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Thread: Stages of belief

  1. #1
    Senior Member Array UniqueMixture's Avatar
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    Mar 2012
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    Default Stages of belief

    I remember a friend describing to me once something he had read about stages of belief that human beings tend to go through. He described the stages in roughly the following manner:

    Stage 1 - Literal

    In this stage belief is based on literal interpretations of reality given by authority figures. Eg. Santa Claus is real because mommy said so, he left presents under the Christmas tree, and because the milk and cookies I left out for him are gone.

    Stage 2 - Scientific

    In this stage belief is based on evidence that can be corroborated by others/the outside world. Often takes the form of LACK of belief or being antithetical to belief. Eg. Santa Claus is not real because a fat man could never fit down the chimney, reindeer can't fly, and one man could never deliver that many presents in one night.

    Stage 3 - Symbolic

    In this stage the individual recognizes that the prior belief is not literally true, but interprets the prior belief in a new way that allows for integration of being within him/herself. Eg. Santa Claus is not literally real, but in a way the spirit of Santa Claus is manifest whenever we do kind deeds for one another at Christmastime.

    Do you agree with this? Do you see other stages? What do you think causes individuals to move from one stage to the next? etc

    This also makes me think of Fowler's stages of faith development which he views as tied to age (perhaps cognitive development) and culture.

    Fowler's Stages:

    Stage 0 – "Primal or Undifferentiated" faith (birth to 2 years), is characterized by an early learning of the safety of their environment (i.e. warm, safe and secure vs. hurt, neglect and abuse). If consistent nurture is experienced, one will develop a sense of trust and safety about the universe and the divine. Conversely, negative experiences will cause one to develop distrust with the universe and the divine. Transition to the next stage begins with integration of thought and languages which facilitates the use of symbols in speech and play.

    Stage 1 – "Intuitive-Projective" faith (ages of three to seven), is characterized by the psyche's unprotected exposure to the Unconscious.

    Stage 2 – "Mythic-Literal" faith (mostly in school children), stage two persons have a strong belief in the justice and reciprocity of the universe, and their deities are almost always anthropomorphic.

    Stage 3 – "Synthetic-Conventional" faith (arising in adolescence; aged 12 to adulthood) characterized by conformity to religious authority and the development of a personal identity. Any conflicts with one's beliefs are ignored at this stage due to the fear of threat from inconsistencies.

    Stage 4 – "Individuative-Reflective" faith (usually mid-twenties to late thirties) a stage of angst and struggle. The individual takes personal responsibility for his or her beliefs and feelings. As one is able to reflect on one's own beliefs, there is an openness to a new complexity of faith, but this also increases the awareness of conflicts in one's belief.

    Stage 5 – "Conjunctive" faith (mid-life crisis) acknowledges paradox and transcendence relating reality behind the symbols of inherited systems. The individual resolves conflicts from previous stages by a complex understanding of a multidimensional, interdependent "truth" that cannot be explained by any particular statement.

    Stage 6 – "Universalizing" faith, or what some might call "enlightenment". The individual would treat any person with compassion as he or she views people as from a universal community, and should be treated with universal principles of love and justice.

    What do you think of these stages? Where do you fall in the spectrum or do you have your own view of how belief develops?
    For all that we have done, as a civilization, as individuals, the universe is not stable, and nor is any single thing within it. Stars consume themselves, the universe itself rushes apart, and we ourselves are composed of matter in constant flux. Colonies of cells in temporary alliance, replicating and decaying and housed within, an incandescent cloud of electrical impulses. This is reality, this is self knowledge, and the perception of it will, of course, make you dizzy.

  2. #2
    Senior Member Array Lark's Avatar
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    Jun 2009


    There's a Christian version of this, I spoke of a Franciscan monk about this last time I was at confession, we were passing a monastery and had the opportunity, I spoke to him about a crisis of faith I experienced following a sudden death of a friend at work.

    I cant recall the stages, there was a general progression from mature to immature faith, signified by different stories and individuals in the bible, such as Abrahamic faith, the faith of exodus etc.

  3. #4
    won't be missed Array /DG/'s Avatar
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    Mar 2009


    Hmm...Fowler's stages don't seem to include a lack of faith as a possible outcome and yours don't seem to include faith as a possible outcome.

  4. #5
    Senior Member Array WoodsWoman's Avatar
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    Dec 2007


    Fowler's stages don't include lack of faith as a particular stage, he includes it in the progression. For instance someone who is a solid stage 2 (i.e. a convert who started out in stage 1 chaos values the structure of what some would call institutionalized Church) will be likely to see the migration to stage three as "backsliding", or as losing faith because it is a move away from the valued structure (i.e. a child of the stage 2 example who grows up within the institution and comes to find it limiting, one way or another, and moves away from it).

    Oops - as it's listed here my Stage 2 is actually stage 3, and the struggle depicted is between stage 2 and 3 individual. Also - I do not see Fowler's stages as tightly tied to age, just to spiritual development.

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