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

Monday, May 24, 2004

Fowler's Stages of Faith (part 3 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 3: Synthetic-Conventional faith. Some bullet points about Stage 3 faith from Fowler.
-a person's experience extends beyond the family
-faith must synthesize values and information; it must provide a basis for identity and outlook
-typically has its rise and ascendency in adolescence, but for many adults it becomes a permanent place of residence a person has an "ideology," a more or less consistent clustering of values and beliefs, but he or she has not objectified it for examination and in a sense is unaware of having it
-the experience of "leaving home" - emotionally or physically, or both - precipitates the kind of examination of self, background, and life guiding values that gives rise to state transition at this point
-differences of outlook with others are experienced as differences in "kind" of person

People with cognitive disabilities rarely achieve this level of faith, from my experience, largely because of the dependency they feel on family or significant others. The "leaving home" experience rarely occurs. An adult friend of mine, an individual who although he cannot read, is able to take care of himself quite well illustrates this point. At age 60, he would still call his mother to find out whether or not he should wear his sweater, or leave his apartment at all. His mother was not a person who would dominate her son with her will, it was simply that he has never really became a totally free functioning adult. This example points to issues of physical or emotional leaving, however, the same can be said in these individuals relative to their spiritual devleopment.

It takes a high functioning individual indeed to ignore the perspective, will, desires of their parent and go off on her own direction. Adults with cognitive disability rarely have the ability to do this. Some of this grows out of their dependency on non disabled others. They are dependent for their budgeting, so they are also dependent for their faith.

For example, often a person with mental retardation's perspective is reflective of the last person he spoke to. I have had many conversations with individual with cognitive disabilities,where we have come to an agreement on an issue, only to have that perspective totally changed via conversation with someone else. It is as if the previous conversation had never occurred. The most graphic example of this was in a situation with an adult with mild to moderate cognitive disabilties whom I had assisted to receive Social Security. He and I had been planning for months about what he would do once he received the back payments which were due to him. Up to the final minute (so to speak) that he was to receive the money, he was to contact me, and we would withdraw some of the money for his personal use, and discuss the purchase of housing for him with the remainder. I will never forget receiving the call from the state worker telling me that he was about to take my friend out to buy some furniture. I became angry telling him that my friend and I had been discussing what he would do with the money for months. He replied, "No, you don't get it. I want to help him buy something while there is some money left." My friend had spent 18,000$ in about 24 hours. His family had basically convinced him that he owed it to them and took it from him.

As with faith, the personal ideology is often weak at best. With growth, change can be made.

Over the past few years, another friend of mine, a man with cognitive disabilities has grown significantly in his faith. He had gained the assertiveness to turn away temptations of a variety of sorts by saying, "You don't know me" or "I don't think I want to." These are two quite powerful phrases from a faith standpoint illustrating that his personal beliefs have grown to the point of being somewhat understood and synthesized. He also sees people with the group orientation mentioned by Fowler. They are either in his group or not in his group. This also implies some level of understanding about who his group is. There is a greater trust of those within his group than those outside. He is still reliant on family members for some basic decision making and rarely will do anything other than what they would request.

Perhaps the highest function member of a group of individuals I work with at my church is a woman who has made the decision to attend church. Her parents apparently tease her regularly, and tell her that going to church is foolish, etc. She, however, has decided that it is an important aspect of her life, and has the intellect and courage to maintain the relationship with her parents while also expressing her personal faith.


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