Horatio W. Dresser on New Thought

Horatio W. Dresser (1866-1954) was the first son of Julius and Annetta Dresser, who had been patients of spiritual healer Phineas Parkhurst Quimby, out of whose work evolved, directly and indirectly, the New Thought movement, which includes Divine Science, Religious Science (Science of Mind), Unity, and other positive-thinking spiritual-religious-metaphysical organizations. Horatio W. Dresser earned his Ph.D. degree in philosophy at Harvard, became a Swedenborgian minister, only briefly active in parish ministry, taught philosophy, wrote many books, and probably is best-remembered as editor of The Quimby Manuscripts. He wrote much about and for New Thought, and is among the non-pantheistic interpreters of it. In two Swedenborgian publications he offered the following characterizations of New Thought.

In a 1923 article in The Helper, Dresser criticizes the New Thoughter for having

self-realization as his goal, the realization of the "higher" or "divine" self, which already "is" whatever should be made manifest.

Dresser's great objection to New Thought is its belief that

man is "divine." God is not then revered as a Person above ourselves but as the sole Reality "in" the self. To realize in the silence that each of us is already one with God, even though we seem to have been alienated from Him through ignorance and the suffering it involves, is to find direct healing for all our miseries and a way to the fullness of life, say these devotees.

In contrast, Dresser emphasizes that

Man then is not "one with God," but . . . may be led into unison or conjunction with the Lord . . . . by the operation of the Divine love and wisdom through us . . .

In a 1925 Messenger article Dresser characterizes New Thought as

a practical philosophy of the inner life in relation to health, happiness, social welfare, and success [and recognizing] [1] Man as a spiritual being . . . living an essentially spiritual life, for the sake of the soul. [2] life proceed[ing] from within outward, . . . mak[ing] for harmony, health, freedom, efficiency, service. . . . [3] the presence of every resource [one] could ask for . . . at hand, in the omnipresent divine wisdom . . . [on which] every individual can learn to draw. [So] New Thought then is not a substitute for Christianity, but an inspired return to the original teaching and practice of the gospels. It is not hostile to science but wishes to spiritualize all facts and laws. It encourages each man to begin wherever he is, however conditioned, whatever he may find to occupy his hands; and to learn the great spiritual lessons taught by this present experience.

Dresser recognizes New Thought as having

the advantage of being free from belief in miracles and the supernatural, free from religious dogma and authority, and essentially practical in tone. It turns the attention away from human sinfulness, the atonement, and conventional ideas of a future life; and aids people to live the present life well.

Dresser emphasizes that oneness of life need not be interpreted in a pantheistic way maintaining that there is only one mind or life. He says:

The essence of the New Thought, as I understand it, is the oneness of life; the great truth, namely, that all things work together toward a high ideal in the kingdom of the Spirit. Otherwise stated, it is the truth that God lives with us, in every moment of existence, in every experience, every sorrow and every struggle. . . . The New Thought aims to advance beyond . . . [creed to] spiritual healing, where there is no argument, no attempt to influence or control, but an application of power--the practice of the presence of God. Consequently, this higher work is still largely an ideal; for it means entire devotion to the work of the Father. It is service. It is outgoing love-fellowship. It is poise-self-mastery carried to that level of attainment where the mere presence is sufficient not alone to heal, but to inspire, to encourage, to uplift.

In Handbook of the New Thought (Putnam, 1917), pp. 19-21, Dresser writes that New Thought

is not a body of doctrine which you are invited to accept before you receive treatment, but is a workable belief which you are asked to put to the test in all circumstances. This belief has grown out of successful experience, and has been made to cover the whole of life because it is said to have brought the desired results.

The implied beliefs are: the immediate or direct presence of God regarded as Spirit; the power of man as a spirit to draw upon the divine presence; and the influence of deeply interior or spiritual states on mental life as a whole, hence on the body. God is thought of as the author of health, happiness, peace, freedom, succcess; not of their opposites. Hence, the aim is, to put the soul or self into the best attitude to picture or conceive the divine ideal for man, the ideal of health and freedom. The ideal thus dwelt upon in silent receptivity and concentration is forcefully impressed upon the mind, thence upon the deeper self or subconscious mind. The ideal or suggestion has power to eliminate adverse mental and physical conditions. For it is not simply a question of banishing conscious fears and wrong beliefs. It is not these alone that cause our illnesses and other troubles. Our whole mental storehouse must be cleansed. The entire mental life, conscious and unconscious, must become favourable.


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