Faith Beyond Belief: Stories of Good People Who Left Their Church Behind
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About the Author
With the publication of Faith Beyond Belief: Stories of Good People Who Left Their Church Behind, Margaret Placentra Johnston is embarking on her third career*. A practicing optometrist, she has been helping people see better in the physical world for the last thirty years. Now she writes to help people see more clearly in other ways. Captivated by the depth and beauty of the universal worldview described by various spiritual development theorists, Margaret found ten regular, real life people whose stories could show us steps on the way to that worldview. Her book, Faith Beyond Belief, is the result of that search. Margaret 's blog can be found at Patheos: www.patheos.com/blogs/faithbeyondbelief.
A set of questions for discussion groups, and other information about the book can be found at FaithBeyondBelief-book.com.
*high school French teacher, then Optometrist, now author.
What brings people to leave their church, the traditions of their faith - and sometimes even their friends and family members - to embark on a personal journey of spiritual discovery? Can we be good without the rules of a church to guide us? And is it still possible to find a spiritual home within a church whose creeds and practices we may have outgrown? In Faith Beyond Belief, an ex-Mormon, a Muslim apostate, and several former Catholics (including the author herself) are among those who tackle these issues, sharing stories to inform and comfort the ever-increasing numbers of Americans who are leaving their church behind.
Margaret Placentra Johnston takes the stages of spiritual growth out of the realm of theory to a rubber-meets-the-road discussion of the very real difficulties, and the joys, experienced by former believers as they navigate critical turning points on the path to spiritual authenticity. Based on the work of 14 spiritual development theorists, including the postmodern philosopher Ken Wilber, Johnston's book shows how moving through the stages of spiritual growth must, by its very nature, include a turning away from the dogmas and creeds of organized religion to something much more experiential, inclusive, and liberating.
Johnston's warm, conversational, and sometimes confrontational book shares her vision for the future of religion and gives even those who do not have a background in theology or philosophy a way to locate their place on the spiritual path and set their sights on a new kind of faith.
Rather than keep its adherents mired in childish myths, the religion of the future will lead its members toward the more fluid form of faith that can develop beyond belief, she writes. The religion of the future will be Love.
--Spirituality & Health
In approaching this book to review, I thought the personal stories would drive my commentary. Instead, I found myself intently interested in the organizing rubric Johnston built around the commonalities between them. Her line of inquiry leads her to investigate theories of spiritual development as they have been proposed by such divergent personalities as James Fowler, Saint Teresa of Avila and Adolphe Tanquerey. Johnston attempts to integrate the various theories into an accessible sequence for the average reader. She labels these the Lawless Stage, the Faithful Stage, the Rational Stage, and the Mystic Stage. Johnston's discussions of the spiritual stages and their implications were thought-provoking and I turned down a number of page corners, especially in the second half of the book. I am looking forward to considering these more deeply as a part of my own spiritual study. There is a part of me, however, that is concerned some may see the hierarchical nature of the stages to be parochial in their insistence that individuals must pass through a period of questioning prior to becoming spiritually advanced. Those who remain in the religion of their birth may presume that Johnston is insulting their faithful constancy, though Johnston does state that leaving the religion of one's birth is not endemic to the process. According to an October 14, 2012 Pew Report, 16.1% of Americans have no religious affiliation. Yet 70% of those believe in God. In this context, it is difficult to see the trend toward personal rather than dogmatic faith as step backward in our moral center. Regardless of your position on this matter, however, Faith Beyond Belief provides a framework allowing those without a strong academic background in philosophy to participate in the discussion. --Seattle Post-Intelligencer and Blogcritics.org
What happens to the spiritual lives of people who leave the traditional Christian churches of their childhood? I'm one of those people, and so is the author of this book. She was curious enough about the question to begin researching it. Writing as neither a scholar nor a member of a religious community, she is free to notate her findings without restraint. The result is an honest look at spirituality without religious affiliation. She shares her own story as well as stories from a diverse group of individuals. There is no one answer to her question, but there are similarities in what she discovered. For ease of understanding, she has organized the answers using four broadly-defined spiritual stages: Lawless, Faithful, Rational, and Mystic. She thought long and hard about the ramifications of putting her thoughts on public display, but having left a thirty-year career as an Optometrist in order to study the topic, she ultimately decided it was time to begin the discussion. In a world where religion is becoming increasingly divisive, and is often used as a political weapon, many of your customers are asking the same question that Johnston did. Her book will not only provide much-needed insight, it can also serve as a guidebook for empowering individual spiritual growth. It is a different kind of Good News.
--Anna Jedrziewski, Retailing Insight
In this thought-provoking first book, former optometrist Johnston, who has studied spiritual development, allies herself with the beyond religion movement, in which nonbelievers or those who are post-organized religion advance toward spiritual maturity through emotional intelligence, psychology, ethics, and critical thinking outside of traditional religious structures and belief systems. Interweaving personal stories from Catholics, a Mormon, a Muslim, Protestants, and others with accumulated core insights from human development experts, including Abraham Maslow, Lawrence Kohlberg, Gordon Allport, and James Fowler, Johnston identifies five stages of deconversion and spiritual growth: Lawless, Faithful, Rational, Rational Plus, and Mystic. Understanding this natural movement, indicates Johnston, may shift the expanding spiritual, but not religious demographic toward more satisfying spiritual depths. Describing many religious institutions as exclusionist, ethnocentric, judgmental, and triumphalist, Johnston maps a future for religion that is post-critical, heterodox, mystery-centered, and teaches moral reasoning rather than doctrinal adherence. Building on what psychiatrist M. Scott Peck's The Road Less Traveled (1978) and People of the Lie (1983) did for a segment of Protestantism in the 1980s, Johnston may provide similar direction for the postmodern meaning-starved spiritual seekers who are becoming adults in what philosopher Curtis Carter has termed a transreligious world. Agent: Lisa Hagan. (Oct.)Reviewed on: 08/13/2012
Margaret Placentra Johnston's Faith Beyond Belief gives us a good way to know the experience of those who have rejected their own church, but who are nevertheless engaged in a spiritual search beyond the conventional language and categories that left them feelinng empty and could not engage them. As such, it is an excellent way to get a feel for what the issues are and the way they are experienced by a growing segment of American society who are 'spiritual but not religious.' You can feel the difference in the openness, the inquiring mind, the caring soul that this book unveils.
--Rabbi Michael Lerner, author of Jewish Renewal: A Path to Healing and Transformation and The Left Hand of God-- "Reviews"