Over at the blog Dave’s Mormon Inquiry, the eponymous Dave Banack examines the “Stages of Faith” that has become something of a fad among those who reject the literal nature of the Restoration.
According to developmental psychologist James Fowler, individuals develop in their religious faith from a basic understanding centered on safety of one’s environment (Stage 0) to a universal enlightenment (Stage 6). Conformity to an organized religion is rooted in Stages 2 and 3, where myth, cosmic justice, and conformity lay (along with notions of an anthropomorphic god). According to Fowler, those on their way to enlightenment will leave these simplistic beliefs behind on the way to “universalizing” faith.
Dave nails the problem on the head:
The problem with the stages of faith model (or at least how it is used) is that it takes one generic personal narrative — “I used to be part of an organized religion, but after I achieved personal enlightenment I became disenchanted with the compromises and juvenile teachings so prevalent in organized religious institutions” — and elevates it to a prescriptive model, which it then applies judgmentally to all persons.
However, there are a variety of other generic personal narratives that are as valid as the Fowler narrative. Some start with self-centered spirituality, then move toward active membership in a religious community. Some start with self-centered hedonism, then move toward a more community-oriented perspective, whether religious or secular. Some start with self-centered hedonism, then move toward self-centered spirituality. Some people just piss their whole life away as self-centered hedonists. There’s nothing in the Fowler approach that justifies using the Fowler narrative (rather than any other) as the basis for prescriptive classifictions and judgments, or that defends the method of constructing a One True Narrative in the face of the obvious fact that individuals display a variety of diverse human personalities that approach spiritual and religious questions quite differently.
Sadly, Fowler’s Stages of Faith is yet another avenue for those who have rejected the gospel of Jesus Christ to rationalize that decision. By claiming to have moved on to a higher, truer, purer form of spirituality, they subtly insult the large numbers of intelligent, thinking, and yet still-believing Saints who have chosen to remain active and faithful.