Excerpt from Chapter One, “The Need for a Psychology of Spiritual Journeying” in Howard Pepper’s upcoming spiritual growth book
copyright © 2012 by Howard Pepper
The Opportunity In Front of Us
A critical national and world need is for religion to play a more fully positive and growth-inducing role in society resulting in an explosion of understanding and compassion, with practical human benefits everywhere, simultaneously greatly diminishing the chance for religion to be used to justify or intensify violent conflicts and making world peace more reachable.
The opportunity exists today as never before to broadly and rapidly educate about religion rather than just in religion or against it. This has never been accomplished on any major scale and now can be, despite the opposition of much of organized religion. The focus of this process should be the many pro-growth and pro-social aspects of religion that we might call spirituality. Ken Wilber has wisely pointed out that religion, via its many institutions, is sorely needed as a leading participant in accelerating and broadening personal growth in individuals and societies. Its position and influence is unique. Yet only a tiny fraction of religious leaders see and understand this need. Most are stuck, in dogma or in practice, within narrow or exclusivist paradigms resulting in limited growth for themselves and their followers.
Many of them, including Evangelical leaders, have some sense of the limiting or misleading nature of concepts they are called on to defend so staunchly. Such leaders need renewed vision and a perceived path to make, with integrity and openness, the growth steps Spirit/spirit leads them toward. Their congregations and learners under them need their example and their leadership toward integrated personalities, maturity, and wise actions springing from compassion. They can be helped! Many currently leave positions in frustration and then flounder unproductively. They are eager for an integrated philosophy and a place to serve once healed and re-grounded.
When structures for their support and guidance are in place and growing, large numbers of such leaders will respond. The battle for growth is not just conceptual or “spiritual.” It is also practical – monetary, social, interpersonal, etc. “Culture wars” and the growth boundaries they often represent, are not separate from practical issues like making a living and social relationships but are intertwined with them. It is similar with religious and other belief systems.
In terms of institutions and societal structures, influence has come mainly top-down throughout Western history, with religion as no exception. Yet with religion, we seem to have hit particular resistance to this pattern: Top-down is often not working and various levels of leadership are divided. The situation is pushing religious leaders and often entire denominations into acrimonious us-them camps of “conservative” and “liberal.” As a key dynamic, parishioners are often more tradition-bound (and/or conservative) than their pastors who come out of more progressive seminaries.
These lay people can and should be approached directly with education toward growth especially during the inquiring, re-examining stage of roughly age 18-35. Meanwhile, the pastors and other leaders can be supported (and some of the psychology and human relations holes in their education filled) in the context of an integral theory, broader spirituality, etc.
What do YOU see as a key opportunity for spiritual advancement, in your own life or in where we are headed as a society (United States or elsewhere)?