Thursday, October 6, 2011

"Nemo dat quod non habet"

James Fowler describes six stages of faith development.  His work has become a widely accepted standard for understanding faith development.   The end of this article contains a brief overview of the six developmental stages.  Each faith development stage is valid and not everyone develops beyond some of the simplest faith stages.  However, continued growth is important for everyone in their spiritual journey. 

The Latin expression “nemo dat quod non habet” carries great pertinence to faith development.  The expression means, “Someone cannot give away what they do not possess.”  In the case of faith development this means that spiritual leaders should be at a faith stage beyond those they direct because they cannot help guide others to a place they don’t know exists.  Therefore, it is reasonable to assume effective religious leaders need to achieve faith development stages 5 or 6 described below to encourage others’ continued spiritual growth.  Most people require life experiences occurring over time to arrive at these faith stages. 

Priests used to serve multiple associate assignments before being assigned as pastors. This allowed their faith to develop substantially before having an influential position over others’ faith development.  With younger and younger men being assigned as pastors, we have a less spiritually mature group of spiritual leaders.  Even under the previous model where older priests were assigned as pastors, many priests due to their celibate, childless lifestyles lacked sufficient life experiences to prompt their personal and faith maturation. 

There is a sad irony that the administrative prohibition against married clergy causes an artificial shortage of priests.  Consequently, bishops appoint young men to act as pastors.  Yet, married clergy often achieve the more mature faith development stages due to their family-based life experiences.  Because of their personal and spiritual maturity, married clergy often are more capable than celibate clergy to guide others’ spiritual development.

In addition to their own development being stunted, many shepherds seem to encourage their sheep to remain at the earlier faith development stages.  This can cause a systemic downward spiral in faith development but is the product of fear.  People in the earlier faith development stages feel threatened when they encounter people of later faith development stages.  Thus clergy of earlier faith development stages often foster their flock’s faith stagnation or regression and encourage childish dependencies that inhibit growth rather than childlike inquisitiveness that fuels it. 

Stages 5 and 6 are where people have enough personal security to feel either not or not as threatened by others’ beliefs and faith development stages.  They are starting to live the scriptural directive to “be not afraid”. 

Pope John XXIII demonstrated his spiritual maturity by convening the Second Vatican Council.  He was not afraid of inviting lay people, women, or people of other religious traditions to participate.  He was not afraid to share power.  In contrast, Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI show their spiritual immaturity as they feel threatened by theologians and other people who question traditions.  Consequently, they reclaim more centralized authority and power.  They persecute those whom they fear.   

How do we develop our own faith in light of spiritually immature shepherds?  How do we patiently abide with others in their faith development stages?

Now more than ever, laypeople have an obligation to help develop clergy because many of the shepherds who are spiritually more well-developed have died, retired or been sanctioned.    How do we respond to the ministry of helping spiritually under-developed clergy grow in their faith development? 

Right or wrong, I patiently, passionately and persistently attempt to dialogue with clergy in hopes that the introduction of conflicting opinions aids their growth. 

Intuitive – Projective faith stage typically occurs for people between the ages of 3 and 7.  It is described as a “fantasy-filled” imitation of what adults around them do.  People emerge from this stage as they develop their own concrete operative thinking skills.   

Mythic – Literal faith stage occurs, usually in grade school, when the person senses they belong to a community because they share the community’s beliefs and actions.  At this stage, moral rules and beliefs are based on literal interpretations.  Symbols tend to carry literal meanings too.  During this stage a person may focus on perfectionism, “works righteousness”, or their own “badness”.  People develop beyond this stage as they begin to recognize conflicts in teachings, such as conflicts arising from literal scripture interpretation.

Synthetic – Conventional faith stage occurs, usually during adolescence, when a person’s sphere of operation expands.  New sources of information and values introduce complexity that must be synthesized with faith.  They resolve differences by acknowledging the world contains different kinds of people and some people don’t share their faith.  Consequently in this stage, faith, as defined by traditional authorities, becomes a key source of identity.  People in this stage tend towards being judgmental or even nihilistic if their judgment is inwardly focused.  Usually increased critical thinking skills, greater awareness of others, and leaving home prompt growth to the next faith development stage as people realize their childhood environment is not a universal norm.

Individuative – Reflective faith stage often begins in late adolescence or early adulthood as people develop critical thinking skills and take ownership for their beliefs and actions.  They see truth emerging from symbolic rather than literal meanings of myths but assume the group retains literal interpretations.  They grapple with the conflict of remaining true to their conscience while belonging to a group they value but see as imperfect.  They tend to over-value their newly developed critical thinking skills and move beyond this stage when they realize life is more complex than their mind can grasp.

Conjunctive faith stage tends to occur in mid-life as people gain greater awareness of their inner voice.  They have the maturity to revisit their personal context and grapple with polar tensions.  They are able to have close relationships with people of other beliefs without feeling threatened.  They are able to see truth within contradictions and see greater depth in reality from mythical symbolisms.  However, they remain divided between loyalty to conscience and acceptance by the group.

Universalized faith stage is achieved by few people because it involves genuine detachment from group acceptance.  Though rejection may pain them, they are unafraid to face it to do the right thing.  They work to actualize the oneness of humanity and community and, therefore, practice radical inclusiveness.  Some view them as contagious because their lives and thoughts liberate oppression.  Others view them as an infectious subversive threat to established structures.  Often people who reach this faith level are more honored and revered after they die.  They are seen as having special grace that makes them more lucid - able to extract the simple from the complex.  They are able to love and enjoy fellowship with people at every other stage of development from any religious tradition.

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