James McGrath on “Growing Up”

James McGrath at Exploring Our Matrix posted a blog post about faith and spiritual growth. McGrath claims that we get to “spiritual growth” by a “second naivete”. James, helpfully, posts some links on this idea, and the ideas of James Fowler concerning the six stages of “growth”. Much could be said about these positions, and I cannot say that I agree with much of it, but that is not where I want to take this post. You can read Jame’s full post here.

Of course, James brings up these ideas because of a debate he recently had with some of the folks at Triablogue over the subject of the inerrancy of the Christian scriptures. So in one sense James is telling us something about that debate, and about his concept of Christian faith. In the last paragraph we see Jame’s view of doubt, and religion in general. James says,

“Growth is painful, and it is not surprising that, given the change to do so, many of us resist doubt and questioning, since it will indeed lead to at least discomfort and quite possibly the trauma the mystics referred to as the dark night of the soul. But the only way to reach maturity is through the tunnel. And although it isn’t visible from this side, and sometimes isn’t visible for a while after entering, the mature – whether emotionally and spiritually – can tell you this: not only is there light at the end of the tunnel, but life is better on the far side of the tunnel. Grown up life, and grown up spirituality, are certainly harder and more challenging that their kindergarten counterparts. But they are also more rewarding.”

James says some very revealing things in this post. First, growth is in fact painful especially when it deals with doubt, especially doubt that erodes the very foundations of faith. From reading James blog, here an there, I get the feeling that despite his apparent sensitivity about the lack of a foundation for religious belief, and the doubt that it brings, that he is actively undermining it. Finally, James talks about how there is a “light” at the end of the dark tunnel (the tunnel being doubt), but how do we know there is a light? From the systematic deconstruction of religious faith on James blog, and in many of the comments, I have my doubts. I am not sure how James’ brand of religious belief, and that in James’ Fowler’s six steps can arise above Feurbach’s warning about making a conceptual idol. My question for James’, if he reads this, is: What do you consider a mature faith? Do you consider a mature faith one that denies the resurrection of Jesus, accepts the most critical of positions, and holds to a form of, whatever-it-is-you-believe? Can their be “mature” evangelical believers, who have dealt with the problems that you point there (the problems are there!)? I am going to assume that the answer to the last question is “no”.

I phrase the questions like this because I am not sure what James McGrath believes. On the one hand James does not like to be called a classical liberal (see the Triablogue fiasco), but he is not an “evangelical” either. Thus, I mean no harm in the way the questions are quoted, I am trying to frame them in the right way.


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4 responses to “James McGrath on “Growing Up”

  1. I have a question too: why do you spell my name as Jame’s?

  2. TReid

    Sorry about that James. It was late and my brain malfunctions late at night. I have corrected the spelling.

  3. Thanks for the post! I don’t think a mature faith has anything in particular to do with the specific views one holds. I think it has to do with having moved from an initial assumption that certain things are true, accepted on authority, through a period of (at times radical) questioning, to a stage at which one can come to appreciate again the earlier views even if they never return to quite the same status of absolutes. The point is about the process of learning to question, and then learning to live with questions and uncertainty.

    If one never goes through adolescence, as painful as it is, you never leave childhood. My understanding of the gist of Fowler’s point (and that of Piaget, and of others who have reached similar conclusions) is that faith is not all that different. If we’ve never questioned, we’ve never made it our own, never reached an adult faith. We just have someone else’s faith that we’ve accepted on their authority.

  4. TReid

    Thanks for the clarification James. I can agree. I am sure that our theological perspectives are pretty different, but I can agree with the general idea. I have questioned many of my own traditional leanings concerning my faith, but I have often come back to find the traditional answers to be just as plausible, if not better answers to my questions.

    I guess this is akin to Thomas Nagel’s discussion of the two points of view. Faith can sometimes be soley “first-person” or subjective. We do not question it, we only live with in it. At some point we have to take a step back and view it from a third-person point of view. This is helpful because it helps us strip away aspects of our personal faith that may not be correct, or irrational. It can also allow us to find what is most essential to that faith, and show us why we believe it. I remember the process of going from having my parent’s faith to my own. I view it as concentric circles (stealing this from Nagel), I have stepped out of the middle circle to the next circle, only to find that the first circle is encompassed in the second one, and so on.

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