I was given a challenging piece of writing this week that comes from The Essential Ken Wilber.

In the passage that was passed on to me, Wilber draws a distinction between religion that he says functions as “translation” and religion that serves to bring “transformation”.

Translation religion Wilber says functions on the horizontal plane to:

  • create meaning for the separate self through myths, stories, narratives, rituals, and revivals that offer “a new way to think or feel about reality”
  • help the separate self make sense of the complexities and confusions of life

Translation religion does not

usually or necessarily change the level of consciousness” but rather “consoles the self, fortifies the self, defends the self, promotes the self.

Transformation religion is a vertical movement that serves to:

  • produce “radical transformation and liberation” shattering the separate self

Transformation offers:

  • devastation not consolation
  • emptiness not entrenchment
  • explosion not complacency
  • revolution not comfort
  • radical transformation of the deepest seat of consciousness itself not conventional bolstering of consciousness

Wilber sums up his understanding of the process of Transformation” saying,

transformation is not a matter of belief but of the death of a believer.

Surprisingly, Wilber goes on to suggest that there is a valid and important place in the spiritual life for both translation and transformation. He writes,

both of these functions are incredibly important and altogether indispensable.

I say “surprisingly” because, in the Book of Job, the voice of God announced the end of “translation” religion challenging Job with the penetrating question,

‘Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?’ (Job 38:2)

The truth about “translation” religion is that it is an illusion.

Anyone who looks seriously and honestly at the years 1939-1945, or any of the other atrocious periods of violence and injustice in the history of the human enterprise, knows that it is utterly impossible to “make sense” of the world we inhabit. Any “sense” we make of the human experience, will always be tentative. At some point all our wise formulations will be shattered by the reality of violence and suffering or, if we are fortunate, by incomprehensible glimpses of beauty and transcendence.

The only appropriate response to a world that contains genocide, starvation, intractable international relations, the abuse of innocents, and the endless litany of injustice that bedevils the human story, is to be stunned into silence. It is not possible to create meaning in the face of a small child holding the hand of her mother as she is marched into a gas chamber at Auschwitz.

At the same time, we can only sit in silence in the face of the incomprehensible heroism, courage, and strength of so many people in the face of the atrocities humans perpetrate upon one another. And we must find ourselves stunned into silence by the luminous brilliance of the universe we inhabit.

Paul points to the Christian path of transformation when he writes,

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:19b,20)

To be “crucified with Christ” is to welcome the death of that small self that longs for meaning, understanding, consolation, and comfort. Having died with Christ (Colossians 3:3), my small self that spends its life fighting against devastation, emptiness, explosion, and revolution has been laid to rest.

We only get to resurrection through crucifixion. There is no short-cut that goes around the cross. Religion that seeks consolation without crucifixion is a crutch.

True freedom comes only when we have finally let go of our determination to “fashion some sort of meaning in the midst of the monstrous world.”

The attempt to wrestle meaning, purpose and understanding out of the realities of this world will lead, not to transformation, but to tragedy. In the end all our attempts to impose sense upon the world will fail. Our finely built constructs will eventually come tumbling down in the face of reality. We must stand naked before the truth of our failings in order to find the indestructible beauty and strength of our true nature.

As Wilber concludes, when you are,

sick with the suffering of the separate self, and no longer able to embrace the legitimate worldview – then a transformative opening to true authenticity, true enlightenment, true liberation, calls more and more insistently. And, depending upon your capacity for suffering, you will sooner or later answer the call of authenticity, of transformation, of liberation on the lost horizon of infinity.  


Just after posting the above piece, I opened my email to find another version of what I am trying to say above. It comes from a rather surprising source: http://gawker.com/louis-c-k-s-explanation-of-why-he-hates-smartphones-is-1354954625

Who is Louis C.K. and how did he find such truth and wisdom?