Positive thinking has religious roots, but it doesn't come from any one religion. Rather, it evolved from all the world's religions through the New Thought Movement. Harvard professor, psychologist, and philosopher William James (1842-1910) wrote extensively about new thought in his 1902 book, The Varieties of Religious Experience, calling it the "Religion of Healthy Mindedness." He said, "The greatest discovery of my generation is that man can alter his life simply by altering his attitude of mind."
New thought started in Europe in the 1700s, then American Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) introduced it to the United States. He emphasized perception, and said thoughts, moods, and temperament coloured reality. In one of his most famous essays, Experience, he called temperament "the iron wire on which the beads are strung." He said: "Life is a train of moods like a string of beads, and, as we pass through them, they prove to be many-coloured lenses which paint the world their own hue. Talking about the truth" was not enough, Emerson said. "Empty words would never make people see through their own temperament." His literary preaching stirred people up. Emerson inspired a new breed of American writers and poets, as well as a surge in new religious thought.
New religions arising in the post-Emerson period in America included:
- The Church of Divine Science, or Science of Mind Church. Founded by Ernest Holmes,  Divine Science is based on the principle that thoughts have power. He started Science of Mind magazine and hosted a radio and TV show, This Thing Called Life. Holmes' radio show started in 1949 and his TV show of the same name started in 1956. His organization eventually evolved into the Church of Religious Science in 1953 and the United Church of Religious Science in 1967. Holmes began each broadcast with the words, "There is a power for good in the Universe, and you can use it."
[1. (1887-1960) en.wikipedia
.org/ wiki/ Ernest_ Holmes ]
- The Theosophical Society. Founded in New York in 1875 by Madame Blavatsky and Col. Henry S. Olcott, The main figures in the Theosophical Society were Madame Blavatsky (1831-1891); Col. Henry S. Olcott (1832-1907); Annie Wood Besant (1847-1933); and Alice A. Bailey (1880-1949) (Editor's Note: Beware of any "book club" formed around the teachings of Alice Bailey, as these may exhibit the coercive characteristics of a cult that are inherent within the Alice Bailey philosophies - particularly the books, Discipleship in a New Age volumes I and II). In 1909, Theosophical Society President Annie Besant adopted Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895-1986), because she was convinced that it was his destiny to become a World Teacher. She directed his education and formed an organization to support this mission. Rudolph Steiner broke off based on disagreements about J. Krishnamurti. For more information about the Theosophical Society, see: http://theosophical.org
Theosophy drew from all ancient and modern world faiths with a special emphasis on metaphysical aspects of the Hindu religion. Theosophists believed that thought forms held special power, and that rituals, such as Alice A. Bailey's full moon meditations, could conjure up powerful thought forms. In the 1920s, Bailey coined the term "new age" to describe the New Thought Movement. (Some scholars say that it was Carl Jung who first coined the phrase "New Age," as well as "Age of Aquarius.")
- Anthroposophy. Founded in 1913 by Rudolph Steiner (1861-1925), when he broke off from the Theosophical Society. Steiner believed that thoughts were the root cause of all physical manifestation. He wrote dozens of books and founded the Waldorf Schools for children.
- The Rosicrucian Order, Freemasons, and other secret societies. The names have roots in the 1500s, but received new interest in the 1800s. Followers believe that esoteric rituals and thoughts create reality. Some in these societies exert control in political and financial spheres.
- The Philosophical Research Society. Now a degree-granting institution, this organization was founded in 1934 in Los Angeles, by Manly P. Hall (1901-1990). Hall wrote books, lectured, and traveled around the world collecting books and artifacts of esoteric religions. (The Philosophical Research Society now offers graduate degrees in New Age thought. See: http://prs.org.)
- Neoplatonism.  Based on the writings of Plato (427-347 BC) and founded in the third century AD, Neoplatonism had a revival in the 1800s. In his "Allegory of the Cave" in the Republic, Plato said that prisoners held inside a cave their whole lives would mistake the shadows on the wall for reality. This is the root of Emerson's theory of the many-colored lenses. Plato explained that if the prisoners were to come out into the light, they would realize that the world is much different than they perceive.
- Ageless Wisdom. This is a general category for new thought wisdom channeled from ascended masters who exist on other planes of reality. The knowledge could come from ancient Egypt, legendary Atlantis, or from beings who never existed on earth.
- Hinduism. The following gurus were influentional in the West:
Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902) came to America in 1893 as a delegate to the Parliament of Religions at the World Colombian Exposition in Chicago and founded the Vedanta Society.
Paramahansa Yogananda (1893-1952) came almost three decades later during the height of the New Thought and Positive Thinking Movements. He founded the Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF) in Los Angeles in 1920. SRF publishes a series of booklets on positive thinking and related new thought topics drawn from Yogananda's lectures. The Hindu religion teaches that all things manifest in the mind before outward expression and that all beings are connected through a super soul.
- The Church of Christian Science. Mary Baker Eddy healed herself in 1866 using insights from the Bible. She began teaching her method of faith to others and founded her first church in Boston in 1879. Mary Baker Eddy (1821-1910) wrote Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures and founded the six time Pulitzer Prize winning newspaper The Christian Science Monitor. Christian Scientists believe that thoughts may cause or cure disease.
[3. Mary Baker Eddy was originally a patient of Phineas Parkhurst Quimby. See The Quimby Manuscripts: /healing/
phineas-quimby/ quimby-manuscripts/21-the-quimby-eddy-controversy.htm ]
- The Association of Unity Churches. Co-founded in 1889 by a husband and wife, Charles and Myrtle Fillmore, this sect teaches unity with all life, including god, nature, and all humankind. They believe in the Law of Mind Action, where prayer and affirmation can change outward reality. Following Ralph Waldo Emerson, Unity Church traces its philosophical roots to the writings of Emma Curtis Hopkins (1853-1925), Harriette Emilie Cady (1848-1941), Emmet Fox (1886-1951), Genevive Behrend, Myrtle and Charles Fillmore (1845-1931; 1854-1948), Phineas Parkhurst Quimby (1802-1866), James Allen (1864-1912), Horatio Willis Dresser (1866-1954), and Thomas Troward (1847-1916).
New thought teachings had a lot in common with Christianity, especially concepts like the Golden Rule and the compassionate teachings of Jesus. The prophet David said, "As one thinketh in his heart, so is he," and Christian figures like St. Francis of Assisi believed in the divinity of nature and other new thought ideas. "New thought" simply refers to new interpretations of established religious ideas.
Dr. Robert Ellwood (1933 - ),  professor at the University of Southern California, has written more than twenty-five books on world religions, spirituality, mysticism, theosophy, meditation, and new American religion movements of the 1950s and the 1960s.
Mr. Ellwood, in a 1997 lecture at the Philosophical Research Society entitled, "New Religious Movements," identified the following differences between new thought religion and traditional religion:
- New thought accepts the oneness of all souls, god, and the universe.
- Traditional religions say there is a difference between the creator and the creation.
- New thought attributes consciousness to all aspects of the creation, including animals, the earth, and higher realms.
- Traditional religions say only human beings have consciousness.
- New thought believes in the law of correspondences, where (for example) the position of the planets and stars correspond to the actions of humans on earth.
- Traditional religions do not believe in correspondences.
- New thought promotes an intuitive way of knowing truth, such as mystical experiences and personal exploration.
- Traditional religions say truth must come through a hierarchy of priests; they discourage followers from having mystical experiences.
- New thought accepts the existence of little-known laws of nature, such as the Infinite Intelligence that Napoleon Hill explained.
- Traditional religions only acknowledge the powers described in a fundamentalist interpretation of their own scriptures.
Since Positive thinking was a secular belief derived from all the world's religions, naturally, some Christians shied away from it because they do not give any merit to philosophy outside of the teachings of Jesus. However, in the 1950s, several authors provided a Christian version of positive thinking. Foremost in this field was the Rev. Norman Vincent Peale (1898-1993), founder of Guideposts magazine. Peale called his best selling 1952 book The Power of Positive Thinking.
Another religious figure, the Most Reverend Fulton J. Sheen (1895-1979), Auxiliary Bishop of New York, is considered a leader of the Positive Thinking Movement, even though his philosophy is actually Catholic New Thought. Bishop Sheen hosted a radio talk show for many years, then two television shows: Your Life Is Worth Living (1952-1957), and an occasional series, The Bishop Sheen Program (1961-1968).
Perhaps the attempt to claim positive thinking for Christianity was a reaction against the atheistic forces of communism. During the Cold War in 1953, Bishop Sheen shocked his audience with a reading of the burial scene from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, substituting Soviet leaders' names for the characters Caesar, Casius, Marc Antony, and Brutus. Sheen declared "Stalin must one day meet his judgment!" and within a week the dictator suffered a stroke and died. This is the basis of the urban legend that Bishop Sheen predicted the death of Joseph Stalin.
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