The Road Less TraveledOutline
Section Three: Growth and Religion
Notes by Doug Muder (1997)
The purpose of this section is to lay out Peck's attitude toward religion, and in particular to address an attitude common among therapists (particularly in the 70s) that religion is the enemy of growth. The section divides into four pieces. The first makes the point that everyone has a religion, whether they are aware of it or not. The second contrasts science to more traditional worldviews. The next explores three case histories: one in which religion is a barrier to growth and is overcome through therapy, one in which therapy causes a woman to find a vibrancy in the world that challenges her atheism, and a third in which therapy reawakens a young man's passion for religion. The final piece sums up: Skepticism is an important step on the road to religious maturity, but is not necessarily the destination.
Everyone Has a Religion
"As human beings grow in discipline and love and life experience, their understanding of the world and their place in it naturally grows apace. … This understanding is our religion. Since everyone has some understanding—some world view, no matter how limited or primitive or inaccurate—everyone has a religion. … Usually a person's religion or world view is at best only incompletely conscious. Patients are often unaware of how they view the world, and sometimes may even think they possess a certain kind of religion when they actually are possessed by a far different kind." [pages 185-187]
"It is not so much what our parents say that determines our world view as it is the unique world they create for us by their behavior." [page 189]
"Most of us operate from a narrower frame of reference than that of which we are capable, failing to transcend the influence of our particular culture, our particular set of parents and our particular childhood experience upon our understanding. … And to make matters worse, most of us are not even fully aware of our own world views, much less the uniqueness of the experience from which they are derived." [page 192]
The Religion of Science
"Spiritual growth is a journey out of the microcosm into an ever greater macrocosm. … To escape from the microcosm of our culture and its dogmas, from the half truths our parents told us, it is essential that we be skeptical about what we think we have learned to date. It is the scientific attitude that enables us to transform our personal experience of the microcosm into a personal experience of the macrocosm. We must begin by becoming scientists." [pages 193-195]
Three Case Histories
"Kathy's unquestioning belief in the God her church and mother taught clearly retarded her growth and poisoned her spirit. Only by questioning and discarding her belief was she able to venture forth into a wider, more satisfying, more productive life. Only then was she free to grow. … As Marcia grew out of the cold microcosm of her childhood into a larger, warmer world, a belief in God grew within her, quietly and naturally. And Ted's forsaken belief in God had to be resurrected as an essential part of the liberation and resurrection of his spirit." [pages 221-222]
"Because Kathy's case is so typical and others like it are so common in their practice, many psychiatrists and psychotherapists perceive religion as the Enemy. … It is indeed tempting for psychiatrists to view themselves as knights of modern science locked in noble combat with the destructive forces of ancient religious superstition and irrational but authoritarian dogma. And the fact of the matter is that psychotherapists must spend enormous amounts of time and effort in the struggle to liberate their patients' minds from outmoded religious ideas and concepts that are clearly destructive." [page 207-208]
"The foregoing case histories were offered in response to a question: Is belief in God a form of psychopathology? If we are to rise out of the mire of childhood teaching, local tradition and superstition, it is a question that must be asked. But these case histories indicate that the answer is not a simple one. … I have firmly stated that it is essential to our spiritual growth for us to become scientists who are skeptical of what we have been taught. … But the notions of science themselves often become cultural idols, and it is necessary that we become skeptical of these as well. It is indeed possible for us to mature out of a belief in God. What I would now like to suggest is that it is also possible to mature into a belief in God. A skeptical atheism or agnosticism is not necessarily the highest state of understanding at which human beings can arrive. To the contrary, there is reason to believe that behind spurious notions and false concepts of God there lies a reality that is God." [pages 221-222]
"Whether or not the path of spiritual growth necessarily leads from a skeptical atheism or agnosticism toward an accurate belief in God, the fact of the matter is that some intellectually sophisticated and skeptical people, such as Marcia and Ted, do seem to grow in the direction of belief. And it should be noted that this belief into which they grew was not at all like that out of which Kathy evolved. The God that comes before skepticism may bear little resemblance to the God that comes after." [pages 223-224]
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