Posts Tagged 'Spirituality'

Belief & Faith

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit

When speaking of belief and faith, I find our common understanding of these words has become impoverished, lacking vitality as compared to their older meanings found in the Christian New Testament. The words belief and faith carry an importance we ought to appreciate as Christians, if we are to come to a deeper understanding of our own sacred texts, so that we may taste the richness of scriptural language.

What do you imagine most people now mean when they speak of belief? Of faith?

In the vernacular of contemporary American English, belief and faith are closely related. Their primary difference is one of color, taste, or degree. In my experience belief holds wider use in secular (nonreligious) language and faith is more common to religious language. Also, so far as I am concerned, faith runs deeper than belief.

In its secular use, belief may identify a difference in degree of certainty: to say I believe the capital of Alaska is Juneau, means I am not 100% certain that is factual; if I tell someone I believe them, I am assuring them I assume they are telling me the truth (as they perceive it, of course). As Marcus Borg observes, “…knowing and believing are different. Believing is what you turn to when knowledge runs out.” [1]

In the religious context, belief carries a different connotation: affirming as true, that which one would otherwise not hold to be true, e.g. virgin birth (based upon a mistranslation and misreading of Isaiah 7:14 [2]), or that the earth was literally created in six days.

The assertion of a literal six-day creation also demonstrates a logical fallacy, in that one must willfully ignore that within the cosmogany [3] of Genesis itself, the sun and moon were created on the fourth day [4], and our measure of a day is dependent upon the earth’s rotation relative to the sun; thus, even within it’s own logical construct, Genesis cannot be understood literally. As with all mythology, it’s meaning runs far deeper than assertions concerning empirically demonstrable facts. Failing to appreciate the vitality of mythology is another impoverishment many (most?) in the modern age suffer.

Saying, “I believe you” does not carry the same conviction as saying, “I have faith in you.” Belief is directed toward an estimate of accuracy in data ―the known vs. the unknown― whereas faith is an estimation of a person’s intrinsic character or qualities.

Faith may also be understood as choosing to believe something as being true, which cannot be demonstrated to be true; or even choosing to believe a thing as being true, despite empirical evidence it is not true. One may choose to believe life has meaning beyond the physical; one may choose to believe there is a God; one may choose to believe Jesus was the son of God; one may choose to believe one is saved or redeemed. But none of these assertions may be empirically proved or disproved. This is why believing them requires a demonstration of faith.

Significant error creeps into our thinking when one confuses empirically demonstrable facts with claims of truth and perceptions of what one deems to be true. Simply put, facts and truth are not always the same things; many truths are imbued with an ineffable quality, or display a quality richer than that which may be measured.

For those interested in the topic of the meaning of Christian words, and how they have changed over the centuries, I commend to you Marcus Borg’s book “Speaking Christian.” I find Borg to be both an intelligent and caring person, able to convey refined details of theology from a scholars perspective, without losing touch with the heart of Christianity, which is love.

What the Christian New Testament attempts to convey when using faith

Faith, carries several simultaneous connotations: assensus, fidelitas, fiducia (Latin Vulgate translation of the New Testament). [5]

Assensus, we may translate as assent; however, until we appreciate the depth of meaning in the remaining terms, we miss the mark if assuming this simply means to believe things that a rational person cannot. But let us first visit fidelitas and fiducia, then return to assensus.

Fidelitas, means faith as faithfulness; fidelity. To help us better understand this kind of faith, Borg uses the example of fidelity in marriage, as one being faithful to the relationship with one’s spouse; not faithful to a set of logical statements concerning one’s spouse.

In the same way, fidelity to God is not about believing dogma or church traditions or even scripture; fidelity to God is being faithful to one’s relationship with God; intentionally and mindfully enriching our sense of relationship with that transcendent More, which Christians identify as God or Father.

One aspect of this, is deliberately, consciously living in the presence of the divine throughout our daily life, as best we are able. How do we do this? We start by being aware of each moment as it passes. We open ourselves to the possibility of feeling a Presence at any time. We look for opportunities to relate to others directly, with compassion, and to help them when we are able.

Why? Because “God” is not up in heaven somewhere, and “God” is not “out there” somewhere. Quite the opposite: it is we who are “in God” because we are immersed in the sacred More all the time, as is a fish in water. Sometimes we are aware of this; other times we forget or become distracted.

Fiducia, is faith as trust. Radical –as in fundamental, foundational– trust in one’s relationship with God; this is not trust in statements, or affirmations, or assertions about God. The root lies not in logical constructs, but in experiential relationship. Thus, the heart of faith as fiducia, is rooted in personal experience of the divine.

Sensing our personal experience of the divine, by the way, is one way to define mysticism. Fiducia is related to fidelitas (fidelity), because fidelity is expressed through our concern for others, daily moving through our life mindful of the possibility of encountering the divine, and specifically of encountering the divine in those we meet. Thus, faith as fidelity is rooted in experiencing life, as is fiducia, faith as trust in relationship.

And let us remember, our daily life is where we must “meet God” because that is where we find ourselves. It is like the old joke, everywhere you go, there you are. But so too, “God” the transcendent and immanent More in which we swim, and have our very be-ing-ness, is there with us.

Returning to assensus –“faith as believing something is true” [6]– I agree with Borg, that first and foremost, we are (as William James defined the Sacred) affirming there is a mysterious More which permeates the cosmos. And for me as a Christian, Jesus is the “decisive disclosure of the More,” [7] that in which “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Thus, as Christians we seek theosis [8] of the Christ living in, and through, us.

What the Christian New Testament attempts to convey when using belief

Belief, one may best read as beloved [9]. As used in the New Testament, the heart of its meaning is love; not assertion, nor affirmation, and certainly not as acknowledging empirically derived facts. Once one shifts one’s understanding of the word belief, to beloved, many passages in the New Testament take on a new life and vitality.

This brings to mind what for me is the most central aspect of the teaching of Jesus ― the Greatest Commandment:

Matthew 22:36-40 New International Version (NIV)

36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ [Deut. 6:5] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ [Lev. 19:18] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Speaking practically, what might one do to help encourage some experience of the divine, of “God” in one’s life?

Mindful, intentional, loving, engagement is the path many mystics cite when asked how one might draw oneself nearer an experience of the divine in one’s life. There are a number of ways one might begin one’s journey along this path. Among them are regularly praying and/or meditating, studying and/or contemplating scripture, and participating in the Eucharist.

Why pray? Why study scripture? Why attend Mass?

Each of these embeds one in the Mind of Christ, to some degree; to what depth changes with each person. Some respond more to prayer, some by immersing themselves in scripture, and others by partaking of Holy Communion. But in each case, the objective is to find a means of immersing oneself in maturing spiritual thought and maturing spiritual emotion.

I would make the point that both thought and emotion play important roles in acquiring the skill leading to one’s spiritual maturity. Each provides a measure of balance to the other. Without emotion one may become dry, empty husks merely spouting facts and figures which have been memorized. Where is the Spirit in this? Without thought, one is lost, awash in emotional turmoil, seething and reacting, but without guidance, lacking long-term goals and unable to direct one’s spiritual development. Where is the Spirit in this?

One prays, studies scripture, and partakes of Holy Communion because the more one does so, the more one embeds oneself in the process of forming in oneself the Mind of Christ. As one dwells more frequently in this mode of thought and experience, one more frequently views one’s view daily interactions and internal dialogue through this spiritual lens. One becomes more mindful of one’s presence, that of others, and ultimately of the More, to which we all aspire.

All of these are means of transforming oneself into the type of person one wishes to become. As one increasingly finds one dwells in this state of mind, one increasingly has an effect upon others. Thus transformation of self, overflows into transformation of community, which over time creates a feedback, in which one is more spiritually nourished by one’s community; and as one better nourishes other members of one’s community, the cycle of spiritual generation continues. Where the Heart and Mind leads, the body will follow.

John 3:16, For God so loved the world…

With all the above in mind, I wish to offer two translations of John 3:16 for your consideration. The first is the King Jame’s Version, and the second a translation done by Marcus Borg. I invite you to compare these versions of John 3:16 and ask yourself which version better promotes the mature psychological and spiritual thinking of Unity Consciousness; that of putting on the Mind of Christ.

For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son
that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish
but have everlasting life.
[John 3:16 KJV]

For God so loved the world that God gave the only beloved Son of God
that whosoever beloves him shall not perish
but experience the life of the age to come in the here and now.
[John 3:16 translation by Marcus Borg][10]

As you come to the end of this essay, I encourage you to read Marcus Borg’s short sermon, “What is Faith?” upon which this essay is based. I find his thoughts on this topic insightful, and I believe you will as well:

Marcus Borg’s Lenten Homily

May the Lord bless and keep you,


[1] Marcus J. Borg, “Speaking Christian: Why Christian Words Have Lost Their Meaning and Power ― And How They Can Be Restored” (New York: HarperCollins, 2011) 116.

[2] Isaiah 7:14 is typically taken out of context when quoted by Christians in the defense of Jesus’ virgin birth; few who read it are aware the Hebrew word used is Almah, which carries a range of meanings: girl; maid; maiden; young woman, and virgin. Almah is indeed translated as virgin in the Greek Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Bible (from which the author of Matthew drew their reference). However, this is obviously a mistaken interpretation when read in context; read Isaiah 7:10-17 for yourself: “Isaiah Gives Ahaz the Sign of Immanuel”… 10 Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, 11 Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. 12 But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test. 13 Then Isaiah said: “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman [Greek, the virgin] is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel [God is with us]. 15 He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. 16 For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted. 17 The Lord will bring on you and on your people and on your ancestral house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah—the king of Assyria.” (NRSV) Basically, this passage is a prophecy that the current siege shall be lifted after the young woman gives birth, and that king Ahaz will not be defeated by these two kings, as he fears. It has nothing to do with Jesus’ virgin birth (although in the ancient literature of many cultures, accounts of virgin births are mythic/legendary elements often employed to raise the status of those to whom they are directed: Krishna (India); Horus (Egypt); Lao-Tsze (China); even Plato (Athens); as well as, Dionysus, Buddha, Zoroaster, and of course Jesus). This is not to imply that virgin births are not important, but they are not to be understood literally either.

[3]Cosmogany: a theory or story of the origin and development of the universe, the solar system, or the earth-moon system (

[4] Genesis 1:14-19. The fourth day.

[5] Marcus J. Borg, “What is Faith?” (Memphis, TN: Lenten Homily, 2001)

[6] Borg, “What is Faith?”

[7] Borg, “What is Faith?”

[8] “Theosis literally means to become gods by Grace. The Biblical words that are synonymous and descriptive of Theosis are: adoption, redemption, inheritance, glorification, holiness and perfection. Theosis is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit, whereby through Grace one becomes a participant in the Kingdom of God. Theosis is an act of the uncreated and infinite love of God. It begins here in time and space, but it is not static or complete, and is an open-ended progression uninterrupted through all eternity.” Archimandrite George, Abbot of the Holy Monastery of St. Gregorios, Mount Athos “Theosis: The True Purpose of Human Life” (Mount Athos, Greece: 2006) page 86.

[9] Borg, “What is Faith?”

[10] Borg, “What is Faith?”



Borg, Marcus J.:

“The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith”

“Speaking Christian: Why Christian Words Have Lost Their Meaning and Power ― And How They Can Be Restored”

Ehrman, Bart D.: “Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew”

James, William : “Varieties of Religious Experience, a Study in Human Nature”


Borg, Marcus J.: Lenten Homily, “What is Faith?” (Memphis, TN: 2001)

Archimandrite George, Abbot of the Holy Monastery of St. Gregorios, Mount Athos “Theosis: The True Purpose of Human Life” (Mount Athos, Greece: 2006) (


Putting on the Mind of Christ ― Levels of Human Consciousness (Introduction)

St. John's Ashfield, StainedGlass of Jesus as the Good Shepherd (cropped to portrait)

St. John’s Ashfield, StainedGlass of Jesus as the Good Shepherd (cropped to portrait)

Putting on the Mind of Christ ― Levels of Human Consciousness (Introduction)

Putting on the mind of Christ is an analogy Paul uses to encourage us to create in ourselves the same manner of looking at the world, and of relating to our fellow humankind, as did Jesus.

The change which Paul is encouraging us to embrace runs extremely deep, he in fact, wishes for us to assume the very mind of the Christ; which in our modern language, we may read as learning to evolve our own psychological and spiritual growth to the same degree as did Jesus.

Let the same mind be in you that you have in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 2:5 (NRSV)

We have the mind of Christ.
1 Corinthians 2:16 (NRSV)

But is this feasible? The author of John thought so:

John 17:21-ff  (NRSV)

Jesus Prays for His Disciples

“As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be one in us…. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one….

“Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

[Note: In John, when we read “glory” we ought to envision an image of divine Presence; this Light shines through us, to others; by example, by our way of living, by our treatment of others; it is a metaphor for a hierophany (a revelation of the sacred) which calls us to develop the highest level of psychological and spiritual wholeness and health. In the passage above, Jesus extends the metaphor to say that God the Father, Jesus, and the divine Love of God the Father lives in each of us; and importantly, all are One (Unity Consciousness). EW]

Developing a Background for the Exploration of Spiritual Maturation

In his book “Putting on the Mind of Christ” Jim Marion uses the work of persons such as James Fowler (“Stages of Faith”) and Ken Wilber (“Integral Spirituality”) as jumping off points to explore his own spiritual journey and maturation. Marion’s exploration of human consciousness ―beginning with his own― is seen as a process of spiritual evolution, in which we all play our own role; we may each do so either mindfully aware, or blind and deaf to that which Jesus seeks to enlighten us.

I find this process suggests a fascinating way of discovering, and better understanding, our own spirituality, and its development as a natural process. Equally fascinating to me is viewing our individual ―and communal― spiritual development as a means of understanding the role of Spirit as an evolutionary force that is woven into the very fabric of the cosmos (a tenet of Process Theology, which in itself is a means of better understanding what Paul Tillich tries to convey in his discussions of God as the Ground of Being). While this sounds outlandish, there are quantum physicists who suggest this may a reasonable hypothesis, including David Bohm (1917-1972).

  • Sidebar: Bohm’s intriguing contributions include: quantum theory, neuropsychology, philosophy of mind, implicate and explicate order, the holonomic model of the brain; his books include: “Quantum Theory,” “Thought as a System,” “The Undivided Universe,” “Wholeness and the Implicate Order”.

But first, we must understand there are various levels ―or stages― of human consciousness. As we will see, some of these stages all healthy adults process through as a result of their natural psychological development; but not everyone is equipped to attain the later stages of human consciousness; certainly not without consistent, mindful effort.

Second, we must view the evolution of the human species from the perspective of the predominate level of human consciousness presenting at different stages of human culture. This is a means of characterizing the average level of consciousness development in human cultures through history; the predominate consciousness during the Stone Age is not the same as during the Middle Ages, which is not the same as in the developed world of the 21st century of the Common Era.

This is to say that once we come to understand the development of consciousness in individuals, we are then able to see that human culture is itself a reflection of the level of consciousness held by the majority of persons at that time (or of those persons holding power). This also offers a means of understanding the literary arch of biblical scripture. However, this is not a topic widely discussed, so it is a perspective of which a great many persons remain unaware (if this sounds interesting, you may wish to watch the sermon given by bishop Spong, listed in the references below).

As one might expect, this is a very complex topic which I cannot hope to fully develop in one essay (dozens if not hundreds of books have been written exploring these matters). I will however, examine these topics in a series of essays.

For further study I would direct those interested in this subject to the references I have listed at the conclusion of this essay. The primary topics include process theology and the various levels of consciousness of the human personality. I will begin my discussion with a brief introduction to the later, largely adopting the framework of Marion’s work (who in turn, adopts the framework of those authors he most respects).

Similarities Observed in Maturing Levels of Consciousness

As we begin to learn about the various levels of consciousness, it may initially seem confusing. For this reason I thought I’d begin by briefly introducing similarities shared by all of the levels of human consciousness, specifically from the point of view of the process of consciousness maturation. In his book “Putting on the Mind of Christ” Jim Marion identifies four traits shared by those maturing in consciousness, regardless of their predominate level of consciousness (“Putting on the Mind of Christ” pg. 34):


  • All growth in consciousness is a process of inner realization.
  • All inner realizations are the result of personal experience “meditated upon” in some fashion.
  • All growth in consciousness is a lessening of self-centeredness, a “death” to the old self-centered way of looking at the world and a simultaneous “rebirth” into a less self-centered way of seeing things.
  • As a person’s consciousness goes up the spiritual ladder from level to level, the person’s consciousness becomes less and less attached to (i.e., stuck in or define by) physical matter.


When we consider human societies as a whole, we note another common thread shared by them all: the predominate level of consciousness present in a society impacts and limits the thoughts, goals, and behaviors of members of that society. Thus, human societies reflect the average level of consciousness of the society; or at least of those who dominate and rule the society (a behavior which by definition, is a trait only displayed by lower consciousness societies). Thus we may observe, the vast majority of human societies have been inhabiting the lower levels of human consciousness development throughout recorded history.

Persons of significantly lower or higher levels of consciousness (as compared to the average level of consciousness found within that society) tend to be marginalized. Furthermore, it is always easier for a society to backslide to a lower level of consciousness, and much more difficult to evolve into a higher level of consciousness. So while we do see growth over time, it is slow and halting, and more easily stymied than stimulated toward progress.

Levels of Consciousness of the Human Personality

Viewed broadly, certain levels of human consciousness are typical of youth, and others are typical of adults who have begun the process of spiritual maturation. All developmental levels are vital to us as individuals. It is important we recognize these developmental phases are necessary and desirable stages of psychic development in each of us.

Indeed, we do not skip levels of consciousness, but rather grow and mature from one level toward another, and later to another. As we move from one level of consciousness to the next, there are varying degrees of overlap between them during our transition. Our understanding and perception of the world typically changes slowly, by degree. We see this both in the individual, and in human cultural evolution over thousands of years.

Thus, when we are dealing with a person who inhabits an earlier level of consciousness than our own, we must remind ourselves we too matured through that level, and that we benefited from our experiences within that level of consciousness; just as is the person with whom we are dealing. We may now observe certain limitations in that earlier level of consciousness, but the other person may not yet be able to do so. This is simply because our capacity for perception is radically different from one level of consciousness to another; certain insights are occluded to those of younger development.

The following are the identified levels of consciousness of the human personality which I will discuss in future essays:

  • Youth Stages:
    • Archaic Consciousness of the Infant
    • Magical Consciousness of Children
    • Mythic Consciousness of the Pre-adolescent (1st Mental Level)
  • Adult Stages:
    • Rational Consciousness (2nd Mental Level)
    • Vision-Logic Consciousness (3rd Mental Level)
    • Psychic Consciousness
    • The Dark Night of the Senses
    • Subtle Consciousness.

May you be blessed with an increasing experience of connection with the Holy Spirit within,



My Other Essays:

Stages of Faith – Introduction (March 2013)
Stages of Faith – Intro to James W. Fowler (May 2013)
Stages of Faith – Intro to M. Scott Peck (May 2013)
Stages of Faith – James W.Fowler: Approximate Ages During Stages (June 2013)
Stages of Faith – Miller’s Four Floors of Consciousness (June 2013)


Miller, Ron: Nine Talks from the Theosophical Society

Spong, John Shelby: “Bishop John Shelby Spong ‘From a Tribal God to a Universal Presence: The Story Of The Bible'”


Bohm, David:

“Thought as a System”
“Quantum Theory”
“The Undivided Universe: An Ontological Interpretation of Quantum Theory”
“Wholeness and the Implicate Order”

Artson, Bradley Shavit: “God of Becoming and Relationship: The Dynamic Nature of Process Theology”

Fowler, James: “Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning”

Marion, Jim: “Putting on the Mind of Christ: The Inner Work of Christian Spirituality”

Smith, Paul: “Integral Christianity: The Spirit’s Call to Evolve”

Talbot, Michael: “The Holographic Universe”

Whitehead, Alfred North: “Process and Reality” (Gifford Lectures Delivered in the University of Edinburgh, 1927-28)

Wilber, Ken: “Integral Spirituality: A Startling New Role for Religion in the Modern and Postmodern World”

Scriptural References:

Romans 12:2 (NRSV)

Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

1 Corinthians 2:6-16 (NRSV)

The True Wisdom of God

Yet among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish. But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written,

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived,
what God has prepared for those who love him”―

these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual.

[or: …interpreting spiritual things in spiritual language].
[or: …comparing spiritual things with spiritual].

Those who are unspiritual [natural] do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. Those who are spiritual discern all things, and they are themselves subject to no one else’s scrutiny.

“For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?”

But we have the mind of Christ.

Philippians 2:1-11 (NRSV)

Imitating Christ’s Humility

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that you have [or: was] in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.

Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

[Note: Here Paul is quoting an early Christian hymn or poem. Paul’s inclusion of this type of material offers us a glimpse of Christian thought from the 20 year gap between Jesus’ crucifixion and Paul’s writing (which is the earliest surviving Christian writing). EW]

Seeking the Face of Christ

Christ And The Two Marys by William Holman Hunt

Christ And The Two Marys by William Holman Hunt


Seeking the Face of Christ

While reading Celia Hales’ blog, “Miracles Each Day” ( the following observation struck me as worthy of reflection:

“Until we see the face of Christ in all others, we are still in the learning stages. And often, even when we succeed briefly, we do not sustain this manner of looking. When we see Christ, we are being loving and forgiving.”

This strikes me as one example of what I imagine Paul may have been suggesting when advising us of the importance of putting on the mind of Christ.  In so doing, we are seeking to emulate the behaviors that Jesus modeled for us, and to live in such a manner as to encourage the Christ to flow into us, and through our thoughts, words, and deeds, into the world; thereby affecting others positively through the example of our lives.

Understood in this way, I believe putting on the mind of Christ is one aspect of the process of theosis.

  •      Theosis  ―  Deification;  divinization;  in Eastern Orthodox theology it is the process of coming into union (or oneness) with God;  “The Son of God became man, that we might become god”  (St. Athanasius of Alexandria).

I believe we Westerners often have great difficulty seeing through the lens of Eastern Orthodox Christianity.  In the above quote of St. Athanasius it is important to understand there is a difference in becoming God, and in becoming god:  the capital G God points to one meaning, and the lower case g god points to another.

The upper case God is the Uncreated;  that from which all that is created flows.  In the Christian tradition -both Eastern and Western- we perceive a line which cannot be crossed, between that which is Uncreated, and that which is created.

Henosis, in contrast, is the ancient Greek belief that one may literally be fully absorbed into God.  Therefore, using Christian terminology, henosis fails to make a distinction between the Uncreated and the created.

Eastern Orthodox Christianity appreciates there is a power or energy of God flowing from the Divine, into and through, all that is;  everything which exists, is caught up in the process of becoming or being, and does so as a result of being bathed-born of this energy flowing forth from the Divine/God.

There is a further subtly, in that there is both the potentiality to exist, and the actuality of existing.  Many things are possible;  some of these come into being.  This becoming is the the actuality of God ― the point at which a creature attains real-ness, as opposed to merely having a potential to become real.  The same may be said of atoms and rocks and suns.

This is how we see the cosmos itself as comprised of the Immanence of God.  The energy (Energeia) of God is sustaining the cosmos coming into existence as the actuality of God.  Were God *not* flowing into Time and Space, the cosmos would cease to exist.  Thus, the Immanence of God is the very fabric from which Time and Space is constructed.

Our solar system and planet may offer a useful analogy.  Energy flows from the sun, and this energy has the potential to sustain all manner of life on earth.  If the energy radiates out of the solar system, missing our planet, it’s life-giving sustenance may be said to have remained only in potential.  However, if the energy from the sun strikes earth, this potential blooms into life, and becomes the actuality of the sun on earth.

The energy of the sun (God) flows everywhere;  in some cases it also transforms into life, and becomes the actuality of the sun (God).

So, while we as creatures can never share the ontology (being-ness) of the Uncreated (we can never become the sun), we are living in the field of energy (sunlight) flowing forth from the Uncreated.

Perhaps this is what Paul Tillich had in mind when he spoke of God as the Ground of Being?  

The concept of God as the Ground of Being, I continue to find an awkward idea to wrap my mind around, but I suspect there is something to it.  It certainly better lends itself to the understanding of “God” as Transcendent, as well as panentheistic.

The pay-off is that a Transcendent, panentheistic God is the Immanence which sustains all of the cosmos, and without which/whom the cosmos would cease to exist (Hinduism and Buddhism have long held this view).  This is the aforementioned effect or “energy” of God within Time and Space.

But if we are to take panentheism seriously, there must be another aspect of the Divine which is outside of both Time and Space, which is totally alien to us.  We are creatures of Time and Space, so we cannot intellectually grasp what it means *not* to be of Time and Space.  Time and Space define everything we know and have the capacity to know.

However, I believe this is largely a mental-intellectual limitation.  If we reside only in our head, we cannot grasp God.  God must remain forever abstract, alien, and ultimately unknowable to us in any literal, logical sense.

In fact, every time we intellectually define God, we limit and diminish God.  We must do so, because we are taking what is Transcendent, and forcing it out of the Infinite, into a concept tiny enough for us to wrap our minds around.  This is seeing with our head.

But the mystics tell us we can learn to see with our heart.  They indicate we each possess some facility to sense there is something More beyond the confines of Time and Space.  This seems to be based in experience, is intuitive, and suggestive, and cannot be adequately described with words.  (Words are tools of symbolic logic, and therefore within the intellectual domain, not the domain of the heart experience.)

Becoming a lower case g, god

It is because we are living within the “energy” of God that we may aspire to become a lower-g god.  God is always everywhere, and God is always the center of the cosmos.  As the late Joseph Campbell observes:

God is a circle whose center is everywhere, whose circumference is nowhere.

Thus, God is anywhere we happen to be.  God’s Light, God’s Radiance, God’s Immanence, *is* the cosmos in which all the galaxies of the universe spin.  Thus, in a certain sense, we cannot help but be in the presence of God;  God is everywhere, always.

  •       God is always open to us.

The critical point is that we must open ourselves to God, so as to be able to perceive the Immanence of God.  But this does not normally happen spontaneously (although some report that it has);  typically, it requires that we change our perception through mindful attention and intention.

When religion is operating at its greatest spiritual potential, it helps open us to the Transcendent;  but when religion is made concrete and literal, it has the opposite effect, closing us to the Transcendent.

Living into the actuality of the Divine

Given that we are alive, we are already caught up in the actuality of God;  as with a fish living in the ocean, we cannot do otherwise.  But unlike the fish, we have the choice of living mindfully within this actuality, or of living our life in metaphoric darkness, unaware of, or denying, any connection to the Ground of Being.

With all of the above informing our thoughts, let us return to the observation made by Celia Hales:

“Until we see the face of Christ in all others, we are still in the learning stages. And often, even when we succeed briefly, we do not sustain this manner of looking. When we see Christ, we are being loving and forgiving.”


All of us are living within the actuality of God;  whether we know it or not.  Not only is the fish in the water, but the water is in the fish.  So when we look at another person, we should look for the Divine in them.  If we do not recognize the Divinity present in all persons ―and other creatures, for that matter― we are operating from a very young, early stage of faith, and we have a great deal more to learn about our spirituality.

As our spirit matures, and we become increasingly aware of the Divinity in others, at first we tend to do so only for short periods of time.  Life gets in the way, and we forget that we are all moving and living in the same God, sharing in the same Ground of Being.  Such is human nature.  Strive to do better, but do not beat yourself up unduly for simply being human.

With sustained observation, mindfulness, and practice, over time we will do better.  We do not physically or psychologically or emotionally mature over night.  So too with attaining greater spiritual maturity.  We are all works in progress.  But the work begins with mindfulness;  being present in each moment, and throughout our interactions with others.

Seeking the face of Christ

Where do we seek the face of Christ?  We seek the face of Christ in others!

When we are able to look into another person’s face, and see in them the Christ, we are able to recognize the Divinity living in each of us.  And seeing this, how can we fail to rise ourselves to a higher standard of living ―even if only briefly― and how can we fail to treat others with greater compassion and love (agápe)?

The more often we practice holding this vision of the Christ, the longer we will be able to retain it, the more easily it will return when disrupted, and the more deeply, and naturally it will become part of us.  All of this is related to the psychological and behavioral transformation of self.

Where do we seek the face of Christ?  We seek the face of Christ in ourselves!

This is why we strive for theosis, so that we may open ourselves to the in-flowing energy of the Christ, to first fill us, and then flow through us, into the world.  This is the process of conditioning ourselves to become beacons through which the Divine Light may illuminate the world.

Water, Light, Energy, the Christ, these are all metaphors which are designed to open us to some experience of the Transcendent in our lives;  hopefully, guiding us to engage in more compassionate dealings with ourselves and others.

And this is what takes place during the Eucharist.  We seek to open ourselves to the Divine, so that we may become entry points for the Divine into this world.  Ideally the in-flow of the  Christ energy takes place not only during the Eucharist, but continues to take place as we move through the world, revealing itself in our compassionate interactions with others.

This is why we seek the face of Christ in others.

This is why we seek the face of Christ in ourselves.

And Jesus said:

…Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, you are gods’?  (John 10:34, quoting Ps. 82:6, “I say, “You are gods, children of the Most High, all of you”)

…Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above [or born anew].  (John 3:3)

…the Father’s kingdom is spread out upon the earth, and people don’t see it.  (Gospel of Thomas, 113)

…the (Father’s) kingdom is within you and it is outside you.  (Gospel of Thomas, 3)

…the kingdom of God is within you. (Luke 17:21)

May the Lord Bless and Keep You,


Joseph Campbell, “Mythos” (Vol. I, II, and III)

Gospel of Thomas:

Thin Places: Opening the Heart

Modern Celtic cross at cimetière du Père-Lachaise, Paris

Modern Celtic cross at cimetière du Père-Lachaise, Paris


My title is taken from the eighth chapter of Marcus Borg’s book “The Heart of Christianity” which prompted my thoughts for this essay.  This is a moving, thoughtful book which I enthusiastically recommend.


Thin Places

The image of Thin Places occurring throughout the physical world is often attributed to the Celts.  And while the Christian tradition may attribute the term to the infusion of ancient Celtic influences, we should recognize that the concept, and more importantly the experience of Thin Places, is far older than is Celtic Christianity (dating from the third century CE).  Thin places are in fact reported in all spiritual traditions of which I am aware.

A closely related concept is that of the axis mundi:

Axis Mundi (Merriam-Webster)  turning point of the world; line through the earth’s center around which the universe revolves

Everywhere the divine realm meets the earthly realm in which we live, that intersection becomes an axis mundi.  Frequently these locations are sacred mountains (Mount Fuji, Mount Olympus, Mount Hermon, Mount Sinai) or sacred trees (Bodhi tree, Yggdrasil, The Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil).

A church, temple or an altar may also become an axis mundi.  Less obvious to many Westerners, one’s home may become an axis mundi (as in the practice of Feng shui).  Our physical body may also become an axis mundi:  the chakra system common to Hinduism and Buddhism, as well as the practice of Yoga and Tai Chi, are all rooted in the understanding that the human body forms a pillar between heaven and earth (an axis mundi).

Within the Judeo-Christian traditions we can easily recognize the shared concepts of the axis mundi and of Thin Places in the telling sacred stories such as Jacob’s Ladder, Moses’ encounter with the burning bush, and the transfiguration of Christ on Mount Tabor.

We may also recall that Jesus often sought out a special place to commune with God (Mark 1:35, Matt. 14:13, Matt. 14:23, Luke 4:42, Luke 5:15, to name just a few).  Among the more memorable occasions are his 40-day fast in the wilderness,  praying in the garden of Gethsemane,  and the aforementioned transfiguration upon Mount Tabor.

While we seldom refer to Jesus as seeking out Thin Places, it seems obvious to me that the gospels tell us he did so with great frequency;  only the words used to describe his experience differ.  Thus, seeking out Thin Places, or a private sacred space in which we may seek an encounter with the divine, is as authentically Christian as is Jesus himself.

By whatever name we give it, persons from all cultures have sought an experience of the divine.  Thus, we may quite properly observe seeking Thin Places in which one may encounter the divine is a shared human experiences, common to all religions.  It is as much Christian as Buddhist;  as much Muslim as Hindu;  as much Jewish as Taoist;  as much Shinto as Native American.

It is true that the highly personal and subjective nature of the encounter with a Thin Place makes it difficult to convey to others.  And for those who have not had their own experience, it is also very easy to deny that it ever happens.

For those of us who have not had our own Road to Damascus experience, we must rely upon testimony of persons trying to share something of their encounter with the divine, however limited by language their efforts may be.

In 1931, during a trip to England, Mahatma Gandhi was asked to record an address.  He chose his essay “On God” which opens with the following lines:

     “There is an indefinable mysterious power that pervades everything, I feel it though I do not see it. It is this unseen power which makes itself felt and yet defies all proof, because it is so unlike all that I perceive through my senses. It transcends the senses.”

One may note that Mahatma Gandhi was speaking of a personal encounter, somehow perceiving a presence, which he identified as God, yet transcendent to his senses.  Near the end of his address, he states, “I confess that I have no argument to convince through reason. Faith transcends reason.”

I suspect another way of saying this, is to observe that having had the experience of encountering the divine, one no longer questions the existence of the divine.  But one may never “prove” the divine exists to a person who has yet to have a similar experience or encounter.

In this we are all alone:  we perceive the world only through the lens of our own sense experience.  Anything we have not yet experienced, we may only appreciate through the testimony of those who have gone before us, those who may light the flame of our own imagination.

And we choose to accept or reject their testimony.

“Life is this simple. We are living in a world that is absolutely transparent, and God is shining through it all the time. That is not just fable or a nice story. It is true. If we abandon ourselves to God and forget ourselves, we see it sometimes, and we see it maybe frequently. God shows Himself everywhere, in everything ― in people and in things and in nature and in events. It becomes very obvious that God is everywhere and in everything and we cannot be without Him. It’s impossible. The only thing is, is that we don’t see it.”
― Thomas Merton, Trappist monk, in a 1965 audiotape


Opening Our Closed Heart

Marcus Borg observes that our heart closes as a result of the very natural process of growing up.  As we mature psychologically, we grow more deeply into a sense of “us.”  We become increasingly aware of the lens through which we observe all that lies outside of ourselves;  in fact, we perceive ourselves as that lens.

I am convinced Borg correctly identifies this process as “[t]he birth and development of self-awareness [which] involves an increasing sense of being a separated self” (page 153, “The Heart of Christianity”).

It is this self-awareness which creates the sense that we are separated from the rest of the cosmos.  And this sense of isolation and disconnection is what must be overcome, at least to some degree, if we are to begin opening our hearts.

This is part of what it means to be born again (or born from above).  I am convinced the author of the Gospel of John is alluding to a psychological-emotional-spiritual process ―although they would not have used that language 2,000 years ago― which brings about a reforming of one’s state of consciousness.

  •      (For a deeper discussion of the psychological and spiritual aspects of the Gospel of John, I recommend Bishop Spong’s book “The Fourth Gospel” and John Sanford’s book “Mystical Christianity.”)

Opening our heart is a process, and one which requires a daily effort.  We must seek out ways of opening our senses to the sacred, of feeling that presence of which Mahatma Gandhi spoke, or as Thomas Merton intimated, of forgetting ourselves enough that we may see that divine light shining everywhere into the world.

Perhaps it is useful to hear how we might recognize when we are failing to open our heart.  Borg gives us a stark example (“The Heart of Christianity” page 154):

     “When I stand in a supermarket checkout line and all the people I see look kind of ugly, I know that my heart is closed.”


Thin Places Facilitate the Opening of Our Heart

We truly are creatures of habit.  If we never seek out a Thin Place, we are unlikely to find one.  Yet if we make it a habit to seek Thin Places, thresholds where the divine crosses over into the physical world are increasingly likely to be revealed to us.

There is no guarantee this will happen, but I do believe it becomes increasingly likely over time.  (Especially if we are attentive to how we are being affected by our behaviors;  see Newberg in the Recommended Resources.)

Thin Places may be physical locations.  I have been in places where I felt something which may be described as a presence.  I suspect there may be some merit to the argument that we may encounter something like a “spiritual battery” if we enter a physical space which has been regularly used for spiritual and/or religious practices.

  •      ( And if this is true, we may ask whether the religious relic makes the shrine holy, or whether the heart-felt prayers of pilgrims sanctify it. )

But I am not suggesting we seek out a specific physical location.  One may, of course, but I suspect this is of secondary importance.  I am suggesting of primary importance is that we seek inwardly for our Thin Place.

A Thin Place may be encountered wherever we happen to be.  It is a matter of changing our state of consciousness.  It is a matter of training our body to trigger certain mental, emotional, and psychological states so that we become sensitive to the existence of a Thin Place being created within us.

This may happen any where.  It may happen at any time.  It may happen to us unexpectedly.

But I firmly believe we may also engage in certain behaviors which make the experience more likely, and increasingly so over time, with practice and iteration of our behaviors.  I see this as one of the practical functions of ritual.

Practical examples include:

  • Attending regular places/modes of worship
    Sermons (although words tend to be least effective)
    Liturgical ritual
    Liturgical language
    Liturgical time (Easter, Christmas)
    Study of the bible and other sacred texts
    Contemplation of the bible and other sacred texts
    Internal, silent prayer (especially wordless, feeling-based)
    Communing with/in nature
    Participation in the sacraments (especially the Eucharist)
    Music, hymns, poetry
    Speaking/chanting in tongues
    Dancing, drumming, chanting
    Praying the rosary, or other prayer beads


Getting Thin

Getting “Thin” is about entering a psychological-emotional state in which we are more receptive to the Divine.  Intention is also important.  I believe fostering a sense of love is key to improving our spiritual health.

And we need travel no farther than where we are to do so;  provided we travel within.  We certainly may travel to a sacred place, but this is not required.

The specifics of the process are best tailored to the individual.  My best triggers may leave you unaffected, and vice versa.  Experimentation is required, and sufficient time so as to develop a sensitivity to the technique in question is recommended.

In trying to decide what practices may be more likely to bring about results, I suspect that C.G. Jung is correct in suggesting those behaviors which diminish our strongest conscious psychological functions, while supporting our unconscious psychological functions are the better choice.

But I do not think it matters whether one takes a quiet, subtle inward-directed approach (meditation and contemplation, for example) or whether one takes a louder, active outward-directed approach (singing and dancing, for example).

One approach to developing a trigger, is to so thoroughly engage either the active or quiet portions of the mind, that the neural networks supporting these areas of the brain saturate, and create an over-flow or cascading effect which ends up triggering both the active and quiet portions of the brain-mind simultaneously.

  •      ( To gain some insight as to how this may take place, I refer you to Dr. Andrew Newberg books, “Why God Won’t Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief” and “Mystical Mind: Probing the Biology of Religious Experience.” )


The Practice of Esoteric Christianity & Christian Mysticism

All of the above is part of what I understand to be the practice of Inner (Esoteric) Christianity, as well as the practice of Christian Mysticism.

In addition to reading classics on Christian Mysticism, one may study Dr. Newberg’s material on neural-theology as well as Neural Linguistic Programming (NLP).

I believe Dr. Newberg’s material offers valuable insights as to what is happening in our brain as we seek to enter transcendental states of consciousness, providing a useful over-view of what physical-psychological states we are trying to induce in ourselves.

NLP offers a number of very practical suggestions as to how we may “speak” to our own brain, so as to be understood most effectively.  NLP communicates to us the importance of appreciating various “states” of physiology and consciousness, as well as how they are related.

Some of the elemental aspects of NLP include understanding triggers, state, and modes of perception.  I believe each of these are very useful concepts with which to be familiar as we attempt to travel into Thin Places.  (See “Frogs Into Princes” by Bandler and Grinder.)

And, as described above, I do believe travelling into Thin Places is one means of Seeking the Divine Center.


May the Lord bless and keep you,



Recommended Resources:

Bandler, Richard; Grinder, John:  “Frogs into Princes: Neuro Linguistic Programming”

Borg, Marcus:  “The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith”

Gandhi, Mahatma:  Spiritual Message (“On God”), 1931

Newberg, Andrew:
“Why God Won’t Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief”
“Mystical Mind: Probing the Biology of Religious Experience”

Sanford, John:  “Mystical Christianity: A Psychological Commentary on the Gospel of John”

Spong, John Shelby:  “The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic”

A Brief Valentine’s Day Thought

When asked to express the most important part of the Jewish Torah, Jesus responded by saying the most important thing we can do is love God, and love others.  Upon this all of the Law and Prophets stand.

The Greatest Commandment

  •   35  and one of [the Pharisees], a lawyer, asked [Jesus] a question to test him.  36  “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”  37  [Jesus] said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’  38  This is the greatest and first commandment.  39  And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’  40  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”  (Matthew 22:35-40, NRSV)

Thus, Love, is the Greatest Commandment.  I suggest this means for us…

  •   When we are struggling over the interpretation of a given passage of scripture, or over church doctrine, we should ask in what way our understanding advances Love?
  •   When we are experiencing an internal debate about how we should respond to a given situation, or how to behave toward a certain person, we should remember Jesus’ words.  Thus, we should ask in what way our response advances Love?
  •   Do our thoughts, words, and actions advance the Love of God?  Are we promoting Love of the person standing before us?

Only when we are able to answer in the affirmative -for Love- are our actions and behaviors likely to measure up to the standard offered to us by Jesus, who believed the most important thing the Hebrew bible can teach us is Love, both for God and for others.

And I personally believe this is the most important thing Jesus teaches us:

  •   Love God
  •   Love others
  •   and by extension, Love Oneself

Infallibility & Inerrancy

Infallibility & Inerrancy:  Do Words Have Meaning?  Who Decides?

This is an addendum to my evaluation of two Statements of Faith in August 2013.  As is often the case with theological discussion, one must be careful to define the terms one is using, and to be aware of the definitions others are using.  One of my bishops observed that it seems I made a mistake in assuming the dictionary definitions of two particular words were being used, when it is much more likely their theological definitions were intended.  Now I believe these represent fairly minor points in the respective documents, however I do wish address this point for two reasons.

  • First, I think it may be a useful illustration of how important it is to be aware of the meaning of the specific words.
  • Second, it underscores how easily we can fall into the trap of assuming we know what another person means to say, only later discovering we may have been mistaken.

The following are representative of the definitions I found in online dictionary listings:

Infallible (
1 : incapable of error : unerring [an infallible memory]
2 : not liable to mislead, deceive, or disappoint : certain [an infallible remedy]
3 : incapable of error in defining doctrines touching faith or morals
Inerrancy (
: exemption from error : infallibility [the question of biblical inerrancy]

Inerrant (
: free from error

Merriam-Webster defines these words quite closely, in fact, one of the definitions of inerrancy is infallibility.  I suspect this is the root of my assumed meanings conveyed by these words, as I expressed in the previous evaluations in August of 2013.

However, upon reading the definitions more closely, one might discern that inerrant is a more limited term.  A text may be determined to be free from error, but one may think of this as a technical description of the competency of the editing, publishing, and printing processes.  A key point is that inerrancy may not speak to the truthful, or even the factual, quality of the premises which the document asserts.

Regarding inerrancy, Wikipedia offers the following….

  • (
  • Biblical inerrancy is the doctrine that the Bible, in its original manuscripts, is accurate and totally free from error of any kind; that “Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact”.[1] Some equate inerrancy with infallibility; others do not. [2][3]

The obvious problem with this proposition is the “original manuscripts” no longer exists.  So logically the argument is of no use as any kind of proof.  But this is a different argument, and not the one I wish to pursue in this addendum.  A greater difficulty is this definition is already slipping into the realm of infallibility, which is a highly subjective measure.

But it appears we are in good company with regard to being confused over this question’s fine points.  In the Roman Catholic Church this question has been debated in Vatican II, and the decades since;  without resolution as near as I am able to determine.  The following is a short quote from an interview with Roman Catholic Cardinal Francis George:

  • The question, finally, is what kind of confidence can those who hear the Word of God proclaimed from scripture have that it’s the truth? Fundamentalists would say that it’s all literally true, so we have every reason to be confident. But that ignores what exegesis has done for us in the last 200 years, identifying the different forms of literature in the Bible, the contexts of the communities in which it was written, and all the rest.
  • You’ve still got the problem, however, of the affirmation in faith that inspiration and inerrancy go together, so that what is inspired is also inerrant. At the same time, you have to discover what inerrancy means when you’re not reading a newspaper, but you’re reading poetry, or a myth of some sort, or a fable or a parable. We can make that distinction more easily in the New Testament, when Jesus is speaking in parables. It’s harder sometimes for us to make those distinctions in the Old Testament.

Please note the Cardinal’s observation that we must distinguish the type of prose we are reading.  This is critical.  Reading a newspaper speaks to a different kind of truth than does poetry and parable.  I have tried to make this point in some of my past writings.  I have found the late Prof. Ron Miller expresses this better than anyone else I have yet heard (most likely in his “Unpacking the Parables” talk, given to the Theosophical Society).

Elsewhere in the short except of Cardinal George’s interview, he states that one view of the understanding of biblical inerrancy is that the bible speaks to our salvation:  it is our salvation which is ultimately held to be inerrant;  not the literary forms of expression;  not the authors understanding of geology nor of astrophysics.  I find this very easy to believe.  On the feet-on-the-ground perspective, it is obvious to me that our understanding of science and the nature of the universe has evolved over the centuries, and it is unreasonable to try to force a mind of the 1st century to fit the molds we have developed in the 20th century.

Much more intriguing to me is the conversation surrounding the inerrancy of salvation.  I have to assume that Cardinal George is speaking from the dominate position of the Roman Catholic Church, and not that of the early Church Fathers, such as Clement and especially Origen, who spoke of Universal Salvation.  Personally, I find the early understanding to be much more sensible;  but I must also admit, it is also a better fit to some of my formative spiritual understandings, which may bias my evaluation.  However, I still think the question of Universal Salvation withstands serious and objective investigation.  (Those interested in pursuing this line of thought should consider reading Dr. J. W. Hanson’s book “Universalism:  The Prevailing Doctrine Of The Christian Church During Its First Five Hundred Years.”)

Another view Cardinal George shares is the understanding that inerrancy means the central teachings of the biblical authors which were inspired by God are inerrant, whereas the cultural influences surrounding them (“zeitgeist, the understanding of the world at the time”) are not inerrant.  Here, while I agree with the proposition in theory, there are remaining difficulties, which I find renders this an untenable position to maintain:  it presumes we are able to discern that which God wishes to become Inspired;  it presumes God as Active Agent, periodically “invading” the world;  and I read this as merging with the definition of infallible, whereas I would prefer to define these terms separately, as I find this offers a more practical, rational use of language and cognitive tools.  (This is already a difficult conversation to pin down in detail.  Therefore, we should attempt to refine our definition, as opposed to diffuse our definition, of key terms.)

The arguments about God, God’s Inspiration, and “invasion” into the world are critical points.  These will be discussed later.  For now, I wish to set them to the side, and simply observe they are not required, and not highly useful, in defining our terms inerrant and infallible;  nor are they very useful in discerning the differences between these two terms.  So I set them aside for the time being, not because they are unimportant, but because I do not find them useful in refining the definitions of inerrancy and infallibility.

Regarding infallibility, Wikipedia offers….

  • (
  • Biblical infallibility is the belief that what the Bible says regarding matters of faith and Christian practice is wholly useful and true. It is the “belief that the Bible is completely trustworthy as a guide to salvation and the life of faith and will not fail to accomplish its purpose. Some equate ‘inerrancy’ and ‘infallibility’; others do not.”[1]

I also wish to offer additional views discussing the subject of biblical infallibility.  Should readers wish to peruse these sources, I believe they will find a deeper appreciation for the lack of clarity surround the questions of biblical inerrancy and biblical infallibility.  Efforts to closely define these terms is difficult.  Agreeing upon how they are best employed in aiding our understanding of sacred scripture, has yet to occur.

  • This web page covers a lot of ground, including the doctrine of papal infallibility (which I have no intention of discussing at this time), not all of which pertains to our current discussion.  But it does offer a broad view of a number of points of divisiveness surrounding the topics of inerrancy and infallibility.
  • This web page presents an interesting summary of a debate between two distinguished Roman Catholics, who none-the-less draw opposite conclusions in their close readings of a particular Vatican II document (I believe it was “Dei Verbum” (Latin for “Word of God”)).
  • This PDF document offers an objective discussion of meaning and language.  Across pages two and three there is a table with the heading: AN ANALYSIS OF MEANING AND LANGUAGE.  I found their comparison between meaning and language informative.  It appears to me that among their points, meaning is divorced from written text.  This is a point I have heard before, and to which I agree.  Words are just comprised of symbols written by one person to later be interpreted by another person.  A thoughtful author attempts to convey their intended meaning as clearly as possible.  However, the words they use (and images, if included in the document) must be interpreted in the mind of the person reading the document.  And we all bring our own life experiences to our reading;  to our understanding of the world;  to our understanding of words.  There is an unavoidable barrier between one human mind and another.  (The gulf between the human mind and the Divine Mind is greater still!)

The above discussions, while interesting, for the most part take a different line of questioning than I intend to engage in at this time.  Let’s begin by returning to the Merriam-Webster definitions, and from there transition to a discussion about our means of discernment.

Infallible (
1 : incapable of error : unerring [an infallible memory]
2 : not liable to mislead, deceive, or disappoint : certain [an infallible remedy]
3 : incapable of error in defining doctrines touching faith or morals

Inerrancy (
: exemption from error : infallibility [the question of biblical inerrancy]

Inerrant (
: free from error

In my opinion the differences as defined by Merriam-Webster in meaning are subtle, and of only minor significance in the scope of my evaluations of the previous Statements of Faith (see August 2013).  But as we have seen above, if we begin to parse out the relative meanings of these words as defined by various theological sources, we find greater differences emerge.

I see much of this as the result of failing to distinguish between qualitative and quantitative interpretations.  Most basically:  a qualitative measure is subjective, and a measure of quality;  a quantitative measure is objective, and a measure of quantity.

For example, how I feel about the color blue is subjective and qualitative, whereas the measurement of the frequency of its wavelength in nanometer is objective and quantitative.  The first requires I make a subjective judgement regarding “quality” of the color;  the second only requires a properly designed and calibrated machine to measure the “quantity” of light.  Each of us may find the shade of blue chosen evokes different feelings;  but each of us must come to realize the measurement of a meter is always the same, and that our feelings regarding the measure of a meter in no way effects its length.

A silly example perhaps, but I think instructive in helping us recognize two very different methods of biblical interpretation.  And should we confuse one for the other, or fail to recognize there are multiple methods of “measuring” sacred scripture, we are doomed to failure before we have begun our efforts.

My opinion is inerrancy is an objective measure, and therefore quantifiable.  It is a measure of the words employed in the text, and in the accuracy in duplicating a text.  If we wish to instead discuss the *meaning* of the words employed in the text, we have then entered into the realm of the subjective and qualitative;  such discernment falls within the definition of the word infallible, but not inerrant.

The question of “inerrant” we may dismiss immediately, because we may demonstrate there are factual and logical errors to be found in the texts of the Hebrew bible and Christian New Testament.  This has been discussed in my previous evaluations of the respective Statements of Faith, so I will not spend much time with it here.  I will however mention a few points for consideration:

  • We may observe that where there are multiple copies of manuscripts (hand-written books) no two have been found to be entirely identical (small fragments excepted).
  • This is not to say that all hand-written copies of sacred texts are wildly different from one to the other.  Most errors, or differences, are quite minor and easily detected.  Poor spelling is the most common “error” but given that the dictionary had not yet been invented, we can forgive such minor differences.
  • Larger differences include skipping lines, or omitting words, or citing quotations from scripture improperly (and in some cases, in correcting previous errors of this type), or in mistakenly incorporating an earlier margin note into the body of the text.
  • So we find that some of these differences are quite minor.  Some differences are more significant, but still readily detectable, provided one has a sufficient number of additional manuscripts for comparison.  However, in no way can one state the body of work is “inerrant.”  For this to be true, all manuscripts must be identical.

“Infallible” is a more resilient term because it may simultaneously distance itself from “inerrancy” while pairing itself to what one subjectively considers to be the proper spiritual or moral interpretation of the text.  And this is a qualitative judgement, frequently claimed by virtue of one having been granted Divine Inspiration.  “Because God told me” is clearly a less objective measure than pointing to a printed text and claiming that the reproduction of the document is without error.

My problem with this line of argument is the word “infallible” becomes increasingly slippery.  This seems to my mind to be shifting the question to an ever-receding point.  And I want to answer the question of whether and to what degree do we entertain sacred scripture is literally true?  Metaphorically true?  Allegorically true?

If one grants that the bible is not inerrant (my apologies for the double negative), but that it remains infallible, what is the scope of this claim?

Does this apply to every single verse? Every sentence?  Are all sentences describing the same event equally infallible?  My belief is this puts too fine a point on the measure of “infallibility.”  If we do so, we witness a precise, functional meaning of infallibility slipping from our grasp.

Beyond this, how do we resolve irresolvable and incompatible differences between texts?

For example, did Jesus die on the day of preparation for Passover, or on Passover day itself?  He only died once, so it must be one or the other;  Jesus cannot have died twice, on consecutive days.  How do we explain this from the perspective that each gospel is infallible?

I find the best answer to this kind of question is to recognize that each author wished to emphasize a different point.  The four gospels are each different in certain respects exactly because each author was trying to highlight a different understanding of what the life and ministry of Jesus meant to them.  This is why it is useful to better understand the context in which each book or letter was written:  written by whom?  to what audience?  for what purpose?

Seen from this perspective we realize that sacred scripture may be objectively incompatible, yet subjectively coherent.  The measure of infallibility has eluded our grasp yet again.

Might holy scripture be infallible, yet errant?

To my eye, to say that the bible is infallible, yet subject to error (not inerrant), is to say that while specific facts may be found to be in error, or that technical errors, omissions, and contradictions take place in the text, when it comes to critical matters of theology, the truth being related is infallible.

I feel this is the strongest claim one may make for sacred scripture.  But will this position survive scrutiny?

Obviously, this leaves as an ongoing question, of what specifically are these “critical” matter of theology.  Whether the bible is infallible on specific points of theology one must examine each point.  And this is a complex process, even limiting the scope of the theology to the Hebrew bible and New Testament, let alone if one extends the scope to underlying truths common to all religions.

This is also deeply steeped in subjective judgements regarding the content of the scriptures.  I have very little faith that people will be able to agree on the details of such subjective, yet to many of them highly emotionally charged beliefs.  I see no hope for consensus in determining exactly what words would be used in printing any single “infallible” edition of the bible.

And to do so in modern English is an impossible task.  There are too many choices that must be made when interpreting the oldest and best (least errant) Greek manuscripts.

So where does this leave us?  For my part, the best I believe I can honestly offer is that holy scripture offers us inspiration.  I’ll leave this important word hanging until I address the topic of mysticism, for they are closely related.

Is sacred scripture infallible or not?

I do agree that scripture may be argued to be infallible.  However  -and this is a giant however!-  in no way do I believe we are capable of arriving at a consensus as to what this actually means once we begin discussing the text in a close, critical reading.  Sacred scripture is infallible only in theory;  but not in any practical sense which we may objectively put to use.  The degree of personal interpretation required in digesting holy, sacred scripture pushes any such consensus beyond our mortal reach;  therefore, infallibility is always a subjective standard.

  • As an aside, for the purposes of this discussion I read no significant difference between the words holy and sacred.  Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines, in part, these terms as follows:

1:  exalted or worthy of complete devotion as one perfect in goodness and righteousness
2:  divine [for the Lord our God is holy — Psalms 99:9 (Authorized Version)]
3:  devoted entirely to the deity or the work of the deity [a holy temple] [holy prophets]
4a :  having a divine quality [holy love]
4b :  venerated as or as if sacred [holy scripture] [a holy relic]

1a :  dedicated or set apart for the service or worship of a deity [a tree sacred to the gods]
1b :  devoted exclusively to one service or use (as of a person or purpose) [a fund sacred to charity]
2a :  worthy of religious veneration :  holy
2b :  entitled to reverence and respect
3:  of or relating to religion :  not secular or profane [sacred music]

More to the heart of the matter, why should we think the bible (or any sacred scripture, for that matter) is inerrant or infallible in the first place?  I think it is important to consider this question mindfully.  The root of such questions is the critical -yet often unstated- question of exactly who wrote the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament…

  • God or human beings?

If one believes God wrote the scriptures (which requires resolving the large problem of defining exactly what that means) *then* we may be able to sensibly ask whether or not the scriptures are inerrant and/or infallible.  (But if they fail either of these tests, we must ask:  How?  Why?  Does such a failing devalue the entire body of work?  If so, to what degree?)

But if the scriptures were written by human beings, I do not think the question is even sensible.  The problem is this:  only perfect human beings (or those who have perfect knowledge, even if “limited” to the subject of the Divine, of all things), can write an inerrant or infallible book of sacred scriptures.  And no person is perfect.

And one must remember we are not speaking of one perfect person, we are speaking of a long chain of such perfected persons over thousands of years of human history.  This just seem completely implausible to me;  completely beyond credibility.  Ludicrous, to be brutally honest.  Especially given we have a perfectly reasonable and logical alternative model.

I packed a lot into the previous three paragraphs.

Perhaps a way of making my thoughts more clear is to ask what mind composed our sacred scriptures?  Is sacred scripture a product of a Divine Mind or of a human mind?  I believe this is at the core of the question with which I am struggling in this blog, and which lies at the heart of determining if sacred scripture may be inerrant or infallible.

What if God is the author of sacred scripture?

Does this offer a better solution to the questions of inerrancy and infallibility?  Clearly not in any literal sense.  What of the error?  What of the contradictions?  Once again, the question of inerrancy is a non-starter.  I believe, in and of itself, this precludes any chance that “God wrote the bible.”

What of infallibility?  If God did not literally “write” the bibles (Hebrew and New Testament) did God “inspire” them?  Did God inspire these scriptures in such a manner as to install infallibility into the writing -and copying and editing- of these scriptures?

We have returned to very slippery ground.

But I’ll add another perspective to the question.  For the sake of argument, let us grant that God *has* provided, through human devices, the perfectly inspired, infallible set of texts.  Even if this is true….

  • human beings are unable to discern it!

Why?  Because we do not possess the Mind of God.  While I do believe we may be inspired to greater degrees of clarity and understanding, and while I do believe epiphanies take place,  our comprehension is limited by the nature of our humanity.  God must speak to us in terms which we are capable of understanding.  And our human limitations leave us short of grasping perfection – and almost everyone who makes this argument also asserts God, by definition, is perfect.

What of apprehension?  If our comprehension is too limited to grasp the Mind of God, then perhaps we may perfectly intuit God’s Message?  I do suspect this is one of our best means of experiencing the Divine in the fullest degree of which we are able.  But I do not believe this offers complete or perfect connection with the Divine.  To say we may be able to maximize our human experience of the Divine, is not to say a human may experience the maximum degree of all that is Divine.

Expressed another way, to say we may be able to completely fill our senses and perception with that which is Divine, to become totally immersed in the Divine, in no way means that we have experienced the totality of that which is Divine.

This concept may be more obvious when presented as an image:  imagine a small circle and an extremely large circle;  you and I are the small circle;  that which is Divine is the extremely large circle;  even if we reside entirely within the Divine, there is much more of the Divine than we occupy.  We are simply too small.

I do believe there is an overlap between the human and Divine.  I even believe there is a Divine Spark within each of us (which we may either nurture or ignore).  But the entirety of the Divine is incapable of being contained within that which is human.  I believe this is why the Hebrew scriptures say we cannot see the Face of God – to do so would be to metaphorically burst us into flames, reducing us to ash!

And this leads us to the “perfectly reasonable and logical alternative model” which I believe provides us an answer to these, and many other, theological questions:

  • Quite simply, the bible is *not* a Top-Down document.
  • The bible is a Bottom-Up document.

The bible is not God speaking to us.  It is a bunch of human beings working out an increasingly refined understanding of the Divine, over a period of thousands of years.  Instead of revealing God to us, the bible reveals our human perception of God.  And these are two very different things!

Furthermore, this is an evolving perception.  It does include inspired insights as to the nature of the Divine, but it also includes some horrifically human-centric ideas which show how we have objectified and brutalized one another in the past.  (And, sadly, as we continue to do to this day.)

That we humans wrote the bible, and not God, I find a great relief!

We need not ponder why “God” desires to slaughter entire ethnic groups, or pours out a flood in an effort to wipe out nearly all of humanity (to say nothing of the rest life teeming on the planet).  Instead we are able to appreciate the slow advance of human compassion and our growing spiritual maturity over the course of thousands of years.  Ever-so-slowly we are learning to leave behind the tribal god, who hates everyone we hate.

We are creatures of intellect.  Our ability to reason is that which has raised us above all other animals on this planet.  But intellect has its limits.  Intellect can be cold and devoid of love or compassion.  Intellect is a tool – an important and wonderful tool, in fact.  But this tool is not the spiritual imperative which drives us to develop and use that tool.

Beyond simple survival of the fittest, we discover a drive for spiritual enlightenment.

To be made in the image of God means that we have the ability to reason logically and to behave rationally.  But we are also creatures of the heart.  To be made in the image of God also means that we possess emotional and spiritual aspects which are every bit as important as our rational abilities – perhaps more so.  It is these qualities of the heart which we desperately need to develop.

We like to believe we have very effectively put on the Mind of God.  We have libraries filled with books of theology, comprised of many religious traditions.  Yet we cannot live in peace with one another.  Love for that which is Other remains largely beyond our reach.

We need to focus on living in the Heart of God.  We need to learn that where hatred and murder reside, God does not.  Where we are to find God, we will find tolerance, acceptance, and love for self and others.  I like to think that many of us are learning to live in our heart, and beginning to discovery therein resides God.  Ever-so-slowly we are moving toward embracing God as a unifying source of empathy, compassion, and love.

Love is the measure of the Divine.

But how might we get there?  Or at least get started heading in the right direction?  For me, this is where Inspiration enters the picture.  We are all “inside jobs” and God is to be found within our hearts.  God is not the whirlwind bearing down upon Job, or the column of fire destroying our (tribal) enemies.  God is made manifest through each of us, flowing into the world through how we choose to live our lives.

This is what the great mystic spiritual traditions tell us.  And each religion offers its internal, mystical connection with the Divine.  They tell us we find God within our own hearts, and we are the vehicles through which God chooses to become manifest in the world.  

Why?  I suspect it is because we are operating under an imperative to to become More.  We are drawn to the Divine because we sense we may enter into common union with something which is greater than ourselves, and our small human existence.  What draws us toward it, is what some call the Inspiration of the Divine.

In Christian terminology this is the Holy Spirit.  This may be thought of as the “energy” or Active Agent of the Divine in the world.  But for whatever reason, it enters into the world through each of us.  Our active participation is required.  We each have been granted free will.  In many small ways each day we are invited to choose between love and hate.

I am reminded of a well known Native American story.  A youngster has had a falling out with a friend, and is feeling conflicting emotions as a result.  On one hand they want vengeance and retribution for perceived wrongs done to them.  On the other hand, they do love their friend, and want to wish them well and enjoy their company in the future.  Their grandfather explains this is an internal battle we each face our entire lives.  We each have two wolves living within us.  One seeks to harm others.  One seeks to love others.  One will only bring us pain and loss.  The other joy and love.  Considering this, the youngster earnestly looks to their grandfather and asks, “Which wolf will win this battle?”  Grandfather answers, “The one we feed.”

In what way have these 5,000-words brought us any closer to answering the questions surrounding inerrancy and infallibility?

Asking if sacred scripture is either inerrant or infallible is to miss the larger point.  The text is literally neither.  It is certainly not inerrant, because it contains errors.  Nor are we able to determine that it is infallible, because we are unable to agree upon what this means.

At best, sacred scripture offers us instruction and inspiration.  At best, we are each “inside jobs.”  We each must take a long, deep look into our own hearts, seeking Divine Inspiration, apprehending what we may, so that we might learn to express ever-greater portions of the Divine through how we choose to live our lives, and in how we choose to interact with others.

God does not “invade” the world from the sky, like Zeus hurling lightning bolts.  The Presence of the Shadow of God enters into the world subtly;  through our ability to love those who hate us;  by our loving others as if they were ourselves;  by loving ourselves as if we were living expressions of the Divine acting in this world.

“Why?”  This is a Divine Mystery.


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.

Stages of Faith – Intro to James W. Fowler


In the previous post I introduced the work of M. Scott Peck, represented as a simplification of the work of James W. Fowler, a developmental psychologist at Candler School of Theology.  I’m certain this is an unfair characterization of Peck’s work, as he has developed a large body of work.  However, I feel it does serve as a useful introduction to Fowler’s work, which is why I presented it as such.

I personally found Fowler’s book “Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning” extremely informative and a very thorough presentation of his theory of human faith development.  I highly recommend it to anyone interested in this subject.  His work makes extensive use of the collective works of Erik Erikson, Jean Piaget, and Lawrence Kohlberg, as he studies human psychological development as we mature from childhood to adulthood to elderhood.

In Fowler’s study, we find that faith development parallels our psychological development.  We also find that our orientation to personal spirituality is broadly delineated by our social and cultural mores, and finely focused by those who raise us.  Only as we mature do we begin to define ourselves, and only at later stages does one typically do so mindfully.

Upon reflection, none of this is greatly surprising.  But it is edifying to have these effects upon our own development so well organized and explained, for not only does this allow us to better understand ourselves, and our own belief structures, it affords us the opportunity to better relate to others.

Fowler proposes six stages of faith development which may be investigated, beginning with early childhood, and extending throughout one’s maturity to adulthood.   If one wishes to include infancy as stage zero, there are then a total of seven stages of faith,  but this pre-stage of infancy is not one which may be readily investigated by interviewing those residing within it.

How do we learn to relate to whatever we consider to be our Universal Concern?  What becomes the most important focal point, the directing beacon, of our life?  To what is our life, taken as a whole, orientated?

Answers to these kinds of questions will demonstrate how we relate to ourselves, to those close to us, to others in a widening sense of community, and to that which we perceive as the Ultimate Power in the universe.  This is the projection of self-interest moving outward in increasingly larger spheres of influence and concern:  from Me, to You, to Us, and perhaps, to All.

Stage 0 – Undifferentiated Faith (birth to 2 years age)

Trust in those who are caring for us develops at this earliest stage.  We either learn the world is a safe and supportive place or a dangerous and threatening one.  Our experiences at this stage of our early lives form the foundation of all future developmental stages we enter.  It is the foundation upon which we build our perception the world.  By extension, we simultaneously learn to trust/distrust others and the Divine based upon our early (primal/formative) experiences of safety or danger.

The acquisition of speech, which requires the manipulation of symbols, signals the beginning of the transition into stage one development.

Peck’s Stage I comprises both Fowler’s Stages 1 and 2.  

Peck’s system characterizes this as a primarily chaotic, anti-social stage of development.  And one can see these traits in Fowler’s stage 1 and 2, as the person moves from a severely egocentric mental state, to learning the ability to see the world from the perspective of another.  Yet, there is more complexity and refinement offered in Fowler’s system.  One might think of Fowler’s stage 1 as the entry point into Peck’s stage I, and Fowler’s stage 2, as the transitioning phase out of Peck’s stage I.

Both systems acknowledge that some adults never progress beyond this stage.  And even for those who do, there may be pockets of beliefs which hold onto the character of these stages well into later stages.  Sometimes, this is a matter of convenience, as a type of mythic short-hand.  Sometimes, it is a cluster of beliefs which resist a greater degree of integration with the rest of the person’s developing personality.

Fowler’s Stage 1 – Intuitive-Projective Faith (2 to 7 years age)

In stage 1, we evolve beyond an undifferentiated sense of self (lack of sense of ego, as an infant) to a strong sense of self, and our own ego.  In a word, we have become egocentric.  This is also a period during which we are open to impressions arising from our unconscious, develop our imaginative function, and typically have difficulty in separating reality from fantasy.

Due to the inability to readily differentiate reality from fantasy, this is a particularly sensitive period for our faith development.  If we are subjected to strong teaching/preaching about the negative aspects of religion (original sin; our sinful nature; Satan devouring our souls; etc) we may form very rigid belief systems, and develop an “authoritarian personality.”

Because this personality is founded upon fear, it is also a fundamentally weak system, and the organizing personality may shatter if over-stressed, due to its inherent inflexibility.  This sensed weakness may provoke anger and violence in the adult.  That which is threatening, is attacked.

We transition into stage 2 development once our thinking is capable of objective, operational thought processes.

Fowler’s Stage 2 – Mythic-Literal Faith (7 to 12 years age)

This is a really interesting stage of faith!  We tend to believe the universe is just, and that one’s behavors are rewarded according to the merit of one’s actions.  The sense of Deity nearly always takes on anthropomorphic representations.

We begin sorting our mythic representations and fantasies as we develop a sense of what is real and what is make-believe.  Myth, and story, are primary vehicles for understanding our experiences, and those of others.  We begin to become less egocentric and learn to appreciate the point of view of others.  However, this still tends to be arranged in more-or-less inflexible images and symbols.  While life begins to take on multiple perspectives, they remain very one-dimensional and flat representations of our experiences.  Persons in stage 2 tend to view values literally.

God is a human-like being in the sky or heaven above; heaven and hell are real places; “If I am good, God will send me to heaven;” “If I pray, God will grant my wish.”

As one begins to experience difficulty in holding onto such a simple view of the world and universe, they begin the process examining why they hold the beliefs they do.  As the simple binary mythic system of Good:Bad, Black:White, fails to the complications presented in everyday life, which is filled with shades of grey, the person is required to re-interpret the stories they once took to be literal, and the search for the true meaning behind the mythos is begun.  This signals the transition into stage 3.

Peck’s Stage II (Formal-Institutional) corresponds to Fowler’s Stage 3.  

Peck’s system identifies persons in this stage as relying upon some form of institution.  This may be of a religious or secular nature.  The key trait of this stage is the person feels they require their chosen institution to provide security and stability in their life.  Such persons may become so attached to this institution that they become very upset or even violent if its validity is questioned.

Both Peck and Fowler observe that many adults cease psychological-sociological development at this state of maturity.  However, I am not aware of any studies which have been conducted in an attempt to estimate this percentage of the population.  That said, my experience suggests this segment of the population comprises a significant percentage.

Fowler’s Stage 3 – Synthetic-Conventional Faith (adolescence; 12 years into adulthood)

The on-set of this stage of development typically takes place around the age of puberty.  On one hand, this is where we refine our sense of personal identity.  On the other hand, we are also subject -or subject ourselves- to the authority of others, be that the state or church.  A person in this stage is not yet ready to examine inconsistencies in the religious, political, or philosophical beliefs in which they are so heavily invested, so they tend to ignore conflicting or inconsistent beliefs.

Leadership and authority are found outside oneself.  In the church.  In the government.  In social or civic organizations.  Fowler describes one’s beliefs as “tacitly held” because one is unwilling to consciously examine them:  their beliefs ‘just are.’

This is the “synthetic” aspect of this stage.  One’s beliefs are not one’s own as the result of any conscious reflection.  They ‘just are.’  One does not really understand why one’s beliefs are held, so any attempt to move them out of the mythic realm is resisted.

The “conventional” aspect of this stage refers to the pressure to feel part of a known group, within which they feel secure.  Interestingly, Fowler states that he believes most people participating in traditional churches are in this developmental stage.  Furthermore, he observes that generally speaking, churches (and other forms of religions organization) work best when the majority of their membership are of stage 3.

This makes perfect sense once one thinks about it.  A church or other organization will reflect the values held by the majority of their population.  It is possible for persons to form collectives in later stages of faith, but until a desire to return to community is felt, it is more difficult.

Persons in stage 3 wish to form into groups, and they really do not wish to have their beliefs challenged.  Largely because these beliefs are “synthetic” as opposed to organic (grown as from within the person).  So convening in congregations which teach/preach a predictable and stable belief in faith is exactly what they feel they need.  (And perhaps they are quite right in so thinking.)

While this is one of the stages of faith which works really well to support a church, or similar organization, it is not one in which one may do a lot of seeking for new answers, and it is seldom an environment which supports continued growth, beyond a certain, acceptable point.  This is primarily because growth beyond stage 3 typically requires questioning the roots of one’s beliefs.

Yet as a person becomes increasingly aware of the contradictions in their authoritative sources, and desires to resolve these contradictions rationally, they must be willing, and permitted, to stand on their own.  This search for knowledge will carry them into the next stage.

Peck’s Stage III (Skeptic-Individual) corresponds to Fowler’s Stage 4.  

I suspect perhaps due to the undue pressure to *not* question the foundation of one’s faith (be that pressure internally felt or externally applied) when one breaks out of the previous stage, one frequently loses all sense of religious faith, and turns to forms of non-religious expression.  Some people will remain in this stage for the rest of their lives.

I would add this is the stage of Agnosticism.  In and of itself, this is not a bad thing.  In proper measure it provides us a mechanism of discernment and level-headedness, which is important to practice.  Difficulty enters should we decide that lack of evidence is proof of nonexistence  😉  God and the Divine are not that simple, however.  And we cannot use a slide rule to measure the depth of our love.

Fowler’s Stage 4 – Individuative-Reflective Faith (typically early to mid-adulthood)

Self-responsibility and self-reliance become increasingly important to us during this stage.  And this is a very good development.  We no longer accept that which is spoon fed to us, but instead feel a need to make the knowledge our own, which requires us to understand it deeply.  This is why we can no longer simply accept what we are told.

Our heart opens to new understandings and refines previous teachings, and learns to relate them in more complex networks.  At the same time, we are also well aware of inconsistencies in our beliefs.  These we feel a need to resolve.  We are no longer content to ignore them.  This is a richer, more complex, and at times more confusing form of faith.  The older we are when entering this stage, the greater the difficulty we face in entering it.

Fowler expresses some of the most difficult inner work as making what was once tacit, explicit.  Fowler also observes that at this stage of faith our sense of ego changes.  We develop what he calls “executive ego.”  This too is a good development, because through the process of bringing about this authoritative sense of self, and reliance on oneself, we learn to govern ourself from within.  We become internally motivated and internally validated.

So far we have been discussing the “Individual” aspect of this stage.  It is the formation of a strong sense of self.  This is one of the strongest benefits of this stage of development.  It also opens the door to one of the greatest weaknesses at this stage of faith.  We may become so enamoured of our mighty powers of discrimination and logic that we place all our faith in the rational, at the cost of denying our unconscious strengths, or relegating the unconscious to a secondary, and more-or-less unimportant status.  Yet if we are to move to the next stage of faith, we need that which is found in the unconscious.

The “Reflective” aspect of this stage involves dismantling of our mythos.  Fowler believes that we separate meaning, from the structure of the myths themselves.  This is sometimes called demythologizing.  We do this to better understand the subtle meanings which are contained in our mythos.  The danger to religious faith at this stage is the symbols are completely stripped of numinousity (a sense of the presence and wonder of the Divine).  Those whose religious symbols lose all numinousity may become atheist.  They will almost certainly become agnostics, at least for a period, until such time as they are able to construct a new mythos which provides them rich religious meaning.

Peck’s Stage IV (Mystical-Communal) correlates to Fowler’s Stages 5 and 6.

Returning from the arid desert of agnosticism/atheism, those who reach the next levels find a renewed appreciation for that which the earlier stages of faith offered, as well as finding a renewed dedication to community, over their personal concerns.  Life takes on a richness of mystery and wonder, and even paradox, which offers its own rewards.  The tight confines of the rational mind comes to realize there is also strength and value to be found in the irrational mind, for therein resides the unconscious and a mystic apprehension of the Divine.

Speaking for myself, I found my rational mind could only take me so far.  Given that my dominate psychological function is Thinking, this was a difficult admission.  Yet there it is.  I now believe for one to traverse beyond the limitation of the rational mind, one must enter the domain of the unconscious.  I believe this is the path of the mystic.

Fowler’s Stage 5 – Conjunctive Faith (mid-life crisis)

Paradox.  Transcendence.  This is the nature of the reality reflected to us by the archetypes which constructed the system of faith the person left behind in an earlier stage.  A person entering this stage of faith comes to realize that the symbols they stripped of meaning only represented the surface level of meaning.  Now they recognize there is a deeper, widely shared ocean of meaning spanning many spiritual and religious systems.  Now they are prepared to re-enter a religious/spiritual relationship, and to derive numinous illumination from the religious symbols they find meaningful.  There is an appreciation of a complex, multidimensional, interrelated system of Truth which binds all life.

Having “demythologized” the symbols of their earlier religion, and now seeing something of the truth to which the symbol was pointing them, they are ready to speak with persons of other faith traditions, with the desire to learn something valuable.  In a sense, their spiritual cup has been emptied, and now it may be refilled.  All spiritual traditions have their intrinsic strengths and weaknesses, and some are better suited to one person or another.

The person in this stage of faith may be drawn to a religious tradition differing from their previous tradition, or they may find having investigated many faiths, a renewed appreciation for their old traditions.  They are now able to see partial truths in any religion, and are able to select and combine those elemental ideas which are useful in helping to bring about a sense of oneness across numerous religious traditions.  But whether they choose a new religion or choose to re-enter their old religion, the faith they choose to observe will be much richer than it ever could have been before.

Fowler’s Stage 6 – Universalizing Faith

This final stage is very rare.  Very few reach it.  Some call this achieving “enlightenment.”  Fowler cites modern examples of such persons as:  Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mother Teresa.  These persons treat others with great compassion.  They view everyone as forming a universal Oneness.  Ron Miller observes that we no longer see enemies at this stage of spiritual development, as all are One.

Stages of Faith – Intro to M. Scott Peck

Pecks Four Stages of Spiritual Development

M. Scott Peck offer a four-fold model outlining the development of one’s spirituality.  This system is loosely based upon our psychological development from children into adulthood.  As as with most, if not all of these systems, it provides a means of charting individual social-psychological development from an I-centric world, to a We-centric world, and for some into an Us-centric view of the world.

Stage I: Chaotic-Antisocial

  •    This stage is roughly comparable to Fowler’s stage 1 (Intuitive-Projective) and stage 2 (Mythic-Literal).

We all go through this stage as small children.  There is little to no respect for authority outside of oneself, and one’s greatest concern is only for oneself.  It’s hall mark traits include chaotic, defiant, disordered, and reckless behavior.  Persons residing in this stage are egotistic in the extreme, and the have little to no development of empathy for others.  Peck observes that many adults who are unable to grow beyond Stage I become criminals.  It is easy to see how persons stuck in this early stage have great difficulty thriving in the wider social community.  If transition out of this stage takes place at a late date in one’s life, as an adult, it is usually the result of a very dramatic, painful experience.

Stage II: Formal-Institutional

  •    This stage corresponds well to Fowler’s stage 3 (Synthetic-Conventional).  This is also the stage of spiritual growth in which many “Fundamentalists” and religious extremist are arrested.  Additionally, a great many “good, law-abiding citizens” never transition beyond this stage.

The hall marks of this stage are blind faith in authority figures, and understanding the complexities of the world as very simple binary choices of either Good or Evil; Right or Wrong; Us vs. Them.

Among the positive attributes of this stage are a sense of humility, and a willingness to serve others, and to work within the social structure of the wider community.  However, there may also be a lack of flexibility in one’s thinking and an inability to work well with persons outside one’s own community.

Children who learn to obey their parents (and by extension, authority figures more generally) as a result of fear or shame (as opposed to appreciation and respect), may become stuck in this stage and primarily express its darker attributes.  Peck observes that such persons often rely upon an institutional structure for a sense of stability.  If this sense of stability takes the form of a church or religious observance, persons locked in Stage II thinking may become extremely upset -and in extreme cases, violent- when their beliefs are questioned.

To live well within a community, we all need some sense of Stage II limitations of our actions. Yet if taken to an extreme, these same positive attributes may stunt one’s social-psychological-spiritual development, severely limiting one’s ability to think for oneself, and to be flexible enough to live comfortably with those different than oneself.

Stage III: Skeptic-Individual

  •    This stage roughly corresponds to Fowler’s stage 4 (Individuative-Reflective).  This is predominately the domain of what I sometimes call nous-gnosticism (a search of knowledge ruled by the logical mind and intellect).

A strong sense of self-reliance may help one transition from the previous stage, and in my view this is largely a healthy transition.  Among the hall marks of Stage III is the serious questioning of all that one has learned to this point in one’s life.  This includes sources of authority and information.  Part of this process includes the critical evaluation of one’s religious system.  Agnosticism, and even atheism, are common philosophical beliefs while in this stage.  It is common to become “non-religious” in this stage, and some persons remain so for the rest of their life.  And some even fall prey to an overwhelming sense of apathy and cynicism.

Stage III is also dominated by the processes of the intellect.  In our modern world, this is the stage of scientific skepticism and reliance upon the empirical method, in place of reliance upon authority figures and dogmas presented to us by others.

Spirituality will encounter a great pressure to change in this stage.  Persons unable to free their mind of the limitations of the slide rule may well lose their sense of spirituality altogether.  Those who retain a sense of spiritual beliefs and observances will be driven to find new ways of understanding old doctrines and dogmas.  Simple, literal interpretations of religious dogma must first give way to a more subtle understanding of one’s religious mythos, and then a means of integrating this with one’s scientific understanding of our cosmos must be found.

My personal view is the seeking imperative of this stage, ultimately drives one to either begin transitioning into the next stage (Mystical-Communal) or to succumb to a sense of being lost and isolated in a cold, dark and uncaring universe.  In this sense, this can be a very dangerous stage of spiritual development, for it may lead to opening doors to untold mystery and wonder, or it may close our hearts for the rest of our lives.

Stage IV: Mystical-Communal

  •    This stage corresponds to Fowler’s stage 5 (Conjunctive Faith).  This is predominately the domain of what I sometimes call kardia-gnosticism (a heart-based search for knowledge).

This is a mysterious and paradoxical stage of spiritual development.  The binary view of the world of Good vs. Evil, Right or Wrong, begins to dissolve into the realization that between the world of Black and White is a startling spectrum of subtle Greys!  Truth and Fact begin to be understood as belonging to different paradigms.  It is not that one is Right and the other Wrong, but rather, they each have their own sphere of effect and meaningful application.

Community becomes increasingly important in this stage, and along side this, a sense of acceptance for others.  Life and our roles and interactions with others all begins to be seen from a different perspective.  The beauty, mystery, and deep interconnectiveness of the natural world is seen and appreciated.  One begins to adopt what some call Unity Consciousness.

While one retains a degree of healthy skepticism in this stage, one is increasingly aware of an apprehension of an underlying reality deeper than mere comprehension.  The role of one’s intellect is increasingly informed by the apprehension of one’s heart.  Forgiveness, mercy, compassion, and love form the lenses through which others are viewed.

Judgement of other’s transgressions and the desire to inflict punishment on others is set aside.  The sense of separation between Other and Self soften.

In this stage one loves others as oneself.  Attachment to one’s own ego loosens.  Forgiving one’s enemies becomes more natural as one fails to see others as potential enemies.  Those residing in Stage IV are often called Mystics.

Stages of Faith – Introduction

At some point I wish to discuss transitioning from a “mythic-literal” stage of faith toward later stages, involving reflection and conjunction (and ultimately unity). But first we have to come to a broad understanding of what comprises a stage of faith. This post is intended as an overview or introduction to the topic.

I wish to discuss the idea of stages of faith because I believe it offers a means of better understanding the depths of our own religious-spiritual practices, as well as opening us to an appreciation of the faith practices of others. I also believe it offers a perspective from which we may better relate to others. I feel each of these aspects is important.

So what is meant by a “stage of faith”?

I find one way of grasping the ideas underlying developing stages of faith, is to think of a parallel series of “stages” with which we are all familiar: we all grow through “stages” as we mature from infants, to youths, to young adults, to mature adults, and as elders in our community.

In fact, observation of our normal psychological developments as we age and mature is in part responsible for the theories of faith development as described by Dr. James W. Fowler in his book, “Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning” (which I enthusiastically recommend).

As children we are sponges, soaking up our surroundings, stimulating our neural networks causing these to expand, grow, and become more complex. As a result of this process we are provided the mental tools we require to understand and make sense of the world in which we live. And one of these tools is our faculty for faith. In this sense, “faith” need not be religious. (Fowler explains this in his books. Although, in my blogs I expect I will usually be speaking of the religious-spiritual aspect of faith development.)

The core of the idea involves perception.

First as we develop awareness of ourselves as an individual. Then as we (often unconsciously) learn the behavior, beliefs, and practices of those nearest to us; and later, of those in the wider community in which we live. As you can see, each of these phases expands our perception of ourselves and the world in which we live – our circle of awareness grows larger and larger.

As we grow older and develop more sophisticated means of understanding the world, we begin to consciously adopt “lenses” through which to view the world. Sometimes we evaluate the behaviors and beliefs we “inherited” and choose to modify them. Sometimes we use what we inherited as a foundation upon which to build.

And, some people never seem to consciously adapt their view of the world. From a certain perspective, such people can be said to live their lives unconsciously.

Another aspect of our psychological development is the “direction” of our awareness.

In the earliest stage we are learning to identify ourselves and how we are separate from our surroundings. Then we begin to take on a view of the world very much like those taking care of our daily needs. These early stages are generally one-way views of the world: it is “us” looking out “at” the world in which we are immersed. Like a fish living in water, we don’t at first appreciate we too live “in” our surroundings; we do not at first discern that others see us as if we are an outsider.

But at some point, we “see them seeing us.” We can imagine seeing the world -and ourselves- through the eyes of another. As our faculties of perception become more refined, we “see us, seeing them, seeing us.” We are learning to see the world “reflectively” and with increasing appreciation for detail, perspective, and depth.

Theories quickly multiply and become complex, yet are based upon simple human needs.

Theories of what is happening to us, and how directly we effect our own development, and at what point in our psychological development we are able to effectively do this quickly becomes complex. There are a variety of theories, each with its strengths and weaknesses. None of these theories is perfect.

As you sort this all out for yourself, remember the root of all these systems is quite simple. We are discussing how we each perceive the world. And we are discussing from how many angles we are able to view the world. Some of these may appear to be mutually exclusive. Yet here we are, sometimes believing six “impossible” things before breakfast!

What is next?

I think the next logical step to take is to take a brief look at a few of the more popular systems, or stage development models. Some only model four categories, and some a dozen or more. Some deal more directly with our personal psychological development, and others deal more directly with our sociological development. Some are primarily secular and others are more concerned with our spiritual development. Each has its place and may or may not be the better tool for any given situation. I switch between models, using whichever tool -or “lens”- I believe is most practical for each occasion.

It is up to us to choose the pair of glasses through which we view ourselves and the world. And we may change glasses from time to time!

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