Human Development / Stage Theory Essay

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As for supernatural acts, the primary sources of these are God and Satan. Satan or the Devil constantly urges the individual to adopt sinful ways, to behave contrary to God's directives. To combat Satan's influence, God is always available as a guide and supporter for people in moments of indecision, of spiritual weakness, and of temptation. God's guidance and strength may be sought directly through prayer and through reading passages of Holy Scripture, or sought indirectly through consulting a priest or pastor. Not only do Christians believe God serves as adviser and spiritual supporter, but also that he can intervene to change either the individual or the environment so as to cause an event to turn out as the individual has hoped it would. This conviction that God at any moment can manipulate events to affect a particular outcome is suggested in many passages of the Bible.

A familiar example is Psalm 23, which reflects the faith that both the individual's behavior and the influence of environmental elements-such as one's enemies -- can be controlled by God on any occasion (Nee, 1968). The Lord is my shepherd .... He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; he leadeth me beside the still waters. He ... leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me .... Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.... A passage from the oft-repeated Lord's prayer (Matthew 6:11, 13) reflects this same belief in God's ability to fashion events that influence the individual's development: 'Give us this day our daily bread .... And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.' The fourth force affecting development is human will or intention. In contrast to a belief in complete determinism, which holds that a person's development is entirely the result of hereditary and environmental factors that are beyond the control of the individual, Christian doctrine suggests that humans have a free will which permits them to make decisions about how to behave. Hence, people's conscious intentions and determination play an important part in deciding the direction their lives take. Expressing one common view of will within Christian doctrine, Strong (1907 p.509) has pro- posed that: Man is responsible for all effects of will, as well as for will itself; for voluntary affections, as well as for voluntary acts; for the intellectual views into which will has entered, as well as for the acts of will by which these views have been formed in the past or are maintained in the present (Derezotes, 1995). In summary, then, from conception until death, human development results from the interaction of forces of heredity, environment, God and Satan, and the individual's own will or determination.

Sources of Evidence and Investigative Methodology

To answer questions about sources of evidence and types of investigative methods used for generating and supporting Christian theory, it is useful to adopt Dunstan's (1961) three categories of Christians-conservatives, liberals, and mainstream Christians. The categories cut across denominational lines, so that conservatives, liberals, and mainstreamers are found within nearly all large Christian sects-Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Baptist, Anglican, and others. Conservatives, who sometimes refer to themselves as evangelical Christians, base their beliefs about human nature and development on the literal word of the Bible. If a theory derived from modern-day science is in conflict with Bible scripture, then there is no question that the scientific theory is false. A case in point is the conflict between (a) the description of the creation of animal life and of human life in the Bible (Genesis 2:7-22) and (b) Charles Darwin's theory that humans have evolved over time from simple forms of animal life. In the view of conservatives, no matter what evidence Darwinian evolutionists present in support of their case, Darwin's theory could not possibly be true because it deviates from the Biblical version of creation. To conservatives, the truth about any phenomenon is not discovered by humans through their own cleverness or the investigative techniques they devise. Rather, truth is revealed to mankind by God in messages sent through specially chosen people, such as Moses, David, and Solomon among the compilers of the Old Testament of the Bible and such followers of Christ as Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Paul for the New Testament. Since earliest Christian times there have also been other people credited with being authentic recipients of divine revelations. These have included Christian saints, the popes of the Catholic Church, and such individuals in Protestant denominations as Martin Luther (1483-1546), John Calvin (1509-1564), John Knox (1505-1572), Joseph Smith (1805-1844) as founder of the Mormon Church, and Mary Baker Eddy (1821-1910) as founder of the Christian Science Church. At the opposite end of the philosophical spectrum from the conservatives are Christian liberals who do not regard the Bible as the literal, infallible word of God (Sermabeikian, 1994).

The history we make occurs only in our lifetime, though it too has consequences for future generations. The epochal transformations that took place across millennia and the historical changes of past centuries and recent decades all come to bear in developments shaping the current generation. The epic and historic transitions from dogmatism to pluralism allow present-day Catholics, for example, to become responsible consciously and collectively for either reproducing the current form of priesthood or transforming the status quo. An individual's ability to assume that responsibility, however, is also acquired in stages that occur in one's lifetime. The facility to think rationally, for example, is achieved in roughly four stages, according to Jean Piaget (Derezotes, 1995). He describes them as sensorimotor intelligence, preoperational intelligence, concretely operational intelligence, and formally operational intelligence (Wuthnow, 1976). Only the last stage, which most children in developed societies reach by early adolescence, is considered full human intelligence. It includes the ability to operate with combinations, engage in propositional logic and hypothesis testing, and deal with potentialities or theoretical possibilities. Also among these skills is the ability to participate in creative religious symbolization. Researchers on human development assert that not all adults actually reach full operational intelligence. Although some may have the biological maturation needed, they may lack the necessary social experience, while others, through such deficiencies as malnutrition, may not even develop the biological potency.

And, I would add, to religious reform. The realm most intimate to self is the ground of one's being; the domain of religion. The magisterial works of Piaget on intelligence and his later studies on the acquisition of morality are matched by Erik Erickson's research on the stages of overall psychosocial development (Gruber & Voneche, 1977). His well-known model divides the human life cycle into eight stages, from infancy, early childhood, play age, school age, adolescence, young adulthood, and adulthood to old age. Each stage presents a developmental challenge that results in attaining a certain level of positive and negative ego quality. Most are not entirely successful in fully achieving either quality but emerge from each stage with some ratio of the two opposing trends. Corresponding to the eight stages are the following pairs of favorable and unfavorable outcomes: basic trust vs. mistrust, independence vs. disgrace and doubt, idea vs. guilt, industry vs. inferiority, identity vs. individuality confusion, intimacy vs. isolation, generativity vs. stagnation, and ego integrity vs. despair.

The pioneering work of Piaget and Erickson has been extended by Lawrence Kohlberg to the stages of moral development and by James Fowler to the stages of religious faith (Ricoeur, 2006). Kohlberg found three stages in his research on moral attitudes: the preconventional, the conventional, and the postconventional. Only in the third stage do children develop the ability to apply universalistic moral principles about justice and similar matters. Once again, further research shows that not all adults reach the level of development where they make moral judgments based on universal principles. Fowler's studies, which build mainly on the work of Piaget, Erickson, and Kohlberg, led to the formulation of six stages of faith. Fowler labels them intuitive-projective, mythic-literal, synthetic-conventional, individuative-reflective, conjunctive, and universalizing. The highest stage, characterized by an emptying of self and a universalizing relation to Ultimate Reality, was achieved only rarely by the people in Fowler's sample and usually only by those over 60. Many adults are permanently arrested in stage 3, which is marked by conformism to the opinions and authority of others.


Fowler found that the majority of adults, however, enter and remain in stage 4, which brings a realization of the relativity of one's inherited worldview along with rejection of the external authority supporting it. Old doctrines and myths are rejected in this stage of faith because they are no longer compelling; in Peter Berger's terminology, they have lost their…[continue]


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