The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/New-Thought

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NEW-THOUGHT, an idealistic or metaphysical movement in the United States, a direct successor of New England transcendentalism, but much more practical and democratic. The older idealisms were seclusive, but this one is preached and practised on the high-roads and carried into the minutiæ of daily life, often assuming the forms of religion and philosophy. It boasts of being the greatest healer the world has yet seen and scorns the idea of being mere speculation. It is claimed that New-Thought will not create any new religion or creed and that it will not formulate any new system of metaphysics. As regards religions, it is said by the representatives of New-Thought, that they are not desirable, because they are based on will, not on thought, and because they demand obedience. As regards metaphysics, no system is wanted because life and thought cannot be confined in a system. The world needs illumination and freedom, not limitation.

The first apostles of New-Thought were P. P. Quimby of Portland, Me., Dr. W. F. Evans and their immediate disciples. The first preached it orally, the other by the pen. None of these, however, are its parents in any sense, nor are they quoted as authorities by any present-day followers or teachers. New-Thought is the modern expression of an inherent self-affirmation of the soul as old as the soul itself. New-Thought self-affirmation is intensely individualistic and has found its philosophy in Emerson's ‘Self-reliance.’ In the Emersonian extreme and in Tennyson's

Self-reverence, self-knowledge, self-control,
These three alone lead life to sovereign power.”

may be found its first principles. New-Thought people, however, identify the self with the “Oversoul” and commonly prefer to quote the Biblical “I am (that I am)” as their motto and foundation. The revealed secrets of the “I am” are to be read upon every page of their hundred and one serial publications. These “revelations” resound with mystic refrains of the Oriental tat twam asi, “That (namely the ‘Universal Self’) art Thou!” and they run into the high notes of Promethean self-deification and rebellion. “The Song of the Soul Victorious” is of freedom, of our being centres; of concentration and self-assertion, human divinity, ideal suggestion, the souls' prerogative to rule and of “vibrations” which are the redemptive forces of existence. In strong contrast and as a jarring note in this solemn and highflowing song one reads immediately afterward that the publisher does healing, “absent treatment, a specialty,” at so much or so much per contract, if the reader promptly forwards the money.

New-Thought ontology teaches “oneness of life,” that “all life is one,” but the student searches in vain for any scholastic definition of these axiomatic teachings as also for the theological dogma “God is omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent.” This last, the omnipresence of God, is taught to the exclusion of all other attributes. The bearing of these two doctrines leaves, however, no doubt about their being inherently pantheistic in character, and implying a pantheism in the direction of the Hegelian pan-logism. To New-Thought life, God and all other categorical terms are swallowed up by Mind or “the limitless self.” New-Thought epistemology is in harmony therewith: “all knowledge is one,” it declares with much force, but without argument, the popular understanding being that human knowledge is one with divine knowledge.

New-Thought is often confounded with Christian Science, but their difference can clearly be seen by their cosmology. The latter holds the Oriental doctrine that the world and its things are illusory, products of “the mortal mind,” but New-Thought asserts the reality of the world and considers it an expression of God, the two being related as cause and effect. The central doctrines of New-Thought lie in psychology. They consist in asserting the supremacy of mind over all other energies and in identifying it with the perennial stream of energy which permeates existence at large. Our mind is identical with the supreme mind, it makes us what we are and creates our conditions and environment; by inherent love it overcomes all hatred, malice and sickness; by inherent law it establishes itself as the world's law and by inherent order it rules everywhere. It keeps itself alive in love, law and order by constant affirmation of itself: “I am, that I am!” In ethics, the New-Thought is of a decided optimistic tendency. Its program is the Emersonian “don't bark against the bad, but chant the beauties of the good.” Evil is not real, but only an imperfection which illumination dissolves. New-Thought is not iconoclastic, but fulfils the ends of creation in “peace and good will.” If others do not know Reality and only worship “an unknown God,” New-Thought people do not think it right to use violence or even persuasion; growth and experience will bring truth.

New-Thought is intensely practical. It professes to heal sickness and to remove the sting of death. Sickness is error and is cured by right and wholesome thinking, and death is but a transition, a “passing out” into another condition. If we always stood fast in right thinking we should never die, but simply transform ourselves.

New-Thought “circles of healing” are very common. They are found in every State in the Union, and in most cities followers of the cult can be found. It is estimated they exist by the million. The cult and its teachings have spread to Australia, Canada, England and many places on the Continent, especially France and Germany. The circles are not churches, but “bethels” or “houses of thought” for instruction and meditations. Services on Sunday often begin with the singing of “Omnipresence, Omnipresence, Omnipresence, manifest Thyself in me!” by a few minutes of meditation for the concentration of mind before the discourse is given. Speakers are chosen without regard to creed or race, etc. Their main qualification lies in their experience of oneness with the Great All. At the circles, rooms are set apart for daily noon-hour meditation. In the rooms are also private classes for instruction, etc. The circles are maintained by voluntary contributions, but no teachers, excepting private class teachers, are paid.

New-Thought healers are many, but New-Thought teachers are many more. Experience has shown that no man or woman can heal for more than a very limited period of their lives. When they can heal no more, they teach others the method. The methods of healing run through the whole scale of impressing the “new” thought by suggestion, hypnotism, faith or simple rationality. Healing is done also by “absent treatment” or telepathy.

A New-Thought convention was held in Chicago, 17-20 Nov. 1903, attended by many thousands. The following “progressive” declaration of principles was adapted:

1. The New-Thought is the new interpretation of universal and eternal Truth.

2. God — Universal Spirit, Mind, Principle — is omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent.

3. Man is the individual expression of God, possessing inherently and capable of manifesting all the aspects of God.

4. Man unfolds to a continuously expanding consciousness and manifestation of these aspects, through right thinking and right living.

5. The consciousness of harmony is Heaven, here and now; in the realization of which abide peace of mind and health of body.

6. The essentials of the New-Thought are suggested by the words — Unity, Co-operation, Freedom, Brotherhood and Individuality.

Since then many attempts have been made upon forming a bond tieing the various societies together. Many still stand apart, but The International New-Thought Alliance, with James A. Idgerton as president, has been formed and its purpose, as published in The Nautilus of November 1915, is as follows: “To teach the Infinitude of the Supreme One; the Divinity of Man and his Infinite Possibilities through the creative power of constructive thinking, and obedience to the voice of the In-dwelling Presence, which is our source of Inspiration, Power, Health and Prosperity.”

C. H. A. Bjerregaard.