New Thought Editorials > New Thought: Secular or Sacred?
New Thought: Secular or Sacred?
Those of you who are familiar with the history of the New Thought movement are aware that although it has many roots in addition to its Christian taproot, it could not have come into existence without the work of Phineas Parkhurst Quimby, the nineteenth-century Maine clockmaker and scientist-turned-mystic. Quimby, who had a lively mind and held several patents, was introduced to the power of mind through mesmerism, the latest scientific wrinkle at the time. He first discovered that he was very good at mesmerising people, then realized that what he had been told about mesmerism was completely inaccurate. Gradually he came to see that what was making people sick was their erroneous beliefs, both those picked up from physicians and those picked up from clergy and from misunderstanding the Bible. He reread the Bible for himself, looking for places where his patients’ misunderstandings were making them ill. Then, as he famously said, "My explanation is the cure".
Quimby was a Universalist who had other Universalists in his family, so his approach to Christianity was more liberal than many. Scientist though he was, he was a sincere believer in God, whom he liked to call Wisdom. He also believed in the Christ mind, which Jesus contacted and made use of:
Christ is that unseen principle in man, of which he is conscious but which he has never considered as intelligence. It is God in us, and when man arrives at that state that he can recognize an intelligence that transcends belief, then death is swallowed up in wisdom. All will acknowledge that every scientific discovery might have been known before, that is, the truth existed before we knew it [Emmet Fox stated that the ancient Romans could have had the telephone, that the raw materials were in the ground back then]. . . . I believe that Jesus came to convince man of this truth; I believe it and practice it so far as I understand it. The world, or man’s belief, accuses me of making myself equal to Christ as they accused Jesus of making himself equal to God. (Phineas Parkhurst Quimby: The Complete Writings and Beyond, Ronald A. Hughes, Editor, page 353)
In New Thought, one is free to believe as one wishes, but that is a very different thing from distorting history, especially when that history is supported by first-person statements. "The father of New Thought" believed in the God of Jesus, whether or not that view of God matches the view of other Christian denominations. Yes, he believed in and made use of the power of mind, but it was the power of a God-aligned mind.
In today’s world, believers in sensationism/atheism/materialism are all too common, especially in the sciences; and they are diligently working to ignore any evidence that contradicts their beliefs. Accordingly, they are delighted to take a body of teachings such as New Thought and attempt to strip it of any spiritual basis (spirituality is the raw material from which religions are formed), leaving it wholly secular. They then market this donut-with-a hole as success secrets springing from some ancient esoteric source that can be understood if reduced to their belief system. They throw in a few touches of current psychology like sprinkles on the pink frosting of "positive thinking", a grossly distorted version of the sound principles put forth by Methodist minister Norman Vincent Peale, who admitted in print his debt to New Thought. This sweet treat may look appealing, but its toxic consequences are appalling!
Let’s walk in the divine light that we currently possess, following its beam to guide us through the darkness of our own fears and misunderstandings. We are free to incorporate any solid findings of science and to use them to refine our own beliefs. We are free to incorporate constructive postmodern philosophy, which includes the findings from research in physics, showing that ours is a world constantly in process, dynamic, changing and growing. And we are free to understand that all that change and growth is guided by the loving, dependable, and unchanging character of the process God, a God worthy of worship, who also changes and grows as we change and grow.