THE NEW THOUGHT MOVEMENT: A LINK BETWEEN EAST AND WEST
Delivered at the Parliament of the World's Religions
Chicago, September 3, 1993, by Alan Anderson
Introduction. New Thought is a popular application of philosophical idealism, optimistic mental discipline, and the practice of the presence of God in healing and in daily living. The movement originated in 19th Century New England, and is now worldwide. New Thought includes Divine Science, Religious Science (Science of Mind), Seicho-No-Ie, Unity, and other groups. From its early writings to its current use of process philosophy, it consciously has incorporated Eastern and Western insights.
Definitions and distinctions. As used here, East primarily refers to Hindu and Buddhist thought, and West to Christian and other thought largely of European and North American origins. New Thought is to be distinguished from magic and New Age. New Thought had various designations before receiving its present name in the 1890's.
New Thought origins. Phineas Parkhurst Quimby generally is recognized as the "Father of New Thought." He transmitted his views to patients Warren Felt Evans, Mary Baker Eddy, and Julius and Annetta Dresser. Evans wrote the first books in the field. The Dressers wrote about Quimby. The most important immediately-effective propagation of applied idealism came through the teaching of former Eddy associate Emma Curtis Hopkins. Hopkins taught founders of Unity, Divine Science, and Religious Science.
New Thought around the world. There are New Thought organizations around the world, with impressive influence in the East through the Japanese New Thought group, Seicho-No-Ie, founded by Masaharu Taniguchi, who was influenced partly by Fenwicke Holmes, brother of Religious Science founder Ernest Holmes.
Traditional New Thought. Although Quimby apparently was unfamiliar with Transcendentalism, since the 1880's New Thought has recognized its similarity to Ralph Waldo Emerson's views. New Thought absorbed Hindu thought through Emerson's writings and through the influence of Swami Vivekananda at and after the 1893 World's Parliament of Religions. New Thought considered Hinduism to be essentially the same as primitive Christianity. Many New Thoughters, including about 74 percent of its leaders, believe in reincarnation, according to my recent survey.
New Thought metaphysics in its various forms combines (1) Hindu-like, world-denying pantheism and (2) Western, largely Christian, recognition of the reality of the world as divine creation, with matter a name for certain mental experiences.
There are differences within New Thought about the degrees to which God is personal and is one with everything. As influenced by Thomas Troward and others, New Thought embraced a belief in a pantheistic ultimate that is impersonal substance, although often what is intended by the term impersonal is impartial. Horatio W. Dresser, whose parents were healed by Quimby, urged New Thought to interpret oneness of life in a more conventional way, but he had little
or no success in this.Process New Thought. The latest New Thought blending of Eastern and Western tendencies is Process New Thought. In interpreting the creative process, Process New Thought draws on the Western process philosophies of Alfred North Whitehead, Charles Hartshorne, and others; yet these philosophies partly resemble Buddhism.
Influenced by quantum physics as well as philosophy, Process New Thought:
(1) replaces the idea of enduring thing-like substance with process, understood as living energy, activity, feeling;
(2) maintains that there is only one type of reality, called mental or spiritual, but
(3) recognizes that there are many units of it.
(4) Each unit is an experience that develops for only a fraction of a second. Then it becomes a changeless part of the past, exerting influence on future experiences.
(5) Each experience co-creates itself with God by blending the influence of the past with individually-tailored divine guidance: PAST + DIVINE PROPOSAL (God's offer of perfection as expressible in that situation) + CHOICE = NEW CREATION.
(6) This pattern or law (an abstraction summarizing how reality works) is changeless, since it is a description of the essence of reality; but laws of nature are habits of interaction that may change over vast periods of time. Laws do not act. They are only descriptions. Like Buddhism, process thought believes in process rather than substance, but
(7) Process thought agrees with Christian and other Western emphasis on God as the ultimate person.
(8) In order to be fully impartial, God has to be fully personal, i.e., self-conscious, rational, and powerfully, alluringly, purposeful. God is not human, but is the infinite person; we are finite persons.
(9) God plays an essential role in creativity, which could not occur without God's offer of the best that is possible for each experience.
(10) All creating is co-creating; there was no original creation.
(11) Process New Thought's panentheism considers everything to be in God; as the INTA Declaration of Principles says, the universe is God's body.
(12) In serial selfhood, a human body is a vast collection of many-at-a-time servant-experiences that are subordinate to the one-at-a-time selves that make up one's soul (mind, spirit, whatever of oneself is not body).
Theories of mental application. All New Thought agrees that there is direct application of feeling, thought, and will on the world, not simply indirect application by moving one's muscles. However, there is disagreement on whether the creative process that brings about application is mediated or unmediated. Troward's view holds that there is mediated, indirect creative action by feeling, thinking, and willing into an impersonal, automatically-responsive side of God called Law. This Law then shapes previously-unshaped substance into whatever it was that one regularly believed, hoped for, feared, or expected. Creation as unmediated is implied in Quimby's thought and is explicitly expressed in Process New Thought's recognition that creation occurs in the blending process of each fleeting experience. Mediated: We initiate and God responds; Unmediated: God initiates and we respond.
A process understanding of healing. Healing is enrichment of what will be the past of future experiences. To the extent that one reduces the contrast between the past and the divine possibilities for healing, one promotes healing, whether by mental or material means. In other words, healing is facilitating an experience's accepting of God's desires for it; the less the contrast between past and perfect possible, the easier is acceptance of perfection.
New Thought's past influence and future. New Thought has influenced much of popular religion and success literature. It is a significant element in the blending of complementary influences of East and West. New Thought is, as William James called it, a "religion of healthy-mindedness." It remains open to new understandings, to new thought of any origin.
Converted Oct. 11, 1995
by Alan Anderson
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The full paper that this site summarizes and somewhat amplifies
New Thought Movement Home Page
Metaphysics: Multiple Meanings