Stages Of Spiritual Development (The Cheat Sheet)
How To Argue With Purpose
Those who disagree are often the source of tension, turmoil, and total civil unrest.
Like gadflies they just annoy everyone within close proximity, arguing with no purpose, no rhyme, and no rational counter-argument.
Sometimes those of us who disagree are those who innovate and create something more useful.
Usually, we argue cogently, presenting evidence and findings from research and exploration.
“You won’t like me when I’m angry. Because I always back up my rage with facts and documented sources.”
— The Credible Hulk
With that in mind, investigate the following quotation from British philosopher William Paley.
I believe it enables one to locate exactly which kind of person they are: irrational (the former type of arguer) or rational (the latter type).
Begs the question, however: what does examination necessitate?
- A cursory glance?
- A lengthy dissertation?
- Or perhaps, simple application and then an examination of the results i.e. what fruit does it produce?
In context, Paley was arguing against the Romans who derided the early Christian church.
Yet, I believe the advice holds true for practically every suggested system – granted it remains in the margins of reason.
That’s A Bit Much, Don’t You Think?
Indeed, the complexity and/or the immensity of the resources during a self-examination can be a bit overwhelming; nevertheless, name something productive and profitable in your life that was not overwhelming at first.
Convenience Is Inconvenient
We are born into overwhelming chaos.
However, in due time we cry out in boredom.
What was once inefficient and laborious becomes efficient and effortless – the key lies in proficiency.
Yet, when is proficiency ever born out of convenience?
Actually, when is anything born out of convenience?
Even convenience stores come with a giant cost; convenience is tirelessly inconvenient!
The curtains never close. We never arrive. We simply grow.
Therefore, all of life can seemingly find itself on a growth-scale of sorts – either advancing or retreating.
Leveraging The Growth-Scales
Where there is growth distinct stages can usually be assessed.
Though such stages are not fail-proof and certainly do not speak for all conditions under every circumstance, the general structure of such stages usually allows an individual to surmise where they stand in terms of growth.
Well known developmental stages you may be familiar with:
- Piaget’s stages of cognitive development
- Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development
- Fowler’s stages of faith development
Usually, these growth charts are used primarily to placate dissonance or internal discord.
This brings us full circle, to the initial disagreement or tension that spurs growth.
Not capricious disagreement but well-thought-out solution-oriented investigation.
This tension is an internal, psychological, and spiritual unease.
The endeavor begins by “doubting one’s doubts,” by laying aside one’s so-called better judgment and allowing it to withstand the rigors of violent scrutiny.
This is the most accurate and substantive method to understand what you believe in.
Tim Keller writes,
In his essay “The Critique of Doubt,” Michael Polanyi argues that doubt and belief are ultimately “equivalent.” Why? “The doubting of any explicit statement,” he writes, “denies [one] belief . . . in favor of other beliefs which are not doubted for the time being.” You can’t doubt belief A except on the basis of some belief B you’re believing instead at the moment.
The internal discord is usually a result of inordinately holding onto a faith-based belief system – as all are at their base – without investigating the doubts inherent and each system (See Stage Two Below).
Honestly, this is no easy venture but this is where a great writer can make a huge difference (See Stage Three).
Books Assist On The Road of Resolution
Let me explain…
What makes an author truly remarkable is in their ability to create tension within the reader.
This tension becomes the narrative; the internal conflict becomes the antagonist and the internal-resolve-drive becomes the protagonist.
This is where books can become momentous vehicles for growth. By sparking a story within, wherein the tension is resolved and resolution, of course, is growth.
Which brings me to the growth-scale (stage of development) at hand…
M. Scott Peck’s “Stages Of Spiritual-Communal Growth”
Stage One: Chaos
If you are reading this blog then I can safely assume you are a seeker.
A seeker for truth, for knowledge, for solace, for meaning, for life, for understanding, etc.
You then are aware of the chaos, perhaps more than most.
I’m not speaking here solely of the chaos that lies between the irreconcilable disciplines of general relativity and quantum physics for instance, or the violence and aggression delivered by the hands of men for the matter.
Instead, I’m referring to a life lived outside the herd – at least emotionally speaking – in consummate self-absorption.
For example, let’s suppose the highest conceivable spiritual state one can reside in is a communal one.
Thus, the lowest is exactly the opposite – where one is an island unto themselves as it were.
The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous communicates the substance of stage one wonderfully,
If We Created It, Can’t We Undo It?
Similar to insanity, anyone who is fully enveloped by this stage is completely unaware of it.
Usually, some fantasy life is developed which gives a form of order to the madness but it actually only compounds the chaos because it has literally no correspondence to reality.
Many stage one members find themselves in jails and institutions.
Small wonder it’s a breeding ground for addiction.
It should also be stated, breaking free from this stage is not something accomplished. At least, in hindsight, it appears as a gift freely given.
Nonetheless, if you are reading this then most likely you are not consumed by the chaos, you’ve been graced.
This doesn’t mean you can’t temporarily visit – even for extended stays – the madness, but it does mean that it is no longer that which possesses and defines you.
So What Is The Chaos
In short, the chaos – as stated above – is extreme self-centeredness or what Bill Wilson dubbed “self-will run riot” (See Article on The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions).
It’s an all-out war for the satisfaction of the basic instincts of life which are social (companionship), security (emotional and physical), and sex (pleasure and procreation).
The frightening aspect is what we can call the primitive-survival-mentality.
This primitive-survival-mentality fosters an anti-social – practically homicidal – nature within this stage. The individual will do whatever it takes to gratify those instincts.
Why? Because of perspective.
In this worldview, the resources are perceived as limited; thus, the world is ultimately hostile and competitive and the scarcity is – ironically – so abundant that for one to act in anything but total self-interest is tantamount to suicide.
Hobbes captured this stage – which he called the state of nature – much more eloquently than I, he wrote:
Whatsoever, therefore, is consequent to a time of war (the natural chaos of uncivilized, uncooperative, self-centered man), where every man is enemy to every man, the same consequent to the time wherein men live without other security than what their own strength and their own invention shall furnish them withal. In such condition, there is no place for industry… no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short (Leviathan, emphasis mine).
Is The Chaos Real Or Just Perspective?
C.S. Lewis brilliantly noted in his masterful work The Great Divorce,
The chaos is therefore likened to hell, which is basically a self-absorption that merely perpetuates itself into eternity.
It further acknowledges that options/destinations exist.
That perhaps Hobbes world is more of a perspective, or a lens of sorts, rather than an actual reality (See Article on Five Must-Reads – specifically the review of New Pair of Glasses by Chuck C).
Nonetheless, no one would argue the state of nature doesn’t exist. We have all been and continue to be negatively affected by it.
What’s Bad About Self-Will And How Does It Mold The State Of Nature Perspective?
For starters, it’s lawless.
When one’s decisions are governed not by principles but by personal whim and impulse we arrive at the concept of self-will.
Unregulated, unmitigated, and unpredictable the life operating solely upon this system is actually void of concrete principles – no wonder it’s chaotic.
The only exception is when principles are leveraged for self-interest.
But hey, even a broken clock is right twice a day!
The chaos is produced by a value-principle incongruity.
That is when one’s personal values (the principles which actually govern one’s behavior) find no correspondence with objective moral principles the resulting dissonance is chaos.
Just project this to a global scale and the peril becomes acutely evident.
Stage Two: Religion
I touched upon this notion with the Keller excerpt, that of an order which faith-based systems can deliver.
Fortunately, religion is that which categorizes and brings a semblance of order and rationality to the stage one chaos – unfortunately, it has its cultural limitations.
And it further can create unhealthy often violent dogmas, which precipitate social elitism, ethnocentrism, and exclusivity.
Nonetheless, they do indeed play an integral role in reducing hostility and fostering a community of sorts.
Or as Hobbes would say, they forge a social contract.
It’s a beginning!
A day of reckoning upon the chaos.
Why Is Religion A Form Of Growth?
Religion (I’m referring to the form of religion not necessarily the substance of what we can refer to as a lens for comprehension rather than experience with the Divine) can bring passion, meaning, purpose, direction, and understanding – forging it and molding it from the chaos.
Usually, individuals are born into some form of religion which shapes them, permitting a more rational navigation amid the self-preservation-communal-confusion; this, then creates a healthy distance between themselves and the chaos.
Religion should naturally lead to agnosticism; that might sound bizarre, but a healthy dose of skepticism helps solidify beliefs.
The Religious Poster Child
You are probably well aware of the religious fanatics – they are consumed and possessed by this stage.
Arguably, they are only slightly above the chaos.
They will not budge on their point of view, even going to great lengths to separate themselves from those with opposing beliefs.
One only need a brief analysis of history to see this horror unfold.
However, the current is still very strong today.
We see the division of atheists filing civil suits over religious icons in marketplaces. We see religious folks protesting the removal of said icons. Both parties equally religious and equally consumed by stage two dogma – regardless of their so-called arguments to the contrary.
I am not saying religion is not the truth, for it is.
I am, nevertheless, arguing for greater degrees of truth – for sharper focusing of the chaotic lens as it were.
One must realize the each higher stage of development answers problems the lower stage did not have the resources to satisfy.
So, each subsequent stage unfolds higher degrees of complexity to be able to successfully navigate and self-regulate the ever increasing intricacies of life.
It’s important to see the stages serve this purpose. It’s not solely a trajectory with no goal or end game in sight.
Stage Three: Agnosticism
This is where the sciences reside, and to be frank, the rationality I presented at the beginning of the article.
If you ever cracked any contemporary philosophical textbook then you have seen the stage three doctrine, which states that reason is limited by that which is true by definition or empirically proven.
If you have never heard of it, let me be the first to introduce you to David Hume and the concept Of his namesake, “Hume’s Fork.” He writes,
“If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.”
Still can’t see it?
Well behind door number two is a philosophical school known as logical positivism and its top representative A.J. Ayers.
We usually think in terms of true and false, but not Ayer – nope, he threw a third party into the mix: meaninglessness.
And can you guess what’s considered meaningless?
“The Verification Principle asks two questions of any statement. First, ‘Is it true by definition?’ And second, if not, ‘Is it in principle verifiable?’ Any statement which passes the test, that is, is either true by definition or else in principle verifiable, is meaningful. Any statement which fails the test is meaningless, and so should not be taken seriously (Warburton, Philosophy: The Classics).”
At first glance, the Verification Principle is claiming belief in God, religion, or any form of spirituality is nonsensical and meaningless.
And it does!
Oddly enough, however, the concept is self-refuting because it cannot pass its own test and thereby must be committed to the flames!
So What, You’re Telling Me We Can Know Nothing At All?
No, that’s not what I’m saying.
I am merely professing a knowledge may lie beyond propositions.
It’s not that the Newtonian way of thinking is bad, actually, it’s highly beneficial and profitable. Just look around you and behold in wonder all that science has accomplished.
Instead, what is dangerous, is the same threat that periled stage two individuals – dogma.
Becoming so caught up in the “right way” and leaving no room for mystery.
Mystery is simply chaos without the fear component. Embracing the mystery and the unknown is the final stage – and as is evident, it is experiential.
Stage Four: Mysticism
Mysticism should purely be understood as an experience with the unknown, a dance with mystery.
In stage one, the chaos is the consequence of aversion to this mystery.
It’s seen through a faith-oriented (this is inescapable) and fear-based belief system which seeks to escape it:
- Stage one seeks to escape and finds security in materialism and self-gratification
- Stage two seeks to escape and finds security in dogma, propositional statements of specific Scriptures, very parochial, and usually accompanied by a patriarchal deity
- Stage three seeks its escape and finds its security in control, by manipulating the environment to do one’s bidding and dismissing the security of things which cannot be proven by the sciences.
Yet, as mentioned, all of the above seek to escape from the mystery, from the perceived chaos.
Each stage becomes slightly more aware of the unknown reality, yet each also grows in confidence in their capacity to dismiss it.
Mysticism Is The Opposite: A Walk In The Cloud Of Unknowing
Does knowledge exist where it is unknown?
Seems like a silly question but it moves us to examine what we precisely mean when we claim “to know.”
The Enlightenment doctrine of empiricism states that ALL knowledge is empirical, which means obtained by the senses.
But is this correct?
Do we not glean much knowledge by purely extracting inferences from empirical data? Electrons, gravitational fields, beauty, or love, for instance, cannot be directly observed yet we hold them as “justified beliefs.”
“For example,” writes DeWeese, “we can know much about ourselves through introspection (a nonempirical process). We can know that we have minds that think, believe, hope, fear, and so on, and that we are not identical to our bodies. Many ethicists claim that moral knowledge is accessible through intuition or conscience or pure reason (Apologetics Study Bible).”
Find Security In The Lack Thereof, In Mystery.
Therefore, a reality lies just outside our sensory reach and rather than retreat from the world as it is – to use philosophical speak – the mystic attempts to experience this reality.
I’ll let Peck explain the mystery seeker a bit further,
Perhaps a telltale indicator we have entered this phase of existence is when we can mouth the words of Socrates and confidently assert, “the wise man knows he knows nothing at all.”
Let your internal tension impel you to experience the knowledge of nothing at all – according to Peck, you might just learn something.