'There is Nothing You Cannot Be, Do, or Have'

All about New Thought, the philosophy that launched a thousand best-sellers, New Age gurus, and some enduring U.S. religions.

  • An AIDS patient writes a letter to the HIV virus, forgiving it for the harm it's done him and thanking it for inspiring him to live a fuller life.
  • A recovering alcoholic reminds herself to "let go and let God."
  • Parents pray to see their son as "the perfect child of God" rather than call a doctor to prescribe medication for his earache.
  • A collective of incorporeal beings sends this message to a best-selling author: "There is nothing you cannot be, do, or have."

    What do these people have in common? All of them are heirs of the religious philosophy that came to be called New Thought. Practical, robust, optimistic, and results-oriented, New Thought is a prototypical product of 19th-America. Not only is it the progenitor of a number of distinct religious denominations- Christian Science, Religious Science, Divine Science, Unity, and even a Japanese offshoot called Seicho-No-Ie-its ideas have informed the sermons of popular pastors such as Norman Vincent Peale and Robert Schuller, the prosperity programs of Napoleon Hill and Stephen Covey, and the teachings of a veritable pantheon of New Age writers and authors such as Wayne Dyer, Deepak Chopra, and Marianne Williamson.

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    The founder of New Thought is generally acknowledged to be Phineas Parkhurst Quimby (1802-1866), a Maine clock maker who discovered that he could cure sick people simply by talking to them. Quimby's son George published a biographical sketch of his father in the New England Magazine in 1888, in which he summarized the series of epiphanies that led to his practice of mental medicine: "That `mind was spiritual matter and could be changed;' that we were made up of `truth and error;' that `disease was an error, or belief, and that the Truth was the cure.'"

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    Arthur Goldwag
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