Examples of Stage I and II Spiritual Development
“Can you give us personal stories of people at various stages of spiritual development?” Based on the findings of M. Scott Peck and other noted psychiatrist, I think so.
Dr. Peck saw when he used the same therapeutic approaches on different patients – he got startlingly different results. He was the same therapist. His therapy was the same, but he obtained “utterly different outcomes from a religious point of view.”
He noted in his book, The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace, that very religious people often finished therapy, as atheists, agnostics or at least skeptics. On the other hand, atheists, agnostics or skeptics, when completing their therapy, would leave as deeply religious people. This caused him to believe we are not all at the same spiritual level.
In addition, he realized people progress through stages in their spiritual life. From his observations, he defined four general levels of spiritual development. He recognized each of us is unique, and so by necessity his stages are general.
In my last article, Spiritual Development – Can We Define What it is?, I reviewed Dr. Peck’s and others work along these lines. This time to further understand the approach, I applied Peck’s model to individuals I know well. I wanted to compare these levels of spiritual development with my personal experience and observations.
What follows is the first installment of this review. This article has brief profiles of three people who seem to fit his description of Stage II spiritual development. The first is Jean, who has lived much of her life in Stage I (the Chaotic, Self-Centered Stage). The other two, Juan and Annie, are solid Stage II citizens (Conventional, Rules Based and Faithful), with significant differences between them.
These examples show that spiritual stages are not defined steps, like stairs. Instead, growth within and between stages is more like the changing grade of a ramp or a rainbow of light, blending one color into the next. I have changed their names, but these are real individuals.
Jean – Chaos and Redemption
Of our three Stage II examples, the first has suffered the most, and had the most chaotic life. Jean best illustrates someone whose life and spiritual development has been for the most part at the Stage I – Chaotic and Self-Centered. But she converted, and developed a more successful Stage II life.
Jean ran away from her abusive family when she was fourteen years old. Later, she hooked up with a tough motorcycle gang, where she became the gang leader’s woman. Attractive and a talented singer, she could earn a living singing in run-down bars.
By the time she was 40, she was addicted to alcohol, and her daughter wanted nothing to do with her. Then while living with a boyfriend, she went on a deadly drinking binge. Hospitalized as a result, they thought she would die.
A local evangelical minister took an interest, and regularly visited her in the hospital. With his help, she embraced Christianity, and eventually recovered sobriety.
After that, the church leadership took Jean in, and providing support and much-needed love. During services she actively sought blessings from her evangelistic minister. Her church is the kind that can put you on the floor after being blessed by the minister or evangelist.
When we got to know her, she regularly sang at her new church, alway as a solo act, never in the choir. We found her still to be self-preoccupied, and uninterested in anyone but herself.
However, the structured expectations, teachings and activities of her church appeared to give her something she had needed for a long time. Her daughter wasn’t convinced by the transformation, but thought the Bible was obviously better than alcohol.
To summarize, because of an abusive childhood Jean never established herself in regular society. After living in chaos much of her life, when confronted with the specter of an early death, she converted to Christianity. With this act, she found acceptance and a measure of stability.
Juan – Solid and Stable
As an example of a solid Stage II (Conventional, Rules Based and Faithful) person, Juan grew up in a working-class family which experienced poverty at times. He developed a strong work ethic, and became dedicated to whatever he did.
He has a small construction business, and is sought after and successful. As a goal-oriented person, he wants to improve his station in life, is natural leader, and gets along well with others.
Raised in a Pentecostal church, he attended a Bible college for a couple of years. Consequently, he has a good understanding of the Pentecostal view of the world, and strong, even rigorous opinions about church and life, right and wrong. “Fundamentalist Christian” appears to sum up his theology.
He thinks for himself, but within the confines of his religion’s orthodoxy. He likes to read the Bible both in English and Spanish, as the two often give different understandings of the same verse. Alternatively, one thing he doesn’t like are things which may challenge his world view, such as science fiction.
To sum it up, Juan is a solid and stable member of his church. He is satisfied with a fixed set of religious beliefs as it gives him a firm footing for viewing life. His sense of uncertainty from his early life is contained by knowing right from wrong, and what is expected of him. He is highly opinionated.
Annie – Peeking over the Hedge of Group Beliefs
As another example of a Stage II (Conventional, Rules Based and Faithful) person, Annie comes from a college-educated, typical middle-class American family. She wasn’t that interested in school, and had one unsuccessful year of college.
Because of an early family situation as she grew up, she felt abandoned, and later events reinforced these feelings. While still a teenager, her father died. She experienced this loss to the extent that she suppressed it, and felt her loss keenly.
After her father’s death, a friend encouraged her to attend a Pentecostal church where people freely express emotions in their services. She found their strong traditional beliefs and the support of a small close group more appealing, than the large mainline Protestant church in which she grew up.
When she saw the disconnection between the teachings of her new church and how others outside the church lived, she withdrew emotionally from her old friends and family. But she forged strong personal relationships with members of her church. Then she met an up-and-coming working-class man at the church, married him, and had several children.
Under the influence of her church, Annie lived by strict rules, some clearly out of mainstream American thinking. These rules focused life on God, and distinguish her Pentecostal sect from other Christian groups. She began judging the life style of others outside of her close group.
She has a strong emotional attachment to Jesus and God. Commonly, she experiences a raw emotional connection with Jesus in her public praying in church.
Annie sometimes reviews her religious outlook. She will try out other views of life, and explore them. But always after a brief exploration, retreats to the safety of her church’s view.
She realizes that the church’s worldview is not entirely “rational.” Her church’s teachings about the “end times” and the “rapture” don’t appear to have a basis from a scientific point-of-view.
Annie deals with this by isolating her religion from rational thought required by everyday living. In other words, she consciously makes religion off-limits to her regular reasoning, seeing it as something separate from regular experience.
In the final analysis, Annie’s religion gives her comfort, and helps cope with life. She feels connected with something greater than herself. In addition, support of a close group in her traditional Christian beliefs is important to her. She has been a member of her congregation for many years, and provides services every Sunday.
Let’s Sum It Up
These three people seem to be good examples of Stage II spiritual development, as defined by Scott Peck. They show a range of world views and experience within this stage.
The first, Jean came from a chaotic life style. But with the help of a minister became socialized into Stage II. She is a good example of someone who has moved from Stage I to Stage II.
Jean lives somewhat on the edge. She may stay in Stage II; but if her life is hit by unforeseen disturbance could fall back into chaos, and alcoholism.
I suspect Juan, the second example, represents many people in Stage II, the solid, traditional group. He thinks for himself, but within the confines of his religion’s orthodoxy. He finds security, comfort and satisfaction in conforming to his group’s approach to religion.
Finally, for much of her life, Annie was a fairly doctrinaire person about her religion. But she occasionally reflects on differences between her religion’s view of the world, and how our secular society views things. She ponders the obvious conflicts between a more scientific or rational view, and her church’s view of life.
If she were to follow the rational approach further, she would move into Stage III in her spiritual development, according to Dr. Peck. But not wanting to leave the security of her group’s views and her personal experience, she consciously walls off her religious side from “rational” views.
In our next article, we look at three examples of people who seem to define the range of Scott Peck’s Stage III in spiritual development. For a general look at Peck’s four stages of spiritual development, please see our earlier article titled Spiritual Development – Can We Define What It Is?
Peck, M. Scott. 1987. The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Peck, M. Scott. 1978. The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values, and Spiritual Growth. New York: Simon and Schuster.
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