Stages of Faith: Stage 6 - Universalizing Faith

The sixth final stage, Universalizing Faith, is the most difficult to write about. In Stages of Faith, Fowler provided excerpts from interviews of people at each of the previous stages, but there are no interviews with individuals at Stage 6. Perhaps this is not surprising -- apparently only one individual of the 359 in his research sample had actually reached this stage (see Stages, 318).

Fowler does name some individuals he considered to be representatives of Stage 6, including Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Teresa, as well as people like Dag Hammarskjöld, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Abraham Heschel, and Thomas Merton (Stages, 201).

When I first read this, it struck me as problematic. I don't think it's legitimate, after carefully working out the structures of the other stages through careful empirical research, to simply toss that method away and start speculating. I also find it difficult to believe that one has to develop through all of the other stages in order to be a Martin Luther King or a Mother Teresa. As admirable as her life was, did Mother Teresa really ever move that far beyond conventional faith? From what I've read, it seems that she did not. I don't mean to depreciate what she did; I mean only to suggest that what she did could have been done at a lower stage, that it is not indicative of a high level of faith development as Fowler describes it. Or, to put that another way, I would argue that when someone gives him- or herself so completely for others, there is something else at work, something other than the kind of faith development we are concerned with here.

I don't have as much confidence in Fowler's description of this stage compared with the earlier stages, but I will summarise it for the sake of completeness.

Fowler writes,
The structuring of this stage derives from the radical completion of a process of de-centration from self that proceeds throughout the sequence of stages. From the non-differentiation of self and objects in the earliest phases of infancy to the naive egocentrism of the Intuitive-Projective stage, each successive stage marks a steady widening in social perspective taking. (Faithful, 66)
Or, put very simply, one's ability to see things from perspectives other than one's own deepens and widens as one develops.

People at Stage 6 overcome the need, felt in all previous stages, for the preservation for one's own life and well-being:
Heedless of the threats to self, to primary groups, and to the institutional arrangements of the present order that are involved, Stage 6 becomes a disciplined, activist incarnation -- a making real and tangible -- of the imperatives of absolute love and justice of which Stage 5 has partial apprehensions. The self at Stage 6 engages in spending and being spent for the transformation of present reality in the direction of a transcendent actuality. (Stages, 200).
Fowler says people at this stage "typically exhibit qualities that shake our usual criteria of normalcy," and "[i]n their devotion to universalizing compassion they may offend our parochial perceptions of justice" (Stages, 200).

People in Stage 5 "continue to live in the tension between their rootedness in and loyalties to their segment of the existing order, on the one hand, and the inclusiveness and transformation of their visions toward a new ultimate order, on the other" (Faithful, 66-67). In Stage 6, one overcomes this tension.

Stage 6 individuals are often charismatic leaders. The followers of some charismatic cult leaders will readily identify their leaders as belonging to this stage, so Fowler suggests how these dangerous leaders are different:
A good test for distinguishing the authentic faithful leader from the dangerously charismatic copy is whether the leader requires regressive dependence and relinquishing of personal responsibility from his or her followers. Similarly, the authentic spirituality of the Universalizing stage avoids polarizing the world between the "saved" and the "damned." Persons of this stage are as concerned with the transformation of those they oppose as with the bringing about of justice and reform. (Faithful, 67)
Universalizing Stage by Aspects:
Form of Logic (Piaget): Formal Operations (Synthetic)
Perspective Taking (Selman): Mutual, with the commonwealth of being
Form of Moral Judgment (Kohlberg): Loyalty to being
Bounds of Social Awareness: Identification with the species. Transnarcissistic love of being
Locus of Authority: In a personal judgment informed by the experiences and truths of previous stages, purified of egoic striving, and linked by disciplined intuition to the principle of Being
Form of World Coherence: Unitive actuality felt and participated unity of "One beyond many"
Symbolic Function: Evocative power of symbols actualized through unification of reality mediated by symbols and the self (Fowler, Stages, 244)

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Blogger Jeff S said...

I love your blog. I think I found you through my wife's blog, BadAlice (www.badalice.blogspot.com).

I added you to my RSS feeds.

6:38 PM  
Blogger PrickliestPear said...

Thanks, Jeff, I appreciate that.

9:35 AM  
Blogger TheraP said...

Two more stage 6 people would be Sister Wendy and Ruth Burrows. Likely also Sister Jean Marie Howe and Theophane the Monk. Probably also Boris Bobrinskoi. And how about Andre Louf? Dalai Lama for sure. Martin Buber maybe. Viktor Frankl possibly.

If you read both Sister Wendy and Ruth Burrows, I think you can see that indeed Stage 6 exists (and accords with the description here). But it is like deification or theosis. It is not a stage you can reach by dint of effort, but one which is conferred upon you by the grace of God - a kind of anointing I'd say.

(Plus, most contemporary individuals who have received this type of anointing would likely shun becoming part of a research project. Very strong guess on my part - but based on pretty firm evidence that humility is such a strong part of Stage 6 that these people have so divested themselves of "ego" and taken on the mind of Christ - or whatever tradition they belong to - so that their "stage" would be part of a hidden mystery.)

Peace be with you!

9:39 PM  

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