You can read part one here.
Scott Peck was a psychiatrist and author of The Road Less Traveled. His framework was more conclusion than starting point for me, as I’d done a lot of reading before I stumbled across his work. However, it seems useful, and should give more clarity to where some of the authors in later series posts fit in.
Of particular interest, he posits that skeptics, agnostics and atheists, are actually more spiritually advanced than fundamentalists! (Not something you’re likely to hear preached from pulpits.) However, he also noted that after going through an atheistic stage, some went back to being religious, but not the same sort of religious views they held before. He labels this Stage IV as “Mystic.” (Note that mystic is a very problematic term, since it’s used by such a wide variety of people, from monks in monasteries, to tarot card readings at the county fair. The tarot card reader is probably not really a mystic as it’s used here. Alas, I’ve yet to find a better commonly understood term.)
The description of the types of people rings true from what I read. The description of how groups of people of various stages get along (or don’t) in a group was also interesting.
An excerpt to whet your appetite appears below, but follow the link to read the full description of the stages and how they interact with each other:
M Scott Peck Stages of Spiritual Growth (link no longer active)
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.
STAGE I: Chaotic, Antisocial. [….]
STAGE II: Formal, Institutional, Fundamental. [….]
STAGE III: Skeptic, Individual, questioner, including atheists, agnostics and those scientifically minded who demand a measurable, well researched and logical explanation. [….]
“Despite being scientifically minded, in many cases even atheists, they are on a higher spiritual level than Stage II, being a required stage of growth to enter into Stage IV. The churches age old dilemma: how to bring people from Stage II to Stage IV, without allowing them to enter Stage III. ”
STAGE IV: Mystic, communal. [….]
You can also read more in the Wikipedia about M. Scott Peck and the Four Stages of Spiritual Development.
Peck seemed surprised that there were different types of religious people, i.e., Stage II and Stage IV, with very different perspectives, despite both claiming to follow the same religion. During my reading prior to this, I’d also been surprised to find a few religious authors with whom I could actually agree with respect to much of what they wrote that seemed to fit into Peck’s Stage IV. Essentially, I was slowly becoming aware that this other category of mystics even existed, and I suspect that many others are also unaware that such a category exists.
Some liberal Christians are probably at the boundary between stage II and Stage III, and they simply waffle back and forth. They are usually uncomfortable with some of the fundamentalist theology, but aren’t quite willing to become atheists, and often have no clear explanation for why they accept some parts of the Bible but not others. However, some liberal Christians are Stage IV. I’d guess they have a clearer idea of what they believe and don’t believe, and why.
My guess is that most of Bruce’s readers are at the boundary between Stage II and Stage III, or solidly in the Stage III camp. Stage IV people are pretty rare overall, and hence probably rare among Bruce’s readers too.
To Be Continued….