Stages of Faith: Stage 2 - Mythic-Literal Faith

The second stage, which Fowler calls Mythic-Literal, is most common in individuals between the ages of seven to twelve (although there is a small number of adults who equilibrate at this stage).

Mythic-Literal faith typically emerges after the individual reaches Piaget's concrete operations stage of cognitive development. With the attainment of this stage, the individual can better distinguish between what is real and what is merely imaginary, and can now take a perspective other than one's own.

Fowler writes,
The great gift to consciousness that emerges in this stage is the ability to narratize one's experience. As regards our primary interest in faith we can say that the development of the Mythic-Literal stage brings with it the ability to bind our experiences into meaning through the medium of stories. (Stages, 136)
Stories are important for preoperational children, but only at the concrete operational stage are children able to generate their own stories:
The convergence of the reversibility of thought with taking the perspective of another combined with an improved grasp of cause-effect relations means that the elements are in place for appropriating and retelling the rich stories one is told. More than this, the elements are in place for youngsters to begin to tell self-generated stories that make it possible to conserve, communicate and compare their experiences and meanings. (136)
We don't lose our interest in stories as we get older, but there is an important difference in our relationship with stories at this stage compared with later stages. At later stages, we can "step back from our stories, reflect upon them, and...communicate their meanings by way of more abstract and general statements. Stage 2 does not yet do this" (136-137). Fowler uses the image of a river to represent the flow of life. At Stage 2, stories "describe the flow from the midst of the stream" (137). Only at later stages can the individual "step out on the bank beside the river and reflect on the stories of the flow and their composite meanings" (137). In other words, the meaning of the story is inseparable from the story itself.

Fowler explains that he imagined anthropomorphic God-images would be found primarily in preschool (preoperational) children, but found that they were actually much more common in Stage 2 children. He attributes this to the newfound ability to take perspectives of others. The Mythic-Literal child can now imagine God's perspective, which, he says, will have "as much richness--and some of the same limits--as the perspectives now consistently attributed to friends and family members" (139).

Someone at this stage is also likely to be at Kohlberg's second stage of moral development. At this stage justice is equated with reciprocity and fairness.

Fowler describes, near the end of the chapter on Stage 2, an interview with a grown woman who has equilibrated at the Mythic-Literal stage (which is apparently the lowest stage that can persist into adulthood). She explains that she prays everyday so that, "when I need it, it's in the bank" (147). She uses this image a few times in the interview. She believes that by praying and praising God she can, as Fowler puts it, "store up God's good favor against times when special help or forgiveness may be needed" (148).

In Fowler's conclusion, her writes,
The new capacity or strength in this stage is the rise of narrative and the emergence of story, drama and myth as ways of finding and giving coherence to experience.

The limitations of literalness and an excessive reliance upon reciprocity as a principle for constructing an ultimate environment can result either in an overcontrolling, stilted perfectionism or "works righteousness" or in their opposite, an abasing sense of badness embraced because of mistreatment, neglect or the apparent disfavor of significant others. (italics in original; 149-150)
Most people move beyond the Mythic-Literal stage in adolescence, with the transition to formal operational thinking.

Mythic-Literal Stage by Aspects:
Form of Logic (Piaget): Concrete Operational
Perspective Taking (Selman): Simple perspective taking
Form of Moral Judgment (Kohlberg): Instrumental hedonism (Reciprocal fairness)
Bounds of Social Awareness: "Those like us" (in familial, ethnic, racial, class, and religious terms)
Locus of Authority: Incumbents of authority roles, salience increased by personal relatedness
Form of World Coherence: Narrative-Dramatic
Symbolic Function: One-dimensional; literal (Fowler, 244)
Next: Stage 3 - Synthetic-Conventional

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