Further Along The Road Less Traveled: The Unending Journey Toward Spiritual Growth: The Edited Lectures, by M. Scott Peck
As is often the case with writers, once they write a book that strikes with the public consciousness they often are asked to give lectures that talk about that material, and that is what we find here. It is not a retread of the author’s previous book, and one should not blame a writer like this one for having decided to hitch up to a meal train as worthwhile as that of encouraging people to live in a way that is based on contemplation and spiritual growth and not merely mindless action and the acquisition of material possessions as is so often championed. While I did not find myself agreeing with everything in this book, I did not expect to, and I found myself enjoying the way that the author discussed his own spiritual growth and his own (often inaccurate) understandings of the stages of growth that people have. The author extrapolates his own experience to a general law that, unfortunately, is not a universal one. That said, this book remains interesting and insightful, and that is certainly good enough to appreciate it for what it has to offer.
In a bit more than 200 pages this author manages to make this book a worthwhile sequel to the original. The first step in the author’s three step series of lectures are four chapters on growing up (I), including consciousness and the problem of pain (1), blame and forgiveness (2), death and the meaning of life (3), and the importance of having a taste for mystery (4). After that the author talks about the second step of spiritual growth in knowing oneself (II), with chapters on self-love (which the author approves of) rather than self-esteem (5), the connection between mythology and human nature (6), the relationship between spirituality and human nature (7), and the sacred disease of addiction (8), wherein the author confesses his own addiction to cigarettes. Finally, the last step of the book is the search for a personal God (III), which includes chapters about the role of religion in spiritual growth (9), the connection between matter and spirit (10), some deeply critical comments on the New Age movement (11), and finally a chapter on sexuality and spirituality. The author then provides a short epilogue on the predicament of psychiatry in seeking to encourage spiritual growth and personal growth among those who are in therapy.
Frequently in this book, the reader comes across areas where the author makes some pointed criticism of some aspect of contemporary life. For example, the author seems to believe that those with advanced stages of spiritual growth are threatening to those on lower levels. His own idea is a four-step level beginning with disordered chaos, moving on to rigidity, then moving to critical and skeptical, and finally to mystical development. A better four-step process to virtue would begin as the author does with vice, open hostility to virtue, then moving on to incontinence where one recognizes the right standard but cannot do it, then followed by continence where one obeys but with a great deal of effort, and finally reaching the level where obedience and love become automatic and internalized. Likewise, when talking about the New Age movement, the author concedes that a great deal of criticism of contemporary science and religion is valid, but that one should not throw out the baby with the bathwater and that a great deal of the problems one sees in Christian institutions is the lack of Christian practice rather than the problems with Christianity itself. And that is something that one can appreciate even if one has varying thoughts and worldviews to the author, an appreciation that others can have the correct diagnosis of problems without having the right solutions to those problems, and a respect for those that spur us on to growth whether we agree with them or not.