"Thoughts are things."
"Believe it and receive it."
Though the term is not well known today, New Thought is a movement whose beliefs
are growing in popularity. New Thought uses the label Christian but denies all
the essentials of the historic Christian faith. The threads of New Thought, like
a fine cobweb that is strong but invisible, have been cast so widely into the
culture that it is crucial for Christians to be aware of and know how to
recognize New Thought.
Though many helped to spread New Thought, the origins and development of New Thought are often attributed to three major figures: Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772), an accomplished scientist; physician hypnotist Franz Anton Mesmer (1733-1815); and Phineas P. Quimby (1802-1866), trained as a clockmaker, but who soon became a healer after studying Mesmer's teachings.
Although he died in the 18th century, Swedenborg's long shadow reaches into the very nooks and crannies of twenty-first century religion, healing practices, and philosophy. Swedenborg abandoned science to listen to beings he called angels, and stated that the invisible spiritual world had more reality than the visible one. 1 Everything in the visible world had a correspondence to the invisible world, though the material world is a cruder version of the spiritual. 2 The Bible was viewed as being an esoteric book whose words are symbolic of higher truths understood only by the enlightened. 3 Heaven and hell, Swedenborg declared, are states of mind. 4 Swedenborg founded the Church of the New Jerusalem, still in existence today. 5
Mesmer claimed that a universal fluid, animal magnetism, could be manipulated (at first with magnets and then with his hands) to bring about healing in people. 6 Mesmer's ministrations caused a person to fall into what were apparently hypnotic trances, which was first called mesmerism, or mesmeric sleep. 7 The verb 'to mesmerize" comes from Mesmer's name.
Influenced by mesmerism, Phineas Quimby came to believe that healing resulted from an inner belief. 8 After further contact with people influenced by Swedenborg and spiritualism, 9 Quimby came to believe that God is humanity's true nature, and that the source of healing is a science called Christ, or Christian Science. Quimby had enormous influence on Mary Baker Eddy, who founded the Church of Christ, Scientist, known more commonly as Christian Science.
Warren Felt Evans
A Methodist minister turned Swedenborgian, Warren Felt Evans believed that he was healed by Quimby; thereafter, he further developed Quimby's ideas 11 and blended them with Swedenborg's. Evans wrote that illness results from a wrong idea in the mind, and that thinking positively would bring health. 12 Evans wanted to fuse Christianity with these beliefs, and taught that Christ is a principle, a "divine spark," that resides in every person. 13
Syncretism between Christianity and early New Thought was a hallmark of this movement. The biblical teaching that salvation and redemption of sins comes through faith in Christ was rejected, replaced with the view that union with what was called Divine Mind would bring health and happiness. This became a central teaching of New Thought, which by the 1890s was known by that name. 14
Man's problem was not sin, but rather incorrect thinking about his nature; the Bible was interpreted allegorically through the filter of New Thought; and salvation was not related to redemption through faith in Christ, but rather was a matter of birthing a new thought or consciousness to provoke awareness of one's innate divine nature. 15
A basic tenet of New Thought is that man is God or a part of God, and achieves a state of "Christ consciousness" when aware of this divine nature. 16 "Christ Consciousness," or "God Consciousness," is a term pervasive in the New Age movement, which absorbed some New Thought beliefs, and refers to the realization of one's divine or Christ nature.