What is New Thought?
New Thought is a mind-healing movement that originated in the 19th-century United States. It has no one creed, but its fundamental teaching is that spirit is more real and more powerful than matter and that the mind has the power to heal the body.
Major groups within the New Thought movement include the Unity Church, Church of Religious Science, and Divine Science.
Many, but all, New Thought groups are based in Christianity. New Thought is related to Christian Science both historically and philosophically, but Christian Science is more organized and doctrinal than the New Thought movement. In addition, New Thoughters do not reject modern medicine to the extent that Christian Scientists do.
The New Thought movement has roots in American Christianity as well as the metaphysical and romantic climate of the 19th century that came as a reaction against the religious skepticism of the previous century. This fruitful period saw the birth of New Thought, Christian Science, Transcendental Meditation, theosophy, and other related movements.
Phineas P. Quimby (1802–66) is usually cited as the founder or earliest proponent of New Thought. A native of Portland, Maine, Quimby was a clockmaker with little traditional education but an inquiring mind. After observing the power of the mind to heal through hypnosis, suggestion and the placebo effect, Quimby began to practice mesmerism (hypnotism) and develop the view that illness is a matter of the mind. He opened an office for mentally aided healing in Portland, Maine in 1859.
One of Quimby's students was Mary Baker Eddy, who went on to found the Christian Science movement. Eddy did not acknowledge any reliance on Quimby for her ideas, however. Warren F. Evans (1817–89), a Methodist and then a Swedenborgian minister, published a number of works exploring and systematizing Quimby's ideas, including Mental Cure (1869), Mental Medicine (1872), and Soul and Body (1876).
Julius Dresser (1838–93) and his son Horatio Dresser (1866–1954) are usually considered the founders of New Thought as a named movement. Julius was a popular lecturer who emphasized the theories of Quimby, and his son Horatio spread the elder Dresser's teachings and later edited The Quimby Manuscripts (1921).
Another figure considered a founder of New Thought is Emma Curtis Hopkins (1849-1925), a former student of Mary Baker Eddy. Inspired by the medieval mystic Joachim of Fiore, Hopkins viewed the Christian Trinity as three aspects of divinity, each playing a role in different historical epochs: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Mother-Spirit. Hopkins believed that the changing roles of women indicated the beginning of a new epoch—the reign of the Mother aspect of God. She wrote High Mysticism and Scientific Christian Mental Practice and founded the Emma Hopkins College of Metaphysical Science, where the vast majority of graduates were women.
Numerous churches and groups developed within the New Thought movement. One of the oldest is Unity or the Unity Church, founded by the married couple Myrtle and Charles Fillmore in 1891. Myrtle Fillmore was frequently ill throughout her life and became very ill in 1886. She did not expect to get better, but after Charles and Myrtle attended a class taught by Dr. Eugene B. Weeks, Myrtle began praying with a new perspective. She said, "I am a child of God, and therefore I do not inherit sickness."
Myrtle did get better. Charles was impressed by her recovery and began to study world religions, philosophy and the links between religion and science, and they both began to write about their beliefs and discoveries and hold meetings after church on Sundays. They published a magazine in 1889 and named the movement "Unity" in 1891. The Unity Church is the largest New Thought movement today, with about 75,000 members.
Divine Science was also founded in the late 19th century. It is based on the teachings of Emma Hopkins, who had been a student of Mary Baker Eddy (founder of Christian Science). When Nona L. Brooks became ill with a severe throat illness, she was persuaded by a friend, who had been healed by Emma Hopkins, to attend a class. After several sessions with Hopkins, Brooks suddenly found herself healed. Another of Hopkins' students, Melinda Cramer, who had had a similar experience, met with Nona Brooks and together they initiated Divine Science. Its membership today is estimated at 5,000.
Another major New Thought church, the United Church of Religious Science, was founded by Ernest Holmes in 1927. Holmes grew up in Maine and was the sort of person who never stopped asking questions. He never had any dramatic experiences, just an inquiring mind that became interested in the matters of the mind, healing and metaphysics. He was a great fan of Ralph Waldo Emerson, whose writings Holmes said "are like water to me." At school in Boston, several of his friends were Christian Scientists.
Holmes moved to Los Angeles where his brother had been living, and continued his reading and study. Like-minded friends began asking him to give talks, and he soon became a popular lecturer. The crowds grew, and the United Church of Religious Science was founded as a non-profit religious organization in 1927. Holmes had written Science of Mind, which remains the fundamental text of Religious Science, in 1926. In 1958, Holmes declared, "We have launched a Movement which, in the next 100 years, will be the great new religious impulsion of modern times." There are between 50,000 and 70,000 Religious Scientists today.
The primary text of most New Thought groups is the Christian Bible. "The Bible is Unity’s basic textbook. Scripture comes alive when it is understood as a clear and helpful guide for today’s experiences." "Divine Science's main textbook is the Bible, and it relates its lessons to your life and everyday experiences.
The two most commonly-held and fundamental beliefs in New Thought are: (1) the Divine is in all things and (2) the mind is much more real and powerful than matter.
Horatio W. Dresser, son of Annetta Seabury Dresser and Julius Dresser, summarized Quimby's ideas in this seven-element list:
- The omnipresent Wisdom, the warm, loving Father of us all, Creator of all the universe, whose works are good, whose substance is an invisible reality.
- The real man, whose life is eternal in the invisible kingdom of God, whose senses are spiritual and function independently of matter.
- The visible world, which Dr. Quimby once characterized as "the shadow of Wisdom's amusements;" that is, nature is only the outward projection or manifestation of an inward activity far more real and enduring.
- Spiritual matter, or fine interpenetrating substance, directly responsive to thought and subconsciously embodying in the flesh the fears, beliefs, hopes, errors, and joys of the mind.
- Disease is due to false reasoning in regard to sensations, which man unwittingly develops by impressing wrong thoughts and mental pictures upon the subconscious spiritual matter.
- As disease is due to false reasoning, so health is due to knowledge of the truth. To remove disease permanently, it is necessary to know the cause, the error which led to it. "The explanation is the cure."
- To know the truth about life is therefore the sovereign remedy for all ills. This truth Jesus came to declare. Jesus knew how he cured and Dr. Quimby, without taking any credit to himself as a discoverer, believed that he understood and practiced the same great truth or science.
The Metaphysical Club of Boston, founded in 1895 as one of the first distinct New Thought organizations, wrote that the purpose of New Thought is
to promote interest in and the practice of a true philosophy of life and happiness; to show that through right thinking, one's loftiest ideals may be brought into present realization; and to advance intelligent and systematic treatment of disease by spiritual and mental methods.
In 1916, the International New Thought Alliance agreed upon this purpose statement:
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 indwelling Presence which is our source of Inspiration, Power, Health and Prosperity.
The Unity Church describes its basic teachings as follows:
- God is the source and creator of all. There is no other enduring power. God is good and present everywhere.
- We are spiritual beings, created in God’s image. The spirit of God lives within each person; therefore, all people are inherently good.
- We create our life experiences through our way of thinking.
- There is power in affirmative prayer, which we believe increases
our connection to God.
- Knowledge of these spiritual principles is not enough. We must live them.
Divine Science adheres to this "Statement of Being":
God is all, both visible and invisible.
One Presence, One Mind, One Power is all.
This One that is all is perfect life, perfect love, and perfect substance.
I am the individualized expression of God and ever one with this perfect life, perfect love, and perfect substance.
The beliefs of New Thought are based in a variety of religious and philosophical sources, including Platonism (with its emphasis on the realm of Ideas), Swedenborgianism (biblical interpretation based on the view that the material realm has spiritual causes and divine purposes), Hegelianism (a philosophy identifying the nervous organism as the meeting ground of the body and the mind); spiritual teachings of Eastern religions like Hinduism, and especially the Transcendentalism of the 19th-century American philosopher and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Most New Thought groups identify themselves with Christianity, but not all do. Quimby regarded Jesus as a man who fully understood the workings of the body and mind, and was to be exemplified. The Unity movement describes itself as "positive, practical Christianity" that teaches "the effective, daily application of the principles of Truth taught and exemplified by Jesus Christ."
Both Unity and Divine Science affirm the divinity of Jesus, but also the divinity of all human beings. According to Divine Science, "Jesus expressed His divine potential and sought to show us how to express ours as well. Salvation is then the expanding understanding of one's innate divinity and perfectibility through living the life demonstrated by Jesus."
New Thoughters view sin as a "separation from God, the Good, in consciousness" (Unity). Salvation is something that can be attained in this life rather than the next, and is the overcoming of physicial and spiritual sickness and negative behavior. Heaven and hell are not places, but states of consciousness. Divine Science affirms the existence of eternal life, but adds that it begins in this life and that this life is the focus.
In many New Thought groups, prayer is the foundation practice for helping oneself and others. Lectures and study are also important for changing one's thinking from negative to positive.
The Unity Church practices spiritual baptism and communion. Baptism occurs as the "inflow of the Holy Spirit" and communion takes place by appropriating Christ's realization of the God-life through prayer and meditation in silence.
References & Sources
- New Thought - Religious Movements Homepage
- New Thought Movement Home Page - personal website
- The Philosophy of New Thought - Affiliated New Thought Network
- Frequently Asked Questions - Unity Online
- United Church of Religious Science - official website
- What is Divine Science? - personal website
- Emma Curtis Hopkins - Wikipedia
- Myrtle Fillmore - Wikipedia
- Society for the Study of Metaphysical Religion - academic organization focused on the New Thought movement
- The Philosophy of P. P. Quimby - by Annetta Gertrude Dresser and Horatio W. Dresser
- Excerpts from "Quimby's Technique" by Horatio W. Dresser
- Quotes of Ernest Holmes
- The Quimby Manuscripts ed. by Horatio Dresser
- High Mysticism by Emma Curtis Hopkins
- Scientific Christian Mental Practice by Emma Curtis Hopkins
- Emma Curtis Hopkins: Forgotten Founder of New Thought by Gail M. Harley
- Myrtle Fillmore, Mother of Unity by Thomas E. Witherspoon
- The Science of Mind by Ernest Holmes
- How to Change Your Life by Ernest Holmes
- That Was Ernest: The Story of Ernest Holmes & the Religious Science Movement by Reginald C. Armor