Beyond Religion

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* Book: Beyond Religion: The Culture Evolution of the Sense of the Sacred from Shamanism to Post-Religious spirituality. By William Irwin Thompson.



Sharon Koggan:

"The real thrust of Thompson’s work comes when he turns to how post-moderns have liberated themselves from tradition. He runs through a quick history of religion from the era of shamanic power and animism, recaptured today in what he calls “cultural retrieval”. In our age we are moving past the era of the “alpha male dominance”. “Appropriately, this post-religious movement has no single leader but is an emergent domain in an ecology of consciousness in which diversity is its most striking feature and strength”. He cites four prominent examples, Einstein, who was not a leader of a movement but a partner in a “fellowship of geniuses,” Yogananda, who founded a Fellowship of Self-Realization and proclaimed that “the era of the guru and disciple is over”, and Aurobindo and his Tantric partner the Mother Alfassa, who also purposely named no successors of their movement, and who recaptured for postmoderns the sacred feminine, the Wise Woman, once the counterpart of the shaman.

Fellowship then, is the centerpiece of Thompson’s vision of the post-religious future. Reactionary forces cannot stop this sea change. He says, “in cultural evolution, those who do not take the . . . quantum leap upward can slip down into an evil caricature of the old culture . . .(like) those who did not take step upward offered by Chartres, the Sufis and the Cabbalists of the Zohar . . . slid down into the Catholicism of the Inquisition”. Thompson cites Jean Gebser’s concept of “efficient and deficient forces” . New “efficient,” that is, effective, forms of spirituality render the old forms “deficient,” causing their most fervent believers to become angrily reactive as they sense their bulwark against the terrors of existence cracking. The old deficient systems have become “toxic dump(s) . . . witnessed in recent terrorist attacks around the world”. “The explosion of religious violence is a sign of the medieval religions’ death not their rebirth”. Thus, Thompson proclaims “the end of the age of religion and the beginning of a unique/universal . . . adventure of consciousness that is based upon individual experience and not upon priestcraft, rigid dogma and collective forceful indoctrination”