M. Scott Peck, MD

Some Excerpts from M. Scott Peck, MD

 

In his book, The Road Less Traveled, M. Scott Peck, MD, warns us not to throw out the baby with the bath water when it comes to searching for truth in religion.

There is clearly a lot of dirty bath water surrounding the reality of God.  Holy wars.  Inquisitions.  Animal sacrifice.  Human sacrifice.  Superstition.  Stultification.  Dogmatism.  Ignorance.  Hypocrisy.  Self-righteousness.  Rigidity.  Cruelty.  Book-burning.  Witch-burning.  Inhibition.  Fear.  Conformity.  Morbid guilt.  Insanity.  The list is almost endless.  But is all this what God has done to humans or what humans have done to God?  It is abundantly evident that belief in God is often destructively dogmatic.  Is the problem then, that humans tend to believe in God, or is the problem that humans tend to be dogmatic?  Anyone who has known a died-in-the-wool atheist will know that such an individual can be as dogmatic about unbelief as any believer can be about belief.  Is it belief in God we need to get rid of, or is it dogmatism?  (p. 222).

Another reason that scientists are so prone to throw out the baby with the bath water is that science itself, as I have suggested, is a religion.  The neophyte scientist, recently come or converted to the world view of science, can be every bit as fanatical as a Christian crusader or a soldier of Allah.  This is particularly the case when we have come to science from a culture and home in which belief in God is firmly associated with ignorance, superstition, rigidity and hypocrisy.  Then we have emotional as well as intellectual motives to smash the idols of primitive faith.  A mark of maturity in scientists, however, is their awareness that science may be as subject to dogmatism as any other religion.  (p. 222-223).

Another major reason that scientists are prone to throw out the baby with the bath water is that they do not see the baby…They suffer from a kind of tunnel vision, a psychologically self-imposed psychological set of blinders which prevents them from turning their attention to the realm of the spirit.  (p. 225-226).

 

In Further Along The Road Less Traveled, Peck talks about his own spiritual development.

I am very cautious about my use of “religious” words.  I often talk about spirituality rather than religiosity, for example, or about higher power instead of God.  I am cautious because these words may have negative connotations.  One of the great sins of organized religion is that it has tended to corrupt some very holy words.  And when people encounter these words, they associate them with the hypocrisy of organized religion and can no longer see or hear their real meaning.

Many of us have been harmed by religion.  And when I talked about the necessity of forgiving your parents for the sins they committed in your childhood, I should have also said that it is equally important to forgive your church for the sins it may have committed in your childhood…your spiritual growth demands that you forgive.  Without such forgiveness you cannot begin to separate the true teachings of that church from its hypocrisy.  And you need the true teachings.  (p. 153).

A book called Oneness: Great Principles Shared by All Religions carries the following quotation from the Dalai Lama on its cover.

Every major religion of the world has similar ideas of love, the same goal of benefiting humanity through spiritual practice, and the same effect of making their followers into better human beings.

Inside, you find that the founders of every major religion in the world—among them Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, Confucius, and Muhammad—have all taught the notion of loving one’s neighbor.  Wherever you might choose to anchor your spirituality—be it Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Taoism, Buddhism, or Islam—you will have to accept these basic truths…. Which religion that should be I cannot tell you, because each of us is unique.  (p. 153-154).

M. Scott Peck, MD—My Road to God  (p. 156—Further Along The Road Less Traveled)

I came to God through Zen Buddhism, but that was just the first stretch of the road.  The road I have chosen for myself, after 20 years of dabbling with Zen, is Christianity.  But I doubt that I could have made that choice without Zen.  To accept Christianity one must be prepared to accept paradox, and Zen Buddhism—which a lot of people say shouldn’t even be considered a religion but a philosophy—is the ideal training school for paradox.  Without that training, I don’t think there is any way I could have been prepared to swallow the literally God-awful paradoxes of the Christian doctrine.

I became a Christian several years after The Road Less Traveled was published…The Road Less Traveled is full of Christian concepts.  An important man said to me, “Scotty, it was so clever of you the way you disguised your Christianity in The Road Less Traveled in order to get the Christian message across to people.”  And I replied honestly, “Well, I didn’t disguise my Christianity.  I wasn’t a Christian.”

One of the reasons I very gradually gravitated toward Christianity is that I came to believe that Christian doctrine has the most correct understanding of the nature of sin.  It is a paradoxical, multidimensional understanding, and the first side of the paradox is that Christianity holds that we are all sinners.  We cannot not sin.  There are a number of possible definitions of sin, but the most common is simply missing the mark, failing to hit the bull’s-eye every time.  And there’s no way we can hit the bull’s-eye every time.  Sometimes we’re going to be just a little careless.  No matter how good we are, sometimes we’re going to be a little tired or overconfident and not exert or extend ourselves quite enough.  We cannot hit the bull’s-eye every time; we cannot be perfect.

Christianity allows for that.  In fact, the one prerequisite for membership in the true Christian church is that you be a sinner.  If you do not think you are a sinner, you are not a candidate for the church.  But the other side of the paradox is that Christianity holds that if you confess or acknowledge your sin with contrition, then it is wiped out.  The word “contrition” is very important here, and what is required is feeling bad, suffering over what you have done.  If you acknowledge your sin with contrition, then the slate is wiped clean.  It is as if the sin never existed.  You can start over again, fresh and clean every time.

The Reality of Jesus

When people ask me whether I’ve been “born again,” I say, “Well, maybe so.  But if so, it was a very prolonged labor and difficult delivery.”  There were all kinds of milestones on that journey, but perhaps the most important was reading the Gospels for the first time at the age of forty.  It was after I had written the first draft of The Road Less Traveled.  I’m one of those people who tend to do their writing first and their research afterwards, so having quoted Jesus a couple of times, it seemed incumbent upon me to check out the references.

It was a very graceful time for me to come to the Gospels.  Had you asked me a dozen years before whether Jesus was real, I would have said that there was more than enough evidence to indicate there was a historical Jesus, obviously a pretty wise chap who was executed in the manner of the day for speaking out a bit too much, and then, for some reason or another, people began to build a religion around him.  That’s what I would have replied, and I would have left His reality at that.  I knew, you see, that the Gospel writers were not contemporaries of Jesus, that they were writing thirty or more years after His death, that what they wrote were obviously second- or third- or even fourth-hand accounts, and with my education in this age of enlightenment, I simply assumed that they were all into PR (public relations) and embellishment.

But when I did finally come to read the Gospels, I did so with a dozen years of experience of trying in my own small way to be a teacher or healer, so I knew a little something about teaching and healing and what its like to be a teacher and healer.  With this experiential knowledge under my belt, I was absolutely thunderstruck by the extraordinary reality of the man I found in the Gospels.  I discovered a man who was almost continually frustrated.  His frustration leaps out of virtually every page:  “What do I have to say to you?  How many times do I have to say it?  What do I have to do to get through to you?”  I also discovered a man who was frequently sad and sometimes depressed, frequently anxious and scared.  A man who was prejudiced on one occasion, although He was able to overcome that prejudice and transcend it in healing love.  A man who was terribly, terribly lonely, yet often desperately needed to be alone.  I discovered a man so incredibly real that no one could have made Him up.

It occurred to me then that if the Gospel writers had been into PR and embellishment, as I had assumed, they would have created the kind of Jesus three quarters of Christians still seem to be trying to create—what Lily (Scott’s wife) refers to as “the wimpy Jesus.”  He is portrayed with a sweet, unending smile on His face, patting little children on the head, just strolling the earth with this unflappable, unshakable equanimity, because with His mellow-yellow Christ consciousness, He’s got peace of mind.  But the Jesus of the Gospels—who some suggest is the best-kept secret of Christianity—did not have much “peace of mind,” as we ordinarily think of peace of mind in the world’s terms, and insofar as we can be His followers, perhaps we won’t either.  Perhaps that’s not the point.

So that’s when I began to suspect that, rather than being public relations specialists, the Gospel writers were accurate reporters, generally going to great pains to record as accurately as possible the events and sayings in the life of a man they themselves hardly began to understand, but in whom they knew that Heaven and earth had met.  And that’s when I began to fall in love with Jesus. (p. 159-161).

(Another book that I must mention here is Philip Yancey’s, The Jesus I Never KnewIn his writings, Yancey uncovers a Jesus who is “brilliant, creative, challenging, fearless, compassionate, unpredictable, and ultimately satisfying.  This honest book will help you discover a different Jesus from the flannel graph Sunday school figure, the sweetly smiling Victorian Savior, and all the cultural clichés that have tamed Jesus and kept him in comfortable religious boxes.”).  Yancey writes a whole book about the Jesus that M. Scott Peck discovered in his reading of the gospels.

M. Scott Peck—Sins of the Church (p. 166—Further Along The Road Less Traveled)

I would not have become a Christian or have been baptized at the age of forty-three if I thought that Christianity was a second-best religion, or that one religion was just as good as another.  On the intellectual level, the reason I became a Christian is that I gradually came to believe that, on the whole, Christian doctrine approaches the reality of God and reality in general more closely than the other great religions.  This doesn’t mean that there isn’t a great deal to be learned from the other religions.  There’s an enormous amount to be learned, and it is the responsibility of any educated Christian to garner as much of the wisdom of other religious traditions as she or he possibly can.

Perhaps the greatest sin of the Christian church has been that particular brand of arrogance, or narcissism, that impels so many Christians to feel they have got God all sewn up and put in their back pocket.  Those who think that they’ve got the whole truth and nothing but the truth, and that those other poor slobs who believe differently are necessarily not saved, as far as I’m concerned have a very small God.  They don’t realize the truth that God is bigger than their own theology.  As I’ve said, God is not ours to possess, but we are His or Hers to be possessed by.  And there is nothing that does more than this narrow-minded narcissism to de-evangelize Christianity.

When I became a Christian, I knew that in identifying myself as such I would have to take upon myself, in one way or another, the burden of the sins of the Christian church, of which arrogance is only one….As soon as I mention Jesus or Christianity, many people take offense either because they are of a different religion or because of the experience they have had with the hypocrisy of the church.  One of these people was my own wife, who, as the daughter of a Chinese Conservative Baptist minister, was raised in a home where faith and love were preached, but where fear and hate were the order of the day.  So there I was, beginning to get excited about all these “new” concepts which I associated with positive meanings, and to Lily they represented red flags of hypocrisy.  It was a very painful time for us until gradually I learned to become much less “preachy” and she learned that there are different levels of Christianity, as in all religions, and I wasn’t on the same level that her parents had been.

 

The Four Stages of Spiritual Development–(p. 246-247—The Road Less Traveled & Beyond).

Peck postulates that there are four stages of human spiritual development:

  • Stage I (Chaotic/Antisocial) is chaotic, disordered, and reckless.  Very young children are in Stage I.  They tend to defy and disobey, and are unwilling to accept a will greater than their own. They are extremely egoistic and lack empathy for others. Many criminals are people who have never grown out of Stage I.
  • Stage II (Formal/Institutional) is the stage at which a person has blind faith in authority figures and sees the world as divided simply into good and evil, right and wrong, us and them. This stage is the Letter of the Law.  Once children learn to obey their parents and other authority figures, often out of fear or shame, they reach Stage II.  Many so-called religious people are essentially Stage II people, in the sense that they have blind faith in God, and do not question His existence.  With blind faith comes humility and a willingness to obey and serve.  The majority of good, law-abiding citizens never move out of Stage II.
  • Stage III (Skeptic/Individual) is the stage of scientific skepticism and questioning.  A Stage III person does not accept things on faith but only accepts them if convinced logically.  Many people working in scientific and technological research are in Stage III.  They often reject the existence of spiritual or supernatural forces since these are difficult to measure or prove scientifically.  Those who do retain their spiritual beliefs move away from the simple, official doctrines of fundamentalism.
  • Stage IV (Mystical, Communal) is the stage where an individual starts enjoying the mystery and beauty of nature and existence.  While retaining skepticism, he starts perceiving grand patterns in nature and develops a deeper understanding of good and evil, forgiveness and mercy, compassion and love.  His religiousness and spirituality differ significantly from that of a Stage II person, in the sense that he does not accept things through blind faith or out of fear, but does so because of genuine belief, and he does not judge people harshly or seek to inflict punishment on them for their transgressions. Where Stage II is the Letter of the Law, stage IV is the Spirit of the Law.  This is the stage of loving others as yourself, losing your attachment to your ego, and forgiving your enemies.  Stage IV people are labeled as Mystics.

Peck argues that while transitions from Stage I to Stage II are sharp, transitions from Stage III to Stage IV are gradual.  Nonetheless, these changes are very noticeable and mark a significant difference in the personality of the individual.


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