“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” George Orwell

Saturday, May 22, 2004

Fowler's Stages of Faith (part 2 of 6)

We continue with James W. Fowler's Stages of Faith (1995), looking at faith development.

Today we look at an overview of Stage 2: Mythic-Literal Faith. Some bullet points about Stage 2 faith from Fowler.
-persons begin to take on for him- or herself the stories, beliefs and observations that symbolize belonging to his or her community
-beliefs are appropriated with literal interpretations, as are moral rules and attitudes
-marked by increased accuracy in taking the perspective of others
-reciprocal fairness and an immanent justice based on reciprocity
-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
-limitations of literalness and an excessive reliance upon reciprocity can result in "works righteousness"
-conflicts between authoritative stories (creation/evolution) must be faced
-this is the faith of the school child (though we sometimes find the structures dominant in adolescents and in adults)

This stage of faith is common among many individuals with cognitive deficits. Over time they have learned Bible stories and remember the lessons of the stories. Stories become a point of connection with the larger church body. The same stories told at the congregational worship service are told during the program for adults with disabilities. One learns that all are under the same behavioral standard, leading to what should be a an experience of reciprocity within the group. Moral rules are applied to the group independent of social position or disabilty which resonates with the notion of equity portrayed in the stories of the community.

As the faith's notions of right and wrong are internalized, adherants are quick to say that something is right or wrong through the application of the learned standards.

Presentation of the Christian faith to this group is the delightful introduction to a world of stories of real people having real experiences. The lessons of these experiences are directly applicable to the listener's life. One finds that he is a part of history of those who have gone before. This perspective provides a past and a future.

The presentation of a moral code is helpful to a group who might not otherwise have been able to determine right from wrong. They receive a confidence from having done the right thing, learn to expect the best from others of their faith, and are able to provide an explanation for the behavior of those outside of the faith which satisfies themselves. This standard helps them to see growth in themselves and actually helps them to speak boldly to others about their own faith. A common comment from adults with disabilities who have been teased or verbally abused is a simple, "He needs the Lord." The implication being that with an understanding of the things of the Lord (the stories, behavioral standards, etc.) the offending individual would understand the principle of moral and behavioral reciprocity and would stop the inappropriate behavior. A similar comment often made regarding persons who are negative towards people with cognitive disability is, "He doesn't know how I feel," or "She doesn't know what it is like to have a disability." The assumption is that if he or she did know, they would adjust their behavior.

As in the previous stage, there is the participation in ritual, however, as in Stage 1 the rituals may be specific to an individual, his own perception of what faith is, and therefore actually unrelated to the traditional rituals of the faith. In Stage 2, there is understanding of the actual rituals of the faith (prayer or sacraments like communion or baptism). They are a part of the narrative which is learned and embraced.


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