November 19th, 2008

Generic Meditation Issues: Styles of Faith

Before Edwin Starbuck or William James started to look at religious belief from a psychological point of view in the last years of the 19th century, most people acknowledged that there were two kinds of beliefs: those shared by me and my co-religionists (true belief) and other beliefs (false belief),  James developed the notion of the "once born" and the "twice born" without reference to affiliation and without preference for one approact or the other.  Since then many ways of looking at belief have been developed, though sadly, most of the approaches have been less dispassionate than that of James.  Some of these views, despite their biases, I have found useful in my own approach to religion.  In particular, I like the "Stages of Faith" developed by James Fowler.



Following the work of Kohlberg (stages of morality), Piaget (stages of cognition), and Freud (stages of bio-social development), Fowler proposed a six (or seven) stage process that individuals might go through as they grew in their religious perspective.  At " lower" stages the person (child) is concerned with protection, rewards, and social, moral, and religious conformity.  At stage 4 (individuative-reflective) a person begins to try to find his or her own religious perspective, sometimes this leads to an agnostic approach and a diminished interest in "religion" as others experience it.  At stage 5 (conjunctive) the stories and ideas that were sometimes questioned or rejected in stage 4 are reinterpreted, "spiritualized"  Persons look to other faiths for their insights, and may develope contemplative and mystical tendencies.  His or her strong faith is coupled with a total tolerance and appreciation of the different approaches of other believers,  Thomas Merton saw all mystics (Sufi, Hindu, Buddhist, Catholic, etc.) as folling a common path toward the same end.  At stage 6 (universalizing), the individual  has stopped caring altogether about the personal consequences of following through on his vision of the "one."  Her or his ethical and spiritual insights are likely to puzzle or offend most people at the first 4 stages, and such people are usually most appreciated after they have been dead a while.  These stages are supposedly typical of all religious communities.  Not everyone goes through all the stages, most people arrive at stage 3 (symbolic- conventional) and stay there.  Stage six is so rare that its existence remains hypothetical.  I like to believe that I can appreciate the insights of people at stages 5 and 6, if I am not at stage 5 (as my ego would like to have me believe.)  Of course, even "sixes" are not perfect.  I recall Jesus' conversation with the Syro-Phonecian woman, and Buddha's tirade against women when his disciple, Ananda, asked why he didn't pay more attention to them.  But if Lao Tzu, Buddha, and Jexus, were not perfect, they will do as models until someone else comes along.  (Frankly, I doubt that these three will ever be surpassed.)

Deepak Chopra's "How to know God" contains similar ideas, but he shows no evidence of having heard of Fowler.  That's too bad,   Although, for me, Chopra's book was full of wonderful insights and suggestions and even some great stories to illustrate his points, it could have benefited from a reading of Fowler and some of his predecessors.

Kundalina, as described by Joseph Campbell, has TEN stages, the first seven being somewhat similar to Chopra's and Fowlers outlines!  Well, it looks like we in the West have a ways to go (or be still, as the case may be).

(note: It turns out I misremembered the specifics of Kundalini, including how to spell it.  There are seven major levels.  However there are, arguably, other levels (cakras) amid and beyond those seven.

 of Psychological Transformation.htm. This address will have to be typed into the address box, I don't know how to create this link.

It is the Buddhists (some of them) who describe the ten worlds of existence (steps from hell to Buddhahood.}