It’s hard to deny that human beings seem to go through a spiritual development process that, at least in part, parallels other developmental tasks in childhood and young adulthood. None of us would expect a ten-year old child to be able to understand complex, abstract ethical arguments because they lack the ability to reason abstractly. In fact, we now know that some adults never develop the ability reason abstractly. Perhaps that explains the appeal of black and white religious systems to some people – it’s quite literally all they can understand.
Consider for example Mississippi state representative Andy Gipson, who has called for the death of homosexuals on his Facebook page by quoting Leviticus and announcing that “God’s holy Word” trumps the laws of this country. Clearly, this man was elected to office by people with similar mentalities. It probably doesn’t help too much that Mississippi seems to be eternally locked in a death match with its neighbors for ranking last in education each year. In fact, concrete thinkers who get themselves elected to public office only perpetuate social problems that require abstract reasoning to address.
On the spiritual front, some Hindu spiritual teachers have pointed out that there will always be some people who have not yet spiritually evolved enough to be prepared for higher teachings. Of course, a belief in reincarnation allows that these people are not permanently stuck at lower levels of development but instead develop over many lifetimes. Regardless of your personal position on reincarnation, it’s clear that if a segment of the population struggles to understand complex spiritual teachings as well as complex social issues we have a problem.
It would be simplistic – and profoundly unwise – to suggest that a particular segment of the conservative to progressive spectrum has the market cornered on concrete thinkers. Nor does it mean that concrete thinkers are necessarily limited in the basic tasks of life, including employment. There are tasks and jobs in which concrete thought is actually an advantage. Unfortunately, ethics isn’t one of them and neither is social policy – both of which are essential components of an engaged spirituality.
I’m not willing to just give up on concrete thinkers and wait for their next incarnation, but I am also realistic enough to say that business as usual isn’t going to change anything. We need to start honestly discussing education strategies both in the spiritual and traditional education arenas that will help people develop abstract thought. Of course, in an era when military spending and tax breaks for the wealthy are seen as more important than education and social programs, that could be tough sledding. Perhaps if spirituality leads the way and sets an example, we can convince others to follow.