An excerpt I was reading from Scott Peck's book "The Different Drum" yesterday was describing four levels of spiritual development or growth. If you'd like to read it yourself, it's here: Stages of Spiritual Growth I will do my best to give a brief summary of the levels myself, but of course, the writer does a much better job :-)
The first and lowest level is described as chaotic and out of control, and includes people who are repeat offenders and/or those who have trouble with addictions and money, etc. These people might even have the outward appearance of being "good" or "friendly" but their intentions would almost always be insincere, self-serving and heartless. They would normally not be spiritual in any active way or have much use for it.
The second level, as Scott Peck described it, includes people who are strictly religious, who see and use religion as a set of rules rather than a way of understanding themselves and the world. God is not so much about love to them, but more about having a "cop in the sky" who rewards and punishes accordingly. They are intolerant of any other religion, or those who have no religious leaning at all, such as the third level, because it is a threat to their beliefs and ideals. They are often caught up with trying to convert people at level one, the lowest level.
The third level includes atheists, agnostics, those with a scientific leaning who see religion as either a crutch or a deluded fantasy. They are the skeptics, the nay sayers and feel no threat at all except that they are often intimidated by those on the fourth level, which I'll describe in a minute. These third level people have no use for those on the first two levels, although they might occasionally try to confront the second level people about their "delusions". They are very knowlegeable and intelligent and usually well educated either by their own studies or more formally.
The fourth level, Scott concludes, include Buddhists and Christians and other religious practitioners who have transcended the extremist, narrow-minded spiritual attitudes of Level 2, but who are equally as intelligent and developed as the third level, non-religious people. The main difference between Level 4 and Level 3 people is that those at Level 4 find no contradicition between science and the supreme...rather they compliment and support each other. These people are what he calls "communal"...that doesn't necessarily mean that they are out in the community always helping, although they often are. But they see the world and humanity as one community, rather than a bunch of separate countries, religious practices and cultures. They are inclusive, open-minded, patient and forgiving.
The reason that Level 3 people are intimidated by those on the fourth level is because they recognize that somehow, Level 4 people have the same intelligence and scientific mind, but have somehow managed to merge that with their faith, whatever it is, where as those on Level 3 don't know how to.
At the end of the descriptions, Scott says that we are all capable of being in more than one of those levels at different times in our lives. In fact, he says all of us as small children start at level one. Over time we are influenced by our environment (i.e. parents, etc.) and then eventually we come into our own where we have to make a choice to either stay with what we were brought up with, or move on to something else.
He also says that there are times, even if we have advanced spiritually, that we might revert to the other levels. In other words, I might occasionally feel the chaotic, out-of-control, level one part of me come to surface, or become intolerant and narrow-minded as a level two person.
Scott Peck was a psychologist (he died in 2005), and he said that throughout the years of his practise he saw and worked with people at all of these levels, and watched them sometimes "convert" from one to the other, or backslide from time to time.
I thought his evaluations and descriptions were very interesting, and I certainly recognize where many people I know (or THINK I know!) might be. So where are you? :-)