scott peck, denial of the soul

a review by Robert Brow   (web site -

This is a theological review of M. Scott Peck, Denial of the Soul: Spiritual and Medical Perspectives on Euthanasia and Mortality (New York: Harmony Books, 1997).

 As the sub-title indicates, the book is about euthanasia. And Scott Peck helpfully distinguishes doctor-assisted suicide in the wrong sense from the double-effect. He approves the accepted practice in the hospice movement of increasing the doses of morphine as needed to relieve terrible pain and anxiety. The double-effect (as also approved by Roman Catholic doctrine, p. 213) is that increasing the morphine dosage inevitably hastens death (as with many other necessary drugs). His conclusion in Part III is that, instead of legitimizing physician-assisted suicide, the courts should legitimize the double-effect.

 My interest is in the valuable, though theologically flawed Part II on "Spiritual Perspectives." Peck describes what he calls the prevailing "secular consciousness" where the person is the center of the universe. He contrasts this with the "sacred consciousness" of a person whose center "resides elsewhere - specifically God" (p. 123). This relationship is viewed as a pilgrimage to explore His or Her indefinable mystery (p. 128, 154).

 Scott Peck views himself as "a middle of the road Christian" (p.157), and he is sure of some kind of life after death. The theological problem emerges when he carelessly uses the term "soul" instead of "person" (p. 132). He then assumes that the soul is created immortal, and has a continued existence beyond the death of the body. He therefore denies the resurrection of the body which is essential to minimal Christian faith (p. 157).

 Having missed out on the model distinction between Monism and Theism, Peck is blind to the fact that a soul without a body can only suffer tedious reincarnations till it can finally find a way to be merged with some absolute. It is impossible to escape a dismal monistic view of life after death if one views oneself as an eternal soul that at death leaves the body behind. Those are the alternatives offered by Hindu Monism.

 In the Apostles' Creed we say we believe in "the resurrection of the body" and in the Nicene Creed "We look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come." A soul without a body cannot eat or talk, enjoy nature or love, laugh or dance, or even recognize others or itself as a person. But when my body dies I expect the Holy Spirit to resurrect me (as he resurrected Jesus, Romans 8:11) with a recognizable body capable of doing and enjoying infinitely more than I ever dreamed of in this life.

 Peck calls himself a Christian and his heart is, I am sure, in the right place, but he hasn't moved on theologically in twenty years from the North American modified guru monism of The Road Less Travelled (1978).


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