Sunday, June 26, 2005

Stages of Spiritual Development

  • A living metaphor for spiritual growth.

  • Religions are bound by rules and structure; spirituality defies (denies?) rules and structure. Religions are finite by their very nature. Religions set bounderies and exist within those bounderies. Spirituality oozes through those bounderies as though they were not there. Religion is macro and deals primarily with what is known and what can be known; even religious expressions of the sublime are grounded in this physical world. Spirituality is quantum and does not behave according to the laws of this world. Spirituality transcends the material.

    All of the above sounds like metaphysical nonsense; however, it is what I have experienced. It seems to me that people on a truly spiritual path wind up transcenting their own religious faith sooner or later.

    Christian author and psychiatrist M. Scott Peck describes four stages of spiritual development. While these stages, as he presents them, are not definitive, they provide a useful starting pont for discussion. It is important to note that individuals may have traits of more than one stage at one time. I will quote M. Scot Peck's own definitions of these stages here:
  • STAGE I:
    Chaotic, Antisocial.
    Frequently pretenders; they pretend they are loving and pious, covering up their lack of principles. Although they may pretend to be loving (and think of themselves that way), their relationships with their fellow human beings are all essentially manipulative and self-serving. They really don't give a hoot about anyone else. I call the stage chaotic because these people are basically unprincipled. Being unprincipled, there is nothing that governs them except their own will. And since the will from moment to moment can go this way or that, there is a lack of integrity to their being. They often end up, therefore in jails or find themselves in another form of social difficulty. Some, however, may be quite disciplined in the services of expediency and their own ambition and so may rise in positions of considerable prestige and power, even to become presidents or influential preachers.

    Formal, Institutional, Fundamental.
    Beginning the work of submitting themselves to principle-the law, but they do not yet understand the spirit of the law, consequently they are legalistic, parochial, and dogmatic. They are threatened by anyone who thinks differently from them, as they have the "truth," and so regard it as their responsibility to convert or save the other 90 or 99 percent of humanity who are not "true believers." They are religious for clear cut answers, with the security of a big daddy God and organization, to escape their fear of living in the mystery of life, the mystery of uncertainty in the ever moving and expanding unknown. Instead they choose the formulations, the stagnation of prescribed methods and doctrines that spell out life and attempt to escape fear. Yet these theological reasonings simply cover over fear, hide fear and do not transcend it in spite of with acceptance in expanding movement. All those outside of Stage II are perceived to be as Stage I, as they do not understand Stage III and Stage IV. Those who do fall, reverting from Stage II to Stage I are called "backsliders."

    Skeptic, Individual, questioner, including atheists, agnostics and those scientifically minded who demand a measurable, well researched and logical explanation.
    Although frequently "nonbelievers," people in Stage III are generally more spiritually developed than many content to remain in Stage II. Although individualistic, they are not the least bit antisocial. To the contrary, they are often deeply involved in and committed to social causes. They make up their own minds about things and are no more likely to believe everything they read in the papers than to believe it is necessary for someone to acknowledge Jesus as Lord and Savior (as opposed to Buddha or Mao or Socrates) in order to be saved. They make loving, intensely dedicated parents. As skeptics they are often scientists, and as such they are again highly submitted to principle. Indeed, what we call the scientific method is a collection of conventions and procedures that have been designed to combat our extraordinary capacity to deceive ourselves in the interest of submission to something higher than our own immediate emotional or intellectual comfort--namely truth. Advanced Stage III men and women are active truth seekers.

    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.

    Mystic, communal.
    Out of love and commitment to the whole, using their ability to transcend their backgrounds, culture and limitations with all others, reaching toward the notion of world community and the possibility of either transcending culture or -- depending on which way you want to use the words -- belonging to a planetary culture. They are religious, not looking for clear cut, prototype answers, but desiring to enter into the mystery of uncertainty, living in the unknown.

    It is as if the words of each had two different translations. In the Christian example: "Jesus is my savior," Stage II often translates this into a Jesus who is a kind of fairy godmother who will rescue us whenever we get in trouble as long as we remember to call upon his name. 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." Two totally different meanings.

    The Stage IV - the mystic - views the conception of "back sliding" as the movement away from the collective consciousness and true inner nature, returning to the separate self - the ego, as opposed to the Stage II - the fundamentalist, whose conception of "back sliding," is the movement away from mapped out security to that of chaos. Two totally different views.

    Taken from: Stages of Spritual Growth by M. Scott Peck, M.D. (which is an extended quotation of The Different Drum by M. Scott Peck, pages 187-203)

  • The important things that I get from this and that I see as being universal are:
  • the transcendence of self
  • the transcendence of dogma-leaving behind the easy answers
  • the integration of questioning and searching into personal spirituality
  • Entering into community ans seeking the common points that unite different spiritualities whiles eschewing the dogma that divides.
  • A willingness to accept the unknown.

    I would also observe that as a deeply religious (and hopefully spiritual) person, I am not certain that I have any spiritual or moral edge or advantage over the moral, humanist athiest or agnostic. In my view, what Peck defines as Stage III and Stage IV spiritualities, does not necessarily imply any sort of superiority. I also belive that athiests and agnostics can be deeply spiritual without having to have a belief in spirit, as it were.

    I find that the first two stages are enmeshed in religion and the last two transcend religion. One of the problems we are having as a nation is that there is virtually no public conversation that transcends religion. This can be seen in the continued popularity of the Power of Myth PBS documentary over a decade after the death of Joseph Campbell. We hunger for this sort of conversation.

    Crossposted to: Convergence.
  • |