Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Excerpts from James Fowler Stages of Faith

I started on April 11 to read Stages of Faith by James Fowler. Read more about Fowler's Stages of Faith here and here.

Here are some excerpts that impressed me:

page xii
You may find yourself saying now, "I know nothing of faith. I'm not religious. I'm not sure there's anything I really believe. Why should I involve myself in a conversation about faith?" If so, I hope you will read further. As I try to clarify the dynamics of faith as the ways we go about making and maintaining meaning in life, I hope you will find that your way of moving into life has been included and addressed.

Or you may be thinking, "I've got this matter of faith settled. By virtue of my conversion experience (or through more gradual growth I've experienced in a religious community) my faith is clear and firm and tested. Why should I risk potential confusion by opening myself to look at faith as a human universal? Why should I take seriously the faith experiences of people from religions other than my own? Or even stranger, why should I consider the faith patterns of people who don't even claim to be religious? What have they to do with faith?" To you I want to affirm the largeness and mystery of faith. So fundamental that none of us can live well for very long without it, so universal that when we move beneath the symbols, rituals, and ethical patterns that express it, faith is recognizably the same phenomenon in Christians, Marxists, Hindus and Dinka, yet it is so infinitely varied that each person's faith is unique. Faith is inexhaustibly mysterious. Liveliness and continuing growth in faith require self-examination and readiness for encounter with the faith perspectiveness of others. Any of us can be illumined in our efforts to relate to the holy by the integrity we find in the faith stances of others, whether they are religious or non-religious.

page 10, paragraph 1
The cumulative tradition is selectively renewed as its contents prove capable of evoking and shaping the faith of new generations. Faith is awakened and nurtured by elements from the tradition. As these elements come to be expressive of the faith of new adherents, the tradition is extended and modified, thus gaining fresh vitality.

page 19, paragraph 1
...we are linked to other in shared trusts and loyalties to centers of value and power.

page 20
[a description of our polytheism and henotheism]

page 44
What operations of mind can be scientifically demonstrated to underlie the achievement of rationally certain knowledge, and how do those operations take form in human beings? ... What operational "structures of the whole" occur on the way from the infant's thought world to that of the scientist?

page 46
I have not hesitated to argue ... that moral reasoning develops through a succession of stages. I hold that the sequence of these stages is invariant and universal, and that "higher" stages are more adequate--more "true," if you will--than the earlier ones.

page 100, last paragraph
Further, for Piaget and Kohlberg structural development occurs when, in the interaction of subject and environment, the subject must construct new modes of knowing and acting in order to meet new challenges of the environment. Development results from efforts to restore balance between subject and environment when some factor of maturation or of environmental change has disturbed a previous equilibrium. Growth and development in faith also result from life crises, challenges and the kinds of disruptions that theologians call revelation.

Page 102, last paragraph
The logic of rational certainty, however, is a misleading ideal when we speak about forms of knowing in which the constitution of the knowing self is part of what is at stake. The model of disinterestedness represented by scientific inquiry does not fit with the kind of knowing involved in moral reasoning or in faith's compositions. This is not to say that there is not a form of disinterestedness or "objectivity" in moral and faith knowing. It is to say this latter mode of knowing proceeds in a manner in which the knowing self is continually being confirmed or modified in the knowing. For this latter more comprehensive form of knowing I have chosen the term the logic of conviction.

page 114, middle
Education and nurture should aim at the full realization of the potential strength of faith at each stage and at keeping the reworking of faith that comes with stage changes current with the parallel transitional work in psychosocial eras. Remedial or therapeutic nurture is called for when the anachronism of a lagging faith stage fails to keep pace with psychosocial growth.

Page 179
The two essential features of the emergence of Stage 4, then, are the critical distancing from one's previous assumptive value system and the emergence of an executive ego. When and as these occur a person is forming a new identity, which he or she expresses and actualizes by the choice of personal and group affiliations and the shaping of a "lifestyle."

We find that sometimes many persons complete half of this double movement, but do not complete the other. By virtue of college experience, travel or of being moved from one community to another, many persons undergo the relativization of their inherited world views and value systems. 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. On the other hand 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 executive ego. Yet they have not carried through a critical distancing from their shared assumptive values system. In either of these two cases we see an interesting and potentially long lasting equilibrium in a transitional position between Stages 3 and 4.

pages 181-182
For some adults, however, the transition to Stage 4, if it comes at all, occurs in the thirties or forties. It can be precipitated by changes in primary relationships, such as a divorce, the death of a parent or parents or children growing up and leaving home. Or it can result from challenges of moving, changing jobs or the experience of the breakdown or inadequacy of one's Synthetic Conventional faith.

This transition represents an upheaval in one's life at any point and can be protracted in its process for five to seven years or longer. It typically is less severe for young adults, however, coming in that era as a natural accompaniment of leaving home and of the construction of a first, provisional adult life structure, When the transition occurs in the late thirties or early forties it often brings greater struggles. This is because of its impact upon the more established and elaborated system of relationships and roles that constitute an adult life structure.

page 198
The new strength of this stage [5] comes in the rise of the ironic imagination--a capacity to see and be in one's or one's group's most powerful meanings, while simultaneously recognizing that they are relative, partial and inevitably distorting apprehensions of transcendent reality. Its danger lies in the direction of a paralyzing passivity or inaction, giving rise to complacency or cynical withdrawal, due to its paradoxical understanding of truth.

page 274
Please do not forget that transitions from one spiral stage level to another are often protracted, painful, dislocating and/or abortive. Arrests can and do occur at any of the stages. Also I ask you to keep in mind that each stage has its proper time of ascendancy. For persons in a given stage at the right time for their lives, the task is the full realization and integration of the strengths and graces of that stage rather than rushing on to the next stage. Each stage has the potential for wholeness, grace and integrity and for strengths sufficient for either life's blows or blessings.

page 294
The vision of particular faith traditions nurturing persons who are fit to be partners in a global covenant of good faith raises issues of faith sponsorship. How can particular communities of faith structure their internal lives in such ways as to provide intensive and extensive grounding in their faith vision, while at the same time calling their members to a vocation of global fidelity? The faith stage model enables us to see the readiness and capacities of persons at each stage to be part of the covenant intended by their communities. Attention to the capacities of each stage help us avoid expecting too much too soon. On the other hand, stage theory warns us against the coerciveness of what Kenneth Keniston has called the "modal developmental level" in communities ("Psychological Development and Historical Change," in Robert Jay Liftn, ed., Explorations in Psychohistory. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1974. pp 160-164)). The modal development level is the average expectable level of development for adults in a given community. In faith terms, it refers to the conscious or unconscious image of adult faith toward which the educational practices, religious celebrations, and patterns of governance in a community all aim. The modal level operates as a kind of magnet in religious communities. Patterns of nurture prepare children and youth to grow up to the modal level--but not beyond it. Persons from outside the community are attracted to the community because of its modal developmental level. The operation of the modal level in a community sets an eddectie limit on the ongoing process of growth in faith. My observations lead me to judge that the modal developmental level in most middle-class American churches and synagogues is best described in terms of Synthetic-Conventional faith of perhaps just beyond it.

Careful theological work is required in a faith tradition to determine the normative images of adulthood which that tradition envisions. By normative images of adulthood I mean to ask, what developmental trajectory into mature faith is envisioned and called for by a particular faith tradition, at is best? While unable to speak for others, I am convinced that the normative image of adulthood envisioned in Christian faith keads out toward Universalizing faith. That is to say, discipleship to Christ, if radically followed to full maturity, would bring persons to a way of spending and being spent in their lives that would express loyalty to the rule of God and in covenant relations with a commonwealth of being. In light of this, we ask ourselves, how can faith communities avoid the coerciveness of the modal developmental level, and how can they sponsor appropriate and ongoing lifelong development in faith?

My vision for such a community as this begins with taking ongoing faith development in adulthood seriously. I believe that when a community expects and provides models for significant continuing faith development in adulthood, its patterns of nurturing the faith of children and youth will change and becime more open-ended. What might providing for ongoing adult development mean?

It would begin, I believe, with re-envisioning the nature of religious truth. As our reference to the work of Wilfred Cantwell Smith in Part I suggested, the dominant understanding of religious truth in our period centers in belief. Most often faith is understood as belief in certain propositional, doctrinal formulations that in some essential and static way are supposed to "contain" truth. But if faith is relational, a pledging of trust and fidelity to another, and a way of moving into the force field of life trusting in dynamic centers of value and power, then the "truth" of faith takes on a different quality. Truth is lived; it is a pattern of being in relation to others and to God. In this light, doctrines and creeds come to be seen as playing a different though still crucial role. Rather than being the repositories of truth, like treasure chests to be honored and assented to, they become guides for the construction of contemporary ways of seeing and being. Doctrines and creeds are formulations of the reflective faith of persons in the past. They are the stories they told themselves about the meanaing of the ways of living with each other and God that they found truthful. These credal and doctrinal expressions tell the stories--the master stories--into which and by which they tried to shape their lives. As such, inherited creeds and doctrines become for present members of the faith community invitations and stimuli for contemporary experiments with truth. Adult living in faith becomes a matter of entering into the master stories that animated the faith of our forebears and shaping our lives of faith with all their present impingements and challenges in trust and loyalty to those stories.

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