Spiritual Consciousness, Violent Fundamentalism, Stages of Faith

Developing an Understanding of Spiritual Consciousness
by Erik Weaver (one of our frequent Gnostic Seminary contributors)

The subject of how we formulate our personal views of the world has been on my mind of late. The lens through which we see the world greatly effects how we choose to interact with others. And they with us, as colored by their own lenses. To the degree we better understand our own lens, and are able to imagine the world as seen through through the lenses of others, we should be better able to understand and communicate with others even when there seem to be great gulfs separating our respective world views.

My premise is that the forthcoming models provide a relatively simple yet useful means of categorizing and comparing different types of human interaction. The question of Fundamentalism prompted this exploration, but I believe the approach should lend itself to any number of “-isms.” While this line of thought rather naturally flows into ideas surrounding esoteric (inner) spirituality and introspection, I will restrict the subject matter of this post to exoteric topics which we may use as analytic tools.

Recognizing Levels of Spiritual Consciousness

I find Prof. Ron Miller offers me a useful way of thinking about spiritual perspectives in describing a four story building as representing our levels of consciousness. I think this model offers a good starting point for a lot of conversations, including trying to understand Fundamentalism. It is simple enough to easily keep in mind, its thresholds are well defined, yet despite its simplicity, I find it useful in organizing my thoughts. His four levels of consciousness are: basement, first floor, second floor, and roof top garden.

The lowest state of consciousness is the basement. Prof. Miller often refers to this as “tribal” thinking. Everything is 100% Right or 100% Wrong. When viewing the world in this way it is exceedingly easy to dehumanize others, and in extreme cases to even see them as Satan or some other embodiment of Evil Incarnate. From there it is quite a small step to embrace murdering them in the name of God. (Intolerance of others is maximized.)

Raising our consciousness to the first floor affords us greater perspective. This is largely a rational/intellectual lens through which we view the world. We begin to understand there are many ways of looking at the world and instead of a world of Black and White we begin to observe shades of gray between these extremes. The world becomes larger, inter-related, and increasingly complex. (Tolerance of others begins to replace intolerance.)

In raising our consciousness to the second floor we gain emotional empathy. The ability to feel in our heart as we imagine others might feel. We begin to walk in their shoes. This has an obvious effect upon us, because we now see each person as an individual, who like us, has feelings, and we begin to appreciate how our behaviors and actions effect others emotionally. One might say we begin to live in our heart, as well as in our head. (We begin to move from merely tolerating others, toward accepting them. A subtle yet important distinction.)

Finally, we come to the roof top garden. Few people spend much time here. This is said to be where we really see the world and all those in it as One. We no longer see enemies… how could we when all are One? This is the view offered to us by all great spiritual traditions.

Spiritual masters and “mystics” help us look within our own hearts to find an in-dwelling spark of the Divine (although there are differences of understanding as to what one should do with this insight). Perhaps most importantly, they teach this is equally true of everyone and everything around us. (Sincere appreciation of others increases, and ultimately is maximized.)

One may have noticed that I ended each “floor” of consciousness with a parenthetical statement. These comments outline another very simple way of seeing others. I use it to remind myself to be more open-hearted. In adapting it to a four-fold model I began with intolerance, but normally I only consider the three later stages: tolerance, acceptance, and appreciation.

First and foremost, I must “tolerate” others and their ways. I wish others to give me the privilege of thinking as I do, therefore I must pay others the same respect. To my mind, peacefully living with one another begins with (optimally, mutual) tolerance.

Over time, I find that I move from simply tolerating others to accepting their ways, even when they differ from my own, and even when I have no intention of adopting them. This may seem like a subtle distinction, but I think it is very important. In addition to opening my mind to others, I now open my heart to them, and I believe this is why shifting into this state of awareness is so powerful. I feel this offers better healing, both for myself and the other party, regardless of whether the feeling is reciprocated. Besides, we are all connected at a very deep level, anyway, right?

And finally, I may come to appreciate some aspects of previously alien views. Sometimes I feel that I discover another piece of the “Divine puzzle” allowing me deeper spiritual insight to my own search for the Divine. When this happens I have begun to learn from what I, at first, merely “tolerated.” I have to think this is healthy as it offers a grander view of both the physical world and my inner spiritual life. (Such is my goal at any rate.)

Framework for Understanding Discussions

By blending these two sets of “lenses” upon consciousness, I like to think I have a tool for achieving a better understanding of how others appear to be interacting with one another. And to the degree one better understands another person’s perspective, one should be better able to communicate/interact with them. The first three lines are arranged in a four column display. The last two lines are arranged as continuums of Communication and Violence, each of which is very important with regard to informing me of how effectively I may expect to interact with the person or group under investigation:


Basement….. First Floor…… Second Floor… Roof Garden

Tribal……. Rational/Mental.. Empathy/Heart.. All as One
Intolerance.. Tolerance…….. Acceptance….. Appreciation

None <————> Communication <———–> Oneness/Love
Maximum <————> Violence <————-> Minimum


The continuum of degrees of communication ranges from no communication taking place at the basement/tribal/intolerant end of the spectrum, to finding an increasing ability to communicate across the central areas, to moving toward sincere concern for others at the opposite end of this continuum; one might name this end of the spectrum Love.

Returning to Prof. Miller’s metaphor, we find that as one raises their consciousness higher, one has a wider, more understanding perspective of our interconnectedness with one another. From the roof top garden we see we are all One. So the “more evolved” views of the world inherently have greater flexibility and provide greater understanding than those restrained to lower floors. Whereas, from the basement, there is no outside view at all. For those in the basement there is no communication with the wider world… their eyes, and worse, their minds are closed.

This allows us to understand that violent persons trapped in tribal thinking are not Evil. They simply have a very limited scope of vision and are operating from a very limited level of consciousness. And it seems to be much more difficult to raise one’s actions above one’s level of consciousness, than to reach out to a less evolved level of consciousness from a higher one. However, if they are open to meaningful communication we may mitigate these negatives. But if they have no interest in communicating with us and in fact wish to harm or kill us, mitigation becomes increasingly difficult to impossible. Seen in this light, the continuums of violence and communication mutually limit and expand one another. Both are highly dynamic and I think we are amply rewarded by paying them due attention.


Stages of Faith

A more complex model for understanding our developmental stages of faith is presented by James W. Fowler in his book “Stages of Faith:

The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning.” I have been working with his ideas too, in the hope they may allow me to better understand how I have come to view the world, and my place in it. To the degree I am successful in this, I believe I will be better able to understand others, thus enabling more effective communication with them. (This remains a work in progress.) Fowler presents six or seven stages of faith, depending upon whether one counts our earliest days of infancy, which I do, but I label it as zero, so as to keep to Fowler’s stage designations:


0. Infancy & Undifferentiated Faith

1. Intuitive-Projective Faith

2. Mythic-Literal Faith

3. Synthetic-Conventional Faith

4. Individuative-Reflective Faith

5. Conjunctive Faith

6. Universalizing Faith

Fowler argues that all normally healthy adults will progress to at least stage three. At this point one may adequately function in society so one may or may not mature beyond this. And as one might expect, a person generally matures to the average stage of faith of those who make up one’s world with relative ease.

I should also point out that in using the word faith Fowler is not limiting it’s meaning to faith in the Divine. He uses it in a broader sense. Faith is that which provides us meaning in life, be it God, baseball, or a larger bank account. This brings to mind Viktor Frankl’s work in developing logostherapy. Frankl emphasizes faith is not just something we believe in, but is that which provides deep meaning to our life… it is the very reason we exist.

The main difference I see between these two authors is that Fowler does include such seemingly trivial ideas as baseball and bank accounts as constituting one’s faith provided one organizes one’s life around it. Whereas, I believe Frankl would argue that this is a delusionary perspective; that when truly pressed for a reason to live another day, baseball and bank accounts pale. They lack sufficient depth to keep a person alive against all odds and reason. Frankl is a holocaust survivor. He has personal experiences none of us would wish to share, which profoundly inform his insights.

So the the way Fowler uses the word faith, it is not as weak as mere belief, nor does it require that it includes a depth of purpose and spiritual meaning that keeps one alive against all odds (although it does not preclude this, while it does preclude the weak form of belief).

I am not going to try to summarize Fowlers book in a few paragraphs. Instead, I will point out that the early stages appear to be rather simplistic and two dimensional. For example, God is an old guy with a beard living up in heaven. God’s behavior and rewards and punishments are seen as simple extensions of one’s own world view. One may pray to store up favors to be paid back during times of need, much like a spiritual savings account. Thinking is rigid: God is good; man is evil. (Which we may recognize as the black and white thinking of those living in Ron Miller’s basement.)


As one begins to develop more refined stages of faith, the literal God in the sky kind of thinking falls away. Spiritual concepts become less anthropomorphic, and more abstract. This makes it easier to work with the underlying ideas and symbols which form the building blocks of the simpler ideas surrounding one’s faith. One might say one begins to work with archetypal images. And as one continues their developmental progression, this allows one to compare and contrast an increasing number of archetypal images, from one’s own faith and those outside one’s faith. Eventually, one may even begin to incorporate archetypal images from other paradigms. And ultimately, one begins to correlate disparate paradigms and to appreciate the ocean of images shared within and across the entire human community/condition. (Which we might recognize as the roof top garden view, in which we are all really One.)

The reason I find these ideas useful, is there is little point in speaking to a stage three/basement dweller in terms of a universal Divine plan affording everyone equal access to spiritual Oneness. They cannot see that view from their perspective. This is not the same thing as saying they will never be able to share that perspective, but it is to say if one wishes to communicate meaningfully with them right now, one’s symbols and language will have to be modified accordingly.

In this way, I see what we frequently label Religious Fundamentalism as an early, undeveloped, and unrefined stage of consciousness/spirituality. They are living in the basement, with little to no view of the outside world. They may or may not have any interest in communicating with others, and they may or may not resort to violence to retain their (basement) view of the world, and/or attempt to force it upon others. Of these two continuums, communication is fairly harmless to others, because others have the option to largely ignore those who are vocally adamant and close minded. But should they resort to violence, this must be properly addressed by others. After all, it is pretty difficult to ignore someone who is trying to split your skull, and certainly dangerous to ignore them. The trick, of course, is in identifying what constitutes a proper response. Optimally, there will be more spiritually evolved members of their own group who take this upon themselves.


 X-Y-Z Plot of Violence, Communication, Consciousness 

I feel it is important we consider the Continuum of Violence more closely. Violence could alternately be labeled as intolerance. However I feel intolerance is already a form of violence; to my mind it is merely a subset within the category of violence. If we plot “Violence” along the vertical axis, “Communication” along the horizontal axis, and start each at zero we have something like the following graph (I think negative values make understanding this more difficult; so all values are positive, and rated as a percentage from 0% to 100%):

0,0    Communication    100%

With the continuums of Violence and Communication set up as opposing axes, we may begin plotting the “relative danger” of a given Fundamentalist position/group. I have plotted four points: A, B, C, and D.

Point A: This is at the extreme bottom-left of the graph. It represents zero communication, and zero violence. Because there is no violence it is mostly harmless. However, since it is totally lacking in communication, it is also of no practical value. To provoke growth it would seem we need some combination of friction to stir things up, combined with effective communication to discover a new equilibrium.


Point B: Moving vertically to the extreme upper-left corner of the graph, we find maximum violence with minimum communication. I would argue this represents the most dangerous extreme we face. Here the violence has reached murderous levels and there is no communication to mitigate this violence. This is the region of Holy Wars, Crusades, and the Salem Witch Trials. It is the worse world humans have to offer.

Point C: Moving along the upper limit of the graph to the far right, we come to the most dynamic region of the graph. Here we still find maximum violence, so it is terribly violent and murderous by nature, but we have some ability , or hope, to mitigate this because we also have maximum levels of communication. There is however no guarantee one will be able to effect positive communications sufficient to overcome the violent nature of this region. Therefore, this remains an incredibly dangerous and murderous region in which to find oneself.

Point D: Dropping now to the extreme bottom-right corner of the graph we find the most stable and I would imagine the most desirable region in which to live. Communication is maximized while violence is minimized. Here we find the greatest ability to communicate with one another, and with no fear of violent retribution for holding a difference in opinion. This is the peaceful, pluralistic region in which I would wish to live. It is my opinion the long term safety and continued growth of the human race requires our taking up residence in this region.

I should perhaps point out that when I use the term communication I imply dialog. Simply broadcasting one-way without listening to the other party does NOT constitute effective communication. Shouting down another person is merely another form of violence, and broadcasting in place of communication is a simply more mild form of this violence.


A logical extension of this two-dimensional graph, would be to create a three-dimensional graph with consciousness plotted along the new Z-axis. The levels of consciousness are Prof. Ron Miller’s four story building: basement (0%), first floor, second floor, and roof top garden (100%). I imagine this dimension as helping us to define the spiritual quality of the communication shown above. And as I am using the terms, I feel one may consider consciousness as being roughly equivalent with spirituality, and I believe it offers great healing vitality. My hope is that it trumps violence.


I believe we should find this to be a very useful tool for diagnosing a given situation, as it allows us to compare and contrast the mixture of violence, communication, and consciousness. Much like using X-Y-Z coordinates to describe our physical location in space (North-South; East-West; Up-Down), we can now describe some important qualities found in human interactions (using Violence; Communication; Consciousness as our value coordinates).

For example, if plot 90,0,20 describes a given person or group (meaning either the average value of the group as a whole, or that of the group’s leaders), I know they are 90% violent; 0% communicative; and 20% conscious (still using triable, 100%-right/100%-wrong thinking). This tells me they are incredibly dangerous, and effectively impossible to speak with because they have zero interest in communicating with others. In such cases, my options in dealing with a person/group of this kind will be severely limited. On the other hand, an 80,70,10 group will be much easier to deal with because we now have a fair ability to communicate with one another. They are still very violent, and their thinking is not very consciously evolved, but where there is meaningful two-way dialog there is hope of improving relations.

I can mentally refer to this X-Y-Z graph when dealing with others. As I better understand “where they are coming from” I can better modify my behavior and communication techniques to effect more productive communications. I should also be able to use this model to understand why I experience difficulty in working with another person or group, and modify my approach accordingly, or perhaps realize our ability to dialog is nearly zero.


Perhaps most importantly, I can use this to self-evaluate my own spiritual progress. I suspect as we mature in our first and second floor stages of development we begin to appreciate how we may cause a number of our own problems, which we previously only saw as something others did to us. As as we become co-conspirators in our life as opposed to innocent/powerless victims, we embrace the ability and responsibility to effect change in our own lives. This is a critical component in our development, social as well as spiritual. I feel certain if I honestly evaluated and plotted my own value coordinates throughout my life, I could plot my trajectory along this graph and gain insight to past (and hopefully future) experiences contributing to my spiritual development.


I think this pretty well sets the table for a discussion of Fundamentalism, at least as I see it. I do not think we have a chance of understanding Fundamentalism until we develop a useful model of various and sometimes competing ways of seeing the world. And we must remember we can only see that which lies at our own line-of-sight and below. My perspective is also limited by my elevation (degree of Spiritual/Consciousness development). Sometimes I think I can catch the scent of the flowers growing in the roof top garden, but I certainly do not share that vista. On the other hand, at least I know the garden is up there! 😉 heheh….


With blessings for peace and harmony,

Erik Weaver