Where do we go from here?

For the past month and a half, I have been writing about my spiritual journey and about psychotherapy, and I have now finished all that I want to say about those topics for the time being. There are other memories that might be addressed, but house and office cleaning is becoming a priority. Please let me know if there is anything that you would like to hear about. Otherwise, ….

rmreynolds@bell.net

My Spiritual Journey, continued

Some forty or so years ago, Ray Broadfoot drafted a short list of fundamental Christian fundamentals in a series of articles that he wrote for the Saints Herald:

“God is love.

He wants all men to be free.

He provides an example, Christ.

His Spirit works with all men.”

— to which he added,

“We must be prepared to give spiritually directed aid to people who

  • believe in God but not churches
  • believe in some directive force in the universe
  • believe that God’s spirit works with all men
  • agree that all men should live to their highest capabilities
  • do not see any sense or purpose in life
  • do not know our God but worship their own gods.”

Which leads me to another issue (which I may or may not have shared already):  If, as suggested previously, we were to supplement patriarchal morality by its feminine counterpart, it would not only require us to rethink our ideas of right and wrong; it would also require a change in our understanding of God.  By admitting that the stories that we have been telling ourselves about God could, in fact, be limited by a masculine perspective, we could easily find our religion in a position very similar to that already faced by science: 

(1) where ideas are recognized to be nothing more than ideas, i.e., concepts are recognized to be (no more than) constructs, 

(2) where we embrace the post-modern idea that there can be no truth independent of the person who constructed it (a very Buddhist idea, by the way), 

(3) where everything that we tell ourselves needs to be treated as a hypothesis, and the telling of it a story, and 

(4) where such stories are never either true or false, but only more or less useful.  

Does that mean that nothing that we have been telling ourselves about God has any validity.  No, of course not.  In fact, the closer our understanding of reality (as reflected in the stories that we tell ourselves about how things are) approximates the real thing, the better our understanding of God will be, and the better our God-related stories will be as a guide to life.  

And personally, I believe that, when we get right down to it, the Christ story doesn’t do all that bad a job of putting us in touch with God, although that story is only one of many that are worth hearing. 

My Spiritual Journey, continued

With Fowler’s stages in the development of faith as part of the background, it is time to reconsider Piaget’s thoughts about the development of morality. In The Moral Judgement of the Child (1932), he noted:

(1) that the development of moral reasoning, like reasoning in general, proceeds on a stage by stage basis,

(2) that growth needs to progress through these developmental stages in the order given, since the acquisition of each stage depends on mastery of the preceding stages,

(3) that children cannot reason morally beyond the level at which they can reason in general.  

I woould suggest that the development of faith is somewhat similar. It is not appropriate to try to teach sophisticated theological concepts to those who are not developmentally read to learn them. It is a bit like learning math — you don’t try to teach calculus to children who are just beginning to learn addition. Which is where Tell Me the Story of Jesus and Jesus Loves Me comes in. Simple stories for simple minds, and progresssively more developmentally mature theological stories for developmentally more mature minds.

DEVELOPMENTAL STAGES: COGNITION, MORALITY, AND FAITH

Tell me the story of Jesus,   Write on my heart every word.   Tell me the story most precious,  Sweetest that ever was heard.

Tell how the angels, in chorus,                                                                                                                  Sang as they welcomed his birth.                                                                                                          “Glory to God in the highest!                                                                                                                  Peace and good tidings to earth.”

I happen to believe that this Community of Christ to which I belong has one of the most Christ-like (and philosophical) philosophies in the world – although, being human, we rarely live up to our ideals.  In keeping with our evolving  theology, the church keep rewriting its hymnal to try to articulate its latest understanding of Christ-like behaviour.  While commendable, I find myself to be not in total agreement because many of these new understanding have replaced the old hymns that I have known and loved. Grrrr!

But to return to the stages of development of “faith” as reflected in Fowler’s research (1974, 1981)… Paraphrasing Rose Anne Karesh (2013):

Fowler proposed six (or seven, if you count infancy) stages of the development of relating to the universal and creating meaning. 

Stage 0: (birth -2 years) Primal or Undifferentiated stage in which a very small child learns to rely on the goodness (or badness, or inconsistency) of the world based on how he or she is treated by its parents. This is very similar to Erik Erickson’s initial stage of human psychosocial development, Basic Trust vs. Mistrust.

Stage 1: (3 to 7 years ) Intuitive–Projective stage in which children are beginning to be able to use symbols and their imaginations. However children in this stage are very self-focused and inclined to take very literally (and self-referentially) ideas about evil, the devil or other negative aspects of religion. The ability to sort out reality from fantasy is not well developed.

Stage 2: (6-12 years, school age) Mythic–Literal stage in which information is organized into stories. These stories, along with moral rules, are understood literally and concretely. There is little ability to step back from the story and formulate an overarching meaning. A few people remain in this stage throughout their lives.

Stage 3: (Adolescence to early adulthood) Synthetic–Conventional stage in which people who believe do so without having critically examined their beliefs. They tend to believe in what they have been taught and in what they see “everyone else” as believing too. There is a strong sense of identity with the group. People in this stage are not very open to questions because questions are frightening at this point of development. People in this stage place a large amount of trust (or distrust) in external authority figures and tend not to recognize that they are within a belief system “box,” as their beliefs are internalized but have not been examined.  Again, some people remain permanently in this stage throughout their lives.

Stage 4: (Adulthood) Individuative-Reflective stage in which a person begins to recognize they are in a “box” and look outside it. People in this stage ask questions and see the contradictions or problems in their beliefs. This can be a very painful stage as old ideas are now modified and sometimes rejected altogether. Some people give up on faith altogether at this point, but faith can be strengthened in this stage as beliefs become explicitly, personally held. There is a strong reliance on the logic, rational mind and the self.  

Stage 5: (Usually not before mid-life) Conjunctive stage in which a person who has gone through the deconstruction of the Individuative-Reflective stage and begins to let go of some of the reliance on their own rational mind and recognize that some experiences are not logical or easily understood at all. The move here is from either/or to both/and; complexity and paradox are accepted and possibly even embraced. People in this stage are more willing to dialogue with people of other faiths, seeking further information and correction to their own beliefs, and are able to do this without letting go of their own faith.

Stage 6: Universalizing stage. Very few people reach this stage, which is characterized by seeing all of humanity as one brotherhood and taking profound, self-sacrificing action to care for all humanity because of this view.

It’s important to note that there are many critics of Fowler’s theories and the research that has been done to support them. Some of the criticisms are from religious circles and address Fowler’s definition of faith and express concerns about the non-religious content of his descriptions. Other criticisms come from psychological circles and address possible cultural and gender biases and question the way Fowler conceptualizes the self. One of the criticisms I find most relevant is that it is unlikely that progression through these stages is entirely linear particularly within the later stages, and that people show signs of moving back and forth between them. Despite all of this criticism, this model has been widely used and I find it useful as a tool for personal self-reflection. I also find it helpful when working with others to have a sense of where they might be in their development at that moment.

DEVELOPMENTAL STAGES: COGNITION, MORALITY, AND FAITH

With the stages of development of reasoning (cognition, as per Piaget) and the stages of development of reasoning about right and wrong (morality, as per Kohlberg and his colleagues and students) as background – and skipping over Freud’s stages of psychosexual development and Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development –  I now want to address the stages of development of faith – in the sense of the innate human search for meaning, purpose and significance) –  as reflected in the work of Fowler (1974, 1981).

Faith development theory– in the sense used here, faith extends beyond religious faith to “the innate human search for meaning, purpose and significance”(Popcak,, 2014) – provides a framework for understanding the evolution of how human beings conceptualize God, or a Higher Being, and how the influence of that Higher Being has an impact on core values, beliefs, and meanings in their personal lives and in their relationships with others.

There are many critics of Fowler’s theory of faith development and the research that has been done to support it.  Some of the criticisms are from religious circles and address and express concerns about the non-religious content of Fowler’s definition of faith.  Other criticisms come from psychological circles and address possible cultural and gender biases and question the way Fowler conceptualizes the self. 

Karesh also notes that one of the criticisms is that it is unlikely that progression through these stages is entirely linear, particularly within the later stages, and that people show signs of moving back and forth between them. Despite all of these criticisms, this model has been widely used and can be useful as a tool for personal self-reflection, as well as being helpful to provide a sense of where others might be in their own faith journey.