God is That Which I Conceive G-O-D to Be
This is the first stage that is typically encountered as adults, and it is particularly critical, for it is in the transition to stage 4 that a person must begin to take seriously the burden of responsibility for his or her own commitments, lifestyles, beliefs and attitudes.
Stage 4 is also a stage that a number of people do not enter. The previous stage is ‘conformist’ in the sense it is tuned to the expectations and judgments of significant others (parents, peers, the church and other institutions), and it does not have a sure enough grasp of its own identity and autonomous judgment to maintain an independent viewpoint.
In order to make the transition to stage 4, one must face certain unavoidable tensions: individuality vs. belonging; the power of strong, but unexamined, feelings vs. critical reflection; self-fulfilment vs. service to others; commitment to the relative vs. the possibility of an absolute. One must be willing to sacrifice, to some extent, the security of family, culture and religion.
In stage 4 the self no longer claims an identity defined by one’s roles or meaning to others. A new identity can be claimed and sustained by a new awareness of its own boundaries and inner connectedness; it sees itself as a ‘world view’, with its own intuitive, coherent understanding of reality. A person in stage 4 readily uses this new perspective to make judgments on the beliefs and attitudes and actions of others. Typically, symbols are translated into conceptual meanings (demythologising), and that which is ‘mystery’ shrinks as it is absorbed into the new meaning system.
The strength of this stage has to do with its capacity for critical reflection on identity and ideology. The dangers lie in this strength: an excessive confidence in the conscious mind and critical thought, and a kind of self-centredness in which the new, clearly-defined world view over-assimilates ‘reality’ and the perspectives of others into itself, including a constraining of an understanding of God by the belief system.
Those who are not to be trapped in stage 4 will listen to what may feel like anarchic and disturbing inner voices. Stories, symbols, myths and paradoxes from one’s own brother traditions will gnaw at, and break in upon, the neatness of the stage 4 belief system, bringing recognition that life is more complex than stage 4’s logic of clear distinctions and abstract concepts can comprehend. Those who risk the continuing journey may move toward a more multi-levelled approach to life’s truths.