Friday, October 07, 2005

M. Scott Peck and the Stages of Spiritual Growth

M. Scott Peck does not subscribe to mainstream evangelical thinking and doctrine, so don’t expect what’s to follow to fit in that box. However, I did find it interesting to reflect on, so I’m passing it on. -Z.

M. Scott Peck, in an article published on FactNet, found over years of therapy that when patients with traditional, fundamentalist beliefs came to him for treatment they typically left agnostics or skeptics. He also found that when agnostics or skeptics came to him for therapy, they left with a more spiritual bent:

Over the course of a decade of practicing psychotherapy a strange pattern began to emerge. If people who were religious came to me in pain and trouble, and if they became engaged in the therapeutic process, so as to go the whole route, they frequently left therapy as atheists, agnostics, or at least skeptics. On the other hand, if atheists, agnostics, or skeptics came to me in pain or difficulty and became fully engaged, they frequently left therapy as deeply religious people. Same therapy, same therapist, successful but utterly different outcomes from a religious point of view. Again it didn't compute--until I realized that we are not all in the same place spiritually.

With that realization came another: there is a pattern of progression through identifiable stages in human spiritual life.

So Peck then developed what he considered to be the Four Stages of Spiritual Growth:

Stage I: Selfish, antisocial and lacking integrity.
Stage II: Fundamentalist, legalistic, dogmatic.
Stage III: Skeptical, individualistic, typically atheistic/agnostic. Active truth seekers.
Stage IV: Universalist, mystical, communal.

Here’s another way of viewing the Stages, from the perspective of how people at these stages would view Jesus:

Stage I: “Jesus? What has he done for me lately?” Also, one who professes Jesus but does so for cynical self-interest and not in belief.
Stage II: “Jesus is the one and only true God, and all who don’t believe in him are hellbound.”
Stage III: “I don’t know if this Jesus is who the Bible says he is, but he certainly taught us that men should love one another. That’s what’s really important.”
Stage IV: “Jesus was the Christ consciousness that showed the way to true salvation: unconditional love and oneness with God.”

With regard to Christians, Peck characterized Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and Benny Hinn (of all people) as in Stage II of development, and Mother Theresa and Martin Luther King in Stage IV.

Now, what Peck believes about that those that reach Stage IV would mean, for Christians, a rejection of some of the important tenets of mere Christianity:

At Stage IV, "Jesus is my savior" is translated as "Jesus, through his life and death, taught the way, not through virgin births, cosmic ascensions, walking on water and blood sacrifice of reconciliation - man with an external daddy Warbucks that lives in the sky - mythological stories interpreted as literal accounts, but rather as one loving the whole, the outcasts, overcoming prejudices, incorporating inclusiveness and unconditional love, this, with the courage to be as oneself - that is what I must follow for my salvation."

Not exactly orthodoxy, I'm afraid, and this part of his analysis I of course have to reject. I don't believe for a moment that anyone who believes that Jesus was born of a virgin, ascended into heaven, walked on water and died for sin is stuck at a low level of spiritual development, and only by becoming apostates can they become enlightened.

What is interesting and useful for me in his analysis is that Christians moving beyond small-minded stupid church/Churchianity perspectives can move through a period of questioning and doubt before reaching a final higher spritual level of development. This may come as some comfort to Steve and Josh.


At 2:31 AM, Blogger nathaniel adam king said...

I would agree that people do indeed go through a period of denial in their Christian walk. I am reminded of Peter's three time denial.

Although I think where Peck gets it wrong is that he assumes all who leave his therapy have left for the better. His thinking that is because those fundys have left skeptics and the skeptics have left mystics, that the natural progression of the spiritual walk is fundy then skeptic then mystic. His thought is that they since they leave him changed, they must leave him changed for the better. WRONG!

I wonder if it ever occured to him that he may be so confusing in his therapy that he casts doubt into the minds of those who are fundys but not grounded, and likewise doubt into the minds of those who are skeptics but not grounded? It is not that he helps anyone progress through their spiritual walk, it could in reality be that he actually is only good at giving doubt to the weak...

But that is my synopsis from your post alone...

At 5:25 AM, Blogger Kc said...

I tend to agree with Adam. His self analysis of his theropy resulting in his judgement of others seems irresponsible at best.

At 3:58 PM, Blogger Zeke said...

Well, of course I'm with both you guys, Adam and kc. I agreed less with his conclusions than I was intrigued by the idea that a Christian could pass through a period of doubt and even denial and end up more deeply spiritual.

At 1:28 PM, Blogger ninjanun said...

That a Christian should pass through doubt and denial seems perfectly normal and expected to me. I've seen it happen not only in myself, but in many others as well. Doubt is not the opposite of faith, certainty is. If we are certain, where is there room for faith, which is the hope of things unseen?

Looking back on my thought processes as a "fundy," I see now that my faith wasn't so much in God, but in my own understanding of Him.

The people I find most annoying (whether religious are not) are those who are so damn sure of themselves that they refuse to consider other possibilities and are unable approach others' ideas and viewpoints with respect and openness. They don't "work out their faith with fear and trembling," much less allow God to work through them and trust that He IS working. I speak as one who's been there--not meant to pass judgement on any particular person.

I don't think, as Zeke also stated, that a belief in orthodox things (virgin birth, ascension, etc.) precludes a belief in the stages mentioned in stage 3 or 4. Maybe only that the emphasis on them becomes less important than it is at the stage 2 "fundy" stage. Maybe because stage 2 thought tries to justify, rationalize, and "prove" those things, thinking that those things are the end-all be-all of what Truth is about. Does that make sense, or am I making myself clear as mud?

At 1:39 PM, Blogger Zeke said...

My passage through denial took me to the new age wilderness for a couple of years, right into what Peck would consider to be Stage IV. My return to orthodoxy, rather than miring me in the fundie mud, has allowed me to synthesize the truth of the Bible with a lifestyle of grace. My God is just bigger and more gracious now than he was for me before--an altogether pleasant and proper place to settle on.

At 10:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Folks

I don't think you're understanding Peck completely. Peck would say, I believe, that the beliefs in virgin births, etc. are not the crux of things. That is, they are not the focus. Whether one believes those things or not is irrelevant and entirely dependent upon the individual. If one believes those things, that doesn't automatically mean that then aren't stage IV..though there is a correlation between holding firm to those beliefs and earlier stages.

Also, I believe Peck adapted his stages from this book by Fowler: (not positive though)



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