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Faith Stages






I think deconversion could have been quite a bit less stressful if at the time I’d known about the concept of faith stages (that I was simply going from Dependence to Independence). The criticisms are serious but overall it makes sense and seems helpful.



Finding Your Religion by Scotty McLennan, summarized from pages 19-31


Magic stage: all-powerful God. Typically age 2 to 10. The world is full of spirits and demons, God makes everything happen.


Reality stage: cause and effect God. Logic comes in and Santa Claus goes. God can be influenced by good deeds and scripture is taken as literal.


Dependence stage: parent God. Authority figures are important as well as following religious doctrine. Many adults remain in this stage for life.


Independence stage: distant God or atheism. Spirituality becomes individualized and God is either nonexistent or seen as an impersonal force. Religion can become demythologized and analyzed for conceptual meaning.


Interdependence stage: paradoxical God. Typically occurs late in life. A “second naivete” where religious symbols become sacred again. Ability to tolerate contradiction and ambiguity. Two examples: maintaining your own unique faith while participating in a religious community, and the ability to pray to a personal God while understanding the divine as an impersonal force.


Unity stage: all-pervasive God. Awareness of the oneness of all existence. Ego attachment disappears. God is in everything and everything is in God.



Criticisms of stage theory:

The spiritual journey is too personal, unique and undefined to be outlined in this way.


Seeing the stages makes people become goal-oriented rather than nurturing the spirit at whatever stage it happens to be in.


Stage theory is judgmental, implying that later stages are better than earlier ones.


Positive aspects of stage theory:


Avoids either/or thinking (either you "have religion" or not) and allows us to see religion as a developing process.


Actually prevents judgmentalism by making it easier to see the similarities between spiritual paths within different religious traditions.






Recommended Comments

Thanks for sharing this. Have you seen James W. Fowler's Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development?


I hadn't heard of these, but the author does mention that he was influenced by Fowler's Stages of Faith and Oser who has written about stages of relationship to God.


Do you think listing out the stages gives too much away? It would almost be better if you had a mentor who could guide you to the next stage but let you struggle towards it- not spelling it all out like this.




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