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Tag: M Scott Peck

Kindred Spirits in a Pathless Land — Part Three


Guest post by Kindred Spirits

Religious to Atheist to Religious Again

And now, a couple examples of Stage IV people, both from the Christian tradition, and as much information as you want about the way they think (since each has written books). Both were religious when younger, then became atheists, and then later in life became Christians again. (Umm, well mostly. Not exactly sure what religious label Karen Armstrong identifies as. She is a religious scholar, and seems to put a great value on religion though. So I’ll put her in Stage IV in Peck’s framework, as I think it fits reasonably well.)

From the quoted excerpts below, I think it’s fairly clear that they are not fundamentalists. You’re unlikely to hear either quote read from the pulpit of a church, including more liberal churches. So clearly they don’t blindly believe the Bible as inerrant. And yet both find some level of profound truth in the Bible and in religion, although their beliefs are quite different from their views when younger, and quite different from fundamentalists too.

Leo Tolstoy

Yes, that Tolstoy. The famous Russian guy that wrote the monstrously large books that you probably haven’t read but are meaning to someday.

The Kingdom of God Is Within You by Leo Tolstoy by Leo Tolstoy:

“The significance of the Gospel is hidden from believers by the Church, from unbelievers by Science.”

The Gospel In Brief by Leo Tolstoy:

“I regard Christianity neither as an inclusive divine revelation nor as an historical phenomenon, but as a teaching which-gives us the meaning of life. I was led to Christianity neither by theological nor historical investigations but by this-that when I was fifty years old, having asked myself and all the learned men around me what I am and what is the meaning of my life, and received the answer that I am a fortuitous concatenation of atoms and that life has no meaning but is itself an evil, I fell into despair and wanted to put an end to my life; but remembered that formerly in childhood when I believed, life had a meaning for me, and that for the great mass of men about me who believe and are not corrupted by riches life has a meaning; and I doubted the validity of the reply given me by the learned men of my circle and I tried to understand the reply Christianity gives to those who live a real life. And I began to seek Christianity in the Christian teaching that guides such men’s lives. I began to study the Christianity which I saw applied in life and to compare that applied Christianity with its source.

The source of Christian teaching is the Gospels, and in them I found the explanation of the spirit which guides the life of all who really live.

But together with this source of the pure water of life I found, wrongfully united with it, mud and slime which had hidden its purity from me: by the side of and bound up with the lofty Christian teaching I found a Hebrew and a Church teaching alien to it. I was in the position of a man who receives a bag of stinking dirt, and only after long struggle and much labor finds that amid that dirt lie priceless pearls; and he understands that he was not to blame for disliking the stinking dirt, and that those who have collected and preserved these pearls together with the dirt are also not to blame but deserve love and respect.”

If you’re interested in more detail of what his view of religion is, you can get more of the meaning from reading the 5-6 page Prologue, and the one page “A SUMMARY OF THE CHAPTERS”, and get most of the ideas clearly.

Karen Armstrong

Karen Armstrong details her life story in the introduction to the book A History of God. She started out religious, even joining a convent, then left, became an atheist, did a television show arguing against religion, then later in life, became a religious scholar. I’m not sure whether she considers herself a Christian or not, but she’s certainly friendly towards religion.

The History of God is about how the notion of God has changed over time among the major Abrahamic religions (i.e., Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.) For example she talks about how the very early Jews were polytheists, then became monotheists. (Personally, I’ve only read the first chapter or so of the book. It’s interesting, but all I had time to read.)

The quote below should clearly differentiate her from fundamentalists, essentially saying that atheism is true, and yet, it proclaims that there is value in religion anyway! (You can read more in her book to get more explanation of how the notion of God evolved over time, and how it is worthwhile.)

From the introduction to A History of God:

When I began to research this history of the idea and experience of God in the three related monotheistic faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, I expected to find that God had simply been a projection of human needs and desires. I thought that ‘he’ would mirror the fears and yearnings of society at each stage of its development. My predictions were not entirely unjustified but I have been extremely surprised by some of my findings and I wish that I had learned all this thirty years ago, when I was starting out in the religious life. It would have saved me a great deal of anxiety to hear – from eminent monotheists in all three faiths – that instead of waiting for God to descend from on high, I should deliberately create a sense of him for myself. Other Rabbis, priests and Sufis would have taken me to task for assuming that God was – in any sense – a reality ‘out there’; they would have warned me not to expect to experience him as an objective fact that could be discovered by the ordinary rational process. They would have told me that in an important sense God was a product of the creative imagination, like the poetry and music that I found so inspiring. A few highly respected monotheists would have told me quietly and firmly that God did not really exist – and yet that ‘he’ was the most important reality in the world.

To be continued….

Kindred Spirits in a Pathless Land — Part Two


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….

Bruce Gerencser