STAGE 3: Synthetic-Conventional Faith

God is a Being Who Knows, Loves and Accepts Me

This stage generally begins with early adolescence when the mind gains the ability to reflect upon one’s thinking, and so can begin to envisage a universe of possible realities and futures.  One can begin to step outside the flow of one’s own experience, and grasp patterns of meaning arising from one’s own collection of stories. Out of the story the person would term ‘my story’, it is possible to project a future story.  This is a form of faith; the faith that I am becoming something.

A key to forming this personal myth is the emergence of the ability to take an interpersonal perspective.  This is the mechanism by which a significant other person becomes a mirror, i.e., I see you seeing me, and I see the me I think you see. The other person is necessary for a sense of knowing oneself to be real, to be acceptable and to have a future; hence, the tremendous power of peer pressure during adolescence.

The place of God in this stage is to be a being who is capable of knowing personally those depths of self and others we know we will never know. Adolescents’ religious hunger is for a God who deeply knows, accepts and confirms the self, and who serves as a guarantor of the self. God makes it possible to say, “I’m okay and I will be okay.”

The dangers of this stage are two-fold. 1) The expectations of others can be so compellingly internalised that later autonomy of judgment and action is jeopardised, or 2) interpersonal betrayals can give rise to either despair about God or else a compensatory intimacy with God that is unrelated to relationships with others.

For many people, stage 3 becomes a permanent place of equilibrium. Fortunately, there are a number of factors that can trigger growth to stage 4.  They include serious clashes or contradictions between valued sources of authority; marked changes, either by officially sanctioned leaders or in previously sacred policies.  These can lead to critical reflection on how one’s beliefs and values need to change in response to new experiences, revelations and group associations.

If one is not to be trapped in this stage, as are over half of surveyed Americans, it is necessary to overcome the tendency of parents and conservative religion to discourage questioning of the status quo, and follow the natural rebellious tendency of adolescence (to which most parents will attest) to question all belief systems. 

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