A Muddle Through Fowler’s Faith Questionnaire

From whence derive a notion “faith?” When saying “faith,” what you hear, what I mean –

Online Etymological Dictionary has it:

mid-13c., faithfeithfeifai “faithfulness to a trust or promise; loyalty to a person; honesty, truthfulness,” from Anglo-French and Old French feidfoi“faith, belief, trust, confidence; pledge” (11c.), from Latin fides “trust, faith, confidence, reliance, credence, belief,” from root of fidere “to trust,” from PIE root *bheidh- “to trust” (source also of Greek pistis “faith, confidence, honesty;” see bid). For sense evolution, see belief. Accomodated to other English abstract nouns in -th (truthhealth, etc.).

From early 14c. as “assent of the mind to the truth of a statement for which there is incomplete evidence,” especially “belief in religious matters” (matched with hope and charity). Since mid-14c. in reference to the Christian church or religion; from late 14c. in reference to any religious persuasion.

And faith is neither the submission of the reason, nor is it the acceptance, simply and absolutely upon testimony, of what reason cannot reach. Faith is: the being able to cleave to a power of goodness appealing to our higher and real self, not to our lower and apparent self. [Matthew Arnold, “Literature & Dogma,” 1873]

From late 14c. as “confidence in a person or thing with reference to truthfulness or reliability,” also “fidelity of one spouse to another.” Also in Middle English “a sworn oath,” hence its frequent use in Middle English oaths and asseverations (par ma fay, mid-13c.; bi my fay, c. 1300).


In 1981, James W Fowler published a work entitled Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning, in which are delineated the following (as organized in Wikipedia):

  • Stage 0  “Primal or Undifferentiated” faith (birth to 2 years), is characterized by an early learning of the safety of their environment (i.e. warm, safe and secure vs. hurt, neglect and abuse). If consistent nurture is experienced, one will develop a sense of trust and safety about the universe and the divine. Conversely, negative experiences will cause one to develop distrust with the universe and the divine. Transition to the next stage begins with integration of thought and languages which facilitates the use of symbols in speech and play.
  • Stage 1  “Intuitive-Projective” faith (ages of three to seven), is characterized by the psyche’s unprotected exposure to the Unconscious, and marked by a relative fluidity of thought patterns.[4] Religion is learned mainly through experiences, stories, images, and the people that one comes in contact with.
  • Stage 2  “Mythic-Literal” faith (mostly in school children), stage two persons have a strong belief in the justice and reciprocity of the universe, and their deities are almost always anthropomorphic. During this time metaphors and symbolic language are often misunderstood and are taken literally.
  • Stage 3  “Synthetic-Conventional faith (arising in adolescence; aged 12 to adulthood) characterized by conformity to authority and the religious development of a personal identity. Any conflicts with one’s beliefs are ignored at this stage due to the fear of threat from inconsistencies.
  • Stage 4  “Individuative-Reflective” faith (usually mid-twenties to late thirties) a stage of angst and struggle. The individual takes personal responsibility for his or her beliefs and feelings. As one is able to reflect on one’s own beliefs, there is an openness to a new complexity of faith, but this also increases the awareness of conflicts in one’s belief.
  • Stage 5  “Conjunctive” faith (mid-life crisis) acknowledges paradox and transcendence relating reality behind the symbols of inherited systems. The individual resolves conflicts from previous stages by a complex understanding of a multidimensional, interdependent “truth” that cannot be explained by any particular statement.
  • Stage 6  “Universalizing” faith, or what some might call “enlightenment.” The individual would treat any person with compassion as he or she views people as from a universal community, and should be treated with universal principles of love and justice.

In the opening of his book, Fowler makes a list of questions that he presented to a faith workshop:

-What are you spending and being spent for? What commands and receives your best time, your best energy?

-What causes, dreams, goals or institutions are you pouring out your life for?

-As you live your life, what power or powers do you fear or dread? What power or powers do you rely on or trust?

-To what or whom are you committed in life? In death?

-With whom or what group do you share your most sacred and private hopes for your life and for the lives of those you love?

-What are those most sacred hopes, those most compelling goals and purposes in your own life?

These questions he felt he must answer for himself, or make attempt at, before placing them before others. And in lying them down here, I engage a scaffolding which seems to confirm my long-held sense that faith is not, as many have defined it, merely a belief in things unproven/unseen. Or, if it is, the definition is a vast oversimplification of the thing—has the effect of siphoning off the conceptual value of the word & its acts. This version in which faith is a belief in the unseen seems to me to explain itself right out of the equation of knowledge-making, in which K=JTB (knowledge is justified true belief—an epistemological starting-point, problematic in-&-of itself [re: Gettier & Co.], but good enough for a glance at its supposed opposite, “faith”), such that my belief in anything without adequate supporting evidence is faith, and so it has the weight of only unjustified belief, its truth amounts to no amount of knowledge. Perhaps this is so, but in that case, what’s the point? I believe myself to have knowledge about a thing on the basis of incoherent reasoning, and this is supposed to mean something—Fowler’s questions suggest that faith is not a claim of knowledge, but a series of acts in service to that which one values. Instead of seeing faith as a singular belief-claim, it appears to read faith as an acceptance of value systems such that whether or not it is reasoned out, faith can be described & understood on the basis of how one lives & to what one devotes one’s life (consciously or not). Fowler’s compulsion to stop & make attempt at answering the questions before posing them to others lies at the heart of what it may mean to seek out an understanding of what faith is & I sense a similar sort of impulse. I shall attempt to treat them here:

-What are you spending and being spent for?

This notion of being spent grabs the imagination. A passive behavior, that of having one’s very life energy expended in service to a thing by some even less known entity: the subject to one’s objectness. Who or what is spending me? What currency do I possess in my essence that whatever it is I am is worth energy to some other force, will, creature, institution, etc. I might say that I am my energies, & that my energies are being spent by the cosmos in service to time, or else in order to uphold the entropic principle inherent in a universe regulated by time. And in culture-belief terms, this translates perhaps into a faith in the scientific explanations of time and the universe & all the 10,000 things. Matter. I am a vessel, a membrane through which matter passes, changing from more ordered states to less ordered states. I am a vessel through which notions & ideas pass from simplicity to complexity, from order to disorder. I am a commodity by which the heat death of the universe buys itself.

Matter & Time. Entropy. That the universe is, in the senses that it is, a matter of time.

Mind & Mentality. That the universe is—in the sense in which without my consent it is not—my idea of the universe.

But these are beliefs. The answers are based on them, but are not necessarily hard-won. I am being spent by everything in service to everything else. Does this even approach a reasonable response to the question? Does the question have more to do with the day-to-day practical senses of behavior? In which case perhaps I am being spent by my hours indoors and cups of coffee & by my doubts & fears & by my inaction. I have faith in my psychic inertia.

What commands and receives your best time, your best energy?

Maybe there is some clarity living in this part of the question. The superlative element, best, infers a quality of subjectivity (or objectivity) & of productive nature. Best to what end? Ah! Well! Is not that for me to say, if not in all circumstances, at the least in the circumstances of answering a series of questions for my own self? To what end, then, seems to be the very valuation being asked of me to answer, as well as the very answer I seek to illuminate. If I were to approach by first defining the end, then the answer’s skew would be toward a predefined gesture. If I am to approach by loosening my hold on all the meaningness of the presupposition, that is, just go with what seems natural, I risk all my biases blinding the effort. But since perhaps discovery is the journey, I think the second may be best.

Writing receives my best time. Reading. Walking among the green things and imagining that I am there among them to see them. Uttering from myself the essences of my openest of perceptions about the singular qualities of the all-thing. A leaf, a window, a hope, a discouragement, a trembling. Making with my hands receives my best time. Making of narrative with hands. Form which stories out of tactile pieces. Enjoyment of others’ makings.

This is my BEST time, but I would not call it my MOST time.

What causes, dreams, goals or institutions are you pouring out your life for?

Pouring out your life—here again I am asked to imagine my energies drained of me. This time drastically. I am pouring it out of the vessel. My life goes out of me, and to an end. What for? Nothing, so far as I know. I might at one time have said Love. But Love is the preceding thought. In all things & seamlessly woven into all the elusive material of that which lies unthought, Love is what stands in for the unthought and becomes for us a thought, the way we have zero as a number, or i to help us imagine numbers that aren’t there, but that would be helpful if they were. The miraculous nature of the mind to conjure into symbol that which is not—whenever we have a conception of some shade of the unthought, that conception can be given a symbol whereby the unthought seems to become thought. A combination of thought & metathought approaching the unthought. I think, I believe, but have no evidence in language, that the negative space remains infinite, no matter the space finite filled in by our pointing out the thought. In other words, to symbolize the unthought is not to annex some part of the languageless world into language. It is simply to do what mind does & analogize a symbol into place. There is infinite space for its place, but perhaps not infinite time. The languaged world, the symbolic world, has infinite capacity, but remains forever finite, since forever may be finite in real terms. Mind may not persist beyond what matter may do to perpetuate it, & when the stars have all gone out, that should be it. But who knows. All things must end, it is known. But this infers time. What if we are not bound by such things? What if mind, given enough time, can find a way to annex the unthought, the untime, the unmatter? Difficult to say. But Love seems to be unbreakable in this elusive space: the proper answer to any question, the skeleton key of justification. If Love is created in an act, then the act is justified. But what is the thing itself? Nobody knows for sure (I know this for sure).

When I imagine pouring myself out, I think of holding onto the woman who was sobbing for her very horrified existence. Not a draining, but a willful exchange of life energy for whatever comfort she might keep from my assurance that at the edge of that abyss, she was not alone there. That cusp belongs to all of us, we can own it together through touch. Tightly.

Dostoevsky. I want to be him. I want to be my version of who he is when I idolize him.Why? Because. I was not asked why. This is a dream. A cause.

The institution is a little trickier for me. When I recognize a structure as a structure in that timeless way. Or else in that way of holding form through time. I want to break with it. Not with its ideals, necessarily. Just it. I don’t trust people to uphold their ideals inside of their structures. An institution is a building which echoes wisdom and carries out violence upon that wisdom. A mixed brick. I hold to that.

But what underlies that? I get the sense there is an endless regression that could be followed, but one more layer down is not a fruitless thing: I hold to, I pour out for, that life is suffering, meaningless. Solomon & the Buddha. Here are my institutions and causes. What joy may be taken here, I do not often know. That there may be joy taken here, I pour myself out in holding to that hope.

Also I literally pour myself out in service to the institution of pornography, of sexual gratification, or even the sexual compulsion, whether gratifying or not.

Where is my pouring out in service to the value of the word? I don’t know. The wish of such a pouring out might be the closest I have gotten so far: a hope for joy in such a thing.

As you live your life, what power or powers do you fear or dread? What power or powers do you rely on or trust?

I fear my own power to delude myself into a joyless existence. I dread the animal hierarchies of man: the realms of Caesar, of Mussolini, of Pharaoh, of the Temple & its Monkeys. I fear the fetching of fate in other is superseding of other’s capacity to love myself. I fear other’s fear of this in me. I fear I will not dream. I fear I will not remember my dream. I dread I will not recount the remembrance of my dream, nor have it dreamt by dreamers dreaming.

I rely, when I rely, on compulsion. I rely, when I rely, on the value of a walk. I rely on the power of the sunflower to be, such that I might also find myself in being as though simply being. This is not without function. The flower must have sun & water. The flower must have stem & petal. I must have my things as well, to be. I rely, when I rely, on the power of meditation. On the power of the written page. On the clever words of friends. On shoulders & insights. Momentary things. Eternal seeming.

To what or whom are you committed in life? In death?

I don’t know.

With whom or what group do you share your most sacred and private hopes for your life and for the lives of those you love?

It follows form: a man & a woman, usually one of each. Perhaps a straggle out a little, but the core is a man & a woman, one of each. A brother & a sister. The group is less for sharing in this way. I don’t trust the group. The group will turn on you. Burn you. Mock. Will seem to consist of many who seek from and give not to.

What are those most sacred hopes, those most compelling goals and purposes in your own life?

To love & to be loved.


See all the many shores there are to see. And be.

Joy in nothing much.

Peace which passeth understanding.


These are some answers to the questions, some attempt at least. I would not place them with certainty into the book of life and halt there. & say. Here is everything I mean. But it begins. It is a beginning. Some material to proceed along with.


Fowler then proposes that “Faith is a person’s way of seeing him- or herself in relation to others against a background of shared meaning and purpose.” And refers the reader to his good friend William Cantwell Smith out of Harvard, who resists giving a distinct definition for faith, to avoid the tendency to put the thing in a “nutshell.”  Smith’s perspective is not that the concept acts in a way that lends itself to a precise discursive identity, but that faith is important to spend time pondering: “He wants us to feel in our bones how essential a part of the human marrow faith is,” (10), writes Fowler of Smith.


The faith question/what is relevance/how everything seems to slip past.

When feeling helpless against the onslaught of time-passes-by, not retreat/regress.

Make something of all the of.


Previous walks: A Swim through Isaiah Berlin, “The  Hedgehog and the Fox”

Meanders on Walter Benjamin, “The Language of Man”

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