All about the new thought movement
Since the inception of life on earth, human being is continuously searching for the ways and means that are capable enough to define his presence on earth. Few consider themselves to be at the mercy of the all mighty god, while there are a few others who strongly believe that human mind is the ultimate creator and destroyer. In order to conceptualize and deeply understand the realms of life and concept of religion, a number of religious movements took place from time to time across the globe but none of them was able to create the kind of stir and worldwide revolution created by the famous and intriguing new thought movement.
New thought Movement- It’s all in the mind
New thought movement is essentially a mind healing movement based on a number of religious and metaphysical concepts and suppositions that originated in the United States in and around the 19th century. Based upon the central idea of ‘believing makes it so’, new thought movement consists of a number of thought groups and schools which are difficult to describe in a few lines or paragraphs. Simply put, new thought is an ever evolving process and understanding which states that life happens through us but never to us. It emphasizes on the fact that life is nothing but consciousness and in order to change and better our lives, the realms of our mind need to be trained first i.e. there must be a positive change in the consciousness of one’s mind.
The New Thought Movement is a philosophical and spiritual movement which derived its roots from the 3 divergent worldviews current in early 19th century New England. These divergent outlooks are – Calvinism, Transcendentalism and Unitarian Sensationalism. In spite of its name there is nothing new about the New Thought movement since all its principles are rooted in old wisdom. The New Thought which is also termed as “The Religion of Healthy Mindedness” can be defined as a spiritual movement which helped to shape a number of societal changes throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.
The emergence of the New Thought Movement is often thought to be a deliberate reaction against the rigid religious doctrines prevalent in early 19th century America. It drew its inspiration from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Transcendentalism and Phineas Parkhurst Quimby’s mental healing processes.
These wonderful concepts about life and mind in the new thought movement were given by a number of people who truly shaped new thought process and paved its way to fame among large number of people living in different parts of the globe. However, there is one man who actually initiated this powerful and wonderful concept and who believed that his healing powers were all attributed to god. This man was none other than the father of new thought movement- Phineas Parkhurst Quimby. The basic ideas of this movement gradually spread across the globe through a number of lectures, leaflets, journals and books.
There are three major branches of the New Thought Movement – Unity Church or Practical Christianity, the Church of Divine Science and The Science of Mind or Religious Science.
Founding Figures of the Movement
Before its development as a set of ideas and beliefs, the New Thought Movement derived its inspiration from a number of influential figures whose thoughts and teachings immensely contributed to the movement. Some of these founding figures include Emanuel Swedenborg the founder of the 18th century New Church and Ralph Waldo Emerson whose idea of transcendentalism is intricately linked with this movement. Phineas Quimby was largely influenced by the 18th century German physician Franz Mesmer whose work on hypnosis laid the foundation of Quimby’s doctrine.
Quimby- Father of New Thought Movement
Quimby, the New England clockmaker turned spiritual healer who is cited as the earliest proponent of the new thought process, was a native of Portland and practiced hypnotism on his followers who were distressed and ill. He was a strong believer of the fact that illness and suffering are the results of one’s inability to control one’s mind which means once the mind is controlled; all kinds of sufferings can be put to an end.
Quimby was immensely impressed with French mermerist Charles Poyen’s lecture on mesmerism and after attending a few lectures he left his profession of watchmaker and joined Poyen’s tour of New England for the next 2 years. By 1840 Quimby himself became a practitioner of mesmeric hypnotism and it was during this time that he met Lucius Burkmar an illiterate young man who was enormously influenced by hypnosis. Lucius and Quimby soon started performing mesmeric demonstrations in front of huge gatherings and together they healed hundreds of ailments which professional physicians could not cure. Quimby advocated the idea that diseases are a matter of the mind which is caused by false ideas and beliefs. In 1859 he started an office for healing of the mind in Portland. Four of his patients turned out to be the major proponents of his thoughts and beliefs.
Other important figures
Julius Dresser the Calvinist Baptist ministerial candidate along with his wife Annetta Seabury was successfully healed by Quimby’s method. From 1822 this couple started to promote what is known as the ‘Quimby System of Mental Treatment of Diseases’. Horatio the son of Julius and Annetta grew up to be one of the primary figures of the history of New Thought.
Due to his magical healing powers, Quimby not just earned the love and admiration of a number of followers but even became the muse and inspiration for the writings of Mary Baker Eddy and Warren F. Evans. Formerly a member of the Congregational Church, Mary came to Quimby for finding a solution for her failing health. An interesting fact to take note of here is that it was Mary Baker Eddy who went on to develop the Christian Science based on the concepts and beliefs of Quimby.
Warren Evans, a Swedenborgian minister and ex Methodist, was healed by Quimby around 1863. Shortly thereafter he started devoting all his time to write the New Thought Literature. There are some who regards him as the first individual to publish a clear idea about the philosophy of this movement based on the practices of Phineas Quimby.
Leaders of the movement
Once the philosophy of this movement gained grounds, a number of individuals and organizations came up to promote the ideas and beliefs of this movement. Though nothing concrete can be said about the founder of this movement, Charles Brodie Patterson a Canadian expat living in New York is generally labeled as the founder of the New Thought Movement. Another contender for this position are Julius Dresser and his son Horatio. Horatio who published his seminal work “A history of the New Thought Movement” in 1919 is also thought to be a very important figure in the foundation of the New Thought Movement.
Emma Curtis Hopkins the spiritual author, writer, mystic and theologian is also considered as one of the founders of this movement. Formerly a student of Mary Baker Eddy, Hopkins is famous for her important role in influencing many of her students who later went on to become some of the most prominent figures of the New Thought Movement.
Though the concept of Christian Science given by Mary openly opposed medical science but it is pertinent to know that the New Thought school of thought doesn’t actually do so. It emphasizes the immanence of God, propagates the availability of god’s power to man and preaches the fact that the root cause behind all disorders and illness is incorrect thinking. It stresses upon the fact that if a man can unite his thoughts with that of God, no illness or bad virtue can touch or harm him. There are also many New Thought groups which proclaim Jesus Christ as the healer and teacher.
William James an American philosopher, physician and psychologist defined this movement as an intentionally optimistic way of life. New Thought emphasizes the idea that God is omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent and encompasses everything around us. However this idea is different from mainstream Christianity where the goodness of the Creator is often contrasted with the evil powers of the Devil. New Thought on the other hand only emphasizes the universal oneness with a single omnipotent God and evil is regarded as a byproduct of man’s consciousness.
Some of the major beliefs of the New Thought Movement are:
- The Creator or the source of infinite intelligence is omnipresent and omnipotent.
- The ultimate reality consists in the spirit.
- The true nature of human self is divine.
- This divinity can be correctly comprehended through a positive force in favor of all things good.
- Diseases originate in the mind due to misleading beliefs and ideas.
- The way out of illness consists in correct thinking which produces a healing effect.
- Prayer, positive thoughts and meditations are thought to be highly powerful and beneficial.
Though New Thought stresses on universal oneness or Monism, it also has strong dualistic undertones. This philosophy is open to everybody; however the strength of the body and spirit and spiritual healing would only be available to those individuals who had been initiated into the movement.