Friday, September 26, 2008


An irreconcilable rift exists in American society today. It's commonly seen as a clash between opposing value systems, though underneath there is also a fundamental difference in how each side perceives the very nature of reality. That much is common knowledge.

It's also no secret that conservative Christians are seen by much of the rest of the world (including other Christians) as exceedingly arrogant and prideful, with their claims to have the only correct answers to everything (or at least everything of importance). From their own vantage point, however, it would be arrogant for them to claim otherwise, since in their minds they are merely conveying the words and ideas of God himself.

That conflation of personal and divine perspective is hardly unique to conservative Christianity; every belief system has its fundamentalists who believe that what seems obvious to them must be the sole valid definition of reality. To an individual with a Stage Three faith, everything in life can (and must) be boiled down into black and white terms, and only someone trying to rationalize evil behavior would dare to claim that any other colors exist.

Attempting to dialogue with such individuals can be a frustrating endeavor, to say the least. It would be easy to write them off as narrow-minded and unreasonable, but the simple fact is that they cannot conceive of the complexities that Stage Four and Stage Five individuals have come to take for granted. There's no way to state that without sounding at least slightly condescending, but it is not an issue of superiority, merely one of growth.

At the same time it can be a challenge to not look down on Stage Three individuals, when one looks at the mess so many of them have made of the world. How many wars have been fought because one group of people took offense at another group's refusal to acknowledge their 'superior' beliefs? How many inquisitions and purges and witch hunts have whipped entire nations into violent frenzies? We may have a more civilized way of disagreeing at this point of time in the Western world, but that same hostility toward those who refuse to see things our way still burns just as intensely below the surface. Just look at the flame wars that rage across internet discussion boards on a daily basis.

Unfortunately there's no way to force a Stage Three individual to "grow up". If you do manage to convert one to your side, he will simply take up his new cause with the same simplistic fervor he applied to his old set of beliefs. And those of us in Stage Four are often still too disillusioned with whatever system we came out of to serve as bridge builders.

Not that those who do make it all the way to Stage Five are automatic candidates for sainthood. But true humility can only take root when one begins to understand just how large and complex the universe really is, and just how little one can genuinely be certain of in this lifetime. With more of such individuals the world just might eventually become a slightly more peaceful place; without them, we can be certain that it never will.

How do we raise up such people? I wish I knew; I'm still trying to get there myself. Such cultivation isn't happening in very many places. Our political system actively cultivates an "us vs. them" mentality, and unfortunately many of our churches do as well. Even so, there's always room for hope.


Craig L. Adams said...

People rise through the stages as a result of dis-equilibrium in their lives. Something happens, or some new piece of knowledge comes to them that they can't "fit' into their current world-view. It throws them off. They may even feel they are "losing their faith." In fact, their conceptual structures are "opening up" to allow for change - to accommodate the new experience or idea. Argument or denunciation causes people to "harden up" within their current structures. That's why so many of our public debates are actually counter-productive. (E.g., the outspoken atheists keep the young-earth creationists alive, etc.)

Eugene said...

Yes, it's funny, isn't it - dogmatic statements aimed at us cause us to dig in our heels, and then we turn around and launch equally dogmatic rhetoric at others. There's a debate exactly like that going on in the XGW comments section right now...

CrackerLilo said...

All I know is that I've realized lately that I can be just as mean and judgmental and scared as I ever was when I was a teenager in the Assemblies of God church. I feel like my ability to fight that sort of toxic fearfulness in others depends on my ability to fight it in myself.