I saw an article by Carol Kuruvilla, the HuffPo religion reporter, come across my feed today that educates Christians about how they should avoid talking to doubters in various insensitive ways.
The best thing about the article: Its advice that doubters ought to encourage Christians to “learn to step into someone else’s shoes and try to see how your words and actions are being received.” Indeed, it is through an expansion of empathy and up-leveled perspective-taking that many tensions can be diffused or avoided.
The worst thing about the article: Steeped in flatland presuppositions, it refuses to acknowledge that the fact of development is very often the central implicit issue behind the conflicts. It’s not about Christians v. doubters; it’s often about people in a traditionalist mode of life locking horns with people transitioning into a modern mode. In terms of James Fowler’s stages of faith, we are talking about people in Mythic-Literal stages talking to people transitioning to Synthetic-Conventional or Individuative-Reflective stages.
There are many reasons Kuruvilla’s avoidance of the topic of development shortchanges her readers. One of them: she doesn’t allow the doubters to expand their own awareness of the dynamics of the conflict to allow the Christian their own space to hold their own developmentally appropriate worldview without judgment or to frame their disagreements as simply a moment in time which will eventually pass away and which affords everyone an opportunity for learning and awareness of Spirit’s movements through holarchical patterns.
Many times, at a certain stage of development (possibly that Individuative-Reflective stage that Fowler talks about), a former Christian or doubting Christian can get overly preoccupied with a narcissistic occupation with their own feelings, their own hurts, and yes even their own doubts and beliefs. That’s when their sensitive self bristles at any slight to their ego, however minor. Perhaps Kuruvilla is speaking out of the concerns of this stage when she lists 6 offensive phrases that Christians must avoid at all costs to protect the feelings of other people, and then she writes:
Instead of using the offensive phrases like the ones listed above, try this instead.
Recognize that your words and actions may not be helping and that in fact, they can make things even worse.
Yes, indeed. The sad truth is that so far as many integralists have been able to observe, when two people are situated at different stages of faith and they start talking at one another in an effort to help the other person, their words have the opposite effect instead. Talk about a frustrating situation!
But this is true BOTH for the Christian and the ex-Christian, for the traditionalist and the modernist, or the Amber believer and the Orange doubter (to use terms from Integral Theory). When people at a later stage of faith start insisting that people at an earlier stage of faith act in a way that is foreign to their mode of existence, then they are also acting problematically.
And so we are back to encouraging empathy and expanded perspective taking from all parties. That’s my primary integrally-informed recommendation for all parties concerned in a nutshell, at both levels.
I think that this recommendation can honestly help, but let’s not fool ourselves. Both the typical traditionalist and the typical doubter are probably deeply convinced that they are thinking about the nature of things in a given representation of reality that is not only real-to-them but real-for-everyone.
If both mythic believer and reflective doubter began to take seriously the idea of development then this bedrock presupposition of both their worldviews would begin to collapse; reality might seem to shift underneath their feet. Their conscious and unconscious mind would seek to protect themselves from the disequilibrium.
(Note that I’m not saying that my own perspective isn’t true, only that it is partly a construction situated in myriad contexts and therefore it is only more or less implicitly real-for-everyone, not actually real-for-everyone.)
Unless they are ready to move on to a more expanded level of their own consciousness, wherever they are at, then the integralist ought not to expect too much change by offering their own well-intended advice. Oftentimes, we must learn to just let it be, not because we approve of people causing each other offense and suffering, but because wisdom itself appears to suggest acting carefully in order to allow Spirit to take the reigns in order to bring about a win-win-win situation that perhaps no one expected or could have planned.
What do I mean by “win-win-win”? A win for the Christian: they feel accepted and affirmed in all that is vital about their faith. A win for the doubter: their ego is strengthened by letting go of attachment to needing a particular response from someone incapable of it. And a win for the integralist: we may witness the dualistic drama as framing our own internal struggles, two phases of our own past development, and thereby heal a part of ourselves by being a part of the process as a sort of “universal donor” to all parties.