Outrage over Vatican request to US bishops for funding

The comments on Tom Fox's article yesterday about Cardinal Rodé's request that the US bishops fund the $1.1 million investigation of American women religious have been so vitriolic (and, unusually for an NCR article, largely in agreement with one another) that Fox has written another article just about the comments.

It is rather astonishing that, in the midst of a recession, with churches being closed left and right due to a lack of money, the Vatican expects the US bishops to cough up that much money for something that is already so controversial among American Catholics. Really, how do they think people are going to react to that?

Well, Pope Benedict has said he wants a smaller church.

Colleen Kochivar-Baker has a nice post on this, accompanied by an amusing photo of Cardinal Rodé wearing an outfit that has to be seen to be believed, at her blog Enlightened Catholicism.



Terry Eagleton on postmodernism

This quotation from Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate, by Terry Eagleton, a Marxist literary critic, was printed in the current issue of EnlightenNext magazine:

“Postmodernism is allergic to the idea of certainty, and makes a great deal of theoretical fuss over this rather modest, everyday notion. As such, it is in some ways the flip side of fundamentalism... Some postmodern thought suspects that all certainty is authoritarian. It is nervous of people who sound passionately committed to what they say. In this, it represents among other things an excessive reaction to fascism and Stalinism. The totalitarian politics of the twentieth century did not only launch an assault on truth in their own time; they also helped to undermine the idea of truth for future generations. The line between holding certain noxious kinds of belief, and holding strong beliefs at all, then becomes dangerously unclear. Conviction itself is condemned as dogmatic.”1

I haven’t read anything by Eagleton in years, and was somewhat surprised to find that he, who is himself an atheist, apparently takes Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins to task in this book for, among other things, misrepresenting religion in their recent atheist rants.

I find Hitchens, and especially Dawkins, to be rather tiresome, but Eagleton is such a witty writer that I think I’m going to have to check it out.


[1] Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate. Quoted in EnlightenNext. 45 (September-November 2009): 22.

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The simple faithful

Over twenty years ago, in a speech delivered at St. Michael’s College at the University of Toronto, Cardinal Ratzinger said,

The church’s main job is the care of the faith of the simple. A truly reverential awe should arise from this which becomes an internal rule of thumb for every theologian.1

I wonder how many theologians actually understand their vocation this way. Anyway, when I read this years ago, it reminded me of a passage from St. Thomas Aquinas:

[I]t is dangerous to dispute in public about the faith, in the presence of simple people, whose faith for this reason is more firm, that they have never heard anything differing from what they believe. Hence it is not expedient for them to hear what unbelievers have to say against the faith.2

Catholicism does, certainly, have a rich intellectual tradition, of which St. Thomas himself – at least, in his better moments – was an important part.

But there is also a parallel anti-intellectual strain that celebrates uncritical faith, which it sees as fragile, precious – both worthy and in need of protection.

I suppose this should not be surprising. The “simple faithful” of the Catholic Church are people who inhabit what James Fowler calls the “Mythic-Literal” and “Synthetic Conventional” stages of faith development (both of which preserve features of premodern consciousness). They are characteristically obedient to external authorities, and obedience is valued by Catholic officialdom more than anything else.

It’s not hard to find elements of the tradition that discourage people from moving past these stages. You have to question your beliefs to grow beyond them, but many Catholics (and Christians in general, actually) equate questioning your religious beliefs with inviting the devil himself to come in and punch your ticket to perdition.

The division in the Church, I think, is largely the result of some people internalising this anti-intellectual message, while others manage (sometimes only with great difficulty) to shrug it off. Unfortunately for people in the latter category, the Church doesn’t officially allow very much room in which to grow.

A Church for Grown-Ups

Michael Bayly wrote about this recently on his blog (“Time for a Church for Grown-Ups,” The Wild Reed). In his work to bring reform to the Church, he says he has often wondered if “an adult faith is even possible in today’s Church,” and he notes that it “certainly doesn’t appear to be encouraged.”

No, it certainly isn’t, at least not by the loudest voices in the hierarchy (or the laity, for that matter). Part of the problem, obviously, is that many believers have very strong emotional attachments to their beliefs, and they will not seriously question them.

A less obvious part of the problem is that the next stage of growth beyond Synthetic-Conventional, which Fowler calls “Individuative-Reflective,” has never developed into a widely appealing form of faith.

Why not? I’ll suggest some possible reasons in the near future.


[1] “The Church and the Theologian.” Origins 15 (1986): 769.

[2] ST, II-II 10.7.



The Red Book

From the New York Times, September 16, 2009:
This is a story about a nearly 100-year-old book, bound in red leather, which has spent the last quarter century secreted away in a bank vault in Switzerland. The book is big and heavy and its spine is etched with gold letters that say “Liber Novus,” which is Latin for “New Book.” Its pages are made from thick cream-colored parchment and filled with paintings of otherworldly creatures and handwritten dialogues with gods and devils. If you didn’t know the book’s vintage, you might confuse it for a lost medieval tome.

And yet between the book’s heavy covers, a very modern story unfolds. It goes as follows: Man skids into midlife and loses his soul. Man goes looking for soul. After a lot of instructive hardship and adventure — taking place entirely in his head — he finds it again.

Some people feel that nobody should read the book, and some feel that everybody should read it. The truth is, nobody really knows. Most of what has been said about the book — what it is, what it means — is the product of guesswork, because from the time it was begun in 1914 in a smallish town in Switzerland, it seems that only about two dozen people have managed to read or even have much of a look at it.

Of those who did see it, at least one person, an educated Englishwoman who was allowed to read some of the book in the 1920s, thought it held infinite wisdom — “There are people in my country who would read it from cover to cover without stopping to breathe scarcely,” she wrote — while another, a well-known literary type who glimpsed it shortly after, deemed it both fascinating and worrisome, concluding that it was the work of a psychotic.

I remember when I was in high school seeing a reference to Carl Jung’s The Red Book in, I believe, a footnote of another book. It mentioned that the book had never been published, which struck me as odd. Why would a book by such an important author not be published so many decades after his death?

I didn’t think much of it, and even forgot that The Red Book existed, until I came across this fascinating story (“The Holy Grail of the Unconscious” by Sara Corbett) in the New York Times.

Apparently Jung laboured over it on and off for sixteen years, and it held enormous personal significance for him. He was ambivalent about publishing it, however, as he feared it might invite ridicule from his peers. He left no instructions for his family about what to do with it, and two generations of very protective Jungs argued with each other over whether or not it should be published or not.

This October, finally, it is being published. It was written in German and features beautiful paintings by Jung himself (some of which have been shown here). An English translation of the text will be included in the back of the book.

The cover price is $195 US, but it’s selling for $105 US on Amazon. I’m very, very tempted.

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Developmental Theories

James Fowler's research into faith development has demonstrated how what we might call our "spiritual intelligence" develops through a predictable sequence of stages.1 In his important book Stages of Faith, Fowler noted the relationship between the different faith stages and the stages of other developmental theories, particularly those of Jean Piaget (cognitive development) and Lawrence Kohlberg (moral development).

The stages would optimally line up something like this:2

Stage Piaget Kohlberg Fowler
1 Preoperational Heteronomous Morality Intuitive-Projective
2 Concrete Operational Instrumental Exchange Mythic-Literal
3 Early Formal Operations Mutual Interpersonal Relations Synthetic-Conventional
4 Formal Operations (Dichotomizing) Social Systems and Conscience Individuative-Reflective
5 Formal Operations (Dialectical) Social Contract, Individual Rights Conjunctive
6 Formal Operations (Synthetic) Universal Ethical Principles Universalizing

I say "optimally" because moral and faith development do not always keep pace with cognitive development. Ken Wilber likes to cite the example of Nazi doctors as people who may have been very intelligent (highly developed cognitively), but whose moral development was obviously lagging far behind. Cognitive development is necessary but not sufficient for development in other areas (or along what Wilber calls "lines"). Both Fowler and Wilber make this point.3

Wilber has argued that different developmental theories describe different lines, which is similar to the increasingly popular notion of multiple intelligences (IS, 59). The lines develop in each individual relatively independently of one another:

A person can evidence very high development in some lines (e.g., cognitive), medium development in others (e.g., interpersonal), and low in yet still others (e.g., moral). (Wilber, IS, 59)

A nice chart showing some of these lines, and how they correspond to each other can be seen here (opens new window).

Some Objections to Developmental Theories

There are some people who reject developmental theories, so I thought I would address that a little bit.

One argument I’ve encountered on the web is that some people don’t neatly fall into any one stage as described by a particular theory. For instance, Fowler’s Synthetic-Conventional stage is a conformist stage, and by the way Fowler describes it, one would expect adults who inhabit that stage to have very conventional views. How does one explain the existence of conformist progressives?

This reflects a failure to grasp the distinction between “contents” and “structures.” Some contents are more likely to be found in some structures than others, but there is no necessary relationship between them. Someone raised in a progressive family might well inhabit the Synthetic-Conventional stage and still hold progressive views. “Contents” refer to what we think; “structures” concern how we think about it.

A more serious and legitimate concern is that hierarchical models can be used used by the powerful for ideological purposes, with the oppression and marginalisation of others being the inevitable result. They invariably see themselves as the most developed, and relegate everyone who disagrees with them to lower levels. (See Pope Benedict’s comments about what constitutes “adult faith” in this article by John L. Allen, Jr. for a recent example of this.)

This is a legitimate concern, there’s no doubt about that. But the fact that an idea can be abused does not mean it’s mistaken. Besides, as Wilber has never tired of pointing out, those who reject hierarchies (a common enough problem among postmodernists) inevitably assert their own: To reject hierarchical theories in favour of non-hierarchical ones is itself to create a hierarchy. Wilber argues that we have to distinguish between “natural hierarchies” (which are not good or bad, but simply happen to exist) and “dominator hierarchies” (which are bad).

Another related-but-different argument is that developmental theories are “elitist.” I must admit, this particular argument doesn’t resonate with me. Are we to suppose that all people are equally adept at all things?

Wilber addressed this in an article in What Is Enlightenment? magazine a few years ago:

But isn't this view of mine terribly elitist? Good heavens, I hope so. When you go to a basketball game, do you want to see me or Michael Jordan play basketball? When you listen to pop music, who are you willing to pay money in order to hear? Me or Bruce Springsteen? When you read great literature, who would you rather spend an evening reading, me or Tolstoy? When you pay $64 million for a painting, will that be a painting by me or by Van Gogh?

All excellence is elitist. And that includes spiritual excellence as well. But spiritual excellence is an elitism to which all are invited. We go first to the great masters —to Padmasambhava, to St. Teresa of Avila, to Gautama Buddha, to Lady Tsogyal, to Emerson, Eckhart, Maimonides, Shankara, Sri Ramana Maharshi, Bodhidharma, Garab Dorje. But their message is always the same: let this consciousness be in you that is in me. You start elitist, always; you end up egalitarian, always.

For a nice take on this issue in a editors’ blog for the same magazine (now called EnlightenNext), read this.


[1] I don't recall Fowler ever using the term "spiritual intelligence," but Ken Wilber makes the point that this is essentially what Fowler is talking about (and I happen to agree that it is an apt term); see Wilber, IS, 69.

[2] Piaget development scheme ended with formal operations (which most people reach in adolescence). The gradations of “dichotomizing,” “dialectical,” and “synthetic” have been identified by Fowler. Similar gradations beyond mere formal operations are found in Wilber’s work, though the terminology he uses tends to change from one book to the next. Fowler’s “dichotomizing,” “dialectical,” and “synthetic” are, respectively, “rational mind,” “pluralistic/meta-systemic/early-vision logic,” and “paradigmatic/middle vision-logic” in Wilber. There is no single source for this information – as I said, Wilber changes his mind about what he would like to call them – but one place would be SES, 623n.6.

[3] See Fowler, Stages of Faith, 65; Wilber, SES, 689n.46.

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Stages of Faith: Stage 6 - Universalizing Faith

The sixth final stage, Universalizing Faith, is the most difficult to write about. In Stages of Faith, Fowler provided excerpts from interviews of people at each of the previous stages, but there are no interviews with individuals at Stage 6. Perhaps this is not surprising -- apparently only one individual of the 359 in his research sample had actually reached this stage (see Stages, 318).

Fowler does name some individuals he considered to be representatives of Stage 6, including Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Teresa, as well as people like Dag Hammarskjöld, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Abraham Heschel, and Thomas Merton (Stages, 201).

When I first read this, it struck me as problematic. I don't think it's legitimate, after carefully working out the structures of the other stages through careful empirical research, to simply toss that method away and start speculating. I also find it difficult to believe that one has to develop through all of the other stages in order to be a Martin Luther King or a Mother Teresa. As admirable as her life was, did Mother Teresa really ever move that far beyond conventional faith? From what I've read, it seems that she did not. I don't mean to depreciate what she did; I mean only to suggest that what she did could have been done at a lower stage, that it is not indicative of a high level of faith development as Fowler describes it. Or, to put that another way, I would argue that when someone gives him- or herself so completely for others, there is something else at work, something other than the kind of faith development we are concerned with here.

I don't have as much confidence in Fowler's description of this stage compared with the earlier stages, but I will summarise it for the sake of completeness.

Fowler writes,
The structuring of this stage derives from the radical completion of a process of de-centration from self that proceeds throughout the sequence of stages. From the non-differentiation of self and objects in the earliest phases of infancy to the naive egocentrism of the Intuitive-Projective stage, each successive stage marks a steady widening in social perspective taking. (Faithful, 66)
Or, put very simply, one's ability to see things from perspectives other than one's own deepens and widens as one develops.

People at Stage 6 overcome the need, felt in all previous stages, for the preservation for one's own life and well-being:
Heedless of the threats to self, to primary groups, and to the institutional arrangements of the present order that are involved, Stage 6 becomes a disciplined, activist incarnation -- a making real and tangible -- of the imperatives of absolute love and justice of which Stage 5 has partial apprehensions. The self at Stage 6 engages in spending and being spent for the transformation of present reality in the direction of a transcendent actuality. (Stages, 200).
Fowler says people at this stage "typically exhibit qualities that shake our usual criteria of normalcy," and "[i]n their devotion to universalizing compassion they may offend our parochial perceptions of justice" (Stages, 200).

People in Stage 5 "continue to live in the tension between their rootedness in and loyalties to their segment of the existing order, on the one hand, and the inclusiveness and transformation of their visions toward a new ultimate order, on the other" (Faithful, 66-67). In Stage 6, one overcomes this tension.

Stage 6 individuals are often charismatic leaders. The followers of some charismatic cult leaders will readily identify their leaders as belonging to this stage, so Fowler suggests how these dangerous leaders are different:
A good test for distinguishing the authentic faithful leader from the dangerously charismatic copy is whether the leader requires regressive dependence and relinquishing of personal responsibility from his or her followers. Similarly, the authentic spirituality of the Universalizing stage avoids polarizing the world between the "saved" and the "damned." Persons of this stage are as concerned with the transformation of those they oppose as with the bringing about of justice and reform. (Faithful, 67)
Universalizing Stage by Aspects:
Form of Logic (Piaget): Formal Operations (Synthetic)
Perspective Taking (Selman): Mutual, with the commonwealth of being
Form of Moral Judgment (Kohlberg): Loyalty to being
Bounds of Social Awareness: Identification with the species. Transnarcissistic love of being
Locus of Authority: In a personal judgment informed by the experiences and truths of previous stages, purified of egoic striving, and linked by disciplined intuition to the principle of Being
Form of World Coherence: Unitive actuality felt and participated unity of "One beyond many"
Symbolic Function: Evocative power of symbols actualized through unification of reality mediated by symbols and the self (Fowler, Stages, 244)

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