Friday, August 15, 2014

Encouragement to question is the basis of a mature spirituality

Robert Hardies writes in his essay on the third principle of Unitarian Universalism, “acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations,” in the book, The Seven Principles In Word And Worship, “This is a true description of true spiritual growth: growing hearts and souls large and supple enough to embrace – to love – more and more our complex world. This is the spirituality of the third Principle of Unitarian Universalism.” P.43

What Robert Hardies seems to be alluding to is what James Fowler describes as the fourth stage of his six stage model of faith development. Here is how the fourth stage is defined on Wikipedia: "Individuative-Reflective" faith (usually mid-twenties to late thirties) a stage of angst and struggle. The individual takes personal responsibility for his or her beliefs and feelings. As one is able to reflect on one's own beliefs, there is an openness to a new complexity of faith, but this also increases the awareness of conflicts in one's belief. When looked at from a developmental model, the stage of faith development that Hardies and Fowler are describing might be called, using a term from Lawrence Kohlberg the psychologist who researched moral development, as “post conventional.” In other words, the person has started to question and perhaps even rebel against the faith of their fathers and mothers and move beyond the conventional beliefs and norms and practices. I suspect that most Unitarian Universalists are at, at least, this stage of faith development. The encouragement to question, often frowned upon or punished by fundamentalist religion, is the basis, paradoxically, of a mature spirituality and religious practice.

Many people come to Unitarian Universalism searching. They are disaffected from their former faith. In my case, I am what is jokingly called a “recovering Catholic.” If Unitarian Universalism were to market its faith, proselytize, this stage 4 group of people is the group to reach out to. In this day and age, they are known as the “nones”, and the folks who say they are “spiritual but not religious.”
And what do these folks who are searching need to hear if we are to encourage them in their spiritual growth? First, they need to hear that they are not bad, crazy, or disloyal to be questioning, but healthy, curious, inquisitive, courageous, and brave. Second, they need to hear that they should be true to their selves and stand up for their right to question rather than be subservient. Third, they need to seek information and ideas from other people and groups they are attracted to. Fourth, they need to maintain a connection with those whom they are questioning and come to a place where they can agree to disagree. Fifth, they need to hear that it’s normal to feel anxious, unsettled, confused, unsure, and they are not alone because they are traveling now with fellow searchers.

When I left the Catholic Church and started attending the Unitarian Universalist church I was scared. I missed the familiar ritual, the security of being with like minded people whom  I understood and entering a world unfamiliar with people I was just learning about. Some people were friendly and welcoming, and some reserved and pleasant, and some distant and skeptical about who I was and what I was doing there. Over time I came to know them. It would have been helpful to have a mentor or like in Alcoholics Anonymous a “sponsor.” This happened somewhat informally but it would have been helpful to have a more formal role for such a person like a “god father or a god mother.”

The third principle asks us to accept and encourage, but it doesn’t say how to do these things. It leaves the wide open space for creativity in applying these ideas. Acceptance implies that we know the person and encouragement seems to definitely require this knowing. When people are entering stage four they are usually feeling vulnerable and so they require the perception of hope that things are going to be okay, and this comes from someone with faith from having been there and come through it, and with the certainty that Unitarian Univeralism provides something solid, substantive, relevant, uplifting, and practical in developing the skills for living the Good Life.


"Toto I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore." Dorothy moves into stage four faith development.

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