Diarmuid O'Murchu

Adult Faith Development




What is Adult Faith Development ?

(This is a brief overview of the wisdom for empowerment that I seek to communicate in all my work and writings. Like all adult learning this is an interactive process on which I always welcome feedback).


“No anthropology can yet be written because humanity is not yet human.” Walter Wink.


All religions and churches emphasise that humans are:

-weak and sinful while God is strong and holy
-totally dependent on the all-providing God,
-servants of God to whom we owe absolute allegiance,
-children of a Father God and a Mother Church
-called to be humble and obedient to the parent-like divine power.

The metaphor of the child is extensively used in conventional spirituality. Phrases like “childlike trust,” “loyalty,” “obedience,” “under authority” all denote a sense of dependency that is not congruent with adult maturity. The tendency to structure religion in patriarchal-type institutions, with a strong focus on those who govern from on high, breeds co-dependency rather than mutual interdependence. Such metaphors and systems militate against the emergence of wholesome, adult people.

Much more serious and less obvious to the naïve observer, is the tendency of religions to alienate people from the planetary and cosmic web of life. The dualism of the sacred v. the secular truncates nature’s invitation to live in a convivial, cooperative relationship with the earth and its living systems. Properly understood, earth-life systems function best when humans treat other life-forms with a sense of adult care and responsibility. But this experience of being human, in an integrated planetary and cosmic way, is largely unknown to people of our time


Adult Faith Development wishes to reclaim our integral place in creation:

- There is a cosmic dimension to our lives, elegantly illustrated in the fact that stardust is essential to our existence and all sources of nourishment ultimately belong to sunlight.

- There is a planetary/earthly dimension: our very existence is dependent on the healthy functioning of the earth’s bio-systems.

- There is an organic dimension, highlighted in the bacterial foundations of all life, thriving primarily on cooperation, not via competition.

- Our own human existence belongs to an amazing creative story of some 7,000,000 years, often dismissed by academics and religionists as primitive and barbaric.

- Contextually, we are an integral part of a greater whole that confers on us our integrity and dignity, forever calling us to mutual engagement with the evolving life-forces of cosmic and planetary life. Because of our disconnection from the larger context, we end up condemning ourselves to a contrived, minimalistic, childish participation in the great enterprise of universal life.



Creation is our true, authentic home, the houshold of all life, including those who have gone before us. The afterlife does not exist outside creation, but within it, a realm in which our departed loved ones inhabit a different level of being  - within the one cosmos.

Religion’s negative regard for the created order is responsible for much of the meaningless suffering in the contemporary world. Because this suffering is often so overwhelming, many people throw themselves at the mercy of God. Although an understandable response, and often the basis of survival against heavy odds, this is an abdication of our call to be co-creators with God in enhancing the growth and development of God’s creation.


Faith in our time requires us to grow up and learn to relate with God in a new way. As co-creators with our creative God, we are invited and challenged to relate as adults to an adult God, modelled for Christians in the adult life-example of Jesus. This requires that we replace:

The patriarchal sky-God with the divine life-force we encounter in the miracle of God’s creation.

- Hierarchical top-down dependency with a sense of mutual eqaulity and interdependence.

- Power-over with power-with (empowerment).

-Parental-type, controlling relationships with those based on mutuality (as modelled in the Christian notion of the Trinity).

-A product mentality in which everything is essentially predetermined with a process outlook that respects the divinely inspired evolutionary nature of life.

- Faith communities where the focus tends to be on control and top-down governance (priest, imam, rabbi), to one centred on people and programmed for mutual empowerment.


In contemporary cultures – secular and religious – calling forth the adult is either construed as a non-issue because, allegedly, adulthood is already fostered and protected, or it is subverted as dangerous propaganda. For the religions, in particular, it is quite a new concept with consequences that are likely to be perceived as threatening and dangerous for the status quo. In promoting a culture of adult faith the following principles are crucial:

1.Faith is a process of life-long learning, not some magical, divine product bestowed by church or religion.

2.Grace builds on nature (St. Anslem; St. Thomas Aquinas); consequently, appropriation of faith at different life-stages needs informed attention (see the pioneering work of James Fowler).

3.Adults learn by doing in a dynamic, interactive and co-operative endeavour in which educator and learner are equal partners.

4.In adult learning, everybody is endowed with wisdom and all are beneficiaries of divine revelation. Both educator and learner have joint responsibility for the awakening and appropriation of faith.

5.Story-telling is a central strategy in articulating a meaningful faith. Discernment skills arise from this context.

6.Adult faith matures when life experience is honoured, and the ensuing challenges are explored through mature adult conversations (stories).

7.Adult faith tends not to be incapacitated by perfectionism. It is much more at home in soulful realism in which paradox is honoured , vulnerability is protected, questions are respected and dogmatism gives way to trust and dialogue.

8.Adults commit to faith-based structures in which power is shared equally and justly at the service of empowerment.

9.Adults desire transparency through open dialogue, pursuing truth that is always in the process of being realised.

10. Adults seek to change co-dependent metaphors, images and language into more imaginative and intuitive constructs that challenge people to act as adults, faithful to an adult God, modelled on the adult life-example of Jesus.