The Thirty Minute Blogger

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Friday, August 2, 2013

Challenging Stages of Spirituality by M. Scott Peck

I'll warn you now. What you read here may to cause you to bristle. Be forewarned. Stop now if you prefer not to be challenged at this time! 

I've been reading M. Scott Peck's book The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace recently and found his stages of spirituality both arresting and challenging. Dr. Peck begins with the caveat that all humans are unique and don't fit easily into any spiritual or psychological pigeonholes. He also states he's been through these stages himself and this is his perception. I found them interesting as they will make most people uncomfortable and place some people in unexpected locales on the spiritual continuum. Some of our sillier arguments with each other might be diffused if we simply remember Dr. Peck's admonition that "we are not all in the same place spiritually."

The four stages are:
  • Stage I: Chaotic, antisocial
  • Stage II: Formal, institutional
  • Stage III: Skeptic, individual
  • Stage IV: Mystic, communal
Stage I: Chaotic, antisocial: 
  • Young children and 1 in 5 adults reside here. 
  • Adults in this stage are generally incapable of loving others.
  • Relationships manipulative and self-serving.
  • Unprincipled, governed by nothing but their own will.  
  • May end up in jail or in positions of power, such as presidents and powerful religious leaders.
  • Some occasionally convert to Stage II after confronting their own chaos, which Dr. Peck asserts is a God-given grace.
Stage II: Formal, Institutional
  • Stage of the majority of churchgoers and believers [if you are here, you are in very good company].
  • Very much attached to the institution of the church, to canons, to liturgy, to tradition. 
  • Anything or anyone changing up the rules will cause turmoil for people in this stage. 
  • Vision of God is as external, transcendent Being, not immanent or indwelling. See God as loving but also as firm and distant judge.
  • Have a deep desire to be governed by a legalistic religion. 
  • Loving parents, whose children sometimes head into Stage III.
Stage III: Skeptic, Individual
  • Individualistic, social, the stage of many agnostics and atheists, along with believers who ask nettlesome questions.
  • Deeply involved in social causes. 
  • Not inclined to believe anything at face value, including the necessity to believe one way or another in order to be "saved." [bristling yet?] 
  • Loving parents.
  • Often scientists as skeptics and highly committed to principle. 
  • Advanced members are active truth seekers, who may discover the wisdom of "seek and you shall find," getting an unexpected big picture that allows them to see some beautiful truths in their Stage II parents and grandparents beliefs ... and they may move on to Stage IV [bristling again?]
Stage IV: Mystic, Communal [bristling will now commence, if it hasn't already!]
  • Mystics acknowledge the mystery of the enormous, yawning unknown and seek to explore it.
  • Through the centuries mystics of all beliefs have spoken of a unity, an underlying connectedness, all of us being important parts of a whole. 
  • Thrill to mystery and enter religion to approach mystery.
  • Most aware that the whole world is a community and assert that what divides us into warring tribes is a lack of that awareness. Emptying themselves of preconceived notions and prejudices, they perceive the underlying fabric and acknowledge this is one world.
  • Loving parents as well.
It seems to me that many of the arguments going on today come from a refusal to acknowledge and accept that people are in different stages spiritually and need to be there when they are there. The arguments between some of the firmest Stage II and Stage III believers revolve around this issue ... and the lack of respect people in these groups appear to have for each other. Perhaps, if we could all see each other as part of a continuum with specific needs in the place we are on that continuum, we might be able to put aside some of our more ridiculous arguments and ... maybe, just maybe ... learn to appreciate each other where we are ... and possibly even learn something from each other??? Is that possible? 

Dr. Peck goes on to observe that people tend to feel threatened by individuals at stages further along the continuum than we are ... and we may perceive people two stages down the road as downright evil (when you get Stages II - IV in the same church, synagogue, mosque, or temple ... well, let the games begin). We might want to work on that. We've done some awful things to certain people we felt threatened by who were a couple stages ahead. Do you think that's a mistake we might learn not to repeat ... someday?

I find this a useful tool. It is an interesting way of thinking about where people are and how we react to them. It provides insight for me about some of our more visceral responses and it tempers my own responses. If this does nothing of the sort for you, please set this aside and continue with your life untroubled by what you read here. I wish you well. If you do find this useful, I hope it helps you navigate our complex world today. 

For more: Peck, M. Scott, M.D. The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace. New York: Touchstone, 1987, pp. 188-194.

For another challenging article (of a different sort), see:

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