Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Evolving Values Systems

Several months ago the leadership team at our church read The Emerging Church by Bruce Sanguin. Sanguin is pastor at Canadian Memorial Church in Vancouver, British Columbia. The Emerging Church (not to be confused with the emergent Christian movement), is a reflection and manual about congregational leadership development from a progressive Christian perspective. I highly recommend it, as well as another book that Sanguin draws on heavily, Evoking Change by Anna Christie. Christie is a pastor and therapist and has written a great book about how to grow our emotional health and intelligence, and about how important this is in the church. I wish I had read these books years ago.

In any case, tucked in the middle of Sangin's book is a brief discussion about Spiral Dynamics. Spiral Dynamics was pioneered by the late Dr. Clare Graves, a developmental psychologist, who mapped out a historical time-line of the evolution of worldviews and value systems. Don Beck, a student of Graves, color-coded the map and made it easier for the lay person to understand. According to Graves, for the first humans basic survival was all that mattered. For much of human history they existed at the Arhaic/Survivalist Value System (Beige). Then about 50,000 years ago clans and tribes formed and the Tribal Value System (Purple) replaced basic survival as the over-riding value. The gods existed to protect and help the clan; magic could be used to invoke the Gods. Purple was followed by Red, the Warrior Values System (10,000 yrs ago), the Blue, the Traditional Values System (5,000 yrs ago), Orange, the Modernist Value System (300 yrs ago), Green, the Postmodernist Value System (150 years ago); in the last 3 decades two further values systems have begun to emerge: Yellow, the Integral Values System, and finally Turquoise, the Mystical Values System. You can read much more about Spiral Dynamics here.

Sanguin used Spiral Dynamics to make two points. One, to buttress his case that spirituality is evolving; there is clear historical evidence that we are progressing spiritually. Two, to make the point that individuals and congregations have different colors, or worldviews and value systems. This is important to remember, he says, because although two people may be reading the same scripture text, they are reading it through the eyes of their dominant color or values system. And if they are in different colors they are understanding the text in very different ways. Further, according to Sanguin and Spiral Dynamics, there is no way in the world that a person at a lower rung or spiral can understand it at a higher level. They can evolve over time - that's the good news - but until they do they can't understand a person or congregation who is reading or operating at a higher level of the spiral.

At first blush the whole notion of Spiral Dynamics rubs me the wrong way. It sounds and feels very elitist to me. It also meshes well with a post-modern perspective on the world which also often rubs me the wrong way because it is so frequently used to deny the existence of any truth whatsoever, or to simply dismiss the need for conversation. What is the point of talking if we each have our own truth and we can't really hope to understand each other?

But I have had the experience of sitting with people who have heard my messages and then listened as they tell me what they just heard, and thought to myself, "We are not living in the same world." Sanquin and Spiral Dynamics would say that we are living out of different colors. There is a certain sense in which this does feel elitist, particularly if I presume that they are understanding at a lower level than me. And would I, I wonder, know it if I was the one who was at the lower level? I think not.

I would like to believe, as well, that we are evolving spiritually. I don't think human nature changes but I hope that human values are evolving towards a higher plane. I think the evidence supports this view; after-all there is no one in the western world today who sanctions slavery. No one can deny, I think, that we still have the capacity to do great evil, and our progress has given us the technology to inflict irreparable harm on the earth and its inhabitants, but I think our sights have been raised in terms of what it means to be human and a member of spaceship Earth.

This whole concept does raise an interesting question of whether someone like the Buddha or Jesus was able to transcend the highest values system of their day? Were they just the most enlightened individuals within their day, but still bound by the limits of their (Blue) worldview? Or were they already seeing and living at the highest (Turquoise) level. My guess is that with Spiral Dynamics the answer would be that they were bound by the worldview of their day. I would tend to agree. I just don't think it is very helpful to blame Jesus or Buddha, or Paul, for not knowing everything and getting everything right. It is enough for me to let them be truly inspired visionaries for their day and admit that they were wrong about some things, from the perspective of our more evolved worldview.

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