January 25, 2013

Rachel Held Evans

Rachel Held Evans is a writer I've recently started to take an interest in. I read about her first book, Evolving in Monkey Town, some time ago, and put it on my "to read" list, but it's a long list and I haven't gotten around to it yet. But I've visited her blog a few times, and I really like what I've been reading. (That's not something I can say about a lot of Evangelicals!)

Her post yesterday, "The Scandal of the Evangelical Heart," was the best one I've read so far (today's follow-up: also good). She talks about the monstrous consequences of divorcing emotions from theology:
So long as an idea seems logical, so long as it fits consistently with the favored theological paradigm, it seems to matter not whether it is morally reprehensible at an intuitive level. I suspect this is why this new breed of rigid Calvinism that follows the “five points” to their most logical conclusion, without regard to the moral implications of them, has flourished in the past twenty years. (I heard a theology professor explain the other day that he had no problem whatsoever with God orchestrating evil acts to accomplish God’s will, for that is what is required for God to be fully sovereign! When asked if this does not make God something of a monster, he responded that it didn’t matter; God is God—end of story.)
The Calvinist belief in the "sovereignty" of God—often understood to mean that God controls absolutely everything that happens, wearing the universe like a puppet—is probably motivated by a desire to glorify God, to ensure that God is not thought to be less than what God is. The irony is that it easily turns God into a monster, a sad fact that is well illustrated by a quote from John Piper that serves as an epigraph to Evans's post. She only quotes part of what Piper said; I'll quote a little bit more:
It's right for God to slaughter women and children anytime he pleases. God gives life and he takes life. Everybody who dies, dies because God wills that they die.

God is taking life every day. He will take 50,000 lives today. Life is in God's hand. God decides when your last heartbeat will be, and whether it ends through cancer or a bullet wound. God governs.

So God is God! He rules and governs everything. And everything he does is just and right and good. God owes us nothing.

If I were to drop dead right now, or a suicide bomber downstairs were to blow this building up and I were blown into smithereens, God would have done me no wrong. He does no wrong to anybody when he takes their life, whether at 2 weeks or at age 92.
Yes, you read that right: if you were to die in a suicide bombing, it would be because God willed it, and it would be just and right and good.

If that's the case, what could it possibly mean to say that "God is love"? (1 John 4.8, 16)

(I hope the Rachel Held Evanses of the Evangelical world become more influential than the John Pipers.)

January 20, 2013

Water into Wine: John 2.1-11

Today we read John 2.1-11, the story of the wedding at Cana, where Jesus turns six large jars of water into wine.

I have to admit, this is not a story I've given much thought to in the past. It's not simply that it's unbelievable,1 because there are other stories in the Gospels that are also unbelievable, but I have still found meaning in them. But this miracle story has always struck me as a little bit frivolous, like it's a silly party trick.

I've changed my mind about that, though, and the key is understanding the symbolism of the jars.

The stone jars, we're told, were "for the Jewish rites of purification" (v.6). They were made of stone because stone would not become ritually contaminated or impure. Normally a family would only have one such jar, but here there are six.

Some scholars claim that the reason for this is to give Jesus a large quantity of water to work with. "This exaggeration," says one, "owes to the narrator’s desire to represent a miracle of transformation of super proportions in this story."2 Another says, "the great quantity they contained," was meant to reflect "the fullness of Christ’s grace."3 Perhaps.

Some scholars, on the other hand, have suggested that the number six is meant to be understood symbolically. Andrew Lincoln, for example, writes, "The number six may well...represent the imperfection of insufficiency of the old order of Judaism."4 The transformation of the water into wine represents the coming of the new order represented by Jesus:
In the Jewish Scriptures wine in abundance signifies the salvation of the end time—'The time is surely coming, says the Lord, when...the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it. I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel,...they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine' (Amos 9:13–14; cf. also Isa. 25:6; Jer. 31:12; Joel 3:18)...In addition, wine stands for life and joy (cf. Ps. 104:15; Eccl. 10:19; Sir. 31:27–8; 40:20). In inaugurating the new order, Jesus provides life that is to be enjoyed.5
Such a reading inevitably brings up the problem of anti-Judaism in the Fourth Gospel, which is obviously a matter of concern. But I would suggest that this text can be understood as conveying something that is actually faithful to the transformation that Jesus sought to bring about through his ministry.

This Gospel's frequent portrayal of "the Jews" as Jesus's opponents is obviously problematic, and not something Jesus himself would have recognized. But we shouldn't forget that, during his actual lifetime, Jesus was often in conflict with some of his fellow Jews, specifically about their way of being Jewish.

Often the point of contention was the purity code of the Torah. Jesus had little time for the purity code, particularly when following it meant victimizing others. The concern for purity, for recognizing distinctions between "clean" and "unclean," belongs to a relatively immature (but very common) stage of religious development. It creates binary oppositions between classes of people, generally favouring one side to the detriment of the other.

Jesus sought to overcome this by promoting an ethic that valued compassion over purity, but the defenders of the purity system—people who benefitted from being in the favoured side of each binary—predictably resisted. His opponents were mostly Jewish, yes—but the kind of thinking he opposed was (and is) found in every religion, including our own.

The transformation of water into wine represents the transformation we are undergoing, and have always been undergoing: the growth beyond the divisive ways of thinking that denigrate large segments of humanity in support of one favoured class, people who resist the new order represented by Jesus, and the belief that "life...is to be enjoyed."

[1] That this is not an historical event would be affirmed by "virtually all mainstream scholars," according to Marcus J. Borg (Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary, 57).  While many scholars would dismiss it out of hand simply for being a "miracle," there are plenty of reasons someone who is open to the possibility of miracles might nevertheless arrive at the same judgment. The most extensive argument I've yet come across is from John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew, 2.934-950.

[2] Ernst Haenchen, John (Hermeneia), 1.173.

[3] George R. Beasley-Murray, John (WBC), 35.

[4] Lincoln, The Gospel According to Saint John (BNTC), 129. Raymond Brown dismissed the attempt to find symbolism in the number six as "farfetched" (The Gospel According to John [AYB], 1.100), but he didn't elaborate.

[5] Lincoln, 129.

January 18, 2013

The Human Origin of the Bible

This post originally appeared on my first blog, Far from Rome, in August 2008.

Marcus J. Borg, in his terrific book Reading the Bible Again for the First Time, describes two different ways of looking at the Bible.

The more traditional way is to see the Bible as a divine product:
The inspiration of scripture is understood to mean that God guided the writing of the Bible, directly or indirectly. What scripture says, then, ultimately comes from God.1
The alternative is to see the Bible as a human product, which is the way Borg proposes.

I suspect a lot of people are somewhere in the middle, acknowledging to one degree or another than humans were involved in the writing, while maintaining at the same time that God was somehow involved, at least some of the time.

Borg anticipates this possible objection, but rejects it:
Why see the question as an either-or choice? Why not see the Bible as both divine and human? In my experience, affirming that it is both only compounds the confusion.2
The problem, he points out, is that when the Bible is seen as both divine and human in origin -- or partly divine and partly human -- it tends to lead to the attempt to separate what comes from God from what is merely human. To discern, in other words, what parts we have to take really seriously, and what parts we can dispense with. The problem with this is obvious enough:
[T]he parts that we think come from God are normally the parts we see as important, and thus we simply confer divine authority on what matters to us, whether we be conservatives or liberals.3
So there are some people, for example, who insist that everyone observe the prohibition of homosexual behaviour, while showing little or no concern for those who violate the prohibition of planting two kinds of seed in the same field (Lev 19.19), or for women who braid their hair, or wearing gold jewellery (1 Tim 2.9).

It does sort of raise the question, though: There are countless books that are "merely human" in origin -- why even bother with the Bible at all?

Some other time.


1. Borg, Reading, 22. [Back]

2. Borg, Reading, 26. [Back]

3. Borg, Reading, 27. [Back]

January 12, 2013

Speaking Christian by Marcus J. Borg

The use of Christian language “is in a state of crisis,” writes Marcus Borg in the first chapter of his latest work, Speaking Christian. Familiar words have taken on different meanings over time, but most of us are unaware of the change. The problem afflicts both Christian and non-Christian alike.

This book seeks to redeem some of the most important words Christians use, words like “salvation,” “redemption,” “mercy,” “sin,” and many others. The book has twenty five chapters, some quite short, and all but three of them devoted to just one or two Christian terms or concepts.

The primary culprits in this “state of crisis” are “the literalization of language in the modern period,” and the interpretation of this language within what Borg calls the framework of “heaven and hell” Christianity. Another is the widespread religious illiteracy of our increasingly secular age. (The reality is rather more complicated than that, but basically I agree with Borg on this point.)

Christians, particularly in the U.S., are deeply divided between two different ways of using Christian language. On one side are those who “believe that biblical language is to be understood literally within a heaven-and-hell framework that emphasizes the afterlife, sin and forgiveness, Jesus dying for our sins, and believing.” On the other side are the rest of us, some unsure how to understand Christian language, and others who have moved on to some other understanding. “The differences are so sharp,” he says, “that they virtually produce two different religions, both using the same Bible and the same language.”

Borg’s critique of the “heaven and hell” framework, by which he means the “understanding of Christianity that most Protestants and Catholics shared in common and thus took for granted not very long ago,” elaborates a point he’s made in some of his previous books (indeed, much of this book will be quite familiar to those who have read his previous work, which comes as no surprise—Borg has always been somewhat repetitious).

The widespread assumption, shared by both Christians and non-Christians alike, is that the Christian message is primarily concerned with the afterlife. Heaven is, according to this view, “the reason for being Christian”:
Life after death was so important in the form of Christianity that I absorbed growing up that if somebody had convinced me when I was twelve or so that there was no afterlife, I would have had no idea what Christianity was about or why I should be Christian.
Connected with this is “sin,” which is understood as “the central issue in our life with God.” What we need above all is forgiveness, which is where Jesus comes in. For many Christians, “what matters about Jesus is that he died for our sins, so that we can be forgiven and go to heaven.” And what makes this possible is “having faith,” which is generally identified with “believing, understood as affirming a core set of statements to be true.”

These four elements, all of which are quite problematic, combine to create a framework through which Christian language is commonly interpreted. So, for instance, “salvation” becomes synonymous with “going to heaven,” despite the fact that it rarely if ever has that meaning in the Bible. To be “redeemed” has come to mean being “saved from sin,” even though in the Bible it refers to being “set free from slavery,” sometimes metaphorically, and sometimes not.

Borg considers whether traditional language should be replaced rather than redeemed. One proponent of replacement, he says, is Gretta Vosper, a pastor in the United Church of Canada. In her book With or Without God, Vosper argued that Christian language is a serious obstacle to the growth of the church. Outsiders visiting a church are likely to be turned off by language that, even if not meant literally, will inevitably be heard that way, at least at first.

Borg, though, prefers redeeming the language, and I agree with him. I read Vosper’s book when it first came out a few years ago, and found it quite unsatisfying. It includes an appendix featuring some examples of the prayers she uses at her church, which are quite radically un-traditional. Language is such an integral part of a religious tradition that it cannot be replaced to any great extent without becoming another religion. There is much to be gained by reclaiming traditional language and much to be lost by replacing it.

Christians of a more progressive bent will find much to like about this book, particularly if they are new to Borg. Like all of his work, it is well organized and written with great clarity. Readers familiar with his earlier works will find few surprises, but will probably find it worth reading, as I did.

Did the First Christians Worship Jesus? by James D. G. Dunn

In the introduction to his latest book, James D.G. Dunn writes:
The title of this book is of course controversial--intentionally so, because the issue itself is unavoidably controversial--Did the First Christians Worship Jesus? The immediate answer that most Christians will want to give is, 'Of course they did.'
Such Christians might well be surprised--possibly even disturbed--by the answer Dunn gives in his conclusion. The book is brief--only 151 pages, not including the bibliography and indices--but his examination of the evidence is very thorough, and his conclusion is well argued. He frequently interacts with the work of two other British scholars who have paid considerable attention to this question--and answered it in the affirmative--Larry Hurtado and Richard Bauckham.

One problem that confronts anyone who seriously engages with this question is the meaning of the term "worship." Dunn suggests that, whatever else it might mean, it amounts to an affirmation of the deity of the one worshipped. His first chapter considers the language of worship in the New Testament, which clearly demonstrates the problem. The most common word translated as "worship" is the verb proskynein, which generally means "(fall down and) worship, do obeisance to, prostrate oneself before, do reverence to, welcome respectfully," according to the authoritative Bauer-Danker lexicon. Often the word is indeed used to denote an action directed toward God. Other times, however, these same words simply mean bowing down or prostrating oneself before a superior, as when Jacob bows down before his brother Esau (Gen 33.3 LXX), or when a slave in one of Jesus's parables falls down on his knees before his master (Matt 18.26). So when proskynein is used to describe an action done toward Jesus, which is it? An affirmation of his deity (worship), or merely bowing down before a superior?

Other terms are similarly ambiguous. The ones that are not--such as the verb latreuein and it's corresponding noun, latreia--describe actions that are always directed toward God, never to Jesus. As far as the language of worship goes, the answer to the question would seem to be, as Dunn puts it, "'Generally no', or 'Only occasionally', or 'Only with some reserve.'"

Dunn next looks at the practice of worship, which is divided into four categories: prayer, hymns, sacred places/times/meals/people, and finally sacrifice. With the exception of sacred meals, where the "Lord's dinner/supper" (later, the "Eucharist") seems to reflect "a devotion to Christ that at least is not far from worship," there is little that would change the tentative answer reached by the end of the first chapter. Dunn finds that the distinctive practice of the earliest Christians might suggest that the question itself is misguided. He suggests instead that we should be asking whether early Christian worship was possible without reference to Christ, and also whether such worship was in part directed toward him, or only to God.

Dunn takes the next several chapters to answer these questions. He looks at how early ways of expressing "high christology" compare with Jewish ways of conceiving the immanence of God during the Second Temple period, for example, as Spirit, Wisdom, or Word. Since early high christologies appropriated these ideas, the question of whether they were ever considered the proper object of worship is quite relevant. He also questions whether the NT writers thought of Jesus as sharing in the "divine identity" of the one God of Israel, as Richard Bauckham maintains, ultimately concluding that they did not.

Dunn concludes his book with his final answer to the question. He notes that
there are problems, even dangers, in Christian worship if it is defined too simply as worship of Jesus. For, if what has emerged in this inquiry is taken seriously, it soon becomes evident that Christian worship can deteriorate into what may be called Jesus-olatry. That is, not simply into worship of Jesus, but into a worship that falls short of the worship due to the one God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
This struck me as quite an honest admission from someone who is apparently an Evangelical (something I've had difficulty confirming). But this will not surprise anyone familiar with Dunn's work. I have always found him to be an honest and rigorous scholar.

I really enjoyed this book. Dunn, a Scot who taught for many years at the University of Durham, always writes in an engaging and accessible style. He is quite thorough in his investigation, and I think he weighs the evidence carefully and fairly. I sometimes wondered if he wasn't being a little too thorough, considering "evidence" that would scarcely make a difference regardless of how it was evaluated, but this is a minor quibble. The implications of his basically negative answer are not insignificant, but I imagine this will be most true for those Protestants who are loathe to admit any serious post-biblical development to their understanding of the Christian faith. Nevertheless, this book raises some questions that every thoughtful Christian should think about, and I highly recommend it.

Deeper Than Words by Br. David Steindl-Rast

There is something a bit jarring about seeing the words “Apostles’ Creed” and “Foreword by His Holiness the Dalai Lama” printed on the cover of a book, but the name of the author reassures us that somehow it will end up making a great deal of sense.

That’s because the author is Brother David Steindl-Rast, an Austrian-born Benedictine monk, who is one of the great teachers in our Church. He has been a leading figure in the Church’s dialog with Buddhism, a tradition for which he has developed considerable sympathies. He describes in the introduction how he came to write this book at the urging of the Dalai Lama, and why he chose the Apostles’ Creed, of all things:
In interreligious dialogue we tend to quote from our respective traditions those passages that the others are most likely to find acceptable. But increasingly this had begun to seem a bit superficial to me. I had come to feel that for genuine agreement we would have to go deeper; we would have to test whether even the least likely texts—say, a creed—could help deepen interreligious understanding. Wars have been fought even among co-religionists over these succinct summaries of essential beliefs. A creed would thus make the perfect touchstone for the possibility of interreligious agreement on that deep level where it matters. That's why I chose the Apostles' Creed—the oldest of the Christian creeds—and thus this book came about.
The Creed basically provides Brother David with his Table of Contents: there are twenty four chapters, each devoted to one line (or in a couple of cases, part of a line) of the Creed.

Each chapter is divided into four sections. Referring to the line in the Creed that serves as the title of the chapter, he asks, “What does this really mean?” and he offers an interpretation of the line. Then he asks, “How do we know this is so?” and explains his answer to the first question. He then asks, “Why make such a point of this?” which he answers by explaining why this matters to us today. Finally, he ends each chapter with his personal reflections.

There wasn’t a single chapter in this book that I didn’t find deeply thought provoking. Brother David takes the familiar words of the Creed—words that for many people have become stale and lifeless, if the droning recitation one hears in Church is any indication—and reveals unfamiliar depths of meaning, reading the Creed as a faith proclamation in poetry, rather than a prosaic checklist of beliefs.

His non-literal interpretation of the Creed will probably not endear him to the mythic membership crowd. Anyone looking for a reflection on a literal virgin birth or ascension into heaven will be disappointed. But even the events Brother David acknowledges as historical—suffering under Pontius Pilate, crucifixion, death and burial, etc.—are here interpreted as having a deep and enduring significance, well beyond their historical facticity.

Readers of Brother David’s previous works will not be surprised to find frequent quotations of poetry. He quotes from Gerard Manley Hopkins, Theodore Roethke, Jessica Powers, Mary Oliver, Kabir, and Patricia Campbell Carlson, among others. I often get a little impatient when writers quote poetry, but in Brother David’s work poetry is never used as mere ornamentation or for showing off.

After reading the introduction (and the foreword by the Dalai Lama) I expected there would be more frequent references to Buddhism than there actually were. But this is quite thoroughly a Christian book, in a very catholic, which is to say “all-embracing,” way. Indeed, his rather generous interpretations of the Creed’s “Holy Catholic Church” and “Communion of Saints” will leave exclusivists shaking their heads in indignation. (This is not a criticism, just an observation.)

So how, then, does Brother David further the cause of interreligious understanding? He does not do this by suggesting that the Christian beliefs expressed in the Apostles’ Creed are the same as those expressed by Buddhists or Hindus. Rather, he shows that the essential Christian message is a universal message of faith and love, of belonging and sharing, that transcends the boundary lines we draw around ourselves in the name of religion.

The great scholar of religion Huston Smith wrote of this book:
I have always felt that in endorsing a book I was honoring the book and its author. Brother David’s Deeper Than Words, however, brought a new and startling sensation: I found myself sensing that the book was honoring me by allowing me to endorse it. Never before have I felt this way about a book.
I feel much the same way. This is truly a very special book.

A New Kind of Christianity by Brian D. McLaren

I picked up this book with some ambivalence. When I've read Brian McLaren's work in the past, I could tell that he was a progressive thinker with a deep understanding of why and where the Christian religion needs to change, but I could never shake the suspicion that he was holding something back. This was understandable--he writes, I think, for a largely Evangelical audience, so it is not surprising that he would sugarcoat his more progressive ideas to make them palatable to his not-particularly-progressive audience. But I'm not a part of that audience, and I didn't think I had much to learn from him.

The reviews for this book persuaded me to give it a shot, and I'm glad I did, because it's quite good. McLaren seems no longer to be restraining himself and has put forth an unabashedly progressive vision for a new kind of Christianity. For the progressive Christian reader he covers a lot of familiar ground, but he does so with arguments and examples that are lucid and, for me anyway, quite novel.

The larger part of the book deals with the "Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith." (A less optimistic person would describe them as "Ten Contentious Issues That Are Dividing the Church.")

The first concerns the "overarching story line of the Bible," which McLaren argues is quite different from the Creation/Fall/Redemption narrative most Christians have been taught, explicitly or not. He describes the latter as a "six-line narrative," beginning with perfection in the Garden of Eden, then "the Fall" into original sin, and then a period of condemnation. Following this is the coming of Christ, where the path splits in two directions: salvation and heaven for some, damnation and hell (understood as "eternal conscious torment") for others.

McLaren notes that this story can lead to an understanding of the meaning of our earthly existence as simply a process of "soul-sorting," where the purpose of our lives is to "deliver souls into their appropriate eternal bin." He also notes that a lot of people have been questioning this storyline, and suggesting ways in which it needs to be tweaked, but too few have actually questioned if this story "is morally believable" or "whether it can be found in the Bible itself." (He argues that it's not and that it can't.)

This is mostly good stuff, and I agree that understanding our existence this way is a gross distortion of the message of Jesus. Unfortunately, McLaren stumbles a bit when he blames it on the "Greco-Romanization" of the Church, which he understands as the appropriation by the Church of the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle. This is the weakest part of the book, as McLaren misrepresents both of those philosophers and the ways they influenced Christian theology. He does this as part of the creation of a "Greco-Roman" bogeyman, complete with its own god, "Theos," against which he can juxtapose the more authentic and more Jewish narrative he wants to promote. (He would do well to follow the advice of Albert Einstein: "Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.") In fairness to McLaren, he does acknowledge later on that it is too simple to "blame all our problems on the the Greco-Roman captivity of the biblical narrative." But that doesn't solve the problem of what he wrote earlier, which will turn off most people who actually know something about Greek philosophy.

McLaren finds another source of the Church's ills is the tendency to read the Bible as if it was a legal constitution that is univocal and internally consistent, instead of seeing it as a community library that contains a number of often dissonant voices and preserves the "vigorous internal debate around key questions that were precious to the theological culture in which it was produced." McLaren describes a number of ways the constitutional approach to the Bible has been used to justify evils like slavery and to condemn advances in science. Many Christians like to imagine that such abuses belong exclusively to the past, but McLaren disagrees, pointing to the widespread hostility toward homosexuals by those who read the Bible constitutionally as an example.

For many progressive Christians, a lot of what McLaren writes will sound familiar: Jesus' message about the "kingdom of God," commonly (and erroneously) understood as pertaining exclusively or at least primarily to the afterlife, is much more about transformation in this life; he points out that Jesus's message was not about converting from one religion to another, and this has implications for how Christians should relate to people of other faiths. Those familiar with the thought of Ken Wilber will see his influence in the last part of the book.

None of this is earth-shattering, but McLaren articulates it very clearly and has a knack for teasing out the perverse implications of some common Christian beliefs, often in ways I had never thought of. At the same time, he recognises that this new kind of Christianity isn't for everyone, and I disagree with his critics who claim that he is disrespectful or condescending towards those who disagree with him. On the contrary, he is unfailingly nice, which is probably why so many of his critics have labeled him a "wolf in sheep's clothing."

But McLaren is not a wolf, and he's not pretending to be a sheep. He's trying to show people that they don't need to be sheep, either. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in progressive Christianity, and I think this would be a great book to give to someone who is beginning to grow out of their conventional faith.

Lonergan's Cognitional Theory

What am I doing when I am knowing?

One’s answer to this question, as I noted earlier, will be a cognitional theory. Lonergan believed that in order to know how we come to know anything, we need to pay close attention to the things that go on in our consciousness.

He listed the following as the “basic pattern of operations”:
seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, tasting, inquiring, imagining, understanding, conceiving, formulating, reflecting, marshalling and weighing the evidence, judging, deliberating, evaluating, deciding, speaking, writing.1
Presumably most if not all of these operations are familiar to you.

The first thing to be noted is that all of these operations are intentional. This is another potentially misleading term. The most common meaning of this term is roughly synonymous with the word “deliberate,” but that is not how Lonergan is using it here. He is referring to the fact that each of these operations requires an object. So, for example, one cannot see without seeing something, nor can one imagine without imagining something, and so on. The something in each case is what Lonergan calls the object.2

Lonergan further explains,
To say that the operations intend objects is to refer to such facts as that by seeing there becomes present what is seen, by hearing there becomes present what is heard, by imagining there becomes present what is imagined, and so on, where in each case the presence in question is a psychological event.3
Now, operations imply an operator, and the operator is called the subject. The operations are performed consciously, and it is through these operations that the operator is conscious.

The operations are diverse, and so too are the objects intended by them. Lonergan identified four levels of consciousness and intentionality:
  1. The empirical level, the level of experiencing: sensing, perceiving, imagining, feeling, and so on.
  2. The intellectual level, the level of understanding: inquiring, understanding, conceiving, and so on.
  3. The rational level, the level of judging: reflecting, marshalling and weighing the evidence, passing judgment on the truth or falsity, or the certainty or probability, of a statement.
  4. The responsible level, the level of deciding: considering possible courses of action, evaluating them, deciding whether to carry them out, etc.4
This is how Lonergan describes the subject’s movement through these levels:
Our consciousness expands in a new dimension when from mere experiencing we turn to the effort to understand what we have experienced. A third dimension of rationality emerges when the content of our acts of understanding is regarded as, of itself, a mere bright idea and we endeavor to settle what really is so. A fourth dimension comes to the fore when judgment on the facts is followed by deliberation on what we are to do about them.5
More succinctly, we can say that every act of knowing involves a pattern of experiencing, understanding, and judging. [The fourth level, of deciding, while extremely important, is not constitutive of knowing as such. We come to know many things without making any decision about what to do them. The responsible level will be treated separately.] I’ll briefly describe each level, leaving a more detailed explanation (with concrete examples) for later:

Experiencing. If someone is in a deep coma, or is undergoing dreamless sleep, they cannot come to know anything. So experiencing is necessarily a part of knowing. But, contrary to the claims of empiricist philosophy, experience it is not in itself constitutive of knowledge. What we experience is, by itself, nothing more than scraps of data.  

Understanding. To the data of our experience we put the question, “What is it?” Lonergan calls this the “question for intelligence.” Our answer comes in the form of an insight. We have an insight whenever we come to understand something. Merely arriving at an insight is not constitutive of knowledge, either. Our answer to the question “What is it?” might well be correct, but it could also be incorrect.

 Judging. With regard to our insight we ask the question, “Is it so?” This is the “question for reflection.” It’s here that we judge whether there is adequate grounds to support our initial insight. The question for reflection is answered with a further insight, what Lonergan calls a reflective insight. That, in a nutshell, is Lonergan’s answer (as I understand it, anyway) to the question, “What am I doing when I am knowing.” But why is doing that knowing? That is the second basic question which I’ll take up next.

The next post in this series, “Epistemology,” is forthcoming.


1. Bernard Lonergan, Method in Theology, 6.

2. For a helpful explanation of the various meanings of “intention” and “intentionality,” see Michael Vertin, "Intention, Intentionality." The New Dictionary of Catholic Spirituality. Michael Downey, ed. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2000: 542-543.

3. Lonergan, Method, 7.

4. Lonergan, Method, 9.

5. Lonergan, Method, 9.

Lonergan's Three Basic Questions

Bernard Lonergan said that the human person “achieves authenticity in self-transcendence.”1

Self-transcendence can be cognitive or moral. In cognitive self-transcendence I attain knowledge of that which is beyond myself. The judgment I make concerns “not what appears to me, not what I imagine, not what I think, not what I wish, not what I would be inclined to say, not what seems to me, but what is so.”2

Moral self-transcendence is attained when I judge that this or that is not only apparently good, but is truly good (or, conversely, not only apparently bad, but truly bad), independently of my thinking so.

Lonergan’s account of how we achieve self-transcendence, which he called “Transcendental Method,” is his most important contribution to philosophy. I’m going to spend a little while discussing it.

Consider the following three questions:
  • What am I doing when I am knowing?
  • Why is doing that knowing?
  • What do I know when I do it?
Lonergan held that a person’s answers to these questions will be, respectively, their cognitional theory, their epistemology, and their metaphysics.3

It is important to clarify what Lonergan meant (or didn’t mean) by some of these terms. By “knowing” he did not simply mean “possessing knowledge.” We possess a lot of knowledge attained in the past, and we aren’t really doing anything with it most of the time. What he meant by “knowing” is the process of coming to know something.

Another potentially misleading term is “metaphysics.” Some people are quite turned off by this term, equating it with a kind of outmoded philosophical speculation unsupported by any kind of evidence. This is certainly not how Lonergan uses it. Indeed, he described his metaphysics as “verifiable,” and as we will see, this is exactly what it is.

I’m going to quickly go through Lonergan’s answers to each of the three questions, and then provide more detailed explanations with some concrete examples.


1. Lonergan, Method in Theology, 104.

2. Lonergan, Method, 104; emphasis added.

3. Lonergan, Method, 25.

Lonergan on the Problem of Authenticity

In our time, said the Jesuit philosopher Bernard Lonergan, an "agonizing question" has arisen, "namely, how can one tell whether one's appropriation of religion is genuine or unauthentic and, more radically, how can one tell one is not appropriating a religious tradition that has become unauthentic."1

So the problem of authenticity occurs on two levels: the minor level of the individual in relation to their tradition, and the major level of the tradition itself.2

On a minor level, individual people might “ask themselves whether or not they are genuine Catholics or Protestants, Moslems or Buddhists,” etc. They might conclude that they are, and they may be correct—but they might also be incorrect. They may have appropriated some of the ideals demanded by the tradition, but there are other ways in which they have diverged from the tradition.
Whether from selective inattention, or a failure to understand, or an undetected rationalization, the divergence exists. What I am is one thing, what a genuine Christian is is another, and I am unaware of the difference. My unawareness is unexpressed. Indeed, I have no language to express what I really am, so I use the language of the tradition I unauthentically appropriate, and thereby I devaluate, distort, water down, corrupt that language.3
It’s important to understand what he is and is not saying here. He is not saying that there is one true form of a religious tradition, and that any divergence from that one true form is tantamount to inauthenticity. (Note that where Lonergan uses “unauthentic,” etc., I find it more natural to write “inauthentic.” I mean the same thing.) On the contrary, there is always the possibility of authentic progress when people understand the genuine ideals of their tradition and know what they’re doing when they effect change. It’s when people are inauthentic—when they are insufficiently attentive, when they fail to understand or be fully reasonable or responsible—that they appropriate their tradition inauthentically.
Such devaluation, distortion, corruption may occur only in scattered individuals, and then there occurs unauthenticity in its minor form. But it may also occur on a more massive scale, and then the words are repeated but the meaning is gone. The chair is still the chair of Moses, but it is occupied by scribes and Pharisees. The theology is still Scholastic, but the Scholasticism is decadent. The religious order still reads out the rules and studies the constitutions, but one may doubt whether the home fires are still burning.4
When a tradition becomes inauthentic, and when an individual takes that inauthentic tradition as normative, the best they can do authentically realise inauthenticity. This, Lonergan says, “is unauthenticity in its tragic form, for then the best of intentions combine with a hidden decay.”5

When this is the case, the individual has to meet the problem of authenticity on both levels: “Not only have they to undo their own lapses from righteousness,” Lonergan says, “but more grievously they have to discover what is wrong in the tradition they have inherited and they have to struggle against the massive undertow it sets up.”6

Lonergan adds that “the problem is not tradition but unauthenticity in the formation and transmission of tradition. The cure is not the undoing of tradition but the undoing of its unauthenticity”:7
The cure is not the undoing of tradition, for that is beyond our power. It is only through socialization, acculturation, education, that we come to know that there is such a thing as tradition, that it has its defects, its dangers, its seductions, that there are evils to be remedied. To learn as much is already to be a product of the tradition, to share its biases, to be marked in a manner that we can change only in the light of what we have learnt and in the directions that such learning opens up. However much we may react, criticize, endeavor to bring about change, the change itself will always be just another stage of the tradition, at most a new era, but one whose motives and whose goals—for all their novelty—will bear the imprint of their past. The issue is not tradition, for as long as men survive, there will be tradition, rich or impoverished, good and evil. The issue is the struggle of authenticity against unauthenticity, and that struggle is part and parcel of the human condition…8
The struggle against the minor form of inauthenticity has long been recognised. So St. Paul, for instance, exhorted the Corinthians, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are living in the faith,” (2 Cor 13.5) to see, that is, whether you have authentically appropriated what has been handed down to you. It seems to me that the need for this particular struggle is universally recognised, even if it is not universally achieved.

The need for the more radical struggle, on the other hand, is a matter of some controversy. While there are many who recognise that their tradition has been distorted by inauthenticity, there many more who do not. There are some, indeed, who think it rather impious merely to consider the idea. Much of the conflict in the Church is over precisely this point, so it is a matter of considerable importance.

The authenticity of a tradition depends on the personal authenticity of the individuals who begin and transmit the tradition (which ultimately amounts to everyone within the tradition, to some extent). So it is important to understand what personal authenticity involves. I’ll continue by exploring some of his ideas on the subject.


1. Lonergan, “Religious Knowledge,” 130. (All of the quotations in this post have been taken from two lectures Lonergan gave in 1976 that were subsequently published in A Third Collection. Some of the material Lonergan used in his lecture can be found in Lonergan, Method in Theology, 80.

2. See Lonergan, “Religious Experience,” 120.

3. Lonergan, “Religious Experience,” 121.

4. Lonergan, “Religious Experience,” 121.

5. Lonergan, “Religious Experience,” 121.

6. Lonergan, “Religious Experience,” 121.

7. Lonergan, “Religious Experience,” 121-122.

8. Lonergan, “Religious Experience,” 122.

January 3, 2013

What Is Integral Christianity?

[This post was originally published in July 2011 on an earlier version of this blog. I have kept the original online because it received some thoughtful comments that I think are worth saving.]

My blog header indicates that this is "a blog about Integral Christianity," but I haven't explained yet what I mean by that.

First I should clarify what I mean by "Christianity." For many people, Christianity centers around belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ; any religious tradition that does not do this is something other than "Christian." It seems to me, though, that the death and resurrection of Jesus were not central to the message of Jesus himself, so I don't see why it should be central for us.

I prefer to think of Christianity as encompassing every tradition that is understood by its adherents to be committed to the Christian message, however understood. This last phrase—"however understood"—is important, because it's not obvious precisely what "the Christian message" is. It's not a given, even if most Christians imagine that it is. Part of being a Christian means seeking to understand "the Christian message" and striving to live by it.

Our understanding of "the Christian message" is necessarily an interpretation, and every interpretation is undertaken from some perspective or another. An Integral approach to Christianity will try to understand the Christian message from as many perspectives as possible.

There is no shortage of perspectives within the church. This fact is deplored by many, who believe that only one perspective—their own, naturally—should be tolerated. Others pay lip service to the idea of pluralism, but are often quite dismissive, ironically, of those who don't share their enthusiasm for diversity.

Rather than bemoaning or celebrating the diversity of perspectives, I think it is more important to understand it. Why do Christians so often disagree with one another?

One reason, I'm convinced, is that there are many stages of development along a number of different lines: cognitive, spiritual, moral, etc. Something like this has been acknowledged within the Christian tradition from very early on. Paul was already distinguishing between the "spiritual" and "mature" on the one hand, and the "unspiritual" on the other, in his correspondence with the Corinthians (see 1 Cor 2.6-15), and the concept of the "three ages"—"beginner," "proficient," and "perfect"—was developed by patristic thinkers like Origen and Augustine.1

More modern and scientific models, like the seven-stage theory of James W. Fowler, shed a lot of light, I think, on why there are such divisions in the church. Everyone recognises that there are developmental differences between children and adults, but it is not sufficiently recognised that there are significant developmental differences between adults as well. An Integral approach to Christianity has to recognise this.

Not all differences in perspective can be attributed to developmental stages, of course. In a religious context we also have to take into account different states of consciousness, particularly those that we would associate with religious experiences. The relationship between stages and states, which has most successfully been explained by the philosopher Ken Wilber,2 is something that also needs to be understood.

Certainly there is more to it than this, but hopefully this gives some idea of where I'm planning on going with this blog.


1. The Greek word translated "perfect," teleios, is the same word translated "mature" in the passage from 1 Corinthians mentioned above. It does not mean "flawless" as the word "perfect" has come to mean in modern English. The Latin perfectus has a similar semantic range. [Back]

2. See especially Wilber, Integral Spirituality, 88-93. [Back]

Stage 5: Conjunctive Faith

In Brief:
A movement beyond the dichotomizing logic of Stage 4, into a more dialogical or dialectical mode of thinking; develops a "second naiveté" in which symbolic power is reunited with conceptual meanings; greater openness to one's "deeper self," and recognition of the ways in which one's socialisation influences one's unconscious.
In Detail: This stage is normally attained, if it's attained at all, in early mid-life, though some will reach it earlier than that.1

"The name of this stage," Fowler explains, "implies a rejoining or a union of that which previously has been separated."2 Whereas those at the previous stage are prone to a dichotomizing logic (i.e., a tendency to think in terms of "either/or"), a more dialogical or dialectical way of thinking is characteristic of those in Stage 5.3 The name of this stage was inspired by Nicolas of Cusa's notion of the coincidentia oppositorum, "the 'coincidence of opposites' in our apprehensions of truth."4

Someone at this stage grasps the interrelatedness or interconnectedness of things. "In dialogical knowing," Fowler writes, "the known is invited to speak its own language… The knower seeks to accommodate her or his knowledge to the structure of that which is known before imposing her or his own categories upon it."5 This requires a certain amount of confidence on the part of the individual: "What the mystics call 'detachment' characterizes Stage 5's willingness to let reality speak its word, regardless of the impact of that word on the security or self-esteem of the knower."6

Fowler notes that the methods of reading the scriptures he learned in seminary—source criticism, form criticism, text criticism, etc.—were very Stage 4. It was only when he underwent spiritual direction in the Ignatian tradition (i.e., the Spiritual Exercises) that he learned "a method of working with scripture that breathed more of the spirit of Stage 5."7

His explanation of this is worth quoting at length:
The Ignatian approach did not require me to give up or negate my critical skills, but it did teach me to supplement them with a method in which I learned to relinquish initiative to the text. Instead of my reading, analyzing and extracting the meaning of a Biblical text, in Ignatian contemplative prayer I began to learn how to let the text read me and to let it bring my needs and the Spirit's movements within me to consciousness.8
He is describing, as he notes elsewhere, a movement beyond a merely critical way of reading into a post-critical mode. This applies not only to the reading of scripture, but to one's relationship with symbols in general.

We can best appreciate this by contrasting it with the previous two stages. Stage 3 (Synthetic-Conventional) does not separate symbols from their meaning. Not surprisingly, Stage 3 regards the "demythologization" strategy of Stage 4 as threatening.9 Those at Stage 4 (Individuative-Reflective) tend to see symbols as "media for meanings that can be expressed in other ways." "Conjunctive faith," Fowler writes, "cannot live with the demythologizing strategy of Stage 4 as regards the interpretation of story or myth or the understanding of symbol and liturgy":
Stage 4 is concerned to question symbolic representations and enactments and to force them to yield their meaning for translation into conceptual or propositional statements. As such, Individuative-Reflective faith wants to bring the symbolic representations into its (Stage 4's) circle of light and to operate on it, extracting its meanings. This leaves the person or group in Stage 4 clearly in control. The meaning so grasped may be illuminating, confronting, harshly judgmental or gently reassuring. But whatever its potential impact, its authentication and weight will be assigned in accordance with the assumptions and commitments that already shape the circle of light in which it is being question. It will not be granted the initiative.10
Conjunctive faith moves beyond the critical approach, not by retreating into the pre-critical mode of Stage 3, but by moving further into a post-critical mode. The critical skills are maintained, but the individual understands that they will not be transformed by that which is under their control. The critical tools of Stage 4 are trusted only "as tools to avoid self-deception and to order truths encountered in other ways."11 An individual at Stage 4 is content to equate "self" with their own conscious awareness of self, but at Stage 5 they will come to terms with their unconscious—"the unconscious personal, social and species or archetypal elements that are partly determinative of our actions and responses.. Stage 5 comes to terms with the fact that the conscious ego is not master in its own house."12 Finally, Stage 5 recognises that the symbols, doctrines, myths, etc., of their tradition are incomplete and partial. They are inevitable conditioned by the circumstances out of which they emerged. Therefore, many individuals at this stage will look beyond their own tradition:
Conjunctive faith…is ready for significant encounters with other traditions than its own, expecting that truth has disclosed and will disclose itself in those traditions in ways that may complement or correct its own.13
1. James W. Fowler, Stages of Faith, 198. The age distribution chart in Stages, 318 shows that 14.6% of Fowler's subjects aged 31-40 were solidly at Stage 5, and 3.3% of those were in Stages 4-5. This reflects research done in the 1970s; I suspect the number might be higher today.
2. Fowler, Faithful Change, 64.
3. Fowler, Stages, 185.
4. Fowler, Faithful, 64.
5. Fowler, Stages, 185.
6. Fowler, Stages, 185.
7. Fowler, Stages, 185-186. See Walter Wink, The Bible in Human Transformation, for a pretty good explanation of the difference between Stage 4 and Stage 5 ways of reading scripture. Unfortunately, Wink does not seem to appreciate that the ability to read scripture in the way he advocates requires a higher level of spiritual development than many historical critics have attained.
8. Fowler, Stages, 186.
9. Fowler, Stages, 163. Fundamentalism was largely a Stage 3 reaction to critical, Stage 4 methods of reading scripture. The fearful reaction against "modernism" in the Catholic Church, which is still ongoing, is similar, though not limited to ways of reading scripture.
10. Fowler, Stages, 187.
11. Fowler, Stages, 188.
12. Fowler, Stages, 186.

Stage 4: Individuative-Reflective Faith

In Brief:
The tacit system of the previous stage comes under critical scrutiny. Responsibility for making decisions about one’s goals and values, previously invested in others, is now taken into oneself. A demythologizing stage; symbols are translated into conceptual meanings.
In Detail: People tend to reach this stage in young adulthood, but Fowler notes that many people do not reach it at all, and a substantial number will reach it only in their mid-thirties or forties.1

The individual at the previous stage tends to identify their inherited belief-system with "the way things really are," and does not submit it to serious critical scrutiny. When such an individual leaves home—literally or figuratively—this state of affairs is often disrupted. Many people who go off to university or college, for example, encounter for the first time people with very different beliefs and values, and this often drives them to critically examine, for the first time, the assumptive system of values inherited from their family, church, etc.2

In so doing, it becomes possible to see how individuals—including oneself—are shaped by the communities of which they are apart. Beliefs and values that were previously held tacitly—that is, held implicitly, not subjected to critical scrutiny—now become explicit.

Personal identity in the previous stage is derived from membership in the various groups one belongs to, where face-to-face contact takes place—family, school, church, neighbourhood, etc. When we are removed from these various contexts we can gain a critical distance from the conventional beliefs these communities reinforce and explore other possibilities. (This is not to say that this has to happen, only that it is more likely to happen. Sometimes people will fall in with ideologically-composed groups that share the conventional beliefs of the communities they left behind, and this makes it harder for people to individuate with regard to their identity and outlook.)3

Fowler writes,
Many religious groups similarly reinforce a conventionally held and maintained faith system, sanctifying one's remaining in the dependence on external authority and derivative group identity of Stage 3. Marriage, for many young men and women, can serve to create a new Synthetic-Conventional ethos and because the couple are playing adult roles they are able, at least for a time, to evade the challenges of the individuative transition.4
This distancing from, and critical evaluation of, one's conventional belief system is the first of two movements that must take place. The other involves an interruption of one's reliance on external authority. Authority must be relocated within the self. This is not to say that external authorities cease to play a role in the lives of those who attain this stage, however:
While others and their judgments will remain important to the Individuative-Reflective person, their expectations, advice and counsel will be submitted to an internal panel of experts who reserve the right to choose and who are prepared to take responsibility for their choices.5
Sometimes, Fowler notes, people make one of these movements, but not the other. In leaving home—literally or figuratively—people may "undergo the relativization of their inherited world views and value systems," but their reliance on external authority is not interrupted, and may even be strengthened in order to cope with this relativization.6 On the other hand, some people break their reliance on external authority, but do not critically evaluate their inherited belief system. So in between Stage 3 and 4 are two transitional positions in which people might find a "potentially longlasting equilibrium."7

Those who do make the transition completely develop a greater awareness of their own ideology, as well as the external factors that have nurtured it, and they can understand the ideologies of other people in the same way. They also understand symbols and rituals in a very different way than before. In the past, these were "taken as mediating the sacred in direct ways" and were therefore seen as "sacred in themselves."8 In other words, people at Stage 3 tend not to distinguish between the symbol and what the symbol represents. At Stage 4, the meaning of a symbol can be distinguished and expressed without reference to the symbol. Fowler writes,
This demythologizing strategy, which seems natural to Stage 4, brings both gains and losses. Paul Tillich, writing about religious symbols and their powers, says that when a symbol is recognized to be a symbol by those who relate to the transcendent through it, it becomes a "broken symbol." A certain naive reliance upon and trust in the sacred power, efficacy and inherent truth of the symbol as representation is interrupted.9
For many people, this transition brings "a sense of loss, dislocation, grief and even guilt."10

"This transition," Fowler writes, "represents an upheaval in one's life at any point and can be protracted in its process for five to seven years or longer."11 This is less of a problem for younger people, as it can be "a natural accompaniment of leaving home and of the construction of a first, provisional adult life structure" (182). For those who are more established in this structure—those in their 30s or 40s—it can be more disruptive and difficult.

With the transition to Individuative-Reflective, Fowler explains, the individual begins "to take seriously the burden of responsibility for his or her own commitments, lifestyle, beliefs and attitudes."12 Previously, the individual's faith was in large measure chosen for them. They were Catholic or Protestant or Jewish or Muslim because they were raised that way. Authority is located externally to the self. Beginning with Stage 4, one's faith is self-chosen, and while external authorities may be consulted, the final authority resides in the individual's own judgment.13 Fowler writes in his summary,
Stage 4's ascendant strength has to do with its capacity for critical reflection on identity (self) and outlook (ideology). Its dangers inhere in its strengths: an excessive confidence in the conscious mind and in critical thought and a kind of second narcissism in which the now clearly bounded, reflective self overassimilates "reality" and the perspectives of others into its world view.14
1. Fowler, Stages of Faith, 182.
2. Fowler, Stages, 177.
3. Fowler, Stages, 178.
4. Fowler, Stages, 178
5. Fowler, Stages, 179.
6. Fowler, Stages, 179.
7. Fowler, Stages, 179.
8. Fowler, Stages, 180.
9. Fowler, Stages, 180.
10. Fowler, Stages, 180.
11. Fowler, Stages, 181.
12. Fowler, Stages, 182.
13. See Fowler, Stages, 243.
14. Fowler, Stages, 182-183. Original in italics.

Stage 3: Synthetic-Conventional Faith

In Brief:
A "conformist" stage, very sensitive to other people's expectations; authority is located externally; beliefs and values may be strongly held, but are not subjected to critical scrutiny; symbols are not separable from what they symbolise.
In Detail: People generally reach this stage at around 12 or 13 years of age. It's around this age that we begin to think abstractly and hypothetically. Often this newfound ability enables the emergence of mutual interpersonal perspective taking. This means that we can construct a hypothetical image of how others see us, and we also understand that others can envision how we see them. One consequence of this is that we become very sensitive to other people’s expectations. This helps us, Fowler says, to "focus ourselves and assemble our commitments to values."1 On the other hand, it often happens that people become overly concerned with others' expectations:
One decisive limit of the Synthetic-Conventional stage is its lack of third-person perspective taking. This means that in its dependence upon significant others for confirmation and clarity about its identity and meaning to them, the self does not yet have a transcendental perspective from which it can see and evaluate self-other relations. In the Synthetic-Conventional stage the young person or adult can remain trapped in the "Tyranny of the They."2
For individuals at this stage, "authority is located externally to the self. It resides in the interpersonally available ‘they’ or in the certified incumbents of leadership roles in institutions."3 This does not mean that people at this stage do not make choices or develop strong personal commitments to their values and beliefs. However, Fowler says,
despite their genuine feeling of having made choices and commitments, a truer reading is that their values and self-images, mediated by the significant others in their lives, have largely chosen them. And in their [i.e., the people at this stage] choosing they have, in the main, clarified and ratified those images and values which have chosen them.4
For individuals at this stage, "the system of informing images and values through which they are committed remains principally a tacit system."5 That is to say, they are largely unexamined. A person at this stage, Fowler says, "is aware of having values and normative images. He or she articulates them, defends them and feels deep emotional investments in them, but typically has not made the value system, as a system, the object of reflection."6 Their "ideology or worldview is lived and asserted," he says, but "it is not yet a matter of critical and reflective articulation."7

Another important characteristic of people at this stage, particularly in contrast to people at higher stages, is their relationship with the symbols of their faith. For people at this stage, Fowler says, "with its largely tacit system of meaning and value, the symbols and ritual representations expressive of their faith are organically and irreplaceably tied to the full realities of their meaning systems. Said another way, the symbols expressive of their deepest meanings and loyalties are not separable from…what they symbolize."8

A lot of religious people remain at this stage throughout their adulthood. "Much of church and synagogue life in [the U.S.A.]," Fowler notes, "can be accurately described as dominantly Synthetic-Conventional." Critics of religion, he says, often mistakenly assume "that to be religious in an institution necessarily means to be Synthetic-Conventional."9

A number of factors can contribute to the breakdown of this stage and prepare the individual for transition to the next. The credibility of their preferred external authorities might be undermined. A fundamentalist might find that they can no longer ignore the evidence in favour of evolution, for example, or the behaviour of a human leader will cast doubt on their credibility as a moral authority. Sometimes drastic changes to what one thought to be an unchangeable tradition can bring about this change, as happened with many Catholics after Vatican II.10 (Of course, the person might also reject the changes and hold on to the old faith, as traditionalist Catholics have done). "Frequently," Fowler writes, "the experience of 'leaving home'—emotionally or physically, or both—precipitates the kind of examination of self, background, and life-guiding values that gives rise to stage transition at this point."11

1. Fowler, Stages of Faith, 154.
2. Fowler, Faithful Change, 62. Italics in original.
3. Fowler, Stages, 154.
4. Fowler, Stages, 154.
5. Fowler, Stages, 161.
6. Fowler, Stages, 162.
7. Fowler, Faithful, 61.
8. Fowler, Stages, 162-163.
9. Fowler, Stages, 164.
10. Fowler, Stages, 173.
11. Fowler, Stages, 173.