New Thought: It’s Here, It’s There, It’s Everywhere

Phineas Quimby and Lucius Burkmar
Image via Wikipedia

L.D. Turner

*** This article originally appeared on LifeBrook in 2008. A number of readers have asked that it be brought forward again, so, in response to these requests, here are a few thoughts on the value of the New Thought teachings…

 Each age in which humankind has lived and evolved has had specific tasks or assignments that had to be learned. Early on, it is obvious some of these were very basic types of lessons, but as humanity progressed, these lessons and issues become more complex. It seems to me that Sacred Spirit has a plan and the continual outworking of that plan has been the driving force of all creation.

 I think that there are two primary lessons for this exciting yet challenging period in our spiritual and social evolution. First, I believe strongly that one of our primary life lessons of this age concerns the deepening of our understanding of the power of our minds. Up until the last 150-200 years, except for a small number of esoteric spiritual groups, our awareness of just how powerful the mind is was minimal. However, beginning in the mid-19th Century all of that was about to change.

 The 19th Century was a time of increasing spiritual awareness around the world, but especially in the West. In Britain, for example, the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution gave rise of a powerful reactionary force, seen primarily in literature and the arts. This movement became known as Romanticism. In Germany, the “Idealist” philosophers grew in both clarity and influence and began to have a particularly strong impact on theology. As the century progressed, America witnessed the emergence of the Transcendentalist Movement, again primarily in literature. Rejecting the rationalism of the Enlightenment and the logic of science, the Transcendentalist spoke of a higher plane of reality and a divine energy that permeated and gave life to all that existed. Writers like Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman challenged the accepted, traditional worldview and, in so doing, infused their ideas into the very core of American culture. The impact of these writers is still felt today in just about every field of study and endeavor.

 The divine plan of Sacred Spirit began to take flesh, however, in another American philosophical/theological school that eventually became known as New Thought. A widely diverse movement, New Thought had its origins in the field of healing and quickly spread to other areas of study and practice, including theology.

 Phineas Parkhurst Quimby (1802-1866) is traditionally called the “Father of New Thought.” Quimby, like many others of his time, was dying of tuberculosis. After a mysterious sort of carriage ride in which he battled with a particularly head-strong horse, Quimby felt mentally invigorated and noticed that his condition improved somewhat. After attending a lecture on “Mesmerism,” a technique of hypnosis fashionable in the late 1830’s, Quimby began to experiment with hypnotic techniques and eventually became a healer of great renown. 

 Quimby’s techniques and ideas spread quickly through his students and eventually New Thought was born. Christian Science, although not technically New Thought, was certainly born out of New Thought teachings. Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science, eventually acknowledged her philosophical debt to Quimby and his followers. Other early New Thought pioneers included teachers like Emma Curtis Hopkins, Malinda Cramer, and Nona Brooks. This trio especially was involved in the founding of Divine Science, one of the more influential New Thought schools.

 Charles Fillmore and his wife Mary were also major New Thought figures, eventually founding the Unity School of Christianity. A little later on, influenced by New Thought writers Ralph Waldo Trine and Christian Larson, Ernest Holmes founded the Religious Science Movement. Holmes is considered one of the most influential teachers of New Thought and his teachings, called “The Science of Mind,” have influenced such modern day figures as Norman Vincent Peale, Robert Schuller, Og Mandino, Zig Ziglar, Tony Robbins and, in an indirect and notably bizarre way, the entire Word of Faith Movement, the fastest growing segment of Christianity world wide.

 I could go on and on describing the impact of New Thought, which noted psychologist William James called the “school of healthy mindedness,” but space does not permit it. Suffice to say the New Thought has been of tremendous impact on our culture, our religions, and especially on psychology. Chances are, if you have been influenced by any type of positive thinking teaching, you have been influenced by New Thought in general and Ernest Holmes in particular.

 Turning from a historical perspective, let’s take a brief look at some basic New Thought teachings. Keep in mind, we don’t have time to go into great detail here. It is my hope that in presenting some of the fundamental teachings of New Thought, you may be motivated to study these ideas further and, if you feel so led, apply them to your life. Below I list the Principles of Divine Unity, one of the newer New Thought Schools.

 Principle One – There is One Power

  Principle Two – The Kingdom is Within

  Principle Three – I am an Individualized Expression of the Divine

  Principle Four – My Thoughts and Beliefs Give Specific Form to Spirit

  Principle Five – The Principle at the Basis of our Lives is the Law of Cause and Effect

  Principle Six – We are Endowed With Free Will and  Thus Can Embody Divine Unity by Choosing Compassion

  Principle Seven – Evil is not a Separate Force but a Misuse of the Law

  Principle Eight – Changing My Thinking Changes My Life

  Principle Nine – There are Seven Tools Which Enable Us to Transform Our Consciousness by Enabling Us to Transform Our Thinking and Thereby Our Lives and the World We Live In*

  Principle Ten – All These Principles Assist Us in Realizing Our Divine Unity Which Although Always Present May Not Be Realized Because of “Obscurations and Delusions

  The Seven Tools of Transformation are:

 The Word

 Journaling

 Goal Setting/Planning

 Contemplation

 Affirmative Prayer

 Meditation

 Visualization

 Keep in mind that this list is only an outline and time or space does not allow for a very deep analysis here. Suffice to say that New Thought, in its various forms, is of the belief that a divine energy permeates the entire universe and that this energy is not only the source of all life, but also its animating and sustaining principle. This “Divine Mind” or “Sacred Intelligence” operates according to set universal “laws,” most notably the Law of Cause and Effect. New Thought also places great emphasis on the Law of Attraction, a principle that gained much popularity recently with the publication of Byrne’s book “The Secret.” There really wasn’t much secret about The Secret. The principles discussed in the pages of Byrne’s book are straight out of New Thought.

Although its leading proponents consistently deny it, the Word of Faith Movement within Christianity has also been strongly influenced by New Thought. E.W. Kenyon, considered by many to be the earliest advocate of many of the principles that show up in Word of Faith teachings, was reported to have been strongly influenced by Ralph Waldo Trine, a leading New Thought teacher of the late 19th Century. As stated earlier, Word of Faith advocates go to great lengths to minimize the influence of Trine on Kenyon. No matter, whether from Trine or some other source, the presence of New Thought principles in the works of Kenyon is both unmistakable and undeniable.

What I find most interesting in the Christian traditions that have imbibed New Thought teachings is how they deal with integral aspect of their theology. Let’s take a brief look at two examples, Peale/Schuller and Word of Faith.

 As just mentioned, Word of Faith teachers, when confronted about New Thought influence, go to great lengths to deny it. Most Word of Faith teachers, as well as most charismatic teachers, define the New Thought Movement to be “occult” and the various schools associated with the movement as being “cults.” This is especially true when they speak of Unity, Religious Science, and Christian Science. (It should also be noted that Christian Science is not technically a New Thought entity). If the Word of Faith advocates readily admitted to the influence of any of these sources, it would open the Word of Faith movement to charges of heresy, charges that are levied anyway.

 As for Peale, Schuller, and the “Positive Thinking/Possibility Thinking” crowd, they neither admit to nor deny New Thought influence. Schuller is especially interesting in this regard. While never acknowledging New Thought per se, he frequently mentions fairly contemporary teachers of New Thought principles such as Clement Stone, Manly Hall, Napoleon Hill, and Emmett Fox, just to name a few.

 Personally, I believe a third option is the most sane and workable approach. If you, your teachings, your writings, and your world view have been impacted by New Thought, just say so. It is as simple as that. There is absolutely no need to dance around the subject with a Texas Two Step like the Word of Faith folks do. Just be up front and admit your influences. After all, no teacher has ever formulated their teachings in a theological/philosophical vacuum.

 In the secular “pop psychology” world the influence of New Thought is everywhere you look. Tony Robbins, Wayne Dyer, Gary Zukav – all have been impacted by the school of thought. Some acknowledge the influence, some do not. However, the level and intensity of the denial of New Thought influence is nowhere near that found in Christian circles.

 If you are anywhere near a regular reader of this blog, you are surely aware that my world view has been impacted by various New Thought writers. I make no secret of this because I see absolutely no reason to do so. One of my most firmly held beliefs in the conviction that Christ may indeed be able to work and teach through any venue he chooses. He does not need my approval. In addition, I make every effort to avoid rigidity in my thinking and myopia in my theological beliefs. I do this for more than one reason. First, I have found both truth and inspiration from a wide range of sources, including New Thought. Second, I am also aware that someone I have major disagreements with still has the capacity to teach me something if I am open-minded enough to hear it.

 For example, I spent the summer of 1972 working in Washington, D.C. at the National Campaign Headquarters for Senator George McGovern. Although I am much more in the center politically now, back in those days I was so far left I made Chairman Mao look like William F. Buckley. At about the same time, life slowly began to unravel for Chuck Colson, Nixon’s famous “hatchet man.”

 As most of you know, during his legal problems associated with Watergate, Colson had a conversion experience while sitting in his car and he became a Christian. It should also be said that I arrived in Washington on June 10, 1972. The Watergate burglary took place on June 17. Colson, after his release from prison, founded Prison Fellowship, a ministry geared toward the spiritual redemption of those serving prison sentences. He has also become a major author in Christian circles and his books are widely read by an eager audience.

 What I am getting at here is this. I am about as close to Colson politically and religiously as Kansas is to Katmandu. Colon was and is an arch-conservative Republican. I am an Independent politically, but it is safe to say that I have never voted for a Republican for any office at any level. I have major differences with the ideological stance of the Republican Party and have shed more than one tear over the fact that the Religious Right has abducted my faith tradition and enlisted it in the service of the Republicans.

 Not only am I far away from Colson’s political tastes, but religiously there is a great gulf between us as well. Colson is a Fundamentalist with a capital “F.” I think fundamentalism in any religion is a dangerous commodity and I disagree with much of this school’s teachings.

 My point is this. Chuck Colson is one of my favorite Christian authors. I can say without reservation that I have learned much from his books and not long ago had the opportunity to finally hear him speak. Do I agree with most of what Colson says? Not on your life! Would I vote for him if he ran for office? You’re joking, right? But do I benefit from my exposure to his teaching? You betcha. But it does take an open mind and a willingness to explore the thought of those much different than my own.

 As for New Thought, I would encourage readers to explore these teachings for themselves rather than letting someone else do their thinking for them. You may, indeed, be surprised at what you discover.

 © L.D. Turner 2008/2010/All Rights Reserved

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2 thoughts on “New Thought: It’s Here, It’s There, It’s Everywhere

  1. I would like to clarify a couple of points about New Thought in relation to Christian Science.

    The term New Thought did not come into general use until the mid-1880s, by which time Mary Baker Eddy was well on the way to establishing the Christian Science movement. The eclectic philosophies that became New Thought evolved at the same time as Christian Science, and there was considerable confusion in the public mind about the distinction, possibly because some significant New Thought people came from Christian Science. The New Thought groups generally shared a common emphasis on the constructive power of human thought, whereas Mrs. Eddy emphasized a Christian, scriptural basis for her healing work.

    While it’s technically not accurate to say that “Christian Science [was] born out of New Thought teachings,” it’s reasonable to say that the pervasive religious and philosophical atmosphere in New England in the latter part of the nineteenth century provided an environment conducive to Christian Science.

    Over the years various authors have suggested that Phineas Quimby’s teachings and methods were absorbed into Christian Science, but evidence indicates otherwise. Mrs. Eddy visited Quimby a number of times during the early 1860s. He was clearly a respected figure of his day (as you point out,) and Mrs. Eddy wrote about “his rare humanity and sympathy.” On the other hand, she found his treatments provided relief, but did not cure her. After investigating his methods, she concluded he was a mesmerist, using what she considered a form of mental manipulation.

    This was for Mrs. Eddy just one of many stops along the road that led her to the form of spiritual healing that she called Christian Science. Even during her encounters with Quimby, her inclination was to regard God as the provider of Life, i.e., hers was a religious and spiritual approach, which Quimby’s was not. Both considered disease to have a mental basis, but when Mrs. Eddy realized how different they were, she moved on.

    I hope this helps to explain some of the differences between these nineteenth century thinkers. Thanks for an overall very interesting article.

    1. Graham B:

      Thanks for your insightful comment regarding Mary Baker Eddy, Christian Science, and its relation to New Thought. I especially liked your comment about how “it’s reasonable to say that the pervasive religious and philosophical atmosphere in New England in the latter part of the nineteenth century provided an environment conducive to Christian Science.” I think that is perhaps a most accurate assessment. Although I am not a Christian Scientist, I am quite fascinated by Mary Baker Eddy and the development of her ideas.

      Mick

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