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For whom does the Baker bake?
on 21 March 2017
Rather than write a plain old review of this book, I thought I'd make a more personal evaluation of it, as I think that may be more useful to prospective readers, so please excuse my individual intimations.
This book was recommended to me by two friends who are a couple, whilst at a party. After the party I spoke with others who had read the work, and received comments as far-reaching and contradictory as "life-changing" on one hand, and "utter garbage" on the other. Curious as to what kind of book would produce such vastly opposed opinions I decided to read it, and now I understand why it affords such diverse reactions.
In truth, I think the attitude of the reader, and his or her and reason for reading the book has as much to do with its perceived merit as the content itself. Personally, I am 47 years old, I hold one combined undergraduate degree in philosophy and psychology, which I did not enjoy studying for at all, and another in computer science, the latter now being my professional vocation. My second degree was a first class honours, as opposed to the 2nd I received for my initial studies, and I put that down to my own attitude and acceptance of the new subject in being inherently affiliated with logic and truth, as is the nature of computer science.
The point I'd like to make with this information, is that those who come to this book in search of spiritual solace will very likely find it. In the same way, if one approaches science, religion, or the apparent wisdoms and practices of the new-age movement with an attitude of openness and trust towards "spirituality", then one will feel rewarded with the knowledge gained. However, if one approaches this book out of simple curiosity, or with a background of knowledge of philosophy and psychology that brings a degree of skepticism towards the author's more esoteric answers of religion and spirituality, then the work appears sadly flawed, though not, as some people suggest, to it's utter destruction.
In fact, much of the book is very interesting as it describes accurately, in psychoanalytical terms, what other authors of fiction attempt to illustrate about the nature of the efforts and attitudes of contented adults in civilised western society. To the "lay reader", this gives insights into the benefits of personal discipline; the facets of long lasting stable relationships as opposed to the musings of new-found love; and the well described problems and solutions in overcoming one's own inhibiting beliefs. For this I will credit the author.
Contrarily, in the latter part of the book, M. Scott Peck continues to explain aspects of human endeavour, but engages in a discourse on his views on spirituality and religion. He proposes that all human beings have a religion, that science is a religion, as well as atheism, and spends some considerable effort in describing matters that he considers as being actually miraculous. He appoints as miracles, the abundance of healthy humans despite what he considers the apparent fragility of body and mind. He presents personal anecdotes regarding his own near-death experience and mundane coincidences as the evidence of miracles and shared consciousness, and employs the wonder and improbability of evolution over physical entropy to project to the reader the idea that the world as we know it is governed by what he describes as grace, a mysterious divine power that is in eternal conflict with entropy.
This latter discussion shows the age of the book, since it was written in the late 1970's, and the physics and mathematics of the day were without the computers to create virtual models by which to study such physical manifestations as entropy. In light of this, the author's assertions are highly selective. He describes entropy; the reduction of energy dispersion to a chaotic state, as the final overarching physical attribute of matter. He ignores the fact that molecular compounds combine through electron bonding due to electro-magnetic attraction. In fact, one only has to look at a simple magnet to see that energy, in the form of a magnetic field, can and does indeed have a great deal of order to its form, and is not simply a matter of chaotic entropic dispersal. Not only that, but this process of compound formation gives rise to literally every type of physical matter, each having different levels of combined resilience, e.g. soap, diamonds and amino acids, whose existence are not governed by entropy, but merely affected by it, in terms of their existential longevity.
As with evolution, one of the great mysteries of life is the development of consciousness, yet here the author once again attributes it's existence as another miracle. Asserting that this is a particularly human trait, he goes further to make additional assertions on human evolution, attributing the nature of evil to entropy, going so far as to suggest that human lethargy is in fact entropy manifested as evil, and that it is laziness, and a lack of application of the author's conceptual love and discipline that is the major cause of psychological problems in human beings. As examples, the author then actually uses biblical images; the serpent and apple on the tree of knowledge; the crucifixion of Christ, and the concept of original sin and simply adapts them to suit his reasoning. That the concept of original sin is a later idea, projected onto the Gospels of Genesis by St Augustine and absorbed by Roman Catholicism in the 16th century seems to be idly ignored, so It seems laziness of the mind can also extend to celebrated psychoanalysts.
Also, at no point is there any reference to the nature of suffering that the author's described sentient god is willing to assert, not only on humanity, but on all of nature; with disease, starvation and the cruel predations of all manner, from the microbic virus to the leaping tiger. Quite how that is part of entropic lethargy, and is entirely acceptable to a divine creator is left entirely untouched.
As the book begins to draw to its final chapter, M. Scott Peck actually acknowledges that he cannot fully describe his model for grace, nor does he accurately describe the conditions by which some are capable of attenuating this lackadaisical, evil other than by having the good fortune to be Blessed, perhaps just having loving parents and maybe an effective education, or basically be fortunate enough to be raised as a well adjusted human being and not feel the need to seek the advice of a psychoanalyst.
In closing the writer begins to slip into dogma: "I have interpreted Christ's saying 'Many are called but few are chosen' to mean that very few choose to heed the call of grace because of the difficulties involved", then a few pages later claims that "the study of theology is a relatively poor method of preparation and, by itself, completely useless", going to claim that such a paradox is an emblem of his previously purported miracle of serendipity.
At the last, he then finishes the book with a lengthy flourished chapter, charged with absolution and encouragement meant to embolden the reader to go forth with Grace into the miraculous world and enjoy their new found higher knowledge to the betterment of humanity.
There is a brief afterword that acknowledges all the praise given to the author (but noticeably, no criticism), and advises the reader seeking psychological therapy on best ways to do so.
So... still here?
For me, since this book presents itself as an advisory, and as good counsel for those in search of spiritual enlightenment, then I feel is necessary to go further than offer a basic critique.
To be blunt, if one is to take baking advice from a baker, then his bread had better be good. It is in this respect that having looked at M. Scott Peck's bibliography and personal life, I find reason to distance myself from his work. That in 2005, he felt compelled to write his personal account of demonic possession and the exorcisms he has personally performed, as well as his catalogue of other books dedicated to those who are in search of enlightenment, leaves me with a sense of a man who is pandering to those who are willing to accept truth as something they should be told, as opposed to something they are capable of accepting and deciding for themselves. To me, faith and spirituality, whatever the denomination, requires that the believer who will appoint himself as preacher, should be able to personally attest to its benefits by their own actions. So to the man himself, a self-confessed philanderer, a divorcee who chooses to drink and smoke marijuana, who lives estranged from two of his own children, I can only offer dubious respect to his professional and academic credentials.
Finally, if I were to offer any advice to the prospective reader, before embarking on this book, first read "Battle For The Mind", by William Sargant. Another highly controversial psychologist, this author at least describes, the processes by which M. Scott Peck seems to make a living, without the veil of piety.