A History of the New Thought Movement
VERY little effort has thus far been made to put the New Thought in intelligible relation with other types of thought. Christian Science has been abundantly criticized, and it has been duly recognized by makers of dictionaries and encyclopedias; but ordinarily it is defined or explained as if it were the only phase of the mental-healing movement. The clergy gave early recognition to the movement, but usually without recognizing that it possessed any particular value. Rev. C. A. Bartol, a prominent Unitarian clergyman, preached a sermon on it in Boston, May 4, 1884. Adverse criticisms appeared in the Andover Review, March, 1887, in an article by Rev. Dr. Denison of Williams College; and in The Century July, 1887, in an article by Rev. Dr. Buckley. Other criticisms have appeared from time to time, including Spiritual Healing, by Rev. W. F. Cobb, London, 1914, and The Psychological Phenomena of Christianity, by Rev. Dr. Cutten. But such studies have nearly always been based on an outsider’s observation, not on actual experience with the phenomena described. Hence these studies have led to no definite results.
In an article entitled “New Thought” in the Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia, H, A. Youtz has given a fairly intelligible account of some phases of the New Thought. But this writer has erroneously attributed the New Thought entirely to Christian Science. He does not mention Quimby or Evans, and seems entirely unaware that there was a long period of development of mental healing in America prior to the interest which separated off from Christian Science and joined mental science. The bibliography is of slight value. It contains the titles of only a few of the leading books on the subject.
The article on the New Thought in the Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, Volume IX, is by A. B. Allen, a New Thought writer, and it is excellent as a general statement of the movement and what it stands for. But in the bibliography Mr. Allen mentions those books only which are most in line with his own interpretation. He does not mention the early or more important books at all. He refers neither to Quimby nor to Evens, and seems unaware that the New Thought has had a history. The bibliography is not representative.
In his American Thought from Puritanism to Pragmatism., New York, 1915, Dr. Woodbridge Riley devotes a section to “Benjamin Rush and Mental Healing,” in which he discusses Dr. Rush’s Influence of Physical Causes upon the Moral Faculty. He also mentions Rush’s Diseases of the Mind, 1812, under the head of materialism. That is to say, this type of mental healing was not “mental” at all as the term is understood by disciples of the New Thought. Dr. Riley then goes on to speak of Charles Poyen, author of Progress of Animal Magnetism in New England, 1837, and of the “whole tribe of Yankee magnetic healers,” with the remark that “this is not the place to show how this exaggerated materialism was turned into a propaganda among the pious. It would lead to a long digression to explain the incredible mixture of religion and medicine which has been noted by foreign observers. . . . Nor have we time to more than suggest the direction of the other line of development of mental medicine.”
By “the incredible mixture” Dr. Riley probably means Christian Science. But why should he not give attention to what he calls “the other line of development,” since it has become a characteristic form of “American thought”? He does indeed touch upon its resemblance to transcendentalism, and he refers to Emerson’s doctrine of self-reliance. But he thinks it would have been better if mental healing had followed the development of scientific therapy in France, or had returned to the materialism of Dr. Rush. He seems unmindful of the fact that one of the investigators who reacted against “the Yankee magnetic healers,” Mr. Quimby, developed in a direction far removed from materialism, and led the way to a whole line of literature, beginning with the works of Rev. Mr. Evans. To him the New Thought would probably seem in some respects an “incredible mixture.” Hence materialism would be preferable. But it is hardly the province of the historian to indulge in pronounced preferences. It is matter of history that the New Thought is a typical expression of American thought on its practical side. The “mixture” is no more incredible than Christianity itself. The original gospel included both piety and healing.
The difficulty usually is that writers who judge mental healing from the outside start with the presupposition that all genuine mental healing is “scientific,” meaning by “science” the kind of physiological psychology which is solely concerned with facts, the facts of the dependence of the mind’s states on the brain. Munsterberg’s Psychotherapy is an extreme instance of this kind of psychology, a disguised materialism “made in Germany.” H. Addington Bruce’s Scientific Mental Healing is a step in advance of this, but still looks toward “science” in the narrower sense, hence it overlooks the values of the New Thought. So, too, books like Lawrence’s Primitive Psychotherapy and Quackery, Boston, 1910; and Cutten’s Three Thousand Years of Mental Healing, New York, 1911; or Dr. T. S. Clouston’s Mind-cures from a Scientific Point of View, are chiefly interesting from the point of view either of general curiosity or of an external study of the subject. Cobb’s Spiritual Healing, London, 1914, comes much nearer the inner point of view, and is of value as a spiritual history of healing prior to the nineteenth century. But what one misses is an interpretation of healing from the inside, as experienced by the individual. Even Hudson, in his Law of Mental Medicine, Chicago, 1903, fails to give us this interior interpretation. Hudson is best known for his exaggerated emphasis of the difference between the so-called subjective mind and the objective mind. The disciple of the New Thought who knows the therapeutic experience from within would speak rather of the different levels or planes of consciousness, and of the ideals with the highest level or “real self.” In contrast with physiological psychology regarded as “science,” the advocate of the New Thought holds that a higher or spiritual science is implied in what we know and believe concerning this, the spiritual level of human consciousness.
The time appears to have come when the New Thought should be judged dispassionately. It is not a mere question of science, or of any special phase of the New Thought advocated by this or that leader as a commercial enterprise. No list of books prepared to enlighten the public can be complete without including at least one volume by Mr. Evans; one or two of the period from 1894 to 1900, when the organizations were taking shape; and several of the more popular books, such as Miss Cady’s, or those by Mrs. Militz, which have given shape to the movement in the West. The side-lines and allied teachings have developed without number. Thus there is a whole literature of books on success, such as those bv Dr. Marden, whose work began with books like Pushing to the Front. But what is needed in the first place, if the New Thought shall be recognized as distinctive, is an understanding of the central principles as they have been developed out of the therapeutic experience. For it is this experience which led the way to the psychology deemed so baffling by the partisan of the special sciences.
While most of the New Thought periodicals have represented certain phases of the movement only, some have given impartial expression to its manifold tendencies. Dr. Winkley’s magazine, Practical Ideals, was of that type. The Metaphysical Magazine, March, 1901, contained an article by Eliza Calvert Hall entitled “The Evolution of Mental Science,” which was a thoughtful contribution. In Mind, biographical studies of mental-healing leaders were published from time to time, most of them accurate. Mr. Paul Tyner contributed to the American Review of Reviews, 1902, an article entitled “The Metaphysical Movement,” containing studies of New Thought leaders, such as Henry Wood, Helen Wilmans, C. C. Post, Fannie James, Mrs. Cramer, R. W. Trine, and C. B. Patterson, based on sketches written by the leaders themselves. Mr. Tyner’s exposition of the movement as a whole was impartial. The difficulty thus far has been that people interested in the movement have not brought together such material as might be deemed impartial for the sake of estimating the human equation in relation to the movement and giving each tendency its proper place. No one who has undertaken to expound the movement for the sake of fostering interest in a particular phase of it has adequately treated its other phases. The effort would be worth while, for there might be less reason for the existence of so many variations.
It would be profitable, for example, to consider just what elements Christian Science contributed to the movement, and how these might be stated so as to assimilate their practical values without “metaphysics,” that is, the abstract principles brought over by the pioneers of Divine Science and other variations. The term Christian Science was freely used for a time, as if there were no differences. Thus Dr. Holcombe, for example, for the most part a follower of Swedenborg, but who identified the teachings of Mrs. Eddy and those of Swedenborg in a way that did not please the devotees of either, used the term in his Condensed Thoughts on Christian Science, 1889, in which he calls attention to the “immense power of thought” and points out that “evil or false thought repeats or pictures itself organically in the diseased tissues of the body.” Such pamphlets would not be classified under the head of Christian Science today. The history of the movement shows that this term has become more distinct. It is no longer a synonym for mental-healing in general. This gives the greater reason for making the New Thought more distinctive, so that in dictionaries and encyclopedias as well as in libraries it shall be properly classified.*
*The general term now used in some of the large libraries is ‘psychological medicine.” This term is too widely inclusive.
Looking back over the history of tile movement we note that there has been a long struggle to avoid confusion and misunderstandings. Spiritism or spiritualism was the first movement to be confused with mental healing, after Mr. Quimby gave up mesmerism and began to practise healing. This confusion of mind was natural inasmuch as spiritism in its popular form was before the public. From the beginning of his practice to the end, it was necessary for Mr. Quimby to show that he did not perform his cures by the aid of spirits or mediums. Later, in the mental- science period, when mental healing attracted wider attention, a different kind of relationship came into being. Spiritualists began to manifest interest in mental healing and to practise it in their own way. Then a prominent spiritualistic healer, Miss Susie C. Clark, became associated with the New Thought, and took part in the first New Thought convention in Boston. Thus the hypothesis that some diseases are due to obsessing spirits came somewhat into vogue. There are of course points of resemblance between the philosophy of spiritism, known as spiritualism, and the New Thought. There is every reason to acknowledge these points of contact. The New Thought healer, however, would point out that mental or spiritual healing as practised since the days of the discovery of the silent method by Mr. Quimby is not carried on by the aid of spirits and is not due to mediumship. On the other hand, a spiritist might accept all the teachings of the mental healers and assimilate these in his own fashion.
The next movement to be somewhat connected with mental healing was the theosophical movement, for example, in the writings of Miss Barnet, mentioned above. Again, there are points of resemblance, and these would be especially interesting to anyone concerned to trace out ancient ideas of mental healing in the sacred books of India, the sources of theosophy. A theosophist might assimilate the New Thought and practise mental healing in the same way as the healers. The writings of Annie Besant and others make clear the power of thought. The theosophists have much to say about “planes” and “auras,” and other subjects of interest to devotees of the New Thought. But there are many theosophical tenets that are very distinctive and these should be judged in connection with theosophy, not confused with or identified with the New Thought. The inculcation of the theory of reincarnation is, for example, a distinct propagandism among theosophists. The question would be, as I have queried elsewhere, “whether the doctrine of reincarnation affords the best plan for the emancipation of the individual. Theosophy is surely right in its firm emphasis on the law of action and reaction. Here it harmonizes with the New Thought. But some of us are led to look at the question of salvation at very close range, instead of holding that we are loaded with the accumulated deeds (Karma) of past existences, or accepting the theosophical motive for avoiding rebirths. Practically speaking, we may be very sure that we are building up a future which will correspond with the prevailing love of the soul.” *
*Handbook of the New Thought, p. 73.
Followers of the New Thought manifested great interest in the Emmanuel movement when it was first organized. For it was the first movement within the Church looking forward to an assimilation of the therapeutic principles. But it soon became clear that this movement was a compromise. Its leaders were wholly acceptable clergymen. They were well trained in modern psychology. They understood the phenomena of suggestion, as their leading book shows, Religion and Medicine, by Dr. Ellwood Worcester and others. But patients were accepted only in case regular physicians pronounced their cases eligible for psychotherapeutic treatment. This meant reliance on the old-time methods of diagnosis. It limited and defined the practice of suggestion, whereas the followers of the New Thought acknowledge no such limits. Hence the Emmanuel workers have come to occupy a distinctive place, and to advocate principles which they would defend on a scientific basis. By contrast they would classify the New Thought as “unscientific,” while acknowledging that there are practical ideas in New Thought books. I have traced out this contrast more at length elsewhere.*
*A Physician to the Soul, p. 94; A Message to the Well, p. 78; Handbook of the New Thought, p. 5.
Again, mental healing has sometimes been confused with hypnotism. This confusion is as old as the movement, since it was difficult for one who had not received his treatment to understand why Mr. Quimby’s method was radically different from hypnotism, then called mesmerism. Mrs. Eddy, then Mrs. Patterson, understood the difference and did what she could to clear up the confusion. But then, unluckily, she brought forward the gratuitous hypothesis of “malicious animal magnetism,” and weak minds acquired a new fear, lest it were possible for a supposed enemy to employ evil suggestions.
The movement known as “suggestive therapeutics” sprang up after the mental-science period, when mental healing became more popular, and there were several periodicals, notably Hypnotic Magazine and Suggestion, devoted to the subject. Naturally, the new therapeutists claimed that all the results attained by mental healers could be accomplished through hypnotic therapeutics. Devotees of the New Thought of course object that they do not put their Patients into the hypnotic sleep, and that they do not try to control the mind but to benefit it by offering suggestions which may be freely accepted or as freely rejected. They would take radical exception to a book like Hypnotic Therapeutics, by Dr. J. D. Quackenbos. On the other hand a writer who began with Christian Science, passed through mental science, and then studied physiological psychology, Charles M. Barrows, shows in Suggestion Instead of Medicine that suggestion may be practised on a scientific basis without hypnotism.
Psycho-analysis as practised by Freud and his school is nearer the New Thought than suggestive therapeutics or hypnotic therapeutics, for the psycho-analysts do not practise hypnotism or mere suggestionism, their efforts being to understand the hidden motive or mental cause of disease. The New Thought healers do not employ the Freudian technique, they do not analyze dreams or specialize in nervous disorders traceable to sexual suppression. But they might well assimilate some of the results of Freudian psychology. That psychology is profound. It throws light on the nature of desire, the will, and the love-nature. The mental-healing movement, since the days of one of its best books, The Mental Cure, by W. F. Evans, has almost forgotten the will. It has given almost exclusive attention to thought as the “greatest power in the world.” Freud leads the discussion back to its deeper basis. To rediscover the will might be to rediscover Mr. Evans’s first book, and a really profound psychology of the will on a spiritual basis. Devotees of the New Thought would rightly object that the Freudian psychology is not spiritual. They could throw light on other phases of man’s nature not discussed by Freud.
It would take us too far afield to trace out the connection between the New Thought and recent religious literature bearing on mental healing. From the days of Mr. Evans until the present time many variations of mental science and the New Thought have been formulated by ministers. Christian Pneumatopathy, by Rev. William I. Gill, Boston, 1887, was one of the first of these. Such books have been more numerous since the Emmanuel movement came into being. For example, Mind, Religion, and Health, by Rev. R. MacDonald, 1908; Health and Happiness, by Bishop Fellows, 1909; Mental Medicine, by Rev. Oliver Huckel, 1909. These books belong for the most part to a later generation than mental science. Mr. Huckel apparently did not know that he was taking the title of a much better book than his own by Mr. Evans, published 1872. Most of these books fail to claim as much for mental healing as devotees of the New Thought could claim for it. They are welcomed, however, as indicating the growing acknowledgment of the therapeutic power of Christianity. With the New Thought, they emphasize “suggestion” as the central factor in mental healing.
There is less in common between socialism and the New Thought. Followers of the latter have, to be sure, shown great interest in social questions, and these matters were often discussed by Mr. Pennock, Mr. Sprague, and others in the Metaphysical Club, Boston, in the early days. But the New Thought emphasis is upon the inner life as “attracting” the conditions which correspond with the state of the soul, not with the outward conditions which, according to most socialists, must first be changed before there can be freedom. For the most part, socialism and the New Thought are sharply contrasted. With Christian socialism, however, there are points of contact. In a work like Miss Scudder’s Socialism and Character, devotees of the New Thought would find much to accept.
The movement for the emancipation of woman has won the attention of New Thought leaders from the start. The mental-science period was a time when men took the lead for the most part. The Metaphysical Club was organized by men as the original promoters. But women began to take a more prominent part, until in time that organization became and has remained essentially a woman’s club. In the Middle West and far West, many of the pioneer workers were women. Mrs. Van-Anderson organized the first New Thought church. Many other leaders among women have done pioneer work. After 1890, there were probably more leaders among women than among men. The New Thought became in fact one of the signs that “this is woman’s day.” Mr. Quimby set the example from the beginning by placing fundamental emphasis on the power in which woman excels, intuition, and on love as the highest quality of the inner life. Strictly speaking, it has not been a question of man or woman, but, as among the Quakers, of those who have “leadings” to speak or heal.
The New Thought has also been identified in part with the movement in behalf of peace. This was plain from the start at the Greenacre conferences, where advocates of peace and disciples of the New Thought met on the large constructive basis pleaded for by Miss Farmer. Naturally, the advocate of mental healing places first emphasis on the inner life, and so looks forward to a campaign of education in behalf of peace. Then, too, the more spiritually minded regard the therapeutic movement as a revival of Christianity, the Gospel of Peace. It does not appear, however, that any of the New Thought people went so far as to become pacifists in the objectionable sense, that is, the sort who blocked proceedings making for the success of the Allies. At the rally which brought the convention of September, 1918, to a close the following resolution, representing the New Thought movement the wide world over, was unanimously adopted:
“Resolved, That the International New Thought Alliance in convention assembled in historic Faneuil Hall, Boston, September 22, 1918, place on record our unbounded loyalty to America and her Allies in this new and greater struggle for justice and freedom, pledge both in spirit and in service our whole-hearted support to the prosecution of the war to a victorious and speedy end, and express our unwavering faith in the final triumph of democracy and truth; furthermore, we recommend to all our centres and members in the United States the promotion of the Fourth Liberty Loan and the active observance of October 12th as Liberty Day in accordance with the proclamation of President Wilson.”
The relationship of the New Thought to the Church involves the whole history of the movement from the time Mr. Quimby reacted against the old theology, and was followed by Mr. J. A. Dresser, Rev. W. F. Evans, originally a Methodist minister and later a New Churchman; and the Unitarians, Dr. Winkley, Mr. Rodman, Mr. Chesley, and others active in founding the Metaphysical Club. In its bulletin for August 1, 1918, the International New Thought Alliance says, speaking of the New Thought, “Its fundamental principles are constructive thinking, healing, prospering in the Truth, and creating as nearly as many by a practical, common-sense way, the Kingdom of Heaven here and now–in a word, the application of the essential teachings of the Christ. It is not a church, but in it are members of almost all churches. It believes in the dependence on the Divine in every thought we think and every act we do, since we are one with the Divine and our good is always with us. The New Thought is the religion of democracy and all in it are free in the freedom of Truth.” *
*Mr. Edgerton’s purpose as president of the Alliance is to show that it is “wholly a spiritual confederation and not an institution in the ordinary sense. At the same time it seems to be developing a definite purpose in making the New Thought movement an avenue of expression of the Christ teachings to this age.”
The New Thought has doubtless played a part in emancipating people from the old theology. The connection between the New Thought and religious liberalism has been more pronounced since 1895. The first people to leave the Church and espouse mental healing were formerly orthodox, But more Unitarians and other religious liberals changed over after a time. The implied theology of the New Thought has always been liberal. The correspondence between religious liberalism is so close at many points that some of the New Thought leaders have believed that the best way to give New Thought its proper setting is to identify it with religious liberalism in general, unmindful of the fact that it is its therapeutism which makes the New Thought distinctive.
Thus in a book entitled New Thought, Its History and Principles, W. W. Atkinson devotes much space to matters which have little connection with the New Thought. One sentence only is devoted to the pioneers of the movement, other leaders being referred to as “forgotten.” Due credit is given Mrs. Eddy, to be sure, as the one “who did more than any other person to make popular the healing of the body by metaphysical methods”; but nothing is said to indicate the sources of Mrs. Eddy’s methods and ideas. Mr. Atkinson summarizes the New Thought under three general heads, and then says that in these principles “we find a fundamental truth of idealistic philosophy, as old as the history of philosophic thought. There is nothing new about this truth. The same thing has been said by the ancient philosophers of India, five thousand years ago; by the philosophers of Greece, twenty-five hundred years ago; by Berkeley, Hegel and Kant, and their followers.”
The objection to this effort to give the New Thought such a long history is that a statement so general as “an infinite and eternal spiritual Principle of Being,” has never led to any definite practical result. The New Thought differs from the idealisms of the past just because it disregards them and starts on a practical basis. Luckily, its pioneers were uninformed in these ancient systems. The resemblances to the metaphysical systems of the past were not traced out until Mr. Evans set the example in his Divine Law of Cure.
It was customary in the early conventions to formulate statements as general as those quoted above, for example, “Divine Science accurately proves the unity of God with all living.” This custom was in line with the tendency to invite ministers and leaders of thought to speak in the conventions and hold office. But it was realized after a time that a scattering of forces was the result. Some of the leaders of the movement withdrew from active connection with the conventions because the meetings had become so general. Statements like the above gave the outsider the impression that the New Thought was as general as the vaguest kind of mysticism or pantheism, whereas the ideas which gave the movement its life and being were practical, clear-cut and specific.
Fortunately, there was a reaction against this vagueness in the later conventions, and prominence was given to the actual leaders of the movement, in contrast with people only partly in sympathy. It would be an endless undertaking to trace the resemblances between the vaguer formulations of the New Thought and past and present mysticisms. The New Thought lost power whenever it became general. This was clearly seen in the Metaphysical Club of Boston, during a period when a wide diversity of speakers were invited and the distinctive interests were temporarily obscured. The International New Thought Alliance has been more successful than the earlier organizations, not merely because its statements have been more definite but because it has overcome the individualism which once made it difficult to organize a successful convention really devoted to the subject.
Meanwhile, the kindred movements have been indeed specific. Each has come to occupy its distinctive place and to be so classified, as in the case of the Emmanuel movement. The “average reader” has become enlightened. It has been less necessary to show wherein theosophy or spiritism differ from the New Thought, for example; since everybody has come to understand the differences for the most part. The result has been a gain for the New Thought.
The same tendency toward unity and directness is seen in the case of names, terms, and the periodicals representing the movement. The term New Thought has taken the place of nearly all its forerunners. There is now just one international society representing the whole mental-healing world outside of Christian Science. Of the sixty or more miscellaneous publications standing for various phases of the movement only a very few remain. Meanwhile, some of the leading publications, such as Unity, Nautilus, and Master Mind, have grown in circulation and have taken the place of dozens of magazines which once existed. There is no periodical at present of the type of Practical Ideals, Mind, or The Metaphysical Magazine. But the oft-repeated ideas which have made the movement popular are well represented in the existing publications.
It can hardly be said that the same improvement has been made in the books. There were formerly too many in circulation. The inquirer was confused by such a diversity of opinions. But some of the earlier books were the best. Later leaders have of course wished to increase their following, and so have issued books containing variations of the current ideas without number. But few writers have undertaken to establish or prove what they said as did Mr. Evans in The Mental Cure and other volumes. The tendency has been to neglect some of the profounder views and to state those only which are calculated to guarantee the instant healing of all ills and the bringing of all kinds of success and prosperity. The more dignified New Thought of Henry Wood’s time was surely very different from this.
What is needed, if the movement is to grow, is an effort to collect the main facts in typical instances of mental or spiritual healing; to undertake the exposition or description of these typical instances and then their interpretation in terms of spiritual psychology. Very little headway has in fact been made on the scientific side of the therapeutic movement. There has been so much interest in a speculative science in imitation of Christian Science, that the spiritual science for which Quimby pleaded has been forgotten. Thus we have had Divine Science, the Science of Being, Mr. Whipple’s metaphysics, and any number of variations, modeled after Mrs. Eddy’s theory. There has been little interest in facts and their interpretation.
There is need of return to the Gospels to discover there the higher science for which Mr. Quimby pleaded. What Quimby did was to throw out a suggestion in that direction, or state an ideal. It remains for lovers of truth who care more for spiritual truth in itself than for any formulation of their own to seek out the universal spiritual science, the interpretation of the Bible which shall be demonstrable in itself. Then we shall pass beyond the individualistic interpretations which differ so widely and are intelligible only to those who hold the particular theory in question. There will then be no need of so-called Christian Science, Divine or mental science, or Christian metaphysics; for the particular theories will have been assimilated, in so far as true, in the larger, universal spiritual science. It will no longer be a question of mine or thine but of the divine truth of the Living Word.
To return to Quimby and Evans in this larger quest for truth would be to raise the question, what is the relationship of Swedenborg and his writings to the New Thought movement? Some have supposed that Mr. Quimby derived his teachings in part from Swedenborg. But there is no direct evidence in support of this assumption. Mr. Quimby may have discussed the teachings of Swedenborg with the New-Church minister in Portland, but there is no indication of any influence coming from that quarter in Quimby’s writings. The most we can say is that Quimby belonged to the new age whose coming Swedenborg foretold. Quimby’s teaching coincided with Swedenborg’s at certain points, but it remained for Mr. Evans to detect the resemblance and to look to Swedenborg’s writings to find the fundamental basis for Quimby’s theory of spiritual healing.
After Mr. Evans’s day, Dr. Holcombe was the first reader of Swedenborg to expound mental healing. Rev. C. H. Mann has given an admirable exposition of some of Swedenborg’s teachings in relation to mental healing in his little book entitled Psychiasis, and Rev. Clyde Broomell has quoted at length from Swedenborg’s writings in his pamphlet, Divine Healing. The question of the relationship between the two lines of teaching would turn on the difference between mental and spiritual healing. We note, for example in a pamphlet entitled Religion and Health, by Rev. Julian K. Smyth of the New Church, the statement concerning the Emmanuel movement that ” it is singularly silent on the deepest, the most spiritual side of its would-be mission. . . . I am bound to confess that I have searched this book Religion and Medicine which speaks for this movement–I have searched it in vain for any distinctively spiritual principles. It has a great deal to say about the conscious and subconscious minds; about suggestion, auto-suggestion, hypnotism. The therapeutic value of faith and prayer is emphasized. Many of the causes of nervousness are pointed out. Physical disorders having mental origin are explained. But in what way is this really a return to Jesus Christ, beyond the fact that they who do it confess His name?”
Doubtless the more spiritually minded disciples of the New Thought would raise the same question. The question is, What shall become of the greater problems remaining unsolved when suggestion has been employed to the full, those problems which pertain to our deeper spiritual nature? Such problems are surely held over by the partisans of suggestion, whether in the Emmanuel movement or any branch of the New Thought. The question is whether we do not at some point in our development reach the parting of the ways where not even the vigorous denials of Christian Science any longer aid us.
Mr. Smyth raises this question when he says, “Suppose, under influence, I impart to myself a suggestion which is not in the highest sense true. Thus, I have seen the following offered as ideal suggestions:
” ‘I am pure.’
” ‘I am one with God.’
” ‘I am in perfect harmony with all.’
“I am told that if I will hold these suggestions fixedly and in a sort of half-waking state, great benefits will result. A sense of quiet will be induced. Perhaps some nervous condition, or pain of body will disappear. But for me, at least, these suggestions, although they seem highly religious, in fact are not true. I am not pure; but need, rather to cry out, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner!’ I am not one with God:–He is divine, I am human, and, in my self-centered life, I too often emphasize my separateness from Him. I am not in perfect harmony with all; for, if I am a man struggling for the good of all, I am well aware of contending evils which are as foes of my own mental household. Of what avail can it be to bring about some contented, quiet state of mind on a fictitious principle? Who is authorized to take the responsibility of imparting to our subconscious self, when we have laid ourselves open to the power of suggestion, the true principle for us?”
The devotee of Christian Science and the partisans of the New Thought patterning their views after Christian Science would of course maintain that the above-quoted ideal suggestions are true now of man’s real self, and that one can cure oneself of any ill by holding to such affirmations and denying the reality of the illnesses. Mr. Rawson, as quoted above in Chapter XII, gives the gist of this method in a very clear way when he counsels a person in need to “turn in thought to God,” denying the reality of any material condition. This has been the prevailingly successful method. But the crucial question is, Does it contain the whole truth? What then becomes of material conditions? How did they originate? Why do even Christian Scientists and the partisans of the New Thought emulating them depart from the position after a while, in quest of further truth? How long can therapeutists maintain the fiction of “malicious animal magnetism” or the hypothesis of a “revelation” which has to be so strictly guarded that no member of the Christian Science church is allowed to read any books or magazines on the New Thought? If the history of the New Thought teaches anything during the past twenty-five years it is this, that the abstract principles have been dropped for the concrete till now there is a disposition to look at things as they are with eyes unafraid.
We have only to recall the state of mind our country was in before the great war to note how radically we have changed. We had theoretical lovers of peace without limit who deplored war and ignored the forces that had been so long gathering in Germany, to disrupt the world. These idealists affirmed peace and denied the possibility of war. They expected to be triumphant by virtue of their mere programs for peace. But they were greatly excelled by the most successful imitators of Christian Scientists–the Kaiser and the war-party in Germany, who, during the war, carried on the most effective psychological propagandism the world has seen: every defeat was affirmed to be a success; every threatening fact on the side of the Allies was denied; “inspired news” was given to the press to pacify the people; air-raids were indulged in for mental effect; in short, affirmation was made the victorious tool of the super-man.
What happened? Steadily the American world was shaken out of its pacifist slumbers. We were compelled to face the facts, and we did so with tremendous execution. After a certain day in 1918 it was no longer possible to keep the truth from the people In Germany. With the discovery of the truth, the Teutonic morale immediately weakened, the psychological war came to an end, and Germany went to pieces: the greatest instance of failure of mere affirmationism the world has seen.
What lessons does the war teach in this respect? That there is a stronger philosophy in the Christian faith which does not have to be bolstered up, a more true, courageous affirmation which counsels man to look straight through the facts to the end, ignoring nothing, denying nothing, but learning the great spiritual lessons of the ages. In the long run it is the truth that sets men free. As Mr. Quimby put it, “the explanation is the cure.” To explain we must look at things fairly and squarely, just as the war compelled us to look straight at the enemy and analyze the conflict down to its foundation, in the motives from which it sprang. Then to triumph we must beat the enemy at his own game, even if we have to employ his own fiendish devices. We succeed in the end because the right is on our side, because we fight with the moral law. The great lesson of the war is spiritual. It shows the true road to salvation–if we care to walk in it, the straight and narrow way of the Gospel, which many see but few find attractive, inasmuch as we do not like to face ourselves. To walk in the way is to “live the life” in its fulness, to realize that there is no shortcut or royal road, however many the psychological devices by which we camouflage its scenery.
To what extent does this widespread use of applied psychology represent the New Thought? In so far as it expresses what has been called “The Victorious Faith,” the well-grounded faith that wins. Mere affirmation without truth or righteousness to support it leads to no good result. The New Thought aims to be constructive. From the days of Quimby the pioneer it has reacted against all bondages, particularly against servitude to priests and doctors. It has vigorously reacted against materialism. But it has tried to make these protests effective in behalf of the inner life. Its methods are not discounted by the fact that affirmations can be used with evil intentions, as in the case of the war-party in Germany.
In short, the New Thought is an “influence,” not an institution. Its influence has been felt on the stage, for example, in dramas which express the power of thought in contrast with the power of mere things. It has found expression in recent fiction to some extent. It has fostered the type of optimism for which America stands. It has helped in productive enterprises, in stimulating the constructive attitude. Its influence is seen in what may be called “the psychology of success,” wherever the value of expectant suggestion is seen.
It is a new point of view or consciousness. Its leaders do not try to persuade people to leave their occupations, their social surroundings, their churches; but to show them how every element in their daily life and in their environment may be bettered or uplifted if regarded in a different spirit. Its leaders call attention to that other environment with which most of us are little acquainted, that is, our inner or mental environment. They direct attention to the soul. They show the power of the spirit over circumstance, over the flesh, over adversity. Thus the clue which originally was found through a study of health and disease regarded from within, has been extended in all directions until for its devotees it has become universal.
The New Thought stands for the affirmative attitude in all things. This attitude is not new in the world. It has always been implied in successful undertakings. But the New Thought has developed and supplied its psychology, given the reasons for it. Those reasons it has expressed in terms of a direct appeal to the individual to look to himself, change his own thoughts, remedy his attitude, cease to find fault and to condemn, before looking to the world. Not all its disciples have made this change in the same way. But the fact that its methods have appealed to all classes of people is evidence of its widespread influence. What its leaders ask is that people shall judge by the best the New Thought has to offer, the best teachings which its history discloses during the fifty years since the publication of the first book on the subject.
Everything will depend in its further application and influence in the world upon the type of “science” from which its activities spring. Shall it be the science of this or that leader who has imitated Mrs. Eddy, a science more or less sharply cut off from the realities, the law, order and system of the world? Or shall it be a science, not in the speculative or assertive sense, but in accord with the larger spirit of Christianity in its original form, the spiritual science of the Christ regarded universally? If the latter, then it should pass beyond individual vagaries and fanciful interpretations. If the latter, then it need ignore nothing, need not deny anything existent in God’s universe. It may overcome all fear and look with open eye upon the world, learning the lessons of sorrow and suffering as well as those which easily inspire optimism. If the latter, then it need not be a science of the subjective alone, it need not be limited to the inner life, but may come out into the open, into the full light of the new age.
Doubtless there was a meaning in the relative isolation with which Mr. Quimby lived and worked during the twenty-five years in which he was developing the silent method, learning the influence of suggestion, the power of mental atmospheres and the other elements of our inmost attitudes. By a vigorous act of faith we may perhaps see meaning, too, in the fact that it was Mrs. Eddy’s “science,” not Mr. Evans’s books, which first caught the world and became influential. For that “science,” like the self-assertiveness of the war-party in Germany, was radical enough to arouse a dormant world. But it is not a question either of origins or of developments along the way but of the results or fruits. Mr. Quimby pointed back to Christianity, he did not take credit to himself. He saw that for hundreds of years the world had been deprived of an important portion of the gospel of Christ. Hence the teachings which have grown out of Quimby’s pioneer work have been said to be nothing less than “a new revelation of Christianity.”
This statement is surely true of the new age in which we live. The New Thought is at least one of several contributing activities, however we may interpret the new age in its fulness. We live in the social century, now. We have passed out of the subjectivism and the mere idealism of the nineteenth century. We have discovered the inner life anew. The central question is, What use shall we make of our discoveries? Shall we analyze matters to the foundation and learn the whole cause of human misery, dissatisfaction and the social unrest which is besetting the classes, acknowledging whatever is before us, seeing life whole? Shall we pass beyond all psychological devices needed to support our courage for the moment? Shall we acquire a philosophy greater than idealism and realism? Shall we pass beyond both pessimism and optimism?
Whatever else the new age asks of us, it surely demands that we shall live by what we believe, proving for ourselves, verifying the everlasting realities of religion. As an expression of the essentially practical spirit of America, the New Thought has been doing its part to direct attention to this the central consideration. Ideals and affirmations are aids along the way. Eventually we hope to arrive where the larger truth which shall be in our power will bring spiritual freedom as its great consequence. Life according to the divine law will then be the test of our spirituality. We will be doing much more than simply to strive against our errors, our sins or diseases; we will be living a life that makes for truth, righteousness and health such that it will no longer be necessary to think of their opposites. Good health should become a habit founded in a life of integrity. We ought then to be able to labor and to serve as if mankind had never by its ignorance and its waywardness brought suffering upon the world. That, in brief, is the ideal of the New Thought: to abolish suffering altogether, to bring man to his true estate as a spirit living even now in the spiritual world.
Quimby’s radical proposition was that disease was “the invention of man,” a sheer “error” in contrast with divine truth; whereas the old theology had taught that suffering was “an infliction of wise providence” to be patiently indulged. Quimby maintained that it was the right of man to be well, and that by profound searching man could press through his errors to “the explanation” which should be “the cure.” The New Thought has taken up this radical proposition and Quimby’s method and endeavored to prove them both. It has encouraged every man to be his own physician and seek his own health by spiritual wisdom. This constructive effort is its special contribution. This much attained, the New Thought is ready to join with other activities which are meeting the great social issues of our time, in a far larger program than that with which it began. For in very truth the new age is a return to the original gospel, whose mission was to make man every whit whole, to bring society into the fulness of life. Or, shall we say, that ours is the age which is coming to understand Christianity for the first time? Christianity was thought to be for the sake of individual piety, a scheme of salvation through right doctrine. Our age teaches the inseparability of the individual and society. The war has made the races and nations intimately akin. We do not want the mere “healing of the nations.” We want cooperation and brotherhood. We want true service and social justice. It is the love which Christ taught which will overcome the class hatreds which have organized themselves to bar the way. All our problems are inseparably connected. All activities making for social betterment must be seen as intimately one. What we are witnessing in our day is a fruition of that power of the Holy Spirit which went forth into the world at the time of the incarnation to bring all men unto the Christ.
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A History of The New Thought Movement
Free Online Book by Horatio Dresser
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