Where we fail: Mormon pedagogy and Fowler’s Stages of Faith, Part Three

The main distinguishing feature of Stage 4, Individuative-Reflective faith, is the capacity and need for critical reflection. The critical reflection is directed both at the self and at a faith tradition. Religious symbols are no longer taken to be ontological realities, but are transformed into conceptual meanings. It is a stage of demythologizing. Finally it is a stage of tension between one’s subjective feelings and the pursuit of objectivity.

What usually brings on Stage 4? I quote from Fowler:

Factors contributing to the breakdown of Stage 3 and to readiness for transition may include: serious clashes or contradictions between valued authority sources; marked changes, by officially sanctioned leaders, or policies or practices previously deemed sacred and unbreachable (for example, in the Catholic church changing the mass from Latin to the vernacular, or no longer requiring abstinence from meat on Friday); the encounter with experiences or perspectives that lead to critical reflection on how one’s beliefs and values have formed and changed, and on how “relative” they are to one’s particular group or background. Frequently the experience of “leaving home”–emotionally or physically, or both–precipitates the kind of examination of self, background, and lifeguiding values that gives rise to stage transition at this point.

To paint with a very broad brush, I have at one time or another heard every aspect of the Fowler quote above, except for the leaving home part, as describing “apostacy.” That’s like telling someone going through puberty that what they are going through makes them evil, filthy, and dirty.

In my experience the only universal program/idea for helping out with Stage 4 is the mission. And there, it’s not so much helping those in Stage 4, it’s preventing it or delaying it. I am not accusing anyone of collusion to inhibit development. It’s just a fact that people in that age bracket are leaving home and are likely to transition to Stage 4. Pedagogy in the MTC and what missionaries teach on a mission is nothing but Stage 3 friendly stuff. Mission rules and the missionary life are Stage 3 on steroids.

I did want to point out some specific aspects of Mormon leadership structures, theology, and pedagogy that make the church a difficult place for Stage 4 folks. I have found every one of the following to be universal in the church or near universal. By near universal I mean it’s the case more than 90-95% of the time in the U.S.

Leadership Structures

  • Untrained clergy Let’s face it, almost no one in the church knows how to deal with the messiness of our texts and history. For the most part it is ignored and labelled anti-Mormon.
  • Lay clergy Our lay clergy has a limited amount of time to deal with things, and dealing with Brother and Sister Smith’s marital problems trumps your concerns about polyandry
  • Everyone is clergy Since everyone is clergy, everyone is expected to do something. If you don’t feel like participating because you are sorting a few things out you become dead weight which leads to marginalization.

Theology

  • Prophetic Infallibility Yes, I know that in theory the prophet is not infallible, but in practice he is. Serious critical public reflection on church leadership is still the quickest way to land yourself in a church court. This simply does not mix well with someone who has a need to engage in critical reflection on their faith tradition
  • Fundamentalist/Literalist scripture interpretation People in Stage 4 tend to know about the messiness of texts, and even a minimal acquaintance with Biblical Studies or Mormon History is likely to make you question how scripture is to be interpreted. The conflict comes because the dominant mode of scripture interpretation in CES, at BYU, among the leadership, and among the members is fundamentalist/literalist. I do make an exception for the first 11 chapters of Genesis, there does seem to be some movement towards allegorical/metaphorical interpretation for those chapters. I also make another exception for books which have traditionally been seen to be non-historical such as Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job.
  • Absolute/Universal claims about doctrine This does not encourage or allow critical reflection. While the claim may be true, it’s not helpful for Stage 4 folks:) There just isn’t much room for trying out new ideas or interpretations, at least not in any public way.
  • “Read your scriptures. Say your prayers. Go to church. Have Family Home Evening. Pay your tithing.” So often in lessons any foray into complicated matters is headed off by a well meaning teacher or participant saying if you just focus on the basics it all works out. Again this is not helpful to Stage 4 persons

Pedagogy

  • The last shall be first and the first shall be last Most of the things that make for a strong pedagogy for Stage 2 and 3, which I laid in out in my last post, become weaknesses in dealing with Stage 4 persons.
  • Where’s the beef? By beef I mean things like detailed exegesis, non-whitewashed history, dealing with tough issues etc. There just isn’t much on offer by faithful Mormons for faithful Mormons that provides satisfying answers for Stage 4 members of the church. If you look real hard you can find some, but the ratio of dross to silver is pretty high.

In my opinion Stage 4 is very difficult for any faith tradition to handle. First, persons in Stage 3 just make better members of any church (with the exception perhaps of Unitarians). Second, arriving at Stage 4 is not a universal phenomenon so there is just not as much experience in dealing with Stage 4. Finally, pedagogical techniques that work well with Stage 3 fail miserably with Stage 4. As I said in my previous post, hiding the messiness of scripture is just fine and probably desirable for those in Stage 3. Stage 4 people want all the messiness they can get, they want it in one fell swoop so they can critically analyze all at once. Teaching Stage 3 persons like that would not be productive.

But does our church provide the worse experience possible for Stage 4 members if everyone has this same problem? Unfortunately, I think it does. In most churches a trained clergy will have at least some knowledge of the messiness of scripture. Prophetic infallibility doesn’t exist. Biblical inerrancy does exist, but you can find a different interpretation on offer in other denominations or groups, which they can usually take advantage of because of toned down absolute/universal claims. All churches have some absolutist universal/claims, but Presbyterians don’t think Methodists are going to hell. Same for Conservative and Reformed Jews. Also, there is beef on offer, and it is held in much higher esteem than it is on our church.

Finally, I don’t think it has to be this way. I am not looking to indict anyone. I don’t think anyone is malicious here. I just would like a better experience for Stage 4 Mormons.

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35 responses to “Where we fail: Mormon pedagogy and Fowler’s Stages of Faith, Part Three

  1. Tom Rod

    Now, I want to speak as someone who has gone through this stage.

    BYU teaches (or taught–it’s been awhile) a wonderful class called divine-centered leadership. In this class the technique of filtering the world’s views through the gospel is taught at a philosophical level, and has helped me tremendously in life.

    To sum up what I feel your post is about, I feel this has been addressed many times in (now don’t laugh at this seemingly stage 3 point) general conference in the form of “gaining your own testimony.” I agree that all the point above are valid. I also would concede that the LDS Church has a historical systemic issue in dealing with the “beef.” But the church is in the dealing of the souls of God’s children, and must reach from the highest paragon to the lowest common denominator, so that all souls may have a chance to gain salvation. Without a personal testimony one cannot gain salvation. How is a testimony gained? By those days where you just want to curse God because of the bitterness of it all–and you don’t. At those points you determine exactly why it is that you don’t want to. And that gives you the strength to find the answers to those questions that plague every soul in the Church–Is Joseph Smith a Prophet? Who is this man called Christ? How in the world will going to Church help my family?

    I will relate a story I heard recently in general conference. A recently married man desperately wanted a 4×4 truck. His wife knew they couldn’t afford it. His excuse was: “Honey, if it’s snowing outside, I can still drive to the store to buy the babies milk.” His wife response? “Dear, what money would you buy it with if its all gone to the truck?”

    Doing what husbands do best, the man bought the truck. He went up to chop wood for the winter in the woods to prove the truck wasn’t a worthless purchase. He gets stuck in some snow miles and miles away from civilization. As he sits there and tries to get out, he gets stuck deeper. After awhile, he begins to wonder what his wife would be thinking at his funeral–she’d be sad that he was gone, but she’d be happy that she was right about the truck! So, rather than laying back and dying, the man gets out and gets some work done. He fills up the bed of the truck with hundreds of pounds of wood. Then, because of the extra weight, when he tries the truck again he is able to get traction, and drives home.

    The moral here is that happiness isn’t the absence of a load, but packing the right load. This discussion benefits from this story in this way: the flaws of the Church in pedagogy may be many, but if people are taught early, taught correct principles, and taught the appropriate ways to discover their concerns, they will get the traction they need to scoot on right past stage 4 with the minimal damage to any relationships.

    Finally, a mission doesn’t prevent stage 4. In fact, it often causes the onset quicker than what would otherwise happen.

  2. But the church is in the dealing of the souls of God’s children, and must reach from the highest paragon to the lowest common denominator, so that all souls may have a chance to gain salvation.

    I agree. In fact if you have to make a purely rational choice then what happens is totally justified. Based on the numbers alone you have to cater to the majority who are probably in Stage 3 at any given time. But in doing so Stage 4 people are consigned to solving their problems on their own. Maybe that’s o.k. too, who knows. For the most part I have made my peace with it.

  3. To paint with a very broad brush, I have at one time or another heard every aspect of the Fowler quote above, except for the leaving home part, as describing “apostacy.” That’s like telling someone going through puberty that what they are going through makes them evil, filthy, and dirty.

    I know you go on to say that stage 4 is not universal, but I do need a bit of clarification here. Do you take these stages as normative? In other words, are these stages necessary or is it possible (and perhaps desirable) for one to not move from stage 3 to 4, for instance? The reason I ask is because if we do not take these stages as necessary then it would seem that a valid perspective would be to prevent the development of stage 4. Perhaps the church as an institution would have interest in so doing.

    Also, a related question. What do you take the relationship to be between these stages? Is one better than the other? Specifically, is stage 4 better than stage 3? The reason I ask is because I’ve often heard the argument that some people are simply not interested in “critical reflection”. The implication here is that stage 4 is first of all not something that most people will ever get to; and perhaps it’s not even so good to get there at all.

  4. Steve M

    I don’t have much to add to the discussion at this point, but I would like to say that this is an excellent post.

  5. Do you take these stages as normative? In other words, are these stages necessary or is it possible (and perhaps desirable) for one to not move from stage 3 to 4, for instance?

    Many, perhaps the majority of adults do not go beyond Stage 3. They also make the best church goers. They are fully integrated into their faith communities as contributing members. They are stable, they don’t rock the boat, and they are fully invested in their community. Hence at a group level it is desirable for people to remain at Stage 3.

    However I don’t think this is some grand plan. Most faith communities organize themselves unconsciously to service the needs of the majority of its members. Since most adults at any given time tend to be Stage 3, it’s only logical that there is a good fit between faith communities and community members.

    On an individual level I think it is also desirable to remain at Stage 3. Stage 4 can be marked by inner turmoil and conflict, which is not pleasant.

    Also, a related question. What do you take the relationship to be between these stages? Is one better than the other? Specifically, is stage 4 better than stage 3?

    Most stage theories, Fowler’s included, have the following characteristics. 1) The stage order is fixed. You can’t skip stages. 2) Advancement through stages is not universal. Not everyone reaches the last stages. 3) It is not necessary to reach the end stages to be a happy and contributing member of society.

    As you said some people are not really interested in critical reflection. The final stage in Piaget’s theory is called “critical thinking” and many adults do not reach it, yet they function perfectly well in society. Stage 3 persons in Fowler’s theory make great church members. So it seems highly judgmental to say that those who reach later stages are better than those who do not.

    However, there are certain minimal levels one has to attain to function well. For a faith community in modern society this seems to me to be Stage 3, so those in Stage 3 are in a sense better (better able to contribute and function) than those in Stage 1. Let’s face it, an adult in Stage 1 would not be very helpful in the church.

    Fowler also posits that the stages may not be universal if certain societal conditions are not met. He posits that a religiously pluralistic society is necessary for Stage 4 development. Societies without a certain level of individualism would not allow people to go on to Stage 3. Thus “primitive” tribal societies might be restricted to Stage 2. However, at that stage they would be contributing, functioning members of their society, so it again seems judgmental to fault them for not being at Stage 4.

    The bottom line is that I think under certain circumstances you can say that certain stages are better than others, but it is not a simple or straightforward “higher is better than lower” answer.

  6. This is an excellent post. My concluding comment from an older post on CES and teaching in the church applies equally here.

    “I think the Church is in a difficult position. The people in the pews and in the classrooms have very different backgrounds, needs, and expectations. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, except to have good leaders and teachers who understand the needs of their students and have the mental flexibility, authority, and materials to adapt accordingly to their students need. I do, or at least, I think I do. But I have no way to make sure everyone else does. Only CES can do that.”

  7. Tom Rod

    In response to comment #6–

    This is why the aphorism “The Spirit is the teacher” is often thrown around–because we as individuals cannot, even in our highest hopes, possibly reach each individual background. However, the Spirit really can. I remember one Elder in my mission who, when he gave his farewell talk before returning home, prefaced his remarks in sacrament by asking each congregation member to say a short prayer for the companionship of the Spirit.

    He then proceeded to give, to many standards, a mediocre talk. However, he spoke with testimony and he spoke truth, and the Spirit was very strong. I had to change my schedule that day to accommodate a baptismal interview for someone who didn’t know at that point if he or she wanted baptism, and the bishop had requests from two couples for live endowment recommends, and more, though I won’t clog up your board with every wonderful things that happened as a result.

    Needless to say–when the Spirit can be felt strong, hearts and lives are changed. This situation is what I strive for every time I teach–it doesn’t always happen, as anyone who has taught primary or youth will tell you. But just having an environment where the Spirit can be felt is a success, for only in this environment will people be able to come unto Christ (the ultimate goal of the Church).

  8. Dor mot

    So, the obvious question is whether or not there is some modification — however subtle — in our pedagogy in Primary & Seminary and perhaps Institute that can continue to succeed in transitioning through Stage 3 but still prepare for Stage 4.

    I think this is more important than it might seem: many members of the church run up against Stage 4 questions frequently but don’t know how to tackle them, and so stick with Stage 3 because it works so well for them, because like Comment 7 says, they’ve felt the Spirit. But while the Spirit can and will speak peace to the mind, rational inner dialogue is essential at some point; God doesn’t expect us to suspend thinking as a result of feeling the Spirit. Just the opposite.

    I’ve had callings teaching primary kids and seminary kids — and somehow I do want to prepare them to deal with the challenges of Stage 4, since some fraction of them will hit it. Being straight with the kids about how texts sometimes contradict themselves, in a quiet way, might be helpful, or perhaps not. I could use some help here! Any suggestions? I hear you, Nitsav, that no one solution is out there — but what might we do for, say, 9 year olds? Or 16 year olds?

  9. For those who didn’t know, most of Fowler’s book is available on Google books.

  10. Smallaxe, for Fowler “universalism” has a special meaning (roughly akin to an overly simplified version of enlightenment in the eastern tradition or mystic union in the western tradition). I’ll admit that one of my biggest qualms with Fowler is over his notion of the relationship of the sacred and symbols. There’s some interesting semiotic questions here I think he’s unfortunately brushing aside.

    Now I should say Fowler is quick to add caveats. (For instance what he means by faith most certainly isn’t what we typically mean in a religious setting by faith – it’s more a general comportment with the world that would apply even to atheists)

    I think, somewhat counter to David’s answer, that there definitely is a direction of “goodness” or “maturity” that makes each level better than the level before. Having said that though for Fowler each level has unique weaknesses. I think if you impose the taxonomy on people then you definitely do see level 4 people looking down their nose at level 3 and vice versa. Likewise each group will see their own strengths and ignore their own weaknesses. So Fowler comments somewhere (I looked and could find it though) that stage 4 folks should look to and make use of the strengths of stage 3 people and their not doing this is one of their weaknesses.

    I’m halfway thinking of writing a post on all this so I don’t want to say too much (nor detract from David’s posts). I will say that the question of truth in inexorably wrapped up with the question of how we comport with the world. While there’s definitely some truth in the thinks Fowler writes I think he doesn’t deal with the question of truth and epistemology well. Contrast this, I think to Piaget’s categories which can deal with this better (IMO).

  11. To add to that above by what I mean by better. I think we’d tend to say that a person who understands how things around them work is “better” at dealing with life regardless if they aren’t as successful in business. There’s lots of complex questions in unwrapping what we mean by better, which I suspect is what David was touching on in his answer to you.

    Going to Dor mort’s comments I’d say that the very question of a real spirit is interesting. Since to a Mormon I think the function of the spirit will simultaneously bring people into elements of all the levels. At it’s basic level the main function of the spirit is and ought be universalizing. (Bringing us to and seeing the unity of humanity and the universe – interestingly also the topic of this month’s Home Teaching lesson by Elder Eyring)

  12. for Fowler “universalism” has a special meaning (roughly akin to an overly simplified version of enlightenment in the eastern tradition or mystic union in the western tradition). I’ll admit that one of my biggest qualms with Fowler is over his notion of the relationship of the sacred and symbols. There’s some interesting semiotic questions here I think he’s unfortunately brushing aside.

    Most of this is related to Stage 6. Fowler himself is quick to point out that his data on Stage 6 is very weak and remains much more theoretical/hypothetical than the other stages. As for semiotic issues, he’s not a philosopher or linguist and doesn’t claim to be one. It’s not surprising that he doesn’t deal with it. Also, an empirical theory, especially a young one, can only cover so much.

    Thanks for the clarification on the what Fowler means by better in #10 and #11. It’s a complicated question. There is a undeniable sense in which higher stages are better, and this applies to all stage theories. Since the highest stage is always the best or most complete stage possible, and since one must pass through all previous stages to get there, it follows that each stage is better in that you are closer to “the best.” That goes for Piaget, Kohlberg, and Fowler. However, that’s probably not what most people mean when they ask if a higher stage is better than a lower one. That question requires a significant amount of explaining, so much that’s it’s probably just quicker to read Fowler’s book.

  13. I’ve had callings teaching primary kids and seminary kids — and somehow I do want to prepare them to deal with the challenges of Stage 4, since some fraction of them will hit it. Being straight with the kids about how texts sometimes contradict themselves, in a quiet way, might be helpful, or perhaps not. I could use some help here! Any suggestions? I hear you, Nitsav, that no one solution is out there — but what might we do for, say, 9 year olds? Or 16 year olds?

    For the 9 year olds I wouldn’t worry, in Fowler’s study none had even reached Stage 3 by that age. Some in the 7-12 age bracket were transitioning from Stage 2 to 3. As I argued in my previous post, Mormons do really well at Stage 2 and 3 pedagogy.

    I also don’t think you can prepare people for future stages. They simply don’t have the mental/spiritual capacity to grasp what is going on at other stages. In my opinion (and you are getting what you pay for here) you can’t prepare people for what is to come, you can only help them with where they are currently.

    As for 16 year olds, I think you have to take it on a case by case basis. I tried once to teach kids at that level about some of the messiness of texts and it was an absolute failure in my opinion. They were not ready or did not care. Who knows, this was early morning seminary so they were all half asleep anyway, maybe they did get something out of it. My best advice would be to read as much as you can and then be an honest teacher. There is no quick and easy way to navigate Stage 4.

  14. David, while I agree it’s a complex question I also think that this is where Fowler falls flattest. Once again I’ll not drone on too much about this so as to not detract from your posts. But the very idea of taking Piaget and applying it to faith is problematic for this reason. Either truth doesn’t matter, typically assuming that it’s all allegory or mental structure with no reality behind it, or else one is saying that allegory is more important than truth.

    While one can try and duck this by saying stage 6 is very weakly conceived the fact is that this problem pops up in stage 4 and 5 quite starkly as well.

    The way I usually explain this to people is to think about applying Fowler’s categories to science and scientists. It’d be easy to do but then the questions of facts and reality become very apparent. It also highlights an other problem typical of structuralists trying to find large structures via examples. The tendency to decontextualize and miss the complexity of human experience. Once again I don’t have the book before me but some of the famous people he gives as examples for his categories are simply more complex than he lets on. Consider MLK and his family relations. Yeah Fowler can call him stage 6 because of his amazing rhetoric and work on equality. But what about how he treated his wife and women around him? People simply don’t fit into one category. Trying to equate this to Piaget ends up problematic.

    When people (not you, I should hasten to add) start applying this to Mormon religion it becomes deeply problematic. Someone holding something as true might be taken by a self-designated stage 4 or stage 5 person as literalism. So they are see as at stage 2 or 3. Yet if the truth claim is, in fact, true, then is that a fair criticism to make? Piaget avoids this with how he conceives of critical thinking. Fowler makes moves towards this but is completely unsatisfying because of how he tried to map the categories onto “faith.”

  15. Either truth doesn’t matter, typically assuming that it’s all allegory or mental structure with no reality behind it, or else one is saying that allegory is more important than truth.

    OK, I think this is where we disagree. I don’t think that stage theories have anything to do with truth, that includes Fowler. They describe psychological structures, strategies, schemata, etc. about how people relate to reality, truth, morality etc. Truth does matter, but I have to agree with Paul (see 9-12), that people’s capacity to take in a process truth and reality changes over time. That is what I think stages are ultimately describing. Faith changes, though the underlying reality stays the same.

    When people (not you, I should hasten to add) start applying this to Mormon religion it becomes deeply problematic. Someone holding something as true might be taken by a self-designated stage 4 or stage 5 person as literalism. So they are see as at stage 2 or 3. Yet if the truth claim is, in fact, true, then is that a fair criticism to make?

    I would agree that is not a fair criticism to make. Stage 4 people do have a tendency to label people in Stage 3 as naive. Stage 3 people tend to reciprocate by labeling stage 4 people as apostate. Both are simply comprehending truth in the best way that they can and should stop being so judgmental.

    Consider MLK and his family relations. Yeah Fowler can call him stage 6 because of his amazing rhetoric and work on equality. But what about how he treated his wife and women around him? People simply don’t fit into one category.

    One could respond by saying that faith and morality are different things (since I like Kant, it works for me). Anyway, if you separate the two, one can be high on Fowler’s faith scale but low on Kohlberg’s morality scale. Hence, MLK can be Stage 6 and still cheat on his wife.

  16. But David, that’s my point. They don’t have anything to do with truth. That’s their problem. The question of truth becomes an issue in how people act. It can’t help but be. I think (based on my recollection) that Piaget can deal with this. Most other aping of his work doesn’t.

    My comment about the self-designated stage 4 or 5 isn’t labeling someone in stage 3 as naive. They are labeling someone with a truth claim as stage 3. That’s a subtle but important difference. The question of truth become key when making judgment. How one acts if something is true will differ regardless of what purported stage one is in.

    With regards to MLK I think the problem is that Fowler sets up faith in such a way that even if you deny it has application to morality or truth the logic he creates dictates it must. That’s the problem. He (usually) wants something orthogonal but hasn’t created something that is. Once again, not a problem for Piaget that I can see.

  17. At this point I really have no idea what you are talking about. Piaget’s theory of knowledge was called genetic epistemology or constructive epistemology, because all knowledge claims are at least partially internally constructed. From the wikipedia article on genetic epistemology:

    Piaget also called his view constructivism, because he firmly believed that knowledge acquisition is a process of continuous self-construction. That is, Knowledge is not out there, external to the child and waiting to be discovered. But neither is it wholly performed within the child, ready to emerge as the child develops with the world surrounding her…Piaget believed that children actively approach their environments and acquire knowledge through their actions.

    In the end, I just have to conclude that ultimately we never agree on anything.

  18. Yes, but that’s my point. Piaget doesn’t have the problem of epistemology and truth that Fowler does. Aren’t you agreeing with me here?

  19. I really do not have any idea what you are saying.

  20. OK, I’ll drop it. My point was just that Fowler seeks to avoid the intersection with truth yet it still happens undermining his model whereas Piaget explicitly engages with questions of truth so doesn’t have this weakness.

  21. Really, I still am Alicia Silverstone clueless about what you are claiming.

  22. David: “Based on the numbers alone you have to cater to the majority who are probably in Stage 3 at any given time. But in doing so Stage 4 people are consigned to solving their problems on their own.”

    I would split this stage into categories as well. It seems some enter this stage with an attitude that they have been cheated or deceived. Those who spend more time complaining and worrying are likely to not withstand the fire. Others who enter this stage find it exciting and seek further light and knowledge. While members of the Church could do better in helping those in stage 4, the mature folks who hit stage 4 ought to be just the ones who should be able to handle it to begin with, no?

  23. the mature folks who hit stage 4 ought to be just the ones who should be able to handle it to begin with, no?

    Sure, people who are mature and have good attitudes tend to do better at anything. My question is what do you do with those who feel cheated or deceived? What do you do with those who are seeking further light and knowledge when they discover that there is not much on offer? The answer always seems to be some variation of “Well, the church can’t cater to everyone, in the end you take responsibility for yourself.”

  24. Ah, I see where Clark is going. It sort of relates to my qualms with Fowler’s stages, or at least how I have seen some Mormons employ them. Some attempt to label the stages by looking at the actual beliefs of an individual. Thus, some say that if a Mormon believes there were literally golden plates that Joseph Smith had, such a person is automatically classified as a stage 3. This assumes there were no gold plates.

  25. Personally, David, I don’t know that there is an institutional way to approach those who decide to be bitter or resentful, etc. based on these issues. I’ve had a lot of interactions with folks who leave the Church based on similar premises and I’ve found that there isn’t any amount of “evidence” I can provide to help them keep that window of faith open; it’s their choice. For me I usually fall back on letting the person know I don’t think they are evil, and that I have thought about similar issues, only apparently arriving at different conclusions.

    Basically it represents a paradigm shift, and people will either find a way to accommodate new info or they will dump the paradigm altogether rather than alter it.

  26. Sure, people who are mature and have good attitudes tend to do better at anything. My question is what do you do with those who feel cheated or deceived?

    Condemn them for their stage 3 thinking. (grin) Seriously if they are focused on such deception then under Fowler they are still stage 3 and haven’t yet reached stage 4 maturity. So you have to discuss them under stage 3 where you said the Church is successful.

    I have to agree with BHodges, if one accepts Fowler, then saying one is “consigned to solving their problems on their own” is weird. The whole point of stage 4 is that they focus on the individual and their weakness is that they don’t want other help. They are too inward looking. Looking at stage 4 people and saying the organization needs to do more just seems…odd. Unless I’m missing something obvious.

    Thus, some say that if a Mormon believes there were literally golden plates that Joseph Smith had, such a person is automatically classified as a stage 3. This assumes there were no gold plates.

    Yes. And let me quickly repeat again that this is a misuse of Fowler. I think Fowler wrong but I can at least understand what he is getting at. Many people who use Fowler use him as a kind of axe justifying their beliefs and attacking other believers as unenlightened. (And let me complement David for not doing that – not that I expected him to) This admittedly is what rubs me the wrong way the most about Fowler. But I’ll never criticize Fowler for how others misuse him. I hate when people do that about thinkers I find informative and vowed never to do it.

    The problem is that when people judge themselves by Fowler’s taxonomy they like to be as progressed as possible. However when one recognizes that Fowler isn’t really talking about faith (despite the name) nor belief but a general low level comportment with the world then a lot of the use of Fowler is seen as silly.

  27. To add, I guess my point is that most of the people feeling deceived and feeling anger are just still in a stage 3 comportment and are changing beliefs and organizations affiliated with. You can see this in a lot of post-Mormon organizations, for instance. I don’t think anyone could look at Fowler and the RFM sites and not see them as type 3. Any type 4 person would have far better things to do with their time and investigation. Further if someone has made the transition to stage 4 then they’d not mind the messiness of LDS doctrine, history or leadership in the least. They’d just look at it and smile and then figure out what they ought to and believe.

    Of course angst and disillusionment can accompany the transition from 3 to 4. Which is what David is probably getting at. But once you make the transition then there isn’t a lot of worry. As BHodges points out though this is why sub-stages might make some sense.

  28. “(And let me complement David for not doing that – not that I expected him to)”

    Agreed on that. I think David is making a good effort at using Fowler appropriately, and recognizing the limitations of these stages is a key to allowing them to have more meaning, imo. When we move to stage 4 regarding Fowler’s theory itself, eh?

  29. “Condemn them for their stage 3 thinking. (grin)”

    Serious, nice one!

  30. Back to #24 and David’s question about bitterness. I think the Church has a program and it’s called home teaching and visiting teaching. However the very resources the Church has on hand to implement this are, being charitable, weak. (Something a few others pointed out) Of course what tends to happen is that EQ and others appoint weak HT to strong families and strong HTs to weak families. But people still fall between the cracks. And, of course, one big problem is that even if you had an ideal HT the people won’t necessarily listen.

    I should add that I don’t think this issue really a Fowler issue. The fact is that some people get fed up with one system and merely replace it with a new one. The new one often doesn’t meet their needs any better but at least they feel like they made a change. And sometimes there’s some value they like better. The alternative is people grow up and do start taking a more mature view of the world. (Speaking more in Piaget terms and not necessarily Fowler terms) They may not return of course, but it’s for more complex reasons.

    The problem is that ultimately you have to get people a testimony and provide them the resources to deal with hardship. That’s hard in general. It’s made harder in that a lot of problems have no easy answer. In a way the doctrinal issues are the easiest to deal with. How do you deal with someone who is the victim of abuse by a fellow Mormon? How do you deal with someone who has faced a traumatic event? Often there’s little you can do beyond show love. But people in those circumstances often need change for change sake.

  31. bmortmft

    David,
    First, I’d like to thank you for a thoughtful and well-articulated series on Fowler, and the application of his theory to the Mormon experience. I am not being facetious when I say that I was almost moved to tears as I read this third post:

    “I have at one time or another heard every aspect of the Fowler quote above, except for the leaving home part, as describing “apostacy.” That’s like telling someone going through puberty that what they are going through makes them evil, filthy, and dirty.”

    For the last few months I have taken the liberty to use my Sunday School time to read Fowler’s book, Becoming adult, Becoming Christian. A good portion of the book consists of an explication of the stages. It has been very heartening to me to realize that the difficulties I’ve experienced in the last few years are not signs I’m on the road to apostasy. I’ve remained an “active” member but I’ve really struggled to find much nourishment in the standard forms of worship employed by our church.

    I’ve thought a lot about how Fowler’s theories might be applied to my Mormon experience. I think you’re spot on in highlighting aspects of Mormon pedagogy that support those in the early stages of faith development but may leave those of us who find ourselves navigating the pitfalls of stage 4 feeling slightly crazy.

    Thanks again for your work.

  32. bmortmft,

    Thanks for you kind words, I am glad that you enjoyed the posts.

  33. Perhaps I could suggest stage 5. It involves knowing that imperfections exist in history and organization but overlooks them with a charitable attitude, realizing that God is over all.

  34. David,

    I just want to reiterate that the number of comments a post receives is not necessarily indicative of its impact. This series and the ensuing dialogue have been fascinating, easily one of my favorite things that I have ever read on the bloggernacle. I could echo a lot of what bmortmft has written, but I won’t venture off into redundancy. Thanks again.