27/08/2010

The Road Less Travelled (by M Scott Peck)

Over the years I've heard various people recommend books by the late psychotherapist Scott Peck. Indeed, this particular one has sat on my shelves for at least ten years, dipped into occasionally but never actually read. I found it at a charity shop and thought I might read it one day...

That day finally came. Over the past three weeks I've read 'The Road Less Travelled', a chapter at a time, and found it very interesting.

The book is, basically, about spiritual growth. The author's premise is that most people are not actually interested in growing up; some develop either a neurosis or a character disorder (he explains the difference) and may see a psychologist or psychotherapist for a while, but the majority - he claims - do not actually want to do any work to mature and grow spiritually. He suggests that most people are similar, whether or not they have a recognised problem, and that with self-help, and the listening ears of loving friends, we can all start to tread the 'road less travelled' towards spiritual maturity.

The book starts with an overview of the common problem people have with delayed gratification, and then begins to consider what we mean by love in its broadest sense. There's an overview of various psychological conditions, with several examples and anecdotes, and a look at how some people manage to overcome them, with or without the help of a therapist.

The book had some fascinating insights. I found much that was thought-provoking in the earlier chapters. However, towards the end of the book, Scott Peck looks at the subject of 'grace' from what appears to be a pseudo-Christian perspective. He gives rational and logical reasons for the existence of God, but then suggests (in somewhat New Age style) that God is the sum total of our unconscious minds, and that our most important aim in life is not so much to become like God, but to become part of him.

This - even given possible misunderstandings or bad phraseology - seems like very dubious ground, as are one or two passing comments in the book about moral relativity, something which the author appears to espouse. I'm not one to throw the baby out entirely with the bathwater; I do think the book is worth reading despite now being nearly thirty years out of date, and despite some worrying moral issues; but take it with a large pinch of salt.

This book could make interesting discussion material for Christians or others interested in spiritual growth. Some of the ideas presented may well be useful, as could his suggestions for finding a good (rather than quack) psychotherapist if one feels the need of professional help. Still in print, but published under the 'New Age' rather than 'Christian' banner.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 27th August 2010

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