In INFANCY faith is undifferentiated, and is actually a pre-stage according to Fowler, as faith has not begun to develop.
God is My Mummy
Up to the age of two years of age, children have the potential for faith, but lack the ability to act on it. Through the loving care of parents and other adults, young children start to build experiences of trust, hope, courage and love. Faith for these children is experienced as a connection between themselves and their caregivers.
Only gradually does the infant begin to know itself as separate from its environment. Initially, the breast upon which it suckles or the toy that it grasps are understood as extensions of itself. At some point the infant ‘falls’ into consciousness through interactions with other persons and things. By seven or eight months, infants are on their way to knowing they are separate from those who feed and cuddle them, and also on the way to needing to be at the centre in a world of ‘others’.
The ‘fall’ into consciousness is traumatic (and, yes, this is the so-called ‘fall’ in the creation story of Genesis). Innocence gives way to anxiety, and parents will note the onset of panic when mother goes away as the child develops the ability to worry about whether or not she will return.
The child learns to deal with this pain courageously, as do adults, with the development of faith. In this case, faith is not founded in the ‘unseen’, but grows from the seeds of trust, love, and hope in the parents. As the parents repeatedly return and ‘rescue’ their children from feelings of abandonment, deprivations and inconsistencies in the infants’ environment, trust grows.
Infants develop pre-images of God as they recognise their dependence upon powerful others (mainly parents) who ‘knew’ them at their first self-knowing. (From these lofty beginnings as God-figures, the future for parents is a long road downhill.)
The danger here lies in two directions: 1) a domination of the experience of being the centre of the universe, or 2) its opposite: neglect and inconsistency. Either may seriously undermine that which comes later in faith development. The transition to the first stage of faith begins with the development of language and the use of symbols in speech and ritual forms of play.