Sam Harris and Integral Theory

My friend Julian (over on the II-Zaadz forum) asked for an “Integral critique” of Sam Harris, and I couldn’t resist jumping into the fray:

I have given Sam Harris more than a bit of thought over the past few months:

Rational dialogue and human development
Atheism, meaning and morality
Why won’t God heal amputees
The great divide
Itchy fingers

I have a hard time thinking about what an “Integral” response to ANY issue looks like, to tell you the truth. Most so-called “Integral” analyses strike me as little more than oversimplified, misapplied developmental arguments, usually filtered through the kaleidoscopic lens of Wilber’s Spiral Dynamics Rainbow.

As I said before, I think Harris is quite clear as to what “level” of religion he is criticizing, i.e. the literalist/fundamentalist level. He’s also quick to point out that most of the people who embrace unreasonable, irrational beliefs in the religious sphere, are quite capable of (in fact, they insist on) being rational and reasonable in all other spheres of life. So, it doesn’t make sense to me to say “We need mythic level religion as a conveyor belt for all those pre-rational people out there.” These people are not “pre-rational” in any other area of their lives. They are not six year olds. A truly pre-rational person (i.e. a six year old) would only be confused by a church sermon or a Buddhist Satsang.

What a pre-rational person needs is a proper environment in which to naturally develop to the rational stage. Like I said before, religion is totally unnecessary for this process, as further brain development and Sesame Street take care of this quite nicely.

What Harris is trying to expose and knock down is the taboo against using our given rational capacities in the religious sphere. If Integral Theory applies here, perhaps it is in how the cognitive line relates to the spiritual line. I have too many questions about the concept of a “spiritual line” to take that any further right now.

This whole issue is personal, I think we must all admit. When I was twelve years old or so, it was rational arguments, like the ones Harris provides, that spared me from indoctrination into the world of mythic religion. It was this wholesale rejection of religion that, for me, cleared the way for development of a rational, then transrational spirituality. Rationality was my conveyor belt, and a set of parents who did not reinforce the taboo against criticizing religion. I’ll shut up now.

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One Response to Sam Harris and Integral Theory

  1. James Smith says:

    I appreciate the refrain ” filtered through the kaleidoscopic lens of Wilber’s Spiral Dynamics Rainbow” for that is what it feels like. By the time one really drills down into Wilber’s work, all the abstract concepts, i.e. colors, holons, ontols, and on and on, blur into a “what the hey is he trying to say?”
    After publishing an article in his journal, and referencing the abstract nature of his work in a scientific journal, what he means by all the world of language he creates still eludes me. So, I’m still looking for the dictionary/ lexicon of his work as he applies it.
    I asked, What would Sam Harris say, (since Sam is amazingly informed)? I found this which, had the fine refrain referenced above. Enjoy Jim

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