More on the Problem of Orange: The Line/Level Fallacy
In a recent post I argued that the absence of an appealing modern/ rational/ conventional/ Individuative-Reflective/orange-altitude form of Christian faith is a very serious and (mostly) unrecognised problem in the Church.
The Church is being torn in two by pre-modern/ pre-rational/ Synthetic-Conventional/ amber-altitude conservatives on the one hand, and post-modern/ post-rational/ Conjunctive/ green-altitude progressives on the other. Of course the reality is more complicated than this, but I think this is basically how things are going.
Today I thought I’d look a little bit at why the modern, orange level faith has posed such a problem.
Confusing Levels and Lines
The philosopher Ken Wilber has written a fair bit about what he calls the “Level/Line Fallacy.” The line in this case is the line of development, through a succession of stages, in some particular area (such as spiritual development).
The level is a particular stage along that line of development. In James Fowler’s faith development theory, there are seven such stages, beginning with the Primal faith of infancy through to the highest stage (so far), which Fowler calls “Universalizing” faith.
The Level/Line Fallacy is the tendency to confuse one particular level with the entire line.1
For many people, including most devoutly religious people as well as many atheists, the Synthetic-Conventional/amber-altitude level of faith is religion, properly speaking. There is no room for development. There is only one true level. To many believers, anyone who moves beyond this stage will appear to be distancing themselves from the true faith, flirting with heresy at best, and sliding headlong into apostasy at worst. To many atheists, any faith that claims to have grown beyond the amber level is not the real thing; it’s just a pale, watered-down simulacrum. And far from being a positive development, it’s actually just enabling the more dangerous kinds of religion (see Bill Maher’s patronising rant at the end of Religulous to see what I mean).
Making such a mistake effectively prevents (or at least strongly discourages) growth into a healthy orange-level faith. One cannot be expected to embrace a healthy orange spirituality if one is unable (or unwilling) to recognise even the possibility of doing so.
Wilber discusses two different outcomes of the Level/Line Fallacy. The first he calls repression:
In the case of repression, the entire line is then denied and suppressed, resulting in atrophy and dysfunctional manifestations. If this occurs in the spiritual line of development, then in many cases, the repressed spiritual impulses are projected onto others, and then, like the anti-gay-porn crusader who is attacking his own shadow, this person becomes an obsessed, hyper-rational crusader fighting any and all spiritual endeavors, seeing them as complete irrational hogwash (with a pre/post fallacy not far behind). When then have science declaring war on religion.2
The second he calls fixation:
In the case of fixation, the particular level is so glorified that, while development again freezes at the level where the confusion occurs, instead of [a particular type of] intelligence being denied, it is obsessively and ferociously defended against all comers. But the only thing defended is that particular level in the line, which is then identified with the entire line and confused as the only correct type of the particular intelligence allowed. Ironically, in these individuals, as their own higher levels of that [particular type of] intelligence attempt to emerge, they will end up repressing them, repressing their own emergent potentials in that line because they are fixated to a particular level in that line. If the line is the spiritual line, then these individuals end up fixated at a lower level of spiritual intelligence (usually mythic), and ironically can project the their own higher, emerging spiritual impulses onto others, seeing these higher spiritual impulses as anti-spiritual. They then often end up denying higher levels of both science and religion, and lash out blindly at what amounts to their own higher potentials. We then have mythic religion declaring war on science (and the liberal world in general).3
These afflictions are both pretty common, I think, though of course not everyone so afflicted will be as extreme as Wilber’s characteristically hyperbolic descriptions would suggest.
They are also mutually reinforcing. Those fixated at amber are constantly being reminded of the “dangers” of rational thought and modern science by the anti-religious ranting of some of those who are repressing their own spiritual intelligence. And these spirit-repressors are always having their distorted stereotypes about religion reinforced by those fixated at amber, precisely because these happen to be the most publicly visible of all people of faith.
This public near-invisibility of orange (and higher) forms of faith is, I think, a real problem. Amber believers often wear their religion on their sleeves; orange (and higher) believers generally do not. The very fact that their is room to grow, even if it’s not officially sanctioned, is lost on a lot of people. I’m not entirely sure what can be done about this, but I have some ideas, and I’ll explore those in a future post.
 Wilber, Integral Spirituality, 184.
 Wilber, Integral Spirituality, 184.
 Wilber, Integral Spirituality, 184. Emphasis in original.