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Spiritual-Growth Evangelism: Path to World Peace? : Psychiatrist-Author M. Scott Peck Lectures to the Beat of 'Different Drum' With 4-Stage Community Program

June 17, 1987|JOHN DART | Times Religion Writer

Psychiatrist M. Scott Peck, a remarkably popular author and lecturer in the 1980s, begins his newest book boldly: "In and through community lies the salvation of the world."

If he sounds like an evangelist, that's all right; Peck won't deny it.

Nor will he deny that he has a grand mission in "The Different Drum," published this month by Simon and Schuster and already No. 7 on the New York Times nonfiction best-seller list. Peck claims his ideas on spiritual growth and community building--if applied broadly--would facilitate gradual disarmament and the creation of a world government.

Final Mystical Stage

Such goals are articulated best, he says, by people in the final stage of spiritual development, which in his case amounts to a mystical Christianity. This fourth and final stage is typified by being part of caring communities, a commitment to more than oneself and the ability to relish and cope with paradoxical situations.

If that sounds less than modest, try this: "I sometimes say that perhaps the biggest political problem there is in the world is how 5% of us who comprehend paradox can communicate with the 95% who don't."

Peck said in an interview this week that one "subministry" he has is "fighting against simplistic, one-dimensional thinking." He similarly told a seminar in Santa Monica on Saturday that he lectures frequently "to try to correct the amazing one-dimensional thinking that goes on in this country."

Had his first, enormously successful book, "The Road Less Traveled," been published about 30 years ago, rather than nine years ago, Peck mused, it would not have "gotten anywhere" because of a less sophisticated public. The number of fourth-stage people was only about 1% some 50 years ago, he estimated. "The population is improving."

Jargon-Free Best Seller

As it happened, the paperback version of "The Road Less Traveled," published in 1980, caught on through word of mouth and has sold 2.25 million copies. Described as a broad-minded, jargon-free mixture of psychology and spirituality, the book has now spent 190 weeks on the New York Times best-selling soft-cover book list, at last count from Simon and Schuster.

The book's greatest appeal reputedly has been in the Bible Belt states. Peck concludes that is because he endorsed spiritual values while not giving pat answers heard from preachers.

"A remarkable number of them (his readers), probably over 50%, are either in therapy or have had psychotherapy, either through traditional sources or some things like Alcoholics Anonymous," Peck said.

The author, now 51, grew up in New York City in a secular household with "rugged individualist" parents who "neither desired nor trusted intimacy." He rejected his first name, Morgan, because he disliked his father's nickname for him, Morgie. He started using his middle name, encouraging others to call him Scotty.

He graduated magna cum laude from Harvard College in 1958 and received his MD from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in 1963.

For nine years he served in the U.S. Army, resigning as a lieutenant colonel from a consulting psychiatry post in the Surgeon General's office and leaving Washington disenchanted after trying to remedy what he saw as the ills of government. From 1972 to 1983 he was in private psychiatric practice in rural Connecticut where he still lives.

His scientific training makes him ambivalent about a segment of his new-found following, the eclectic New Age movement. A recent cover of the New Age Journal exults, "M. Scott Peck Calls for New American Revolution."

Santa Monica Seminar

" . . . And I am!" Peck commented to New Age aficionados at the Santa Monica seminar sponsored by the Hermes Project, a Malibu-based group that espouses community building, "ancient wisdoms and emerging ideals," among other goals.

Later, Peck said, "There are things about the New Age movement that are really good. The part that is dangerous is a lack of discrimination and discernment and scientific rigor."

But if Peck is cautious about some of his admirers, some of them who were enthralled by "The Road Less Traveled" are unhappy with his now-frequent references to Jesus.

For between writing his first book in 1976-77 and his next book, "The People of the Lie," published in 1983, Peck gradually moved out of his 23-year exploration of Eastern religion, particularly Zen Buddhism, into a commitment to Christianity.

"I found myself thirsting for a less abstract and a more flesh-and-blood kind of God," Peck said. "I entered Christianity through the back door; well, perhaps the top door, through Christian mysticism. I was a mystic first before I was a Christian."

He was baptized by a Methodist minister in an Episcopal convent in 1980.

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