I was prepared to scoff at M. Scott Peck’s levels of spiritual development . But when I scanned the four stages and saw that I’m definitely a “three” and probably a “four,” I became an instant believer.
Somehow I’ve managed to never read any of Peck’s many books, he of “The Road Less Traveled” fame. He converted to Christianity after dalliances with Christian and Islamic mysticism, but I don’t hold that against him. Well, maybe a little.
--Stage I is chaotic, disordered, and reckless. Very young children are in Stage I. They tend to defy and disobey, and are unwilling to accept a will greater than their own. Many criminals are people who have never grown out of Stage I.
--Stage II is the stage at which a person has blind faith. Once children learn to obey their parents, they reach Stage II. Many so-called religious people are essentially Stage II people, in the sense that they have blind faith in God, and do not question His existence. With blind faith comes humility and a willingness to obey and serve. The majority of good law-abiding citizens never move out of Stage II.
--Stage III is the stage of scientific skepticism and inquisitivity. A Stage III person does not accept things on faith but only accepts them if convinced logically. Many people working in scientific and technological research are in Stage III.
--Stage IV is the stage where an individual starts enjoying the mystery and beauty of nature. While retaining skepticism, he starts perceiving grand patterns in nature. His religiousness and spirituality differ significantly from that of a Stage II person, in the sense that he does not accept things through blind faith but does so because of genuine belief. Stage IV people are labeled as mystics.
Peck was a psychiatrist. These stages have a ring of psychological validity to them. Most religious people are in II: formal, institutional, fundamental. They feel superior to the lost souls in I, but are threatened by the skeptical atheists, agnostics, and scientifically inclined III’ers.
A true II believer considers it backsliding if you go from being a moralistic churchgoer to a hell-raising “I make my own rules” I’er. Yet the same person would look upon a move from skepticism to faith as spiritual progress, even though Peck says this is a regression from III to II.
Like all typologies, these stages are simplistic. Still, Peck’s analysis is one more reason, among many, for the churchless to stand tall. In an egoless fashion, of course, since one of the hallmarks of IV is an embrace of collective consciousness rather than a separate self.
I found this passage interesting in the light of Peck’s own life:
Similarly, we see people bouncing back and forth between Stage III and Stage IV. A neighbor of mine was one such person. By day Michael expressed his highly analytic mind with brilliant accuracy and precision, and he was just about the dullest human being I have ever had to listen to.
Occasionally in the evening, however, after he had drunk a bit of whisky or smoked a little marijuana, Michael would begin to talk of life and death and meaning and glory and become "spirit filled," and I would sit listening at his feet enthralled. But the next day he would exclaim apologetically, "God, I don't know what got into me last night; I was saying the stupidest things. I've got to stop smoking grass and drinking."
I do not mean to bless the use of drugs for such purposes but simply to state the reality that in his case they loosened him up enough to flow in the direction he was being called, from which in the cold light of day he retreated back in terror to the "rational" safety of Stage III.
Shortly before Peck died in 2005, his wife of 43 years walked out on him. I learned that from an article about him, “Gin, cigarettes, women: I’m a prophet not a saint.” Another article says Peck “made millions with his first book by advocating self-discipline, restraint, and responsibility - all qualities he openly acknowledged were notably lacking in himself.”
Well, who among us is worthy to throw a stone at Peck? Not me, for sure. The longer I live, the less confident I am that I know what life is all about. Peck struggled to find out. But like he famously said, “Life is difficult.”
Whether we’re a I, II, III, or IV, we all can agree on that.