• Brendan Graham Dempsey

Notes on the Development of Spirit



Regarding the idea of Spirit’s “development,” some may be uncomfortable from the get-go, since many influential traditions posit that God, the ultimate principle, is changeless and eternal, always the same, etc., standing at the beginning of time as the creator—and thus not something that emerges and evolves in time.


Let us begin, then, by preserving the insights of this lineage of thought by making a Whiteheadian move. Let us posit a “primordial” God and a “consequent” God. The primordial God is that ultimate version of Spirit. Standing outside time and creation, it can be thought of as “in the beginning,” but it is better understood as beyond time entirely.

The consequent God, by contrast, is the God that emerges and develops within time, and thus is partial and unfinished. It is the God that human beings participate in instantiating through religious praxis.


The primordial God is like the archetype or Platonic Form of God, while the consequent God is like the particular instances that enact that archetypal pattern to varying degrees of precision.


The consequent God gets developed through time. Its telos, its aim, is the instantiation of the primordial God in time. The consequent God is an evolving experiment to “realize” or make real the idea of the primordial God in time.


The developmental unfolding of the consequent God appears in history as a product of human cultures. The diverse phenomena of human religious practice throughout history track the emergences of particular instantiations of the consequent God as it moves toward realizing the primordial God. These instances are thus moments in the development of the consequent God as it evolves toward its ultimate realization in time.


The consequent God evolves by means of human culture. The history of Spirit’s evolution can thus be elucidated and tracked by assessing the development of human culture.


This is where developmental models (spiral dynamics, integral theory, MHC) become crucially involved. Their principle insight is the recognition of distinct stages of development. These stages work in a scaled, fractal sense, in that they apply both to the larger scale human culture/society (modern, postmodern, metamodern epochs, etc.) and also to the subset components of human culture/society (i.e., individual humans embodying the worldview of those epochs). Indeed, a culture as a whole can develop to a higher stage only once a certain threshold of its constituent individuals have themselves developed to that stage.


Individual development is thus key to cultural development. However, because cultural development is key to the evolution of the consequent God, individuals are therefore directly instrumental in Spirit’s development:

Individual development > cultural development > Spirit’s development.


The stages of development have now been well mapped. At each stage, we get a synoptic glimpse of the co-development of individual, culture, and Spirit:



Symbol Stage A (Archaic)

Spirit is …? Burial of dead suggests belief in afterlife…? Evidence is sparse, so we can say little about this stage.


Symbol Stage B (Animism, Magic, Purple)

…Spirit is diffused, interpersonal, and collective. Powers, forces, mana. Rocks, trees, rivers, places have spirits. Tribal context. Minimal separation between subjective and objective worlds. Possession, trance. Idea of time in illo tempore (Dreamtime). Sympathetic magic. Early totemism. Ghosts. General distinction of “sacred” and “profane.”


Symbol Stage C (Faustian, indigenous cultural code? Magic-Mythical, Red)

Spirit as something distinguished, objective, and preferential comes online. In-Group vs. Out-Group dynamics. Late totemism? Ancestor worship. Pantheon. “Our god(s).” Urban/agricultural context. Divine kingship. Participatory ritual. Animal sacrifice. Rituals to “please the gods.” Cyclical time (“eternal return”). Amoral deities, more like personified natural forces. Early henotheism and monotheism. Divine warrior motif.


Symbol Stage D (Post-Faustian, traditional cultural code, Mythic-literal, Blue)

Spirit as something ethical, universal, and hierarchically organized comes online. Axial Age. Pythagoras/Plato, Buddha, Jesus. Monotheistic idea of “one god (above all others).” Reinterpretation of myth in more general, abstract, universal terms. Greater separation between subjective and objective worlds. De-emphasis of external ritual and new emphasis on internal life. Individual participation in a universal divine plan. Rising emphasis on “religious experience” and mystical/peak experiences.


Symbol Stage E (Modern, modern cultural code, rational, Orange)

Spirit as something impersonal, deterministic, analyzable and predictable comes online. Modernity, science. Galileo, Newton, etc. Alchemy > deism > atheism. De-mythologizing, de-anthropomorphizing. Immense gap between subjective and objective worlds: objective emphasized, subjective diminished. Invention of “Nature” and human’s distinction from it. Emphasis on utility and improving material conditions. Ultimate concerns shift to “this world” from the “other world.” Religious experience is purely and “just” subjective.


Symbol Stage F (Postmodern, postmodern cultural code, Pluralistic, Green)

Spirit as something perspectival, contextual, relative, and socially constructed comes online. Postmodernity, critical theory, deconstruction. Nietzsche, Foucault, Derrida. Subject shapes the objective world, and objective world shapes the subject; true “objectivity” impossible. Religious relativism/pluralism (all “right”—in their contexts). View of universalism as a parochial idea. Recognition of previous imbalances: oppression of center over margins, unsustainable exploitation of Nature, etc.


Symbol Stage G (Metamodern, metamodern cultural code, Integral, Yellow)

Spirit as something emergent, complex, hierarchically developmental, performative and pragmatic comes online. Metamodernity, integral theory, syntheism. Aware of individual/cultural/Spiritual developmental evolution. Actively engaged in personal development to fuel cultural development and thus Spirit’s further development. Consciously engaged with the social construction of reality, including religion: reconstruction after deconstruction. Experimentally integrative of all previous stages: How is Spirit diffused, interpersonal, and collective; distinguished, objective, and preferential; ethical, universal, and hierarchically organized; impersonal, deterministic, analyzable and predictable; perspectival, contextual, relative, and socially constructed; emergent, complex, hierarchically developmental, performative and pragmatic all at once? Subjective and objective both important and real, in different ways (ontologically fundamental?). Subjective commitments lead to performative actions which shape objective conditions and instantiations. Jamesian “will to believe,” Magick. Recognition of religion’s functionalities, and the need to develop religious frameworks to meet the needs of the moment, especially in light of the meta-crisis—but without regressing to pre-rational Stage D-level mythic paradigm (or lower). Employs irony and other means of distancing/meta-awareness to draw this distinction. Seeks balance of individuation and collective cohesion. Religious reconstruction thus co-creative, done via “serious play.”



So has Spirit been spiraling through its distinct stages thus far. So will it continue to develop (though it is near impossible to say how from our current vantage). Those engaged in a spiritual practice in metamodernity commit to a program of self-development in part to help Spirit evolve further by means of cultural expression. Such personal development is, ultimately, of fractal benefit, aiding the individual, society, and Spirit simultaneously.


Many questions worth exploring: Are there patterns we can deduce from Spirit’s evolution? (e.g., some argue for a spiraling between successive moves between individual and collective focus). What practices are optimal for facilitating genuine personal development? Metaphysically, what can we say about the relationship between the primordial God and consequent God? (e.g., can we draw a connection to Wilber’s ideas of involution and evolution?) All stages have their pathologies which Spirit needs to become aware of and address; what are the metamodern pathologies? Finally (for now), what dangers are there in speaking of this process as one of “Spirit” with all that term’s baggage? Does it elucidate or occlude?

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