering from EESD. It is in fact a class disease. Those who are affected by it tend to be extraordinarily focused on ridding themselves of this unknown pain, and so partly through talent and partly through sustained aggressiveness, they ooze towards the top of the “meritocracy”.

The Republican Party as a whole has been seriously infected by this disorder. Certain commentators have noticed this. Rep. Peter King referred to the 50 House members who voted against the seven-day extension of funding for the Department of Homeland Security as “delusional”. And forget about 47 Senators sending a stupid message to the government of Iran. Back in the sixties the demonstrators at the Democratic Party convention in Chicago chanted: “The whole world is watching.” Today too. Oops. Sorry world. The USA has just gone stupid.




After 400 years of trial and error, we can confidently say that spiritual learning for human beings is recovery from trauma, and the key to trauma recovery is hemisphere-switching.

NOTE: The fMRI people claim they have “debunked” the difference between the functions of the left hemisphere and right hemisphere of the brain. But this is because they seriously misinterpret their data.  A functional magnetic resonant image cannot tell the difference between when brain cells are performing conceptual activity and when they are performing sensory activity.  But this is the key distinction for self-awareness in the 2,500-year-old history of Buddhist practice.  “Cease the chatter of the mind” is the Buddhist principle, and Taylor’s exploration of brain hemispheres clearly identifies the left hemisphere as the chatterer, and the right hemisphere as the sensory specialist.

That is, the moment of truth in spiritual learning is when you stop. And listen. To your body.

Breath. Pulse. Heartbeat. Muscle tone. These are the first revealing messages from the organism that you are.

The classic Buddhist instruction is: “Make friends with yourself. Start sitting.”

This is the “cease the chatter of the mind” of Gautama that has lasted for 2,500 years as a path to “enlightenment”. Only the left hemisphere of our brain “chatters”. In traditional Zen, they say that the practice of meditation is about “doing nothing”. In Revisionist Zen, we say that meditation is about having the left hemisphere of your brain do nothing. We shut down the left hemisphere. We stop thinking, and engage only in experiencing. Experience leads us to becoming aware of all the energy transactions going on in our body all the time. It is an intense form of being awake.

The deeper and more complete messages that follow when you make a habit of using the right hemisphere of your brain are (a) awareness of every single neurological lesion that is the result of traumatic experience, and (b) finally, all the energy emissions of every molecule in your body and the connection of those molecules to the whole material universe.

This is what the right hemisphere of the human brain does, naturally.

“Our right human hemisphere is all about this present moment. It’s all about right here, right now. Our right hemisphere thinks in pictures and learns kinesthetically through the movement of our bodies. Information in the form of energy streams in simultaneously through all of our sensory systems, and then it explodes into this enormous collage of what this present moment looks like, what this present moment smells like, and tastes like, what it feels like, and what it sounds like. I am an energy being, connected to the energy all around me through the consciousness of my right hemisphere.” [Taylor, TED talk, 2008]

The early twentieth century French poet Paul Valéry once said, “If you want to go down into the self, you’d better go armed to the teeth.”

We now know that “armed to the teeth” simply means using your right hemisphere, that is, sensing your way into “the self”, not thinking your way in.  We have the ability to detect trauma imprints and not be overwhelmed by them.  We can access anything inside ourselves as long as we use the proper tools.

So, the watchwords for going inside are (a) relax, (b) sense and (c) notice. It is not necessary to be ambitious. Exert no pressure. We do not have to “do” anything. The unconscious yields up its secrets easily if only it is permitted to be voluntary.

This is why Buddhism advises us to “do nothing”, and why in Revisionist Zen we have the left hemisphere of the brain do nothing.

[See my video: – “21st Century Zen”]

Some spiritual systems have always understood this. There is a meeting today between very old spiritual technologies and very new ones. Sufism and Buddhism harmonize with psychotherapy. The thirteenth-century Sufi mystic Jelaluddin Rumi could easily say that “The cure for pain is in the pain.”23 But he was a very unusual personality. For most people, engaging one’s demons takes some learning.

Switching hemispheres reveals the difference between being awake and being asleep – “the sleep of everyday life” of G. I. Gurdjieff.  You will be amazed at how much information comes up that you never noticed before. The left hemisphere of the brain is a relentless manager of human consciousness.

You will discover that you have always been asleep, and that you actually have a choice about being awake or being asleep.  It is not the point never to go into trance. Partial awareness, highly focused, is useful.  It is having the choice that is important.

I call this practice “secular mindfulness”.

Buddhists have never thought of their practice as “religion”.   (For them the god-projections of Hinduism is religion.) They say that they just “have a method.” “Revisionist Zen” only adds the observation that Buddhist practice is hemisphere switching. Mindfulness is usually defined as follows:

Mindfulness … is attention to present experience. It is “simply noticing” what is so in your experience, without the addition of judging, analyzing or even understanding. It is different than “thinking about.” 28

So, mindfulness is shutting down the left hemisphere of the brain and activating the right hemisphere.  Spiritual learning is hemisphere switching.

The Secular Spirit

When one is making progress distinguishing being awake from being asleep and beginning to enjoy wakefulness, there comes a time when the sedating ministrations of conventional religion no longer feel good. The ritual, the organ music, the pious hymnody, the orchestrated entrancements all become mild irritations that interfere with the texture of consciousness. This distaste is a response of the deepest part of the psyche. It is therefore quintessentially “spiritual”, and is exercised in respect to all sedating technologies. The psyche in this condition cannot stand being put to sleep — unless of course it is for some clearly defined and specific purpose in therapy — because this gets in the way of its path to wholeness. This discomfort with sleepiness occurs when the woundedness created by harsh child-rearing practices is reduced enough to permit a positive disposition towards going inside. What awakens at this moment is the appetite for interiority.

The principal objection of the secular spirit to religion is the obstacles it puts in the way of this appetite for interiority. The secular seeker says to religion, “Will you please go away and stop trying to put me to sleep!”

This appetite understands Rumi: “The cure for pain is in the pain.” I have seen people visibly recoil when I cite this saying of Rumi. I have seen the expressions on their faces turn from receptivity to anger. This is testimony to the extraordinary level of pain in society today, and the power of the default setting of escape. To bring interiority into the conversation violates a taboo.

But there must be some reason why we are still reading Rumi’s works six hundred years after he died. If the comment about the source of pain is accurate, then it is of inestimable value, because it gives the actual solution to the problem. If you look for the source of pain where it isn’t, then you will not cure the pain. Your only recourse will be more and more sedatives. You are stuck with the constant deadening of your sensibilities, and the prospect of living a less and less full life. But if you look for the source of your pain where it is, ah, then a whole new range of opportunities opens up for you.

Rumi said it well:

There’s Nothing Ahead

Lovers think they’re looking for each other,
but there’s only one search: Wandering
this world is wandering that, both inside one
transparent sky. In here
there is no dogma and no heresy.

The miracle of Jesus is himself, not what he said or did
about the future. Forget the future.
I’d worship someone who could do that!

On the way you may want to look back, or not,
but if you can say There’s nothing ahead,
there will be nothing there.

Stretch your arms and take hold the cloth of your clothes
with both hands. The cure for pain is in the pain.
Good and bad are mixed. If you don’t have both,
you don’t belong with us.
When one of us gets lost, is not here, he must be inside us.
There’s no place like that anywhere in the world. 24

In 1985 Robert Bellah published a book called Habits of the Heart. It is a study of belief systems of modern Americans. It turns out to be a profoundly elegiac lament for the loss of some earlier time of harmonious bliss. Bellah found Americans to be quite confused about where to place their spiritual loyalties, and the solution he recommended for this problem was a return to the practices of a Christian childhood: “Perhaps common worship, in which we express our gratitude and wonder in the face of the mystery of being itself, is the most important thing of all.”25

So, if you are confused, Bellah said, just go back to church.

This is paradoxical because Bellah was precisely the scholar who charted the course forward for many developmental thinkers with his ground-breaking description of religious evolution and the process of “religious symbolization.” After all of his marvelous and helpful commentary on this activity, he seems to have personally abandoned it.

One lesson to be learned from this is that intellectual achievement and emotional achievement do not necessarily go hand in hand. Bellah’s personal rejection of religious symbolization in favor of the regressive trance of traditional Christian ritual does not one whit detract from the quality of his scholarly work. And he was certainly welcome to practice what he intuitively decided was best for him. The greatest spiritual legacy of the Protestant Reformation is the freedom we have to choose our own tools of spiritual growth (e.g., secularism). But his choice also illustrates the two general options we have in a situation of spiritual confusion. One is to shut down the pain with some mildly or extremely regressive trance induction device, such as traditional Christian ritual. The other is to stay awake, go inside with Rumi and seek the cure for pain in the pain.

I should also mention that the confusion Bellah found is largely due to the wholesale rejection of introspection by conventional American culture.

In Chapter 8, I will discuss the dynamics of religious trance at length for the Roman Catholic Mass, but the same principles apply to all “worship”. For the term “worship” itself means regression to a childlike state. When one worships, one gets very little and turns one’s dependent face to the hoped-for benevolence of an extremely powerful parent-figure.

The Teaching-Learning Relationship

There are different teaching-learning relationships in religion and secularism.  In religion the relationship is one of parent to child. It is characterized by the transference of the learner, as the primary need is to complete the unfulfilled needs created by the lack of nurture in child-rearing practices. In this relationship the parent dictates behavior and provides reality orientation. It performs the functions of the ego for the weak ego of the learner. This is the “Our-Holy-Mother-the-Church-and-Our-Holy-Father-the-Pope” system.

In secularism the relationship is between equals, between two adults, where the “teacher” is merely a technical assistant to the self-controlled ego-functions of the learner. The learner has an appetite for interiority, but finds it confusing.

The basic model for this relationship is what Carl Rogers described as “the helping relationship” fifty years ago. Rogers’ formulation of this relationship paved the way for the present era of personal growth technologies in the West. He first proposed the basic principle of this relationship in the nineteen-forties: “I have come to trust the capacity of persons to explore and understand themselves and their troubles, and to resolve those problems in any close, continuing relationship where I can provide a climate of real warmth and understanding.” 26

The characteristics of the helping relationship can be summarized as follows:

  1. Congruence: to be what you are, genuine and without “front”, openly being the feelings and attitudes you actually experience.
    2. Empathy: accurate understanding of the other’s private, inner world and the ability to communicate significant fragments of that understanding.
    3. Positive Regard: a full acceptance of what the other actually is.
    4. Communication skill: the ability to detect the interpretation the other puts on my efforts to express congruence, empathy and positive regard.27

When these qualities are present, Rogers says, “change is predicted.” That is, personal [spiritual] growth will occur.

The Prognosis for Secularism

There is an image in Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End of a race of extraterrestrial beings who look like gargoyles but have vastly superior technology to anything humans have mastered. They are “sent” to earth to referee the end of humanity’s childhood. Once they demonstrate the impossibility of challenging their technology, they simply stand around and allow humans to grow. It is an image of marvelous insight and charm. It looks like Americans of the twenty-first century along with their secular associates in the other advanced industrialized countries have the assignment to function like those gargoyles.



We need to clear up some confusion in the use of language.

The word “faith” has acquired a prominent place in discussions of religion in America – “faith-based programs”, “matters of faith”, “he was saved by his faith”, etc. But the faith that is here referred to is not some ultimate state of mind superior to reason. It is only sectarian faith, and sectarian faith is simply a medication, a means of self-sedation required for survival in the first stage of trauma recovery. As such, it calms, but it does not reveal the actual transcendence of the human condition. So, it is not superior to “reason”; it is only an alternative.

In terms of language, “faith” is just non-rational knowledge.

To go along with the dual character of religion, there are two kinds of faith. One of them is trans-rational and gives the awareness of the ultimate ground of human existence. The other is pre-rational and consists of the set of terrified projections imprinted by a harsh childhood that introspection encounters on its way to awareness of ultimate ground.

The object of the interiority exercise is to be completely awake. In this condition we know exactly who and what we are, without illusion or deception or fear. It is a fully embodied sense of the ultimate conditions of human existence. I call this knowledge universal faith. It is serene, flexible and tolerant.

The second kind of faith is a projective-regressive-dissociative set of beliefs that we can call sectarian faith. It is rigidly boundaried and thus provides an identity: “I am a Catholic, …a Protestant, …a Muslim, …a Jew, …a Hindu, …a Vaishnavite, …a Buddhist, …a Christian, ….a Methodist, …a Pagan”, and the rest. It is powerfully defensive and therefore subtly or overtly hostile to all other forms of projective-regressive-dissociative faith. It creates an us-and-them world and is the vehicle for strong emotions of anger and fear.

Sociologist Dean R. Hoge calls it “empirical faith”:

Our experiences have taught us that the members of different denominations actually live in different worlds and are shaped by distinct assumptions and experiences. This is shown by the different ways denominational members talk about their own faith and church life, and it is shown by the ignorance they have about other denominations. ….. We have been impressed repeatedly by how encapsulated church members are in their own religious worlds. For people in every congregation, their own congregation, and especially their friends in the congregation fashion their understanding of religious reality. Anyone disbelieving this statement can put it to a test: Ask people in any denomination about the theology and practices of other denominations. You will see how little they know.16

This kind of faith is projective and regressive in that it conceives of god and spiritual realities as the unfinished relationships of childhood. It takes all those memories of the first few years of life that were lived under the regime of harsh child-rearing practices, and projects this content out onto the world as divinely inspired truths. This kind of faith is dissociative in that it has suppressed and is completely out of touch with huge chunks of self. In particular, all the pain from harsh child-rearing practices is thoroughly suppressed and the parts of time and the parts of the body that carry those memories are completely numb. Therefore, the behavior associated with this kind of faith is ruled by ideas rather than empathic perception, and so it can perform all manner of insensitive cruelties in the name of orthodoxy and truth.

Universal faith, on the other hand, is completely inclusive in its scope, remarkably defenseless, and identifies as merely human. It grounds an extremely realistic, flexible and compassionate presence in the world. That is, because it has complete access to all that its own self truly is, it also has great access to the truth of the existence of other human beings. It can comprehend and care for their existence. It also has a completely embodied sense of the permeability of the boundary between time-space and non-time-space, and it finds all this quite amusing.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin describes the path to universal faith as follows:

… I took the lamp, and leaving the zone of everyday occupations and relationships where everything seems clear, I went down into my inmost self, to the deep abyss whence I feel dimly that my power of action emanates. But as I moved further and further away from the conventional certainties by which social life is superficially illuminated, I became aware that I was losing contact with myself. At each step of the descent a new person was disclosed within me of whose name I was no longer sure, and who no longer obeyed me. And when I had to stop my exploration because the path faded from beneath my steps, I found a bottomless abyss at my feet, and out of it came — arising from I know not where — the current which I dare to call my life.17

One of the best verbal descriptions of this kind of faith to be found anywhere is that of the Zen master, Shunryu Suzuki Roshi:

Because you think you have body or mind, you have very lonely feelings. But when you realize that everything is just a flashing into the vast universe, then you become very strong and your existence becomes very meaningful.18

Ken Wilber noted that it is not always easy to detect the difference between pre-rational and trans-rational knowledge:

A major therapeutic confusion among theorists stems from what I have called “the pre/trans fallacy”, which is a confusing of pre-rational structures with trans-rational structures simply because both are non-rational. This confusion runs in both directions: pre-rational structures (phantasmic, magic, myth) are elevated to trans-rational status (Jung), or trans-rational structures are reduced to pre-rational infantilisms (e.g., Freud). It is particularly common to reduce samadhi to autistic, symbiotic or narcissistic-ocean states. … Alexander (1931) even called Zen a training in catatonic schizophrenia. In my opinion such theoretical (and therapeutic) confusions will continue to abound until the phenomenological validity of the full spectrum of human growth receives more recognition and study.19

The pre/trans fallacy causes a lot of problems: “Practitioners of meditation, often swimming in the rhetoric of transformation, may fail to recognize the regressive nature of much of their experiences.”20 It is easy in personal growth work to get “a mixture and confusion of pre-egoic fantasy with trans-conceptual insight, of pre-personal desires with trans-personal growth, of pre-egoic whoopee with trans-egoic liberation.”21

For the past four hundred years or so there has been a great debate in Western culture about the relative merits of two forms of knowledge, one of them called “faith” and the other called “reason.” The “reason” in this discussion is the rational-deductive-logical-conceptual knowledge obtained by science. The “faith” that is involved is not universal faith, but rather the projective-regressive-dissociative faith of the Christianity of the time. It is the kind of knowledge of self and the world possessed under the conditions of religious trance.

We now know that the knowledge of science is a limited form of knowledge. And we should now know, at this stage of the discussion, that projective-regressive-dissociative faith is also an extremely limited form of knowledge. There is no conflict between universal faith and scientific knowledge. There is however a very serious conflict between universal faith and sectarian faith.



I was rigorously trained in Roman Catholic theology. Thirty-five years after that training I arrived at a two-part conclusion. Part one is that Jesus of Nazareth is the incarnation of the second person of the blessed trinity. The other part is that this assertion is largely irrelevant to the present stage of history.

So, I think the legacy of Jesus is important. It tells us something about our existence that no other source reveals.

In fact, the core legacy of Jesus is contained in “the sign of Jonah”. The ethical teachings of the New Testament are merely spin-offs from the core teaching.

The prediction of the sign of Jonah occurs in all three synoptic gospels:

Then some of the scribes and Pharisees spoke up. “Master”, they said, “we should like to see a sign from you.” He replied, “It is an evil and unfaithful generation that asks for a sign. The only sign it will be given is the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was in the belly of the sea-monster for three days and three nights, so  will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights.

[Matthew, 12, 38-40 and 16, 4; Mark 8, 11-12; Luke 11, 29-30]

The enactment of the sign of Jonah is recorded in four appearances described by John:  in Chapters 20 and 21:

  1. The appearance to Mary Magdalen on Sunday morning at the empty tomb.
  2. “In the evening of the same day, the first day of the week, the doors were closed in the room where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews. Jesus came and stood among them. He said to them Shalom, and showed them his hands and his side.”
  3. Eight days later, the confrontation with Thomas.
  4. The meeting on the shore of the lake.

And then, finally, in the remarkable and long-drawn-out appearance to the two disciples on the way to Emmaus (described fully only in Luke 24, 13-35, but mentioned in Mark also) which contains the particularly interesting instruction: “You foolish men! So slow to believe in the full message of the prophets! Was it not ordained that the Christ should suffer and so enter into his glory? Then, starting with Moses and going through all the prophets, he explained to them the passages throughout the scriptures that were about himself.”

So, “the full message” is not suffering, but “glory”.

This instruction definitively displaces the crucifixion as the central event in the life of Jesus, and replaces it with the contemplation of the risen Jesus as the core of the Christian message. But that is not what Christians latched on to. Especially in the theory and practice of the Eucharist, they chose a hypnotizing and sedating ritual that was all about recovery from trauma. When Christianity entered Europe, the traumatization of its population was in terrifying full swing. Stage One of recovery would take another fifteen hundred years.

You have to get to Stage Two in the trauma recovery process before you can even approach ineffable trans-rationality as the ultimate salvific experience.

And, by the way, the message of suffering and glory harmonizes extremely well with Buddhist teaching about enlightenment: “When you realize that everything is just a flashing into the vast universe, then you become very strong and your existence becomes very meaningful.”

But this authentic legacy of Jesus has not the smallest chance of taking its place in history until Christianity is divested of all traces of sectarian faith. That is to say, we have to take all the projections, regressions and trance induction techniques out of Christianity before the legacy of Jesus can get a fair hearing. However, Christianity without its projections and trance induction techniques would be unrecognizable vis-à-vis the contemporary institutions that go by that name.

For example, the Roman Catholic practice of the Mass will have to go. It is too heavily a trance induction technique and is based on a mistaken interpretation of the New Testament. [See Chapter 9.] The authority of clergy has to go. This is clearly a paternalism that doubts the power of self to grow. The concept of “redemption” has to go. It was a metaphor that worked pedagogically in the time of St. Paul, but it is merely a metaphor, and once you get to the heart of things, it gets in the way. We are not green stamps. There is no economic transaction going on in the Jesus event. The concept of original sin has to go. It was in the first instance a very big mistake that may have served developmental purposes, but is clearly schizoid in implication, and in conflict with positive self-regard, which is the state of consciousness of the healthy human organism. The concept of “grace” as something added to and outside of nature has to go. Again, this line of thought is schizophrenigenic and a leftover from a stage of emotional development in which the ego is very weak.

So, I like to say to those who ask me when I am coming back to my former religion I say that I am actually waiting for it to evaporate. Then we can talk about Jesus.

In a cultural climate of dominated by religious institutions deeply invested in trance-inducing ritual, a powerful clergy, and defensive identity structures, it is pretty much a waste of time going after projection-free investigation of the legacy of Jesus. The book you have in your hands at this moment is testimony to the fact that in “advanced industrial (secular) society – with all of its serious defects and flaws – it is possible to begin that task.

Still, the main tasks of spiritual development today are education, political and economic stability and introspective healing. If we manage those, then sectarian religion will continue to wither away, and in a few hundred years we might have an interesting global synthesis of spiritual systems.

A Weird Little Theological Post Script

Creation and Evolution

I have always thought that the controversy about creation versus evolution is really silly. Ever since I was a very young philosophy student in the Jesuits it has seemed simple and obvious to me that God creates evolution. (Recently I seem to find in the thinking of Stephen Hawking some mathematics that would support this.) I mean, isn’t that pretty obvious? Creation is about Being. It is the answer to the question, “Why is there anything and not simply nothing at all?” Evolution is about what happens after things are.

Well, I guess you do have to have an insight into Being in order to get that point, but doesn’t everybody have the ability to have that? After all, everybody is. I mean, does anyone really think that he or she causes himself or herself to be?

As long as we are on this point, we might as well follow it out. Once you get it that everything that is, is because it is made to be by a source outside itself, then you get it that creation is totally gratuitous. And once you get it that creation is totally gratuitous, then there is no need for some ontological extra called “the supernatural.”

However, lots and lots of theologians love to talk about the supernatural, as in “the supernatural order”, which they think of as “the order of grace”, which is a “higher” order than the order of nature, an order to which human beings need to be “elevated”. But it seems to me that if you look at the history of Christian theology, you will see very clearly that this whole business about a “supernatural order”, as well as the whole business of “original sin”, is based on a very serious introspective misunderstanding that took place in the time of Augustine.

Now certainly Paul and the early Christians are very clear about an experiential aspect of their lives — which is the difference in their control of impulses such as sex and greed — after their conversion to Christianity compared to before their conversion. And they certainly take a very dim view of the pagans of their time and of the Jews who did not convert to Christianity. However, I do not think they ever actually ontologize this experience. It would never even have occurred to most of them to talk in that language. Paul in particular was not one to use the ideas of Plato and Aristotle. Paul talked about experience.

It remained then for Augustine and his generation to ontologize the experience of Christian conversion, and to turn the xaris of grace from a mere gift to a whole new order of being. It was an understandable error because, given the level of introspective competence of the culture of the time, it was natural for them to mistake emotional forces residing in the unconscious for fixed aspects of being. But it was a mistake, and only Pelagius came even close to getting it right.

So I like to observe that in the argument between Pelagius and Augustine, Pelagius was right philosophically, scientifically and exegetically, but Augustine was right developmentally. So I think it is about time that we re-visited Pelagius to see what a Christian theology would look like that did not split the psyche into two distinct components, and did not split the world this way either.




Developmental theories of individual human consciousness are relatively recent arrivals in scientific literature. Even the past 25 years have produced significant advances. This body of work simply adds precision to something that we all know intuitively: that the personality structure of human beings develops in stages that are quite distinct from one another. We all know without the help of college courses that the mental abilities of a six-month old infant are very different from those of a seven-year-old child, and that those in turn are different from the capacities of 21-year-old young adult. The only thing developmental psychology has done is get very detailed and precise about the kinds of abilities that are distinctive to the various stages, and when those stages normally occur.

This body of information is now mature enough to provide us with an understanding of how factors of personal development are involved in historical and institutional processes. Cultural analysis is the tool for this study. Anthropologists have known for some time that cultures are distinguished from one another by their child rearing practices. Developmental psychology understands that child-rearing practices influence subsequent personality dynamics.

The relationship between culture and personal process works like this: A group falls into certain practices to support living in a particular ecological niche. It is a Darwinian process of randomized natural selection that is not particularly conscious.

Developmental Psychology

The original architecture for developmental stages was laid out by Jean Piaget’s studies of cognitive development over a period of forty years from the nineteen thirties to the seventies. See The Essential Piaget (NY, Basic Books) 1977. Erik Erikson added a broader psychological framework in Childhood and Society in 1950 and Identity and the Life-Cycle in 1959. Abraham Maslow described the stages of motivational development in Toward a Psychology of Being in 1968. Lawrence Kohlberg developed his theory of stages of moral development in the sixties and seventies. Carol Gilligan refined and revised Kohlberg’s stage-theory as it applies to women in A Different Voice in 1982.

In Transformations of Consciousness (Boston, Shambhala, 1986), Ken Wilber inserts earlier work into a larger framework, and includes Eastern thought. He calls this “full spectrum psychology.” He also devotes extensive discussion to various schools of psychoanalytic thought of the period from the nineteen sixties to the eighties. He includes the works of Margaret Mahler, Otto Kernberg, D. W. Winnicott, Hans Kohut and others. This work extensively revised the definition of the early stages of child development proposed by earlier research and provides a definitive foundation for thinking about stages of spiritual development. Wilber’s book provides a brief yet thorough summary of this scientific material.

These child-rearing practices are embedded in the unconscious as well as the conscious part of the psyches of the members of the group. They are even embedded in the body. They have to be embedded there in order to run automatically and reliably enough to serve the group under conditions of extreme stress.

Some groups make choice A and fail to survive. Other groups make choice B and succeed in surviving. Choice B becomes the cultural paradigm. Then the group’s technology changes, its ecological niche changes, and the cultural paradigm endangers the group’s survival. So a process of change ensues. If the adaptation is successful, the group lives on. If the adaptation is too slow or otherwise inappropriate, the group dies off. And so we get cultural traditions that have extremely complex sets of resources to balance stability and change.

However, since cultural practices are written so deeply in the human psyche, the traditions that carry them do not change easily or quickly, and change is always marked by strong emotions, violent emotions in fact.

Furthermore, in groups whose cultures represent earlier developmental stages — bronze-age tribes for example, such as, say, the Mongols of Genghis Khan or the Iroquois of North America — the response to a shift in ecological niche is generally univocal, all-or-nothing. Either the whole tribe adapts and survives, or the whole tribe fails to adapt and they all die together, except for a small remnant.

But in groups whose cultures represent later stages of conscious development — such as the population of Europe in the fifteenth century — the response to a shift in ecological niche takes the form of a social movement, as discussed in sociology. “Social movement theory” says that cultural innovation starts at the “periphery” of society, and moves by stages to the “center”. So, the group that needs to adapt is viewed as extremely fragmented and diverse. Within formerly solidary groups, sub-groups form who represent different strategies for handling the shift. And so cultural relationships become intertwined with geographic, economic, political and social relationships.

But the cultural issues are always the “deepest.” On the one hand you cannot resolve a cultural dispute with an economic response. On the other hand, it is often difficult for the participants to distinguish between the cultural and the economic components of the conflict.

Therefore it is not surprising that in human history, one of the principal instruments for “negotiating” cultural paradigm shifts is warfare. In fact, until very recently, warfare was universally accepted as the principal means to resolve cultural conflict. It was the heart of realpolitik. It was probably only when “the Moscow cable” of George Frost Kennan fell into the hands of Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal in 1946 that the principal paradigm for resolving cultural conflict in the world shifted from “hot” war to Cold War. For it was in that cable from the U.S. embassy in the Soviet capital that Kennan coined the term “containment” and laid out its rationale and the implementation procedures for the Cold War.

Exiles, Managers and Firefighters

I propose this as a working hypothesis: the laws which govern cultural conflict — either conflict between cultures themselves or conflicts between the parts of one over-arching cultural system — are not only physical laws or even economic laws but also include psychodynamic laws. At this point in history such wars are no longer about resources such as food or even wealth, but about egos and identities, that sense of warfare that goes on inside the human psyche over the survival of what we have come to call “the self.”

Researchers/practitioners such as Richard C. Schwartz (Internal Family Systems Therapy, New York, The Guilford Press, 1995) are beginning to unravel those laws, and the intervention strategies that foster the growth of the innate seat of human consciousness, which has qualities such as “compassion, perspective, curiosity, acceptance and confidence.” It is when this seat of consciousness is underdeveloped that the parts of the psyche are locked in a fragile, rigid, explosive system of blind functionaries such as exiles, managers and firefighters.
The general approach to intervention in such volatile systems is to find the self, give language to the self, support the self. In cases where defensive and violent parts are in almost complete control of the system, the very first step may be the hardest one. However, it is still the key. Once the self is identified, then the conversation with it is the crucial intervention in the rigid, polarized system.

So, cultures and periods of history have their developmental tasks and developmental techniques. And societies have their developmental majorities and minorities. Some minorities are “behind” the central tendency (“reactionaries” and sects), and some minorities are “ahead” of the middle of the curve (“prophets” and artists). And there is a constant interchange among the various developmental groups. This whole process has its standard roles and relationships that we now know are very much like the parts of the psyche that engage one another in therapy. In fact, there is a school of psychotherapy now in which the description of the parts of the self that operate in personal growth is equally applicable to the parts of society that operate in cultural “growth”. I refer to the Internal Family Systems model for psychotherapy developed by Richard Schwartz of the Family Institute at Northwestern University.

Alice Miller’s work also shows the interrelation between the personal and the historical, as when she describes how questions generated by her work in the clinic were answered by a study of nineteenth century German child rearing manuals.

To describe a set of developmental stages that apply to personal and historical processes I will use the work of Robert Bellah and Ken Wilber. [See the stages chart ] The sociologist Bellah wrote an article in 1964 that presciently sketched an outline of the historical evolution of religion starting with the practices of the Australian aborigines which are about 40,000 years old. In the 1980s Wilber summarized the large body of clinical research that makes up the field of developmental psychology with the description of a series of stages that harmonize very well with Bellah’s work.

Ken Wilber

Wilber’s main contribution is his summary of the work of others. When speaking of the first six stages of personality development, he is not breaking any new ground, but simply summarizing the work of numerous other well-known researchers.51 When speaking of the last three stages of consciousness development, he is seriously indebted to the neo-Hindu monist Franklin Jones, also known as Bubba Free John, and is therefore in much more uncertain territory. But we only need seven of his stages to understand the changes in American religion up to now.


The Spiritual Monism of Ken Wilber

As we look closely at the stage-specific capacities of personal development, it will not take long to notice how strikingly they apply to history. We will see that issues and processes that were considered socially and culturally normal in, say, the fifteenth or sixteenth centuries, are considered so far from normal today that they simply could not happen. This is a developmental process.

Let us take just two famous examples. First, the trial and burning at the stake of Joan of Arc in the early fifteenth century simply could not happen anywhere on this planet today. In the first place you would have to go deep into the backwoods of the most backward part of the most primitive society on earth to find a group of people who might even consider such an action. Secondly, even if you could find a group demented enough to consider it, there is no way that you could publicly assemble the respected religious and civil leadership of a major nation-state to participate in it.

Secondly, the idea of holding an impassioned theological debate in a prison, and then hanging, drawing and quartering the “loser” is not an action even the Taliban or the most conservative Ayatollahs of Qom would engage in today. And yet that was exactly the fate of the Jesuit Edmund Campion in 1581 in England.

Now in their day, both of these public events were still considered business as usual by most of the population and their worldly and spiritual leaders. Clearly, in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries there were cultural psychodramas being worked out that we no longer have to deal with. Not simply we as individuals, but our culture has passed “beyond” those “barbarisms”. We are at least in this limited sense, more advanced than our forebears.

In Wilber’s detailed summary of personality development research, we can find processes and issues that apply with striking clarity to “the decline of the middle” of American religiousness at the end of the twentieth century.

The overall process has a uniform dynamic. It is based on the fact that the human organism has to develop its various distinct capacities in a certain order. For example, first there has to be a physical substratum: organs and tissue and biochemical components. Then there have to be sensory functions that are seated in “the reptilian brain” (the brain stem and other components sometimes referred to as “the reptilian complex”). Then there have to be emotional functions seated in the center of the brain sometimes referred to as “the limbic cortex”. Only when these capacities are mature can the functions of the neo-cortex develop fully (thinking and speaking and organizing one’s environment). And only when the neo-cortex functions are complete, and completely integrated with the limbic and reptilian functions, does fully-developed spiritual awareness occur. (See the Side Bar on the Tri-une Brain,)

Now, this is an order of operations specified by biology. It cannot be circumvented, either in the individual or in society. So, history sequences the way personal growth does. Was it Darwin who said that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny? Or maybe it was the other way around. Either way the history of culture and the history of an individual human being have a shared sequence.

Stage One

The first stage of consciousness begins of course in the womb — at conception — and lasts until approximately six months after birth. In this stage the self-system is working on basic physical and sensoriperceptual structures. It is not yet a sensing-perceiving “center” of experience. One the one hand it is not fully differentiated from its external surround, and secondly it is not differentiated internally into an “I” and an “other”.

If disturbances occur in this basic physical process — such as biochemical toxicity for example — all subsequent stages will be affected. Severe autism is one of the results of defects in the development of this stage.

Stage Two

In the second stage, from about the age of 6 months to the age of 18 months, the self is working on sensory boundaries. It must learn a fundamental differentiation in its sensory data between images that are produced by itself, and images that are produced by external objects. In this stage the difference between the information coming from inside of me and that coming from outside of me is not perfectly clear. One of the principle supportive activities of parents in this stage of learning is mirroring, of which “baby talk” is simply an auditory example. By using facial expressions to successfully reflect back to the infant his/her totally self-involved experiences of seven basic emotional states, the parent gradually clarifies the distinction between self and other.

If disturbances occur in this stage of development, what the psychologists call “borderline” personality disorders arise in which the self has a tendency to alternate between excessive dependence on the other (“merger”) and excessive withdrawal from the other. The self has a basic boundary problem.

Stage Three

In stage three — which lasts from about the age of 18 months to the age of about 3 years — the self-system is working on differentiating its representational mind from its body-imagination functions (sensory images, needs for food and physical pleasure, etc.). Systematic video-camera observation of infants has recently shown that there is “an explosion of language” around the age of 18 months, as the infant moves from the display of the first seven facial expressions to the first awareness of words as discrete tools. Language is the primary vehicle for advancing to full use of the neo-cortex.

In this stage the self is also working on its central interpersonal relationships, internally and externally. A three-part differentiation emerges internally between “impulse” (id), suppression of impulse (superego), and voluntary origin of action (ego). And at this stage child-rearing practices such as nursing and weaning and toilet-training start to have a powerful influence on development.

Disturbances at this stage of life lay the foundations of feelings such as anxiety, obsession and guilt for the adults of a particular society. Guilt, for example — a frequent subject in any discussion of religion — is an unresolved conflict between the suppression of impulse function (superego) and the executive function (ego).

Stage Four

Stage four occupies members of advanced industrial societies from the ages of 7 to 14 years, and its principle task is to learn the rules and roles of social interaction. The learning tasks of this stage are much more cognitive than those of earlier stages. Skills of thinking and language are now critical for avoiding pain and experiencing acceptance. It is extremely important to be able to “say the right thing.” Abraham Maslow says that this is the stage of the importance of belongingness. Lawrence Kohlberg refers to it as the age of conventional morality, when the important thing is to know the rules. It is the stage of the desire to fit in, to have one’s proper place in the group.

Stage Five

In stage five there emerges in human consciousness a new dimension of experience, the internally reflexive thought process — individual conscience and consciousness. The self-system is working on the Cogito ergo sum of Descartes (1596-1650), who did his major philosophical writing about a hundred years after Martin Luther’s break with Rome in 1517. In this stage of development, if one is faced with a parental authority that does not recognize the emerging self-system as an autonomous “other”, conflicts can arise that are perceived as life-or-death issues to the emergent self-system. It must grow.

Internally, the principal disturbance is “identity crisis” — is the self-reflexive structure strong enough to break free of the rule/role mind and stand on its own principles? Is it strong enough to see beyond the dictates of the rule/role mind and integrate them into the higher synthesis of a self-reflexive, self-respecting structure? That is, can it re-write the rules?

Stage Six

In stage six, internal awareness goes even deeper. The self-system acquires the insight into Being and starts to work on integrating it. If stage five is Descartes, stage six is Martin Heidegger. This is the discovery that personal life is a brief spark in a vast universe. Such a discovery makes an assault on the self-centeredness of earlier stages, and integrating exchanges of information must be made. In stage six there is still considerable tension between the sense of individual selfhood and the sense of the ineffable other. Disturbances at this stage are existential confusion and depression, the “fear and trembling” of Kierkegaard.

Stages Seven, Eight and Nine

In stages seven, eight and nine the self-system continues to work on integrating individual self-hood and its ground in Being. It does this by means of sustained introspection. “Sustained introspection” is the activity we call meditation. Historically this activity has almost always taken place in monasteries, but now that more numerous ordinary members of society, not living in monasteries, are doing it, the developments of stages seven, eight and nine are being experienced more widely than ever before.

These are the stages of “postmodernism”. Having become accustomed to the existential discoveries that Kierkegaard, Heidegger and Sartre wrote about but which everyone has the capacity to experience, the subject engages in a sustained commentary on the limits of “reason”.

There may in fact be only one real stage of this capacity for contemplation. Wilber’s neo-Hindu monism might be incorrect on that point. But whatever the divisions within this stage of human development, it is clear that a contemplative, introspective capacity does exist, and that human beings move into it just as they move into all the other stages, when the organism is ready. It is not possible not to become contemplative. There is an “organic” drive to completion in humans that dictates this. At the earlier stages of development, we can clearly see the biological nature of this developmental drive. As we move into the later stages, the drive starts to become more spiritual than biological. But in all of the information we have so far about all of the stages of human development, there is a biological substrate.

Transition Between Stages — Individual “Mana”

The question naturally arises as to what moves the individual person from one stage to another. The answer in general is that there are two mechanisms. One is biochemical and physical change. The other is social interaction.

With regard to biochemistry and anatomy, we know for example that the physiology of the human brain and head is not complete at birth. There is further growth of the cranium to take place, and numerous refinements of the physiology of the brain itself of which the completion of the pons that connects the two hemispheres of the neo-cortex is just one example. There is continuous change of biology that deeply influences self-concept up to the early twenties. Of primary importance of course are the simple change in size that continues until the early twenties and the maturation of sexual organs and endocrinology in the adolescent years.

With regard to social interaction, there are stage-specific activities all along the way. One is the mirroring that parents do for the child between birth and the age of eighteen months. Detailed understanding of this activity had to wait for the development of the video camera in the 1980s, which made systematic observation of the phenomenon possible. The existence of mirroring can serve as a model for the constant activity of the individual in seeking his or her own development and the irreplaceable necessity of interaction to complete the process.

And so at later stages the qualities of social interaction will profoundly influence outcomes. If a young child grows up in a tri-lingual society, he or she will have the natural command of three mother tongues. Young adults who have grown up in socially isolated communities will know the customs of only one culture and find the customs of other cultures extremely disorienting. And harsh or traumatic child-rearing practices will produce adults who have repressed patterns of extra-punitive anger that can surface as completely insensitive violence on those occasions when the customs of society permit (or require) it. This is how societies produce successful warrior classes.

And so the factors that nourish development can be called “food” of various kinds. Ken Wilber observes:

The human being has drives that express the need for various environments: physical needs (food, water, air, shelter), emotional needs (feeling, touch-contact, sex), mental-egoic needs (interpersonal communication, reflexive self-esteem, meaning), spiritual needs (God-communion, depth), and so on. It is as if there were levels of “food” or “mana”: physical food, emotional food, mental food, spiritual food. Growth and development are simply the process of adapting to, and learning to digest, subtler and subtler levels of food, with each stage of growth marked by a phase-specific adaptation to a particular type of food. 52

Transition Between Stages — Social “Mana

Now if on the one hand the individual has the capacity to ingest various levels of “mana”, we must also make the observation that societies have various levels of capacity to provide them. Consider mental food for example. Consider the history of science. The process by which we get from Aristotle to quantum mechanics covers a period of about 2,500 years and consists of an extremely complex array of social and cultural as well as intellectual inputs. Each step in the progress of science required social “mana”, and this nourishing arrangement of social institutions needed to grow gradually and by stages. Before there could be Galileo, there had to be lenses, and before there were lenses there had to be glass, and so forth.

The idea of social mana is implicit in the discussion of economic development. The distinction between fully mature economies and “developing” economies was made about forty years ago. Economists noted that there had to be “infrastructures” to support certain end results. There was a whole array of social components required to bring an economy to “the take-off point”: laws, educational institutions, communications technology, popular expectations, etc.

So, the notion of social mana is a routine one, and as we move from a consideration of Wilber’s stages of individual development to Bellah’s stages of social development, we are also moving from the task of understanding the food needs of individuals to the mana needs of societies. There are social infrastructures that support the consciousness of the next stage. And, it seems to be the case that just as the individual organism progresses naturally from one stage to the next when it is “ready”, so a society or a culture will proceed naturally from one stage of religion to the next when it is ready. That is, when the social “mana” required for the change becomes fully available. Before there could be Martin Luther, there had to be a middle class. Before there could be a middle class, there had to be a certain level of commerce. And on the other hand, when there was a certain level of commerce, there would be a middle class, and when there was a middle class — educated, economically self-sufficient and in control of their own material destiny — there would be, inevitably, a Martin Luther.

The Question of “Perspectivism”

In applying Wilber’s stages to the history of religions, we will also want to pay particular attention to the question of religious tolerance/intolerance. We might frame the question this way: What are the developmental forces that support the emotional capacity to accept the beliefs of others as valid, and the consequent social policy of granting them freedom of assembly and expression? Conversely, what are the developmental forces that create an emotional incapacity to accept the beliefs of others, that is, make them personally threatening? This incapacity of course lies at the root of religious violence. Wilber calls this capacity “perspectivism”:

Perspectivism is simply the capacity to take the role of others, to cognitively project oneself into a mental perspective and viewpoint other than one’s own. Psychologists from Werner to Piaget have demonstrated how and why increasing perspectivism, or conversely, decreasing egocentrism, is a primary indicator of developmental evolution. Mythic membership is marked by an intermediate degree of perspectivism: greater than magic, which has almost none, but not as developed as rational-reflexive, which is the first major structure to display easy and continuous perspectivism. Mythic membership is aware of others, and can begin to take the role of others, but because it is something of a learner’s stage in perspectivism, it tends to become trapped in those roles, defined by those roles, bound to them. It is thus captured by a conformist, conventional, or traditional attitude: the culture’s codes are its codes, the society’s norms are its norms, what they want is what I want. 53

But we have to note that here Wilber is only talking about the subject of Piaget’s research, and that is cognitive perspectivism. This ability allows the subject to understand that someone else is in point of simple fact looking at the elephant from a different vantage point, but it does not allow him to empathize with that view. It is only cognitive. There is no telling what emotional response this knowledge will result in: wonder? confusion? joy? fear? anger?

But in studying religion, we are more interested in emotional perspectivism. This is the ability to empathetically project oneself into feelings other than one’s own. This allows the subject not to be personally threatened by religious beliefs that he has cognitvely ascertained are different from his or her own. From the history of religion it is clear that emotional perspectivism is a much later development than cognitive perspectivism. Certainly the warring religious groups around the time of the Protestant Reformation understood perfectly well that other religionists had different beliefs than they did. This did not confuse them cognitively. But it did disturb them emotionally.

I think the key to emotional perspectivism is to have a degree of existential interiority that creates a sense of self that is independent of verbal self-statements. One has to know “who one is” without reference to a creed. Some existential interiority is needed to modify a traditional creed. It takes a sense of independent self to modify the rules of the parents. But as long as any creed is needed for the sense of personal identity, ego-survival will also be linked to such verbal statements. Ego-survival is of course always a “life-or-death” situation, and so credal dependence will be a source of religious intolerance.

Bellah’s Five Stages of Religious Evolution

In 1964 the sociologist Robert Bellah published a seminal article in Harvard University’s usually purely quantitative professional journal, The American Sociological Review entitled “Religious Evolution”. In that article he outlined a theory of religious development which fits very nicely with Ken Wilber’s summary of personal developmental psychology. Bellah proposes five stages for the process.

The overall dynamic is a change in the degree of freedom of personality and society in relation to the environing conditions. In order to see this process, we have to have data from all the time we have access to. That would be about 40,000 years. The oldest religion in the world still being practiced today is that of the Australian aboriginals, and their culture is about 40,000 years old. If we compare this religion to the other religions we find around the world, we see fundamental changes in structure over time. Bellah puts it this way:

At each stage of religious evolution the freedom of personality and society has increased relative to the environing conditions. Freedom has increased because at each successive stage the relation of man to the conditions of his existence has been conceived as more complex, more open and more subject to change and development. The distinction between conditions that are really ultimate and those that are alterable becomes increasingly clear though never complete.54

  1. Primitive Religion

Bellah’s first stage is Primitive religion, found only among the aboriginals of Australia. In it the human ego is scarcely separated from the world of “the Dreaming”. There is only one religion for all humans, ritual is by participation in the Dreaming, and the Dreaming is always present. This is a Stage Two self-system in Wilber’s system. Apparently by their isolation on the sub-continent, the inhabitants of Australia never really experienced a shift in their ecological niche until Captain Cook visited their shores in 1759.

  1. Archaic Religion

The second stage, Archaic religion, started about 10,000 years ago. It includes the many tribal religions of Africa, Asia, the Pacific islands and the Americas. These religions have gods, and special religious organizations have become more clearly separated out. These operate at a Stage Three level of organization of the self. Wilber refers to them as magical, shamanic religions. They are still very intertwined with nature and have remarkable knowledge and harmony with it. Their use of language is still largely concrete. Their religious language centers on stories of deities that are projections of the forces of nature, forces in society (Victor Turner) and the internal forces of the id, ego and superego.

  1. Historic Religion

But in the third stage, Historic religion, which started around 2,000 B.C. and appears to coincide with the invention of writing, the human ego is identified as a very clear actor in the universe. Gods, specialist religious organizations, and religious hierarchies are fully developed. This stage marks the beginning of theology (actual thinking about the ultimate conditions of human existence). The great religious traditions of the modern world — Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism — are all Historic religions.

The historic religions have esoteric and exoteric components. The esoteric components leap ahead of the historical pace of consciousness development and explore Stages Five, Six and Seven. They are pursued by extremely small, very isolated minorities. The “popular” form, which engages the vast majority of the population, works on the tasks of Stage Four, the maturation of the rule-role mind. There is an uneasy relationship in the historic religions between their esoteric and exoteric components. The officials of these religions must negotiate this relationship. As the custodians of social order, they feel responsible for maintaining the rule-role mind, and although they may accept the validity of the esoteric component, they also do not fully trust it. Dostoevsky portrayed this relationship brilliantly in The Brothers Karamazov in his chapter entitled “Christ and the Grand Inquisitor.”

The esoteric component of Historic Religion is expressed in mysticism and philosophical speculation. In Christianity this would be the Greek “Fathers” and the mystics described in the works of Evelyn Underhill. In China we seem to have an almost wholly exoteric system with a small nod to the mystical in Confucianism, and an almost wholly mystical system with a small nod to practices of everyday life in Daoism. Hindu esotericism is in the Upanishads and an exoteric form in the Ramayana of Tulsi Das. The Mahabharata tries to cover both areas, and the Bhagavad Gita is a central piece in that bridging. Nobody knows what the Vedas mean. The best guess I have seen is that they are instructions for a ritual horse sacrifice in which the parts of the horse stand for aspects of the internal functioning of the self-system. If so, they would be the work of brilliant Stage Two consciousness. In Buddhism we have various monastic treatises on the esoteric side and rituals, rosaries and prayer-wheels on the exoteric side.

But the popular forms of these religions are all Stage Three-Four systems. They handle religious narrative mythically, and compose elaborate rules for behavior. Their task is to give the ego a more sophisticated set of tools to control the id on the one hand and negotiate with the super-ego on the other. In individual consciousness, if all goes well, it seems to take us about seven years to complete Stage Four. In historical process in Western Europe it seems to have taken our forebears the eleven hundred years from Augustine to Luther to do it. Bellah says:

The historic religions discovered the self; early modern religion found a doctrinal basis on which to accept the self in all its empirical ambiguity; modern religion is beginning to understand the laws of the self’s own existence and so to help man take responsibility for his own fate.55

We might paraphrase and expand this comment as follows: The historic religions — which have only been around for a few thousand years out of the hundreds of thousand of years that homo sapiens has been on this planet — made a momentous if basic achievement in human history. They discovered the ego. Before the historic religions, individuals were not clearly distinguished out from the group and from nature. There was no “independent thinking” going on that could generate technologies such as writing. It was the historic religions that began to express this. They distinguished the ego out from the stream of experience, both sensory experience from without and the pulsations of the unconscious from within.

But it was still a weak and uncertain ego. From about 2000 BC until the Protestant Reformation, the individual ego of most human beings could not get along without a permanent parent And those who tried to throw off the institutionalized permanent parent of the church or the state were declared heretics and removed from society. During this period of history, advanced knowledge about the inner world was esoteric if it existed at all, and knowledge about the outer world was primitive. Most people were easily overwhelmed by the energy of repressed pain, and so they developed practices to control the unconscious, and a class of specialists to control the practices. The practices were trance-inducing rituals and the officials were the clergy. The evolutionary purpose of the institutions they invented was to control human experience and thus nurture the growth of the ego. After centuries of this regime, enough people had strong enough egos to enter a new phase.

  1. Early Modern Religion

Stage four is called Early Modern religion. Bellah says that it is essentially Protestantism, but I think his view of the matter needs to be expanded somewhat. If the purpose of religion is to engage the ultimate conditions of man’s existence, then Early Modern religion has to be all of the meaning-giving activity that grew up in the wake of Luther’s break with Rome.

These would then include not only the formally religious wing, the Protestant churches, but also a wing that was organizationally outside of Christianity, but with the same developmental intent. This would be the humanists, the secularists. Wilber makes this point when he says:

I agree with sociologists in general that the course of modern development is marked by increasing rationalization. What perhaps distinguishes my viewpoint from other spiritually sympathetic theorists is that I believe the trend of rationalization per se is necessary, desirable, appropriate, phase-specific and evolutionary. It is therefore perfectly religious in and by itself (no matter how apparently secular): an expression of increasingly advanced consciousness and articulated self-awareness that has as its final aim, and itself contributes to, the resurrection of Spirit-Geist.56

The competition between rationalism and religion for the past five hundred years is a fascinating phenomenon that we will discuss more fully in the next chapter.

Bellah’s felicitous phrase is that Early Modern religion “accepts the self in all its empirical ambiguity.” If we ask in what does “empirical ambiguity” consist, then an answer naturally forms itself out of the researches of western psychological science. The Swiss psychiatrist Alice Miller makes an observation that is relevant here:

Splitting of the human being into two parts, one that is good, meek, conforming and obedient and the other that is diametrically opposite is perhaps as old as the human race, and one could simply say that it is part of “human nature”. Yet it has been my experience that when people have had the opportunity to seek and live out their true self in analysis, this split disappears of itself. They perceive both sides, the conforming as well as the so-called obscene, as two extremes of the false self, which they now no longer need.57

Of course, psychoanalysis is only one of many introspective disciplines that address the empirical ambiguities of the human psyche. So, Miller’s comment simply illustrates the point that modern western psychological science has explored extensively and continues to explore this territory, and the nature of the ambiguity Bellah refers to is precisely the subject of that science. (We shall discuss this matter more extensively in the following chapter.)

So, Early Modern Religion expresses a self that is more mature than the previous stage, but it is still a kind of in-between stage, an adolescence. It significantly modifies its dependence on institutionalized parental authority figures. (I think the authority figures of Protestantism are the fathers of early teen-agers, whereas the authority figures of Roman Catholicism are the mother and father of three-years-olds.) But although it modifies parental dependence, it does not get rid of it. It tends to exchange a Pope in Rome for a Pope at home.

It popularizes (makes exoteric) the work of Stage Five of personal consciousness development. Within a hundred years it produces René Descartes, modern empirical science and the Enlightenment. Thinking is breaking out all over the place. Rational perspectivism starts to become seriously competitive in society with the appearance of this form of religion. There are actually voices that support religious diversity and freedom. But social life is still very mixed on this issue. There is still a lot of intolerance and coercion.

On the institutional level, there is a momentous “side effect” of the Reformation. By ending the control of the Pope over information sources in Europe (universities, publishing, preaching), and providing cultural support for the idea of spiritual self-determination, the Reformation irreversibly changed the very fabric of the meaning-giving institutions of western society. It opened the way for secular spirituality and the free marketplace of meaning.

  1. Modern Religion

In the fifth stage, Modern religion, the ego has an even more mature and autonomous control of the process of religious symbolization. Now no longer a rebellious adolescent, it is a self-reliant spiritual seeker. Modern Religion allows for Stage Six “experiments”. Nones, Others, Rosicrucians, Theosophists, sects, and cults all seek engagement with existence. In terms of Stages, the experiments of Modern Religion are all over the map. They regress, they fantasize, they go catatonic. Or they grow and advance.

But the central self-structure of society itself is the mature, healthy ego of Stage Six. This ego-structure has an open relationship with the unconscious. It is not automatically threatened when its content comes to the surface. (On the individual level this may be due to good fortune in childhood or to natural introspective talent. On the social level I think it is due to the ready availability of massive amounts of useful information.) Therefore it produces a culture that is flexible enough to allow all of them. This produces shocks to the social system, as when a group decides to emigrate to the Haile Bop comet by means of cyanide, but not enough shock to retreat from the trust of freedom.

Unshakable trust of freedom of conscience is in fact the hallmark of Stage Six religion. This value-judgment is rooted in the introspective intuition that the further growth of the psyche must occur precisely by engaging the content of the unconscious.

This freedom is different from the economic, political and behavioral freedom of Stage Five. The Stage Five belief in freedom would be expressed in a principle such as, “No taxation without representation.” The Declaration of Independence begins to flirt with Stage Six freedom when it mentions “the pursuit of happiness” as one of the inalienable rights that all men are endowed with by their Creator. However, it is likely that the authors of the Declaration had economic and political behavior in mind as the instruments of the pursuit of happiness rather than introspective activities.

Bellah is aware of the importance of freedom in Early Modern religion and at the same time implies that it is not a part of institutional Christianity:

However much the development of Western Christianity may have led up to and in a sense created the modern religious situation, it just as obviously is no longer in control of it. Not only has any obligation of doctrinal orthodoxy been abandoned by the leading edge of modern culture, but every fixed position has become open to question in the process of making sense out of the human situation. This involves a profounder commitment to the process I have been calling religious symbolization than ever before. 58

  1. Postmodern Religion

A sixth stage of religious development is not included in Bellah’s system, because he wrote about all of this over thirty years ago, and that is precisely the period of time when Postmodern Religion arose.

In brief, postmodernity is that type of thought that rebels against any totalizing understanding of reality. It rejects various attempts to “stop the show”, “freeze the flux”, and “release the truth-police.” It seeks to put an end to the manipulable domination of instrumental reason. It dissents from the Enlightenment’s concern with methodology and its neglect of historicity. Heidegger and Wittgenstein constitute the dual-headed Zeus from whom postmodernity springs.59

Postmodern religion is expressed by those individuals who pursue a spirituality of openness to existence that is not tied down to creeds that are too specific or to groups that are too well organized. It pursues objectives such as freedom, physical health and material sufficiency — all of which are conceptualized as instrumentalities in the service of the spiritually growing self that has within it the means of its own completion. It may seek out therapy or a spiritual guide, but it does not join churches. It is a Stage Seven arrangement.



There was history long before Herodotus started writing about it. It has always been with us. Recorded history begins when we can recall the past, but long before our ancestors had the cultural resources to write the past down and thus begin the art of history, they still retained their pasts in the tissues of their brains and their bodies.

  1. The Kurgans

There are two main sources of Western culture: the Greeks and the Hebrews. They still work in dialectical tension with each other. Therefore it is important to note that before the Greeks there were the Kurgans, and before the Kurgans there were the Old Europeans. In fact the Dorians (the “Greeks” of Homer and Aeschylus et al.) were Kurgans who had learned how to write.

In The Chalice and the Blade — Our History, Our Future (Harper & Row. San Francisco, 1987.) Riane Eisler made an argument that is now familiar and no longer controversial: Old European culture in the Neolithic Age — starting around 8000 BCE — had a highly developed agricultural organization, female goddess figures, social planning and non-warlike economies. It was much more peaceful and comfortable than its successor cultures. Old European culture was matrilineal, but not matriarchal. It was a “partnership culture”.

But these cultures were wiped out by the repeated incursions of steppe pastorals, the Kurgans, that took place over a period of about fifteen hundred years. These were concentrated in three major waves [p. 44]:

Wave No. 1 — 4300-4200 B.C.E.
Wave No. 2 — 3400-3200 B.C.E.
Wave No. 3 — 3000-2800 B.C.E.

The last surviving example of Old European culture was on Crete. The archeology of the great palace at Knossos gives more information than we have in any other example of it. Cretan Old European culture held out longer of course because of the island’s inaccessibility. The end of the Old European Minoan culture of Crete takes place during the Mycenaean Period : 1450 B.C.E.- 1000 B.C.E. The Dorians burned down the great palace at Knossos in the eleventh century B.C.E.

Two salient characteristics of the Kurgan cultures were the centrality of violence in their economies and their pre-occupation with death. They were also of course patriarchal, highly stratified, practiced slavery, and subjugated women. The Old Europeans did not appear to make a very big deal about death, but the extremely elaborate funerary practices of the Kurgans — especially for their chiefs — expended great energy in trying to “overcome” death.

Eisler compares the “values” of these two cultural groups, and finds the Old European group “superior”. While this may be true in some retrospective and abstract sense, it is not true ecologically. The “morally” lower culture ecologically replaced the morally higher culture. Eisler does not appear to grasp the crucially important fact that the violent neolithic and bronze age cultures of the steppe were merely human survival mechanisms, just as the Old European cultures were. Only they were created in a different ecological niche.

It was not that the Kurgans decided to be violent because they were “bad” and went out of their way to annihilate the peoples living a thousand miles west of them. It was that these groups survived in the wilds of the steppe by engaging in certain child-rearing practices that promoted hostility, violence, insensitivity and lonliness. Those who engaged in these practices survived. Those who did not, did not. Then, once having set up a social system that lived by the sword, they proceeded to continue their quest for survival. And of course, when they overran the Old Europeans, the Old Europeans influenced them.

Eisler of course points out over and over again that the Old European cultures worshipped the goddess and the “female” forces of nature. But the question is, from where we stand now, do we believe that ultimate human reality is either male or female? Do we now “worship a goddess”, or does Eisler propose that we would be more advanced if we did worship a goddess?

I don’t think so. I think Eisler does grasp that ultimate human reality is neither male nor female, and it is in connecting with that reality that spiritual advancement occurs. Somehow the descendants of Kurgans became able to do that. We might even ask whether it was in fact possible for the peaceful, comfortable Old European cultures ever to come to the discovery of the neither-male-nor-female source of human existence? (It is of course a question that cannot be answered empirically.) Granted that they seemed to have a certain serenity about death, was that a lack of consciousness or a largeness of consciousness? I don’t think we know.

But the central question is, in spite of the terrible practices of the Kurgan cultures and their obvious inferiority to Old European cultures in regard to certain human values, they are the only ancestors we have. It is their cultural traditions that we have to work with. I think we have to conclude that there was in the Kurgan culture the seed of something “higher.” This is the dialectical view: this violent, lonely, insensitive psyche of the Kurgans produced its own antithesis. It did after all produce the Acropolis, Heraclitus, Sappho, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. They all had their limitations, of course, but they did rise to considerable heights of human achievement. We are still indebted to them.

The tribal, warrior cultures of the steppe pastorals continued to populate Europe until the migrations stopped in about the eleventh century. Franks, Angles, Saxons, Germans, Normans, Goths, et al., ended up settling in those portions of the continent that have become the modern nation-states of the twentieth century. They brought with them their child rearing practices. We do not of course have anthropological data going back two thousand years on the details of those practices, but we do have data on the results and on one modern phase of them. The results are continuous warfare and bloodshed throughout the whole period, and the one modern phase is the German child-rearing manuals of the early twentieth century discussed by the Swiss psychiatrist Alice Miller.

  1. The Hebrews

The contribution of the people of the Bible to Western culture is a subject about which whole libraries have been written and I have no intention of trying to review that literature now. I just want to make three points for the present.

First, the Hebrew contribution is elemental, profound, ineradicable. It is also non-Kurgan. We find it in such Western peculiarities as linear time (not cyclic), one life (not reincarnation), and body-spirit integration.

Second, the intuition of the transcendence of the human condition is a Hebrew contribution that is still pitted in dialectical tension over against the Kurgan obsession with death. This is also the intuition that grounds the proposition that “all humans are created equal”.

Third, the Jesus part of the Hebrew legacy is obviously of crucial importance. I will discuss it more formally after we have had a chance to soak ourselves in the developmental reality of Christian culture. To that subject we now turn. It is the story of what I like to call “the Augustinian Arrangement.”

  1. The Early Christians

The early Christians started their community life with a strong sense of psychic discontinuity with their previous religious-emotional state. Something about their encounter with Jesus put them into an altered state of consciousness vis-à-vis the state of consciousness they had experienced before they became Christians.

In the letters attributed to Paul of Tarsus, there is repeated reference to this experience. He is continually contrasting the condition of Christians before their conversion with their condition after conversion, and by extension, the condition of Christians versus the condition of non-Christians. Here are a few citations:

Rom. 3:9-12. What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; as it is written, ” There is none righteous, not even one; There is none who understands, There is none who seeks for God; All have turned aside, together they have become useless; There is none who does good, There is not even one.”

Rom. 8:7, … the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so.

Cor. 2:14: But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.

Eph. 2:1-3: And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.

2 Cor. 4:4 … The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

In a passage that is probably the best known of all, in Romans 7, Paul ruminates on his own compulsions. The name he gives to the ego is “my true self” and the name he gives to the unconscious is “sin”: “When I act against my will, then it is not my true self doing it, but sin which lives in me.” That is, the ego and the unconscious are pre-scientifically labeled and a war between them is identified in which the ego is the weaker of the two protagonists. Carl Rogers could have done wonders for Paul.

But Elaine Pagels notes that in this earliest stage of Christianity the weakness of the natural self was remedied by becoming a Christian. Baptism transformed converts from their former state as “children of necessity and ignorance … to become children of choice and knowledge,” washed clean of sin, illuminated, and “by our deeds too found to be good citizens and keepers of the commandments.” 60 The result was a view of the Christian psyche as spiritually competent:

Gregory of Nyssa concludes that “the soul immediately shows its royal and exalted character, far removed as it is from the lowliness of private station, in that it owns no master, and is self-governed, ruled autocratically by its own will.” Besides dominion over the earth and animals, this gift of sovereignty conveys the quality of moral freedom: “Preeminent among all is the fact that we are free from any necessity, and not in bondage to any power, but have decision in our own power as we please; for virtue is a voluntary thing, subject to no dominion. Whatever is the result of compulsion and force cannot be virtue.”61

But this personal integrity was not a characteristic of human nature as such. It was the result of conversion to Christianity. It was also a self-concept held by small, closely-knit and persecuted minority. Everybody who was a Christian in these early days came to the group very highly motivated.

  1. The Augustinian Arrangement

When the social status of Christianity changed from being a small persecuted minority to an approved majority, this created a demographic foundation for a shift in the Christian sense of self. By the early fifth century, when Augustine was in his prime as a theologian, Christianity had been the established religion in the Roman Empire for a hundred years. There were forms of Christianity such as the Gnostics and the Antinomians whose belief-systems and practices clearly expressed different self-concepts than that of the majority of Christians. There were many nominal Christians whose behavior was not exemplary. Bishops were beginning to identify with those in charge of public order and noticing that baptism and church membership did not make men reliably virtuous.

Consequently a powerful political concern for mechanisms of social control started to arise within Christianity. Elaine Pagels gives a detailed account of the outcome of those concerns in the late fourth and early fifth centuries. In Adam, Eve and the Serpent she pays particular attention to how the debate between Augustine and the Pelagians contributed to their resolution.

Now, whereas Pagels’ book is a brilliant historical ethnography of the period, as a specimen of that kind of scholarship, it simply presents the events on their own terms. Therefore we can now include it as a component of our knowledge-base, use it as a platform, and step back from it to analyze those events on our terms. For we know a lot more about human nature than either Augustine or Julian of Eclanum did. We know more about history, more about time itself, and in particular we know more about the human psyche.

All religious systems have three main instrumentalities with which to support the self-structure of a particular stage of development. These are (1) right-brain and mid-brain oriented symbolic practices, including religious ritual, (2) left-brain oriented theory, i.e., theology, and (3) external, social mechanisms of behavioral control. The form of these instrumentalities in the Augustinian Arrangement included (1) the ritual of the Eucharist and the symbolism of the all-powerful parent (Our Holy Mother the Church and Our Holy Father the Pope), (2) a theory of spiritual reality that divided the world into two distinct parts: “nature” on the one hand and “grace” on the other, and (3) a behavior enforcing bureaucracy centered on the papacy and local bishops.

The Mass is Prozac

From the very first days of Christianity its members gathered regularly in the meal commemorating the Last Supper mentioned in all four gospels. In very early texts it was referred to as the “agapé”. In the middle ages it came to be called the Eucharist. In contemporary Catholicism it is known as the Mass, and among Protestants as the communion service. It is in fact one of the most brilliant pieces of social engineering the world has ever seen, but it is also thoroughly developmental in structure, and the product of a stage-specific misunderstanding of the food-references of Jesus in the gospel narratives.

After the Edict of Constantine in 313, this ritual rapidly became the central gathering for Christians. The building of Romanesque churches all over Europe started in the eighth century, followed by the great Gothic cathedrals. In the middle ages the monstrance was adapted from tribal practices, and the circular bread, the “host”, was placed in it because the masses of people needed something to fix their eyes on. The Eucharist became a Christian mandala. (A Jungian would note that the circle is a symbol of the ego, the boundary of consciousness vis-à-vis the sea of the unconscious.)

Attending Mass in the cathedrals was a powerful trance-induction technology. The modern expression “hocus-pocus” in fact comes from the Mass. It is what the words of the consecration of the host –“Hoc est enim corpus meum.” — must have sounded like from the nave of those immense, vaulted structures. Kneeling with the hands folded in front of the chest is a fetal or infantile bodily posture. Communion was received with eyes closed, head tilted back, mouth open, tongue out. What organ of nurture might you expect to receive in that position? The sounds of organ music and Gregorian chant, the shape of the space enclosed by gothic arches, the quality of light through stained-glass windows, the smells of beeswax and incense, the effect of periods of silence while kneeling with eyes closed, are all capable of being reminiscent of the womb. And so the Mass constitutes a regressive hypnotic state that recaptures the third trimester of fetal experience.

Exposure to this experience began in early childhood, and by the time a person reached the age of seven or so, the cues for entering the womb-and-infancy state of consciousness were so well learned that people began to go under long before they actually enter the building and experience the performance of the ceremony. All they would have to do is think about what they are about to do, and they would begin to go under. The process merely deepens as they go through the activity known as “going to church.”

So, the purpose of the Mass is to produce a certain state of consciousness, that is, a certain state of emotions. During the centuries of its use, it provided an artificially-induced trance-state to support an ego structure struggling with the repressed fears and pain of traumatic child-rearing practices. And it worked. People grew. It was a pedagogical device of immense benefit in building up the ego structures that carry the personality and the social group beyond the immersion in nature of shamanistic tribal magic, into a wider mental and social world.

In the middle of the fifteenth century (1440), Christianity settled on a theory that explained the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. It was the theory of transubstantiation. That theory uses Aristotle’s notions of substance and accidents. It says that the “substance” of Jesus is present “under the accidents” of bread and wine. But there is a very simple logical problem. It is that “being present” is an “accident” in the Aristotelian logic on which the theory is based. So, the “substance” of Jesus without its own accidents still lacks its own whereness. It can’t be said to be “there.”

But logic was never the main point. It was always rhetoric, that is to say, emotions. That is, “transubstantiation” is one of those cases of theological doublethink that are omnipresent in the history of Christian thought, as it tried to put back together a self that it had sundered in its distinction between nature and grace. Transubstantiation was one of those brilliantly clever moves of the mind that a traumatized psyche uses to support an emotionally necessary choice. The choice in this case was to experience the deeply regressive state that all “presence of god” rituals induce.

These rituals mobilize those endogenous opioids that trauma researchers talk about. By tranquilizing the parts of the psyche that hold the pain — thought-processes and belief-systems — they enable the parts of the psyche that can release the pain — the somatic senses that reside in the brain stem and the associated parts of “the reptilian brain” — to do their job. The result is existential relief, growth, a more integrated and healthy psyche. The Mass was medieval Prozac: a top-of-the-line serotonin re-uptake inhibitor.

We noted in the previous chapter Ken Wilber’s observation about “mana”:

The human being has drives that express the need for those various environments: physical needs (food, water, air, shelter), emotional needs (feeling, touch-contact, sex), mental-egoic needs (interpersonal communication, reflexive self-esteem, meaning), spiritual needs (God-communion, depth), and so on. It is as if there were levels of “food” or “mana”– physical food, emotional food, mental food, spiritual food. Growth and development are simply the process of adapting to, and learning to digest, subtler and subtler levels of food, with each stage of growth marked by a phase-specific adaptation to a particular type of food.62

Now, if this in fact the case, and if Jesus of Nazareth was indeed a spiritual person of the caliber we suspect him to be, then he would certainly have understood that. Therefore when he is recorded as saying that “My flesh is food indeed … my blood is drink indeed …” he would have simply been referring to the fact that he was bodily present in history, in the flesh, and indicating that this presence is important to remember.

This would have been an extremely important message for his followers. For they like all other humans would be seriously tempted to leave their bodies once they started to discover the out-of-body states the psyche is capable of when it starts to pursue advanced introspective disciplines. Out-of-body experiences were at the heart of the Albigensian sect and the reason why it terrified the King of France into sending Simon de Montfort south to eliminate it by genocide. They appear to be at the heart of the gnostic quest for enlightenment, and the neo-Hindu monism of Bubba Free John. The Hindu notion of “bliss” — which has gained a certain currency in “new age” spiritual circles — also seems to be a name for a dissociative, out-of-body state.

So the question of whether spiritual growth will stay in the body or try to leave it behind is basic and not academic. Everywhere in spiritual disciplines today, the choice is being experimented with. Therefore the food allusions of Jesus in his instructions about the Eucharist are simply a very powerful position-taking about which way the path of health really goes. It is as if Jesus was saying, “O.k., when I am gone, you are going to start wondering if I was ever really here. So, this bread is my body, this wine is my blood. I want you to keep eating it and drinking it as long as you need to be reminded to stay somatic in your spirituality. Whatever happens to you when you meditate, always return to the body, for it too is eternal, in a manner you cannot possibly understand with your neo-cortexes.”

The Christian community never mistook the food metaphor of the Last Supper as a reference to the physical level of relational exchange. They never thought of the Eucharist as magical cannibalism. But they did use the food metaphor to mobilize those endogenous opioids (endorphins) the body possesses to help heal the psyche of the effects of traumatic child-rearing methods. This is what the belief in “the real presence” of Jesus in the Eucharist and the theory of transubstantiation did, brilliantly, for Christians at a certain stage of personality development.

The Theology of the Split Self

Pagels notes that the idealistic and politically unskilled John Chrysostom in Constantinople handled the issue of self-structure much differently than his contemporary Augustine in the West. His writings show that he remained convinced that being a Christian grants a certain degree of spiritual excellence and self-control, but that he was also aware that Christians in fact frequently did not live up to their calling. It turns out that Chrysostom may have been a little bit idealistic about the dynamics of the self. He was called to be Archbishop of Constantinople in 397 because of his renowned oratorical skills. But he had no “political skills” and so in six years he managed to alienate all factions of the ruling elite, was deposed, and died in exile in the year 403.

It remained for Augustine to enunciate the concept of human nature that would become the template for Christian consciousness right into the twentieth century. (Although Augustine’s theology of the split self did not inform state policy after the Reformation, it was supported fully by both Luther and Calvin and has remained enshrined in Christian thought up to today.) Augustine significantly altered the spin put on the self-psychology of the earlier Christians. Whereas they thought that the grace of baptism did repair a defective human nature, Augustine found reality to be otherwise. Pagels says:

What Augustine says in simplest terms is this: human beings cannot be trusted to govern themselves because our very nature — indeed all of nature — has become corrupt as the result of Adam’s sin.63

Whereas Chrysostom had defined his own role as that of advisor, not ruler, Augustine sees the bishop as ruling “in God’s place.” One of Augustine’s favorite images for church leaders is that of the physician ministering to those who have been baptized but, like himself, are still sick, each one infected with the same ineradicable disease contracted through original sin.64

Before the Augustinian Arrangement could be firmly set in place, it had to dispose of an intellectual challenge posed by an obvious alternative: the integrated self in which ego and unconscious are a seamless whole. This was the position put forward by Pelagius, and defended by his follower Julian of Eclanum. Augustine debated Pelagius for ten years, and got him declared a heretic. He debated Julian for fifteen years and died in the year 430, before the matter was resolved. Christianity eventually took his side officially in the Council of Orange in 529.

In this contest the view of human nature as universally depraved gained the clear victory. On a personal level this is the weak ego position. The theoretical view had to be rooted in personal experience. On the one hand the ego is overwhelmed by dangerous and corrupt bodily and unconscious impulses (the id). On the other hand, it is also filled with guilt, that is, dominated by the super-ego. Pagels asks the question, “Why would anyone choose to feel guilty?”

On the personal level the answer is that only a modern ego could even ask Pagels’ question. Augustine and those he spoke for did not experience guilt as a “choice.” It was a given. That is how a lesser-developed ego handles the split-off elements of the self that lie in the unconscious. It is simply subject to them. It must defend. We must not be thrown off by Augustine’s intellectual brilliance. Emotionally he was not a maturely-developed person.

On the social level, the answer is persuasively given by Pagels. It is essentially the “social control” or the “law and order” issue. Now that Christianity was in charge of running the Roman Empire, it had to be a good cop.

The reason why the views of Paul and Augustine won the debate in the fifth century was that their ego-structures represented the central tendency of the culture of the time. The vast majority of Europeans recognized them as speaking for all. They approved a theory of a divided self because they had an everyday experience of a divided self. (It was not the fully “divided self” of R. D. Laing’s studies of schizophrenia, but still a self with enough schizoid tendency to justify a sense of internal parts at war with one another.) Pelagius was “ahead of his time”, extremely ahead of his time.

So, Christianity set up a regime of ritual, bureaucracy and a theory of universal guilt to control the dark forces of the unconscious and further strengthen the ego. In this regime, what we now call the ego was called “grace”, and what we now call the repressed elements of the unconscious was called “nature” and “sin.”


The ritual and theological components of the Augustinian Arrangement were supported by the unique bureaucratic achievement of the Papacy. In the New Testament and the writings of early Christian opinion-makers the Christian community appears as a close-knit collectivity that was interactively involved in defining its own world-view. But the subsequent centuries did not continue this activity. Those times had a very weak infrastructure for the interactive distribution of information. Literacy was not widely distributed. The written word was extremely limited in availability. All books had to be hand-written and therefore were to be found only in monasteries and the households of the wealthiest and most powerful classes of society. The scope of trade and commerce was limited. Tribal migrations continued to disrupt peaceful living until Charlemagne pacified the Eurasian frontier in the eighth and ninth centuries.

And so there grew up in western Europe a form of religious polity based on the mass distribution of pre-packaged bits of information about the core beliefs of Christianity. The regular performance of the Eucharist, often in buildings of stupefying grandeur, with its regular doling out of passages from the Bible, was the emotional lifeline that bound the population to its religion. In addition to ritual, there were also rules. The whole relationship of the clergy to the laity was modeled on a rather crassly paternalistic concept of a ruling elite with a passive, ignorant following. There was virtually no middle class.

By the time of Martin Luther, the selling of indulgences was a widely-practiced expression of this relationship. Indulgences were promises from the religious authorities that mythical punishments after death in a place with clocks on the walls, called Purgatory, would be reduced by specific amounts of time (e.g., seven years and seven quarantines). They were obtainable for performing certain pious acts such as saying Hail Marys, or for the payment of small sums of money. In the absence of any widely established and consensual revenue collecting mechanisms for the Papacy, selling indulgences was a very popular papal fund-raiser. They were promoted like modern ad campaigns. They worked so well that they were deemed good collateral for extremely large loans to Popes.

In the time of Luther, Pope Leo the Tenth mounted an indulgence selling program to finance the construction of St. Peter’s basilica in Rome. It was marketed aggressively, and was in fact the occasion for Luther’s posting of his Ninety-Five Theses in Wittenberg that marked the beginning of the end of the Augustinian Arrangement.

The End of the Augustinian Arrangement

The Augustinian Arrangement continued for over a thousand years uninterrupted. I was going to say “unchallenged”, but that would not be correct. It was actually challenged frequently. Heresies were always cropping up, and always having to be put down, with the military force of the state if necessary. But until Martin Luther’s objection to indulgences in 1517, none of the challenges was successful. But Luther’s was, because the regime of the previous thousand years had finally done its job, the social conditions were present, and the strength of the average ego in Europe was ready for a change in religious practices. The continent was ready for greater independence in meaning-giving.

The Protestant Reformation changed all three pieces of the Augustinian Arrangement, but each one differently. Its most important and irreversible impact was on the Roman bureaucracy. That civil authority was essentially dismantled. No longer would there be centralized control over spiritual thought in Europe. Centralized control was replaced by local control. In ritual and religious imagery, it modified the parent-child relationship between clergy and laity, but did not remove it. And in theology, rather than replacing the theory of a split self, it actually strengthened it.

On the macro-political level the Reformation immediately restricted the power of the Papacy. The secular princes of northern Germany quickly moved to Luther’s support and the right to practice the new orthodoxy of Protestantism was soon recognized by the politically pragmatic Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. (He needed all the help he could get in fighting the Turks.) These arrangements continued their natural growth until they were finally confirmed by the Peace of Augsburg in 1555. This was “the first international agreement which was based formally on a pluralistic view.” 65 Even the resolutely Catholic sentiments of the Holy Roman Emperor were no match for the dictates of political pragmatism. The Pope was deemed much too intransigent to be asked to attend the Diet of Augsburg, or any of the numerous other political negotiations that were made in Europe during the next 100 years. It is undoubtedly this conflict between political pragmatism and religious rigidity that transformed the whole concept of public wisdom in Europe and institutionalized the regime that is now known as “secularism.” While Popes and bishops and religious zealots of all stripes were busy expostulating and condemning, “politicians” were beginning to enforce the judgment that religious problems are not likely to be resolved by force.

On the micro-religious level Luther also changed the governance of the psyche.

In ritual, the passively consumed Mass was modified in various ways. Jaroslav Pelikan notes that Martin Luther’s central innovation in liturgy and worship was his “recovery of the role of the sermon in the service.”66 Luther said that “the principal purpose of any worship service is the teaching and preaching of the word of God.” By this he meant an exposition of the meaning of the Bible. And so in fact the sermon replaced Communion as the central element in Protestant ritual. The Roman Catholic Mass of the time required no activity of the worshipper, and there was even a formal theological position that justified passivity. It was the theory that the fundamental efficacy of the ritual in “giving grace” operated “ex opere operato”, that is, by virtue of the work being performed, independently of the spiritual condition of the performer (the priest). So, the shift in ritual performance was from a rite that regressed its members to very early childhood, even pre-birth, to a less formal, more interpersonal production that regressed its participants to a much later age of childhood, probably the ages of about seven to fourteen. Although the womb-like architecture of the cathedrals was forsaken for plainer structures (especially for the Calvinists), the use of interior spatial arrangements and music still achieved a state of trance.

In church polity, some democratic practices were introduced, such as the rights of local congregations to choose their pastors. Lutherans and Calvinists still retained the parent-child relationship between the clergy and the laity, but they allowed the parent to get personally closer to his dependents and allowed the dependents a more advanced degree of autonomy.

So, in both polity and ritual, Protestantism did clearly move forward in ego development, as Bellah notes, to accept more of its “empirical ambiguity.”

That ambiguity showed up most forcefully in Protestant theology. The psychodynamics are fascinating. It was as if history is the human race in therapy. When Protestants discontinued using the hypnotic techniques of ritual that suppressed the unconscious wounds of child-rearing for Catholics, more of the effects of traumatic child-rearing practices could surface. They showed up as stark descriptions of the worthlessness of the ego. While this Protestant theology looks ever so much like a step backwards in the development of consciousness, it is in therapeutic terms a step forward. It represents the surfacing of repressed materials. As long as the sense of worthlessness of the self is suppressed, it cannot be worked with. But once it is out in the open, it is subject to the process of conscious reflection and change.

The Split Self of Protestant Theology

Luther and Calvin were in substantial agreement on the structure of the self. Human nature is in a “fallen” state due to original sin, and so no one can do anything to gain “salvation” by their own efforts.

[I note as an aside, that in all the discussions of “salvation” the word for this state of well-being after death was the Latin word salus, which is also the word for health. It would appear that at this time in history, there was not a very well articulated concept of physical or emotional health such as we have today. However, if one were to translate Latin passages that contain the word salus by using the word “health” instead of the word “salvation”, one would clearly see that the theological opinions about an after-death state of well-being were projections of before-death experiences.]

To obtain salvation, there must be an intervention of God from outside the self — this is a “supernatural” force — and the name given to this extrinsic intervention is “grace”. One topic under which this theory of a divided self was discussed was that of the freedom of the will. Both Protestant and Catholic theologians devoted literally hundreds of books and thousands of discussions and debates to the relationship between Divine grace and human free will, but like “all the king’s horses and all the king’s men” they could never put back together again the divided self they accepted as their basic premise.

In Catholicism the discussion about free will went on for well over a hundred years. One phase of it was a ninety-year debate between Dominicans and Jesuits who taught theology in Rome that was ended by Papal Decree in 1630. (He told them not to call each other heretics.) It was called the debate over “Efficacious Grace.” Another part of it continued in France into the early 1700s and involved the Jesuits, the Jansenists, the mathematician-theologian Blaise Pascal and the convent of Port Royal in Paris. No consensus ever resulted from these exercises.

Martin Luther devoted a major piece of writing to the subject. The Bondage of the Will was his response to the opinions of Erasmus. Luther’s translator notes:

To put it very succinctly, Erasmus thinks essentially along traditional Scholastic lines, while Luther does not. In spite of his well known distaste for Scholastic subtleties, Erasmus presupposes the metaphysical dualism of “nature” and “super nature” on which all Scholastic thinking rests, and in terms of which the relation between man and God, human nature and divine grace, is construed. Luther, on the other hand, takes much more serious a quite different dualism, namely, that of God and the devil.67

Psychodynamically, Calvinism’s dualism was the same as Luther’s. The Canon of Dort, written in 1618, accurately reflects it. It contains five theological points:
1. that fallen man was totally unable to save himself (Total Depravity)
2. that God’s electing purpose was not conditioned by anything in man (Unconditional Election)
3. that Christ’s atoning death was sufficient to save all men, but efficient only for the elect (Limited Atonement)
4. that the gift of faith, sovereignly given by God’s Holy Spirit, cannot be resisted by the elect (Irresistible Grace)
5. that those who are regenerated and justified will persevere in the faith (Perseverance of the saints)

These 5 points give rise to the acronym “TULIP” as a symbol of Calvinist orthodoxy.

Thus all Protestant theology was agreed on a theory of the human condition that divided it into two parts. One part was under the control of the ego and not capable of attaining the fullness of health. The other part was capable of attaining this full “health” (i.e., salvation) but it came from a source outside the self. This theory had to be grounded in experience. This means two experiences. One is the natural experience of self as tempted by unconscious impulses, and the other is an altered state of consciousness experienced as free from forbidden impulses.

The Arminian Codicil

In the first hundred years of Protestantism there was one modification of this vision that would have fateful consequences for the later development of Christianity. It was the appearance of Arminianism.

James Arminius was a late sixteenth century Dutch cleric who started out as a perfectly orthodox Calvinist. He became an ordained pastor in Amsterdam in 1588. Since he was considered a very bright young talent, he was asked to rebut the heresies of another Calvinist in a public debate. In the course of preparing for the debate, he came to doubt the doctrine of unconditional predestination and to ascribe to man a certain degree of freedom in relation to the activity of grace.

The key difference between Arminius and the Calvinists was in regard to the second point of “TULIP”: unconditional election. For the orthodox Calvinists, man is in the condition of total depravity, and so can do nothing for his own salvation. What happens is that God, for his own good reasons, sovereignly chooses which individuals he will save. “Unconditional” in this context means that there are no conditions that humans have to meet, including faith. Faith is the gift of God, and cannot be generated by man because it is a good work.

For the Arminians, divine election was “conditional”. God’s election of people to salvation is conditioned upon their faith response to the gospel. Arminians rejected the claim that faith is a work, since faith merely receives the gift that God offers. Those who trust Christ are predestined to be glorified in Christ. Both predestination and election are based on God’s foreknowledge of our decision to trust Christ.

After Arminius’ death, his followers set forth their views in 1610 in five articles called Arminian Articles of Remonstrance, which gave them the name ‘Remonstrants’. The articles taught as follows:

  1. God has decreed to save through Jesus Christ those of the fallen and sinful race who through the grace of the Holy Spirit believe in him, but leaves in sin the incorrigible and unbelieving.
    2. Christ died for all men (not just for the elect), but no one except the believer has remission of sin.
    3. Man can neither of himself nor of his free will do anything truly good until he is born again of God, in Christ, through the Holy Spirit.
    4. All good deeds or movements in the regenerate must be ascribed to the grace of God but his grace is not irresistible.
    5. Those who are incorporated into Christ by a true faith have power given them through the assisting grace of the Holy Spirit to persevere in the faith. But it is possible for a believer to fall from grace.

Now, this might seem like a very small difference to the untrained eye, but there lies concealed in the miniscule divergence in point number two a very small window for the entry of the healthy ego onto the religious scene.

The dispute soon became involved in politics. The Netherlands were divided between the supporters of “states rights”, which included the wealthier merchant class (to which most Remonstrants belonged; there is that middle class again) and the national party (to which most Calvinists belonged). The National Party wished a national synod to decide the controversy. The states-rights party held that each province could decide its own religious affairs and resisted the proposal. By a coup d’etat the states-rights party was overthrown, its political leader was beheaded and the renowned scholar Hugo Grotius was condemned to life imprisonment, from which he later escaped.

Arminianism was unanimously rejected and condemned by the Synod of Dort and the Arminians were treated rather badly by our standards today. For refusing to subscribe to the Canon, some 200 ministers were deprived of their positions and eighty were banished from the country. Those who continued to minister were sentenced to life in prison. A period of persecution followed until 1632. At that time the state extended toleration to the group. It took until 1795 for the Remonstrants to be recognized in Holland as a legitimate church body.

A Calvinist historian notes: “As a theological system Arminianism tries to mediate between the supralapsarianism of Beza, who taught that God willed the fall of man in order to accomplish his decrees, and the Pelagian view, which denied original sin, regarding grace as unnecessary for salvation. Arminianism asserts a logical contradiction: on the one hand it affirms predestination and grace, while on the other hand denying it or gutting it of any real significance by asserting that it is conditional upon man’s free will.”68

But as we have noted, this “logical contradiction” is actually Orwellian doublethink. The Arminians were faced with a “total depravity” view that had the parental authority of consensual culture, and was supported by the physical force of the state. They thus circumvented it (unconsciously) by an ingenious semantic maneuver. In other words, they talked their way around it. It was a brilliant survival tactic. The orthodox Calvinists really wanted to kill them for this, but fortunately, a developmentally more advanced secularist state intervened. The key psychological point is that the Arminians “got” the ego. They had what contemporary psychotherapy calls “positive self-regard”.

Wesleyan Experience

About a hundred years after the Arminians opened the door to positive self-regard, John Wesley turned it into a significant social movement. He placed a positive evaluation on a distinctive experience that has become archetypal for mainline Protestantism. Whereas the “high church” denominations still use a trance-induction technique very similar to Roman Catholicism’s Mass, the “low-church” tradition achieves its experience of faith by the direct suggestion of a charismatic preacher. The following passages from two contemporary historians explain this:

On May 24, 1738, after he had been at Saint Paul’s Cathedral and heard an anthem on the evangelical, “Pauline” 130th Psalm, John Wesley attended a [Moravian Brethren] meeting place on Aldersgate Street in London and felt his heart “strangely warmed.” But not just that. He started the Methodist Societies to foster in others the warmed heart and the kind of Christian life which is its fitting outflow.

At a time when England was suffering from a dearth of experiential faith, when religion in this sense was often a laughing matter, John Wesley became the most strategic catalyst in effecting a revival of religion which transformed culture in basic ways and gained wide respect for experiential Christian faith.

One special aspect of Wesley’s emphasis on religious experience was his teaching on the witness of the Spirit. In a sermon on this subject, and otherwise, he stresses this matter. He taught that there is a direct witness, in which the Holy Spirit inwardly assures of our acceptance with God in justification and of our entire sanctification; and that, also, and later, indirectly, the Holy Spirit witnesses to us of such matters by reminding that, in our lives, the fruits of justification or of entire sanctification are evident.

John M. Moore says, “John Wesley received an experience that night [at Aldersgate] that made him the greatest moral, social, and religious force of his century. That is the testimony of the historians…. Aldersgate Street led out into the fields where men lived, and he took the road and never grew weary of it.”69

John Locke’s theory of knowledge formed the intellectual grounding of the Wesleyan movement, lending to it the conviction that true knowledge came from sense perception along with reason. Thus the senses and the intellectual components of the process together make real knowledge possible. “Locke’s rational empiricism (i.e., his epistemology of sense perception attended by induction and deduction) directly informs the religious ‘epistemology’ whereby Wesley claimed the saving faith he felt was his.” …… Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, and Keats owe something of their theory, and much of their practice, to the relation between John Wesley and John Locke. This mix, then, is English Romantic method”.70

The Four Major Cultural Actors of the West

The socio-political result of all this historical development was the formation in post-Reformation Europe of four major cultural actors that started a complex fugue of emotional development involving Stages Four, Five and Six that still continues today.

One is the Arminian Protestants, with their positive self-regard and their confidence in the ego. Their validation of everyday emotional experience would lead them more and more into a comfortable alignment with science and law and the other instruments of secular culture. Arminian thinking would in fact win over as a practical matter many of those whose traditions began in the serious self-doubt of Luther and Calvin.

Second are the paradoxical Roman Catholics, fully engaged with reason on the one hand, and fully committed to a deeply hypnotic ritual and deeply childlike dependence on religious authority on the other. In America they would start out as non-intellectual and even anti-intellectual poorly educated workers, but, calling on resources that go back two thousand years, they would gradually work their way into a complex dialog with culture.

Third are the conservative Protestants. For distinctive historical and economic reasons they would continue to live out the negative self-image and the war with secular culture of the original Protestant innovators. They would maintain the conflict between reason and positive self-regard on the one hand and the theology of Total Depravity on the other. They would remain in a Stage Three-Four arrangement. Their religious imagery would retain a highly mythical dimension. They would continue to practice the highly emotional ritualism characteristic of weak egos.

Fourth are the Stage Five/Six secularists: the rationalists, the deists, the pragmatists. Their numbers have always seemed to be relatively small in Western society, and yet they have also always retained the role of a ruling elite. They would continue to show confidence in the self and the human mind. Subsequent events would show that the Enlightenment’s confidence in the intellect alone to guide the destinies of the human race was naïve. The Stage Five cultivation of reason that started in the early sixteenth century would pass through a Stage Six dark night of the soul in the mid-twentieth century. This is commonplace in the encounter with existence. It often brings the dark night of the soul before it becomes comfortable communion.

But we must emphasize that all four of these cultural actors are “spiritual forces”, including the secularists. Just because they do not trust ecclesiastical authorities or the language of religion does not mean their concerns are not spiritual. In order to understand what their concerns actually are, we must look at the whole body of thought and action attributable to them, as we began to do in Chapter 7.



Using the imagery of three segments of American religiousness — a non-affiliated “left”, a moderate-liberal “center”, and a conservative “right”,” — the sixties brought a massive re-alignment of their numbers and cultural position in American society. Broadly speaking it was a “decline of the middle.”

In the political and cultural alignments before the sixties, the churches of higher socioeconomic groups tended to find themselves in competition with churches of lower socioeconomic status. Thus northern Baptists, Presbyterians, Episcopals and Congregationalists were churches with leadership status in American society, and Methodists, Catholics and Southern Baptists were churches aligned with more populist social forces. But in the sixties the class alignment of churches became less important than their cultural alignment.

One student of religious involvement in American politics put it this way: “The new cultural politics in 1992 differs from past alignments in kind rather than degree. The historic conflict between coalitions of rival religious traditions is being replaced by a new division between more-religious and less-religious people across those traditions.” This leads to a cultural and political division in America between “the religious right and the secular left.”71

The three segments of American religion are descendents of cultural forces created in the sixteenth century. (See Chapter 9) Each one has its central developmental task and concern, and the movement of people among them represents the movement of persons in a free marketplace of meaning.

The “middle” is made up of the mainline Protestants and those complicated Catholics. Both of these groups have accepted the spiritual necessity of full engagement with reason, but they both have also hedged their bets and given themselves a psychic out in a religious experience they call “faith.” Thus, their relationship to reason and secular culture is ambiguous and ambivalent. They perceive their experiences of “faith” as a wisdom that is higher than reason and in continual tension with it in the lives of individuals and social institutions. But the middle is apparently comfortable with this tension. It finds its very identity in the role of negotiating between these two principles. So, it is not at war with culture; it is in vaguely unresolved tension with it.

The conservatives/fundamentalists/evangelicals are still that weak-ego, negative self-regard, defensive Stage Three-Four exercise: They are literal in their linguistic practices, mechanistic in their rules, and rigid in their roles. They are not introspective and they do not meditate. They are in denial about the existence of their unconscious, and so it is always sneaking up on them and causing trouble (e.g., Jim Bakker, and Jimmy Swaggert).

The Nones and Others are the ones that we know the least about. They are of course the “secularist” explorers of Stage Six, but then we still do not know very much about this exercise. That makes them a very mixed bag, but it is a distinct disservice to think of them merely as atheists or irreligious.

In a period of history that is already working on Stages Six and Seven, we would expect Stage Six to be the emergent demographic, Stage Five to be the most unstable, with a firm, defensive and truculent Stage Three-Four minority bringing up the rear.

The overall numbers support this view. There was an increase in the Nones-Others, an increase in the social presence of conservatives, and a decrease in “the middle”. This is not a simple “secularization” model, but a more complicated, more interesting “decline of the middle” model. The old pattern of religious affiliation in America, before the sixties, was a massive middle sector with a leadership role, a small group of conservatives, and a still smaller fringe of Nones and Others. Now the pattern is one of three major groupings with a weak middle and increasing mutual hostility between seculars and conservatives.

Now obviously I do not think that this “secular left” is necessarily less religious at all. The “Nones” may have a high degree of spiritual interest and competence that is simply not served by traditional religious organizations. I also agree with NORC that the actual numbers of conservatives or fundamentalists in America probably has not increased very much. But they are much better organized than in the past, more self-aware, more powerful in the cultural arena. They were always there. It’s just that now they are a force to be reckoned with.

Not all social scientists agree that the sixties were a watershed of change. There seem to be four schools of thought about the matter: stability extremists, stability moderates, change extremists and change moderates.

Stability Extremists

The stability extremists say, “Well, nothing major happened. It was limited. It was an episodic event with no long-term results.” This would be the position of the priest-sociologist Andrew Greeley.

On the one hand, Greeley is correct in pointing out that religious beliefs in the United States do appear to be constant during this whole period of time. Beliefs in God, an afterlife, heaven and hell and the like do not change much. But that in itself only raises interesting questions about the relationship between religious beliefs on the one hand and church membership on the other. But stability of reported beliefs does not automatically mean stability of church membership and attendance.

Greeley grumbles about social scientists who have “a vested interest in the decline of religion.”

Those who themselves are not religious — frequently having broken with the religious affiliations and practices of their childhood — find, in what seems to them to be the decline of religious commitment and devotion, proof that their own decision was the correct one, a mere anticipation of where everyone else is headed.72

That of course would be me. This is an interesting ad hominem argument, and it cuts both ways. There might also be those who have a vested interest in the stability of religion because they have not broken with the religious affiliations and practices of their childhood because of childish fears which they cannot overcome.

Greeley resorts to smoke and mirrors to defend stability. He notes that the percentage of members of Protestant churches who attend church regularly has remained pretty constant for seventy years at a level of about 37 percent. And he also notes that there was indeed a drop in weekly attendance by Catholics of about 16 percent between 1968 and 1975 (from 63 percent to 47 percent). (We might add to this the observation of Roof & McKinney in 1987 that the drop in Catholic weekly attendance was from 74 percent in 1958 to 51 percent in 1982, a 23 percent decline.)

Then he concludes with his stability message by saying that “The ‘religious change’ of the late 1960s was a Catholic change, and it is over. The two lines representing Catholic and Protestant attendance continue to march across the page, separated by 10 percentage points now (37 percent versus 47 percent) instead of 25, but still persistent.”73

He fails to note in this comment that the liberal Protestants on his “page” are losing membership steadily and so their “stable” 37 percent attendance figure represents steadily decreasing numbers of actual people, and that on the Catholic side the historical difference up to the 1950s was between a 37 percent Protestant attendance rate and a 74 percent Catholic rate, a difference of 37 rather than 25 percentage points.

Greeley derives spurious support for his stability model in another comment: “With the exception of the dramatic Catholic change between 1968 and 1975 (an episodic event), patterns of American Church attendance are remarkably stable, straight lines with only one deviation, and that ended by 1975. Secularization that is not.”74

Now I submit that it is disingenuous for a person of Greeley’s statistical sophistication to call a 16 percent drop in church attendance in six years “an episodic event”, when the drop is not reversed in the immediately ensuing period of time. That is like calling the amputation of an arm “an episodic event.” It is true that the surgery lasted only a few hours, but the effects were permanent. And the same must be said for the comment that the deviation “ended in 1975.” Again, the analogy with amputation is apt. Indeed, the process of decreasing stopped, but the rate remained forever lower.

And that, mon vieux, I am afraid, is secularization.

Thus it seems much more accurate to summarize Greeley’s data by saying that the religious change of the 1960s was indeed both a Protestant and a Catholic change and that one of the permanent results is that Catholic church attendance rates now look much more like Protestant rates than they ever did in the first sixty years of the twentieth century. Greeley actually understands this at some points in his discussion. He says that the story of the 1960s is “of American Catholics going through their own quiet revolution of deciding to remain Catholic on their own terms.” But overall, he is at pains to make the numbers prove stability.

We might speculate on the reasons for Andrew Greeley’s bias toward religious stability in the American scene. Surely it has something to do with the war within himself between the part of him that remained religiously stable (his persistence in the Catholic priesthood) and the part of him that was exposed to massive evidence of religious change.

But pace Greeley, an extreme stability model does not fit the numbers, and the decline of the middle model does.

Stability Moderates

Professional pollsters and survey researchers with no close ties to churches make up the moderate stability school. One leading member of this group is the National Opinion Research Center of the University of Chicago. These highly-respected bean-counters refuse to be distracted from their methodological rigor by any alarmist or ideological Chicken Littles running around blathering about change. This perspective actually seems very healthy and deserves a full hearing. But on the other hand it should be noted that in their attention to methodological niceties the NORC researchers do sometimes seem to be out of touch with the acute observations of those who are actually experiencing change. And so NORC represents one useful pole in the discussion, not the final truth.

The conclusion of a recent piece of work of theirs deserves to be cited in full. (All italics have been added by me.)75

Basic religious change has been glacial; slow, steady, and ultimately massive. The proportion Protestant has been declining throughout this century at about .003 per annum since WWII. Jews, who gained ground early in the century, have also been declining since the 1940s at about .0006 per annum. Catholics have been gaining ground throughout the century at about .0010-.0015 per annum. Others (most Orthodox and non-Judeo-Christian religions) have shown no clear increase, but appear to be gaining adherents over the last decade at least (Table 34). As a result of these changes, the ratio of Protestants to Catholics has fallen from over 4.1:1 around the turn of the century to about 2.7:1 today. During this same period the proportion without any religious affiliation has also been rising. While the net trend has been upwards at about .0014-.0027 per annum, it has not been a simple, monotonic increase and has varied by house. The number without religion appears to have dipped from the late forties to the late fifties before increasing until the mid 1970s. From then to the present the proportion None has apparently remained constant. Signs of a large and growing segment of token religionists or of the unchurched are limited. Church membership shows little change and church attendance among Protestants has remained stable for the last 30 years. Among Catholics, however, significant declines in mass attendance occurred as well as smaller slides in congregational membership.

Overall these indicators provide at best mixed support for the secularization hypothesis (Hammond, 1985; Hadden, 1987; Wuthnow, 1976). The secularizing changes have been 1) small in magnitude, 2) intermittent in time, and 3) restrictive in scope. However, whenever there has been change, it has been in the secular direction. This same complex pattern in general also holds for attitudinal and belief measures (Smith, 1990c).

A second much ballyhooed change has been the growth of Fundamentalist churches and more recently the rise of the New Religious Right. Despite the impressive evidence from church membership statistics, it does not appear that Fundamentalists have appreciably changed their share of the population either across generations or in recent years. This also is basically substantiated by attitudinal trends (Smith, 1990c). What has occurred in recent years is the politicization of the Fundamentalists into a powerful, organized force.

The typically downplayed changes in major religions and the exaggerated changes in Nones and Fundamentalists have resulted from a complex balancing of natural increase, net migration, and religious mobility. Religions have grown from a varying mixture of these factors and practically no faith has ranked either high or low on all three factors. More often than not, the demographic factors of births and deaths, and immigration and emigration rather than the winning or losing of souls, account for most church growth or decline. Religious mobility is an important process, but with the exception of gains for the Nones, its net impact has been moderate and slow acting.

Like other long-term structural changes (such as the shift to the Sun Belt, the decline in the manufacturing sector, or the aging of the population) religious redistribution has slowly, but surely changed the social profile of America. While changes to the right (rising Fundamentalism) and to the left (rising atheism) [sic] have both been accented in popular and scholarly works, the biggest changes have been occurring in the middle as the relative share of Protestants, Catholics, Jews, and now apparently Others has shifted over the last half century. In particular, the decline of mainline Protestant denominations in general and of United Methodists in particular, has been draining the moderate middle, while Catholics have replenished the depleted center.

Let us add the following notes to this summary of the moderate stability view:

  1. Overall it is conceded that the changes are “massive”.
    2. The main change is “in the middle” and the main part of that is the change in the proportion of Protestants to Catholics. Now there are relatively fewer Protestants than there were forty years ago.
    3. The “Other-None” category has also grown significantly. Although the signs for a “large and growing segment of token religionists or the unchurched” are deemed to be “limited”, evidence of religious mobility in this direction does indeed exist, and it is more than “moderate and slow acting.”
    4. With regard to the growth of Conservative and Fundamentalist Protestants, NORC clearly does not believe “the evidence from church membership statistics” and does consider its own religious preference data to be more reflective of reality.

Given the methodological conservatism of NORC’s data handling standards, it is probably not a good idea to totally disbelieve the membership statistics of the Conservatives and Fundamentalists. Granted that a substantial part of their “growth” is in media skills and political/financial mobilization, they might also be counting better and attracting more active participation from their natural demographic base instead of just lying. In any case, an increase in mobilization is socially just as significant as an increase in numbers, and so for the sake of the analysis we shall pursue, it is valid to conclude that the “much ballyhooed” growth of the fundamentalists is a genuine social fact.

One more little sociological quibble needs to be addressed here. In 1994 three sociologists in Ohio published a study of church attendance by going to churches on Sunday and observing the number of people actually attending church and then comparing these head-counts with the figures that the results of standard survey reports would predict. (The standard survey technique is to ask individuals a battery of questions over the phone.)

The Ohio study concluded that actual church attendance is only 52 to 59 percent of what standard surveys report. If this study is correct, it would mean that weekly attendance at Church for Protestants is more on the order of 19 to 22 percent of church membership, and for Catholics it is 24 to 27 percent.76

When this study came out, Andrew Greeley publicly branded it as “a sloppy piece of work”, and there was considerable controversy among sociologists. But soon enough the staff of NORC got very professional about the matter and tested their own survey instruments.77 Their conclusion was that there are indeed “telescoping” and “social desirability” influences on standard telephone surveys. That is, respondents do sometimes telescope the time-frame of the question and report an attendance that was more than a week ago as an attendance in the last seven days. And respondents are influenced in their answers by what they perceive to be the “social desirability” of more frequent vs. less frequent church attendance. They also might count watching a religious service on television as “attending church.”

Therefore, the NORC researchers concluded that some revision of the standard survey instruments is called for, and that the actual level of overreporting of previous instruments was a ratio of about .75 rather than the .52 to .59 of the Ohio study. This would make actual weekly attendance levels for Protestants and Catholics today 28 percent and 36 percent respectively.

This does not significantly alter the overall picture of change in American religion over the past forty years. It only means that all along fewer people were going to church than the polls were showing, and that right now on any given Sunday, probably about 20 percent of Americans are at church, rather than the 40 percent that was assumed for so many years.

To summarize the numerical side of the changes we are talking about, we can use this schematic table, in which the percentages are not claimed to be absolutely accurate, but rather symbolic of magnitudes and directions.


Percent of US Population







Catholics (non-Hispanic)












3.Mainline Protestants
Episcopal Church
United Church of Christ
Northern Baptists
Evangelical Luth. Church






4. Conservative Protestants
Assemblies of God
7th Day Adventists
Churches of Christ
Church of God
Church of the Nazarene
Mo-Wis Synod Lutherans
Southern Baptists
Independent Fundamentalist
Pentecostal, Holiness groups






6. Seculars and Others






(And we might add parenthetically that all these changes occurred in a period of time (1960-1990) when the overall population of the United States increased by 40 percent .)

Change Extremists

Theologically more conservative commentators, whether they are social scientists or clergy, emphasize discontinuity and change. They write “panic” books with titles like The Empty Church: The Suicide of Liberal Christianity (by Episcopalian Thomas C. Reeves, New York, The Free Press, 1996). It is evident that the changes they are experiencing both personally and socially (i.e., in the decline of their particular church affiliation) are indeed extreme and real.

A close look at their language shows that they are actually conservative in their personal theologies but somehow caught by historical circumstances in a denomination whose theology is much more liberal than their personal beliefs. They are invested in a fundamental suspicion of the self, a defensive stance against secular culture, and a cultivation of exclusivist in-group associations.

A crypto-conservative alarm was sounded within the mainline denominations at the end of the 1960s. It was then that talk began about “the plight of the liberal churches”. In 1972 Dean M. Kelley published a book called Why Conservative Churches Are Growing that provided a perspective that has continued to influence the discussion right up to the present day. Kelley divided churches into three categories:

  1. “The most exclusivist and anti-ecumenical” churches: Black Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses. Evangelicals and Pentecostals, Orthodox Jews, Churches of Christ, Mormons, Seventh-Day Adventists, Church of God, Christian Scientists.
  2.  Larger churches that were less exclusivist but still clearly defined enough to provide a distinctive identity for their members: Southern Baptists, Missouri Synod Lutherans, American Lutheran Church, Roman Catholic Church, Conservative Jews, Russian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox.
  3. “Mainstream” churches: Presbyterians, Reformed Church in America, Episcopal Church, American Baptists, United Methodist Church, United Church of Christ, Reform Jews, Ethical Culture Society, Unitarian-Universalists.

Kelley went on to say: “Other things being equal, bodies low on the list will tend to diminish in numbers while those high on the list will tend to increase.” Social scientists and church officials examined Kelley’s hypothesis with great care. The data seemed to support it.

A widely respected benchmark study by Hoge and Roozen published in 1979 had this to say:

Since 1966 total Protestant and Catholic membership has remained relatively unchanged, but, in light of population growth during this period, it has actually declined as a percentage of the adult U.S. population. More significantly, at least ten of the largest (and theologically more liberal) denominations have had membership losses in every year after 1966. Since most of these denominations had grown without interruption from colonial times, their declines reverse a trend of two centuries.78

Commenting in 1987 on Kelley’s hypothesis, Roof and McKinney say:

Careful analysis of membership trends shows that the churches hardest hit were those highest in socioeconomic status, those stressing individualism and pluralism in belief, and those most affirming of American culture…… For the most part Kelley’s interpretation holds. …his scheme is descriptively accurate. The large ecumenical bodies most comfortably allied with the culture were losing members.79

The period of the late sixties and the seventies witnessed a religious defection of unprecedented proportions that represented more than the usual turning away of the young in the adolescent and early adult years. Both the numbers and the scope of spiritual experimentation involved point to nothing less than a revolt against the established faiths.”80

Still in 1996 the alarm continues. Reeves can say, “Since the cultural revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, the mainline churches have been in a serious and unprecedented numerical decline, losing between a fifth and a third of their membership.”81 And further: “As is quite well known, the mainline churches have been shrinking dramatically during the last three decades and appear to be confused and helpless at a time when a nation is crying out for inspiration and guidance.”82

Behind the Kelley Hypothesis: Crypto-conservatism

These commentators have affiliations that are considered mainline, but they think entirely like conservatives. Writing in 1996, Dean Hoge gave a description of the term “mainline” that I believe points to the key elements of the situation.

At first the term mainline was used to distinguish the established faiths from the esoteric cults, and later from the more militant evangelical and fundamentalist groups. The term applied to those churches immersed in the culture and only vaguely identifiable in terms of their own features, versus churches that retained their distance from the culture by encouraging distinctive life-styles and beliefs.

The mainline churches tend to demand relatively little of their members, so the costs of belonging are less than in the stricter churches. Far fewer mainliners than evangelicals describe themselves to researchers as “strong” members of their churches. Members of mainline churches are also likely to have more ties and group memberships outside their churches and to feel more competing loyalties. They are sometimes culturally sensitive persons with experiences in more than one cultural group or nation. Their faith is sometimes tentative and tolerant because they appreciate other religions besides their own. Some seem to have no faith at all. They are secular people who participate in churches for the benefits to them and their families, and they happily contribute to churches to support the good things churches do. [Emphasis added.] 83

The extremely prolific Princeton sociologist, Robert Wuthnow, appears to be one of these crypto-conservatives. The following are some of his comments. [Emphasis added.]84

The essence of churches continues to be “the Word” — the teachings, the beliefs and the discourse, and the behavior that arises from them. (p. viii)

It is up to the clergy to define the purpose of the church…through preaching, teaching, counselling and administration and all these are influenced by the mental maps that the clergy carry with them.

The prevalent theology is more one of solace than prophetic vision… (p. 6)

Challenge the middle class to lead unconventional lives of dedication, service and sacrifice … to live differently from their neighbors. (p. 239)

Flabby times, flabby lives…soft… Versus social responsibility…discipline…repentance. (p. 240)

No mention is made in sermons of greed or overconsumption or exploitation. (p. 241)

Dean R. Hoge and colleagues comment that:

In the five denominations we studied, we found that people who are firm believers in the Bible and who desire to commit their whole lives to Christ tend to have literal interpretations of scripture and a consciousness that their Christian way of life sets them apart from the mainstream culture. For the most part, these people are evangelicals.85

…a foremost factor in giving is evangelical or conservative theology… (p. 162)

…high-growth churches increase members’ commitment and participation by forbidding or criticizing alternative activities that might compete with that commitment. In these churches members are told what is required of them to be in good standing. (p. 169) [emphasis added]

If evangelical Christians are the high givers within most of the denominations, how can their numbers be increased? Or how might the kind of commitment they possess be extended more widely throughout churches? (p. 169)

While these social scientists on the one hand clearly sympathize with the worldview of the evangelicals, they also describe that worldview with telling social scientific accuracy:

Our experiences have taught us that the members of different denominations actually live in different worlds and are shaped by distinct assumptions and experiences. This is shown by the different ways denominational members talk about their own faith and church life, and it is shown by the ignorance they have about other denominations. …… We have been impressed repeatedly by how encapsulated church members are in their own religious worlds. For people in every congregation, their own congregation, and especially their friends in the congregation fashion their understanding of religious reality. Anyone disbelieving this statement can put it to a test: Ask people in any denomination about the theology and practices of other denominations. You will see how little they know. (p. 161)

Thomas Reeves weighs in with a predictable conservative solution to the problem of mainline decline: “there must be a greater emphasis on doctrinal orthodoxy and an openness to the spiritual power promised in Scripture and amply described by saints throughout church history.”86

He is also candid about the underlying psychology that supports this view:

For the Christian, the self is the problem; pride must be combated with repentance, humility, trust in God. Centuries earlier, Thomas a Kempis had written in The Imitation of Christ, “Be assured of this, that you must live a dying life. And the more completely a man dies to self, the more he begins to live to God.” The modern Christian mystic Evelyn Underhill once quoted Meister Eckhart, “Where I left myself, I found God; where I found myself, I lost God”, and added, “our eyes are not in focus for His Reality, until they are out of focus for our own petty concerns.” That was exactly the faith the Enlightenment prophets came to destroy.87

So, I think it is clear that the change extremists are theologically conservative individuals who find themselves isolated in more liberal denominations. Standing as they do on the margins of the psycho-dynamic boundary between those who have enough ego-maturity to “engage the complexities of culture” and those who need the more defensive ego-structures of conservative religion, they are indeed caught in an uncomfortable situation.

Change Moderates

Change moderates are those who say that the underlying position of mainstream Protestant churches in the 1990s is substantially different from their position in the 1950s and they are not alarmed or panicked by that change. They rather see it as the result of an evolutionary force that needs to be understood.

I think of myself as a change moderate, and this book as a statement of that position. Certainly my own religious world did change dramatically in the sixties. In 1966 I left the Catholic priesthood, the Jesuits and the Church. That would tend to make me a change extremist, but then I learned sociology. So, now I think that there was indeed in the sixties a major re-alignment of the social and cultural forces represented by organized religion. But it did not affect everyone in the same way, and its impact on society as a whole is much more slow-acting than its impact on particular individuals or particular organizations. But the fascinating topic is the relationship between the perception by individuals and particular groups that the shifts are momentous, and the data that show them to be massive slow-moving in cultural and historical process.

There is a school of change moderates in the mainline denominations. Their views are well represented by a book such as Vital Signs: The Promise of Mainstream Protestantism, by three Presbyterian scholars. They say:

One of the most significant vital signs in mainstream Protestantism, one that is often overlooked, is its theological rejection of fragmentation in the modern world. In their reluctance to give up the quest to see the world as God has intended it to be, mainstream Protestants continue to express an eloquent Christian truth: the world was created good and has been redeemed in Jesus Christ. By refusing to withdraw from the world or compartmentalize religious faith, they engage in the complexities of culture with the conviction that God’s love and redemption in Jesus Christ will transform both them and the creation itself. This theological impulse has been central to mainstream Protestants’ Christian identity and it is a distinctive resource for their proclamation of the gospel in the next century.88

The challenge is to forge a compelling theological vision and sufficiently flexible organizational structures… After decades of being attacked for their vices and even their existence, mainstream Protestant denominations still retain enormous material and religious resources for living out the gospel in the twenty-first century.89

This certainly is a vigorous identity statement, and it is factually correct in the assessment of social position. The mainstream Protestant denominations do indeed still retain enormous material and religious resources. It is noteworthy also that this statement also rejects the schizoid conception of the self and of the world as torn between warring elements. There is a dialectical tension between good and evil in this vision, but not one that sunders the integrity of the whole. Creation is “good” and yet it still needs to be “redeemed”. The complexities of culture must be “engaged” in order to be “transformed”.

This sounds very much like a Stage Five consciousness just beginning to enter the open-endedness of Stage Six. Reason is just coming to grips with the vastness of the unconscious. The main clue is in the use of the buzzword “gospel”. When the crunch comes to make the central point, they fall back on the unanalyzed buzzword.

The function of the buzzword is to invoke “the language of religion.” The function of “the language of religion” is to induce the regressive-repressive trance of the Augustinian Arrangement. Thus, the identity statement of the mainstream describes a moderate degree of engagement with the unconscious, slightly sedated. It goes deep enough for the developmental task of the eighteenth century, but not deep enough for the developmental task of today.

The Prognosis for the Mainline Denominations

The numbers indicate that there is a very slow leakage from the mainline denominations to the “Nones” and “Others.” (The leakage is also from Roman Catholicism, as we shall see in Chapter Eleven.) This leakage is not sudden, nor some mad rush, but has the steady, glacial pace of a true cultural process.

The issue at the heart of this leakage is how deep into the unconscious does the central religious experience of these systems take the believer? The “hypothesis” is that it does not go deep enough to satisfy the larger capacity for introspection in the population that these religious organizations serve. The ever-moving cultural process that underlies religious consciousness has outstripped the technology of these churches.

If we remember that our basic argument is that the purpose of religion is to provide the experience of the really ultimate conditions of human existence, and that on the way to that interior experience, religious technology encounters all the content of the unconscious, then we will understand the situation of the mainline Protestant denominations.

Their central religious technology is the Wesleyan “warmth” of Aldersgate. Although this experience started out as a distinctively working-class phenomenon for the less educated elements of English society, it appears to have migrated upward in socioeconomic status in the two hundred and fifty years since 1738. Clinically speaking, it appears to be a moderately regressive trance state induced by a combination of biblical text, a certain kind of music and charismatic preaching in a group setting. Historically speaking, this trance induction apparatus appears to have been exactly right for its time, and its time seems to have continued comfortably until the nineteen-sixties. Then came that sudden little increase in introspective confidence, the availability of the introspective techniques of Eastern religions and improvements in psychotherapeutic method.

So, this form of religion is now in direct competition with other introspective technologies, and has more in common with them than it may recognize. The “nones and others” are experimenting with those technologies, as is secular culture itself. And so, if the mainline churches persist in their dependence on an eighteenth-century religious trance induction apparatus, they will keep losing ground to the nones and others. However, if they succeed in going deeper and discover a more powerful expression of the Jesus tradition in relation to introspective completeness, they may even grow once again. But their form will change. Their form will change so much that they might even become almost invisible. Sort of like the work of Carl Rogers is invisible. It is so thoroughly absorbed by the psychotherapy profession that hardly anyone talks about it any more.

Therefore I think the formula of Coalter et al. is fundamentally correct: that the mainline denominations will continue to exist if they adopt “a flexible enough organization” and discover their “compelling theological vision.” The form of that flexible organization is probably determined by the content of the “compelling theological vision.”

That vision, I would argue, is simply going deeper: less trance, more wakefulness, a recovery of the somatic, a recovery of the Resurrection of Jesus, as I discuss in Chapter Seven.


In “the decline of the middle” model, the 1960s changed both Catholicism and Protestantism, but in significantly different ways. It is relatively simple to distinguish in Protestantism between the “liberal” tendencies of Stage Five and the Stage Three-Four characteristics of conservatives. However, in Catholicism in the nineteen-sixties both groups were contained within the same organizational structure. Thus, when the sixties hit, its liberal and conservative branches were more difficult to distinguish by traditional survey research methods.

As we note in the discussion of the Augustinian Arrangement (see Chapter 9), religion typically uses three instrumentalities to support the self-structure of a particular stage: Right-brain devices of symbol and ritual, left-brain theory, and external, social instruments of behavioral control.

In the nineteen-sixties, teaching authority and attendance at Mass were the parts of Roman Catholicism that lost the most support. These two aspects of its approach to spirituality are most seriously in conflict with the learning edge of spirituality in advanced industrial society. As individuals become more confident in their own ability to access and evaluate information, they become less tolerant of parentally-styled information sources. As people become more competent in managing the unconscious components of their psyches, they become less interested in deep trance-induction rituals, and more interested in wakeful encounters with the deeper parts of the self.

Here is a schematic diagram of the instruments in use today by Roman Catholicism and the two wings of Protestantism:

Religion’s Self-Structure Support Instruments


Roman Catholicism

Conservative Protestantism

Liberal Protestantism


A. Parent Imagery

B. Trance induction technique

All powerful parent of a 3 year old


Regresses subject to the third trimester of fetal experience

Less powerful parent of 12 year old


Regress subjects to age 7

Persuasive parent of a 21 year old


Regresses subjects to age 15


Split-Self Theology

Abstract convoluted.

Keys: grace vs. nature natural order vs supernatural order

Dramatic emotional personalized forces

Resignation and personalized forces


Teaching Authority

Law Enforcement

Centralized, bureaucratic

History of lethal exercise

Localized personal

History of lethal exercise, personal, familial


No lethal history


I think that all three forms of contemporary Christianity ran into one and the same cultural phenomenon: a very small but still seismic (i.e., deep, massive, at the level of culture itself) shift in the culturally-supported sense of personal autonomy. This could also be called a major shift in introspective confidence (and a minor shift in introspective competence). This shift was carried demographically by the coming-of-age of a generation of Americans who grew up in a period of unprecedented material prosperity and information availability. The baby-boomers are more comfortable than any previous generation with looking into themselves.


I am not technically a baby-boomer. That is, I was not born between 1946 and 1956. I was in fact born in 1933. But then I spent 15 years in suspended emotional growth in the Jesuits, and when I returned to normal social life in 1966 I found myself in graduate school with the baby-boomers as peers and the activities associated with their coming of age in full swing.

So, I am personally a statistic in the transformation of Catholicism that has taken place in the last forty years. Born into an Irish Catholic family in Chicago in the nineteen-thirties, I am now ex-Catholic, ex-priest, and ex-Jesuit. I was one of the first of the 7,000 American Catholic priests who resigned their positions in the years between 1966 and 1973. I am also married and divorced, and my children are not baptized. I do not go to church at all any more, but I do meditate, and not only read the Bible but study it assiduously. I also study the texts of other religions. A couple of my favorites are the Tao Te Ching of Lao Tzu and the writings of the Tibetan Buddhist Chogyam Trungpa. The more I study these texts the more I find a strong convergence among all of them, with each one making a distinctive contribution to a complete understanding of the human condition.

So, I am a “None-other”, a member of the “secular” and “atheist” left, one of the newly “less religious” citizens of our fair land. (Duh! Really!)

One of the deleterious side-effects of the rise of fundamentalism and its widespread airing as Sunday morning televangelism is that this has trivialized the Bible for many intelligent and serious spiritual seekers. (I might add parenthetically that, believer in the validity of dialectics that I am, I sincerely welcome the rise in fundamentalism and deeply cherish all of its deleterious side effects. They are nothing more than the movement of antithesis in the sequence of thesis-antithesis-synthesis. They are a normal social process that both tests and strengthens this society’s commitment to rationality, freedom and democracy as the foundations of our institutional life.)

But I would respectfully submit that people who are smart enough not to be fundamentalists should also be smart enough to know that the fundamentalist Bible is not the document in its full potential. That document is the record of a unique spiritual experience of a period of history about two thousand years long that stands as the foundation of Western civilization, and distinguishes it from the other great civilizations of the world today. In spite of the very, very serious problems of western civilization, it is still the leading candidate at this time for a basis of global order. So, there is much to be gained from a spacious and intelligent grasp of the Bible. If you were to place it on a table next to the Tao Te Ching and the Bhagavad Gita, you would be in the presence of three world-class spiritual texts, not just two. It is an indispensable tool for mature spirituality.

My history and present practices have brought me to a worldview with a “contributory theology” as one of its core components. I.e., all religions represent the same seeking, and all have distinctive contributions to make. The contribution of Christianity has to do with what the resurrection of Jesus reveals about the exact nature of death and the relation between our human condition in time and space and our condition outside of time and space. Suzuki Roshi sums this up: “Because you think you have body or mind, you have very lonely feelings. But when you realize that everything is just a flashing into the vast universe, then you become very strong, and your existence becomes very meaningful.”90

Other spiritual persons across time and from different cultures have also reflected on this matter and made very useful observations about it. But I think the life of Jesus contributes an element of precision to the topic that is indispensable for spiritual maturity. But of course, this contribution can be accessed without membership in any Christian organization, and in fact, I think it is most effectively accessed today without such membership.

The reason I am saying all this as an introduction to the discussion of changes in Catholicism is that I want to take to heart Andrew Greeley’s complaint about personal bias. So, I am letting my history be known, to give the reader ample information to judge the extent to which it may have colored my interpretation of the data. For I certainly have broken with the religious affiliations and practices of my childhood, and it feels wonderful.

Membership Change in Catholicism

On the surface it appears as if the membership changes in Catholicism are quite different from those in mainline Protestantism. But, if you note the role of Hispanics in the demographics of Catholicism, the changes are remarkably similar.

Chapter 9 characterizes Roman Catholicism as a Stage Four organization, and although that may have been true in the time of Augustine, the institution is now clearly more complex than that. On the one hand it has always had its esoteric component — the mystics — that its officials have subjected to constant surveillance. On the other hand, its stage-maintenance technology is truly a work of cultural genius.

If Catholicism were a simple Stage Four institution, we would expect it to hold on to its members much better than a clearly Stage Five organization such as the United Methodists. Stage Four personalities are still rather rigid in their identities and are not experimenting with introspection. A first look at the numbers seems to support the Stage Four quality of Catholicism. Membership numbers went down dramatically for liberal Protestantism but for American Catholicism they went up. The NORC report cited in Chapter One takes note of this fact: “The decline of the mainline Protestant denominations in general and of United Methodists in particular has been draining the moderate middle, while Catholics have replenished the depleted center.”

(As an aside I would note what fascinating language this is from the technicians of NORC. It is as if some war is going on. If I may paraphrase: “Whew! That was a close one! We almost had our moderate middle completely drained, but then the Catholics came along and “replenished” the fading United Methodists to keep that center strong.” It is a military metaphor of battlefields and battle lines drawn across them between the comfort of stability on the one hand and the cold cruel threatening winds of chaos on the other.)

However, there is a serious problem with these numbers. The Catholic growth is all Hispanic. The traditional ethnic bases of Catholicism — the Irish, Italians, Poles, Germans and other European groups — are suffering the same fate as the United Methodists. If that is so, then even on a gross statistical level, Catholics are not exactly replenishing the United Methodists, and so maybe twentieth-century Catholicism includes increasingly Stage Five-Six European ethnics as well as Stage Four Hispanics.

In regard to Hispanic Catholics, here are some numbers from The Secretariate for Hispanic Affairs of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops:

The 1996 Official Catholic Directory lists the U.S. Catholic population at over 60 million. This means that Catholics are 22 percent of the total U.S. population of 268,784,851. The nation’s Hispanic population (not including Puerto Rico) totaled 27 million in 1994. According to the Catholic Almanac, 80% of U.S. Hispanics are Catholic.
[Note: Eighty percent of 27 million is 21.6 million. So, of the 60 million Catholics in 1996, about 22 million are Hispanic, or about 37%, and about 38 million are non-Hispanic.]

The Secretariate again:

Current U.S. Census figures reveal a Hispanic growth rate that is five times that of non-Hispanics. While the non-Hispanic population showed a growth rate of 8 percent since 1980, Hispanics demonstrate a growth rate of 39 percent. Approximately 50 percent of Hispanics are under the age of 26 years. Of this number, approximately 20 percent are under five years of age. Only four percent of Hispanics are over the age of 65 years.
[Note: So, about 2 million of those Catholics who are replenishing the United Methodists are Hispanic niños and niñas.]

As for Catholic growth since 1980, at a 39% rate, it would take about 16 million Hispanics in 1980 to arrive at 22 million in 1996. And that means that there are 6 million new Hispanics among the 60 million U. S. Catholics today. The U.S. population in 1980 was about 227 million and although estimates vary, a mid-range figure for Catholics is 24%, or about 54 million. If there were about 54 million U.S. Catholics in 1980, there would have been 16 million Hispanic and 38 million non-Hispanic. In 1996 there were about 60 million Catholics, 22 million Hispanic Catholics and still about 38 million non-Hispanics. That is an increase of 6 million Hispanic Catholics and no increase in the number of non-Hispanic Catholics. (Even if the overall numbers are slightly different, the different growth rates of Hispanic and non-Hispanic Americans means that the increase in Catholics in recent years is at least largely, and possibly entirely, a Hispanic phenomenon. This is the “Hispanicization” of American Catholicism.)

So, breaking out the Hispanic portion from the overall Catholic membership changes the stability picture even for Catholicism. The overall numbers mean significant shrinkage in the European ethnic bases of the Church, precisely that segment of the population that is its traditional base in the U.S., is economically better off, more educated, and more representative of the main stream of American cultural trends — consistent with the decline of the middle that has affected Protestantism.

The Vocations Crisis

A second distinctive element of change in Catholicism is the remarkable decrease in the numbers of priests and nuns in the past 30 years. Mainline Protestant ministers are losing their congregations, but Catholic congregations are losing their priests and nuns. The basic numbers for Catholic priests are as follows:

The number of priests in the United States rose steadily throughout the twentieth century to 1966. Then it leveled off and began to decline. At its peak, that number was about 60,000. In the eight years between 1966 and 1973 slightly more than a thousand Catholic priests resigned per year. This is a total of about 7,000 priests leaving the ministry in that time-period. Certainly one powerful influence on that exodus was the Second Vatican Council (1962-1966) and some quiet administrative decisions made by Pope John XXIII. That Pope instructed the Vatican Curia to radically liberalize the procedures for giving ex-priests permission to marry. It is said that in the thousand years before 1960, only four such permissions had been given. (One was to Fra Filippo Lippi whose model for his exquisite paintings of the Madonna and Child was his mistress.) Not only was there open discussion of celibacy at the council, but some famous theologians who were advising the bishops there left the priesthood and married in the glare of the unusual publicity that the council was receiving in the international press.

The exodus of 1966-1973 was certainly a shock to the Catholic Church but it was still only 15% of the clergy. Eighty-five percent still remained. However, in the years that followed a consistent trend emerged. While fewer priests are leaving the ministry (about 100 a year), fewer young men are being ordained, and so the priest population is steadily declining and also growing older. By the year 2000, projections say, there will be half the number of priests in the U.S. that there were in 1966, and the number will still be going down. The trends are similar in all of the advanced industrial societies of the world. They are only different in societies with emerging economies, such as sub-Saharan Africa.
Below are comparative statistics for the past 30+ years. Information is from The Official Catholic Directory, the Vatican’s Statistical Yearbook of the Church, or CARA records. In 1996, the best available data on current average ages was: diocesan priests 58, men religious 61, women religious 69. Twenty-four percent of diocesan priests were over 70, the average retirement age. Forty-five percent of permanent deacons were over 60.  FN91

Diocesan priests
Religious priests
Total priests
Priestly Ordinations
Graduate-level seminarians
Permanent deacons
Religious brothers
Religious sisters
Total Parishes W/O resident priest
Total Catholics
Percent of U. S., population
8,325 0
46.6 m
48.7 m
52.3 m
60.2 m
61.2 m

So, there is the distinct possibility that the Catholic priesthood is actually headed for extinction. Stage theory would suggest that this is expected, and not mainly because of celibacy. A more important reason for the disappearance of the traditional Roman concept of clergy would be the declining need for the trance of the Mass as a support for introspective inquiry. Under the premise of increased autonomy and increased comfort with introspective examination, there would be less need for religious trance, and more need for schooling in the techniques of wakeful introspection, as in psychotherapy and meditation.

This means that the age of the Eucharist is over. The Mass is an obsolescent piece of spiritual technology. While not yet completely out of use, it is limited more and more to populations that are low on measures of social and economic independence. Around the world, the people who go to Mass are increasingly the poor and less well educated populations, groups that do not have economic self-sufficiency.

Theologically, this is not a surprising development. The idea of the divine presence in the Bible (shekinah) is clearly developmental. First there was the Ark of the Covenant, which housed the stone tablets of Moses’ experience on Mount Sinai and the manna of the desert wanderings. Then Solomon built the first temple and put the Ark in the central chamber: the Holy of Holies. The temple was destroyed and re-built in the sixth century B.C.E. The Holy of Holies was still a place of privileged spiritual experience at the time of Jesus, as recorded in the story of Zachariah’s vision concerning the birth of John the Baptist recorded at the beginning of the Gospel of Luke.

But the temple was finally destroyed by the legions of Titus in 70 A.D. and although there still are extremist elements that want to rebuild it, that form of the presence of God is not an integral part of mainstream Christianity or Judaism today. In the Biblical theology of time, which regards it as a learning process, the Holy of Holies had a function that was purely pedagogical. What was being learned by means of this pedagogy was the true nature of the presence of God, in which it shifts from a burning bush, to stone tablets, to a room in a temple and finally to “the fleshy tablets of the heart.”

And the Eucharist, it would appear, is another step in this pedagogical process. We note in Chapter 9 how the medieval theory of transubstantiation functioned as a rhetorical support for the experience of the presence of God that the Eucharist conveyed at that time. This was merely the continuation of the pedagogy of physical location that had been expressed by the temple and the Holy of Holies at an earlier age.

The temple was taken away by military geopolitical forces. The Eucharist is being removed by social, economic and psychological forces.

Moreover, the central conception of the priestly role in Catholicism is to make the sacramental trance-induction techniques such as the Mass. Whatever else a Catholic priest might do — administer property, teach, function as counselor — his central function is to “administer” the sacraments. If the need for that hypnotic ritual stabilization of a traumatized personality structure is outgrown, the need for the Catholic priesthood also disappears. Stages Six and Seven do not need trance-masters. In fact, they need just the opposite: the support of wakeful introspection. The shift from Stage Four to Stage Seven is a shift from “the order of Melchizedech” to the “order” of Carl Rogers.

It is interesting to speculate on just how few priests there have to be before the Catholic church re-thinks the priesthood as an institution. One likely scenario is that the pope after this one, or possibly the one after that, faced with an acute shortage of clergy, will allow for some form of married priesthood. That would probably stave off a critical shortage for twenty-five years or so. But such a shift would itself bring radical change to Catholic culture, and be a further strain on its structural integrity.

However, if the problem with the priesthood is an issue of spiritual development affecting the need for the sacraments themselves as a spiritual resource, then the next twenty-five years will bring not just a reduction in the numbers of clergy, but an equal reduction in the use of their services. Weekly attendance at Mass has dropped from 75 percent of Catholics in 1955 to about 35 percent today. The whole function of sacraments in the spiritual health of Roman Catholics appears to be shifting massively. Developmental theory would see this as a symptom of increasing spiritual maturity.

In this situation I am reminded of the small body of literature on the state of political culture in the Eastern Bloc countries of Europe during the last years of the Cold War. The managed economies of Soviet Communism were working less and less. The sense of reality in the general population was confronted more and more by the commitment to irreality of an entrenched bureaucracy. While the leadership had firm control of the apparatus of the state it had completely lost control over the quality of life. The result was an eerie, bizarre public culture filled with duplicity, denial and depression, a growing sector of organized crime, only marginally relieved by a steady production of popular gallows humor.

In order for this situation to change, some remarkably sane personality had to work his way up through that bureaucracy, get control of it, and impose reality orientation. It is a very interesting fact that Soviet Communism was able to produce such an individual in the person of Mikhail Gorbachev. When his announcement of glasnost and perestroika was published, the simmering suppressed reality orientation of the population of eastern Europe leaped into political form instantaneously.

Then in a flurry of reform and reaction, we had the historic psychodrama of Moscow in 1991, with the “nine grey men” on the podium, in front of the television cameras, trying to put the genie of spiritual growth back in the bottle of the super-ego. It took tanks and Boris Yeltsin to remove them from the stage of history.

As I survey the voices within the Catholic Church today in regard to the shortage of priests, I see a parallel with the end of the Eastern bloc. There appears to be a ruling/administrative apparatus more and more isolated from its population base in advanced industrial society. On the one hand you have the pope and the bishops adhering steadfastly to a traditional party line. On the other hand you have a reality-oriented population in advanced industrial society experimenting with every new instrument of spiritual growth offered by an increasingly competent general culture. There are many competent meditation teachers out there these days.

This of course cannot go on for very long. All of Soviet Communism only lasted for seventy years. The end-game of the Cold War (from the death of Brezhnev to the announcement of glasnost) lasted only four (1982-1986). Certainly under the leadership of Pope John Paul II, this kind of radical reality orientation is not going to occur. In a rich historical irony, he might very well be Catholicism’s Brezhnev.

That is to say, Leonid Brezhnev was general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union for eighteen years, from 1964 until his death in 1982. He presided over the twilight of the Soviet system. It was a period of time during which the basic incompatibility of that system with the fundamental laws of economic and political life was becoming more and more obvious to everyone living within it. But during the time of his leadership the system was held in place by a generation of elderly bureaucrats most of whom had come to power by not rocking the boat during Stalin’s great purges of the nineteen-thirties. He was succeeded by two of his colleagues who were in their late seventies and died within a year after taking office, and then by the much younger Mikhail Gorbachev, who almost immediately declared that it was time for reality-orientation.

I think the Roman Catholic Church probably has as much spiritual resilience as Soviet Communism, and so at some point its leadership will also declare that it is time for reality-orientation. Some one is going to come along and say glasnost and perestroika in Latin. But my guess also is that the Catholic Church is going to get one more Pope committed to Stage Four before the great lurch forward, around the year 2010. I might not be around for that event, but it will be interesting in any case.

The Loss of Authority

The third aspect of change in Catholicism that is different from Protestantism is the shift in the authority relationship between the clergy and the laity. Protestantism re-structured its authority relations over 400 years ago and made them more flexible. Catholics of the mid-twentieth century found themselves still in the middle ages. This is a very interesting anachronism, a very interesting dilemma for the institution. But its resolution is in full swing. An anachronistic ideology is no match for the forces of cultural change. History will sweep aside ideology like a peremptory hand across a chess board.

Those who still call themselves Catholics now do so in a remarkably different way than their parents did and in fact differently than all Catholics did for the first sixty years of this century. In a word, although Catholicism has not lost its members, it has lost its (Stage Four) authority.

On his web site, Andrew Greeley recently made the following comment:

Measures of the average in this paper show that the serious problem facing American Catholicism is that the alienation of the body of the Catholic population from their leadership has increased over the past two decades. The laity as a body are less likely to take seriously what the Pope or the bishops say. Moreover this alienation has affected the laity in such a way that they move in the direction of the “Left” as a group and with no increase in polarization. The hard line “Right” is increasingly a smaller minority no matter how loudly it shouts. This is not a matter of personal opinion, but of statistical fact.92

In an earlier work, Greeley cited the papal teaching on birth control as an example of why Catholic teaching authority has diminished. He noted that the remarkable decrease in Catholic church attendance occurred in the six years after the publication of the encyclical Humanae Vitae on birth control. While this is certainly correct, it is not complete. Humanae Vitae was just the last straw. Deference to a parental Roman magisterium has been on the wane for broader cultural reasons. It seems that everybody in the world except the Roman Catholic hierarchy knows that in a nutshell, science has won the information contest.

And since hierarchical authority has always been of the essence of Stage Four Roman Catholicism, this loss amounts to a fundamental shift in the social — and spiritual — identity of the institution. The Roman Catholic Church has now been Protestantized from within. It has a Stage Four leadership and a Stage Five, Six, Seven membership. In many cases Catholicism has become a simple social identity, as being Jewish is for many Jews, and this does not show up on the religious preference polls. Roof & McKinney observe, “A new, broader kind of Roman Catholicism is emerging in the US. It is more educated, more diverse in religious interpretations, its people at ease in differing with official positions, yet loyal to the church, confident and devout.”93

I don’t think Roof and McKinney have any actual data to support their claim that Catholics are still “loyal, confident, and devout.” I think they are just being nice. One reality of the present situation is that there is about a fifty-fifty split among Catholics between “traditional” and “progressive” patterns of belief. Neither of these two groups is particularly comfortable with the presence of the other under the same roof. Nor are their belief-systems particularly compatible. They seem to be held together by loyalty to parents that half of them no longer obey. I don’t think many Catholics use the church’s theology very much, but they do seem to like the trance-inducing ritual and the aura of parental approval. But they also have lots of alternatives, and many have tried them. It is entirely likely, given the overall dynamics of the situation, that they are very nearly out the door, much as young adult children who are still devoted to parents who cannot change, but they can no longer live with.

The Prognosis for Rome

Developmentally, the big problem for Roman Catholicism is that, as an international organization, it serves population bases at different stages of self-awareness. The question is how does it serve all stages?

In order to address the shift going on in the spiritual needs of well-educated and economically secure members of advanced industrial society, the institution is faced with the task of revising its very identity or it will dismantle in the coming years much in the same way as the Soviet Union dismantled after the proclamations of perestroika and glasnost of Mikhail Gorbachev.

There is a model for this kind of identity change in the business world. In the past twenty-five years numerous large corporations have changed their identities. This comes about through changes in “mission statement” and shows up to the general public in those unobtrusive but extremely powerful changes of name and changes of logo. On the level of mission statement one example is AT&T’s recognition about twenty years ago that it is not a telephone company, but an information company. On the level of name, there is the change from “U.S.Steel” to USX. In fact, you see a lot of “X”s cropping up in the names of corporations, as they recognize the nature of their business as having more to do with information and less to do with material goods. On the level of logos there is the transition from “Colonel Sander’s Kentucky Fried Chicken” to “KFC.”

The Roman Catholic Church is a human organization. History has influenced its customer base and its product. In the past it has always claimed to have a special depth of understanding of the human condition. If it does indeed have that depth, then it will go deeper into its own present circumstance and revise its identity.

As for the dismantling, it has already begun. The decline in Church attendance, the decreasing numbers of clergy, and the gap between the laity and the hierarchy are de facto steps in the coming apart of an organization. The only question is, how will the events continue to unfold? Will some bishops start to support the experiments of their laity and ignore the policies of the Pope? This is not the most probable outcome, because in the Catholic Church as in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, or any other large bureaucracy, this level of functionary is recruited more for loyalty to the organization than for loyalty to the dictates of personal introspection. They also owe their place in society to the social standing of that organization. Therefore, in any tension between personal conscience and organizational conformity that might arise in a situation of cultural change, bishops, on the whole, would be expected to take the side of the organization. So, a much more likely scenario is the Gorbachev process: one particular bishop gets pulled out of the rank-and-file of mid-level bureaucracy and is given the reins of power. Thus latent, personal perceptions are given more support, and a Pope behaves like John XXIII. He uses his office to expresses reality-orientation rather than tradition and re-directs the institution as a whole.


First let us look at the numbers. The overall trend is that this segment of American religion has a natural demographic base created by the poor distribution of wealth, including social and cultural resources such as education and jobs. The size of this demographic base as a percentage of the American population has remained rather stable or possibly shrunk slightly in the past 25 years. But the resources of its leadership group to mobilize this base have greatly increased in the time-period. So, the rapid growth of the visibility of conservative religion is the mobilization of an acutely under-mobilized demographic base. Here is NORC’s summary of the situation:

First, the phenomenon basically represents the mobilization and effective organization of a constituency that was traditionally apolitical, not the growth of that constituency (Marsden, 1990; Shupe and Stacey, 1983). Second, the size and growth of the political movement itself has been exaggerated. Fundamentalists traditionally have been less likely to vote than non-fundamentalists. While this differential has decreased recently, as of the mid-1980s fundamentalists were still less likely to vote than non-fundamentalists (Kellstedt and Noll, 1990). In addition, despite the election of born-again Carter and the presidential campaign of Robertson, fundamentalists apparently remain underrepresented in national office. In the 102nd Congress only about 15% of the members belong to fundamentalist denominations, while 41% belong to mainline Protestant denominations, 3% to other non-fundamentalist Protestant denominations, 26.5% are Roman Catholics, 8% are Jews, and the rest are unspecified Protestants and others. In addition, the Moral Majority and similar fundamentalist political groups had limited memberships, low popularity ratings, and did not represent a growing segment of the population. For example, when people were asked to chose groups “you feel particularly close to–people who are most like you in their ideas and interests and feelings about things,” fundamentalist political groups finished last in 1980, 1984, and 1988.94

The NORC analysis continues:

If fundamentalism as a theology and fundamentalist churches as organizations have not been appreciably increasing their hold on the minds and memberships of the American people, then why is there a widespread belief in the revival and advance of fundamentalism?
Most prominently it was the differences in growth rates of certain fundamentalist and mainline denominations, especially as reported in Kelley’s book that first established that fundamentalism was on the rise. This conclusion was then seen as validated by the expansion of the electronic church and the televangelists and the political impact of the New Christian Right in general and Moral Majority in particular. The notion of a fundamentalist revival has been widely accepted by many scholars, the mass media, and the general public (Table 18). If we look at such phenomena as political mobilization, media access, and religious programming on television, there are signs of notable changes that some might characterize as a revival.
But the common idea that more Americans are adopting fundamentalist beliefs and joining fundamentalist churches is not well supported by the available evidence. As we have seen, the church membership figures present a limited and probably biased view of changes in religious affiliation and theological orientations. The electronic church has been a major development in contemporary religion, but does not necessarily either reflect or cause a growth of fundamentalism. Similarly, the political mobilization, while an important development in and of itself, has both been exaggerated and has wrongly been interpreted to imply changes in the size and popularity of fundamentalism among the public.
In particular the advance of fundamentalism was exaggerated by the mass media. As prominent observers of recent religious change have noted: “Evangelicals emerged in the mid-seventies, because the media had largely ignored them before that time (Gallup and Castelli, 1989, p. 92).” In line with the media discovery hypothesis, coverage of fundamentalism rose sharply from the mid-1970s to a peak in 1981-82. Interest was then relatively low until the 1987 scandals.
The idea of a fundamentalist revival in recent decades needs a reevaluation. Despite the image created by church statistics, the fundamentalists have not been rapidly increasing their share of the general population. They may have modestly increased their popular appeal, but even these gains are uncertain. Likewise, fundamentalist beliefs have not advanced. Belief in Bible inerrancy has clearly declined over the last 40 years, while proselytizing and having had a born-again experience have shown no clear trend over the last 10 years. Fundamentalism is an important, enduring part of the American religious experience, but it attracts no more of the public than it has for decades.95

One other point to be made about the church statistics is that although some of the increases are genuinely huge, the starting points were extremely small. For example the Assemblies of God increased about three-fold between 1965 and 1990, but they started with a membership of about 600,000. So in 1990 their membership was about two million. This makes them a little smaller than the Episcopal Church (whose numbers decreased nearly 60 percent in the same time-period). The Church of God in Christ increased about twelve-fold in the time-period. They started from a base of about 425,000 and had a membership of about five and a half million in 1990. This makes them about the same size as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The Southern Bapist Convention increased about 40 percent during the time-period, going from about eleven million to about fifteen million, which makes them about one-fourth as numerous as Catholics.

All of these increases are indeed dramatic, and surely give a sense of distinct success to the leadership and members of those groups. It certainly must prove to them that they “are doing something right.” But even lumped all together, these groups plus the others included in the conservative wing of American religion still only amount to a quarter of the American population at most, and they are also regionally and demographically sharply defined.

Furthermore, although these groups have experienced great success in mobilizing their natural demographic base, this does not automatically translate into success on the national scene. For that to happen, the regime of secularism needs to lose its way in the struggle between mindfulness and narcissism that resides at its core.

The War With Culture

One historian makes the following note about the origin of Fundamentalism:

At the end of the 19th century, a theological controversy began to develop around the Biblical Scholars at Andover Seminary. Andover Seminary was established in 1808 and was the first theological school in New England. It was established by Calvinists to propagate and defend their theological concerns. In 1881, a major change took place in the faculty. This new faculty began to apply modern critical methods of literary study to the Biblical text. This activity brought a reaction from constituents who were concerned to preserve the authority of Scripture. The ensuing debate hardened into two distinct positions. The professors and their supporters were identified as Liberals and the critics were called Fundamentalists. The Fundamentalists gained that designation because of the five fundamentals that they claimed were a test for Christian orthodoxy:

  1. The Verbal Inspiration of the Scriptures: The Bible is the exact word of God and is, therefore, without error.
    2. The Virgin Birth of Christ: Jesus did not have a biological father.
    3. The Substitutionary Atonement: Jesus received the wrath of God for human sin.
    4. The Bodily Resurrection of Jesus: The resurrected Jesus had a physical body.
    5. The Premillenial Second Coming of Christ: The second coming of Christ will usher in the millennial age.

The rapid spread of this controversy is most noticeable in the rural communities of New England, upstate New York, and the upper Mississippi Valley. Perhaps due to the catastrophic collapse of humanistic expectations in the death and destruction of the World War I and to rural economic frustrations, there developed a general pessimism about humanity and a specific distrust of the social order in these rural regions. Consequently, not only were the Fundamentalist principles embraced, they were held tightly with a passion to protect the faith from the evil world.96

Thus, negative self-image is the core of conservative Christianity. These people feel personally and socially powerless, they doubt their own native ability to do good, and they are angry at the forces of the world that have made them feel this way.

Other evangelical sources confirm and expand the evidence of negative self-image:

For the Christian, the self is the problem; pride must be combated with repentance, humility, trust in God. Centuries earlier, Thomas a Kempis had written in The Imitation of Christ, “Be assured of this, that you must live a dying life. And the more completely a man dies to self, the more he begins to live to God.” The modern Christian mystic Evelyn Underhill once quoted Meister Eckhart, “Where I left myself, I found God; where I found myself, I lost God”, and added, “our eyes are not in focus for His Reality, until they are out of focus for our own petty concerns.” That was exactly the faith the Enlightenment prophets came to destroy.97

Here is another version of the same outlook:

In the early part of the fifth century these two types of religious thought came into direct conflict in a remarkably clear contrast as embodied in two fifth-century theologians, Augustine and Pelagius. Augustine pointed men to God as the source of all true spiritual wisdom and strength, while Pelagius threw men back on themselves and said that they were able in their own strength to do all that God commanded, otherwise God would not command it. We believe that Arminianism represents a compromise between these two systems, but that while in its more evangelical form, as in early Wesleyanism, it approaches the religion of faith, it nevertheless does contain serious elements of error.

We are living in a day in which practically all of the historic churches are being attacked from within by unbelief. Many of them have already succumbed. And almost invariably the line of descent has been from Calvinism to Arminianism, from Arminianism to Liberalism, and then to Unitarianism. And the history of Liberalism and Unitarianism shows that they deteriorate into a social gospel that is too weak to sustain itself. We are convinced that the future of Christianity is bound up with that system of theology historically called “Calvinism.” Where the God centered principles of Calvinism have been abandoned, there has been a strong tendency downward into the depths of man centered naturalism or secularism. Some have declared – rightly, we believe – that there is no consistent stopping place between Calvinism and atheism.98

Evangelical Insurgency

In a time when social and cultural change — driven by an unprecedented growth rate in the availability of information — is proceeding at a pace that is faster and on a larger scale than ever before in human history, “conservative revival” can indeed become evangelical insurgency, and under certain circumstances, evangelical insurgency can accede to state power.

It is becoming less and less possible to isolate those who are left out of improving economic and social conditions, and they have more and more personal change impinging on the boundaries of their closed-system pyschodynamics. The sense of powerlessness of traditional religionists has two dimensions. One is social disprivilege. Besides being shamed and whacked around as toddlers in their domestic situation, these are people whose economic, social and educational status makes them feel rejected and looked down upon by society as a whole.

But more central to their anxiety is a factor that is purely personal: the voices in their heads that tell them they are bad. To the extent that traditional religionists perceive themselves in a situation of forcible personal change, they can become truculent, even violent. Thus the worldwide movement of Islamic jihadism and the evangelical insurgency in the United States are two branches of one and the same historical phenomenon.

In the repressed anger and self-doubt that they bring to social and political process, these movements are both scary phenomena. But now that they have completely surfaced, the real learning begins, on both sides. (“If what we change does not change us / we are playing with blocks.”) Since this encounter is about the validity of reason and the validity of the human self, there is no way traditional religion can win this argument.

In the Middle East we have seen on a country-by-country basis, especially in a place such as Iran, that the political and economic strength of secular culture can be undermined by the narcissism of secular leadership and by larger social forces. In some circumstances the political hegemony of secularism can be lost. Then, when the conservative revolutions triumph, history has to go back thirty or forty years (or perhaps eight centuries, to eleventh century Qom), and re-do the process of cultural evolution that became undone in the failure of a particular secularist regime.

So, we must never completely rule out a conservative recovery of power in any society. Hopefully, in America the secular wisdom of Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln has soaked deeply enough into our social and political fabric to continue to enable us to avoid the dominance of old repressions and mythologies.

Now that technology has made traditional religionists full participants in the national and international dialog, the laws of history suggest that these ones, who do not believe in evolution, will evolve.



My question is this: how could Roman Catholic bishops, for a period of at least 25 years, not perceive the inherent evil of child abuse? I mean, this is not a population of convicted felons in penal institutions. These are supposedly spiritual leaders. There is a puzzle here. But it is a puzzle that a valid psychology of religion can solve.

It is a clinical question, and deserves a clinical answer. My answer is that bishops are influenced by a state of mind that is the equivalent of being on a mood-altering medication. It is a product of their religious practices. We can call it “religious trance.”

In this state of mind, the reality of children’s pain does not fully register on them. And in this state of mind, they tend to deny anything that threatens the instruments that produce it. What has gotten them to take child abuse seriously is not the pain of children, but subpoenas, criminal charges and millions of dollars in costs. In this case the spiritual teacher has been secular law and society, and the spiritual student has been the religious organization.

I have thought a lot about the comment of Karl Marx that religion is the opiate of the masses. I eventually came to the conclusion that it is an extremely simplistic observation which nonetheless raises the question of the place of opiates in human consciousness. The overview is that there are a lot of them, and the more we study them, the more we know about the human condition. Opiates have been essential in the evolution of human consciousness.

The fact that religion is one of the opiates used to stabilize emotions does not make it necessarily a bad thing. In fact, the historical analysis suggests that religion is one of the most positive opiates humans have devised. It protected from pain, allowed the powers of the ego to grow, and people have outgrown it.

So, the true nature of religion is that it has a dual character. On the one hand it is a vehicle for awareness of the ultimate conditions of human existence. But on the other hand, since it is an instrument that goes to the very depths of the human experience, it also has to handle the introspective disorders in the human psyche. And so, historical religion, in its beginnings, came up with genius-level trance induction techniques that permit gradual access to commonplace trauma imprints. The Mass is one example; the haaj experience of Muslims is another; bathing in the waters of the Ganges for Hindus is another.

These are all culturally-supported hallucinations whose historic purpose is the gradual healing of the effects of primitive child-rearing practices. We must regrettably conclude that the “real presence” of the divine in all these exercises is purely, but powerfully, imaginary.

The use of these practices has declined over time. The twilight of their usefulness is most extreme in advanced industrial society. The alternative to them for mature spirituality is to engage one’s interior self without sedative, while fully awake. To paraphrase a Buddhist maxim: Stop sedating yourself with ritual; make friends with yourself; start sitting.

Thus, the Mass is a sedative, Roman Catholicism is deeply attached to that sedative, and its cultural value is declining. Thus bishops, the ultimate insiders of that culture, have a double psychological problem. On the one hand, they view reality through the lens of religious trance, and so abused children do not easily appear real to them. On the other hand, they so highly value the Mass as a unique instrument of “salvation”, that when its existence is threatened, they tend to go into a denial defense.



1Millard, Skeets, “Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism: an interview with Rinpoche, a most unlikely entry in the great guru sweepstakes”, The Chicago Reader, Friday, February 15, 1974, p.1.
2Miller’s works are: The Drama of the Gifted Child (Harper Colophon Books, 1981); For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Childhood and the Roots of Violence (Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1984); Thou Shalt Not Be Aware: Society’s Betrayal of the Child (Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1984).
3 Miller, The Drama of the Gifted Child, 6 .
4 Miller, For Your Own Good, 5.
5 Ibid., 91.
6 Miller, Thou Shalt Not Be Aware, 31.
7 Ibid., 192-193.
8 Michael Balint, The Basic Fault: Therapeutic Aspects of Regression. (London, Tavistock, 1968), 16
9 Ibid.
10 Ibid., 21.
11 Ibid., 22.
12 John Fowles, The Aristos (Boston, Little, Brown, 1964), 47.
13 Ibid., 30-37.
14 Trauma and Recovery, by Judith Lewis Herman, M.D. (NY, Basic Books, 1992.)
15 Peter A. Levine, Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma (Berkeley, California, North Atlantic Books, 1997), p. 228
16 Dean R. Hoge, Charles E. Zech, Patrick H. McNamara, and Michael J. Donahue, Money Matters: Personal Giving in American Churches (Louisville, Westminster John Knox Press, 1996), p. 161.
17 Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Divine Milieu (NY Fontana Books, 1963), 77.
18 Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind, p.102.
19 Wilber, Transformations of Consciousness, 146.
20 Ibid., 56.
21 Ibid.
22 Millard, loc. cit.
23 Open Secret, Versions of Rumi translated by John Moyne and Coleman Barks (Putney, VT, Threshold Books, 1984.), 27.
24 Ibid.
25 Robert N. Bellah, Habits of the Heart (Berkeley, University of California Press, 1985), 295.
26 Carl Rogers, A Way of Being (Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1980), 38.
27 Carl Rogers and Barry Stevens, Person to Person (Moab Utah, Real People Press, 1967), 90-97.
29 An Open Letter to Ken Wilber, by Clay Stinson. Publisher: The Neural Surfer. Publication date: August 1997.(
30 Ibid.
31 Wilber, A Sociable God, 76.
32 God and the Unconscious, by Victor White, O.P. (Chicago, Regnery, 1953.), 1-2.
33 “Religious Evolution,” by Robert N. Bellah, American Sociological Review 1964, p. 374.
34 Wuthnow 1997, op. cit., viii.
35 Gary L. Ulmen, “Catholicism as a Paradigm of the Political?”, Telos 109 (Fall 1996), 120-121.
36 Counting Flocks and Lost Sheep: Trends in Religious Preference Since World War II by Tom W. Smith. National Opinion Research Center, University of Chicago. GSS Social Change Report No. 26. February 1988, Revised January 1991.
37 Keynes, John Maynard, The Economic Consequences of the Peace, (New York, Harcourt, Brace and Howe, 1920.), 250-251.
38A. Lentin, Lloyd George, Woodrow Wilson and the Guilt of Germany (Leicester University Press, 1984), 25-26.
39 Ibid.
40 Charles Mee, The Marshall Plan, 83.
41 Ibid., 241.
42 Richard John Neuhaus, The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America (Grand Rapids MI, 1984), 37.
43 Gary Ulmen, loc cit, 114.
44 Neuhaus, op cit, 79.
45 Ibid., 80.
46 Ibid., 17-18.
47 Ibid., 175-176.
48 Neuhaus, First Things (June 1997).
49 Ibid.
50 Ibid.
51 Transformations of Consciousness: Conventional and Contemplative Perspectives on Development, by Ken Wilber, Jack Engler and Daniel P. Brown. (Boston, Shambhala Press, 1986).
52 A Sociable God: A Brief Introduction to a Transcendental Sociology, by Ken Wilber. (NY, McGraw-Hill, 1983), 37.
53Ibid, 77.
54Bellah, Robert N., “Religious Evolution,” American Sociological Review 1964, p. 374.
55 Ibid.
56 A Sociable God, 76.
57 Thou Shalt Not Be Aware, 31.
58 Bellah, op. cit., 372.
59 Thomas Guarino, “Postmodernity and Five Fundamental Theological Issues,” Theological Studies 57 (1996) 654-655.
60 Adam, Eve and The Serpent, by Elaine Pagels. (New York, Vintage Books, 1989), 116.
61 Ibid., 98.
62 Wilber, A Sociable God, 37.
63 Pagels, op. cit., 145.
64 Ibid., 117.
65 John M. Todd, Reformation (London, Darton Longman & Todd, 1971),
66 Jaroslav Pelikan, Obedient Rebels (NY Harper and Row 1964), 94.
67 The Library of Christian Classics, Vol XVII. (Philadelphia, Westminster Press, 1969), 14.
68 Grace Valley Christian Center Homepage Last updated: January 30, 1997. (
69 Grinder, J. Kenneth, “The Nature of Wesleyan Theology”, Wesleyan Theological Journal 17, no. 2 (Fall 1982): 43-57.
70 The Cultural Influence of Methodism, by Herbert Schlossberg, Fieldstead Institute.
71 Lyman A. Kellstedt, John C. Green, James L. Guth and Corwin E. Smidt, “It’s the Culture, Stupid! 1992 and Our Political Future”, First Things 42 (April 1994), 28.
72 Andrew M. Greeley, Religious Change in America, (Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1989), 3.
73 Ibid., 46.
74 Ibid., 56.
75 Counting Flocks and Lost Sheep: Trends in Religious Preference Since World War II by Tom W. Smith. National Opinion Research Center, University of Chicago. GSS Social Change Report No. 26. February 1988, Revised January 1991.
76 Hadaway, C. Kirk, Marler, Penny Long and Chaves, Mark, “What the Polls Don’t Show: A Closer Look at U.S. Church Attendance,” American Sociological Review 58 (December 1993), 741-752.
77 Measuring Church Attendance by Tom W. Smith. NORC, The University of Chicago. GSS Methodological Report No. 88. December 1996. Revised January 1997.
78 Dean R. Hoge and David A. Roozen, Understanding Church Growth and Decline: 1950-1978, (New York, The Pilgrim Press, 1979), 22-23.
79 Wade Clark Roof and William McKinney, American Mainline Religion: Its Changing Shape and Future (New Brunswick, Rutgers University Press, 1987), 20.
80 Ibid., 18.
81 Reeves, The Empty Church, 12.
82 Ibid., 9.
83 Money Matters: Personal Giving in American Churches, by Dean R. Hoge, Charles E. Zech, Patrick H. McNamara, and Michael J. Donahue (Louisville, Westminster John Knox Press),1996), 169-170.
84 Robert Wuthnow, The Crisis in the Churches: Spiritual Malaise, Fiscal Woe (NY, Oxford, 1997)
85 Hoge et al., Money Matters, 168.
86 Reeves, op. cit., 169.
87 Ibid., 71.
88 Vital Signs: The Promise of Mainstream Protestantism by Milton J. Coalter, John M. Mulder and Louis B. Weeks. (Grand Rapids MI, Eerdmans, 1996), 18.
89 Ibid., 101.
90 Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind, 102.
91 Secretariat for Vocations and Priestly Formation, National Conference of Catholic Bishops/United States Catholic Conference, January 14, 1998 (
93 Roof and McKinney, op cit., 95.
94 “Are Conservative Churches Growing?” by Tom W. Smith. NORC University of Chicago GSS Social Change Report No. 32 January, 1991, p 8.
95 Ibid., 12.
96 Edwin E. Crawford, Fundamentalism and the Church of the Nazarene (
97 Reeves, op cit., 71.
98 Loranine Boettner, The Reformed Faith (