The Road Less Traveled

Life is difficult

February 12, 2024

By Andy F

Categories: Spirituality

The London fellowship in the early 80’s

I first got clean and sober in the early ’80s, on the 15th of May, 1984, to be exact. In those days, London AA was full of eccentric and colorful personalities. There was a much stronger sense of fellowship and camaraderie at meetings, especially in Chelsea and The West End. We had personalities that, to this day, are affectionately remembered.

There was ‘Ironing Board Arthur,’ ‘Dartmoor Bill,’ ‘Guardsman John,’ ‘Mick the Tick,’ and ‘Sailor Bill,’ to name a few. In those days, the emphasis was as much on fellowship as the program and steps. Some members thought that we were working the first three steps just by going to a meeting. Of course, we read the Big Book, but in the early 80s, people weren’t as passionate about it as now. Any Big Book fundamentalism had not yet arrived in the London fellowship.

Non AA literature

Members recommended all kinds of books unavailable on AA literature tables.“Varieties of religious experience” by William James was one of them. Another popular book in the fellowship was “The Prophet” by Kahil Gibran. Then there was “The Pilgrim’s Progress” by John Bunyan. “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” by Richard Bach and “Autobiography of a Yogi” by Parahamansa Yogananda were popular with AA members.

Scott Peck (1936–2005)

Probably, the most popular book in the fellowship in the early 80s was “The Road Less Travelled” by M. Scott Peck. So many members had a copy. You would often hear them talking about it over coffee at the meeting after the meeting.

So, who was Scott Peck, and why did his books become so popular in the twelve-step community? Scott Peck was a psychiatrist and psychotherapist. He was also a prolific and bestselling author. All his books were about personal development with an emphasis on spiritual growth. Perhaps this is why his books became so popular in AA. Even more interesting is that Scott Peck had a very high opinion of the fellowship. He regarded the founding of AA as one of the most important social events of the 20th century.

 “Dr. Peck considered the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous one of the top two events of the 20th century. The other was World War II.”

www.onedayatatime.com

A struggling Agnostic in AA

I had been in AA for at least 5 years before someone told me about “The Road Less Traveled.” I tried hard to get my head around the AA Big Book but failed. At the time, as a cynical newcomer, the word “God” in The Big Book was too much for me. In my early years, I didn’t take it seriously. I did however take to Scott Peck. There were two reasons for this.

Firstly, he was a psychiatrist, and I found his insights into the human psyche quite fascinating.

Secondly, as a man of science, he kept referring to spirituality as a mechanism for human healing. What intrigued me is that he never mentioned God.

His approach to spirituality was fascinating to an Agnostic. Was there such a thing as psychological growth through spiritual transcendence? Reading Scott Peck, I suddenly saw a glimmer of hope. Was there such a thing as a non-God-centered spiritual awakening?

Dr. Peck’s writing convinced me that it was possible to have a spiritual awakening without believing in a monotheistic God. Nowhere was this more apparent than in Scott Peck’s four stages of spiritual development.

Peck’s four stages of spiritual development

“Peck postulates that there are four stages of human spiritual development:

  1. Stage I is chaotic, disordered, and reckless. Very young children are in Stage I. They may defy and disobey and are unwilling to accept a will greater than their own. They are egoistical and lack empathy for others. Criminals are often people who have never grown out of Stage I.
  • Stage II is the stage at which a person has blind faith in authority figures and sees the world as divided simply into good and evil, right and wrong, us and them. Once children learn to obey their parents and other authority figures (often out of fear or shame), they reach Stage II.  Many religious people are Stage II. With blind faith comes humility and a willingness to obey and serve. The majority of conventionally moralistic, law-abiding citizens never move out of Stage II.
  • Stage III is the stage of scientific skepticism and questioning. A Stage III person does not accept claims based on faith, but is only convinced with logic. Many people working in scientific and technological research are in Stage III. Often they reject the existence of spiritual or supernatural forces, since these are difficult to measure or prove scientifically. Those who do retain their spiritual beliefs move away from the simple, official doctrines of fundamentalism.
  • Stage IV is the stage at which an individual enjoys the mystery and beauty of nature and existence. While retaining skepticism, s/he starts perceiving grand patterns in nature and develops a deeper understanding of good and evil, forgiveness and mercy, compassion and love. His/her religiousness and spirituality differ from that of a Stage II person, in the sense that s/he does not accept things through blind faith or out of fear, but from genuine belief. S/he does not judge people harshly or seek to inflict punishment on them for their transgressions. This is the stage of loving others as yourself, losing your attachment to your ego, and forgiving your enemies. Stage IV people are labeled mystics.

Peck argues that while transitions from Stage I to Stage II are sharp, transitions from Stage III to Stage IV are gradual. Nonetheless, these changes are noticeable and mark a significant difference in the personality of the individual.”

(Wikipedia)

A non-God-centered spiritual awakening

The first thing that struck me about Dr. Peck’s four stages is that there is no mention of God. What a revelation for an agnostic alcoholic. By using the following GOD acronyms, I could now find meaning in the spirituality of AA’s twelve steps.

Gift Of Desperation

Group Of Drunks

Good Orderly Direction

Grow Or Die

Scott Peck gave me the confidence to believe that a spiritual awakening is just as available and valid to an agnostic as to any fellowship member who believes or has come to believe in God.

“Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.”

In fellowship

Andy F

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