Stages of Faith – Intro to M. Scott Peck

Pecks Four Stages of Spiritual Development

M. Scott Peck offer a four-fold model outlining the development of one’s spirituality.  This system is loosely based upon our psychological development from children into adulthood.  As as with most, if not all of these systems, it provides a means of charting individual social-psychological development from an I-centric world, to a We-centric world, and for some into an Us-centric view of the world.

Stage I: Chaotic-Antisocial

  •    This stage is roughly comparable to Fowler’s stage 1 (Intuitive-Projective) and stage 2 (Mythic-Literal).

We all go through this stage as small children.  There is little to no respect for authority outside of oneself, and one’s greatest concern is only for oneself.  It’s hall mark traits include chaotic, defiant, disordered, and reckless behavior.  Persons residing in this stage are egotistic in the extreme, and the have little to no development of empathy for others.  Peck observes that many adults who are unable to grow beyond Stage I become criminals.  It is easy to see how persons stuck in this early stage have great difficulty thriving in the wider social community.  If transition out of this stage takes place at a late date in one’s life, as an adult, it is usually the result of a very dramatic, painful experience.

Stage II: Formal-Institutional

  •    This stage corresponds well to Fowler’s stage 3 (Synthetic-Conventional).  This is also the stage of spiritual growth in which many “Fundamentalists” and religious extremist are arrested.  Additionally, a great many “good, law-abiding citizens” never transition beyond this stage.

The hall marks of this stage are blind faith in authority figures, and understanding the complexities of the world as very simple binary choices of either Good or Evil; Right or Wrong; Us vs. Them.

Among the positive attributes of this stage are a sense of humility, and a willingness to serve others, and to work within the social structure of the wider community.  However, there may also be a lack of flexibility in one’s thinking and an inability to work well with persons outside one’s own community.

Children who learn to obey their parents (and by extension, authority figures more generally) as a result of fear or shame (as opposed to appreciation and respect), may become stuck in this stage and primarily express its darker attributes.  Peck observes that such persons often rely upon an institutional structure for a sense of stability.  If this sense of stability takes the form of a church or religious observance, persons locked in Stage II thinking may become extremely upset -and in extreme cases, violent- when their beliefs are questioned.

To live well within a community, we all need some sense of Stage II limitations of our actions. Yet if taken to an extreme, these same positive attributes may stunt one’s social-psychological-spiritual development, severely limiting one’s ability to think for oneself, and to be flexible enough to live comfortably with those different than oneself.

Stage III: Skeptic-Individual

  •    This stage roughly corresponds to Fowler’s stage 4 (Individuative-Reflective).  This is predominately the domain of what I sometimes call nous-gnosticism (a search of knowledge ruled by the logical mind and intellect).

A strong sense of self-reliance may help one transition from the previous stage, and in my view this is largely a healthy transition.  Among the hall marks of Stage III is the serious questioning of all that one has learned to this point in one’s life.  This includes sources of authority and information.  Part of this process includes the critical evaluation of one’s religious system.  Agnosticism, and even atheism, are common philosophical beliefs while in this stage.  It is common to become “non-religious” in this stage, and some persons remain so for the rest of their life.  And some even fall prey to an overwhelming sense of apathy and cynicism.

Stage III is also dominated by the processes of the intellect.  In our modern world, this is the stage of scientific skepticism and reliance upon the empirical method, in place of reliance upon authority figures and dogmas presented to us by others.

Spirituality will encounter a great pressure to change in this stage.  Persons unable to free their mind of the limitations of the slide rule may well lose their sense of spirituality altogether.  Those who retain a sense of spiritual beliefs and observances will be driven to find new ways of understanding old doctrines and dogmas.  Simple, literal interpretations of religious dogma must first give way to a more subtle understanding of one’s religious mythos, and then a means of integrating this with one’s scientific understanding of our cosmos must be found.

My personal view is the seeking imperative of this stage, ultimately drives one to either begin transitioning into the next stage (Mystical-Communal) or to succumb to a sense of being lost and isolated in a cold, dark and uncaring universe.  In this sense, this can be a very dangerous stage of spiritual development, for it may lead to opening doors to untold mystery and wonder, or it may close our hearts for the rest of our lives.

Stage IV: Mystical-Communal

  •    This stage corresponds to Fowler’s stage 5 (Conjunctive Faith).  This is predominately the domain of what I sometimes call kardia-gnosticism (a heart-based search for knowledge).

This is a mysterious and paradoxical stage of spiritual development.  The binary view of the world of Good vs. Evil, Right or Wrong, begins to dissolve into the realization that between the world of Black and White is a startling spectrum of subtle Greys!  Truth and Fact begin to be understood as belonging to different paradigms.  It is not that one is Right and the other Wrong, but rather, they each have their own sphere of effect and meaningful application.

Community becomes increasingly important in this stage, and along side this, a sense of acceptance for others.  Life and our roles and interactions with others all begins to be seen from a different perspective.  The beauty, mystery, and deep interconnectiveness of the natural world is seen and appreciated.  One begins to adopt what some call Unity Consciousness.

While one retains a degree of healthy skepticism in this stage, one is increasingly aware of an apprehension of an underlying reality deeper than mere comprehension.  The role of one’s intellect is increasingly informed by the apprehension of one’s heart.  Forgiveness, mercy, compassion, and love form the lenses through which others are viewed.

Judgement of other’s transgressions and the desire to inflict punishment on others is set aside.  The sense of separation between Other and Self soften.

In this stage one loves others as oneself.  Attachment to one’s own ego loosens.  Forgiving one’s enemies becomes more natural as one fails to see others as potential enemies.  Those residing in Stage IV are often called Mystics.


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