Friday, December 10, 2010

Stages of Faith

To My Children,

I have progressed through Fowler’s Stages of Faith, through Stage 5. Although I admit to spending some days in Stage 4, I like to think that I have also spent other days in Stage 6. Hooray for me, however, I am not without wounds from the journey. I wish someone had alerted me about these Stages before I underwent the various metamorphoses because I have been misunderstood and lonely at times when trying to manage my life while experiencing these changes (for the better) in myself within Mormonism's culture of literalism and certainty. My religious indoctrination in church (and yours) was at Stages 2 and 3. The LDS Church, for the most part, leaves the remaining Stages to be achieved on one’s own. In other words, the Church does not conspicuously nor adeptly cater to this level of faith in any of its programs; this is a problem for which I don’t have an easy solution except to alert you that within the Mormon faith it can be painful to move into Stage 4. However, if/when you find yourself there, you may consider that you have made progress instead of thinking something is wrong with you. As you progress through the stages you may feel increasingly like a minority in the Church although you are not alone. Don’t worry. Don’t be frustrated when others hold opinions different than your own; most people's opinions change over time unless they are intellectually stagnant. Don't be frustrated when the Church has different opinions than yours; the Church must make its own journey through the Stages and obviously some members will be ahead or behind the mass. Be charitable with everyone as always. Be patient, humble, and remember to always treat others the way you would want to be treated. If you feel pain, that means you are moving through the "birth canal" into Stage 4 and need to get past it. If you feel disdain toward anyone at lower Stages, then you can know for certain that you have not yet arrived into Stage 5.

Even though Fowler’s book is a tad boring to read, I think his ideas are very important for understanding how the human mind naturally wants to view the world at different stages of maturity. I consider it a great blunder of many anti-religionists to be so out of touch on this matter. I'll let you look up these Stages on your own, whenever you want.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to make the religion of your youth a better religion in any way that you can. Sometimes that will mean being supportive and other times that will mean being an agent for change. Indeed, this is a big part of my philosophy of life--to try to make every organization, or institution, or church, or group, or committee, or family, or neighborhood of which I am a member, a better, more functional entity. Your mission is to do the same, and in so doing you will be building the kingdom of God.


Anonymous said...

I suspect that most faithful people (I'm thinking of some born-gain friends) would immediately be suspicious of a book with this title. The idea that someone would classify faith in any way would probably offend them. Doing so presumes a sense of knowledge beyond faith--that the writer must believe that he has the tools to witness and analyze faith from a higher ground. They would probably call his position hubris.

You don't identify the character of each stage, even in summary form, so it's impossible to know your journey. I imagine, however, that his stages of faith lead to a more accepting, big tent, view of religion--a more catholic one. I would like to read this book.

Todd Hansink said...

Dear Anonymous,

My intention was not to write a book review per se, hence my omission of descriptions of the stages. I figured this information would be on a need-to-know basis. Those who have never suffered religious cognitive dissonance find very little value in a book such as this. Fowler is not hubristic. On the contrary, his purpose is to comfort those who have experienced an involuntary and disconcerting religious paradigm shift.

Let me give you an example of the kind of person that might really benefit from reading this book. Last week I ran into a woman that I don’t know very well in the store. She told me that her cleaning lady found her Bible and put it next to her night stand and she wondered if it was a sign that she should rekindle her faith. Then she confided that she didn’t think that she could ever believe again.

Whereupon I immediately said, “Sure you can believe again. Though you’ll probably never believe the same way you did before, you can develop a new way of believing, a more mature way. It can be an exciting new challenge to strive for a new level of belief.”

She looked at me with a surprised face like I had just given her a good idea. Essentially I had given her the essence of Fowler’s book.