What Stage is Your Faith?

We have a tendency to think that faith is faith.  But we all recognize that faith grows and changes with time.  What if faith evolved over specifically definable stages? What stage of faith would you be in?  What stage of faith are you called to be moving toward?

Universal Stages of Faith

In his classic book, Stages of Faith:  The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning, Dr. James Fowler looks at how faith evolves over time. He identifies 6 Stages of Faith Development.   It’s important to note that while most of us think of faith in more religious terms,  Fowler isn’t necessarily referring to supernatural faith.  He imagines faith in more naturalistic terms–as the innate human search for meaning, purpose and significance.  Sometimes faith can be expressed through belief in a supernatural God or religion.  Other times, faith is expressed in less mystical ways.  Either way, the search for meaning, significance, and purpose in life is a universal human experience and whether you are a believer in a supernatural religion or not, your experience of faith (as defined as the search for meaning, significance and purpose) will evolve through discernible stages.

As we go through each stage, see if you can’t identify friends and family that match each stage (and try to guess where you might be)!

Stage One–Intuitive-Projective Faith:  This is the faith of toddlerhood and early childhood (about 0-3).  This is the time when one first starts hearing and exhibiting some basic understanding of the nature of one’s parents search for meaning, significance and purpose.  For instance, in religious households, children start recognizing there is some significance to words like, “God”, or “Jesus” or “Church”  even though these words still have little practical meaning to the child.  At this stage, the child intuits what these words mean from his parent’s example, and projects his relationship with his mom and dad onto the faith object (i.e., “God”, “Jesus”, “church”, etc).  In other words, whatever he feels toward mom and dad, he will feel toward these faith objects.   Secure bonding between parents and children is especially important at this stage as the attachment style the child has serves as an early catechism for feelings toward and about God and faith.

Stage Two–Mythic-Literal Faith:  This the faith of early childhood into middle childhood.  This is the time when the child learns the meaning-making stories of his parent’s faith-belief system; bible stories, saint stories, morality stories, etc.  These stories communicate meaning and significant truths in a simple manner even children can understand as they tend to have emotional resonance.  At this stage, children tend to believe these stories are literally true.  Any lessons or deeper meaning to be taken from these stories tends to be seen as a distant second.   The stories are important simply because they are “our stories.”   These stories will need to be internalized by the child before he is able to play with and reflect on the different levels of meaning that can be transmitted by faith-stories (for instance, the 4 senses of scripture).   This stage can often be accompanied by a tribalism that, on the positive side, gives the child a sense of belonging, but on the negative side can create suspicion toward people who are different.

Even though this stage is common to early childhood, many people stay at this stage for life.  At best, in adulthood, this stage reflects a simple piety with a humble, dutiful attitude toward faith leaders and moral norms.  At worst, in adulthood, this stage reflects an angry kind of us-vs-them fundamentalism that persecutes those who dare to think differently.

Stage Three–Synthetic-Conventional Faith: This stage of faith first comes online in adolescence.  This is the time when the person tends to see faith in terms of its ability to facilitate easy social relationships.  Having internalized the faith-stories he learned in stage 2, the person begins reflecting on how faith orders and impacts his relationships with others.  At this stage, much of a person’s faith journey is expressed in the search for a supportive community of people who  can make that person feel welcomed and affirmed.  The person at the Synthetic-Conventional stage tends to tacitly accept many of the teachings of his faith community without having really reflected deeply on them.   Because these truth-claims aren’t deeply understood, problems can enter in if these teachings negatively affect the person’s relationships or feel, somehow, unwelcoming. Doctrines that seem “mean” or “too hard” are either quietly laid aside or outright rejected for the sake of social convention.

Many people stay at this stage for life.  Moving through this stage tends to require a welcoming social group that supports the beliefs and practices of the particular faith group.  Alternatively, if the person’s social group is hostile to the beliefs of that persons faith-group, the person may either encounter a serious crisis where they abandon their faith,  or their faith development will become stuck in a state of perpetual, enmeshed, rebellion where they can’t leave (because of the relationships they have formed within the group) but they can’t accommodate to the doctrines (because those doctrines complicate their relationships).

Stage Four–Individuative-Reflective Faith:  This is typically the faith stage of early to middle adulthood.  At this stage, the person begins reflecting more seriously and critically on the faith stories he learned in his youth.  This person is prompted to ask hard questions about why certain things are true, in what contexts they are true and what levels of truth these stories convey.  At best, this stage allows for tremendous growth in understanding and wisdom of one’s faith traditions.  This can also be a time where a person becomes more suspicious of “easy answers” and tends to look down his nose at people who seem just a little too sure of themselves (especially the Stage 2 people he knows).  This stage is very susceptible to a kind-of syncretistic faith where everything is true and the only thing that matters is that whatever you believe brings meaning to your life.

People at this stage can tend to become fairly pleased with themselves for having had the courage to ask hard questions about their beliefs and other’s beliefs as well.  They often believe that this stage is the pinnacle of faith development when, in fact, it is merely the gateway to a mature faith.   Many people stay at this stage for life, becoming perpetual questioners/seekers.  Others, who have a more successful experience in this stage, use their experiences to come to a new level of maturity and understanding about the different levels their faith and their faith traditions operate on, leading to the beginnings of an individual, reflective, personally meaningful and coherent belief system.

Stage Five–Conjunctive Faith: This stage is usually consistent with middle-to-late adulthood, though, depending upon how intentional one has been about one’s faith life, one can come into it much earlier, much later, or never.   Conjunctive faith is characterized by three things:  First, a certainty about one’s own beliefs.  Second, a willingness to experience a “willed naivete” (i.e., a willed humility and acceptance) about certain beliefs or practices one used to reject or look down upon.  Third, a willingness to be generous toward others'(potentially) contradictory beliefs without lapsing into syncretism.  At the conjunctive stage, one tends to look for the deeper truths that connect more superficially polarized concepts.  For instance, the person at the conjunctive stage has learned to do a good job of being both just and merciful–and thus truly pastoral–in his dealings with others.  Or, for another example, the person at the conjunctive stage may have had to work very hard to understand that the “angry, warrior-God” of the Old Testament is really the same as the “loving, good shepherd God” in the New Testament (be careful, though, these are just illustrations, not “tests” of being in this stage).

At the conjunctive stage, the person may tend to re-examine certain beliefs or faith practices that he formerly rejected or looked down upon.  The character of this stage of faith journey is the quest for a wholistic faith that makes connections between disparate concepts without fudging the truth.  Being in the conjunctive stage is a bit like being the parent who, having built a bicycle for his child, decides to go back and figure out what to do with all the pieces that were left over (even though the bike still seems to work well-enough as-is).  This is what most would consider mature faith.

Stage Six–Universalizing Faith:  If Conjunctive Faith is mature faith, Universalizing Faith is saintly faith.  At all the previous stages, the person is more of a student of his faith.  At this stage, the person tends to be seen as an exemplar of his faith.  Regardless of the particular faith tradition that might be represented, this stage is characterized by a certainty of one’s own beliefs, a generous openness to the journey others are on, a sincere compassion for one’s fellow man, kindness, and the ability to be genuinely present, that is, to make the people they are with feel a sense of significance and sacredness just by keeping company with them.

Regarding this last quality, I think of the stories I have heard from people who were in Pope St. John Paul the Great’s presence who said that even if there were 100,000 people around them, for the moment they were with him, they felt like they were the only person in the world who mattered.  Obviously, achieving this stage of faith is very rare but it is observable.  If you think of the handful of people who you might consider to be truly holy, who are known for both their strength of faith and their genuine openness of heart, you will have a good sense of what I mean.

So, What Stage Are You?

These stages are still somewhat controversial as they have proven to be hard to validate empirically.  Nevertheless, they represent the best attempt, to date, to articulate a coherent vision of what faith is and how it evolves.  So back to the original question.  What stage are you at?  And what do you need to do to grow your faith from the point you are at to the point you are called to be?

Faith, Spirituality, Belief, Religion…What’s the Difference?

Conventionally, we tend to use words like, “faith”, “spirituality”, “belief” and “religion” interchangeably and, generally speaking, there isn’t anything wrong with that. But it may interest you to know that for those who study the psychology of religion, these words do have different meanings.  More than just an academic distinction, these differences can actually be quite enlightening and helpful for you in making clearer sense out of the different aspects of your own faith journey.  Let’s look at some of the differences between these common terms.

Faith— Most of us think of “faith” in supernatural terms, as in “faith in God.”  This is actually more of what psychologists of religion would call “belief” (see below). Faith, from a more naturalistic, psychological perspective, is merely the innate drive to search for meaning, purpose and significance.

From infancy, every human person has an innate sense that “there is something more than just me” and a drive to discover what that might be.  The baby calls out for the mother even when the mother is gone from view.  In the same way, all people, whether they are believers or not, seek the deeper meaning, purpose, and significance that exists in life, relationships and the things that happen to us.  We recognize this basic striving as “faith” and it is a universal part of being human.  Even atheists have this kind of faith.  I think this is an especially useful understanding of the term because of its universality.  We often hear that “faith is a gift”  but when we see so many people who do not believe in God, we wonder if God simply did not gift those people with faith.  The answer is that everyone has the gift of faith–that innate drive to seek meaning, purpose and significance–but some people have exercised this innate gift more than others, allowing their faith to be better defined than others.

SpiritualityFor psychologists of religion, the term “spirituality” represents both the things on which a person focuses his or her faith (e.g, God, church, nature, etc) and the things he or she does to try to make a connection with those things (prayer, sacraments, hiking).   In other words,  spirituality represents the paths a person’s faith (as defined above) travels as it seeks meaning, purpose, and significance.  In these terms, faith is an internal feeling, a sense that there is “something more.”  By contrast, spirituality represents the effort to find out what that “something more” might be.  Spirituality results when one’s faith that has been activated.

Belief–Belief represents the truths claims I make as a result of my spiritual journey.  When, as a result of my spiritual striving, I decide that “this is true” and “this is not” I am articulating various “beliefs” that I hold because of experiences I have had while trying to satisfy my innate sense of faith (i.e., that innate human longing for meaning, purpose, and significance) by engaging in various spiritual practices and pursuits.

Religion–Religion refers to the community of people who share similar beliefs and who work together to provide both support for going deeper into those beliefs and accountability for living up to those beliefs.  Religions codify beliefs into sacred texts and–by means of rituals and moral practices–seek to facilitate the deepest possible connection with the beliefs the particular community holds.

Of course you should feel free to use whatever terms you want in your conversation with your friends and family about these issues, but these distinctions can be helpful in discussions with people who wonder why so-and-so “doesn’t have the gift of faith” or what it really means when someone says they are “spiritual but not religious” or any number of other exchanges that can get bogged down when people use words in poorly-defined, little understood ways.

If you’d like to learn more about these terms or the psychology of religion, two great resources are James Fowler’s Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning and Kenneth Pargament’s The Psychology of Religion and Coping.

Religion & Spirituality Affect Health in Different Ways

Are people who say they are “spiritual but not religious people” not as healthy as people who are both spiritual and religious?  That could well be the case.

Religion and spirituality have distinct but complementary influences on health, new research from Oregon State University indicates.  “Religion helps regulate behavior and health habits, while spirituality regulates your emotions, how you feel,” said Carolyn Aldwin, a gerontology professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at OSU.

Aldwin and colleagues have been working to understand and distinguish the beneficial connections between health, religion and spirituality. The result is a new theoretical model that defines two distinct pathways.

Religiousness, including formal religious affiliation and service attendance, is associated with better health habits, such as lower smoking rates and reduced alcohol consumption. Spirituality, including meditation and private prayer, helps regulate emotions, which aids physiological effects such as blood pressure.

The findings were published recently in the journal Psychology of Religion and Spirituality. Co-authors were Crystal L. Park of the University of Connecticut, and Yu-Jin Jeong and Ritwik Nath of OSU. The research was supported by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation.  READ MORE

This is Your Brain on Religion

Researchers from the National Institute on Aging and the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, analyzed data collected from functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies to evaluate the flow of brain activity when religious and non-religious individuals discussed their religious beliefs.

Dimitrios Kapogiannis, M.D., and colleagues determined causal pathways link brain networks related to “supernatural agents,” fear regulation, imagery and affect, all of which may be involved in cognitive processing of religious beliefs.

“When the brain contemplates a religious belief,” said Kapogiannis, “it is activating three distinct networks that are trying to answer three distinct questions:

1) is there a supernatural agent involved (such as God) and, if so, what are his or her intentions; 2) is the supernatural agent to be feared; and 3) how does this belief relate to prior life experiences and to doctrines?”

“Are there brain networks uniquely devoted to religious belief? Prior research has indicated the answer is a resolute no,” said study co-author Jordan Grafman, Ph.D.

“But this study demonstrates that important brain networks devoted to various kinds of reasoning about others, emotional processing, knowledge representation, and memory are called into action when thinking about religious beliefs.

The use of these basic networks for religious practice indicates how basic networks evolved to mediate much more complex beliefs like those contained in religious practice.”

For those of you interested in learning more about religion and the brain, check out this interesting post on the field of neurotheology.

Is Atheism A Mental Illness?

Sean Thomas at the London Telegraph seems to think so….

Thanks to a couple of surveys, it’s being put about in certain circles that atheists have higher IQs than believers. That may or may not be the case, but…Let’s dispense with the crude metric of IQ and look at the actual lives led by atheists, and believers, and see how they measure up. In other words: let’s see who is living more intelligently.

And guess what: it’s the believers. A vast body of research, amassed over recent decades, shows that religious belief is physically and psychologically beneficial – to a remarkable degree.

In 2004, scholars at UCLA revealed that college students involved in religious activities are likely to have better mental health. In 2006, population researchers at the University of Texas discovered that the more often you go to church, the longer you live. In the same year researchers at Duke University in America discovered that religious people have stronger immune systems than the irreligious. They also established that churchgoers have lower blood pressure.

Meanwhile in 2009 a team of Harvard psychologists discovered that believers who checked into hospital with broken hips reported less depression, had shorter hospital stays, and could hobble further when they left hospital – as compared to their similarly crippled but heathen fellow-sufferers.

The list goes on. In the last few years scientists have revealed that believers, compared to non-believers, have better outcomes from breast cancer, coronary disease, mental illness, Aids, and rheumatoid arthritis. Believers even get better results from IVF. Likewise, believers also report greater levels of happiness, are less likely to commit suicide, and cope with stressful events much better. Believers also have more kids.

What’s more, these benefits are visible even if you adjust for the fact that believers are less likely to smoke, drink or take drugs. And let’s not forget that religious people are nicer. They certainly give more money to charity than atheists, who are, according to the very latest survey, the meanest of all.

So which is the smart party, here? Is it the atheists, who live short, selfish, stunted little lives – often childless – before they approach hopeless death in despair, and their worthless corpses are chucked in a trench (or, if they are wrong, they go to Hell)? Or is it the believers, who live longer, happier, healthier, more generous lives, and who have more kids, and who go to their quietus with ritual dignity, expecting to be greeted by a smiling and benevolent God?

Obviously, it’s the believers who are smarter. Anyone who thinks otherwise is mentally ill.  MORE


What is “Mental illness”  — Does Atheism Fit?

There is a lot to this.  Part of the problem, of course, is that there is no generally accepted definition of the terms “mental health” or “mental illness.”  Readers might be surprised to learn that most therapists can complete their training and not once have a meaningful discussion in class about what mental health or mental illness actually is.  We learn categories of illness and symptom checklists, but there is no generally accepted understanding of what actually constitutes a mental illness in the first place.  In order for Thomas’ assertion to be more than a slur against atheists, we need to look at what mental illness could actually be defined as.

Psychiatrist and brain researcher,  Dr. Daniel Siegel, argues that mental health represents the degree of integration within and between the mind, the body and our relationships.   He further argues that mental illness can be described as the falling out of  this state of integration and lapsing into a relative state of increased rigidity, chaos or both.  These are probably the best definitions of these terms I’ve ever encountered.

Seen in this light, I think there is a case to be made that atheism could be a mental illness.  There are many more studies like Sean Thomas points to that strongly suggest that religious believers have significantly better integration with regard to health, mental health, relationship satisfaction, and pro-social behavior.  We also know that there is strong comorbidity between atheism and high functioning autism.  In general, while the occurrence of agnosticism or personalized spiritualities is quite high, the incidence of atheism stands at 1-5% in the general population, which is consistent with other mental disorders.

Can Belief Systems Be Disorders?

It isn’t enough to say that, because atheism is a belief system it should be exempt from being considered a mental illness.  The belief that one is Napoleon is clearly evidence that something  is not right.  Also, I’m not picking on atheists, I would argue that any belief system that significantly inhibited the integration between or within one’s mind, body, and relationships was representative of, if not outright mental illness, than at least poorer mental health.  And, in fact, there are types of religiousness (aka, “extrinsic religiosity” which tends to be characterized, not by internal conversion, but rule-bound judgmentalism and angry tribalism) that have been shown by a great deal of research to be associated with poor mental health.

So, seen from this perspective, considering the relatively lower rates of mental, physical and social well-being enjoyed by atheists, it really isn’t unreasonable or inappropriate to ask if atheism either is a mental illness itself or is a contributor to poor mental well-being.


Blessed Are You When WLW Drive Time Hosts Persecute You?

Yesterday, I had an interview–actually, it was more like nuclear warfare–with Eddie Fingers and Tracy Jones, hosts of the #1 afternoon drive time show in Cincinnati.  They had me on to discuss my book, Holy Sex, in light of the NY Times article on the Hook-Up Culture .  It turns out I wrote the book that shocked the shock jocks.

A couple of weeks ago, in light of the US News and World Report article on how devout Catholics have the best and most frequent sex, my publisher hired a publicist to book  interviews for me on secular and Christian radio.  Overall, its gone well with most interviewers being patronizing at worst and actually interested at best.  These guys were another story altogether.

One of them, I think it was Tracy (it was hard to tell them apart but he identified himself as a former pro-ball player so I suspect it was him) decided that I had some kind of mental illness for suggesting that 1) anyone  should wait to have sex until marriage and 2) monogamy was a good thing.  Worse, he acted as if I was personally insulting him for saying the same.

When I shared that the more sexual partners one has before marriage the more difficult it was to make satisfying, lifelong sexual bonds later in life, he went ballistic.

It’s hard to describe how vicious, mean-spirited and vitriolic he was. He accused me of being a “nerdy joyless ‘doctor’ who just couldn’t get any” and just wanted to inflict my miserable joyless ways on the world.  And that was the friendly part of the interview.  Of course, some of Jones’ credibility, especially regarding my point on the lifelong bonding issue, was undermined when he had to admit that he was on his second marriage and, in response to my direct challenge to his assertion that lifelong monogamy was impossible, he admitted that he would probably cheat on his second wife, “if it came up.”  But y’know, why let facts, reason, and personal experience get in the way of narcissistic ant-religious bluster?

I deal with a lot of angry people in my line of work and I’m not easily intimidated by drama so I think I managed to make some solid points despite being taken by surprise.   I’m not sure why, but they seemed genuinely shocked when I told them how happy I was in my life, my marriage and my family.  In response to Jones’ harangue, “Do you know how few people like you there are?!?”  I said that there are very few billionaires too, but very few people think that being one is a bad thing.  I then told him that I thought he was peddling a sad message that told people they should settle rather than pursue the lifelong, faithful love everyone craves.  That was one of the few times they got quiet.

Regardless, the reason I’m even bothering to share any of this on the blog is to remind us all of how shocking and disturbing the Gospel is even today.   I talk to a lot of Christians who feel guilty after an encounter like this.  Guilty that they weren’t as self-possessed or perfectly composed as they imagine they ought to be, as they imagine Jesus would be.  Let me just say that there is no reason to ever feel guilty for standing up to a bully.  Whether it’s your brother-in-law, husband, or a narcissistic, former pro-ball player who doesn’t know how to keep his zipper up and hates you for not being similarly challenged.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. (Matt 5:11).   The world still hates us.  Not because our message is bad, but because our message is so good that they don’t believe it’s possible for them.  They hate us because we stand as a witness to the life and love they could have if only they would give their lives to God.  Keep witnessing.  Don’t be discouraged.

You want to know the really funny thing?  At the end of the interview, Tracy’s partner said he wanted to have me back.    I look forward to Round Two.

Pick up your copy of the book the shocked the Shock Jocks– Holy Sex! A Catholic Guide to Toe Curling, Mind-Blowing, Infallible Loving.


The Marriage Debate: What NOT to Do (and What TO do instead)

There is really no way to put a smiley face on it.  Yesterday’s SCOTUS decisions dealt a serious blow to the marriage movement.  The decision was not as catastrophic as it could have been.  One scenario had SCOTUS pulling a “Roe” and, by judicial fiat, granting a federal right to gay marriage in all 50 states.  As  I noted on the air yesterday, the decisions on DOMA and Prop 8 are the equivalent of having one’s legs cut off instead of one’s head.  Yes, one’s better than the other, but neither is exactly good.  Yes, we fight on, but it’s a little hard to not feel like Monty Python’s Black Knight while we do it.

As of 6/26/13,  thanks to the Supremes, anyone who believes there is something unique about traditional marriage–about a child’s right to have both a mother and a father–has become a bigot and a hate-monger.  There is no way around it.  Gay marriage is now the ideal that people who value progress, justice, and love (or at least the popular understanding of those terms) must support.   In an ironically chilling statement, the President said that he “won’t” force churches to accept the civil redefinition of marriage.   I say it was ironically chilling, because as Deacon Greg noted yesterday, in the President’s half-hearted attempt to reassure those who disagree with the decision, he did not say that he had no power (as the Constitution–for the time being–asserts) to force churches to accept his will  at some point in the future–as he is attempting to do with contraception and the HHS mandate (and BTW, mark my words, if we lose the mandate fight,  gay unions will be the next thing the gov’t tries to force the Church to support).  All he said was that he “won’t” do what he implicitly thinks he ought to be able to do.

In light of all this, it could be difficult for anyone on the side of traditional marriage to avoid getting lost in apocalyptic visions of the coming persecution.   But we really do have to resist this temptation because if we don’t we become the caricature our opponents would like us to be.


We must be careful to NOT become what they say we are.  Yesterday, in their anguish, I saw countless people posting horrible–and frankly, inexcusable–things about homosexuals.  I saw foolish posts on Facebook from prominent, well-known Catholics that featured obscene pictures of homosexual behavior at Gay Pride parades with sarcastic captions like, “Oh, SURE.   They’re JUST like us.”    Comments like this do not help our cause.  They simply turn us into exactly what they say we are.  Haters.  Worse, comments like this obscure the true reason we value traditional marriage.


I encourage–no, I beg–everyone to immediately get Bill May’s excellent book, Getting the Marriage Conversation Right.  The book is only 82 pages long but it will open your eyes about the real reasons traditional marriage is important and help you–as the title says–get the conversation right.

The short version of the book’s thesis is that support for traditional marriage has NOTHING to do with being against homosexuals and EVERYTHING to do with defending the rights of children.   Marriage is the only institution that exists to defend the rights of children to be united to their mom and dad.  When someone confronts you about traditional marriage, the questions you should be asking them are the following…

  • Do we need an institution that unites kids with their moms and dad? Yes or no?
  • Do children have a right to know and, as far as possible, be cared for by their moms and dads?
  • Does anyone have the right to create children with the intention of depriving them of their mother or father or both?
  • Should we have laws and curricula in schools that promote men and women marrying before having children?


Children have a natural right to be united to their mom and dad.  Marriage exists to protect this right.  This means several things.

1.  A child born, for instance, to a co-habiting couple, or a child who suffers divorce of his parents, or is raised in any other context than in a traditional marriage, cannot count on either his right to know where he comes from or his right be provided for by the people who created him.  When a mother and father are married, a child knows where he comes from and who he can expect to provide for him.  Marriage unites a child to his mom and dad.

2. Even now, almost everyone acknowledges that being deprived of either a mother or father is a bad thing.  For example; we feel sad for the child who never had the opportunity to meet his dad.  Or the child who’s mom died in childbirth.  Or the child of divorce who couldn’t count on one or both parents to be there.  Or the kid raised by his grandparents instead of his parents.  We recognize these things as sad because we all know that a child needs, not just “people” to care for him–or even any two people to care for him–but, ideally,  a mother and a father.  Preferably, his own mother and father.  Other people can do a terrific job of raising kids, but unless they are the child’s own mother and father, the child still feels a loss.  Moms and Dads make different contributions to a child’s development.  These contributions go beyond mere cultural constructs.  There is an essential difference between moms and dads that cannot be made up for by someone playing the role of mother or father.    Mothers and fathers interact with children differently.  They give different psychosocial gifts to their child.  A child raised without a mom or dad can be a good kid, a healthy kid, a well-functioning kid.  But he will never feel as whole as the child raised in an intact family with his own mother and father.

3.   Gay marriage cannot be equivalent to marriage because–if the above is true–no matter how much two men or two women  love each other, and no matter how technically skilled they may be at parenting, they cannot give a child a mother and a father.  As I pointed out above, in every other context in which a child is deprived of a mother or father, that is recognized as a tragedy.  Gay marriage is the only context where intentionally denying a child a mother or father is seen as a good thing.  This does serious violence to a child.

For instance, if a child of divorce who doesn’t know his father says he is sad about it, or goes to therapy, he would be allowed to grieve that absence.  But would a child raised by two lesbians be encouraged to tell his moms if he ached to have a dad?  Would he be allowed to grieve never having known his father or to feel frustrated about never being able to have a relationship with the sperm donor who helped his two “moms” conceive him?   Would a therapist be forced–because of so-called marriage “equality”–to tell this child that he has nothing to be sad about because his family was just as good as any other family even though his gut says differently?  In what other context is denying someone’s feelings a good thing?  Saying that gay marriage is equal to traditional marriage effectively says that children raised without a mother or a father have no right to feel the absence of the missing parent.  After all, things are equal, aren’t they?  Anyone who says otherwise is guilty of bigotry–including the child’s own feelings.  People who are shamed for the hurt they feel cannot heal the hurt they feel.  Gay marriage effectively necessitates the shaming of anyone–not just children of gay parents–who feels the absence of a mother or father.

4. If gay marriage is equivalent to marriage, then gay couples must be allowed–and even encouraged–to have access to whatever means they need to acquire the other thing that traditional married couples have; namely, children.  That means an exponential expansion of donor-conceived children, and surrogacy.  Click here to read about the research that describes the unique struggles of donor-conceived children.  Click here to read about the struggles in their own words.

5.  Yes, all of the above logic also applies to the similar abuses heterosexual couples perpetrate against children.  That said, at least with heterosexual couples, there is still a chance that these injustices can be addressed. With gay marriage, all the things that are at least arguably unjust when heterosexuals do them to children (surrogacy, donor-conception, depriving a child of a mother or father through various means) become irrevocably just when homosexuals do them.   When same-sex couples are seen as equivalent to heterosexual couples, the necessity of a father and mother for a child disappears.  There is no reason to solve the problems that come with the absence of a father or mother.  We just close our eyes to the possibility that there could possibly be any problems.


The upshot is that we are not against gay marriage.   We are for defending the institution that protects the rights of children to be united to their own mom and dad.  We recognize that this isn’t always possible, but we recognize that when it isn’t possible, that is a sad thing that must be dealt with compassionately–not denied as an inconvenient truth.

Homosexual persons have a right to be treated with dignity.  They have the right to be given whatever protections they need to live full, dignified, healthy lives free from persecution and prejudice.  But they do not have the right to pursue these goals by taking away the very few rights children have to be united to their mom and dad and, to the degree that it is possible, to be raised by their own mom and dad.  THAT is the problem with gay marriage.  Nothing else.

So, don’t become the bitter, hateful, homophobic caricature our opponents want us to be.   Get the marriage conversation right.   Please.

The future.  Our future.  Our children’s future depends on it.

Coming Wed on More2Life Radio: Raising Faithful Kids (Plus, Win a Free Book! Details Below)

Coming Wednesday on More2Life:  Raising Faithful Kids–Every Catholic parent wants to raise faithful kids. Today, we’ll talk about what it really takes to raise kids to love Jesus Christ and his Church and how to overcome the obstacles in your path.

Call in at 877-573-7825 from Noon-1 Eastern (11-Noon Central) with your questions about raising godly children.

WIN A FREE BOOK in our SUMMER BOOK GIVEAWAY!  Respond the  Q of the D:  (Two-fer.  Answer one or both to win!) 

1.  What are the most important things parents need to do to raise faithful kids?

2.  What do you think are the biggest obstacles to raising faithful kids?

Can’t get M2L on a Catholic radio station near you? YOU CAN STILL HEAR US! ~ Listen via our FREE AveMariaRadio IPhone or Android App (Check your app store!), ~ Tune in live online at www.avemariaradio.net ~ or catch our archived shows via the M2L Podcast (also at avemariaradio.net)

———————*Win a free book!  Every day you respond to the question of the day your name will be entered in a radio drawing to win a free book from the Popcak Catholic Living Library (over 10 titles in all)!  Again, each day that you respond you will get another chance at winning a free book in the drawing held every Friday on More2Life Radio.

This week’s featured title is:  How to Find True Love.    How to find true love is a book about finding God’s love hidden in the little moments of everyday life.  Each chapter is a short reflection on another surprising way we can experience more love in our lives and, ultimately, experience how much God, himself, truly loves us.

Winners will be announced on air and contacted by FB message following the drawing this Friday, 6/21.


Will Your Kids Stay Catholic? (UPDATED)

Most parents hope that their adult children will remain in the faith in which they were raised.  Lisa and I often hear, both on the radio and in our counseling practice, from parents who are profoundly upset that their adult children have left the Church.

Obviously, parents can never guarantee that children will follow in their footsteps with regard to their beliefs but there are things that can be done to stack the deck.  When it comes to raising kids to stay Catholic, the research is pretty clear.  Being religious yourself and having a religious home isn’t enough.  Religious education is important, but the strength of the attachment between the parents and children appears to be the factor that decides whether your children stay faithful or not.  That said, there are some interesting details in how the relationship between religious education and relationship plays out.

Religiousness and Relationship: Two Theories

There are two theories of how a child’s relationship with his parents affects religious belief.  The “compensation hypothesis”  asserts that insecurely attached children are more likely to be religious as adults because they are seeking to compensate for their lack of connection with a parent by connecting with a heavenly parental substitute.

The  “correspondence hypothesis” states that the likelihood of a parent passing on their values to their children is dependent upon the strength of the relationship between the parents and the children.  Logic here is that children who have a healthy relationship with their parents are less likely to challenge or reject the values they were raised with.

So which is true?  Both are.    Here’s how things tend to break down according to the research.

The Results:  Religious, Not Religious, and “Spiritual but not Religious”

If a child is securely attached to non-religious parents there is a greater likelihood that child will not be religious as an adult.

If a child is insecurely attached to religious parents there is a greater likelihood that child will not be religious as an adult  (there is also a fair number in this group who fall into the “spiritual but not religious category.  Mostly because their attachment issues make them suspicious of what researchers call, “social religion”  [i.e., organized religion]).


If child is insecurely attached to non-religious parents there is a greater likelihood that child will grow up to be “spiritual but not religious.”  (for the same reasons as above.)

Finally, children who are securely attached to highly religious parents are the most religiously attached of all groups as adults.

The Bottom Line

Now, granted, there are going to be individual variations on the above themes.  Not everybody fits into neat categories.  That said, the evidence is pretty clear that the best way to increase the likelihood that a child will retain the faith of his youth as an adult (even if that is “no faith”) is to both practice the faith intentionally in your home and make certain that you have a strong attachment with that child.


A Consideration for Evangelization: 

One interesting question for me that comes out of the research is how to evangelize those who are “spiritual but not religious.”  If the data is correct that many “spiritual but not religious people” are really  can’t be reached simply by hearing the message of the Gospel.  They need to experience a relationship that heals the attachment wound first.  Something to keep in mind for all my budding apologist readers.  All the best arguments in the world can’t substitute for an authentic relationship that leads another person to Christ.

The same is true, really, for religious adults who are in a frustrated relationship with irreligious adult children.  If your kids aren’t impressed with the power of your arguments, the answer isn’t seeking better arguments.  The answer has to be healing the damage in your relationship.

UPDATE:  I’ve had a few people asking to see this alleged research to which I’m referring.  I actually anticipated the objection, but decided not to post anything at the time because I’m summarizing about a half-dozen different studies over the course of 20 years.  That said, it was certainly a fair challenge.  For those interested in further reading–assuming you don’t have access to an online academic database–this is a pretty good article summarizing the highlights of the data.  For those who do have access to an academic search engine (like Academic Search Premier or PsyArticles), use the key words “attachment style” and “religiousness” and dive in.

OF COURSE…If you are a parent and less interested in the academic side of things and more interested in how to stack the deck in favor of YOUR kids being faithful Catholics as adults, please be sure to check out Parenting with Grace for tips on building a family around the principles of the Theology of the Body and Beyond the Birds and the Bees, a book not just about talking to your kids about sex, but rather about forming your kids’ moral conscience from birth to young adulthood.


Can You Teach the Theology of the Body to a 10yo? Should you?

Catholic Patheosi, Elizabeth Husted Duffy, posts her suggestions on what a “true” sexual education out to look like.  I like and agree with all of her recommendations and I encourage you to check them out forthwith.

One point I thought could benefit from a little more reflection, though, is Elizabeth’s initial reaction to a call she received during a recent radio interview.  She says….

One mother called into the show wondering about how to present the Theology of the Body to her ten-year-old daughter.  My answer, or rather, my non-answer was that Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body was developed over a series of audiences during the seventies and eighties. It makes for complex and sometimes difficult reading, and many intelligent minds disagree on its practical application.  I think it might be a mistake to use Theology of the Body as a starting point for thinking about or talking to our kids about sex.

I would both agree and disagree with her point.   For example;  if you see TOB as a series of philosophical reflections on the nature of the person broken up into 130-ish segments and delivered over 5 years and intended for a largely academic audience, well, yeah.  TOB would be a terrible place to start talking to kids about sex–or anything for that matter.

This view of TOB is certainly correct as far as it goes, but I would respectfully suggest that it misses the larger point, and this would be where I have my limited disagreement with Elizabeth’s otherwise terrific post.

What Does it all Mean?

Pope John Paul II said that he developed TOB in an attempt to provide people with an “adequate anthropology.”  What does that mean?   Well, you’ve probably noticed that lots of people have lots of different opinions about what it means to be a healthy person, what it means to be in a healthy relationship, what it means to be authentically Christian, and even what it means to be authentically Catholic.  When Pope John Paul II said he wanted to present an “adequate anthropology” he meant he was presenting his answer to those questions.

If we accept that he knew what he was talking about, then I think that makes the case for why it is completely appropriate to ask the question, “How do I teach TOB to a 10yo?”  Or a 7yo, or a 4yo, or a baby for that matter.


Well, again, if TOB is just a phenomenological reflection on both the Book of Genesis and the nature of embodied love, then TOB would be a tremendously stupid place to start the sexual formation of any child.  BUT, if the TOB simply uses this academic reflection as a launching off point to answer the rather profound but straightforward questions I mentioned above, then its exactly the place to start.  What parent doesn’t want their child to know what it means to be a healthy person, to be in a healthy relationship, and what it means to be an authentically Catholic Christian person?

TOB proposes to help parents answer exactly these questions.

TOB:  A Lesson Plan

Another reason the TOB is exactly the place to start the sexual education of our children is that it gives a parent the lens through which to apply all the other recommendations Elizabeth makes.  She is absolutely right to recommend teaching children the bible, the catechism, the rules, and being a good model of love in marriage.   But there are lots of different ways to do these things.  

For instance, there are many ways to read the Bible (a book of stories?  a book of commands?  a book that proclaims an angry God?  a book that proclaims a cuddly God? etc.).  TOB gives Catholics a very specific lens through which to read the bible (e.g., a book that reveals the evolving love story between God and his people; a story that begins and ends in nuptial union with God).

Likewise, there are many different ways one could view the Catechism (a book of rules?  a book of answers? a doorstop? etc.).  TOB gives Catholics a very specific lens through which to view the Catechism (e.g., a book the reveals the basics of our quest to understand the heart of God and his plan for humankind).

Similarly, there are many ways we could teach morality (a list of don’ts?, a list of reasons “God’s gonna getcha”?, a list of ways to be impure? etc.).   TOB gives us a very specific way of talking about morality (e.g., a call to love ourselves and others as persons instead of viewing ourselves and others as things).

Finally, lots of couples think they are presenting a healthy model of love in their homes (be strict? be indulgent? put kids first?  put marriage first? put work first?  use contraception? be providentialist? etc.).  TOB provides a very specific model of what love looks like (e.g., it is embodied,  dedicated to meeting the needs of the “unique and unrepeatable” other, and always images the intimate and extravagant nature of God’s love for us).

Teaching a 10yo TOB

Teaching TOB to a 10yo, or a 5yo or a baby doesn’t mean sitting them down and saying, “Repeat after me, child.  ‘The body and it alone makes visible that which is invisible…’ “)

Oy, vey.  I can’t imagine something more stupid or horrible.  Elizabeth and anyone else would be absolutely right to be allergic to that idea.  Fortunately, I don’t think that’s what teaching TOB to kids really means.

I would suggest that teaching TOB to kids means presenting the Bible as the love story between God and his people that begins and ends in union with him.   It means discussing the Catechism in a manner that conveys that it reveals the basics of our quest to understand the intimate heart of God and his loving plan for his people.  It means discussing morality, not in terms of rules and punishments and lines we may tiptoe up to but never cross, but as a guide to what it means to be truly loving to ourselves and others.  And it means presenting a model of love that is openly physically affectionate, ordered to meeting the unique needs of every family member, is extravagantly generous (and expects extravagant generosity in return), and is rooted in a life of both communal and individual prayer.

Anytime  parents do these things, they are teaching TOB to their kids.  TOB isn’t supposed to be a subject we study.  If that’s all it is, then it is useless even as an intellectual exercise.   As an “adequate anthropology”  TOB was always intended to be a message we live; the internal structure that guides our thinking, relating, and decision making as we live the gospel of Jesus Christ and labor to build his Kingdom (aka the “Civilization of Love.”)

TOB Not an Idea.  A Way of Life.

TOB’s power is not as an intellectual property.  It’s power is as a lifestyle that takes our narcissistic, disposable culture by the collar and shocks it into reality through both a stunning display of what real, self-donative love looks like and by bearing witness to the amazing ability self-donative love has to facilitate the flourishing of the human person.

And I do happen to think those are lessons that are worth conveying to a child of any age.

If you’re interested in how to make these lessons a reality in your family, I’d invite you to check out Beyond the Birds and the Bees:  Raising Sexually Whole and Holy Kids and for a look at what it means to build a family around the principles of the TOB, pick up a copy of Parenting with Grace:  A Catholic Parents’ Guide to Raising (almost) Perfect Kids.