“Life is difficult.” Thus begins the popular book ‘The Road Less Travelled’ by M. Scott Peck (1936-2005), an American psychiatrist. First published in 1978, the book’s simple language lends to easy understanding. Peck draws considerably from his daily clinical practice as evidenced by the innumerable examples sprinkled across the book. In a four part series I briefly explain the tools Peck writes about to achieve mental and spiritual growth; at the outset he mentions he does not distinguish the two. The four tools are discipline, love, growth-religion and grace.
As we grow in discipline and love (discussed in Parts 1 & 2) so does our understanding of the world. Scott Peck explains our comprehension of what life is about is our religion. Religion is not necessarily a belief in God or rituals, although it can encompass those as well. He says, “…everyone has an explicit or implicit set of ideas and beliefs as to the essential nature of the world.” These ideas form our religion. Our religion must be wholly personal and not dictated by others.
Not everyone is conscious of their world view or may have only a partial understanding of it. Much of our world view is developed within the microcosm of our family. Our idea of life is shaped and guided by the behaviour and actions of our parents, more so than by what they convey verbally.
Since much of our world view is determined by our childhood experiences Peck mentions the rousing of a central problem, namely, the relationship between religion and reality. In order to have a realistic world view, “…we must constantly revise and extend our understanding to include new knowledge of the larger world.” The author mentions failing to rise above the influence of our particular culture leads to a world full of conflict. Each person tends to believe her particular world view is correct.
“The path to holiness lies through questioning everything.” Peck urges us to give up old ideas and thoughts, transcend our limiting microcosms and kill our narrow vision of the world. He suggests a scientific way to do so. We have to become scientists and ‘examine’ our ‘reality’ by broadening our ‘knowledge’ with healthy ‘distrust’ through ‘experience’ and ‘discipline’. The words in quotes highlight the key scientific terms involved in spiritual growth.
To explain the effect of religion in our lives Peck peruses three case studies from his clinical practice. The first example is of a neurotic woman with gross feelings of sin and punishment. She grew up in a household where religion was used to create fear and discipline. The second case is of a woman who grew up with atheist parents who provided her with all material things but despite a comfortable life she is left extremely joyless. The third case is of a man who suppresses his belief in God due to constant rebuke and teasing by his family and friends. He eventually develops an intellectual snobbery against spirituality. I recommend a more thorough reading of the case studies from the book itself.
These case studies are interesting since they show what extreme views of religion lead to. All three individuals overcame their outmoded views of religion through therapy. Peck disagrees with therapists who view religion itself as being a neurosis. He feels therapy need not guide people away from religion but rather help them develop healthy world views and experience religion along a middle path.
However, while exploring our ideas in scientific ways Peck warns of falling prey to idolatry involving the notions of science themselves, of ‘scientific tunnel vision’. A neophyte scientist, he says, can be as fanatical as a religious person. Many scientists do not acknowledge the evidence regarding the reality of God because it is hard to measure and due to a staunch belief in natural laws. In the same vein he denounces the extreme views of religious people stating, “…our critical faculties and capacity for scepticism (should) not be blinded by the brilliant beauty of the spiritual realm.”
Scott Peck envisions a future where hopefully religion and science merge to form a true genuine religious reality rather than being at loggerheads with each other.
End of Part 3