Ernest Holmes never intended to start a new religion. From the Science of Mind archives we learn that “…Ernest Holmes never wanted a church, and wasn’t interested in religion. He only wanted a teaching ministry. He never cared for choirs, soloist, or flowers in front of the lectern. He believed in some ritual but he stressed to keep the ritual simple and beautiful, at absolute minimum. The Founders Church was Bill Hornaday’s idea. Holmes resisted it as he resisted too much organization.”
From studying texts like The Essential Ernest Holmes we learn that initially he believed that his writings and teaching should be something that people could take back to their own churches and religious organizations, and to share and apply within the context of each organization’s structure. Certainly this happened for his colleagues like Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, whose best-seller The Power of Positive Thinking was inspired by many of the teachings of Ernest Holmes.
As a child, my family attended a mainline Protestant Church. In my earliest years, this was a church that focused on God’s goodness, the triune nature of God (as is common to all Christianity) and very little, if any hellfire and damnation. It also maintained a balance between the role of Father/Son/Holy Spirit. This balance began to wane when in the mid-1970’s Evangelical fever hit many traditional Protestant churches. It was at this point that many in my family began to back away from the church, not liking the character that it was taking on with the incursion of what I call “The Jesus Cult” (which is a term I use for the co-opting of the concept of God by elevating Jesus to a superior role). My distaste for that shift is likely why New Thought, with its foundations in the teachings of Jesus, but clear focus on a Universal Spirit, appealed so strongly to me.
Lately, in pondering all-things-churchish I have been thinking about the changing American demographics – especially related to religious practices – and wondering how, in the age of the Internet, the simple Sunday Celebration (New Thought) service can survive or even thrive. In light of the extraordinary struggles I have witnessed for Unity and Centers for Spiritual Living congregations in the Pittsburgh area over the past 10 years, I take great interest when I begin to see patterns or trends emerge.
Enter Joel Osteen into the mix. Joel Osteen is a TV preacher that has all the trappings of a typical TV Evangelical preacher,…except that his messages are hard to separate from ones I have heard in New Thought organizations or read in Wayne Dyer books. In fact, other than the belief/teaching about Jesus and his role in that whole “saving” thing, Joel Osteen’s messages are not much different than the messages of Ernest Holmes, and in some ways are more “mainstream”. Consider his soon-to-be-released book, The Power of I Am: two words that will change your life today. This could easily be the title of a book that is the foundation for an accredited class in a Center for Spiritual Living or on the reading list for Louise Hay and Wayne Dyer fans.
In the context of Ernest Holmes’ original intention, which as I mentioned at the open of this blog was NOT to create a new religion but to teach these principles to people who would then take it back to their home churches, Joel Osteen is the living breathing example of this dream. Even Joel’s core message sounds in many ways more New Thought than Evangelical: “That our God is a good God who desires to bless those who are obedient and faithful to Him through Jesus Christ. It is Joel’s deepest desire that his own life be an example of that principle and that everyone who hears this message of hope and encouragement would choose to accept God’s goodness and mercy and to become all that God wants them to be.”
In New Thought parlance, it could go like this: That God is good and blesses those who understand and live by the principles of right thinking. It is (our) deepest desire that our lives be examples of these principles of Good and that everyone who hears this message of hope and encouragement would choose to accept God’s goodness and to become all that God wants them to be.
Other than the reference to Jesus and Obedience (which New Thought folks aren’t big on), there’s not much of a difference.
Here’s what’s fascinating (to me, anyway): this same basic message which has various levels of success in different locations when cloaked in the CSL framework, rocks it out of the park when it is presented in the framework of Christianity. I have several opinions on the whys of this, but in a nutshell, I think it boils down to this:
Mainstream Protestant Christianity went off-course several decades ago when they veered hard right (conservative, evangelical) and took on the “Jesus controls everything I do” perspective while Religious Science veered off course toward “all Mind, all the time; it’s only about me and my consciousness“. Today we are seeing a softening of the hard core Christian message and the hard core spiritual science groups have eased up on their anti-religion stance. The result: a very muddled middle ground. However, this is a middle ground in which many established, successful Christian organizations are in a position of strength and can incorporate the New Thought message into an established organizational framework. They’re not starting over at ground zero – they’re adding a new context to an existing structure and it appears to be working for many of them as we see many Mega Churches taking on a New Thought flavor.
Where does this leave New Thought, the movement? Will Progressive Christian groups, with the momentum of organizations like Joel Osteen’s, eclipse the message of Centers for Spiritual Living? Will those who left the angry, hard-right Christian churches be pulled back into the kinder, gentler and forward-thinking Christian churches of their youth and family traditions? If so, what does this mean for the resurgence of new thought as codified within New Thought organizations, especially in North America?
Will New Thought – the movement – end up being an historical footnote in religious history, while new thought concepts are incorporated into the Christian experience, or will it remain a separate and viable contender in religious organizations? And if so, how – when the core teachings of Ernest Holmes – the foundation of the religious science movement – are no longer limited to being shared and taught in New Thought organizations and in fact have become the core messages of other, more “mainstream” religious organizations?
Ernest Holmes’ original desires for his teachings to be taken into the home churches of his students and applied within their doctrinal frameworks appears to be in motion. The challenge for today’s New Thought leaders will be in defining who they are beyond the teachings of the Science of Mind, as these teachings now exist in mainstream books, lectures and movies (a la Deepak Chopra, Louise Hay, Wayne Dyer, Eckart Tolle and more) as well as now showing up with regularity in traditional houses of worship.
Will New Thought – the movement as we know it today – survive?
***FOOTNOTE: I was not aware that Joel Osteen Ministries was not supportive of LGBT individuals. This is a major differentiator between his message & the message of inclusivity within the CSL community. Thanks to those who pointed this out to me 😊