Monday, August 29, 2011

Stages of Religious Development.

I've started reading a book entitled, "Finding Your Religion" by Rev. Scotty McLennan. So far, I have found it fascinating. The introduction explains that while the average adult is familiar with developmental stages, we are not as familiar, nor open, to religious stages.

Freud and Erikson's Developmental Stages
This author presents the idea that we evolve, grow, and mature, religiously as well. I found myself not only relating to the stages, but also looking forward to the stages that are ahead of me. These stages cross all religious borders; they are applicable to every religion.

"All-Powerful God" 
Photo Source: http://whadawethink.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/god.jpg
This is when the child thinks that God can protect them from the monsters in their closet...God is powerful, and magical.
"Is your world full of spirits and demons? Do you think God makes everything happen, for good and bad?"

"Cause-And-Effect God"
This reality stage usually sets in around the age of six. This is when the child thinks "If I ask God to help me pass the test, I will." 
"Are scriptures true in a concrete and literal sense, rather than being stories that may or may not be real?"

"God the Parent"
Photo Source: http://cache2.allpostersimages.com/p/LRG/13/1345/SJ2S000Z/posters/vasnetsov-victor-mikhailovich-savaoph-god-the-father-1885-96.jpg

Usually around adolescence, teens go back and forth between the "dependence" and "independence" stages. The "Parental God" can serve as a source of comfort for teens who are afraid to go to their parents, or view their parents' love as conditional. Feeling unconditional love from a father figure is a necessity for many teens. Simultaneously, teens that are experimenting with things that they wouldn't want a parent to know about, often slip in and out of a relationship with a "Distant God," but typically go back to the "idealized parent" in stage three.
"Do you have a very important peer group or leader who is primarily responsible for shaping your faith? Is your main image of God that of a perfect parent? Is it important to you to understand and follow religious doctrine and moral rules?"

"Distant God"
Photo Source: http://charisshaolm.fjministries.com/wp-content/uploads/2007/10/human-space-universe-cosmos.jpg
Usually around the age of sixteen and through early adulthood, people tend to feel God as more of a distant being. The author states this is a common time for the individual to express, "I'm spiritual, but I'm not religious." Some people, such as Thomas Jefferson and Voltaire, become deists in this phase. They feel that God is like a clock-maker, but their life and this world is a clock. The person in this phase can relate to God being "energy," and "the force," but not a being typical of intervening in human's lives, or capable of performing miracles. 
"Is your spiritual life unique and personal? Do you think of God primarily as an impersonal force or spirit (or as nonexistent)?"
*MANY ADULTS, according to Rev. Scotty McLennan, do not reach this stage. Typically, if it is reached, it is in the thirties or forties. *

"Paradoxical God"
Old traditions now hold new power. The individual at one time took Communion believing it was the Body of Christ. They since have either not been to church in some time, or when they take it, only do so for the sake of society; it no longer held symbolic meaning. At this stage, the individual can realize the paradox of God. They can read scriptures at the "literal, allegorical, historical, conceptual, poetic, and inspirational levels." These people are open to dialogue between different religions and traditions. 

"Do you find a spiritual community important to you at the same time that you maintain your own distinctive faith? Do you experience spiritual power in symbols and myths that you can also analyze objectively? Do you conceive God as both person and as an impersonal force?"

"All-Pervasive God"
This stage is also known as "enlightenment." Most adults to not experience this stage. If they do, they typically do briefly, and slide back to stage five.
"Do you sense yourself in community with religiously committed people of any and all traditions? Is your consciousness ego-free and beyond paradox and ambiguity? Do you often feel that God or divine spirit is in everything and that everything exists in God or divine spirit?"

I find these phases fascinating. I can't wait to dive deeper in this book, and in my own religious maturation. 


  1. When I was growing up, as a Christian, I sometimes got the idea that if I participated in some ritual from another religion that clearly I was a heretic to my own religion. https://www.eyeofthepsychic.com/