Thursday, December 2, 2010

Leaving Death Boat Ethics

At times, doesn’t much of religion and politics seem like a lot of crock? Yes, and so it did at the time of Jesus’ birth. And, even now, not much has changed.

Consider the modern views of the popular religious thinker Ken Wilber and his infamous system of Integral Theory, which is a modern re-envisioning of "death boat ethics."

He, himself, takes a rather dim view of some forms of religion: “Worse, their [fundamentalist and evangelical Christians] real or authentic state of experience of love will actually reinforce their ethnocentrism. Only those who accept Jesus as their personal savior can find salvation; everybody else is consigned to eternal damnation and hellfire by an all-loving and all-forgiving God. Does that intense contradiction make any sense?"

Finally Wilber states, "Well, it does if you use the W-C Lattice...
Begin using IOS and suddenly it all starts to make sense, at least enough to climb out of the nightmare of fundamentalism…”
from The Integral Vision by philosopher Ken Wilber (pages 147 and 155)

But first, let’s start out with a positive point about Wilber’s own religious worldview of Eastern thought—yes, we’ll light a candle first, before cursing the ocean of darkness;-)

A number of Ken Wilber’s key ideas and concepts are powerful and demonstrably practical. For instance, his “Four Quadrants” map (page 71) shows how modern atheists leave out much of reality by confining the real to what is scientifically testable.

And Wilber makes plenty of other insightful points in the Vision and his other books. He shows the fusion of a vast amount of learning and much creativity, and has a light-hearted sense of humor as well. His Integral Theory seeks to combine modern psychology, spirituality, and science into an integrated whole. No small undertaking!

BUT...there is a definite downside to his philosophy/spirituality-- sharkish worms, dare we say maggots, lie deep in this shiny-appled vision.

The devil in the “Integral Vision” is hidden in the ethical details. Wilber’s worldview turns out to be much worse than the fundamentalist Christianity he thinks is a “nightmare.” His own philosophical dream makes even less compassionate sense.

How can such a brilliant, knowledgeable, insightful individual be so deceived?

Some ethical issues are so difficult, so ambiguous that morally concerned individuals may disagree.
For example, I could agree to disagree with Wilber’s strong support for execution.

His adamant support for capital punishment doesn’t seem to square with his own spiritual philosophy, but every ethical system has its conundrums. And, besides, capital punishment is a tough, ambiguous issue.

However, Wilber’s attitude/tone is very troubling. When asked if he thought that criminals guilty of murder should be helped to turn from their actions, to change ethically, he said that he didn’t think it was worth society’s effort to help them.

And besides, with reincarnation, the criminals would be reincarnated anyway, so it’s time to “recycle” them. (Ken Wilber’s answer in Kosmic Consciousness tapes)

Again, here is displayed a tragic, uncaring attitude that has often clung like dung to the belief of reincarnation in the past, where the doctrine contributes to the problem of human evil rather than encourages humans to try and solve and deliver sinners.

Why help the low class, low caste? Why help criminals? Why help the poor? They are all paying for bad karma!

Those humans did something wrong in their past lives. Or since ‘they’ do evil now; why help them? They’ll be back soon with another life.

That’s definitely not the way of the Light. Jesus showed compassion for all the lost, even for criminals and terrorists. While no one should be excused for murder, (like often happens in U.S. courts today, where intentional murderers sometimes get off with only serving as little as 4 years in prison), mercy to help is vital.

All of us need to keep in mind that something like 80% of criminals in prison were abused as children. As Thich Nhat Hanh so wisely pointed out, how do we know that we wouldn't be like the individuals we condemn if we had grown up in their abusive environment?

Though their evil actions as adults are inexcusable, and they do need to be separated from society to prevent harm to others, surely these morally deformed individuals (some of whom had their arms burned by their mother’s cigarettes or were bashed in the face, or sexually abused, etc.), surely they do deserve to be rescued.

Hopefully, they will choose to change. At least that is the philosophy of such organizations as Prison Fellowship and 12 Step Recovery Programs.

Ken Wilber does show thoughtful discernment in his nuanced support of early abortion but opposition to late term abortion.

What of stopping massacres? It is necessary, as he says, that the nations of the world stop tyrants if they are killing unarmed civilians. But keep in mind that the United States in just two years killed almost ½ million unarmed civilians far more than any Islamic Jihadists have done.

And we did so in the name of the Christian God. So we need to be sure to take the beam out of our own eye before we attack others preemptively and self-righteously.

But Wilber’s own ethical system takes a bizarre turn downward. He begins to argue for “Life Boat ethics.” According to him, not all humans can live on this earth; we higher ones must decide which lesser humans—people of less value-- to cast over the sides to their deaths.

How tragic is Wilber’s strong support of war (based in part according to him in the Hindu idea that it is our duty to kill others, even our relatives, because Krishna says so).

This is according to his “depth and span” ethical system. We should/must throw out lesser people from the Life Boat to their deaths! (Kosmic Consciousness Interview tapes)

Here we have the fallacious view that the “end justifies the means.” It is from just such ethical systems that so much of the horrific tragedies and mass slaughters of the 19th and 20th centuries came about.

Haven’t you noticed that when the “end justifies the means," it is to our own advantage.

If other countries torture, that is horribly wrong, but if we do it, well, it’s not really torture, and besides the end justifies the means for us.

If someone else lies, how wrong, but, of course, if we lie, it was necessary. Yes, Wilber defends some forms of lying!

And then, his views get really weird and morally sick: Wilber says that it’s okay for husbands and wives to have sex with individual outside of their marriage in an "open marriage!
(Ken Wilber website)

Furthermore, he seems to agree (?) with another author that Jesus may have had sex with Mary Magdalene.
(“The Meaning of Mary Magdalene” by Cynthia Bourgeault and Ken Wiber,

These “Life Boat” ethics are really anti-life. They go against the moral views of Jesus and Gandhi and Thich Nhat Hanh and Abdul Ghaffar Khan.

It’s time to realize that all such “Life Boat” ethical systems are really a moral death boat.

Of course, according to Wilber many of the humans who oppose his system are lowly “oranges” on his rating scale of human development. What is an “orange”? Don’t ask; it’s not good; a large number of stages down below Wilber’s own advanced spiritual trans-human stage.

Well, at least it’s better for us to be “orange” rather than being “red”. They are even worse. Wilber points out that we do need to include the lesser valued humans, up to a point, unless we have already bombed/executed them, of course. And besides, they will be reincarnated (my sarcasm intentional).

Doesn’t this sound a bit like the designations of humans in the highly satiric novel Brave New World by Aldous Huxley? Or George Orwell's very bitter fable, Animal Farm?

What about Jesus’ statement to “to turn the other cheek” and love your enemies? No, Wilber emphasizes the opposite. He thinks even in a thousand years that humankind probably won't overcome the need to use violence.

In his novel, he has one character say “turning the other cheek is exactly what you don’t want to do with pre-orange memes.”

But Jesus, in contrast, reached out to the marginalized “less integral” humans, to his political enemies, to the ruthless Romans, to criminals, even to terrorists, etc.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus even said that we should show love [benevolence, altruism] to ruthless enemy soldiers.

But as mentioned above, Wilber emphasizes that it our duty to kill. Like in the Hindu religious classic, the Bhagavad Gita, where Arjuna doesn’t want to kill his relatives in war,but the God Krishna tells him it is his duty to go into battle and kill his relatives.

So the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and Syria are justified and so are other wars which our particular nation thinks we should fight out of duty.

Again, the end justifies the means.

Are we to forget about the nonviolent ethics of Jesus, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Cesar Chavez, Eli Chacour?

Jesus dealt with the powerful immoral Roman Empire, with ruthless Roman soldiers who crucified thousands of Jewish individuals, yet Jesus didn't become a zealot and slit their throats saying they hadn’t reached his level of spiritual development.

Instead, he emphasized the way of the cross. He even forgave the soldiers who executed him!

So have many other spiritual leaders down through history, going against the dominant human way of killing one's enemies.

In contrast, Ken Wilber’s view (as expressed by his characters at and in an extended interview in Kosmic Consciousness by Sounds True) is that nonviolence only works when your nation’s enemies are, basically, nice people.

Also, Wilber emphasizes that humans can’t/shouldn’t live by nonviolence because, not only does peace-living not work, but “your death doesn’t even buy you good karma, but the karma of the coward”!!! (

What? By implication Jesus is a coward?!

Wilber claims if we don’t kill in war, we are responsible for what the enemy does! So were the disciples and early followers of Jesus guilty for what Emperor Nero did? The Jewish people of Europe responsible for what the Nazis did? Etc.?

And what makes this all the more confusing is that Wilber has one of his characters later say that God is actually ‘behind’ all such human evil (after talking about the necessity of killing humans in war, etc.):

"Precisely because I am not this, not that, I am fully this, fully that. Beyond nature, I am nature; beyond God, I am God; beyond the Kosmos altogether, I am the Kosmos in its every gesture. Where there is pain, I am there; where there is love, I am present; where there is death, I breath easily; where there is suffering, I move unconstrained."

"On September 11, 2001, I attacked me in a distant part of the galaxy on an unremarkable planet in a speck of dust in the corner of manifestation, all of which are wrinkles in the fold of what I am. And none of which affects me in the slightest, and therefore I am totally undone, I cry endlessly, the sadness is infinite, the despair dwarfs galaxies, my heart weeps monsoons, I can't breath in this torture."

"Totally insignificant, infinitely significant--no difference, truly. Atoms and Gods are all the same, here in the world of One Taste; the smallest insult is equal to the greatest; I am happy beyond description with every act of torture, I am sad beyond compare with every act of goodness."

"I delight in seeing pain, I despise seeing love. Do those words confuse you? Are you still caught in those opposites? Must I believe the dualistic nonsense that the world takes as real? Victims and murderers, good and evil, innocence and guilt, love and hatred? What dream walkers we all are!”
(Ken Wilber Website)

So Wilber’s God is the One behind all the evil (as well as the good)!

Yet Ken Wilber thinks the “God” of Fundamentalism is a “nightmare”!
(Page 155)


Think about it: Somehow in Wilber’s philosophy humans need to be executed and bombed, but
behind all those horrendous evil actions is really Ultimate Reality playing:-(!

“until I decided to play this round of hide and seek, and get lost in the objects of my own creation.” (Page 204)

I am without words...other than I want to emotionally and spiritually puke, gag and vomit.

Instead, I will pray that Ken Wilber, Deepak Chopra, and all such other millions of deluded "death boat" thinkers will come to their moral sense and find the Light of the Real Truth.

Daniel Wilcox


Norea from NTF said...

Everything I needed to know about Wilber, I learned from Stripping the Gurus. (Link goes to CC-licenced PDF book. Wilber isn't the only cult-meister featured in this one, either.)

Short version? It's definitely a closed high-demand religious group. Does anyone with half an ounce of sense really need to know anything else?

Hystery said...

I met a nice guy in grad school who was doing his work on Ken Wilber. We talked, as grad students will do, about our ideas and I felt decidedly unimpressed. I felt my fellow student was espousing a rather anti-feminist belief system (although he argued that he was not). I wonder now if the fact that my feminism is grounded in pacifism was what led me toward discomfort with his description of Wilber's thoughts.

Daniel Wilcox said...

Hi Norea,

Thanks for the weblink! I hadn't read this e-book, though I already had read elsewhere about how one of Wilber's gurus had been accused of sexual abuse, etc.

It certainly is discouraging to see how many religious leaders who sound good, actually are corrupt.

At first, when I started learning about Wilber, I was so impressed with his extensive learning and insight. But then the more I learned about his system, the more it showed how untrue it was.

Daniel Wilcox

Daniel Wilcox said...

Hi Hystery,

As much as I disagree with Wilber's ethics on war and execution, I would not be so strongly against it if his attitude was more sensitive and compassionate.

But when he said, for instance, that execution and war were fine for him because the other human beings were of less value and less worth than more advanced humans like Wilber that for me was the last straw.

And for Wilber to say, besides, they will be reincarnated, so it's time to "recycle."

Such an attitude makes me want to punch Wilber;-)

Thanks for stopping by,