Presentation on theme: "Psychology and Religion in the Search for Personal Wholeness Johann Maree Summer School, UCT, Jan. 2012."— Presentation transcript:
Psychology and Religion in the Search for Personal Wholeness Johann Maree Summer School, UCT, Jan. 2012
Morgan Scott Peck was born in 1936 in New York City. At the age of 13 he was sent to the prestigious boarding school Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire. He was miserable there and showed his independence and determination by getting his parents to send him to a Quaker Friends Seminary. He married Lily Ho in 1959. They had three children. After obtaining his MD degree in 1963 he served in the US Army as a psychiatrist which included stints in Okinawa, Japan, where he treated traumatised soldiers engaged in the Vietnam war.
From 1972 to 1983 he ran a private practice of psychiatry in Connecticut. In 1978 he published The Road Less Travelled (TRLT) that sold more than 10 million copies. This was followed in 1983 by People of the Lie in which he revised and complemented TRLT. More about this later. In 1984, along with his wife, Lily, and nine other people he started up the Foundation for Community Encouragement (FCE), an NPO.
The FCE was an effort on his part to deal with the challenges of evil he wrote about in People of the Lie. It aimed to do so by means of community-building. The FCE’s concept of community included inclusivity, commitment, consensus, realism, contemplation, a safe place for personal disarmament, and a group that can fight gracefully.
After many experiences they learned that groups went through four stages: Pseudocommmunity; Chaos; Emptiness; and Community. Peck wrote about this in The Different Drum: The Creation of True Community – the First Step to World Peace. More businesses than churches engaged in community-building exercises.
The famous first sentence of Scott Peck’s best-seller, The Road Less Travelled. He goes on to say: ‘Once we truly know that life is difficult – then life is no longer difficult.’ He continues in his assertive style: ‘Discipline is the basic set of tools we require to solve life’s problems. Without discipline we can solve nothing. With only some discipline we can solve only some problems. With total discipline we can solve all problems.’
Delaying of gratification; Acceptance of responsibility; Dedication to truth; Balancing or capacity to apply discretion. Peck contends that these tools are not complex and the problem in applying them lies in the will to use them. ‘For they are tools with which pain is confronted rather than avoided.’ The will to use them, he says, is love.
Peck points out that we need to have the ability to exercise the disciplines flexibly. For instance, we must have the ability to delay gratification but also to act spontaneously. This flexibility requires control over our emotions. With regards to anger, ‘it is necessary for us to possess the capacity not only to express our anger but also not to express it. Moreover, we must possess the capacity to express our anger in different ways.’ And we need the discretion to know which way is appropriate.
Peck believes that love provides the motive and the energy for discipline. He defines love as ‘the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.’ The word ‘will’ in the definition of love is important for Peck because ‘Will is desire of sufficient intensity that it is translated into action. The desire to love is not itself love. Love is as love does. Love is an act of will – namely, both an intention and an action.’
‘It is judicious giving and judicious withholding as well. It is judicious praising and judicious criticising. The word “judicious” means requiring judgment, and judgment requires thoughtful and often painful decision-making.’
Peck asks the searching question: ‘how is it that certain few individuals, born and raised in an environment of nonlove, of unremitting neglect and casual brutality, somehow manage to transcend their childhood, sometimes even without the loving assistance of psychotherapy, and become mature, healthy and perhaps even saintly people?’ His answer is that it is grace, amazing grace.
How sweet the sound That saved a wretch like me! I once was lost, but now am found, Was blind, but now I see. ... Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come; ‘Tis grace that brought me safe thus far, And grace will lead me home.
Peck maintains that we know very well why people become mentally ill, but we don’t understand why people survive the traumas of their lives as well as they do. His answer is that ‘there is a force, the mechanics of which we do not fully understand, that seems to operate routinely in most people to protect and to foster their mental health even under the most adverse conditions.’ This mysterious force Peck regards as grace.
Peck defines grace as ‘a powerful force originating outside of human consciousness which nurtures the spiritual growth of human beings.’ The question arises where this force comes from. The religious believe it originates from God, but there are two traditions: the doctrine of Emanence: grace emanates from an external God to people; and the doctrine of Immanence: grace immanates out from God within the centre of a person’s being.
Scott Peck believes that people’s capacity to love, and hence their will to grow, is nurtured by the love of their parents during childhood and throughout their lives by grace through God’s love. He also believes that grace is available to everyone, but there are many who reject the call of grace. This is because ‘the call to grace is a call to a life of effortful caring, to a life of service’ and sacrifice. Many reject the call due to laziness.
Peck maintains that laziness is love’s opposite. Spiritual growth is effortful. But Peck goes further than this, he maintains that laziness is the basis of evil. This is due to the fact that it requires effort to decide properly on a course of action. ‘In debating the wisdom of a proposed course of action, human beings routinely fail to obtain God’s side of the issue.’ We fail to consult or to listen to God within us and we make this failure because we are lazy.
‘It is work to hold these internal debates. They require time and energy just to conduct them. And if we take them seriously – if we seriously listen to this “God within us” – we usually find ourselves being urged to take the more difficult path, the path of more effort rather than less.’
Peck comes to the following conclusions about evil. First, that evil is real. There really are people and institutions made up of people, who respond with hatred in the presence of goodness. They do this not with conscious malice but blindly, lacking awareness of their own evil. Second, that evil is laziness carried to its ultimate, extraordinary extreme.
In People of the Lie Peck rethinks his understanding of evil. The subtitle of the book is The Hope for Healing Evil and it is the aim of the book. He wrote the book on the grounds that ‘we cannot begin to hope to heal human evil until we are able to look at it directly.’ He also stresses that we must begin by judging and healing ourselves first. ‘The battle to heal human evil always begins at home.’
Peck maintains that our understanding of evil cannot be separated from our understanding of goodness. Hence his definition of evil. ‘Evil is that force, residing inside or outside of human beings, that seeks to kill life or liveliness. And goodness is its opposite. Goodness is that which promotes life and liveliness.’ When Peck talks of killing he does not restrict it to murder, i.e., killing the body, but also killing the spirit.
Peck also wrote the book with the aim of making people take evil more seriously. Furthermore, that the only valid reason to look at it is to heal it wherever we can. ‘A psychology of evil must be a healing psychology. Healing is the result of love. It is a function of love. Wherever there is love there is healing.’ It must also be a ‘religious psychology’ that recognizes the reality of the ‘supernatural’.
Peck draws an important distinction between evil and ‘ordinary sin’ by saying that ‘it is not their sins per se that characterise evil people, rather it is the subtlety and persistence and consistency of their sins. This is because the central defect of the evil is not the sin but the refusal to acknowledge it.’ In Jungian terms, it is the failure to acknowledge the Shadow.
This leads to the ironic fact that ‘evil people are often destructive because they are attempting to destroy evil. The reason is that they misplace the locus of the evil. Instead of destroying others they should be destroying the sickness within themselves.’ This is classical projection. Evil people have so thoroughly repressed their sinful and dark side into their unconscious that they project it onto others unconsciously.
Another feature of evil people, say Peck, is their utter dedication to preserve their self- image of perfection. ‘While they seem to lack any motivation to be good, they intensely desire to appear good.’ They are the people of the lie. In the end they do not know the distinction between telling the truth and telling a lie. Lying, Peck maintains, is both a cause and a manifestation of evil.
The lie is actually designed not so much to deceive others as to deceive themselves because they cannot or will not tolerate the pain of self-reproach. ‘The essential component of evil is not the absence of a sense of sin or imperfection but the unwillingness to tolerate that sense. At one and the same time, the evil are aware of their evil and desperately trying to avoid the awareness.’
Peck says that in his experience evil seems to run in families! However another way he explains the genesis of human evil is to think of human good and evil as a kind of continuum. As individuals we can move ourselves in one way or the other along the continuum. But there is a tendency to gain a momentum in the direction we start moving. Peck draws on a quote from Erich Fromm to explain this momentum.
‘The longer we continue to make the wrong decisions, the more our heart hardens; the more often we make the right decision, the more our heart softens. Each step in life which increases my self-confidence, my integrity, my courage, my conviction also increases my capacity to choose the desirable alternative. On the other hand, each act of surrender and cowardice weakens me, opens the path for more acts of surrender, and eventually freedom is lost.’ (Erich Fromm)
‘Most people fail in the art of living not because they are inherently bad or so without will that they cannot lead a better life; they fail because they do not wake up and see when they stand at a fork in the road and have to decide. Then with each step along the wrong road it becomes increasingly difficult for them to admit that they are on the wrong road.’ (Erich Fromm)
As we have noted, it is characteristic of those who are evil to judge others as evil. They will even destroy others in the name of righteousness. How do we then set about trying to heal evil people in our world when we first have to make a judgment that they are evil? We first have to judge ourselves, recognise the evil residing in each of us and purify ourselves of it, says Peck.
We cannot destroy evil. For instance, if we kill those who are evil, we will become evil ourselves. The end does not justify the means. ‘If we attempt to deal with evil by destroying it, we will also end up destroying ourselves, spiritually, if not physically.’ What then? Throw up our hands and regard the problem of evil as insoluble? Hardly, says Peck.
‘It is in the struggle between good and evil that life has its meaning – and in the hope that goodness can succeed. That hope is our answer: goodness can succeed. Evil can be defeated by goodness. When we translate this we realize what we dimly have always known: Evil can be conquered only by love.’
Appreciation: What makes Peck impressive is that he showed willingness to change his mind and to admit that he was wrong before. The most impressive aspect of Peck is that he gave up his private psychiatry practice in order to establish the Foundation for Community Encouragement (FCE) with the aim of conquering evil with love. He ventured by faith into totally new unchartered territory.
Peck’s weaknesses were enfolded into his strengths. He had the ability to make statements boldly and clearly without flinching from where his logic led him. However, at the same time, this made him too assertive and too certain of his views. As a result he put people’s backs up and came across as unsophisticated in some of his writing.
‘While Peck’s writing emphasized the virtues of a disciplined life and delayed gratification, his personal life was far more turbulent.’ In his book, Searching for Stones, he confessed to having extramarital affairs and being estranged from his two children. His wife Lily divorced him and he died in September 2005 after suffering from Parkinson’s disease and cancer. He was neither a saint nor evil, but aware of his shadow and on the road to wholeness.