Religious Faith

Religious teachings typically begin with rituals and stories, progressing to faith and interpretation as the child's cognitive abilities develop. Com pared with Islam, Christian teachings place more emphasis on the interpretation of religious writings. But despite the efforts of theologians and philosophers throughout history, no one has succeeded in devising a direct proof of the existence of God6 or the correctness of any religious belief. Blaise Pascal's famous wager concerning the existence of God would probably be accepted as a good strategy by most people. The wager is that if you bet that God exists and He does not exist, you have lost nothing. On the other hand, if you bet that God does not exist and He does exist, you have lost everything. Therefore, given no choice but to bet, the better strategy is to bet that God exists and live your life accordingly.

Religion is ultimately based on faith: One either believes or does not. This does not necessarily imply that faith is irrational; faith can be the result of a very profound process of thinking.

According to James Fowler (1981,1986), faith develops throuqh a series of six stages, reminiscent of but not paralleling Lawrence Kohlberg's (1976) conception of six stages in the development of moral reasoning. By faith, Fowler does not mean religious faith exclusively, but rather anything that provides people with a reason for living and hope for happiness. Stage 1 in Fowler's theory —intuitive-projective faith—is a faith based on magic, imagination, and fantasy. At this stage, which is characteristic of children between the ages of 3 and 7, the power of God and the mysteries of life and death are interpreted magically, At Stage 2 —mythic-literal faith —religious myths and stories are accepted as literally true and the power of symbols is believed in. This kind of faith, which is characteristic not only of middle childhood but also of some adults, involves the notion of reciprocity: God rewards or punishes those who obey or do not obey His laws.

Typical of Stage 3 —synthetic-conventional faith— is the nonintellec-tual, tacit acceptance of religious values in an interpersonal context. This conformist type of faith is concerned with what makes sense or "feels right" in the individual's social world. Faith at Stage 4 —individual-reflective faith —is characterized by detachment from cultural values and from the approval of other people. Perhaps stimulated by the college experience in the person's late teens or early twenties, simple acceptance of the usual order of things is replaced with an active commitment to a life goal and a lifestyle that may differ significantly from those of other people. Faith at Stage 5-conjunctive faith —incorporates seemingly contradictory conscious (rational) and unconscious (religious, spiritual) ideas. The magical understanding of symbols and myths that characterized Stage 2 is synthesized with the individual-reflective faith of Stage 4. People at Stage 5 can combine ideas

6One of the characters in Aldous Huxley's Point Counter Point (1928) provides the following mathematical "proof' of how God could have created the universe from nothing: Let °° = God, 0 = nothingness, and 1 = the universe. Since anything divided by 0 equals infinity. 1/0 = <». Cross-multiplication yields <» X 0 = 1, proving that God (<») could have created the universe (1) from nothing (0). Like Pascal's famous wager, there is a problem with this proof. Do you know what it is?

such as the worth of life compared with that of property to produce new truths.

Characteristic of Stage 6 —universalizing faith —is a vision of universal compassion, justice, and love that compels the individual to live his or her life in a way that may seem saintly or foolish to other people. Those who reach this last stage in Fowler's developmental theory of faith are exceptional, examples being Moses, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mother Theresa (Berger, 1994).

Despite the hierarchical nature of his theory, Fowler does not claim that one stage is necessarily better than another. The appropriateness of a given stage depends on what is right for the individual at that time in his or her life.

Each stage has its proper time of ascendancy. For persons in a given stage at the right time for their lives, the task is the full realization and integration of the strengths and graces of that stage rather than rushing on to the next stage. Each stage has the potential for wholeness, grace and integrity, and for strengths sufficient for either life's blows or blessings. (Fowler, 1981, p. 274; emphasis in the original)

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