This is a parable from One Minute Wisdom, by Fr. Anthony de Mello, S.J.
It intrigued the disciples that the Master who had lived so simply would not condemn his wealthy followers.

"It is rare but not impossible for someone to be rich and holy," he said one day.


"When the money has the effect on his heart that the shadow of that bamboo has on the courtyard."

The disciples turned to watch the bamboo's shadow sweep the courtyard without stirring a single particle of dust. (83)

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Jesus on detachment, part 2

It's a few days late, but I've posted again on my Bible blog about the theme of detachment in the teachings of Jesus.

Part II is here.

Part I is here.



Stages of Faith: Stage 4 - Individuative-Reflective Faith

[A slightly altered version of this post can be read on my new blog.]

The transition to the fourth stage, "Individuative-Reflective," ideally happens in the early to mid-twenties, though it can happen later (Fowler, Stages, 181).

This transition, which involves a movement beyond the conventional faith of Stage 3, typically follows a significant change in life. For many, it is the experience of moving away from home, into an environment where one encounters values and beliefs that differ considerably from one's own. This often forces a critical examination of the tacitly held beliefs and values of one's Synthetic-Conventional faith.

Additionally, this transition requires "an interruption of [the] reliance on external sources of authority" that is characteristic of Synthetic-Conventional faith. There must be, as Fowler puts it, "a relocation of authority within the self":
While others and their judgments will remain important to the Individuative-Reflective person, their expectations, advice and counsel will be submitted to an internal panel of experts who reserve the right to choose and who are prepared to take responsibility for their choices. I call this the emergence of an executive ego. (179)
(It's not difficult to find elements within religious traditions that aim to mitigate against exactly this transition, which undoubtedly accounts for the large number of adults whose faith development fails to keep pace with their cognitive development. In light of this, it is not at all surprising that we find so many otherwise intelligent people with such immature faith.)

So Fowler has identified two things that have to happen for an individual to move beyond Stage 3 Synthetic-Conventional into Stage 4: "the critical distancing from one's previous assumptive value system and the emergence of an executive ego" (179). When both happen, a new identity is formed.

Some individuals, however, will make one of these movements but not the other. On the one hand, there are individuals who, after moving into a new kind of environment, will encounter ideas very different from their own:
They come face to face with the relativity of their perspectives and those of others to their life experience. But they fail to interrupt their reliance on external sources of authority--and may even strengthen their reliance upon them--in order to cope with this relativity. (179)
So if I am a young Synthetic-Conventional person, leaving home to go to university, I might encounter for the first time peers who believe very differently than I do. Now I might be forced to acknowledge that I've come to believe a lot of things -- things I've simply assumed to be true -- because of the family, community, and culture in which I was raised. This might be liberating, but it might also create a great deal of anxiety, particularly if great importance was placed on maintaining those beliefs.

"On the other hand," Fowler writes, "there is a significant group who shape their own variant way of living from a shared value ethos, break their reliance on consensual or conventional authorities and show the emergence of a strong exective ego. Yet they have not carried through a critical distancing from their shared assumptive values systems" (179).

Fowler doesn't provide any examples of what this might look like in Stages of Faith (or either of his other books I've read), but I wonder if some conservative and traditionalist Catholics who reject some papal teachings (or entire popes, in the case of many traditionalists) don't fall into this category. They have learned to be critical of external authorities, but they don't critically examine their other beliefs, or consider that those beliefs came from equally fallible authorities.

People who complete only one of these two movements can remain indefinitely in a transitional space that is neither Synthetic-Conventional nor Individuative-Reflective.

Those who do make the transition completely develop a greater awareness of their own ideology, as well as the external factors that have nurtured it, and they can understand the ideologies of other people in the same way. They also understand symbols and rituals in a very different way than before. In the past, these were "taken as mediating the sacred in direct ways" and were therefore seen as "sacred in themselves" (180). In other words, people at Stage 3 tend not to distinguish between the symbol and what the symbol represents. At Stage 4, the meaning of a symbol can be distinguished and expressed without reference to the symbol.

Fowler writes,
This demythologizing strategy, which seems natural to Stage 4, brings both gains and losses. Paul Tillich, writing about religious symbols and their powers, says that when a symbol is recognized to be a symbol by those who relate to the transcendent through it, it becomes a "broken symbol." A certain naive reliance upon and trust in the sacred power, efficacy and inherent truth of the symbol as representation is interrupted. (180)
For many people, this transition brings "a sense of loss, dislocation, grief and even guilt" (180). (When people speak of "losing their faith," I imagine it is often this transition they are talking about.)

"This transition," Fowler writes, "represents an upheaval in one's life at any point and can be protracted in its process for five to seven years or longer" (181). This is less of a problem for younger people, as it can be "a natural accompaniment of leaving home and of the construction of a first, provisional adult life structure" (182). For those who are more established in this structure -- those in their 30s or 40s -- it can be more disruptive and difficult.

With the transition to Stage 4, Fowler explains, the individual begins "to take seriously the burden of responsibility for his or her own commitments, lifestyle, beliefs and attitudes" (182). Previously, the individual's faith was in large measure chosen for them. They were Catholic or Protestant or Jewish or Muslim because they were raised that way. Authority is located externally to the self. Beginning with Stage 4, one's faith is self-chosen, and while external authorities may be consulted, the final authority resides in the individual's own judgment (243).

Fowler writes in his summary,
Stage 4's ascendant strength has to do with its capacity for critical reflection on identity (self) and outlook (ideology). Its dangers inhere in its strengths: an excessive confidence in the conscious mind and in critical thought and a kind of second narcissism in which the now clearly bounded, reflective self overassimilates "reality" and the perspectives of others into its world view. (italics in original; 182-183)

Individuative-Reflective Stage by Aspects:
Form of Logic (Piaget): Formal Operations (Dichotomizing)
Perspective Taking (Selman): Mutual, with self-selected group or class--(societal)
Form of Moral Judgment (Kohlberg): Societal perspective, Reflective relativism, or class-biased universalism
Bounds of Social Awareness: Ideologically compatible communities with congruence to self-chosen norms and insights
Locus of Authority: One's own judgment as informed by self-ratified ideological perspective. Authorities and norms must be congruent with this.
Form of World Coherence: Explicit system, conceptually mediated, clarity about boundaries and inner connections of system
Symbolic Function: Symbols separated from symbolized. Translated (reduced) to ideations. Evocative power inheres in meaning conveyed by symbols (Fowler, 244)
Next: Stage 5 - Conjunctive Faith

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Jesus on detachment

I've just added a new post to my Bible blog about the often neglected theme of detachment in the teachings of Jesus.

I've been meaning to write this post for years -- in fact, the title image I used was created in September 2005!

As it turns out, there was a lot more to say on the subject than I could manage in one post, so it's going to be at least a two-parter.

For now you can read Part I.

Part II should be up next weekend.



Stages of Faith: Stage 3 - Synthetic Conventional Faith

[For a better (and shorter) description of this stage on my new blog, click here.]

Fowler's third stage, Synthetic-Conventional, typically begins around 12 or 13. A very large number of people equilibrate at this is the stage -- that is, they do not develop beyond it.

Although children and adults at this level will have some things in common, there are also some differences. Nearly everyone will enter this stage, and a certain age this is healthy. When people remain in this stage into adulthood, however, this is usually due to one problem or another. It is necessary to talk about Stage 3 first in general terms, and then specifically how it appears in adults.

An individual can move into the Synthetic-Conventional stage when they have begun to develop what Piaget called formal operational thinking.
Formal operational thinking may first make its appearance in an alegebra class or in an advanced biology lab. As it emerges it brings with it the ability to reflect upon one's thinking. It appraises a situation or a problem and forms a variety of hypothetical solutions or explanations. It generates methods of testing and verifying the hypotheses. In problem solving formal operational thinking can work with propositions and symbols, manipulating them to find solutions prior to any contact with the actual physical objects or contexts they represent. And just as it can generate hypothetical propositions of explanation, so it can envision a universe of possible realities and futures. Formal operational thought can conceive ideal features of persons, communities or other states of affairs. It can be idealistcally or harshly judgmental of actual people or institutions in light of these ideal conceptions. (Fowler, Stages, 152)
The attainment of formal operations brings with it the ability to think hypothetically. This allows the individual to create hypothetical images of how others see him or her. This leads to a new kind of "self-consciousness." As Fowler writes, "The youth believes everyone is looking at him or her and may feel either a narcissistic inflation or a self-questioning deflation regarding 'the me I think you see'" (153). In significant relationships, this ability to see yourself as others see you results in mutual interpersonal perspective taking. Both the self and the significant other "come to be experienced as having a rich, mysterious and finally inaccessible depth of personality" (153). If God is an important part of the individual's faith, then God too will be "re-imagined as having inexhaustible depths and as being capable of knowing personally those mysterious depths of self and others we know that we ourselves will never know" (153). Referring to the well-documented phenomenon of adolescent conversion, Fowler suggests that it "can be illumined...by the recognition that the adolescent's religious hunger is for a God who knows, accepts and confirms the self deeply" (153).

Significantly, he observes that it is not an accident that religious images that appeal to people at the Synthetic-Conventional stage "have the characteristics of a divinely personal significant other" (154).

Another characteristic of this stage is the importance to the individual of the expectations of others. This is reflected in the way people at this stage relate to authority. Authority, for the Stage 3 individual, is located outside the self. "It resides," Fowler says, "in the interpersonally available 'they' or in the certified incumbents of leadership roles in institutions" (154).
This is not to deny that adolescents make choices or that they develop strong feelings and commitments regarding their values and behavioral norms. It is to say, however, that despite their genuine feelings of having made choices and commitments, a truer reading is that their values and self-images, mediated by the significant others in their lives, have largely chosen them. And in their (the youth's) choosing they have, in the main, clarified and ratified those images and values which have chosen them. (Fowler, 154)
This is a good time to clarify something about the relationship between these formal structures Fowler is talking about, and the specific contents of people's faith. When we hear "conventional" we might naturally assume that Fowler means the individual holds the beliefs that are conventional to the religion. But the religious group is only one of several communities the person belongs to, and each community brings different expectations.

I, for example, was raised in a moderately progressive, church-going Catholic family. While I understood who the pope was and I knew something about the hierarchical structure of the Church, it was really my mother who served as the primary authority for me as far as religion goes. It was taken for granted in my house that women should be allowed to become priests, and if I had been asked at age 13 if I agreed with that, I would have unhesitatingly said yes. So people at Synthetic-Conventional can indeed hold views that are at variance with (for example) official Church teaching. But, importantly, they do not originate these views; they inherit them from those they regard as authority figures.

Fowler actually illustrates this difference by comparing two teenagers, a girl who belongs to a fairly conservative Lutheran church, and a boy who belongs to a Unitarian church. They are quite different in what they believe, and it appears that the boy has more mature views, but it is also clear, as Fowler points out, that "the positions he takes are really his own versions of what his community stands for rather than being self-composed perspectives" (158).

Fowler describes Stage 3 as "a 'conformist' stage in the sense that it is acutely tuned to the expectations and judgments of significant others and as yet does not have a sure enough grasp on its own identity and autonomous judgment to construct and maintain an independent perspective" (173).

Synthetic-Conventional Faith in Adulthood

As I mentioned earlier, many adults never develop beyond this stage. In fact, Synthetic-Conventional represents exactly what many people imagine being "religious" is all about:
Many critics of religion and religious institutions assume, mistakenly, that to be religious in an institution necessarily means to be Synthetic-Conventional. This mistake by critics is understandable. Much of church and synagogue life in this country [i.e., the USA] can be accurately described as dominantly Synthetic-Conventional. (Fowler, 164)
I also mentioned that, when this stage persists into adulthood, it is a sign that something less than ideal has happened. To understand why this is, we need to consider some other characteristics of Stage 3 faith.
For both adolescents in the forming phases and adults who find equilibrium in Stage 3 the system of informing images and values through which they are committed remains principally a tacit system. Tacit means unexamined; my tacit knowing, as Michael Polanyi calls it, is that part of my knowing that plays a role in guiding and shaping my choices, but of which I can give no account. I cannot tell you how I know with my tacit knowing. (Fowler, 161)
So people at this stage, though certainly aware that they have beliefs and values -- to which they might feel very strongly about -- do not reflect on their beliefs to any great extent. For adolescents this might be understandable. When this persists into adulthood, however, there is probably something preventing them from examining their beliefs and values. It may be that their cognitive development has not progressed far beyond early formal operations -- and indeed, Fowler does provide excerpts from interviews with two men who fall into this category: "Both come from backgrounds of limited education. Both exhibit difficulty in using language to communicate inner states or their attitudes, values and feelings for others... They are limited in their self-reflection...to either comparisons with or the approval of others perceived to be like them" (Fowler, 170).

Some adults at this stage, however, are highly educated, and if they have not critically examined their beliefs, it is likely, I think, that their religious formation has strongly discouraged them from doing so. They may be quite developed cognitively, quite capable of rational thinking, but they don't apply their rationality to their beliefs.

Synthetic-Conventional Stage by Aspects:
Form of Logic (Piaget): Early Formal Operations
Perspective Taking (Selman): Mutual interpersonal
Form of Moral Judgment (Kohlberg): Interpersonal expectations and concordance
Bounds of Social Awareness: Composite of groups in which one has interpersonal relationships
Locus of Authority: Consensus of valued groups an in personally worthy representatives of belief-value traditions
Form of World Coherence: Tacit system, felt meanings symbolically mediated, globally held
Symbolic Function: Symbols multi-dimensional; evocative power inheres in symbol (Fowler, 244)
Next: Stage 4 - Individuative-Reflective

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A conservative Catholic gets caught in the cafeteria

I wasn't planning on posting anything about the pope's new encyclical until I had a chance to read the entire thing and think about it a little bit.

Nevertheless, I did read George Weigel's already infamous National Review piece, which tried to separate the "clearly Benedictine passages" of the encyclical from the parts reflecting the "conventionally gauchiste and not-very-original thinking" of the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace.

Weigel alleges that the pope -- who he had previously described as one who "says what he means and means what he says" -- has included naïve Justice and Peace material not because he agrees with it, but because he wants "to maintain the peace within his curial household."

I've read a few responses to Weigel's article, but none as informed or as devastating as one posted on a blog with the somewhat scary-sounding name Evangelical Catholicism, which I first came across at Anamchara.

Here's a nice piece of it:
[C]onsider the implications of what Weigel is saying with respect to Benedict XVI’s character. If Weigel is correct–if the Pope caved in to the Council for Justice and Peace–then we have a serious problem with our ecclesial leadership. What Weigel is telling us is that Pope Benedict XVI incorporated positions that were not his own into his first social encyclical. He didn’t do this in a speech, homily, address, or apostolic letter, but in an encyclical! Weigel is telling us that the Pope was willing to use the authority of a papal encyclical just “to maintain the peace within his curial household,” meanwhile misleading the faithful into believing that the contents of that encyclical are an authentic expression of papal teaching. If this narrative is true, then Weigel is telling us that the character and pastoral discretion of the Pope is up for serious questioning. Weigel is telling us that Benedict XVI really doesn’t mean what he says in the encyclical about the importance of Populorum Progressio, distributive justice, and the logic of gift, which is tantamount to accusing the Pope of being, at best, disingenuous and, at worst, dishonest, to the faithful of the Catholic Church. What is certain is that Weigel has retracted his earlier statements about Benedict XVI’s precision in communication, that the Pope “says what he means and means what he says.” Evidently, Weigel no longer believes this.
It's the best thing I've read online in a while. Check out the whole thing here.



Stages of Faith: Stage 2 - Mythic-Literal Faith

The second stage, which Fowler calls Mythic-Literal, is most common in individuals between the ages of seven to twelve (although there is a small number of adults who equilibrate at this stage).

Mythic-Literal faith typically emerges after the individual reaches Piaget's concrete operations stage of cognitive development. With the attainment of this stage, the individual can better distinguish between what is real and what is merely imaginary, and can now take a perspective other than one's own.

Fowler writes,
The great gift to consciousness that emerges in this stage is the ability to narratize one's experience. As regards our primary interest in faith we can say that the development of the Mythic-Literal stage brings with it the ability to bind our experiences into meaning through the medium of stories. (Stages, 136)
Stories are important for preoperational children, but only at the concrete operational stage are children able to generate their own stories:
The convergence of the reversibility of thought with taking the perspective of another combined with an improved grasp of cause-effect relations means that the elements are in place for appropriating and retelling the rich stories one is told. More than this, the elements are in place for youngsters to begin to tell self-generated stories that make it possible to conserve, communicate and compare their experiences and meanings. (136)
We don't lose our interest in stories as we get older, but there is an important difference in our relationship with stories at this stage compared with later stages. At later stages, we can "step back from our stories, reflect upon them, and...communicate their meanings by way of more abstract and general statements. Stage 2 does not yet do this" (136-137). Fowler uses the image of a river to represent the flow of life. At Stage 2, stories "describe the flow from the midst of the stream" (137). Only at later stages can the individual "step out on the bank beside the river and reflect on the stories of the flow and their composite meanings" (137). In other words, the meaning of the story is inseparable from the story itself.

Fowler explains that he imagined anthropomorphic God-images would be found primarily in preschool (preoperational) children, but found that they were actually much more common in Stage 2 children. He attributes this to the newfound ability to take perspectives of others. The Mythic-Literal child can now imagine God's perspective, which, he says, will have "as much richness--and some of the same limits--as the perspectives now consistently attributed to friends and family members" (139).

Someone at this stage is also likely to be at Kohlberg's second stage of moral development. At this stage justice is equated with reciprocity and fairness.

Fowler describes, near the end of the chapter on Stage 2, an interview with a grown woman who has equilibrated at the Mythic-Literal stage (which is apparently the lowest stage that can persist into adulthood). She explains that she prays everyday so that, "when I need it, it's in the bank" (147). She uses this image a few times in the interview. She believes that by praying and praising God she can, as Fowler puts it, "store up God's good favor against times when special help or forgiveness may be needed" (148).

In Fowler's conclusion, her writes,
The new capacity or strength in this stage is the rise of narrative and the emergence of story, drama and myth as ways of finding and giving coherence to experience.

The limitations of literalness and an excessive reliance upon reciprocity as a principle for constructing an ultimate environment can result either in an overcontrolling, stilted perfectionism or "works righteousness" or in their opposite, an abasing sense of badness embraced because of mistreatment, neglect or the apparent disfavor of significant others. (italics in original; 149-150)
Most people move beyond the Mythic-Literal stage in adolescence, with the transition to formal operational thinking.

Mythic-Literal Stage by Aspects:
Form of Logic (Piaget): Concrete Operational
Perspective Taking (Selman): Simple perspective taking
Form of Moral Judgment (Kohlberg): Instrumental hedonism (Reciprocal fairness)
Bounds of Social Awareness: "Those like us" (in familial, ethnic, racial, class, and religious terms)
Locus of Authority: Incumbents of authority roles, salience increased by personal relatedness
Form of World Coherence: Narrative-Dramatic
Symbolic Function: One-dimensional; literal (Fowler, 244)
Next: Stage 3 - Synthetic-Conventional

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God is becoming

This is an excerpt from a piece written by Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, who teaches at the American Jewish University. It appeared in the last issue of Tikkun, and is now available online:
I believe that God, in choosing to create, created us really. That means that our independence is not illusory or ephemeral. We, along with all creation, have real agency, and the choices we make are truly untrammeled, unprogrammed, and unforeseen by God. God is vulnerable to surprise and disappointment just as we are. The universe unfolds according to its own inner logic; the laws of physics operate, and God cannot/does not suspend them based on moral standards. As Rabbi Harold Kushner says, asking the universe to treat you better because you are moral is like expecting the bull not to charge because you are a vegetarian. I believe that God did irrevocable tzimtzum (withdrawal), creating the reality of our own autonomy and agency, along with all creation.

I believe that people misunderstand the nature of divine "power" as coercive, as omnipotence, which I regard as a philosophical mistake, a religious disaster, and a source of emotional and ethical torment. Thinking of God as having all the power leaves us rightly feeling betrayed and abandoned ("was I not good enough for God to intervene?"). It leaves theologians in the position of Job's friends-discounting our core ethical knowledge in an attempt to defend the indefensible. We do know good and evil: God infuses us with that awareness. And someone dying young, someone struggling with special needs, illness, or poverty is indefensible, especially if God is omnipotent. Hiding behind "it's a mystery," or "we can't understand," or "it's all for the best" is, in my opinion, worse than unsatisfying, because it requires either blaming the victim or denying our ethical compass.

I don't think we have to abandon a conviction of a loving God. But I invite us to grow past an almighty one. If God has truly ceded to creation the ability to make choices, then God didn't kill the innocent, didn't allocate disability, didn't impose poverty. Looking for God in special effects causes us to mistake theater or science fiction for life. God is found not in the suspension of nature's laws, but in the intrusion of novelty and surprise from within fixed law, in the abiding nature of hope, and in the transforming power of love (a power that is persuasive, not coercive).
You can read the whole thing here.

I also recommend checking out more of Rabbi Artson's writings, which are available here. He has some interesting and progressive perspectives on pluralism, process theology, homosexuality, and so on.



More on Cardinal Cottier

Yesterday I posted an excerpt from a blog post by John L. Allen, Jr. about an essay written by Cardinal George Cottier in which the "former theologian of the papal household under Pope John Paul II" offered a surprisingly positive evaluation of Barack Obama's approach to abortion.

Colleen Kochivar-Baker has written a terrific response to it at her aptly-titled blog, Enlightened Catholicism.

The abortion debate in the past has typically been over whether it should be legal or not. Things are starting to change, and now the debate is increasingly over the question of whether or not criminalisation is the really the best strategy for reducing the number of abortions.

As Colleen points out, "It's really an accomplishment of President Obama and progressive Catholics that the abortion debate is finally being framed in this way."

She contrasts Cottier's "realism" -- which reflects a position that many progressive Catholics have held for years, by the way -- with the opposition by Church leaders to a much-needed national reproductive bill in the Phillipines.

I urge you to check it out.


The brothers and sisters of Jesus

I've posted again on my Bible blog, this time about the brothers and sisters mentioned in tomorrow's Gospel reading.

The question of whether Jesus had biological brothers and sisters is, as far as I'm concerned, a historical question with no significant theological importance.

I've drawn heavily on the work of John P. Meier, who examines the issue from a strictly historical perspective in the first volume of his terrific series, A Marginal Jew.

You can read the post here.


Stages of Faith: Stage 1 - Intuitive-Projective Faith

The first true stage of James Fowler's theory, Intuitive-Projective, typically emerges at around age two, and lasts until six or seven. It corresponds with what Jean Piaget identified as the preoperational stage of cognitive development.

One of the characteristics of the preoperational child is egocentrism. This means that the child is generally unable to take any perspective other than his or her own, nor do they even imagine that other perspectives are possible.

Fowler writes,
In early childhood thought is dominated by perception. This means that the child thinks by way of mental pictures that are imitations of reality as perceived. As yet the child lacks the mental capacity to prolong actions or to reverse them, so as to test the inferences he or she makes on the basis of perception. Causal relations and connections, therefore, are poorly understood. The child's feelings and fanciful imagination have free rein to fill in the gaps in understanding that perception leaves. (Stages, 57)
This inability to take perspectives other than one's own inhibits the child from any real kind of moral reasoning, as Lawrence Kohlberg's research has shown. Kohlberg held that "moral judgment requires the construction and coordination of the points of view of self and others" (Fowler, Stages, 58). For this reason, Kohlberg understood the preoperational stage as "a premoral position." A child at this stage makes decisions on the basis of anticipated reward and punishment.

A child's thought processes at this stage are largely unrestrained by the control of reason. They are not well-equipped to distinguish between reality and fantasy. Concrete symbols, images, and stories play an important role in shaping the child's worldview, including their understanding of God. This happens even in children raised in non-religious families. Fowler, drawing on the work of Ana-Maria Rizzuto, explains that "despite our secularization and religious fragmentation, religious symbols and language are so widely present in this society that virtually no child reaches school age without having constructed -- without or without religious education -- an image or images of God" (129).

The quality of images and stories children are exposed to is particularly important at this age. These may "prove life-opening and sustaining of love, faith and courage," but they might also "[give] rise to fear, rigidity, and the brutalization of souls -- both one's own and those of others" (132).

In his summary of this stage Fowler writes,
The gift of emergent strength of this stage is the birth of imagination, the ability to unify and grasp the experience-world in powerful images and as presented in stories that register the child's intuitive understandings and feelings toward the ultimate conditions of existences. The dangers of this stage arise from the possible "possession" of the child's imagination by unrestrained images of terror and destructiveness, or from the witting or unwitting exploitation of her or his imagination in the reinforcement of taboos and moral or doctrinal expectations. (italics in original; 134)
Intuitive-Projective Stage by Aspects:
Form of Logic (Piaget): Preoperational
Perspective Taking (Selman): Rudimentary empathy (egocentric)
Form of Moral Judgment (Kohlberg): Punishment-reward
Bounds of Social Awareness: Family, primal others
Locus of Authority: Attachment/dependence relationships; Size, power, visible symbols of authority.
Form of World Coherence: Episodic
Symbolic Function: Magical-Numinous (Fowler, 244)
Next: Stage 2 - Mythic-Literal

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Obama on abortion

Here's something I was not expecting to read today. This is an excerpt from a blog post by John L. Allen, Jr., of NCR:
In the run-up to President Barack Obama’s much-anticipated July 10 meeting with Pope Benedict XVI, an influential cardinal and Vatican adviser has praised Obama’s “humble realism” and compared the president’s approach to abortion to the thinking of St. Thomas Aquinas and early Christian tradition about framing laws in a pluralistic society.

Swiss Cardinal George Cottier, 87, former theologian of the papal household under Pope John Paul II, laid out those views in a cover essay in the current issue of 30 Giorni, perhaps the most widely read journal of Catholic affairs in Italy.

Styled as an analysis of two Obama speeches – his May 17 commencement address at the University of Notre Dame and his June 4 speech to the Islamic world in Cairo – Cottier’s essay was overwhelmingly positive, repeatedly arguing that Obama’s “realism”, as well as his commitment to finding “common ground”, resonate with Christian tradition and the social teaching of the Catholic church.

Seen through American eyes, perhaps the most striking element was Cottier’s analysis of what Obama had to say at Notre Dame. The university’s decision to invite Obama, and to award him an honorary degree, were widely criticized in Catholic circles in the States, given Obama’s positions on abortion, embryonic stem cell research and other life issues. More than 80 bishops publicly objected to the event.

Cottier, however, compared Obama’s Notre Dame address to Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Ecclesiam Suam, in its accent on dialogue and common ground, and to the document Dignitatis Humanae of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) on conducting the search for truth in a pluralistic society. Christians, Cottier wrote, “can be in agreement” with Obama’s “way of framing the search for solutions.”
Such progressive thinking, and from a Cardinal and Vatican advisor! As I write this, no comments have appeared yet on the site. I'm trying to anticipate what the response will be from our usually-quite-predictable brothers and sisters on the right. This is not someone who can be dismissed as a liberal or a dissident.

I strongly recommend reading the whole thing.

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Shock: Women religious are not promoting the male-only priesthood!

I've been reading a bit about the Vatican-ordered "Apostolic Visitation" that is being conducted in the U.S., which is (according to the Vatican) meant to "look into the quality of life" of women religious in America.

I had not heard about a second investigation until I read about it on the New York Times website today:
The second investigation of nuns is a doctrinal assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, an umbrella organization that claims 1,500 members from about 95 percent of women’s religious orders. This investigation was ordered by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which is headed by an American, Cardinal William Levada.

Cardinal Levada sent a letter to the Leadership Conference saying an investigation was warranted because it appeared that the organization had done little since it was warned eight years ago that it had failed to “promote” the church’s teachings on three issues: the male-only priesthood, homosexuality and the primacy of the Roman Catholic Church as the means to salvation.(emphasis added; source)
I thought that was interesting. Imagine asking women to promote a male-only priesthood...



Stages of Faith: Infancy and Undifferentiated Faith

The infant understands no distinction between itself and everything else. At some point the infant begins to grasp that objects continue exist outside of his or her immediate awareness. (Precisely when this happens is a matter of some debate, but for our present purposes it is important only to understand that it happens, not when.)

This attainment, which Jean Piaget called "object permanence," is an important step in the individual's development of a differentiated self.

This is a traumatic development, Fowler points out, because this is when we begin "remembering our mothers when they are absent from us and...panic about whether they will return" (Stages, 120). For most of us, the mother (or other primary caregiver) does return, and we begin to develop trust.

Fowler writes,
Those observers are correct, I believe, who tell us that our first pre-images of God have their origins here. Particularly they are composed from our first experiences of mutuality, in which we form the rudimentary awareness of self as separate from and dependent upon the immensely powerful others, who were present at our first consciousness and who "knew us" -- with recognizing eyes and reconfirming smiles -- at our first self-knowing. (121)
Fowler explains that these are "pre-images because they are largely formed prior to language, prior to concepts and coincident with the emergence of consciousness" (121).

The quality of the care we receive as infants will play an important role in our faith development as we get older. As Fowler explains, "the quality of mutuality and the strength of trust, autonomy, hope and courage (or their opposites) developed in this phase underlie (or threaten to undermine) all that comes later in faith development" (italics in original; 121).

The next stage, the first true stage of faith development, "begins with the convergence of thought and language, opening up the use of symbols in speech and ritual play" (121).

Next: Stage 1 - Intuitive-Projective Faith

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Stages of Faith: Introduction

I'm finding it increasingly difficult to write about the things I want to write about without making reference to the work of people like James W. Fowler, whose research into faith development has had a profound impact on my own thinking.

I've decided to write a series of concise descriptions of the various stages of faith identified by Fowler, so that I can make reference to them in my work.


It's very important to understand that when Fowler speaks of "faith," he is not talking about "belief," and he is not even necessarily talking about anything religious. The "faith" of many people is often entirely secular.

Fowler draws on the thought of Paul Tillich, H. Richard Niebuhr, and Wilfred Cantwell Smith. For Tillich, "Faith is the state of being ultimately concerned" (Dynamics 1), and "whatever concerns a man ultimately becomes a god for him" (Systematic 1.211). Tillich derived this idea from Deuteronomy 6.5: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might" (Dynamics 3). Needless to say, the biblical God is not everyone's "god," even for those who might insist otherwise.

One might point out that, for many people, there is no single centre of value that commands one's faith, and this is where Niebuhr comes in.

Much like Niebuhr, Fowler uses the term polytheist to describe someone whose faith "lacks any one center of value and power of sufficient transcendence to focus and order one's life" ( 19). This might follow one of two patterns. One might follow a protean pattern, and have a series of fairly intense commitments that are nevertheless "transient and shifting," where one's faith is marked by "sharp discontinuities and abrupt changes of direction" (Stages 19-20), or one may have a diffuse pattern of faith, where one has "a kind of laid-back, cool provisionality regarding commitment or trust" (20).

Fowler writes,
The practical impact of our consumer society's dominant myth -- that you should experience everything you desire, own everything you want and relate intimately with whomever you wish -- is to make the polytheistic pattern, in either its protean or diffuse form, seem normative. (20)
On the other hand, there are those who have one single dominant centre of value and identity, but it is something that is limited and finite. This pattern of faith is termed henotheism, a term coined by Max Müller to denote "faith in one god...without asserting that (it) is the only god" (20).1 An example of this would be someone whose primary centre of value is their career, their country, etc.

"The henotheistic god," writes Fowler, "is finally an idol":
It represents the elevation to central, life-defining value and power of a limited and finite good. It means the attribution of ultimate concern to that which is of less than ultimate worth. (20)
Finally, Fowler appropriates Niebuhr's notion of radical monotheism. As with the other terms, he is not speaking strictly in terms of religious belief. Radical monotheism, Fowler explains, "implies loyalty to the principle of being and to the source and center of all value and power" (emphasis in original; 23). In this broad sense, it is not to be narrowly identified with traditional Western theism, and it can be conceptualised in both theistic and non-theistic ways.

This does not mean that other centres of value and power do not exist, but it does mean they become far less important.

Most people tend to be polytheists or henotheists, as Fowler defines these terms. Indeed, he acknowledges that radical monotheism "rarely finds consistent and longlasting actualization in persons or communities," and he suggests that it serves as a "regulative principle," or "a critical ideal" against which we can "keep our partial faiths from becoming idolatrous" (23).

With this understanding of faith as something that is not necessarily religious, we can better understand what Fowler means when he speaks of faith development. It applies no less to atheists than it does to Christians (or Muslims, or Jews, or whoever).

It is also important to understand that the stages of faith are formal stages -- that is, they do not describe the content of faith. A Stage 3 atheist will have very different faith content (beliefs and so on) than a Stage 3 Hindu or a Stage 3 Jew. But there will be important parallels between them. They may differ in what they believe, but they will be similar in how they think about their beliefs, how they relate to authority, and so on. I will try to demonstrate this when I actually get into describing each stage.

The Stages of Faith

Pre-Stage - Infancy and Undifferentiated Faith
Stage 1 - Intuitive-Projective Faith
Stage 2 - Mythic-Literal Faith
Stage 3 - Synthetic-Conventional Faith
Stage 4 - Individuative-Reflective Faith
Stage 5 - Conjunctive Faith
Stage 6 - Universalizing Faith


[1] Christians often believe in a plurality of supernatural beings, angels and saints and so on, who are often the object of devotion and even prayer, and so Christianity is sometimes described as henotheistic rather than strictly monotheistic. Fowler, like Niebuhr, uses the term in a much broader sense than this.

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