Catholic Spiritual Development
This stage in a young child's faith formation sets the foundation for what will later develop as a conscious, intentional, and personal faith. A very young child cannot be said to have any conscious faith at all, but he or she is unconsciously developing a basic attitude about reality--a perception about whether the world and the people in it are basically friendly or dangerous, pleasant or painful, trustworthy or capricious. This stage establishes a fundamental but pre-conscious disposition which will eventually enable the child to believe that there is God who loves and cares for them.
At this stage, faith has an imaginary quality, marked by the child's ability to believe almost anything. It is essentially intuitive, non-rational, and non-conceptual. It is based on what the child feels rather than on what the child thinks or knows. It is, in a sense, borrowed from adults whom the child trusts to be knowing and truthful. This stage sets the foundation for the child's eventual ability to believe in non-material realities and sacred mysteries which cannot be seen or proven. Imaginative faith is almost entirely non-critical or naive, in the sense that children for the most part lack the knowledge, experience, and insight to evaluate or judge the content of faith against objective criteria. In this stage, the child's image of God depends primarily on what parents do or say. If parents are loving, kind and forgiving, the child assumes that God, who is like a cosmic parent or grandparent, is also loving, kind and forgiving.
During this stage, the child is gradually developing the ability to think for her or him self and beginning to ask questions about things which earlier they took for granted, including their parent's faith. At this stage, children develop an intense desire and need to know how things really are. They are fascinated by stories, rituals, and traditions which show real people living out their faith in concrete ways. They depend on authority figures, rules and structure to assure them that reality is ordered and safe. Literal faith is the first step towards a less naive and more critical attitude toward faith, although the older child's ability to subject the content of faith to critical standards is still limited. The child is likely to imagine God as part of a divine dichotomy who uses His 'good' power and authority to create order and justice by punishing 'evil.'
In this stage, faith is shaped by the individual's growing ability and desire to participate in the wider world beyond parents and family. There is a developing need to belong and be accepted by peers and friends who share the individual's interests and values. Faith is highly inter-personal, institutional, and communal; like the older child, it is rooted in the group and is shaped by the conventions, traditions, rules, and habits of the group or faith community to which he or she belongs. Conventional faith may incorporate crtitical and non-critical attitudes toward faith. Young and early adults develop the ability to evaluate faith-claims by more objective standards, but may suppress critical questions out of fear, or for the sake of the security and acceptance provided by the group. In this stage, the older child or young adult, 'sees' God as an authority figure who holds the group (the world) together by enforcing order in a kind of cosmic "godfathering." They see Him as one with whom they can exchange "favors," who rewards loyalty and punsihes disloyalty. In this sense, God may be loving and merciful, but never at the expense of justice.
This stage in the spiritual life is sometimes characterized as a period where individuals are rethinking the conventions and convictions of the group as they search for a personal faith, independent of the individuals and groups they relied upon as children and young adults. Personal faith marks the individual's transition from a primarily pre-critical to a post-critical faith. It is a highly critical stage in which individuals evaluate faith-claims against personal experience, common sense, rational and scientific criteria. In this stage, an individual adult becomes more aware of the presence of the Divine Mystery in all of life. Faith now includes a sense of solidarity and compassion, which allows the individual to reconnect with the faith community and to live comfortably with doubts, contradictions, and shortcomings within the self and the faith community. Adults in this stage reject literalism of early stages not because it is untrue, but because it is not true enough; they have discovered that there are truths (or mysteries) embedded in reality which do not conflict with it and can not be judged by entirely rational or scientific standards.
*Stages of faith development taken from https://waterloocatholics.org/stages-in-faith-development *