Essay: Human Development Stage Theory

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Human Development / Stage Theory

The Relation of the Stage Theory to the Christian Life

The Goals of Development and Stage Theory

The goals of human development in Christian theory can be divided into the ultimate and the intermediate. The ultimate goal is to achieve life everlasting in the company of God and Christ in Heaven (Sermabeikian, 1994). The intermediate goal is to do God's will in one's daily life on earth. The behaviors that represent God's will have been defined in the Old Testament of the Bible mainly in the form of specific commandments and proverbs, often illustrated with examples from people's lives. Most prominent of these are the 10 commandments that warn against such acts as killing, stealing, telling lies, committing adultery, coveting others' possessions, worship- ping idols, misusing God's name, failing to respect one's parents, and improperly conducting religious rites (Exodus 20:4-26). God's will is reinterpreted by Christ in the New Testament in the form of more general principles of conduct, the chief of which are to love God and all mankind. And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with thy entire mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is ... thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. (Mark 12:30-31)

The principle of treating others with love is illustrated with examples in the accounts of Christ's life and with suggestions in subsequent books, most of which consist of letters sent by the apostle Paul to various groups of Christian adherents. Hence, according to Christian theory, human development can be judged satisfactory when the individual's behavior increasingly matches the behavior described in God's commandments. Or stated differently, because the term sin identifies all behaviors contrary to God's will, human development is progressing satisfactorily when a person increasingly avoids sin. However, Christian theologians disagree on the question of the connection between (a) the intermediate goals of abiding by God's commandments and (b) the ultimate goal of the soul's ascending to Heaven after the death of the body (Nee, 1968). The question is: Will a person earn an after-life of everlasting joy in Heaven by having faithfully followed God's commandments while on earth, or earn an after-life of misery in Hell by having lived an earthly life of sin? Or is the soul's destiny after death dependent simply on God's inclination or grace, regardless of one's conduct during the years on earth? Can people who have lived sinful lives attain a Heavenly after-life by, at the time of death, confessing their sins and accepting Christ as their savior? While some Christians would answer yes and others no to such queries, all Christians endorse the belief that humans are obligated to follow the Lord's commandments, and child- raising and educational practices are directed toward such an end.

The Length of Development and the Christian Perspective

Defining the length of life and of development from a Christian perspective requires that the material being- the body-be considered separately from the non- material -- the soul or spirit (Sermabeikian, 1994). For the body, the beginning of both life and development occurs with conception, with the joining of the sperm and egg, and the end comes with physical death as the heart stops beating. For the soul, life is far longer, although the length of development may be the same as for the body. The decision about when the life of the soul starts depends upon which theory of the soul's origin is adopted. To people who subscribe to either the pre-existence or traducian theory, the soul originates at the time of conception, when the sperm and ovum merge. To those who subscribe to the creationist theory, the soul originates at whatever time between conception and birth God places the individual in the fetus. It is not clear in Christian doctrine whether the soul achieves any prenatal development, so the beginning of development of the soul appears indeterminate. However, it is clear that from birth until physical death the soul develops; that is, it changes with experience and knowledge.

One of the key tenets of Christian belief is that the life of the soul does not end with physical death but continues on through everlasting time. Hence, the life of the soul extends from the prenatal period into eternity. It is unclear, however, whether any development of the soul occurs after physical death (Nee, 1968). In the view of Jonathan Edwards, a seventeenth-century American Protestant theologian, 'An unbodied spirit may be as capable of love and hatred, joy and sorrow, hope or fear, or other affections, as one that is united to a body' (Simonson 1970), but the question of whether such an ostensibly sensate soul experiences any development while in its unbodied state following physical death is left unsettled.

Stages of Development and the Christian Perspective

For present purposes, a stage of development is considered to be a period of life which is marked by characteristics that differ from those of other periods. Passage from one stage to another is often indicated by a society's assigning responsibilities and rights not expected at an earlier stage. Sometimes passage is also signified by a formal ceremony. In view of this definition, there appear to be at least five stages of development in Christian theory -- the prebaptismal, the post baptismal childhood stage, the age of reason, the years of marriage, and the post- mortem period. In most Christian denominations the prebaptismal stage consists of the 9-month prenatal period as well as the early days or early months of infancy until the baby is baptized. During the baptism ceremony, the child is officially assigned the name that he or she will bear throughout life, and the ceremony shows the world that the parents dedicate the child to a Christian life. People who have not been baptized in infancy may be baptized at any later time in life. During the post baptismal period of childhood, which typically extends from infancy until around puberty, children are expected to gradually learn how to be good Christians.

However, during this first decade of life, children are considered too immature to fully under- stand Christian doctrine or the consequences of their behavior, so they are not held responsible for moral decisions. But around the time of puberty, they are thought to reach the age of reason and thus become capable of comprehending more completely the significance of Christian commitment. They are now considered to be accountable for their moral decisions and behavior. This passing from the state of irresponsible childhood into the fellowship of responsible, mature Christians is signified by a formal ceremony conducted before the church congregation. The ceremony in the Catholic Church is the confirmation rite and in most Protestant denominations it is the ritual of accepting the youth as a full church member with the right to partake of Holy Communion (Sermabeikian, 1994). During the period immediately preceding the ceremony, the youth usually engages in intensive study of key elements of church doctrine to help ensure that he or she enters the new stage of life with a truly enlightened Christian commitment. Entrance to the next stage, which traditionally occurs in early adulthood, is signified by a marriage ceremony during which the bride and groom publicly pledge to respect, love, and protect each other, forsaking all other potential mates 'until death do us part.' An important facet of marriage is that of achieving parenthood.

The final stage of development begins with death. Whereas physical death means the end of the corporeal self, for the soul it signifies the onset of life hereafter. Although there may be no change in the soul's condition during the after-life, passage into the final stage is itself a developmental change. A person's entering this last stage is marked by a funeral ceremony in which the soul of the departed is entrusted to the care of the Lord. In certain versions of Christian theory an additional stage, or perhaps sub-stage, during the period of adult- hood is postulated. It is that of the born-again Christian, a condition achieved when an adult experiences a spiritual reawakening, a revival of Christian insight and commitment, with the spiritual rebirth often occurring during the conduct of a religious ceremony. The four varieties of influence that shape development in Christian theory are heredity, the environment, supernatural acts, and human will.

Heredity, as set by the genes contributed by the two parents at the time of conception, determines the general structure of the human body and the basic pace of its growth throughout life. This is true in all forms of Christian theory. And as noted earlier, in the opinion of Christians who subscribe to either a pre-existence or traducian belief in the origin of the soul, heredity also accounts for the condition of the human soul at the time of birth. Environmental forces significantly affect the development of the body through nutrition, exercise, illness, and accident. The environment also strongly influences the… [END OF PREVIEW]

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