Don't Fall for the 3 Progressing Critiques of Infantile Faith
And Backstory on How I Did It Wrong
Below is how I’ve seen people talk about faith as implicitly infantile (which I talked about more abstractly in I Don't Care If My Faith Seems Infantile).
How have you seen the implicit (or explicit) critique that faith is infantile? That really believing is childish, for the immature, for the closed-minded, or the un-deconstructed?
The 3 progressing critiques of faith are
and the activist.
But first, a little personal backstory on how I’ve seen this develop (you know, the stuff that AI can’t make up).
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I Was Doing It Wrong—the deconstruction thing
Back in the early Aughts, I was hanging with the earlier deconstructors of the emerging church gathering around Emergent Village and people like Brian McLaren.
But I was doing it all wrong.
You see, while raised in a conservative church in California (Bay Area)…
I didn’t go to a Christian college that insulated/protected faith,
I didn’t learn about postmodern philosophy second-hand through people deconstructing,
I didn’t serve in a toxic megachurch.
Instead, I went to a public community college and then studied philosophy at the University of California, Santa Cruz—a very liberal school in a very liberal, spiritual, and anti-Christian city.
Which means I needed to figure out faith on the fly in the face of the firmest philosophical, sociological, anthropological, and plain social forces (I was raised baptist-fundamentalist…did you see how many fs I got in there?). I wasn’t just ingesting the easy partly line of a private Christian college or living off the psuedo-success and ego boost of a megachurch.
I was battling for faith on several fronts during my late teens and early twenties (personal, intellectual, biblical, and theological). I was reading Kant, Nietzsche, Marx, Heidegger, Wittgenstein, Derrida, Foucault, and others as part of my faith formation. I didn’t come to them after the fact as an aid to faith deconstruction.
So when so many of my Emergent Village sojourners were spontaneously reinventing 100-year-old liberal protestant theology and calling it “progressive Christianity”, and looking down on those of us who weren’t questioning everything as if we were clinging to childish certainly, well, I just didn’t buy it.
And I would push back on their implicit snobbery (masked as epistemic humility…and I’m all for actually epistemic humility, just not the pretend kind that knows exactly what people can’t know).
The Lasting Impact of Freud
All that to say, while Freud isn’t taught as authoritative in counseling programs or psychoanalytic training, his influence is considerable in sociology, political theory, and psychology of religion—especially the view that “really believing” is a kind of neurosis.
I think the reflexive impulse among many progressive, ex-Christians to equate all forms of conservative Christianity with fascism is EXACTLY this Freudian conception at work, that faith is infantile regression and refusal of maturity.
And I dare say that often therapists (or spiritual trauma survivors) write about faith, they unconsciously channel these Freudian conceptions of religion, even though the theoretical basis of it all has been left in the dust by psychology and anthropology.
The 3 Progressing Critiques of Infantile Faith
Ok, so that was the back story and analysis.
How do I see this showing up practically?
1) The Liturgical Critique
After putting of “childish things” and the simplicity of first faith, the liturgical critique looks and sounds like this…
It is fine “for you” to seek prayerful, moment-by-moment dependence on God (where you say God speaks and leads you, and you have emotional worship experiences when you feel God’s love for you), but I’m good with liturgical worship in which I can give myself over to the practices regardless of how I feel in the moment, knowing that I’m loved. That is real maturity.
2) The Spiritualist Critique
But for some, even reliance on liturgy is immature dependence. They want to move onto something “deeper” (…which often is just thinner…)
So they move past that “infantile” faith of liturgy…
It is fine “for you” to use the traditional ritual practices of established religion, but I prefer less dogmatic and less organized spiritual pathways where I can find love anywhere. That is real maturity.
I have often seen the language of mysticism used for this kind of spirituality, but this mysticism is pretty different than that of Christian tradition because this “spiritualist critique” claims that leaving behind doctrine, and even a view of a personal God which whom we interact, is a thing of childish faith.
3) The Activist Critique
But even this mature spirituality is way too contemplative. What is needed is the active life of loving the world—even if we have lost faith all together.
It is fine “for you” to find love in all things, but I’m committed to extending the love in the world through my actions, even if—especially when—I’m not even sure there is a God. That is real maturity.
This view see itself as the apex of spiritual development, able to live without any real faith in anything beyond the concrete expression of love. And this faith without faith is viewed as the purist love because it doesn’t even need God.
Why Not All Of Them?
Of course, historical Christianity, and the traditions of spiritual formation that stretch back almost 2,000 years, have always aimed at integrating and cultivating 1) childlike faith, 2) with liturgical practice, 3) mystical experiences, and 4) the activism of love.
But in the church, when you move into the next level (climb the ladder, or move to the inner rooms) you still keep the previous level within you, rather than surpassing it as if one was putting off an infantile neurosis.
So, please don’t let anyone suggest that really believing that God speaks, heals, and delivers, that the Bible is some kind of authority for us, that sin, hell, and heaven are (gaps) real means you are mentally ill.
Or at least, not because of those things (wink).
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