"Something New in New Thought," Revised Chapter 6

of New Thought: A Practical American Spirituality

This version was revised by the authors in 2002, and it is reproduced here with the addition of some links to study helps (more will be added), and the insertion of page numbers from the printed version. A more attractive and unamplified form of the revised-text version can be found on the Process Science of Mind site.

God's Job Description and Yours

[p. 85] Have you ever wondered what is in God's job description? The divine job description provides for God to start everything, to finish nothing, and to keep everything. Your job description calls for you to start nothing, to finish very quickly what God starts for you, and to realize that you can't keep anything for more than a moment. If this seems to violate common sense, keep reading.

Not-So-Common Sense

It is lamentably true that common sense is uncommon. It is also lamentably true (sorry to ruin your day) that even common sense, much as we trust and respect it, is no longer adequate by itself for understanding our universe. As British scientist J. B. S. Haldane remarked, "The universe is not only stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine."

The relationship of a philosopher and a psychologist can get prickly at times. At first, we attributed it to lack of a common language between disciplines: we were being jarred by jargon. If the only interdisciplinary language were mathematics, both of us would be reduced to communicating with grunts, gestures, and perhaps smoke signals. But we persevered, and it finally dawned on us that psychology was attempting to use common sense, whereas philosophy was running on insight and pure rea- [p. 86] soning ability. Well, you already knew that psychology is unreasonable and philosophy makes no common sense. Still, although you don't have to be able to take the engine apart in order to drive a car, at least a few of us need to be able to tell a distributor cap from a hubcap, and a few of us need to be philosophers.

Emmet Fox said that upon entering church, you should not check your common sense at the door with your hat. He should have suggested at least occasionally checking your common sense, but not your reasoning ability or your intuitive ability.

Several decades ago, newspaper readers of Don Marquis were entertained by the antics of Archy and Mehitabel: a vers libre poet transmigrated into the body of a cockroach, and an Egyptian queen who similarly ended up as an alley cat, though always a lady. Archy, the cockroach, did the typing--and most of the serious philosophizing for the pair. And so, in the interest of reasoning ability and understanding the universe, we shall turn things over to the philosopher. As Mehitabel would say, "Whatthehell, whatthehell."

New Thought has advanced far enough beyond the limitations of common sense to recognize that the world is mind rather than matter, but most of New Thought has yet to progress to the point of understanding that a mind is not a thing, but a succession of interrelated, fleeting events or happenings or experiences.

The great hope for New Thought is that it will be able to do something practically unheard of for religious, or even spiritual, organizations: to continue to grow and to adapt itself to changing ideas in a changing world. Ernest Holmes characterized Religious Science as " open at the top," and a Unity pamphlet refers to Unity as "an open-ended religion." But many New Thoughters declare that there is nothing new in New Thought, that it is a rediscovery of ancient truths and practices. Until now, New Thought has turned largely to ancient sources of inspiration and ideology, but that need not continue to be exclusively the case. New Thought has a revolutionary past and equally revolutionary possibilities for the future.

Paradigm Shifts: Revolutions of Thought

The most important revolutions in human history are revolutions of understanding, which, in turn produce revolutions in ways of liv- [p.87]ing. Thomas Kuhn called scientific and other major intellectual revolutions paradigm shifts. Probably the best known of these is the Copernican revolution, which led us to realize that our planet is not the center of the universe, nor even of the solar system; sometimes any major shift of understanding is called a Copernican revolution. In some respects an even more far-reaching revolution was the shift from mythological explanations to literal ones at the start of Western philosophy and science. We could call this the literalism revolution.

Of greatest relevance to this book is the spiritual revolution that includes New Thought, the latest in a long line of spiritual revolutions, extending over several thousand years. Spiritual revolutions have brought significant advances in our understanding of what God is like and how to relate to God in our daily living. They have involved shifts from belief in a multiplicity of supernatural powers to a single divinity, from sacrifice to ethical living, and from fear to love. The revolution involving New Thought includes the final breakdown of the distinction drawn between sacred and secular and the practice of the presence of God for practical purposes. The first phase of this revolution began with Quimby and was expressed in terms of traditional substance philosophy, generally with a pantheistic outlook. The second phase is beginning with a rethinking of the metaphysical foundation of New Thought, centering on process philosophy and its panentheism.

In order to understand this new spiritual revolution, we need to look back at what it is replacing. It is helpful to glance briefly at the ancient and medieval outlooks and to contrast modern and postmodern outlooks.

The ancient and medieval outlooks had various competing elements, but they shared a basic approach to reality. They (and the later periods) stand in contrast to the earlier falsehoods; they are stories that touch people [p. 88] at depths that go beyond the literal. It may be that we never can fully demythologize, for demythologizing may be only remythologizing. Tillich classified myths as unbroken myths (unrecognized as myths, so taken literally by those who accept them) and broken myths (recognized as such, yet still employed). Despite the value of myths, moving beyond them was a revolution essential for the evolution of thought. Literalism as an ideal is a powerful one, even if we may fool ourselves in thinking that we can be fully literal.

Around 600 B.C., Western philosophy [see our Panorama of Mostly Western Philosophy and our The March of Metaphysics] started asking for rational answers to basic questions. Wherever we choose to go, we carry with us this heritage of rationality. We may appreciate the mythological approach to the world, but we must enter into it as outsiders. We are no longer people born into it and taking it for granted, unnoticed, much as a deep-water fish probably is unaware that it is in water, since it knows no other environment.

The first question that philosophy asked was: What does everything comes from? What is the original or underlying reality? The philosopher Thales proposed the first answer: water. Not long afterward, philosophers suggested the other three traditional elements: air, fire, and earth, as well as the boundless or infinite, and numbers.

Soon, philosophers became concerned with the problem of how anything could become anything that it previously had not been. Heraclitus said that all is in a balanced state of flux, that change is basic, that you cannot step into the same river twice. On the other hand, Parmenides and his followers (known as Eleatics, named for the Italian city where they lived) maintained that we cannot consistently think change, so change is illusory. Strange as it may seem, changelessness won the day. The Christians, when they came along, applied changelessness to their conception of God, and it was only in the twentieth century that many of us realized that Heraclitus was correct. We might even say that the major scientific and philosophical theme of the past century has been the rediscovery and development of the thought of Heraclitus.

Huston Smith, in Beyond the Post-Modern Mind, presents the [p. 89] Christian, modern, and postmodern worldviews. We have summarized and largely quoted from Smith in the following table.

Christian View Modern View Postmodern View
Reality is focused in a person. That reality may be personal is less certain and less important than that it is ordered. Many are no longer sure that reality is ordered and orderly. The sense of the cosmos has been shaken by an encyclopedic skepticism.
The mechanics of the physical world exceed our comprehension. Human reason can discern this order as it manifests itself in the laws of nature.. If reality is orderly, many are not sure that the human mind is capable of grasping its order.
The way to our salvation lies not in conquering nature but in following the commandments that God has revealed to us. The path to himan fulfillment consists primarily in discovering the laws of nature, utilizing them where it is possible, and complying with them where it is not. Perhaps there is no way of salvation or fulfillment, except for our own idiosyncratic satisfactions in the world of intellectual deconstruction.

In sum, postmodernism is a downer. Perhaps the most devastating statement about a postmodern outlook is Smith's observation: "For twenty-five hundred years philosophers have argued over which metaphysical system is true. For them to agree that none is, is a new departure."

Alternatives to Postmodernism: Primordialism/ Perennialism

Are we left with nothing but despair in this postmodern world? Far from it! There are at least two alternatives to choose from. [p. 90] The first is a return to what is called by such names as the primordial tradition or the perennial philosophy or the ancient wisdom, which is part of the foundation of transpersonal psychology and other New Age thinking, and is adopted by much of New Thought. Smith summarizes it in terms of:

1. a metaphysics maintaining that reality is arranged in tiers, with the higher levels more full of being—more real—than the lower ones. In other words, there are gradations of reality, a little bit like different grades of automotive oil, ranging from thick to thin;

2. a philosophical psychology claiming a similarity or identity of the soul and divine Reality. We are divine, although most of us have little or no realization of it; and

3. an ethics emphasizing human purpose as the discovery of our place in God, with the goal not simply knowledge but a new state of being. This means that we should be aiming at personal transformation that makes the presence of the divine a living reality, rather than simply something that we affirm intellectually. Perhaps the best known repository of such an outlook is Hinduism, and we have seen that this outlook is commonly accepted in New Age circles, and in much of New Thought.

A noted expositor of primordialism, Ken Wilber, emphasizes the paradoxicality of the Ultimate: it is and is not whatever one may say about it. He stresses that "all propositions about reality are void and invalid." This is very convenient if one wishes to discredit the views of one's opponents. If we were to take primordialism with full seriousness and accept the Ultimate as beyond words and reason, we would discard philosophy, and say nothing about the Ultimate. But the eloquent supporters of primordialism ignore this and press on to claim that the Ultimate is impersonal, which probably tells us more about supporters of primordialism than it does about the Ultimate. From the standpoint of traditional Western thought, this is the most objectionable claim of primordialism. Theism takes a personal God to be ultimate, but primordialism claims that a personal God could be no more than an emanation or outflowing from the Ultimate. [p. 91] Like other overflowings from the superabundance of the One, a personal God, subordinate to the Ultimate, never really becomes separated from the One, and is only a muddled notion of human beings who picture the Ultimate as somewhat like themselves, according to primordialism. Well, when it comes to muddled notions, they ought to know.

The Ultimate Reality of primordialism is the World Woofer, whom we have already met in the Divine Kennel. The major objection to this view of God is that it robs us of the reality our very existence as unique, permanent perspectives within the Whole and of the significance of our choices of all sorts, especially in ethics. As part of his unsuccessful attempt to wean New Thought from pantheistic tendencies, Horatio W. Dresser wrote in The Arena in 1899 about the form of primordialism known as the Vedanta:

If we say with Vivekananda, "you are all God . . . Is not the whole universe you?" what ground is left for righteous conduct, the basis of which is responsibility to a superior Power, to a high moral ideal or sense of duty? The Vedanta replies that one ought not to injure one's neighbor, because one would be injuring one's self. . . . But this is egoism. The essence, the beauty of love is to love another, to deny one's self for another, . . . to rise above myself. It is a duty, an obligation. The existence of the moral law implies that there are at least two beings in the world. It implies that individual, ethical man really exists, not merely seems to exist; that he possesses powers of choice and will; that he acts separately; that his acts are right or wrong, not in maya, but as judged by an eternal law, or by the higher Being who imposes the obligation.

Albert C. Knudson similarly emphasized the importance of our understanding of the ethical nature of God. He maintained that religion is "primarily interested in his ethical character":

The bare absoluteness of God might awaken the sense of wonder and his metaphysical personality might elicit [p. 91] a spirit of inquiry with reference to the ultimate meaning of life; but these mental states belong only to the ante-chamber of religion. In its essence religion is trust in the goodness of God. If God were a nonmoral Being, either intelligent or nonintelligent, he would not be a proper object of religious faith. It is only insofar as he is morally good, and so worthy of being trusted, that he is truly God in the religious sense of the term. . . .

Faith in the responsiveness of the superworld to human need has always been the heart of religion, and the development of religion through the ages has consisted largely in the increasing clearness and thoroughness with which men have moralized this esponsiveness. . . . The biblical revelation was in its essential and distinctive nature a revelation of the moral character of God, a revelation of his righteousness and love, or, in the broader sense of the term, a revelation of his goodness.

Getting Personal

Many major philosophers and religionists regard personhood as the key to understanding everything. Personalism is a major form of idealism, associated primarily with Borden Parker Bowne (1845-1910) and his successors. Charles Hartshorne, who is not usually classified as a personalist, says that "personality is the only principle of wholeness, of integration, on a complex level such as the universe must involve, of which we have any experience."

Person does not always mean human being. As personalist philosopher Edgar S. Brightman puts it,

A person is a self that is potentially self-conscious, rational, and ideal. That is to say, when a self is able at times to reflect on itself as a self, to reason, and to acknowledge ideal goals by which it can judge its actual achievements, then we call it a person.

All normal human beings are persons, but not all persons are human beings. If certain animals, such as dolphins and whales, [p.93] are as advanced as we are led to believe, they may be persons; if there are angels, presumably they are persons. There may be many kinds of non-human persons inhabiting planets throughout the universe. Above all other persons is the ultimate Person, God, personal not only in relation to us, but in him/herself. God is the only complete person; we are fragmentary persons. There is no impersonal Ultimate beyond or underlying the personal God.

We emphasize that person and personal as used here do not refer to one's more or less superficial mask (what the words literally refer to) or guise or public role covering one's deeper character or individuality, but to that basic individuality itself.

To some it seems conceited and unduly human-being-centered (anthropocentric) to think that something more like us than like a rock (which is about as impersonal a thing as you can imagine) could be the highest reality. But ask yourself whether you can conceive of the highest, most basic, originating reality as something lacking in individuality (unity), self-consciousness, self-control, rationality, wisdom, love, ethical sensitivity, sense of humor, ability to choose one course of action rather than another, appreciation of beauty. Can you believe that a reality having such qualities is dependent on anything lacking them, or arose out of such a dull existence? To believe that it, or we, could have done so is to embrace a materialism that dispenses with anything worthy of being called God. Albert C. Knudson corrected a common misplacement of God and ourselves when he noted, "In emphasizing the personality of God we affirm, not the likeness of God to man, but rather the likeness of man to God." Borden Parker Bowne maintains that "complete and perfect personality can be found only in the Infinite and Absolute Being, as only in Him can we find that complete and perfect selfhood and self-possession which are necessary to the fullness of personality." Bowne warns against

transferring to [the Supreme Person] the limitations and accidents of our human personality, which are no necessary part of the notion of personality, and think only of the fullness of power, knowledge, and selfhood which alone are the essential factors of the conception.

Alternatives to Postmodernism: What's Behind Door #2?

If we find person to be the ultimate explanatory category, where shall we turn to understand most adequately how reality works? We can, of course, turn back to old notions of a God fashioned anthropomorphically as including most, if not all, human shortcomings. However, we don't recommend it. Instead, we can look ahead to something relatively new and splendid, sophisticated enough to satisfy anyone, yet simple enough in its broad outlines to be understood by most questing people.

We are betting on the basic insights of what is known as process philosophy (or process thought or process theology—or process-relational philosophy, to emphasize the interrelatedness of everything in the universe), or panexperientialism or positive postmodernism (in contrast to most of postmodernism, which is decidedly negative). By whatever name we call it, it is the major alternative to the primordial tradition, while sharing with primordialism recognition of the centrality of a spiritual approach to life. Process philosophy has become so important that there has been established a Center for Process Studies affiliated with the Claremont Graduate School and the School of Theology at Claremont, California, as well as other process centers around the world; there is also much process material on the Web.

Process philosophy is based on a few obvious facts: (1) the world is changing, developing; (2) everything is related to everything else; (3) we can live only in the moment, and have to deal with everything in little chunks of time and space. If we also believe (4) that there is a divine guiding intelligence that enters into our lives, and that (5) memories and other influences from the past also play important roles in contributing to what we are, we have practically embraced process thought, although we may never have heard of it.

Although process philosophy has ancient and nineteenth-century roots, it is primarily the product of the insights of Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) and Charles Hartshorne (1897-2000). One important source [p. 95] on which they drew is twentieth-century science, which had abandoned belief in enduring substance. Whitehead recognized that although physics was correct in explaining the world in terms of bursts of energy, physics was missing an essential ingredient by considering energy to be lifeless. Process philosophy emphasizes that living events, happenings, bursts of energy, experiences are the only actualities; these terms are names for momentarily-developing minds. Whitehead points out:

A dead nature can give no reasons. All ultimate reasons are in terms of aim at value. A dead nature aims at nothing. It is the essence of life that it exists for its own sake, as the intrinsic reaping of value.

Apart from the experiences of subjects [ occasions of experience] there is nothing, nothing, nothing, bare nothingness.

It is because of this emphasis on experiences that process philosophy sometimes is called panexperientialism.

What we call things are really collections of momentarily-existing experiences. We are streams of highly complex one-at-a-time experiences that have self-consciousness. Most experiences lack self-consciousness, and vast numbers of this kind of experience, existing many at a time, make up our bodies. However, all experiences, even those that constitute the subatomic particles of a steel beam or a stone, have some feeling and a bit of freedom to select what they enjoy in some rudimentary way. Whitehead maintains that all life has creative activity, aim, and enjoyment. Since all experiences have these, all experiences are alive.

God begins each experience by giving it a tailor-made offer of the perfect plan for it, based on what is possible in the situation at hand. This perfect plan may seem too good to be true, but it is too good not to be true, and deserves full acceptance. Whitehead refers to God as "the lure for feeling" and "the poet of the world, with tender patience leading it by his vision of truth, beauty, and goodness." All past experiences are present [p. 96] in every new experience, though some are far more relevant and in effect more powerful than others. The task of each experience is to choose between the competing influences of God's perfect offer (called initial aim—which is what we often refer to as the indwelling Christ or spark of divinity) and past happenings. Once this choice is made, within a fraction of a second, the experience goes from being a subject—a unit of current awareness—to an object that no longer experiences, but which God perfectly and permanently keeps and appreciates. All later experiences are in some degree aware of all previous experiences, which are the background in relation to which each new experience chooses in blending influences of the past and the divine possible. The continuing influence of past experiences on later ones in their lines of development is what in New Thought we refer to as the law of mind or simply the law of cause and effect, or karma (which last term generally refers to the influence of events considerably in the past).

The underlying awareness of the feelings of others, of mind within mind by virtue of feeling, is what is known in Whiteheadian philosophy as prehension, and in parapsychology as extrasensory perception. Sensory perception is a more specialized form of the feeling of other feeling. Self-consciousness is a still more complex step in the continuum of awareness, a variation on the same theme. Cosmic (mystical) consciousness is a higher yet stage of awareness. Since all the past is within every experience, then, theoretically, anyone who sufficiently concentrates on it should be able to know anything by plugging into this remarkable database. This ought not to be surprising to anyone who has come upon the work of Karl Pribram on the universe as holographic or the work of David Bohm on morphic resonance.

Pantheism and Panentheism

This universal arrangement is not pantheism (all is God), but panentheism, a term devised by Karl C. F. Krause (1781-1832) to describe his thought. It is best known for its use by Charles Hartshorne and recently by Matthew Fox. Panentheism says that all is in God, somewhat as if God were the ocean and we were fish. Of course, the ocean also is in much of the fish; panentheism similarly recognizes that God is in us–even as we are in our bodies. The universe is God's body, but God's awareness or personality is greater than, and distinct from, the sum of all the parts of the universe. God’s body is no more the person who is God than our bodies are the persons who are ourselves.

The most practical value of pantheism is that it recognizes the presence of God everywhere, but it does this at an enormous cost. It resorts to quasi-mythical picture thinking–perhaps unconsciously drawing on tales such as Zeus’s transforming himself into a bull. Pantheism speaks of such assumed occurrences as emanation and individuation, without any clear understanding of how they could take place. How could the One become the many? To be consistent, pantheism must suppose God to be the only actor, and all appearance of multiplicity to be mere appearance, a divine dream, and some pantheists do recognize this to be the price that they must pay. For pantheism, God's presence is an overriding presence that cancels the possibility of the existence of anything else, of any genuine beloved, of any loving or unloving response to God. In pantheism, human existence or any other finite existence is at best a mystery. Explanation in any satisfying sense is impossible. There can be affirmation that there is nothing but God, but where that leaves the affirmer is unclear; his or her existence is no more than appearance, and enlightenment brings recognition of one's illusory status.

It is not necessary to go to pantheism, with a god that acts as a universal wet blanket, smothering the possibilities of everything else's genuine existence. Panentheism gives all that one could want: an all-encompassing, growing, morally perfect God, everywhere present and containing (by means of prehension) everywhere within himself; and the reality of oneself and others, freely deciding , responding to God's overtures in the process of cocreation. Traditional theism denies that the world (including us) shares in God's being. Panentheism recognizes that everything shares in God's being (or becoming) but that God's being operates from innumerable relatively freely-choosing centers or perspectives of existence. God and the world, which is God's body, are interdependent. Having becoming is to be is to be free, to be choosing, and to be enjoying (slightly or greatly, positively or negatively) the process of selecting from among competing influences. To be doing this is to be alive. To be doing it with the complexity of performing these tasks self-consciously, rationally, [p. 98] purposefully in accordance with values is to be doing it as a person. To have perfect awareness of all this, perfect memory, love, and preservation of it, and to be giving perfect guidance to the others who are involved in the process is to be the only perfect person, God.

Santiago Sia summarizes Hartshorne's panentheism:

Panentheism . . . holds that God includes the world. But it sets itself apart from pantheism in that it does not maintain that God and the world are identical. . . . Hartshorne explains that God is a whole whose whole-properties are distinct from the properties of the constituents. While this is true of every whole, it is more so of God as the supreme whole. . . . The part is distinguishable from the whole although within it. The power of the parts is something suffered by the whole, not enacted by it. The whole has properties too which are not shared by the parts. Similarly, God as whole possesses attributes which are not shared by his creatures. . . . We perpetually create content not only in ourselves but also in God. And this gives significance to our presence in this world.

If we continue to say, as New Thoughters often do, that there is only one Presence and only one Power, God, the Good omnipotent, we should state it with an awareness of what it could mean in a panentheistic perspective. This affirmation may be made as a recognition that there is no devil, no unified negative cosmic force in opposition to God. When we say that there is only one Power and Presence, we could be saying that the whole and the part are present in each other. God is present not like a lump of clay or a piece of plastic that can have different shapes at different times yet remain exactly what it was originally. God is present as dynamic, loving, alluring divine purpose, as guidance uniquely offered to each of the innumerably many units of freely deciding experience. God's power—the attracting power of perfection—is exercised from within these innumerable centers of choice. In each of these is the dual power of divine offer and human or other response, neither of which could op[p. 99]erate without the other. This is a contracting or covenanting process.

Our linguistic or temperamental preference may determine whether or not we use the term divine for the power of response—and the responders, including ourselves. We refer to God and ourselves, for we are free to decide how much we accept of what God offers to us. In mystical moments we emphasize unity, which is the complete or relatively complete acceptance of God's offers. When we consider the divine character of the whole creative process, we may be justified in referring to it as only one Power and only one Presence. All unity is a unification of the many, and the many are meaningful only in relation to unity. In Hebrew, the word achad means united one, and is used to refer to God. The alternation of the one and the many is essential to the process of co-creation. E pluribus unum (out of many, one) appears on the Great Seal of the United States; it is not only a political truth, but a metaphysical truth, referring to each unit of reality.

All this cocreating happens so quickly that we are unaware of the separate experiences, which are like the separate frames of a motion picture. Similarly, we are unaware of the separate cells of our bodies, to say nothing of the molecules and atoms that constitute them. We are unaware of most of what is going on within and around us, let alone throughout the universe. We don't need to know the subatomic structure of a kitchen table in order to put groceries onto it, but that doesn't mean that there is no such structure. So it is with the experiential nature of the world. Although we may not be able to focus on the individual frames of our lives, God does; and it is only in relation to them, one by one, that God can give or receive anything. We call this moment-by-moment, cumulative, personal existence serial selfhood.

Process New Thought

What we call Process New Thought is New Thought that uses traditional New Thought techniques, but substitutes insights of [p. 100] process philosophy for the traditional substance approaches to philosophy commonly employed in New Thought. In other words, the Process New Thoughter does essentially the same things that the Substance New Thoughter does, but has a different understanding of what is going on. The use of process thought also provides New Thought with new connections to the academic world. Of great importance, a process understanding can cut New Thought's Gordian knot of thinking about the creative process, especially the role of Law in it.


New Thought places great emphasis on the lawfulness of the universe. New Thoughters, like most people, tend to believe that the laws of nature are changeless. However, Whitehead tells us that natural laws are habits of interaction of the innumerably many experiences that make up the universe. (More exactly, we can say that laws are descriptions or formulations of the habits in question.) He notes that there is no evidence that the laws of nature are changeless, and indeed that

to judge by all analogy, after a sufficient span of existence our present laws will fade into unimportance. New interests will dominate. In our present sense of the term, our spatio-temporal epoch will pass into the background of the past, which conditions all things dimly and without evident effect . . .

None of this is to say that the habits that we call laws are unreliable; it is just that they probably are not truly permanent. However, the pattern of co-creativity sketched here is permanent, since it allows for any changes that eventually might produce different laws. Nor should anything we say about the centrality of experiences as the building blocks of reality suggest unreliability of the great collections of them with which we are familiar. God is still utterly dependable, though the earth be removed and the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea and substance notions be replaced by process thought.

[p. 101] Apart from the changeableness of laws, there is the more pressing problem of the power of laws. It is understandable that after a few centuries of dramatic scientific discovery of natural laws, people almost worshipped these laws. Most unfortunately, they reified laws. Reification (from the Latin res, thing, and facere, to make) is a philosophical term that means to understand a mental entity as if it were a thing. We might call it "thingification." Whitehead referred to it as the " fallacy of misplaced concreteness," mistaking the abstract for the concrete. In this pervasive error, people fail to realize that laws are just descriptions of how reality works, rather than some power that makes things happen. In truth, considering laws as descriptions, no law ever did anything to or for anyone or anything. This is not to deny the powerfulness of the states of affairs described, summarized, by laws; those described habits, like our own habits, can be extremely powerful before they are changed.

The Golden Calf of Active Law

Part of New Thought subscribes to the belief that the creative process involves a roundabout, back-and-forth (albeit within God) movement involving an impersonal, automatically responsive side of God called Law, in addition to the side called Love. This alleged Law should not be confused with the general notion of law. Instead, this Law is like a genie or robot, obediently carrying out our commands. In contrast, Quimby's conception of creativity as a direct process of choosing between divine Wisdom and human misconceptions and thereupon directly receiving the result of the choice is consistent with process thought. Quimby's view can be likened to Polaroid photography, in which one chooses the thing to be photographed, presses the shutter release, and the image is developed directly on the film. The later New Thought idea--that one thinks and feels into Law and that Law returns the selected product--is like turning the film over to a photofinisher who processes the film and then returns the pictures. What actually happens is explained below in relation to healing.

A scientist or philosopher would say that the photofinisher [p. 102] view of creativity is not parsimonious, for it introduces an unnecessary middle step into our relationship with God. This violates Occam's Razor or law of parsimony, which says that from rival explanations, one should choose the simplest and most direct.

The notion of active, responsive Law is something like the golden calf that the Children of Israel worshipped, to the chagrin of Moses. Regardless of whether the word law is used, there is no adequate reason to believe that there is any such side of God. In Process New Thought, supremely wise Love is seen as all that is needed to explain God's activity in the world.

Why God Cannot Be Law

Why can't there be a responsive God-as-Law such as many New Thoughters believe in? God does respond in the sense that he gives to later experiences initial aims adjusted to the situations produced by the choices of their predecessors. But this response does not shape substance, since there is no enduring substance to shape. Everything is new, moment by moment, however much it may be like what preceded it. We frequently fail to recognize that only the experience of the moment can act. Past experiences continue—without additional action—to be powerful influences, but what they are is fixed forever. Regardless of whether we accept process philosophy, we should realize that we can live only in the moment; process philosophy explains why. We identify ourselves with past and future experiences in our lines of development when we should be concentrating on the question of what God can do for the experience of the moment, for us right now. The answer is that all that God can do—and it is plenty—is to give initial aim, the perfect plan for the experience to deal with the situation in which it arises and to move onward to something at least a little better than the situation in which it arose.

Here are the main considerations against the existence of Law as an impersonal, automatically responsive mental substance:

1. A common-sense view of reality is inadequate, particularly the assumption that there is thing-like substance. A thing-like responsive universal Mind or Law may seem natural, even as God in the form of an old man sitting on a cloud may seem natural. One is as incorrect as the other.

2. A thingified Law is inconsistent with the known nature of the physical world. Physicists now know that the physical world is thoroughly processive at bottom. In order to maintain belief in a substantive universal Mind, there would have to be a great dichotomy between the natures of God and the world, a dichotomy that would prevent an overall unity. There would be a house of totality divided against itself.

3. God is supremely good. God wants the very best for every experience, not just for its successors. An experience chooses and enjoys for only a fraction of a second. This choosing is a response to what God already has done for it in giving it the very best plan that could be offered. Whatever is given to an experience must be given to it at the start of its moment of developing. God could do nothing greater for it, even if God under the curious name of Law were able to respond to it during its extremely brief career. An experience experiences only once, and it must be in that moment that it receives and gives.

4. Each experience is isolated. Although an experience contains all of the past, once an experience is started on its way of momentary development, it receives no more input. When it has finished its rapid co-creation, it itself becomes its gift to later experiences, even as all earlier experiences were gifts to it. (If it seems strange that an experience knows only the past and not what currently is developing around it, consider that all well-educated people know that physically we receive only information coming from the past: light emitted by stars centuries ago, from our sun about eight minutes ago, sounds produced perhaps a second ago, the pain of being struck by an object a fraction of a second before the message reaches the brain.) What God does not do by acting within the experience as its alluring initial aim God never can do for that experience.

5. The supposed Law lacks freedom in having to respond mechanically, "mathematically" to what is fed into it. That is inconsistent with freedom in all experiences, including the divine experience, and there are only experiences. [p. 104]

6. God can't give a completed product. Those who believe in Law hold that Law gives people completed products, material or nonmaterial. Process thought maintains that the only gifts that God can give to an experience (in addition to the harmonious arrangement of the past in the Divine Mind) is the experience's initial aim. God cannot give a completed product, such as believers in Law envision.

7. Finite entities aren't able to come up with perfect plans. We usually assume that it is up to us to discover what possibilities are open to us and to select from them. We seldom consider what a monumental task this is, since the possibilities are endless. If it is difficult for human beings, what must it be for animals lacking self-consciousness, to say nothing of lower levels of reality? We may speak of the instincts of animals, but seldom attempt to say exactly what instinct is. Process philosophy recognizes that nothing less than infinite, loving, willing, personal Intelligence is adequate to do the job of selecting from among the infinite possibilities for realization, and this philosophy maintains that God offers the perfect plan to each experience. It is God who makes possible the departure from the pattern of the past; in other words, without God there could be no newness, only endless repetition, if even that were possible, which it is not, since all creation is co-creation with God.

8. Only personal Love-Wisdom is all-sufficient, not the implied mechanistic materialism of the impersonal Ultimate. When Law is conceived as an impersonal yet intelligent responsive reality, it is asked to perform a function that only the supremely personal is adequate to exercise. Leading, luring, orchestrating the universe (of however many dimensions, planes, or whatever there may be) is a job that only the perfectly personal Reality can do. Belief in an Ultimate that is even partly impersonal in essence (as distinguished from the many impersonal parts of God's all-inclusive body) is hardly different from belief in materialism. To resort to the belief that Divine Mind (as distinguished from God's body, the universe) is in any degree impersonal, or that the ultimately personal is in any degree unreliable or lacking in impartiality, is simply to fail to understand how gloriously ade[p. 104]quate the personal God of love-intelligence is to guide every experience throughout the universe.

As Emmet Fox used to say, the Lord is my Shepherd, not my bellhop.

Don't Ride the Epicycles

Any of our conclusions about what God and the world are like should be tentative; but some of us believe that the process interpretation of New Thought is a much closer approximation of the truth than is the old substance interpretation. The notion of an active, responsive, impersonal Law is as antiquated and needless as the old theories of phlogiston to explain combustion and epicycles (circles within circles) to explain the paths of heavenly bodies assumed to be moving around an immobile Earth at the center of the universe. Such theories did provide a helpful orderliness to the universe for anyone who believed them, but one scarcely can imagine anyone's resorting to them after encountering more adequate explanations.

Demythologize or Die, at Least Intellectually

Belief in a fully personal (self-conscious, rational, purposeful) God of unimaginably wondrously wise Love, initiating—but never compelling—all that goes on, may be challenging, but it is the best explanation that anyone has offered yet for how the universe works. Nevertheless, the old view of an impersonal active Law can continue to be a useful myth for those who find it helpful, who have no taste for demythologizing, and who are too set in their ways to change. We hope that Process New Thought will come naturally to people who are new to New Thought and carry with them few, if any, substance assumptions. It is not so much that people who are firmly committed to theories change their minds as it is that progress is made funeral by [p. 106] funeral, as quantum discoverer Max Planck observed about science.

A Doctrinal Updating Through the Open Top

Although an emphasis on supposedly active, responsive Law is not limited to any one New Thought group, it may be most notably found in Religious Science. The famous Holmes "What I [now 'We'] Believe" statement, presented in Chapter 2 requires only minimal change to be compatible with both substance and process understandings. "We believe that God is personal to all who feel this Indwelling Presence" could become We believe that God is personal and is experienced as such by all who feel this Indwelling Presence. "We believe that the Universal Spirit, which is God, operates though a Universal Mind, which is the Law of God; and that we are surrounded by this Creative Mind which receives the direct impress of our thought and acts upon it," could become We believe that the Universal Spirit, the Creative Mind, which is God, operates in a completely impartial and orderly way and, through co-creation with us, brings about results in exact proportion to the degree that we accept the perfection offered by God. It also would be helpful to substitute everlasting for "eternal" in the statement of belief, in order to avoid the problem of which definition of "eternal" is intended. Holmes's comment that Religious Science is "open at the top" allows for such updating.

A perennial task of religions and philosophies for living is to express themselves in terms that are most understandable and acceptable in the times and places in which they operate. In order to spread its gospel throughout the ancient Mediterranean world, Christianity had to speak in terms of Greek philosophy. It selected the philosophy of Plato, and remained with it until switching to the philosophy of Aristotle in the Middle Ages; later, leaders of the Protestant Reformation largely turned back to Plato. Now various philosophies, including process philosophy, compete in conceptualizing the essence of Christianity. In some respects, process philosophy, which has made progress in both Protestant and Catholic circles, is an updating of Plato.

Similarly, Holmes and the other pioneers of New Thought faced the task of explaining the fact of spiritual healing by some [p. 107] theory. Understandably, they used forms of metaphysics then available to them. At the time, opting for a substantialist, emanationist, impersonalist outlook may have been justified in order to break free of the notion of an anthropomorphic God, but that old substance metaphysics certainly no longer can be taken for granted.

Our greatest tribute to the founders of New Thought is to use their efforts as helps on the way to greater understanding and use of divine gifts than any of us has yet achieved. New Thought began with bodily healing, and it is appropriate to express the most significant new understanding of New Thought in relation to the movement's original and continuing concern with healing.


A process understanding of reality has great implications in relation to healing. The cumulative nature of experience is vital to understanding healing, of any sort. The current past cannot be changed, but moment by moment the past grows larger. It is modified by the character of each new experience that becomes part of the past. To the extent that we make ourselves more rather than less like what God offers to us, we enrich the positive nature of the past. In this way, we reduce the contrast between the past and the initial aims offered by God. This reduction of contrast is what we do in any treatment, whether by prayer, surgery, medicine, or whatever. The less the contrast between past and perfect, the easier it is for upcoming experiences to accept the perfect, and the perfect always is healing—whole-making—in some sense. This is why we can promote the healing of others by healing our own consciousness in recognizing them as perfect expressions of God. Conversely, negative thinking, contrary to God's offers, increases the contrast between past and perfect and makes acceptance of God's offers proportionately more difficult, although never impossible.

Other Advantages of Process New Thought

In addition to this new understanding of healing, Process New Thought has numerous other advantages; 18 are given in [p. 108] Alan's A Guide to the Selection and Care of Your Personal God. Here we shall restrain ourselves and mention only a few. Primarily, there is a tremendous freeing psychological power that you get when you realize that you are new every moment in God's love, as a song written by Deb puts it. You didn't make all those errors of the past; your ancestors did it! You exist for only a moment, and you can afford to go completely with God and risk all for the greatest divine reward of fully accepting God as your life. None of your efforts ever is lost; each one is preserved in full clarity forever in God and helps to shape all of reality forevermore.


Now it should be clear why the divine job description provides for God to start everything, to finish nothing, and to keep everything, while your job description calls for you to start nothing, to finish very quickly what God starts for you, and to realize that you can't keep anything for more than a moment.

Reconceptualizing New Thought in process terms includes the substitution of impartial for impersonal and constant for changeless in speaking of God, and abandoning Law in favor of the all-sufficiency of divine Love. We are left totally, thrillingly, dancingly dependent on the completely reliable, persistent, dynamic ultimate Love that offers only the best to everyone and everything. This Love forever cherishes the completed experiences from all visible and invisible dimensions of the universe. God inspires and lovingly preserves everything. Each freely choosing burst of life produces a unique perspective that forever enriches the always-growing God.

Below we have summed up the cocreative process (all creation is, and always has been, co-creation) of continuing, ever-new divine contracting or covenanting in a formula. We have thrown in a table of some major differences between conventional Christianity and substance and process versions of New Thought. Then, in the next chapter, recognizing that very few subatomic particles in steel beams will decide to enjoy themselves by reading this book, we shall turn our attention from a discussion of [p. 109] the subatomic structure of everything, including the kitchen table, to the highly complex experiences who are more interested in unpacking the groceries and starting to fix dinner.

Creativity Formula

Past + Divine Offer + Choice = Co-Creation


Adapted from C. Alan Anderson, Healing Hypotheses

Old Christian Thought Substance New Thought Process New Thought
Reality is enduring substance. Reality is enduring substance. Reality is creative process
Being is basic. Being is basic. Becoming is basic.
You have experience. You have experience. You are experience.
Soul is mortal substance. Soul is immortal substance. Soul is a succession of momentarily existing selves (serial selfhood).
Resurrection. Subjective immortality. Objective and subjective immortality.
God is largely transcendent (classical theism). God is essentialy immanent (pantheism). God is immanent and transcendent (panentheism).
God creates out of nothing (ex nihilo). God emanates from divine fullness. God co-creates by participating in blending of past and possible.
God created the universe. God created the universe. God always has had a universe of some sort; all creation is co-creation; this always has been so..
Universe is not part of God; it is matter and mind created by God.. Universe is part (in some interpretations, all) of God's being, is God's body. Universe is part of God's becoming, is God's body.
Matter is lifeless stuff created by God. Matter is appearance of one mind (God). Matter is collection of many relatively lowly minds (experiences).
God is changeless in theory, if not in practice. God is changeless, except as responsive. God is growing experientially, yet constant morally.
God is love, yet is forcing. God is Love-Law. God is wise, alluring, persuasive Love.
God is personal and perhaps somewhat arbitrary. God is partly impersonal, and acts as Law. God is personal, impartial, and acts by giving initil aims..
God gives orders. God gives general possibilities. God gives tailor-made possibilities (initial aims).
God creates and sustains, yet often seems inactive in one's life. The burden of initiation in creation in our lives is on us. God guides and responds. God initiates. We must resond to God's guiding initiation of each moment.
Prayer sometimes changes God, who may give what is requested. Prayer changes us. We receive according to our beliefs, working through divine Law shaping unformed substance. Prayer (a form of acceptance of God's offerings) helps create momentary self, giving immediate enjoyment and enriching the next self's past by becoming part of it, thereby making it easier for the next self to accept God's initial aim.
Christ is identified solely with Jesus. Christ is the presence of God permanently in each of us equally. Christ is the presence of God, understood as initial aim of each momentary self (occasion of experience).
Law is divine command. Law is active, divine, impersonal, automatic, intelligent unconscious part of God. Law is an abstraction describing habits of interaction of occasions of experience.

Some other links to writings, mostly by Alan Anderson, pertinent to topics related to this chapter
Metaphysical Questions and Answers, questions by Alan, answers extracted from a book by process thinker David Griffin.
Size and Age of the Universe and Time of Arrival of Some Forms of Life.
Some Lists from religion, mythology, philosophy, education, geography, and other areas.
A Checklist for Metaphysics and Ethics, a list of alternative positions in metaphysics and ethics, intended to help students identify the types of contents of materials read.
Some Steps in Learning Process Thought, mostly brief excerpts from various writers attempting to express process thought as simply as they can.
Metaphysics in the Metaphysical Movement, probably Alan's most comprehensive paper on its topic.
Philosophical and Other Resources, links to many sites by Alan and by others; some of the most important philosophical encyclopedias and other sources of information on philosophy and religion.

Created by Alan Anderson, March 26, 2002
Latest update Mar. 29, 2002