With its unique and remarkable blend of science and spirituality, one might expect New Thought to be at the center of the New Age, leading it to higher spirituality with its God-centered approach, along with its emphasis on putting the teachings of Jesus to practical use for health, wealth, and happiness, making use of the most powerful psychological techniques to do so. But New Thought is at risk of being swallowed up and disappearing into the rudderless wanderings of New Age. There are four reasons for this:
1. Name problems. Although nearly everyone is familiar with New Thought principles such as positive thinking, the name New Thought is virtually unknown today, and consequently New Thought is not credited as the source of these concepts. New Thought has been erroneously labeled a sect of Christian Science--when the opposite is nearer the truth--and hence, avoided or ignored. New Thought is constantly being confused with New Age, mainly because people are unfamiliar with New Thought. This is exacerbated by the fact that New Thought is a do-it-yourself religion with enormous individual differences, and people want to put their own label on their own version of it. Consequently, some prominent New Thoughters deny being part of New Thought. One well-known example is New Thought minister Della Reese, who was ordained by Unity-trained minister Johnnie Colemon and who has spoken at congresses of the International New Thought Alliance, which is an umbrella organization that since 1914 has maintained communication and information exchange among the various branches of New Thought. Yet Reese has denied being a New Thoughter in print and on television. Unity, which is New Thought, Fillmore-style, has traditionally resisted being labeled as part of New Thought. The various branches of Religious Science freely acknowledge their debt to New Thought but seek their own "brand name" recognition.
2. Anti-intellectualism. Because of its experiential nature--for in New Thought one uses the power of the mind to focus one's attention on God instead of one's problem and a solely intellectual approach will not work--New Thoughters tend to be anti-intellectual. Emmet Fox, who was an electrical engineer before going into the ministry, has made a clear distinction between studying and treating:
When you are studying--reading a metaphysical book, listening to a lecture, or thinking over the Truth that you know--you should be open-minded, wisely critical, taking nothing for granted, but weighing and considering, being as analytical as you please. . . . When you are treating, the exact opposite policy is the right one. Then you must be dogmatic, insistent, arbitrary, cocksure, and mentally closed to anything but the Truth about the problem (1942, p. 185).
But most New Thoughters ignore this distinction. The founders abandoned traditional approaches to religion and started their own schools, placing their emphasis on personal transformation rather than formal education. Although most of the New Thought founders were well read, they largely lacked college educations and consequently ignored the critical thinking of philosophy and other academic disciplines. Their ignorance, coupled with the public's lack of familiarity with New Thought, has earned even "major brand" New Thoughters the disdain of mainstream clergy. Some New Thought ministers have encountered difficulties in being accepted into chaplaincy programs. The INTA founded an Educational Standards and Accreditation Committee to address this problem, but to date very little improvement has come about. However, there appears to be a new interest in academic development among some of the current leadership in INTA.
3. Loss of the character ethic. In 1971, historian Richard M. Huber published The American Idea of Success, a review of 200 years of American success literature from Benjamin Franklin onward. He discovered the underlying New Thought principles and devoted several chapters to New Thought, of which he was severely critical because he discovered that in the past fifty years (thirty at the time he wrote), something has been missing from success literature that was there before, especially in the writings of Benjamin Franklin. That something is the character ethic, which, Huber found, has been replaced by the personality ethic, involving the psychology of making oneself pleasing to others. Character, on the other hand, involves qualities such as integrity, fairness, loyalty, honesty, perseverance, and service to others. Huber's point is valid, not just for success literature but in our society, in which 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. But Huber offers no remedy.
The New Thought founders all postulated good character. They took it for granted. The personality ethic, which business consultant Stephen Covey describes as "quick-fix influence techniques, power strategies, communication skills, and positive attitudes" (1989, p. 19), oils the wheels of social interaction and is indeed important, but it must rest on a foundation of good character. Happily, a second scholar followed in Huber's footsteps, and offered a remedy for the loss of the character ethic: put it back. This second scholar was Covey, whose book based largely on New Thought principles, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, continues to be a bestseller, and has proven to have a positive effect on the bottom line of numerous businesses that have begun to operate according to the principles Covey outlines. Covey, who lists Huber's book in the bibliography of his doctoral dissertation (p. 139), emphasizes personal responsibility for one's life in Habit One (Be proactive), the importance of vision in Habit Two (Begin with the end in mind), walking one's talk in Habit Three (Put first things first) and the importance of balance in Habit Seven (Sharpen the saw), along with belief in an abundant universe that allows one to be generous to others without depriving oneself in Habits Four, Five, and Six (Think win-win, Seek first to understand, then to be understood, and Synergize). Once again, the name New Thought is never mentioned, although Covey, a Mormon, does acknowledge that he personally believes that the source of the principles on which the Seven Habits are based is God.
Huber's criticism--implicitly of New Thought--is valid. When people try to have "the fruits without the roots," as Covey puts it, fail to do the necessary mental work to change their minds and keep them changed, fail to follow through with actions in their daily lives, in short, fail to walk their talk, New Thought or anything else becomes shallow and effete. The practice of the presence of God for practical purposes is indeed simple, but it is anything but easy. Too many people are looking for quick fixes, instant solutions, instead of making the necessary changes in their lives. Even a seemingly miraculous instantaneous healing does not last without a concomitant change in consciousness. Jesus warned the former paralytic he healed at Bethesda, "Sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee" (John 5:14).
4. Unrealistic worldview. Owing largely to the influence of Eddy, much of New Thought is pantheistic, holding that "God is all there is," "There is only one mind," "There is nothing but God," etc. This is not the case with the strain that goes back directly to Quimby, but its position is somewhat unclear. New Thought badly needs clarity in its underlying metaphysics, which brings us to the heart of the problem. The power of New Thought comes in a more or less altered state, a frequently self-induced light trance. Quimby may have formally abandoned mesmerism, but the basic principles of hypnosis established by psychiatrist Milton Erickson and others have demonstrated the efficacy of what Erickson referred to as an "everyday trance" state of response attentiveness" (Erickson et al., 1976, p. 303) for facilitating healing and learning of all sorts. Light hypnosis is natural to us all, as we get lost in a book, succumb to highway hypnosis, or fall under the spell of an interesting speaker. Great communicators invariably use some hypnotic techniques, whether or not they know they are using them. To concentrate one's thoughts fully on God, shutting out the rest of the world, is to create an excellent and useful light trance. This horrifies some people: I remember encountering a woman at a seminar I was leading who was indignant at the idea of using relaxation leading to light trance in church as part of a meditation. That just didn't fit into her idea of religion! Yet one frequently sees entire congregations in light trance, swaying to the sound of a familiar hymn. For this reason, Erickson frequently avoided using the term hypnosis or indicating to patients that they may have been in trance. The conscious mind gets in the way much of the time and delays healing.
But all too many New Thoughters confuse the psychology of the altered state with their worldview. In their altered state, they may well experience "nothing but God." Psychiatrist William Glasser (1981) and physicist William Powers in their psychocybernetic model of the mind indicate that the highest order of perception (perceptual filter) is universal oneness. Mystics and others in altered states frequently report a sense of oneness with all that is, a universal interconnectedness. This makes for great psychology, but "we are all one" is lousy metaphysics unless it has extensive reinterpretation to explain that the one is made up of many, or better still, that as Whitehead put it, "the many become one, and are increased by one" (1929, p. 32, 1978, p. 21).
Field theorist Ken Wilber, in Eye to Eye (1990) explains that people have at least three modes of knowing--the mystics called them the three eyes: the eye of flesh, or empirical knowing, the eye of reason, and the eye of contemplation. Similar notions are held in numerous disciplines. Scientists use primarily the eye of flesh, philosophers the eye of reason, and mystics and other spiritual figures the eye of contemplation. The eye of contemplation is higher because it sees farther, and the eye of reason's job is to mediate between the input from the other two eyes. All three eyes are important and necessary, and difficulties arise when one eye attempts to usurp the function of another. As Wilber puts it, "Anytime one eye tries to see for another eye, blurred vision results" (1990, p. 10). For example, this has happened in modernity as science, using the eye of flesh, has usurped the function of the eye of contemplation, leaving us with what Wilber calls flatland (scientific materialism).
Philosophy, using the eye of reason, must reconcile the "nothing but God" of the mystical vision with the discoveries of contemporary science and Griffin's "hard-core commonsense" view that we have some degree of freedom (1997, p. 103). From the findings of the Gestalt psychologists at the turn of the century we know that we cannot believe our eyes and ears, let alone our mystical visions. At the same time, there is much more to the world than what scientists can measure. Enter Whitehead and the system of metaphysics known as process thought. It is not necessary to resort to the pantheism of the so-called perennial philosophy to explain the mystical vision, even for New Thought. Its treatment, consisting of dwelling on God, turning one's attention toward what is desired and away from what isn't, works even better on a foundation of panentheism. And the substance metaphors that New Thoughters use as part of their legacy of Newtonian physics can turn into broken myths or be replaced by new process images. Instead of molding divine substance, we can build up the pattern of the past by saying yes to God, moment by moment. I like to illustrate this with the image of a net full of colored balls for children to play in, such as you see at fast food places. Imagine yourself standing in front of a huge pile of such multicolored balls. If you want to be standing in front of a red background, you consistently select red balls and toss them one at a time over your shoulder. If you persist, you will eventually have your red background. In this way, we build up the pattern of the past with our momentary choices. It is worth noting that our unconscious minds are part of the past, and can be similarly modified, thought by thought, moment by moment.
New Thought needs to shore up its metaphysical underpinnings in such a way that its ministers can converse as peers with ministers from other disciplines. Despite its creedal freedom, it needs a centrist position that can reconcile science and religion, theism and pantheism. Emmet Fox once observed that when you come to church, you shouldn't check your common sense with your hat at the door. Too many New Thoughters still abandon common sense in their metaphysical musings.
And so New Thought needs process thought. With its added impetus, the New Thought message can continue to revitalize traditional churches as to some extent it already has--for example, the Emmanuel movement begun in the Episcopal church in 1906 was squarely modeled on New Thought healing practices. New Thought, following Quimby, recovers much of the freshness and power of primitive Christianity that has been lost by the traditional church, by incorporating the powerful psychological principles that Jesus taught along with his basic message of love and trust in God. As Quimby put it, "What truth did Jesus come to bring to the world? One simple fact that man is a progressive being, that his happiness and misery are of his own make" (Dresser, 1961, p. 338). Until Quimby came along, miraculous healings in the church were few and far between, scarcely ever expected, and the sacrament of unction for the sick had become reserved for the dying.
New Thoughters already believe that the universe is God's body and that all creation is cocreation. They teach that we create our own world with our thoughts. Now they can learn that we are doing it moment by moment in the great creative advance into novelty.
I will let Quimby have the last word. He wrote, "These ideas are in your mind like little leaven. They will work till the whole mind is changed" (Clark, 1982, p. 114).http://neweverymoment.com/deb/New%20Age ... hought.htm