Is Spiral Dynamics a religion or a cult?
We get this question more and more. The answer is an emphatic no. SPIRAL DYNAMICS® programs, products and services are not a religion—or a front for neoconservative politics, a New Age church, or representative of any particular ideology. The spiral is not a stairway to the gods or to God, nor does spiritual practice move people to greater cognitive complexity and higher levels, though it can make them more satisfied in themselves and teach them new jargon.
Our work focuses on how people think about things like religion, and how religiousness, spirituality, non-belief, etc., fit their conceptions of their worlds. It is not about the substance of beliefs, but the thinking about beliefs—the whys and wherefores of our mind/brain’s conceputalizing of the metaphysical. Spiritual experiences and concepts are the contents for analysis; the goal is to understand the process of conceptualization behind them.
The models in SPIRAL DYNAMICS® programs can be taught and learned in different ways; that’s where some of the confusion lies. When people see revival tent tactics being used by smug and authoritarian teachers, they confuse the methodology with the content. Inspirational promises work for those hungry to be inspired. Frankly, some people learn quite well under such circumstances – they are congruent and needs are met for a time. For others, those methods are a turn-off, and they turn away from the underlying material because of how they encountered it and the grandiosity attached by pundits. All of this is actually explained quite well within the theory, itself.
We are aware that materials in SPIRAL DYNAMICS® programs are used by people involved in churches and following spiritual paths—just as it’s used by people working in business organizations, educational settings and government agencies to improve understanding, management, and leadership because human factors are involved. Similarly, the spiral model describes intrafaith pressures as much as interfaith forces in terms of how people approach their theologies and process the -isms they believe in, whether theistic or atheistic, open-minded or authoritarian-absolute. We are troubled when we hear of its assimilation into cults and cult-like movements, and can only hope that the underlying theory helps members understand the choices they have made, and to see alternatives if they want them.
Ideas coming out of SPIRAL DYNAMICS® trainings have been appended, sometimes force-fit, into various expressions of paraphrased theology and spirituality. Authors and teachers who do that suggest—because of who they are and not what the model is—that the quasi-religion they produce was inherent in theory all along, that it is a spiritual ladder to salvation, or a grading scale to assess apostles and sort the elect and deserving from the rest of the human herd.
We’ve found this happens a lot in two transitions along the spiral, the DQ-ER (Blue to Orange) and ER-FS (Orange to Green). When people come out of religious traditions which believe theirs is the exclusive route to salvation and away from their hell (the DQ-based forms), then it is easy to convert to faith that their version of theory is the only truth, and the exclusive route to joining a fellowship of saviors, and to becoming a missionary of spiral insight by imposing their righteous views. Others envision themselves finding quantum immortality and reincarnating through faith in the Church of the Spiral, the Brotherhood of the Sacred Second Tier, the Yellow Brick Road to the Salvation of Human Kind, or a time-pay stairway to individual enlightenment. Generally, in the writings of this crowd, you can do a find-and-replace of God with the Spiral and vice versa and barely notice the difference. The faith-based thema are evident.
The second transition where people jump onto the spiritual spiral is at the exit from Orange when the -R neurology isn’t up to the problems they are experiencing. One approach is regression to a more comforting D-Q (Blue) to find faith and certitude. Another is to move to recognize for F- level (Green) existence problems and begin awakening the corresponding thinking.
Frequently, people in the E-R to F-S passage identify themselves as “Yellow moving into Turquoise,” but too modest to lay full claim to it. As the begin what is generally the entry into Green, they become absolutely convinced of their Turquoise consciousness, their heightened vibratory frequency, and a keen ability to participate as one with the universe – often thanks to some considerable work by a right-thinking E-R mind which builds a self-image dependent upon those things. In both cases, it’s important to differentiate how the person thinks from the things s/he likes to think about. The delusion of being a higher-order being is common based on being well-read, having peak experiences, and sincere wishful thinking; it generally does no harm.
Our point is not to judge the quality of works such folk do, or their intentions; it’s only to point out that the need for soul and spirit is profound around the traditional D-Q (Blue) zone, and again in the early F-S (Green) where the outer locus is being layered atop a strong E-R self whence he popularity of “I am an aspiring god-like being that creates my reality” themes. While this sort of thing is a popular trend, it’s not what we’re about. We leave the preaching and mission work, the fixing of societies and imposition of values to others who are more self-assured.
NVCC’s SPIRAL DYNAMICS® programs are about biopsychosocial containers—deep values, valuing systems—not the particular contents of a faith or disbelief structure. It’s a theoretical model still in development, one that is constantly being refined, tested, explored and adapted for practical use. The point of view is based in considerable research and a long tradition of scholarship in fields ranging from developmental psychology to anthropology and General Systems theory. It speaks to values in terms of valuing systems.
But there is no central dogma or missionary vision, even though there is foundational research and accuracy to original Gravesian theory as a starting point. Thus, it can be used and abused; handled by open and closed minds alike. One can agree resolutely or disagree vehemently with the premises for they are not articles of faith. They are findings and hypotheses within an emerging point of view subject to review, criticism, and further development.
The Spiral graphic used in SPIRAL DYNAMICS® programs represents neither a theology nor an a-theology, belief nor disbelief. It is a framework for both that lays out how things religious are likely to be approached by people at different levels. There are many spiritual, religious and non-religious secular paths to human growth and a wide variety of people within all of them. They grow from the developmental levels; the levels are not products of them. This is a perspective about mature adult psychology and how individuals and cultures change their views of what matters in the world. While altitude and verticality are all the rage, there can be richness and power on many levels horizontally, as well—many forms of enlightenment arise within systems, too. This approach seeks out understanding of all of them, though it is possible to specialize in particular zones.
The Spiral helps us look at the differences among those people and the possibilities their differences create. Each level represents a way of thinking about things—a thema—that will tend to shape the schematic form taken by religion, the response to a guru, reaction to authoritarians, a spiritual path, or the conception of self. The Spiral model offers a way of looking at those schematic and thematic forces at work. The absolutely certain theist and the equally certain atheist share certitude; the share the absence of ambiguity; they judge their opponents harshly; and they might share a zealous need to promote their views. Thus diametrically opposed contents in very similar containers.
So, once again, SPIRAL DYNAMICS® programs are not a cult or cultish property, nor an exclusive community of right-thinking minds bent on changing the world for its own good according to their specifications. Our work is not a faith, a systematic theology, a specific belief set, a political position or an exclusive club for elites and self-proclaimed wizards with secret handshakes following their guru’s directives. It is merely a theory and point of view for working with human beings in all their variability. People become attracted to models like the Spiral for various reasons and handle them in very different ways—people attracted to material covered in the 1996 Spiral Dynamics book, and the way that aging volume lays it out, are a highly diverse lot. Some are literalists and get stuck in the ’90s version, while others recognize a work in progress. The ‘community’ is both divided and eclectic. We invite you learn all you can about it.
The intent of NVCC’s SPIRAL DYNAMICS® programs is to explore the theoretical point of view and offer a perspective on the emergent processes in human nature. We want to explore both the strengths and weaknesses of the point of view, and of Dr. Graves’s own conceptions rooted in his times. Fortunately, we find bright and curious human beings of all stripes seeking another tool to recognize and sort through human differences—and to act in ways that are as constructive and congruent as possible for the good of themselves, their societies and the planet. As Dr. Graves liked to say, “Damn it all, a person has a right to be who he is.”