The Philosopher's Stone
For those of you who tuned in late, The Philosopher's Stone , Alan and Deb's newsletter, was first launched in Spring/Summer 1993. The masthead listed Deb as Editor and Alan as Publisher. Graphics included our smiling faces, vintage 1991, and a Debsketch of a stone with a lantern next to it. In later iterations, the stone appeared on a low, wheeled platform, as the Philosopher sought a new location down among the sheltering palms, which were pictured after he/it arrived there. The newsletter went into hiatus as Alan's and Deb's lives became complicated in other areas. It has now reappeared here regularly. If you are new to the Henry Wood (1834-1909) series, you may want to begin near the bottom of the file at August 2010 and work your way upwards to the most recent. The Henry Drummond (1851-1897) series begins in earnest on September 25, 2012, although he is mentioned in a couple of earlier posts. "Evolving New Thought Worldviews" begins on May 28, 2013 and runs through July 30, 2013. "Adventures in Adventures" begins on October 29, 2013 and ends on March 18, 2014. The Happiness series begins on April 8, 2014 and runs through June 24, 2014. The column series on David Ray Griffin's God and Religion in the Postmodern World (1989) runs from October 18, 2016 and ends on December 6, 2016. To subscribe, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will add your email address to the list of newsletter subscribers to be notified when the new issue is available.
February 21, 2017
Healing Power of Mind (Julia Anderson Root)
If you have been following this little odyssey for the past few months, you will recall some of the discussions—particularly David Ray Griffin—on the subject of modern metaphysics, concluding by noting that the only constructive postmodern metaphysics is process thought; the rest are all destructive. Oh, they promise to rebuild after they have wrecked things, but somehow they never do. Before postmodern, Griffin took us through early and late modernity, when first God was kicked upstairs to protect him from the sorcerers, and then, when people just couldn’t swallow such supernaturalism, they turned to atheistic materialism in the name of science. If you weren’t a materialistic atheist, you weren’t scientific.
Meanwhile, in a quiet corner of New England, far from the madding crowd, P.P. Quimby was healing people, sometimes in cooperation with the medical doctors; more commonly, just one on one with his patients, disputing with them the idea that they needed to be sick. Since his time, we have learned that the tendency of the subconscious is lifeward, which supports his whole approach. Remove the sick ideas and the body sets to work to heal itself as the Creator designed it to do. A positive mental attitude and a healthful environment (food, water, air, exercise, rest) are also vital. Quimby believed that he had rediscovered the lost healing methods of Jesus.
Quimby’s patients for many years assisted him in attempting to write a book on how he cured and what his underlying philosophy was. Warren Felt Evans, another Quimby patient, is credited with the first book about Quimby’s mind cure method. Evans did cure people, but he slid off into Swedenborgianism, and I don’t know whether he was trying to train others in his methods. In any event, what eventually came to be known as the New Thought movement had its origins with Quimby as a healing movement, healing by the power of thought as differentiated from faith healing (petitionary prayer to God to set his rules aside and intervene for the sick person). Later, people realized that the same principles could heal pocketbooks and relationships as well.
According to Horatio W. Dresser, son of two Quimby patients who met in his offices and later married, one of the earliest authors in the San Francisco area was Julia Anderson Root, whose book (mentioned here a couple of weeks ago) was first published there in 1884. The second edition was prefaced in Peoria, Ill., August 1, 1886. From the Introduction:
[M]ost people allow certain privileged classes to do their thinking for them, and as a consequence we are surrounded by an atmosphere of mental and moral slavery. More particularly is this true of diseases and their remedies. Now, we want the moral courage that will dare to cut aloof from these old medical traditions, and take this matter of health and disease into our own hands. . . .
All the blessings that we enjoy under the names of civil and religious liberty, all the improvements that have taken place in science, have sprung from the small minority of daring and advanced thinkers. It is sad to think how large a number of men do their thinking by proxy, which is the same as saying they do not think at all. . . . It is mind that is everything, and before its powers matter is as nothing. It is this great truth that we shall endeavor to set forth in the following pages. (2nd ed, pages 3-5)
Sadly, things do not appear to have changed much today.
Numerous attempts have been made to reduce principles of healing to psychological principles, leaving out God entirely and marketing the result as American success literature. Sometimes that seems to work—for a while, but then the minute it hits a speed bump, it all comes unglued. Root instead offers us a fresh perspective on God, beginning with Genesis 1: 26, 27:
We must put a reasonable and intelligent construction upon these sentences. Man cannot be made in the image and likeness of God in power and intelligence. The finite cannot be like the infinite. God is not limited in knowledge and goodness, but man is. But man may be like unto God in the essence of his being, because he is a spark of the celestial fire. . . . And though man is in one sense the image and likeness of God yet he is not like God in all things, for He has infinite and eternal powers not possessed by man. Nevertheless, this divine likeness, or, if we may so call it, this divine kinship, should awaken in the breast of every man a conscious grandeur of his divine origin and mission. (pages 18-19)
Root goes on to point out that eyes and ears do not see or hear, but are instruments that convey impressions to the mind:
Look at a human body when the life has departed from it. All the organs are there—the nerves are still in existence, but there is no sensation, and the body, whether you dissect it or burn it, can suffer no pain. And why? Because the invisible power that felt, that saw, heard and performed all the other powers, has departed. . . . [M]atter , in itself, has no intelligence nor feeling, and does not possess even the power of motion. . . . Brain is the organ of the mind. It does not produce mind, but is acted upon by it. The body does not produce life, but is acted upon and vivified by it. . . . [W]e know of no limit that the invisible mind, when used under the powers of science, has over matter. In one sense we may call it all-powerful. (pages 29-30)
Much later, Whitehead would explain that a dead body or a rock, though dead itself, is an aggregate of living experiences. Those experiences are mental in nature. Our Henry (Henry Wood, 1834-1909) makes a similar point to Root’s about dead bodies, which are unaffected by chemicals such as drugs. Root emphasizes the difference between organic and inorganic, which is fine as far as it goes, but we need the later elaboration of Whitehead and his followers, with God present in each occasion of experience as its initial aim and hence, everywhere present.
Root winds up her chapter by citing some of the old research that endeavored to demonstrate that there was no life in matter. She then concludes:
When man possesses spiritual understanding he will instantly perceive that he is distinct from his physical body and the material universe. Man does not derive his strength and glory from his body or brain. “As a plant upon the earth, so a man rests upon the bosom of God. He is nourished by unfailing fountains, and is fed according to his need by inexhaustible powers.” (page 34)
As our Henry later pointed out, “I RULE THE BODY”.
To be continued.
February 14, 2017
Healers and Metaphysics
Before we get started, happy Valentine’s Day! King Hildebrand poked his red-crowned royal head into the ladies’ dressing room on the day of the last performance of Princess Ida to supply us with a huge heart full of assorted delicious caramel and fruit chocolates accompanied by a note explaining that they were from all the gents in the cast. Although men have a take-it-or-leave-it attitude towards chocolate, research (can’t you just picture it?) shows that women invariably go nuts over it. A highly satisfied female contingent trod the boards that day.
With all the rancor in the world lately, it is lovely to be observing a day for celebrating love, to walk into the stores and be greeted by huge varieties of ways to say “I love you” to various special people in our lives.
Returning to the topic of healing, which we began investigating last week, it should be clear to anyone with an interest in philosophy that one’s underlying metaphysical system has a very great deal to do with healing. If you embrace a system of metaphysics that doesn’t allow for healing by one means or another, you are up a creek without a paddle. This would include any system that didn’t accept the existence of thought. To put a floor under this, let’s go back to chapter 2 of Alan’s and my little New Thought primer, to a section written almost entirely by the Philosopher:
Is There a Metaphysician in the House?
The endless rational search for the deepest level of truth is what philosophers call metaphysics. This is one of the most often misidentified or variously labeled birds in the linguistic woods. New Thoughters often refer to New Thought as metaphysics and to themselves as metaphysicians. This is disconcerting to anyone who is educated in philosophy. In that discipline, metaphysics is the branch that deals with the basic nature of all that is. The term goes back to Andronicus of Rhodes, who arranged the writings of Aristotle (382-322 B.C.) A few centuries after Aristotle’s death. Andronicus put the writings that Aristotle called First Philosophy or Theology AFTER the writings on physics, hence META physics : after physics. So the term had a very prosaic original meaning. In the traditional sense, to call someone a metaphysician says that the person is interested in the topic of metaphysics. It does not tell us which beliefs about reality the person selects.
Many people use the term metaphysics to suggest attention exclusively to a realm beyond the physical, but metaphysicians traditionally have sought to understand that realm and the more familiar one by explanations that may or may not go beyond physics. Metaphysicians seek that which could not be otherwise, irrespective of whatever appearances it may take.
If metaphysicians believe that everything in the universe is really matter, they are called materialists. If they believe that everything in the universe is really mind or ideas, they are called idealists. If they believe that mind and matter are equally real, they are called dualists (and a few less complimentary things). . . . [The parenthetical statement was added by the editor.] (New Thought: A Practical American Spirituality, rev. ed. 2003, pages 14-15)
So a study of metaphysics has to include the whole ball of wax: the physical world plus every thing “beyond” it. You should readily see that some sort of idealism is probably going to be the most useful in any sort of spiritual healing effort. Don’t forget to include the cleaned-up version of idealism that is found in process thought: panentheism. It dovetails nicely with the findings of quantum physics and other scientific sources. At the same time, if your metaphysics does not exclude such beings as angels (“God’s messengers”, “beautiful thoughts”), they can help keep your thoughts shepherded onto what you want and off of what you don’t want. They can also be very useful in areas where existing science falls short. Philosopher Mortimer Adler wrote an entire book titled The Angels and Us, in which he argues in great and glorious detail why it is perfectly philosophically sound to postulate the existence of such orders of being as angels, who have a long and extensive history in numerous religions. But then he ends up by saying that he just doesn’t happen to believe in them himself. Talk about beating your head against the wall! The fact that no angel was ever recorded as giving him some sort of richly deserved zap would seem to support the ideas that angels do not intervene unless asked and are totally supportive of human struggles, however short of the mark they may fall.
I don’t propose to get into any detailed discussion of the three main metaphysical positions listed above, because we have already done that over and over, but if you are interested, go back and read New Thought: A Practical American Spirituality again. What I do propose is to have a look at the head-led approaches of various New Thought and other healers, because if you do indeed “change your thinking”, you can change your life to a much healthier one, or help your fellow creatures along the path.
February 7, 2017
New Thought and Healing
The New Thought movement, which did not acquire that name until 1895, began as a system of healing variously referred to as mental healing, mind-cure, or metaphysical science, with a taproot running back to Jesus of Nazareth and even earlier. Julia Anderson Root, who as a little girl knew Quimby, observes:
In all ages of the world there have been persons who have cured diseases that learned medical practitioners have pronounced incurable. These cases have been effected by the power of mind, and we are confident, from our own experience, that the more this invisible agent is brought to bear upon the human system, the less sickness and suffering we shall have in the world. . . . It is sad to see the lives of so many of God’s children embittered by disease when the remedy lies in their own hands. (Healing Power of Mind, 2nd ed, 1886, pages v-vi).
Beyond question, the “father” of New Thought (for he was not a minister and did not seek to found a church), was Phineas Parkhurst Quimby (1802-1866), who only sought to heal as many people as possible by the method that he had stumbled onto through his own keen interest in such science as was available then, combined with his own discoveries. The practice of medicine at the time left a great deal to be desired; as the Philosopher and I noted:
In order to understand Quimby’s interest in mesmerism, we must note that this was the Age of Heroic Medicine, of leeches and lancing, of calomel and belladonna, of doctors who probably killed more than they cured. In desperation, people would turn anywhere in search of help. After he became involved in healing, Quimby remarked that people “send for me and the undertaker at the same time; and the one who gets there first gets the case.” Then too, this was an age extraordinarily interested in this relatively new and fascinating thing called science. (New Thought: A Practical American Spirituality, 2nd ed, pages 26-27).
Sadly, things aren’t a great deal better today. Yes, there have been some great strides made in science, leading to the prevention of many diseases through better sanitation, having doctors wash their hands between patients, greater knowledge about proper nutrition, and greater access to fresh air and sunshine. But as Oliver Wendell Holmes, M.D. observed, “If all the drugs were cast to the bottom of the sea, it would be all the better for mankind and all the worse for the fishes.” And French surgeon Ambroise Paré commented, “Je le pansai, Dieu le guérit” (I bandaged him and God healed him). All too often, medical arrogance instead of this sort of humility costs lives. Also, people stuff themselves with assorted very harmful junk foods, being reassured by vested interests in food and agriculture that they are fine. Individually, we are the experts on our own bodies and need to pay attention to what those bodies are telling us, as well as keeping up with the knowledge that comes from alternative medicine, coupled with conventional medicine where appropriate. But doctors and drugs should be a last resort, not a first. Andrew Weil, a Harvard-trained M.D., famously stated that subtle manifestations of illness precede gross ones, at a point when they can be nipped in the bud. All too often, we ignore these subtle warnings and press on in the face of assorted stresses. Wisdom, according to New Thought minister and author Emmet Fox, is a blend of love and intelligence. Information—raw data—only becomes wisdom when it is duly processed.
In the absence of the proper positive frame of mind, none of the above is of much use. New Thought is “the religion of healthy-mindedness”, according to William James. Mainly, healthy-mindedness involves the belief that healing can and will happen. Jesus said in several ways, “Thy faith hath made thee whole”. By faith, he obviously meant not believing that it couldn’t be done, rather than whether you believe in the Great Pumpkin or the Tooth Fairy. He spoke of little faith, which means part-time faith, rather like a lamp with a loose wire. New Thought teaching helps us listen for the still, small voice, opening a channel through which God can reach us. Alan liked to remind us, “What God can do, God is already doing.” Opening that channel might mean anything from encountering the person with the wisdom to help us, reading an article with useful information, meditation of some sort, and/or fresh air and sunshine, coupled with relaxation. New Thought (Science of Mind) founder Ernest Holmes liked to say, “Change your thinking, change your life.” The prayers of others, particularly when we are too sick in mind or body to pray for ourselves, “availeth much”. Prayers of thanksgiving for healing that we know is on the way, or affirmative prayers rather than petition (“Pleeeease”!), are helpful. Process thought teaches that God is the great exemplar rather than the great exception; he doesn’t only grant prayers when enough people plead hard enough, like the Parable of the Unjust Judge. There is a ton of New Thought literature available to help us get to the proper frame of mind, and among the earliest is the work of our Henry (Henry Wood, 1834-1909). In the next few weeks, I will be exploring some other authors; meanwhile, there is my new book about the thought of our Henry, Sunny Apartments, available in softcover and Kindle editions through Amazon by clicking on the links.
Next week: What metaphysics has to do with health and healing.
January 31, 2017
A Practical American Spirituality
When Mike Leach, the then-publisher of The Crossroad Publishing Company, asked the Philosopher and me to write a New Thought primer, we were thrilled! Mike, a staunch Roman Catholic, had had a New Thought grandmother and was hence far more familiar with New Thought than most. He was also familiar with Alan’s impeccable academic credentials in philosophy and religion. My function was to prevent the whole project from vanishing into the clouds, keeping it down to earth for the general public while maintaining respectable academic standards.
We immediately set to work, outlining the chapters to be included and dividing them between us, each of us drafting half of them, then trading off for editing. When the book first appeared, our friends amused themselves by trying to figure out who had written what. It took two cracks at it to come up with the “Something New in New Thought” chapter about process thought in a form that Mike could follow, but we did it!
The first (Crossroad) edition featured a blue-skies dust jacket with a lovely picture of a Roman Catholic church. The blue skies were to reassure New Thoughters that this was indeed a book about what philosopher/psychologist William James called “the religion of healthy-mindedness”; the church was to reassure Roman Catholics that their distinguished publisher had not lost his mind! There aren’t just hordes of New Thought Roman Catholics, but there are some out there, mostly keeping a low profile. I like to remind people that Unity minister Dell DeChant, who also happens to be a professor of philosophy and religion at USF, recommends the Catholic Personal Study Edition of the Fireside New American Bible for New Thoughters. I like to go back and forth between it and my battered old KJV. More ministers from traditional religions are influenced by New Thought than you might imagine, especially by such publications as Unity’s Daily Word when they are hard up for sermon topics! If you recall the definition of New Thought that I cobbled together: habitual God-aligned mental self-discipline, it starts to make sense that this could be “leaven for the loaf” of traditional Christianity.
Alan drafted the Preface, and I think he wrote it last. It is virtually unchanged in the revised edition except that we are in a new century/millennium. It continues to amaze me how many people attending New Thought churches have never heard of New Thought, which title the movement has had since 1895. Here are some excerpts:
This is a book about a distinctive, yet typically American, outlook—a practical yet spiritual way of life. It is written for people who know little or nothing about New Thought and for those who have been in New Thought for years without finding out much about what it is or its relationship to the larger spheres of religion and philosophy.
The book is intended to be both informative and inspirational, but inspirational in a way that is directly useful in the workaday world—useful with regard both to understanding and to application. Most New Thought books, largely self-help books, make no use of the term New Thought and ignore a comprehensive perspective in which New Thought is most fully understood. This book places New Thought and its applications in a philosophical and historical background.
Probably most Americans, if not most people in the world, accept large parts of New Thought teachings, although they may never have heard of New Thought by name. People may make such remarks as “It’s all in your mind” or “If you believe you can, you can” (or its negative form, “If you believe you can’t, you’re right”), or even sing a bit of an old song that advises, “You’ve got to ac-centuate the positive, e-liminate the negative,” without realizing that they are echoing teachings associated with New Thought. Many have heard of positive thinking or even have read the book The Power of Positive Thinking by the late Norman Vincent Peale, or listened to or read Robert Schuller on possibility thinking; all without knowing that they are absorbing New Thought a step or two away from the direct expressions.
New Thought is a do-it-yourself religion or spirituality, in the sense that you have to remake your own beliefs/attitudes/expectations, to take responsibility for where you are now if you are to be able to get to where you want to be in the future. But to say do-it-yourself is not to say do-it-by-yourself. The prime belief of New Thought is that God is here and is directly available for anyone who chooses to co-create constructively with him. So New Thought is really an allow-God-to-do-it-with-you spirituality. . . . New Thought: A Practical American Spirituality (rev. ed. 2003), pages xi-xii.
The taproot of New Thought is unquestionably Judeo-Christian. Its teachings are Biblically supported. All but one of the founders of its major denominations were Christians. Many people, especially in New Age, have attempted to secularize its principles and set them forth as some sort of secret success teachings. That may work temporarily here and there, but it omits the basis of good character; and without the vital co-creation of Ultimate Actuality, a. k. a. God, what is to keep one going during the inevitable rough patches?
If you are new to New Thought and puzzled by its origins, its twists and turns, I invite you to try our little primer, available from Amazon in softcover and Kindle editions. New Thought: A Practical American Spirituality
January 24, 2017
Is God Like Mathematics?
Two weeks ago, the Sunday Quimby quote was titled “Foundation of Religious Belief”, which begins on page 283 of your handy dandy Phineas Parkhurst Quimby: His Complete Writings and Beyond. What? You don’t have a handy dandy copy? You can get one from here, or sign up for the free daily dose of Quimby wisdom at http://www.ppquimby.com/contact/quotes.htm. Anyway, the excerpt for that day concerned beliefs, which of themselves cannot heal you no matter how strong or orthodox they may be. Quimby states:
Why does not your God cure you? Is it for want of faith on your part? If that is the case, then faith is the cure, so if you have the cure that is your faith. Faith is not wisdom but the substance or cure. Like water to the thirsty soul, it is his cure, but wisdom leads him to the fount of living water so that he will not thirst. Then his faith will be lost in sight for his wisdom prevents his thirst. Therefore to know God is to get wisdom, but to be separated from God is to be religious and believe that there is a fountain of water large enough to quench the thirst of everyone if they can find it. This is religion. But to the wise, it is to know this fountain is in yourself, a well of water springing up into everlasting wisdom. Then you will ask of this wisdom, and just as you understand, you will receive and your wisdom will teach you that you cannot ask of wisdom by your belief and have your prayers answered. God is like mathematics, for mathematics is wisdom put into practice or reduced to man’s comprehension. To receive an intelligent answer in mathematics, you must ask in wisdom, not in opinion, and just according to your wisdom, the answer comes. (page 284)
You may have to read this over several times before you really comprehend it; nobody ever said that Quimby was easy going! He himself said that his explanations would make sense only to the sick, for the well did not need a physician (words of Jesus, Mark 2:17, Luke 5:31, Matt 9:12). Quimby’s writings are larded with quotations from Scripture, almost never with citations (I looked these up for you; you’re welcome, but for now on you will have to spot them on your own and chase them down). In the passage just quoted above, you may recognize the scene between Jesus and the woman at the well recounted in the fourth chapter of John’s gospel. The woman at first doesn’t understand that Jesus is not speaking of literal water but of water that “shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life”. Quimby, like any other author, has the right to supply his own definitions, provided he is internally consistent in them; but it causes his readers to backtrack repeatedly until they understand what he is agreeing with or disagreeing with.
But he is telling us that beliefs aren’t worth a tinker’s curse! So why is he seeming to give us definitions, presumably to be installed as beliefs? He is trying to help us break free of nineteen (now twenty) centuries of old beliefs that are downright harmful so much of the time. So was Jesus, while at the same time trying to retain what was good in Judaism. We just went over a lot of that towards the end of last year in the series of columns on David Griffin’s book God and Religion in the Postmodern World (1989). Griffin was explaining about the two halves of modernity and how the extreme beliefs of the first half led to the even worse beliefs of the second half. Quimby liked to refer to God as Wisdom, an impersonal abstraction. He is not saying that we have to do likewise, just giving us a fresh perspective. To believe in a personal God used to automatically involve a bunch of anthropomorphic ideas that interfered with our spiritual growth. The Philosopher and I have repeatedly raised the notion that personal is a floor, not a ceiling, that personhood is the highest thing that we humans have any notion of, and so God as Creator must be at least that. But personal and impersonal are beliefs, which in and of themselves aren’t going to get us anywhere. If contemplating them leads us to be more open to understanding how to contact that living water, that is growth in wisdom. Emmet Fox liked to define wisdom as a blend of love and intelligence. Intelligence—raw data—won’t get you very far, except possibly into trouble. The point is that it doesn’t really matter whether you believe xyz or pqr, as long as you are open minded and don’t believe that what you desire can’t happen. Remember the healing of the centurion’s servant.
Process thought will give you a place to stand while contemplating the universe with religion and science united, for it insists on a God inside of us humans, not in outer space somewhere. That’s where we get the term pan-en-theism. We are en theos.
Later in this selection, Quimby states:
All wisdom is outside of man’s opinion and belief and that which does not come to his senses is to him a mystery. So the mystery is his God. To know the mystery is to know God, and when the mystery is understood, the religion vanishes. One great trouble comes from teaching us to believe in a overruling providence in the shape of a God who will answer our desires without our making any effort. It makes man indolent and superstitious and a burden on society. (page 285)
If you take religion to be the set of beliefs, attitudes, and actions concerning Ultimate Reality and remember that atheism is a religion that has no Ultimate Reality or worships the laws of physical science, this all starts to shake down. Meanwhile, God goes right on being God.
January 17, 2017
New Thought, New Shoots
January is named for the Roman god of the doorway, Janus, who is traditionally pictured with two faces: one facing forward, one backward. It well behooves us to honor this ancient god by looking back to our roots and forward to our shoots as the new year begins, which we have been doing for three weeks now. We look back to our roots to determine what we have been doing right, that has worked out well and that we should be continuing. We also look back at what has not worked, or not worked as well as we might have liked, so that we can jettison it and make a new start. Here is the appropriate time to carefully entertain new ideas, not in order to junk all and start over, but to sort out what to keep and what to lose, then freshen the keepers with new ideas. Reminder: all novelty comes from God, our Creator, who offers us perfect possibilities for the start of each new forming occasion of experience. It is up to us what from the past to keep and what to discard.
Religious Science churches—which may have assorted other names today, but owe their New Thought origin to Ernest Holmes—traditionally devoted the first few weeks of the new year to reviewing the Science of Mind textbook. Alan came from a Religious Science background and had a hand in founding one or two Religious Science churches, at one of which both he and I were frequently invited to speak, so I have had a crack at digging out roots and encouraging shoots. Unity and Divine Science, the other two historic divisions of New Thought, had their own ways of accomplishing the same end. Holmes was very outspoken about his respect for P. P. Quimby, and the Fillmores acknowledged that heritage as well, as clearly recounted by Neal Vahle in Appendix Two to his biography of Myrtle Fillmore, Torch-Bearer to Light the Way. The admirable Emma Curtis Hopkins can be looked to as the founder of New Thought as a sociological movement, but without P.P. Quimby, there would have been no Emma Curtis Hopkins, so don’t get the cart before the horse. Two New Thought scholars, brought together in what had been billed as a giant rumble, irenically agreed on this point: one was my household Philosopher; the other was religious studies scholar and Hopkins expert Gail Harley. However you may have gotten into New Thought, you need to investigate its roots (one simple primer is our New Thought: A Practical American Spirituality, rev. ed. 2003, available from Amazon in softcover or Kindle editions). Now, let’s look at some shoots.
The biggest single shoot is, of course, process philosophy, to replace and update previous metaphysical teachings. Atheistic materialism is passé; even though it still dominates our culture, stalking around like a zombie. Idealism needs an overhaul to correct it, which is what it gets in process philosophy. Pantheism, which has been widespread in New Thought, gets updated to panentheism by synergizing traditional theism with pantheism, the two being mutually corrective. Physics, “the king of sciences”, has turned into quantum physics, paving the way for Whitehead and his followers. People with their heads firmly screwed on figured out long ago that other views would have to change to accommodate these new understandings. We vary greatly in our ability to comprehend and pursue some of these ideas, but we need to go far enough to reassure ourselves that religion and science can indeed be united on solid ground: they meet on the lap of philosophy, specifically, process philosophy.
Another big bunch of new shoots comes from psychology, which always has a way of overlapping religion. I keep up with recent findings by reading Dr. Joseph Mercola’s daily column, available for free from his web site, www.mercola.com, the largest alternative wellness site. Research continues to pile up concerning the power of thought to affect the entire course of one’s life, from health to wealth to happiness. People who should get well don’t, and people who had been given up on recover, mostly because of the nature of their habitual thinking. Near-miracles happen in all areas of life when one continues to focus on one’s heart’s desire, always leaving God some wiggle room, of course. One’s metaphysical position, even if not identified as such, has a lot to do with this. If you believe you can, or if you believe you can’t, you’re right! If you can find a book or a teacher who keeps you optimistic and upbeat, stay with him/her/it. But your beliefs must lead to habitual actions, most probably different from the ones you have had in the past (well, yes; you have to persevere, too). New Thought has always worked to justify belief in a good God, an abundant universe, and a set of moral guidelines seen as coming from that good God. Half of us lead with our intellects in substantiating such beliefs; the other half lead with our emotions, our feelings. Sooner or later, we will need both.
The latest upbeat habit I have heard about came yesterday from Joel Osteen’s Sunday morning tv talk. He has a mechanical button on the desk at which he writes his weekly talks, which were very difficult for him to write when he first took over from his late father. He somewhere acquired this button, which when pressed, audibly states, “That was easy!” He pressed it after completing each talk, and somehow, it sank in. Slowly but surely, writing his talks became easier. You might want to precede it by asking the question I picked up from somewhere else: “How easy, how simple, how absolutely delightful could I make this task?” You don’t really need the button if you can just acquire the habit of saying, “That was easy!” for yourself. With this approach, you might actually keep some of your new year’s resolutions!
January 10, 2017
New Thought, Old Roots
Last week, we took a brief look at the immediate roots of New Thought in the life’s work of P.P. Quimby. Depending on where you are coming from, you can go back and take a look at Universalism, or the Bible, both Old and New Testaments. Any way, you will be confronted with the healing miracles of Jesus. One of the rotten old roots attempts to say that “that was then and this is now”, but that is not what Jesus said. He said, “Greater works than these shall ye do.” On top of that, he not only healed the sick; he raised the dead, and then God raised him! And God does not renege on his promises. Religious-type people who like to jerk other people around hastened to find ways to sweep all this under the rug. Even if they considered themselves faithful Christians, they mumbled things about special dispensation or some such to explain why they couldn’t do what Jesus said they would be able to do. But even Jesus couldn’t do many miracles where there was no belief on the part of the recipients to support them (Mark 6: 4-6).
Another root is the developments of early and late modernity as traced by David Ray Griffin in the series last year from 10/18-12/6. Early modernity stressed supernaturalism: it kicked God upstairs to keep him safe from the intrusions of the magicians and occultists. This pushed things to such an extreme that it was no trick for late modernity to demolish the whole shebang as unnecessary in a world of science. Much as we abhor this, we seem to be stuck with it at the moment: supernaturalism did itself in, and atheistic materialism has infested our entire culture.
But not so fast: postmodern philosophy—what’s left of philosophy being mostly deconstructive and falling on its own sword—stubbornly has to include the one constructive postmodern philosophy: process thought. I like to compare New Thought principles to a magnificent old mansion resting on rotten foundation timbers (ok, underneath them is the rock). All that is necessary is to jack the old house up and substitute sound timbers in order to restore New Thought to the life-changing promise that it inherited from Jesus. Don’t be silly; of course you can’t turn Jesus into a process philosopher, but process thought is foreshadowed in all sorts of places, from Heraclitus (“You can’t step into the same river twice”) on down. God knows what he’s doing! And don’t forget that Jesus was a good Jew, and all Christians are first of all Jews, even though most of them don’t realize it. That is a very long and distinguished history, even though it is pockmarked with assorted ways of falling off the path, since it always involved human beings.
So one of our biggest present-day tasks is to go back, prune away the rotten roots of New Thought, and water the good roots that have been allowed to wither under the influence of the Zeitgeist. What good roots? The biggest of all is the example of our Wayshower: “Greater things than these shall ye do”. The second biggest is the character ethic. Chapter 7 of New Thought: A Practical American Spirituality (rev. ed. 2003) deals with it at length as part of a discussion of New Thought critics, particularly Richard Huber, who studied American success literature from Benjamin Franklin on down. In that chapter, Alan and I remarked, “Success literature after Franklin and his early nineteenth-century successors is almost entirely based on New Thought principles, whether or not they are identified as such. Huber’s criticism, therefore, is implicitly of New Thought . . . .” He pointed out the absence of the character ethic from the literature of the past fifty years or so. We commented:
Huber points out that writers such as Dale Carnegie (How to Win Friends and Influence People) concentrated on what he calls the personality ethic, making oneself pleasing and influential to others. Character, on the other hand, involves qualities such as integrity, fairness, loyalty, honesty, perseverance, and service to others. . . .
Despite Huber’s numerous cheap shots, his basic premise is valid: there is a noticeable lack of emphasis on developing good character, not just in much of our current success literature, but in our society as a whole. Public schools are forbidden to teach such character builders as the Ten Commandments, children are taught to esteem themselves complacently even when they are behaving irresponsibly and incompetently, and the discipline of spirituality is never discussed. (pages 167-168)
And it hasn’t gotten a bit better in the past 13 years! But, we continued: “Happily, another writer has made a study of the success literature and noted the absence of emphasis on the character ethic. Unlike Huber, he offers a simple remedy: Put it back.” He is Stephen Covey, author of the immortal best seller, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: Restoring the Character Ethic. Our book—in softcover and Kindle editions—is available from Amazon, as is Covey’s. Covey, a business management professor for many years, stressed that you can’t divide your life into watertight compartments, separating your family life from your work life; sooner or later, difficulties in one spill over into the other. To get it all together on a good-character base allows you to grow spiritually and re-energizes you. In our book, we noted:
The founders of New Thought all postulated good character; they simply took it for granted. The 1903 Constitution of the New Thought Federation (a forerunner of the International New Thought Alliance) included the phrase “health, happiness, and character.” . . . . References to the importance of the character ethic are frequently found in New Thought literature. But the writers didn’t dwell on character or single it out for special attention. The emphasis in New Thought has been on the freedom that it offers those who have felt oppressed by some traditional religions and on undoing some of the damage that negative, limited thinking has done in people’s lives. In the process of showing pity to victims, it may at times have neglected to emphasize the importance of strong character as the principal means of taking control of one’s life and ending victimhood once and for all. The discipline required to make New Thought work is an aspect of character. Certainly, mystical alignment with God must constitute the supreme aspect of high character. (pages 168-169)
January 3, 2017
New Thought, New Start
Everybody loves the idea of a fresh start, the idea that the old slate can be wiped clean of errors and we can hit the reset button. At the same time, we rely heavily on past learnings and past successes; we really don’t want to have to reinvent the wheel. Can we have our cake and eat it too? Absolutely! We just have to be willing to go into an empty space where we can sort things out, deciding what to let go of and what to keep. Easier said than done, yes, but so well worth doing now and then.
“There’s nothing new in New Thought.” Yes, and no: New Thought is a new perspective on the millennia-old Judeo-Christian tradition. The Bible captures the history of humankind’s struggle to understand God. God is this; no; he’s that; and all the time, God goes right on being God. Most of us are quite familiar with many of the atrocities perpetrated in the name of religion, many of them in direct opposition to what was supposedly being taught; in this case, love God with all your heart and soul and mind, and your neighbor as yourself. The background changes, especially once we reach modernity and then—God help us—postmodernity. Once technology gets going, everything speeds up except our ability to think it all through and sort it out. We are all too willing to follow the latest attractive fad or the latest attractive leader who seems to have all the answers, and forget all that we learned from our mistakes and the mistakes of other humans, which is why it is vital that we all study history. Or we just sweep it all under the rug and pretend that we don’t make mistakes, which is the biggest mistake of all.
The founders of the United States of America were either themselves—or the children of—people who were seeking first for religious freedom, freedom to worship as they pleased. They were mostly Christians of various stripes, with a sprinkling of Jews. But no matter what their individual beliefs, they all united under an approach to government derived from Judeo-Christian principles. They had enormous disagreements along the way, but they synergized it all into a set of checks and balances that protected the whole, never forgetting that the individual states’ rights must be preserved at the same time that there must be sufficient central government to accomplish the relatively few but important things that states could not do for themselves separately. Yes, things came up that the founders could not have foreseen, but the overall system for handling them was in place. And they left detailed accounts (the Federalist Papers) of what they meant by what was compiled into the Constitution and the Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments, which were necessary to answer certain concerns of the individual states before they were willing to ratify the Constitution). The Constitution in turn had been crafted out of the Declaration of Independence. It included the means of amending it as needed, but only with considerable difficulty, so that people would think long and hard before they altered it. The founders had pledged “their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor” to this new nation, and they made good on that pledge, if you read their histories. Has this nation made its share of mistakes? Unquestionably, and at the same time, it has arguably done more good for the planet and its people than any other nation in the history of the world.
Into this climate of freedom such as the world had never known before came New Thought, a philosophico-religious movement springing up in mid-nineteenth-century New England. Its father—for he did not seek to found a religion—was Phineas Parkhurst Quimby, a man of average education for the time, with a bright mind inclined toward science. He was a clockmaker and repairer by trade, who held several patents. He was a charter member of the local Universalist church. He became interested in healing, for himself and others, and quickly concluded that people were being harmed by the beliefs they picked up from those he labeled “priests and doctors”. Bottom line: people’s beliefs were making them sick, and “my explanation is the cure”. He constantly quoted the Bible and was very familiar with it. At this point in time, people were just beginning to learn about environmental things that were harmful and could be corrected; well and good. But the main difference we are seeing is that Quimby was an idealist: he believed that the basic building blocks of the universe are thoughts/ideas, and that “material stuff” was the result, denser and much harder to change than the original thought. We have traced the history of these developments in the past year in these columns. Quimby saw what later became known as New Thought as leaven for the loaf of existing churches much more than as a new denomination. Today we have both; take your pick.
A hundred years later came what is known as New Age, which is generally dated to the time people took their clothes off on stage in a performance known as Hair. New Age, according to its own experts, is a hodgepodge of ideas and activities, some of which overlap New Thought, most of which do not. At the turn of this century, many New Thoughters including yours truly expected New Thought to dominate as being based on a more solid and consistent set of values. Sadly, that has not happened, at least not yet. New Age cannot be said to be “bad”; for one thing, it is so convoluted that it is hard to identify one thing as good or bad. But it does not warrant your faith and allegiance, and it definitely should not be confused with New Thought! Youthful curiosity is a good thing, but youths must eventually grow up. Dilettantes we don’t need more of.
Backing up a bit, this country was founded on a burning desire for religious freedom, but there are many people who want to force others into their religious straitjackets. Religion by definition is “a set of beliefs, attitudes, and actions concerning Ultimate Reality”. Most of us would spell Ultimate Reality G-O-D, but atheism is also a religion, which holds that there is no Ultimate Reality. Scientism is a religion whose tenets are the laws of the physical universe. Many proponents of those two religions are trying to cram them down everybody else’s throats and in some cases to prevent others from the free expression of their religions. Whatever may be the truth about Islam as a religion, there are Islamofascists who seek to inflict their beliefs on everyone else and barbarically punish those who do not believe as they do. The founders could not have disagreed more: multifaith services were held in the Capitol in Washington, DC from Day One of its existence. Small towns frequently arranged multifaith services or rotating use of public space for different religious observances. Thomas Jefferson was particularly associated with such practices.
Moving forward again, New Thought quickly expanded from its beginnings as a practice for healing bodies to a means of healing pocketbooks and relationships as well. The principles are the same; it all begins in mind, as Jesus and his spiritual forefathers had taught. At the same time or shortly thereafter, advances in science brought us quantum physics and other breakthroughs. Pioneers in uniting those new findings with philosophy and with spiritual development were Alfred North Whitehead and his colleague, Charles Hartshorne. Summarized under the name of process-relational thought, this philosophy in harmony with science provides a far more adequate basis for building a religion than any heretofore. My household Philosopher, C. Alan Anderson, Ph.D., who was an ordained New Thought minister as well as a professor of philosophy and religion, spent most of his professional life endeavoring to illustrate the great synergy possible by uniting New Thought and process thought. If Process New Thought Philosophy seems like too much of a mouthful to you, perhaps you would prefer Alan and Deb’s Pretty Good Religion, with apologies to Garrison Keillor! If you are happy with your present religion, it can serve as leaven for the loaf. If you are looking for a new religion, be our guest: it is as close to a do-it-yourself religion as you are probably going to get.
So for a bright and promising 2017, let’s come up with an appropriate blend of roots and shoots, old and new, looking back to the past and forward to the future. The essence of process thought, the creativity formula, as Alan liked to say, is PAST + DIVINE OFFER + CHOICE = CO-CREATION. It is neither heedless nor hidebound. God offers perfect possibilities tailor-made for each moment; the choice is ours. All creation is co-creation between God and us. We don’t throw the baby out with the bath water, nor do we continue to soak in a dirty tub. A steady stream of clean water eventually purifies even a miry cistern.
For more information about early New Thought, see my new book, Sunny Apartments: The Thought of Henry Wood (1834-1909). Available in softcover and Kindle editions through Amazon by clicking on the links.