Saturday, February 19, 2011

When Men Claim a Special Connection to God, or to Be God: Beware. Notes on Ken Wilber and Neale Donald Walsch

photo of Ken Wilber is from here
It is often said that in today's modern and postmodern world, the forces of darkness are upon us. But I think not; in the Dark and the Deep there are truths that can always heal. It is not the forces of darkness but of shallowness that everywhere threaten the true, and the good, and the beautiful, and that ironically announce themselves as deep and profound. It is an exuberant and fearless shallowness that everywhere is the modern danger, the modern threat, and that everywhere nonetheless calls to us as savior.

We might have lost the Light and the Height; but more frightening, we have lost the Mystery and the Deep, the Emptiness and the Abyss, and lost it in a world dedicated to surfaces and shadows, exteriors and shells, whose prophets lovingly exhort us to dive into the shallow end of the pool head first.
  -- Ken Wilber (Sex, Ecology, Spirituality)
See also:
I used to read the work of men like Ken Wilber and Neale Donald Walsch. Of the two, I prefer Walsch's work, as it is less egocentric. I say this while noting that what brought him fame and fortune is a claim that he's speaking directly with G-d and writing down the conversations. Perhaps he is. But his god is one of his own creation; it is not beyond him. I am intrigued with his work and have benefited by reading it. Ken, on the other hand, seems endlessly confused about whether or not he is G-d.

I've read a lot by a lot of white men, especially by white het-identified men such as Ken and Neale. Credit to both men--they give regard and respect to feminism, as each understands it. But neither man puts women of color in the center of their analysis or offers up a way for men to collectively and radically transform social institutions, such as the one wherein white men are made into gods.

Ken, generally, ignores the philosophies and political analyses of women of color, for example. In his work detailing feminism, dividing it up in ways that make no sense at all, dissing radical feminists of color and radical women of color in the most off-handed stereotypically racist-misogynistic ways, he purports to be an expert on everything under the sun.

Consider his completely inaccurate summary of radical vs. liberal feminism in the U.S.:
"According to most radical feminists, one of the special strengths of women is their ages-old connection with the Earth, with nature, with embodiment (in fact, a good summary of the female value sphere according to radical feminism would be 'embodiment in communion'). The radical feminists maintain that women's special association with embodied nature needs to be honored and cherished and celebrated. The connection of woman and nature is the source of female power and freedom and liberation.

According to most liberal feminists, it is precisely the opposite. The equation of woman and nature, they maintain, is the primary and overwhelming source of female oppression. The woman/nature "identity," they believe, has been the primary identification that men have, throughout the ages (literally from day one), used to keep women locked out of the noosphere (out of the public, productive, legal, cultural, power-wielding sphere). 'Woman = nature' translates directly into "barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen," and the liberal feminists are alarmed that the radical feminists are even thinking such thoughts, let alone championing them." [both paragraphs appear on page 186 of Sex, Ecology, and Spirituality by Wilber.]
He has clearly not studied or learned from the written work of Patricia Hill Collins or Catharine A. MacKinnon.

Wilber repeatedly discusses women as if women of color around the world don't exist. He makes no mention of feminism rising out of the experiences and values of Indigenous and Black women, for example. He assumes any significant thought rose wholesale out of the minds of white people or South or East Asian men.

He also arrogantly promotes as in-valid the phenomena, or, er, atrocities, of the rape and murder of children and woman in ritual abuse cults. His work dovetails with those who cry out that "false memory syndrome" is responsible for all those girls and women calling out their fathers and husbands as predators and perpetrators of sexual assault. Specifically, on pages 161 and 163 of Wilber's supremely egotistical tome, "A Brief History of Everything" (not quite), he decides it is important to note that because the FBI has found no evidence of cult ritual abuse murders, none have occurred. How he knows all of what the FBI has found that has not been reported is beyond me. Why he thinks the Fed. Bur. of Investigation has complete knowledge of things like ritual child sexual abuse in cults has more to do with needing to prove his points than it does with any sincere interest in stopping men (and some women) from molesting, raping, and murdering children inside or outside of cults.

He also promotes to the most privileged white people out there that they are capable of moving toward "Enlightenment" without detailing how structural political positions and social power maintain forms of ignorance that no amount of meditation will remedy.

As a former colleague, Matthew Dallman, aptly notes about Ken and his work [source: here]:

"I realize that I face no small sticky wicket in this critique. Wilber's writings as a spiritual theorist have garnered a rather large following. Included in that following are people of various degrees of seriousness, scholarly experience, exposure to philosophy, sober analytic skills. He draws from both New Age as well as academic crowds. He is smart enough to know the buttons that lure divergent demographics. He is excellent at taking full advantage of the plausible deniability built into every aspect of his work. I might be wrong, but to me he assumes that people won't read the various primary sources he uses to make his assertions. I believe his aims include being a special kind of contemporary guru: all the comforts, none of the responsibility. Many things over the years that he said he was NOT going to do he has done: from creating a Hegel-like system, to becoming a de facto guru, to coordinating an outfit equivalent to EST or Landmark Education Forum. I believe for his next trick, he will for all practical intents and purposes attempt to create a new religion."

I like a lot of what Wilber has written. I found it intellectually stimulating and I appreciate his comprehensive analytic abilities. I don't think he's especially dangerous. There are far more white het male writers who wouldn't even bother to try and summarise what any form of feminism is. Most WHM ignore feminism altogether as completely preposterous, silly, or man-hating. Wilber is smarter and wiser than they are. But, alas, he's not god. And Neale Donald Walsch speaks with a dimension of himself that is wise in many ways, and again, I've benefited from reading some of his books.

I just wonder about white men who have websites that look like those linked to at first mention of their names in my first paragraph of this post.

Putting down people is easy. Too easy. And it is almost always done to aggrandise or uplift oneself. In an effort to keep such impulses of my own in check, I'll add that I don't think either Ken Wilber or Neale Donald Walsch are fools. My point in critiquing them isn't to turn them into charlatans or con-artists. I think each is sincere in the work they do. I do believe each man has genuinely loved specific women in their lives in ways women are not loved often enough. I don't think either man is a virulent misogynist. I just don't think their voices are worthy of all the fame and fortune, of all the attention and readership. I think, for example, that the U.S. would be a better place if all the people who read those two men instead carefully, thoughtfully read the collected works of Andrea Dworkin and Audre Lorde, along with Yurugu, by Marimba Ani and Conquest by Andrea Smith. And it saddens me that this is not likely to occur--that most white men will never pick up a book by any feminist, let alone read it with regard or respect, and care and compassion.

Until the writings of radical women--white and of color, are regarded as just as profound, wise, intelligent, and important as the liberal writings of white men, we are doomed to witness and endure the ravages of white male supremacy. And until whites and men welcome women of color into the centers of white and male social justice movements and their religious institutions, as leaders, we will not see much change, radically.


theoreticalgrrrl said...

I read Neale Donald Walsch's books and at first they helped me start to even imagine "god" as not the angry male authority figure of my childhood. But the more I read the more I became genuinely grossed out by what I was reading. I felt stupid that I was taken in by the "kinder, gentler god" of Neale.

Neale believes children should be pawned off on the grandparents so that adults can have the all the free time they need to have all the sex they can possibly have. And that a woman in prostitution is offering a man something wonderful and beautiful (the idea that the prostitute doesn't want to be there never crosses his mind) and the fact that one can cross over to Nevada in the U.S. and legally purchase women means it is not wrong to do so, it all relative. He believes in moral relativism and sees something like cheating on one's spouse not as a betrayal of a promise to another but actually 'cheating yourself' out of getting all the sex you can, which is much worse to Neale cause sex is, like, beautiful so you should do it all the time no mattter who you hurt or what the circumstances are. And that rape counselors give victims of child sex abuse the idea that what happened to them is abuse. They might have seen it as normal and natural if it weren't for them giving 'em ideas!

I kid you not, these are in Neale's "unchannelled" books and articles, so if you haven't read those they might change your mind about him.

Plus that whole plagiarism thing.

I don't feel Neale is geniune but misled, I think the whole thing is a scam. He is a complete charlatan in my book.

Ditto for Ken Wilber. Ugh. Sorry. I don't mean to sound so negative and I'm glad you got something valuable from these guys, but I have to say something about some of their tactics. Wilber and his pal Andrew Cohen advocate guru worship and there has been a lot of abuse at Cohen's retreat recounted by many former students (see: and even by his mother. There's a great analysis here of both men:
Also see American Guru by William Yenner and Mother of God by Luna Tarlo.

I am done with teachers and experts and people who claim the authority of 'god' or enlightenment backs them up, I've finally realized I can only rely on myself for answers to the big questions of life.

Julian Real said...

Thank you so much, theoreticalgrrrl, for adding in this very critical information. I didn't know about the rapist scumbag, Andrew Cohen. I want to be sure the links you put in your comment work, so here they are:

Links to the books mentioned above:
American Guru: A Story of Love, Betrayal and Healing--former students of Andrew Cohen speak out by William Yenner

The Mother of God by Luna Tarlo, and also *here*.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, theoreticalgrrrl!!

theoreticalgrrrl said...

Andrew Cohen has never been acccused of rape to my knowledge at his retreat, but he is very misogynistic and would single out women for particular harsh punishments for 'disobeying' him. Even the men were uncomfortable with his treatment of the women.

Another disturbing thing is that high-profile people like Arianna Huffington and other celebrities are treating him like an expert on spirituality and enlightenment. They give him a platform at Huffington Post and at events like "Creating a Spiritually Empowered Future" even though MANY people have come forward with the physical/mental and financial abuse they've suffered from Cohen.

Ken Wilber has anti-feminist and patriarchy-denier Warren Farrell as an 'expert' on gender issues at Integral Life. They have a dialogue entitled "Does Feminism Discriminate Against Men?":

Some gems you can find there are:

"It's definitely true that men, as a rule today in industrialized societies, are basically where women were in the 1950's, psychologically and socially. Part of what is keeping men there is being blamed for having power that is really a camouflage for the powerlessness. Real power is control over my own life."


"So frequently today I see our daughters, who are interested in these sort of humanistic issues, go off to school and take Women's Studies courses, and then they come out angry at men—and these are oftentimes the brightest, the most intelligent, and the most potentially loving women, coming out of their university classes with an extension of Marxist feminism that says that the males are oppressing women. And that's just a misunderstanding of the gender development over the millennia."

The rest of the interview is available for free download if you have the stomach for it. I don't.

Julian Real said...

Warren Farrell, for those who don't know, is an ex-profeminist man. He gave it up for some form of masculinism that he views as more advanced than feminism. He's so lost in his privileges he can't see them in his own writing and life.

Re: Ken Wilber. One day I'll do up an analysis of his writings on feminism, which are ridiculously racist and sexist, among other things. I will gladly welcome your commentary on that, theoreticalgrrrl. Maybe we can work on that post together.

Here's that link:

Does Feminism Discriminate Against Men?

The answer, in case anyone is wondering, is "NO". Men discriminate against feminists, and all other women too. The problem, re: gender, is male supremacy, not feminist supremacy.

That should be quite obvious to anyone who has a politically aware mind that functions in the social world. Tragically, denial is valued more than truth.