Michael Karlberg’s essay on meaning and religion is a brave and visionary statement set in the context of an immense and extended process of cultural evolution. The intellectual forces that bulwark his thesis extend throughout history, and in recent years have surged across a complex interdisciplinary spectrum that struggles to authentically interconnect traditionally disparate elements of human thinking.
The broad questions of “semiotics” and “codes” open up a wide array of profound issues in epistemology and semantics and psychology. In the context of a transition to planetary civilization, how can our emerging knowledge in these areas help us interpret the traditional meaning of religion, and help release its beneficial guiding influence into our shared context? As Karlberg asks in his essay, how can we “foster and encourage the ongoing evolution and refinement of religion” and “recognize it as a partner in a growing global citizens’ movement?”
Answers to these questions have been growing in the context of the Great Transition for many years, and in this comment, I want to sketch out a review of this growing perspective.
In 1977, presenting the core thesis of his book “Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity” in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, and considering the full spectrum of human understanding, pioneering anthropologist and social scientist Gregory Bateson asked the question “What is the pattern that connects?” and suggested a detailed answer. There is a comprehensive wholeness in reality, said Bateson, that can be known by intuition, conceptualized by religion, and explicitly articulated by science. Extending Bateson’s theme in 1988, theologian Matthew Fox interpreted this pattern in religious terms as the “Cosmic Christ,” and today global philosopher and ontologist Dr. Ashok Gangadean unfolds this all-inclusive idea as the concept of “Logos.”
In 1934, Professor Arthur Lovejoy provided foundation for this perspective, building on the entire history of western philosophy and religion in his landmark book “The Great Chain of Being,” seeing this ancient concept as an interconnecting pattern across all the levels of human thinking. Contemporary writers on religion including Huston Smith and Ken Wilber have extended this thesis, seeing the Great Chain as the core principle connecting empiricism/science and intuition/religion and unfolding this idea throughout their studies in theology and psychology. Similarly, cyberneticians and whole system theorists offer related models of systemic change based on the interconnectivity and interdependence of all facets of the individual human mind or of entire societies.
All of these elements today are part of a vast and complex global conversation many thinkers see as a process of evolutionary co-creation, where facets of science and intuition from all across the spectrum of the human mind are drawn together in ways some believe are headed for grand synthesis or convergent conjunction. Writers and visionaries around the world are combining elements from religion, science, art, politics, and governance, crossing traditional boundaries and proposing innovative new doctrines that embody all of these things at once—in ways that are fully interdependent and interconnected, highly interdisciplinary, and intended to be scientifically credible.
Are we heading towards a true “theory of everything,” a true conjunction of science and religion that could reliably influence democratic governance? This creative global inquiry all around us is the context of the Great Transition Initiative, and provides an intellectual background for Karlberg’s essay. I especially admire Karlberg’s contribution because he succinctly surveys the history of this broad issue from the point of view of a faithful advocate, and while recognizing the historical vulnerabilities and weaknesses of religion—what Bateson called its “epistemological errors”—he defends its basic authenticity and its vitalizing influence on the most successful societies throughout history.
In this defense, Karlberg joins a chorus of voices calling for a revolution in integral and holistic thinking, outlining with care an array of critical issues that must be approached with balance and precision if the vulnerabilities of religion are not to disqualify its role and influence in the public square. A theme that repeats itself throughout the Karlberg essay is the phrase “organic oneness,” which can be understood as a primary meme or archetypical concept of his perspective. Mystical writers, theologians from many traditions, scientists, humanists, and holistic philosophers, and a burgeoning global movement of religious and “interspiritual” people, all can converge their thinking towards a common and shared framework through this concept of “oneness.”
If there is a legitimate candidate for an “overarching interpretive frame” that can help integrate the Great Transition, it is this theme of oneness. From a religious and theological point of view, oneness can be seen as the core idea of religion itself, a universal expression or definition of the Godhead, as seen through a wide variety of independent traditions. In Matthew Fox’s terms, the “Cosmic Christ” is
oneness. From Ashok Gangadean’s point of view, oneness is
the Logos and the essence of rationality itself. From the point of view of holistic philosophy or the theory of categories, or an integral cognitive science, oneness is
the container, the universal conceptual framework within which all philosophy and science are held.
Seen through the lens of a spirit-guided social-change activism, intended to combine the beneficial influences of a wide variety of religious and spiritual and secular humanist perspectives into a common global ethics, oneness seems a potent candidate for a kind of universal “intercultural bridge abutment”—a neutral center-point and common origin for a global-scale co-creative process intended to bring together contending forces from across the full spectrum of human experience.
Are the religions of the world “semiotic codes” for interpreting the meaning of oneness in a particular social or historical context? Are they an interpretive bridge across the levels of the mind, extending in some particular culturally adaptive way from the transcendent and supremely holy into the immediate lives of their followers? Are the religions of the world different from one another because they arise under different conditions, in response to a different human need? This is the general thesis of the “perennial philosophy”, and seeing religions in these terms opens pathways to constructive negotiation and understanding among religious adherents. Understood in this way, the thesis of oneness as universal common ground opens the way to a sophisticated process of negotiation and mediation that sustains and nurtures the role of religion in the world, in a context that enables mutual respect and constructive engagement. If a global ethics can be fused from interpretations across the entire range of human thinking, the “organic oneness” of humanity becomes the container for the entire co-creative conversation, finding a place for every voice. Oneness itself becomes an innate moral imperative.
In the context of social theory and evolution, oneness seems to be the essential theme in the definition of “community.” Yes, we are diverse; yes, we are different; yes, there are many points where we disagree. But yes, we are one community; yes, we can work this out together; and yes, we can explicitly identify common ground. Oneness is the core idea for an “E Pluribus Unum” approach to global-scale interreligious encounter, where innumerable and distinct traditions and their adherents might feel called and welcomed to a collective process of constructive engagement from the particular point of view of their own local culture or religious tradition. In the context of the Great Transition Initiative, the principle of community and the co-creative power of diversity-in-unity are essential guiding principles for synthesizing a new global order that works for everyone.
In his carefully written yet passionate essay, Michael Karlberg makes an important contribution to the Great Transition Initiative. By capably defending the ancient vision of religion, and honoring its vitalizing role throughout history, Karlberg offers a strong challenge to doubters and skeptics who may be too quick to dismiss the critical role of holistic intuition in guiding the most successful societies throughout history. We are living today through profoundly co-creative and revolutionary times, drawing together not only the entire range of interreligious and interspiritual voices, but also the passionate concerns of humanists and scientists and social change activists, all responding to a myriad of complex interdependent issues that threaten local and global well-being.
Karlberg’s essay is a call to remember the pattern that connects—a remembrance that might help bind us together as one family, one global community, in the context of one integral conversation. Concluding his essay, Karlberg invites us all into continuing engagement and relationship, in ways that might reasonably hope to convene the full energies of collective human wisdom, releasing this enlightening influence into the challenging context shared by all of us today in the context of the Great Transition.