Bill Maher, Ben Affleck, Sam Harris HEATED Debate on Islam Sam Harris and Ben Affleck were recently on Real Time with Bill Maher.
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There was recently an exchange between Ben Affleck and Sam Harris on Bill Maher's Real Time television show that has stirred up a lot of dust. The passion revolved around some of the comments that Harris made about the religion of Islam and Affleck rising to Islam's defense. A classic example of two perspectives speaking past each other, each with partial truths. I didn't see the episode live but in the days after the exchange several people brought the interaction to my attention.
I've had an interesting relationship with Harris' work ever since his book End of Faith was published . I welcome his rational voice but am often dismayed with how easily he dismisses religion altogether. I find his open mindedness about meditation and awareness training to be refreshing, yet his over identification with an anti-religion worldview often limits what he can see. (Coincidently, according to Amazon.com people who buy my recently released book Streams of Wisdom frequently buy Harris new book Waking Up.)
As I read through Sam Harris'recent blog post, describing his experience with Affleck while on Maher's show, I realized how much the entire field could benefit from a touch a of integral clarification. It is in that vein that I offer a bit of my own expertise on Integral Theory and Religion into the public sphere.
Islam, like all of our world's great religious traditions, is enacted according to the specific levels of development of the actors involved. To be sure, Islam has a particular shape and flavor that has consistency throughout all interpretations. Folks like Harris tend to emphasize the consistent dimensions of faith, often intentionally highlighting the aspects that many consider the most challenging to stomach, as a methodology to provoke or even dismiss entire traditions as "bad ideas". But just as each tradition has a flavor and shape itself, it is equally true that every human being has a lens and worldview that brings forth particular elements of the tradition according to the world that he or she can see. There is not one version of Islam that is either "Good" or "Bad" but there are at least five versions of Islam, all dependent upon specific levels of interpretation. Each of these levels is not arbitrary. The levels are consistent across traditions and can be correlated with very specific stages of psychological development.
Whether we use the work of Harvard researcher James Fowler's Stages of Faith or the early models of developmental progression found in the works of Jean Gebser, we see a very similar metric that can be used to explore five basic levels of development. These levels can be referred to using the shorthand terms: magic (Stage 1), mythic (Stage 2), rational (Stage 3), pluralistic (Stage 4), and integral (Stage 5). Each level has particular characteristics and hallmarks of how it shows up in the world. Furthermore, each level has both moderate and extremist orientations.
At a magic level of engagement, or in the context of this outline, what we might call a Magic interpretation of Islam, is hallmarked by superstition, an outlook that seldom takes perspectives outside of basic egocentric concerns, and an obsession or overemphasis on ritual and/or on specific lines of text without a broader comprehension of the larger context.