NEW THOUGHT Aug 14, 2005
ANCIENT WISDOM Charlie Bradt
Before we begin this morning I’d like to take a brief survey by asking who here has heard of the following people:
Lao Tzu, Wayne Dyer, Deepak Chopra, Andrew Weill, Marianne Williamson, Emmet Fox, Ernest Holmes, Neale Donald Walsh, Byron Katie, Paul Ferrini, Mary Baker Eddy, Charles Fillmore, Ralph Waldo Emmerson, Eckhart Tolle, Esther Hicks, Phineas Quimby, Swami Vivekananda, William James, Emma Curtis Hopkins, . All of these people as well as the Hindu Vedas, the Christian Bible, Theosophy, and chanelled works such as A Course in Miracles, Seth, Abraham, and Emmanuel have impacted the growth of New thought.
I’d also like to call your attention to the slips of paper in your pews and the pencils in the racks in front of you. These are to make notes for the “question and answer” period which will follow this brief talk. What I’d like to do this morning is to give you a very brief history and outline of the two religions emerging in our country and around the world which fall under the title of “New Thought” and then entertain questions and comments.
There are 4 religions which fall under the heading of “New Thought,” short for “New Thought; Ancient Wisdom.” Probably most of you haven’t heard of them. I hadn’t until about 10 years ago. They are Unity Church, The Church of Religious Science, Church of Divine Science and Seicho-No-le. The last two are relatively small in the U.S., while the first two each have about 600-700 locations in this country. This discussion will focus on these two: Unity Church and The Church of Religious Science (in the process by the way of trying to choose a new name.)
How did they get here?
Phineas Parkhurst Quimby was born in 1802 in Lebanon, NH. Apprenticed as a clockmaker, he developed tuberculosis in his twenties, became disillusioned with treatment prescribed by physicians, and gave up hope of recovery. A friend suggested horseback riding to improve his condition. Since his ailments prevented this activity, he embarked on carriage trips which produced remarkable results and his recovery prompted much thought on the matter of healing.
It was 10 years later, after attending a lecture by a mesmerist and seeing patients being cured of diseases by medicines with no physical value (what we know as the placebo effect) that he began to see the power of the mind over the body. He developed theories of mentally aided healing and opened an office in Portland, ME in 1859. Among the students who joined him were Warren Evans, Annetta and Julius Dresser and the Dressers’ son Horatio. Through their writings about Quimby’s work these and others helped grow the infant movement.
It’s interesting to note here that Quimby, who is generally credited with being the spark which ignited New Thought in America was a contemporary or Ralph Waldo Emerson and later practitioners of New Thought noticed many similarities between the teachings of the two men. Quimby, however, apparently never met Emerson (who was, of course, a Unitarian.)
Quimby’s death, in 1866, left the still local New Thought movement in the hands of a group of these and other mostly forgotten followers. The famous exception was Mary Baker Eddy, whose spiritual companions assembled the Church of Christ, Scientist in 1879, ordaining her as the pastor. Almost immediately, a split developed between Eddy and other leaders over the origin of certain ideas. (She considered her publication “Science and Health” in 1875 to be divinely inspired. Others, apparently, did not.) Eddy’s work was primarily concerned with physical healing, since she and many of her followers experienced what seemed like miraculous healings using the New Testament.
Eddy’s most famous student was Emma Curtis Hopkins who matriculated in Mrs. Eddy’s Primary Class in 1883, becoming editor of the Christian Science Journal the following year. By 1986 she was a practicing minister in Chicago but was excommunicated by Mrs. Eddy the following year “…for being a Mind-quack who was spreading abroad patchwork books, false compendiums of my system crediting some ignoramus or infidel with teaching they have stolen from me. The unweaned suckling whines while spitting out the breast-milk which sustained her.”
While each of the two powerful women attracted large followings, Emma Curtis Hopkins is generally credited with far more influence in what has become the New Thought community of today. She taught Malinda Cramer, the founder of Divine Science; Charles and Myrtle Fillmore, the founders of Unity; and Ernest Holmes, the founder of The Church of Religious Science.
Emma Curtis Hopkins, unlike Mary Baker Eddy, did not confine herself to biblical references to the divine but studied Eastern religions as well. She likened Buddhist Nirvana (which she interpreted as “complete union with God”) to “Christ’s ‘I and my Father are one.’” Today all New Thought churches acknowledge their position on the twin shoulders of centuries old Hindu and Buddhist teachings and the “mystery teachings” of early Christianity. Thus the complete title: “New Thought; Ancient Wisdom.”
What are they teaching?
Much like UUs, New Thoughters are never in possession of any “final truth” but rather see the human experience as continuously unfolding. Indeed, Charles Fillmore the founder of Unity warned his followers that he reserved the right to change his mind, while Ernest Holmes referred to Religious Science as “open at the top.” So, although none of the New Thought branches imposes any creedal test, New Thoughters are in general agreement on some basic points of belief.
First is a belief in the presence, goodness, impartiality and availability of God. (also known by many other names such as Divine Mind, Source, Spirit Almighty, First Cause, Mother-Father God and more.)
God is good and all its creations are good.
These names are our way of referring not so much to a personal deity as to the energy that is everywhere and gives form and substance to all that is…..the formed and the formless…us humans, plants, animals, clouds, rocks and space. God is both “out there”….the creator, and “in here”…the created.
There is a belief in the ability of all people to avail themselves of God’s gifts of health, wealth and happiness through the thoughts, beliefs and attitudes they hold. We create not only with our actions but with our thoughts and words as well. I think this is really the source of the name “New Thought;” the philosophy isn’t new….it’s ancient. Rather, it’s by thinking a new (different) thought that we can change everything about our lives.
Some practitioners use the phrase “pragmatic mysticism” to describe their religion, emphasizing not only the traditional value of experiencing God for its own sake, but the presence of God for practical, worldly purposes as well.
Religious Science, by the way, does not calls itself a Christian Church while Unity does; but whether other main stream Christian churches would agree with Unity is questionable. Unity speaks of “Our Way Shower” Jesus the Christ, but attributes to Jesus only the same divinity as to you and me. (Deepak Chopra once sat next to a Christian on a plane and as they explored their different religious notions the other exclaimed to Chopra, “You’re not denying the divinity of Jesus Christ are you?” To which Chopra replied, “My goodness no….I would never deny any man his divinity!”)
I’d like to get personal now and share some of my own conclusions about the nature of life and reality as a result of my experience with the several New Thought books, churches, teachers and practitioners I’ve met and know.
The implication of God being substance and form of all that is, of course, is that our basic identity is divine. This certainly isn’t the belief I grew up with. I was taught to see myself as born sinful and separate from God, needing to worship, beg, plead, and believe certain narrow beliefs or face an eternity of suffering….worse by far than that already guaranteed by the human condition. Now I have a sense of unity, of “all of us are in this together,” so what I do to you, to a carrot or to a lake, I do to myself. More significant even than this is the notion that on the deepest level, beyond the level of a fearful ego which sees me as separate from you is a knowing that I actually AM you. This has very powerful implications for not only how I conduct my life, but for my EXPERIENCE of life…and of you. From this knowing (when I REMEMBER it) it is safe and valuable to move toward you in trust rather than away from you in fear. I no longer look to codes of conduct (for these are always somebody else’s ideas) but feel good about asking only this: “What kind of experience do I want here?” I ask this not with the intellect but with the heart…trusting that what brings me my deepest joy must somehow benefit you as well.
My thoughts determine my experience, and I AM FREE TO CHOOSE MY THOUGHTS. Therefore I and I alone am responsible for my experience of life….my happiness or my unhappiness, my connectedness or my loneliness, my feelings of abundance or scarcity….and you are responsible for yours. I create my experience with my beliefs and other thoughts. Please note that my stepping away from RESPONSIBILITY for your happiness doesn’t suggest my INDIFFERENCE to it. I’m not. I CARE about your happiness. It’s just that I CAN’T MAKE YOU HAPPY. Only you can do that.
A consequence of this is that no one ever does something “to me” to cause my pain. No one is to BLAME…. but someone is RESPONSIBLE…me. I have to say, that at first I had feelings of frustration, even loneliness with this one, but eventually they gave way to a different feeling: Freedom!
Central to New Thought is the law of circularity. In the Bible it comes out, “As you sow, so shall you reap.” Today we say, “What goes around comes around.” Here are the consequences of this “law”: if I want more love in my life, I don’t need to beg or manipulate someone to love me. I need only to open my heart and offer my love. This sets the circularity law in motion and then can I feel love as it returns to me. If I feel a sense of scarcity in my world, all I need do is give away some of my money and possessions; this sets the law into motion and allows me to feel the abundance of the universe. And, in New Thought it is an abundant universe, always offering everything I need for my completeness.
A statements I read over 30 years ago which has stayed with me since is this one: “The root of human distress is a sense of alienation from the natural order of the universe.” This is very New Thought. Its inverse suggests that the path to equanimity lies in reconnecting, of feeling our oneness with the natural order of things. I do this primarily in the world of nature, where for example I feel a kinship with the tree which births it leaves, which grow green, age beautifully, then are lovingly released by the tree when their time comes. I observe that tree doesn’t struggle to hold its leaves, nor does the leaf struggle to hold to its tree when the time for leaving comes. With its leaving the leaf continues the process of transformation, entering the earth to nurture the tree or other plants…. eventually humans and animals….to be reincarnated AS them and us. I see the leaf as my teacher of the nature of living and dying.
Just as the leaf’s process cannot proceed if it doesn’t let go of the tree, I see that my clinging to people or things is a prescription for pain. It is an abundant universe, and clinging suggests a belief in scarcity.
Love, then, is my natural response to all that is…when I remember. Love is another word for acceptance….and valuing….as is. When I forget what I know, as I often do, the consequences are natural and immediate…and frequently painful. When I remember, the consequences are also natural and immediate….and joyful.