I’d like to share with you a brief history of the New Thought movement and discuss some important ideas about the social and political environment that helped give birth to the principles that are so close to our minds and hearts. What kind of environment is most conducive to building a consciousness of acceptance and tolerance.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, Americans were feeling the effects of the Enlightenment period, which was a movement that originated in England and France. It was based in the idea of bringing light to a dark age. This movement strongly resonated with a growing need among people to be released from authoritarian rule, both religious and political, to a more optimistic attitude about human rights, the relationship between religion and politics, the possibilities of integrating science and religion, and the opportunity to govern themselves.
This was the time when thinkers such as Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin invented and adopted revolutionary ideas about the acceptance of scientific discoveries, religious tolerance, and new forms of government which would have a tremendous effect on the development of our declaration of independence and our constitution, and later on, the New Thought Movement. There was an emphasis on rational thinking, freedom of religion, and the liberty and rights of individuals.
Now the enlightenment thinkers in Europe believed that tradition, custom, and prejudice were barriers to gaining true knowledge of the universal laws of nature. They believed that by understanding God’s existence as separate from holy books, prophecy, and miracles, we would be free to gain true knowledge of the universal laws of nature. They developed a philosophy called Deism and understood God as reasonable, and loving – who endowed humans with reason so that they had the capacity to understand the universe and its natural laws. In other words, God created the universal laws that govern nature, and then human beings bring God’s will intro manifestation through sound judgement and wise action. They were against religious dogmatism and blind obedience to tradition. The Deists were the first to practice what is now known as Unitarian Universalism.
Among the American Deists were George Washington, James Madison, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and Alexander Hamilton. In fact, Jefferson wrote the life and times of Jesus from a Deist perspective, which later became known as the Jefferson Bible. This version eliminated all mention of miracles or divine intervention. For the Deists, God created the universe and all life, and endowed humanity with the wisdom and guidance to maintain and care for it.
A concept that rose during the enlightenment period was tolerance, or tolerant pluralism. After the Thirty Years War of the 17th century. European and Enlightenment thinkers imagined a time in which enlightened reason and not religious dogmatism governed relationships among all races and cultures. They believed that hatred or fear of the differences of others interfered with economic trade, extinguished freedom of thought and expression, and eroded the basis for friendship among nations which led to persecution and war.
American Enlightenment thinkers including Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison agreed with John Locke, philosopher and physician who is known as the Father of Liberalism. In his work, A Letter Concerning Toleration written in 1796, he pointed out that the government should not have the right to establish an official state-sanctioned church. Rather, civil government should protect the right to worship as one chooses or not to worship at all. The United Sates of America was to be a land where persons of every faith could thrive peacefully and cooperatively without fear of persecution by government or fellow citizens. Ben Franklin believed this so strongly that he donated funds to every church in Philadelphia.
As these ideas began to take root, we saw the rise of another important contribution to New Thought, which is called Transendentalism, which started in the 1830s in New England, and was led by Ralph Waldo Emerson and later Henry David Thoreau. Transendentalism was based in three important ideas – individualism, idealism, and the divinity of nature. Individualism refers to the ability to understand and experience our own unique nature, and trust our reason and intuition to guide us. Idealism refers to the ability to see life as it CAN be, with all its possibilities. The divinity of nature os the willingness to experience God in all creation, not just humanity.
So now, we have some important ideas being introduced into society around the time New Thought was being introduced. Freedom from authoritarianism, rational thinking, support of science and new inventions, religious tolerance and diversity, and the rights of individuals, including freedom of religion.
One of the most notable and yet least known of all the influencers of the new thought movement was a clockmaker named Finneas Parkhurst Quimby, born in 1802. As an adult, he had learned to mistrust doctors and had no particular respect for religion. What he did have was a deep understanding of the mind/body connection. Quimby wrote and taught that the mind (or Spirit) has the ability to heal the body. Although he referred to himself as a physician, he was really introducing the concept of psychology. Quimby was a great observer of how the mind worked and was certain that many of our illnesses in life were the result of the mental and emotional stressors we put on our body. Quimby believed that if we could understand how our negative thinking affects our body functions, we could heal our illnesses by changing our thoughts.
Quimby would sit down with a patient and ask them to describe their pains and symptoms. During this time, Quimby would intuit which of their attitudes and beliefs was at the root of the problem. Then Qui,by would share that information with the patient. In other words, if the patient complained of digestive problems, Quimby might say, your anxiety and worry about finances is the cause of your indigestion. If the patient agreed with Quimby’s diagnosis, then a chemical change would take place in the body of the patient and they would experience a healing. But if the patient refused to agree, then the healing would not take place. Quimby was careful to point out that not all diseases could be cured through the mind, and it was important to not feel undue guilt over a situation that was out of our control.
Quimby’s reputation as a healer was known far and wide and pretty soon a woman named Mary Baker Eddy came to see him with a list of ailments which were healed after several visits. She went on to take the information that Quimby shared with her and used much of it in the formation of the organization she founded called Christian Science. However, she embellished his information, added her own insights, and became quite dogmatic in her beliefs that there was only one reality and that was the invisible power of the mind. She stated that all manifestation was not real – it was the result of what she referred to as “malicious animal magnetism.” Therefore, to practice Christian Science would be to deny the reality of the visible world and focus only on mental healing. As time passed, Mrs. Eddy became more and more insistent that going to doctors represented a lack of faith, and her assistant, a metaphysical teacher named Emma Curtis Hopkins split from her and started a metaphysical school in Chicago from which the co-founders of Unity, Charles and Myrtle Fillmore, the co-founders of Science of Mind, Ernest and Fenwick Holmes and the founder of Divine Science, Nona Brooks graduated in the late 1800s.
So the background of New Though is based in the American Enlightenment, Transcendentalism, and the beginnings of modern psychology. Throughout the years, we have learned to put into balance the relationship between the realm of ideas and the realm of manifestation. We understand that all life is sacred, there are not two powers, only one Divine energy, expressing as both invisible and invisible energy. In terms of Mary Baker Eddy’s absolutism in relation to doctors, Charles Fillmore said this, “Go first to God, and then to man as God directs.” That is, use your wisdom and guidance to determine how your healing will take place, realizing that doctors are agents of healing, and all healing is spiritual healing.
We’ve covered a lot of information today and it’s a good idea to read this post again to internalize more of the content. We have talked about optimum situations in society that lead to greater individual and collective freedoms but we also know that there are pendulum swings that take place in segments of society which seek to undermine personal freedoms and turn the concept of benevolent leadership into autocratic regimes. We are facing such challenges today and I want to remind you that now is the time we need to use all our strength and spiritual power to support our teachings and other organizations which honor diversity and respect for all humanity. We’re living in a period of time now where mainstream religion is declining. There are those in the younger generation who are disillusioned by the hypocrisy of religion as well as the dogma. I believe that New Thought can be a welcome haven for them, but they might not know that and I believe that it is up to us to help them find out. As I close the lesson I would like to share an overview of our Unity teachings and would ask that you share this message with anyone who would be open to a new form of spirituality and a new way of living.
In Unity we use the term God to refer to the Universal, Omnipresent Source of All Creation which is based in Love, Life, Substance, and Intelligence. We refer to Christ as the spiritual power or Divine I Am inherent within ourselves and all life. We relate to Jesus as an elder brother, teacher and wayshower, who came not to save us but to awaken us to the reality of our own spiritual power and potential. We believe that life is an eternal process of evolution to greater levels of growth and unfoldment, and that through acceptance and understanding we can grow to respect all life and honor diversity wherever we go. We affirm that it is possible for humanity to thrive in a world without physical violence. We can be willing to see ourselves as Divine students of life, learning the skills that will support us in our quest for greater maturity, wisdom and love of ourselves and others. We believe in the power of affirmative prayer which we define as giving thanks for the abundant supply that is always available to us, and is our Divine birthright. We believe that these teachings need to be demonstrated in both our words and deeds, and to do all we can to take action in support of human rights and planetary transformation. We accept all dimensions of life as they present themselves to us both the positive and the negative, not fearing or bypassing them, but embracing them as we look for the gold hidden in the shadows. We acknowledge that our teachings are not designed to stop the storms of the sea, but to build a sturdy ship, so that we have the foundation and strength to weather the storms as they pass in and out of our lives. And above all else, we affirm that in all situations, wherever we are, God is.