Is New Thought Compatible with Social Activism?
by Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins (Divine Science Federation)
Nineteenth century Metaphysical practitioners began as healers who would “treat” people affordably (and provide income for women who weren’t offered a lot of professional opportunities at the time). New Thought offered “universal healthcare” from the start! In those days, medicine wasn’t nearly as advanced as it is now, and treatment through mental prayer often proved as effective or more so (and less dangerous) than the medicine of the day. Safe, affordable healthcare available to all, often offered by women…that is a New Thought legacy.
New Thought pioneers were models for women’s rights. Some women in early New Thought worked for women’s voting rights.
A leading figure of the Mental Science movement was Helen Wilmans. The co-founder of Silent Unity and the Unity School of Christianity was Myrtle Fillmore. The Founders of Divine Science were women, first Malinda Cramer and secondarily, the Brooks sisters.
The “Teacher of teachers” (who instructed many New Thought pioneers) was Emma Curtis Hopkins. The founder of the Home of Truth was Annie Rix Militz. Tehilla Lichtenstein was a co-founder of Jewish Science and she ran the movement when her husband died, making her the first Jewish woman to have her own pulpit (though she was a lay leader and not an ordained rabbi). The founder of the Universal Foundation for Better Living was Johnnie Colemon (and every president in UFBL’s history so far as been a woman).
Consider this: the United Methodist church had its first woman bishop in 1980. The Worldwide Anglican Communion got its first woman bishop in 1989 (first woman priest in 1944). The first woman to lead a mainline denomination occurred in 2005 (Disciples of Christ). Amee Semple McPherson founded a Pentecostal church (Foursquare Gospel) in 1923; BUT…
Christian Science (a metaphysical movement founded by Mary Baker Eddy in 1875), ECH’s seminary in Chicago (1886), Home of Truth (1887), Divine Science (1888), and Unity (1889), were all started (Unity co-founded) in the 1800s by women.
Today, there are prominent New Thought leaders who find that our belief in Oneness (God is the Source and Substance of all life so we are all part of God and connected to all that is) will cause us to care for those who are being treated unfairly. New Thought, then, has become a voice of social justice (as it was when New Thought feminists were working for universal suffrage). New Thought historian Mitch Horowitz tells us that Wallace Wattles (a major influence in self-help circles and is featured in The Secret) was a socialist.
Some have understood New Thought to be only a personal philosophy meant to help retailers improve their sales, athletes compete more effectively, entertainers succeed in their artistic endeavors, and the average person experience better health and financial security. And certainly, New Thought principles are empowering and encouraging as we apply them in our lives. Nevertheless, Love is one of our powerful principles, and Love (which includes empathy, compassion, kindness) doesn’t sit back with apathy or indifference when our fellow godlings are experiencing challenge or despair.
So, yes we pray, visualize, and encourage, but we also lend a hand, and we support organized efforts to relieve suffering in the world. As our Religious Science friends have said, we must “treat and move our feet.”
Mystic Christian healer, Agnes Sanford, who borrowed many New Thought ideas and techniques, compared spiritual principles to gardening. She said one plants a peach tree, but until it yields peaches, one goes to the market. She used that specifically as an example for healing, suggesting that one prays for healing, but if the demonstration tarries, that’s what the doctor is for.
I would add the principle holds for any condition…pray for it, and then receiving help from “human means” may prove to be the answer to the prayer. If God is All, however our Good comes to us in godly. And sometimes, our speech and action is what brings about the miracles in life.
Some have suggested that progressive social policies or even supporting charities other than the local worship center are incompatible with New Thought teachings, but that isn’t my view. New Thought is and always has been diverse, and it isn’t limited by liberal or conservative ideologies. New Thought really is for everyone.
Can New Thoughters be social activists? I believe so; I mean, I can’t be the only one (and I’m not).