Stages of Faith – Miller’s Four Floors of Consciousness

Professor Ron Miller

The late Professor Ron Miller is one of the best lecturers I have ever heard.  He is quite simply brilliant.  He is by far the best theologian I have ever heard or read.  He was a former Jesuit, and a student of philosophy his entire adult life.  I suspect his great intellect in combination with his obvious love of philosophy and people, attributes to the sublime insights which he so eloquently shares with his audience.  I highly recommend watching all the presentations he gave to the Theosophical Society:

Miller’s books are as insightful as his lectures, if more focused.  I especially enjoy his “The Gospel of Thomas” which features his commentary on these 114 pithy sayings (logia) attributed to Jesus.  A growing number of scholars -Miller included- regard a significant number of these as the oldest surviving record of Jesus’ message.   Perhaps as many as 30% of them may date to the oral traditions of the Jesus Movement taking place within Judaism.  (Although, while I tend to side with Miller’s observation, it is fair to observe other scholars place this percentage lower – and some believe the entire work dates from the 2nd or 3rd century of the Common Era.)

Miller offers a simple way of thinking about spiritual perspectives through the metaphor of a four story building, each floor of which represents a level of human consciousness.  I like this metaphor because it is so memorable, yet useful.  It is an easy to remember model, but one which I find both flexible and very practical in day to day use:

 
Floor                   Stage of Consciousness       View of Enemies
Basement              Tribal/Warrior                          Kill
First Floor              Thinking/Intellectual                Negotiate
Second Floor         Feeling/Empathy                    Feel Relationship
Rooftop Garden     Unity/Oneness                        There are no enemies

The two aspects of Miller’s model which I have chosen to highlight in the table above are one’s Stage of Consciousness and one’s View of Enemies.  In giving a brief two-word summary of the Stage of Consciousness, one should be better able to relate Miller’s Floors to the stages/levels of consciousness as discussed by other systems.  And by relating how each Stage of Consciousness chooses to deal with those seen as enemies, I hope to provide an insight to one of the more important effects of our Floor of Consciousness has upon us – how we choose to engage ourselves when in conflict with others.

There are certainly more complex models one may study.  In a previous post I introduced my favorite model to date, James Fowler’s “Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning.”  I highly recommend studying this book, as I have found it very practical in expanding the understanding of my own spiritual journey, as well as assisting me in better appreciating the journey of others.  That said, there is certainly a place for a simple metaphor, such as Miller offers us.

When ordering my thoughts during a discussion of spirituality, I frequently turn to Miller’s Four Floors of Consciousness.  Over the course of the conversation I may refine my view (perhaps by shifting the lens through one of Fowler’s Stages of Faith) but Miller’s Four Floors offer a very good foundation, for a great many discussions.

Basement Consciousness

The lowest state of consciousness in Miller’s metaphor is found down in the the basement.  From the basement, one has no view of one’s surroundings.  One’s world is very limited.  This represents “tribal” and “warrior” thinking.  Everything is seen as black or white; either 100% Right or 100% Wrong.  Killing enemies is the favored means of conflict resolution.  It readily lends itself to destructive dualistic thinking.  When viewing the world in this way it is exceedingly easy to see others as Satan or some other embodiment of Evil Incarnate.  Once others have been psychologically dehumanized, it is quite a small step to embrace murdering them (“it”) in the name of God (I would argue “god” if one cares to split spiritual hairs).

Relating this to our “more civilized” culture in the West, we will often find that such “tribal wars” aim not for the physical murder of those perceived as enemies, but rather in the destruction and “murder” of their spiritual beliefs and philosophies.  Also common to this thinking are strict interpretations of Heaven and Hell, and the consignment of all those unlike themselves to the “eternal fires of hell.”

(With regard to the question of the meaning of “eternal” in the original Greek, and the proper scope of this term, I would suggest Dr. Hanson’s book “Universalism: The Prevailing Doctrine of the Christian Church During Its First Five Hundred Years.”)

First Floor Consciousness

Raising our consciousness to the first floor affords us greater perspective.  We now have access to windows through which to view the world.  We can see outside and beyond our basement.  We begin to make sense of our immediate surroundings and our relationship to them.  We begin to appreciate there are other ways of looking at the world and instead of a world of Black and White we begin to observe shades of grey between these extremes.  The world becomes larger, inter-related, and more complex.  We engage of rational thinking.  In the later developmental stages of forming this level of understanding, we become increasingly aware that other’s also have their own perspective on the world (and they of us).  We recognize we each have our own special interests to serve.  Conflict resolution enters the phase of negotiation in preference to murder.  However, while we hold an olive branch in one hand, we still hold our sword in the other.

Second Floor Consciousness

When we raise our consciousness to the second floor we have an even better view of our surroundings.  We see not only our yard but the neighborhood in which we live.  We begin to engage our heart as well as our mind, gaining empathy for others.  And this is the most significant change in our newly acquired developmental stage:  the ability to feel in our heart as we imagine others might feel.  We begin to walk in their shoes, as the popular saying goes.  Compassion for others begins to become an important value.  This has an obvious effect upon us, because we begin to understand that in addition to there being a variety of ways of seeing the world, we realize each person has feelings as intrinsically vital as our own, and we begin to appreciate how our behaviors and actions effect others emotionally.

One might say we begin to live in our heart, as well as in our head (the first floor).  I suspect at this stage of spiritual development we begin to appreciate how we may cause a number of our own problems, which we previously saw as something only others did to us.  We have become co-conspirators in our life as opposed to innocent victims.  Conflict resolution begins to cross an entirely new threshold.  We sincerely wish to find mutually satisfying and rewarding negotiations.  If we have not yet beaten our sword into a ploughshare, at least it has been placed in our scabbard.

Rooftop Garden Consciousness

And finally we come to the rooftop garden.  Relatively few people spend much time here.  But the view is grand!  Not only is our entire town visible, but the rolling hills and ocean beyond!  We begin to apprehend we are each connected, as is all the water in the ocean.  As this view matures we begin to imagine what the world must look like as we soar high above it.  And then we come to see the earth as that beautiful blue marble hanging in space.  And it really hits us:  truly, we all emanate from the transcendent One!

This is said to be where we really find Unity.  This is where we no longer see enemies.  In fact, we realize there can be no enemies… because we are all One!  This rooftop garden view of the world is offered to us by all the great seers and sages, and all great spiritual traditions offer us this insight.  Sadly, if history is any judge, the majority of people trapped in lower stages of consciousness cannot stand in the light of this apprehension for very long.  Such visionaries generally come to violent deaths.

The Rooftop Garden View of Consciousness is that of the Mystic.  And all mystics seem to find Unity here.

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