“Who needs this fuddy-duddy old Church with its silly superstitions?”

The Four Stages of Spiritual Development by M. Scott Peck

Stage I 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 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. 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 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 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. 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.

(From “The Stages of Spiritual Growth” by M. Scott Peck, M.D.)

The above article contains a detailed and informative analysis by M. Scott Peck on the four stages of spiritual growth. I note that while it is meant to be a general description of stages a person may go through in terms of finding meaning in spiritual life and everyone is unique and may not fit into every psycho-spiritual pigeonhole, I think on the whole it describes very well the kind of spiritual or conscious evolution people go through generally. As noted in the article, it may be necessary for people to go through stage 3 of atheistic or scientific or non-religious thinking and questioning when transitioning from stage 2 of religious fundamentalism to stage 4 of mysticism, and it seems many institutional churches are unwilling to encourage people to go through that phase.

“But once these principles become internalized, such children, now usually late-adolescents, have become self-governing human beings. As such they are no longer dependent on an institution for their governance. Consequently they begin to say to themselves, “Who needs this fuddy-duddy old Church with its silly superstitions?” At this point they begin to convert to Stage III – the skeptic, individual. And to their parents great but unnecessary chagrin, they often become atheists or agnostics.

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 in 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.

“Seek and you shall find,” it has been said. If people in Stage III seek truth deeply and widely enough, they find what they are looking for–enough pieces to begin to be able to fit them together, but never enough to complete the whole puzzle. In fact, the more pieces they find, the larger and more magnificent the puzzle becomes. Yet they are able to get glimpses of the “big picture” and to see that it is very beautiful indeed–and that it strangely resembles those “primitive myths and superstitions” their Stage II parents or grandparents believe in. At that point they begin their conversion to Stage IV, which is the mystic communal stage of spiritual development.”

(From “The Stages of Spiritual Growth” by M. Scott Peck, M.D.)

I also note from the article that “It is also important to remember that no matter how far we develop spiritual (spiritually), we retain in ourselves vestiges of the previous stages through which we have come, just as we retain our vestigial appendix”. Yes, we usually build on from what we have learnt and experienced from the earlier stages, so in that sense, whatever we go through in the past is not in vain and is not wasted as we can harness the past lessons as building blocks to revise and establish our framework of the world and spirituality, even as we mature and develop a more holistic view of our worldview, with a better understanding and appreciation of our divine nature and oneness and a willingness to embrace the mystery of the universe at the same time.

Video information

Dave describes M. Scott Peck’s theory of human spiritual growth and how that ties into faith in 21st century America.

In the above video, Dave Schmelzer shared about his book based on M. Scott Peck’s theory. It is observed that those in stage 4 of mysticism would have evolved beyond the limited concepts postulated in stage 2 of fundamentalism. As he put it, we can look back and see that the same things we learnt in stage 2 might be true but true in a different, more open-ended way of understanding. For example, in stage 2, we are taught believing in Jesus only means going to heaven. But in stage 4, we question what it means to believe in Jesus and explore different perspectives, such as seeing it as a way to experience life transformation now instead of in the future. So we are building on what we learnt in the past and changing the way we see and understand them as we become more open to question traditional ideologies and embracing mysteries.

The above-mentioned article also noted:

“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”.

(From “The Stages of Spiritual Growth” by M. Scott Peck, M.D.)

5 Comments Add yours

  1. Peck is by far not the only one to describe these spiritual stages. My book, Faith Beyond Belief: Stories of Good People Who Left Their Church Behind, brings into the discussion the work of twelve other notable theorists who have described these stages. Though all have used different terminology, and described different numbers of stages, one can see how they all show a common trajectory. My book also illustrates the stages through the use of true stories from real life people.

    1. jimmytst says:

      Thank you Margaret for sharing about your book. I have looked it up on the Internet and I think it looks great. Like what a rabbi said, the book offers what postmodern readers are hungry for – postmodern faith.

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