This essay by social philosopher Geoffrey Hill provides an in-depth, critical examination of the school of thought known as New Thought. This includes positive thinking, Christian Science, Religious Science, Mind Science, Science of Mind and the philosophies of Robert Schuller, Tony Robbins, the motivational industry, and the philosphy behind commercial materialism. According to Hill, it has much to do with our culture’s massive disease of selfishness and denial.



Geoffrey Hill (c) 1997

I think maybe I'll join a cult, cut my balls off and kill myself with my beloved brethren as we await a spaceship to take us to paradise on the trail of a comet. Or, if I don't want such a severe delusion, perhaps I'll just do like the majority of persons in our culture, and join one of the most successful, but unrecognized cults ever invented: the very popular and rewarding cult of selfish, pathological denial and mass, delusional conformity.

We seem shocked when thirty nine members of the Heaven's Gate cult kill themselves due to a destructive group delusion. We are likewise appalled that millions could follow a psychotic madman like Hitler into a bizarre march toward mass destruction. Yet, we don't stop to realize that the insanity of such religious and political cults is merely an extreme extension of what the majority of us do in our own respective group delusions. The difference between these extreme mind-control groups and the conformity of the majority is only a matter of degree.

I've spent a great deal of time studying cults, religions, and the psychology and sociology of leaders and followers. I wrote the first comprehensive psychohistory of David Berg, the infamous leader of the Children of God, or Family of Love sex cult. And I've served as an exit counselor for persons coming out of various cults and fundamentalist religions. In all my years of experience, I've been struck with the realization that the majority of persons who don't consider themselves cult members are far more closely related to them than they realize.

Most religions, along with the castrated comet followers of Rancho Santa Fe and the fanatical disciples of Hitler, all share, to one degree or another, a denial of the physical world, the world of which has been preempted by a fanatical belief in a redeemed paradise, a New Jerusalem, if you will. All true believers subscribe to a belief in the divine ideals of their particular movement, even if it means believing irrational thought. They believe in a select, chosen class of elite believers. And they all tenaciously pledge their allegiance to the group mind, thus eliminating the possibility of legitimate, individual, critical thought. While this is true for most religions, it is especially true for the religion of New Thought. Found within this movement is Christian Science, Mind Science, Religious Science, Unity School of Christianity, Positive Thinking, and its secular extensions found most prolifically in the motivational industry, and in various strains of New Age mentalities and schlocky infommercials.

While the specific denominations representing this religion do not seem to be an overt threat to their members, or to society at large, its influence (which I argue is highly damaging) can be seen far beyond the church walls; for the danger of religious ideologies is usually found more in mentalities than in methodologies. The religion of New Thought in particular is destructive, in my opinion, primarily because above all other religions, it has actually promoted pathological denial and an unhealthy social disease of selfishness to the masses. And like many other religions, New Thought ignorantly promotes a militantly anti-intellectual attitude. Like devotees of most irrational groups, the majority of the more serious adherents are very threatened by legitimate, intelligent dialogue, especially when it comes to their faith. Like numerous fundamentalist pastors I have known, I've never met one teacher of New Thought who has the intelligence or strength to stand up to a debate on the subject.

Tragically, this state of denial has crossed over into mainstream, secular, pop culture, where its ideas have influenced millions of persons with an infectious doctrine of narcissism. I deal elsewhere with the history and theology of the movement, wherein I point out the destructive roots and causes of this unhealthy state of mind. The influence of New Thought can be seen widely in secular, pop culture. For example, the Budweiser beer commercial of a few years back promoted its philosophy with the phrase "Why ask why?" The insidious denial of reality and the intellect, obsessively common to New Thought, is at the core of this pernicious slogan. Unfortunately, when it is translated into practical application, the commercial version of the ideology results in a literal and figurative sedation of the mind. But whatever the opiate of choice, the theology of denial has spread far beyond its religious roots.

Besides promoting a denial of reality, the religion has become a secular faith of motivation, financial success and materialistic consumerism. Its origin of selfishness goes back almost to the beginning, with Mary Baker Eddy and others, as I point out elsewhere. Anything which produces wealth is to be lauded. Anything which would deny the attainment of wealth is to be despised. Anything which stands in the way of positive thinking is to be eradicated. New Thought isn't entirely to blame for the massive popularity of selfishness and denial, however. The disease has no doubt always been around to some degree. But New Thought, which officially began in the last half of the nineteenth century, codified, sanctioned and popularized selfishness and denial into a respectable religious philosophy, eliminating critical thought in the process.

The National Institute of Mental Health recently produced a television commercial wherein they show the depressing image of Picasso's The Old Guitarist. With head cast down, the old man seems to languish in a stupor of melancholia. Then, no doubt to the dead painter's chagrin, the old man becomes animated, lifting his head and spirit while the narrator announces something to the effect of, "Thanks to medical technology, it might be possible that nobody will ever have a blue period again." Touting this fraudulently happy state as a blessing, its prescribers and subscribers are oblivious to the tragic implications of the promised state of happiness. Happiness is exalted as the sine qua non of all existence. According to the faith, sadness and pain are to be eliminated at all costs. The secular extension of New Thought upholds this pathological state of denial through a pretention of scientific credibility; the result is a destructive over-reliance on ritalin, prozac, and anything which will save us from the outlawed demons of pain and suffering. One of the most damaging mindsets which has ever been inflicted upon humanity is this infantile notion, extremely popular within the movement, that everybody should be happy at all times; and if one is not, it's the result of one's own negative choice.

The members of Heaven's Gate told us in their parting videotape how "happy" they were in their decisions to kill themselves; but some of them, even as they spoke of happiness, showed obvious disturbing signs of anxiety and mental agony, a perfect example of the pathology of denial.

The mentality which has gripped not only devoted followers of New Thought, but also secular believers of consumerism, is a naive belief that all things negative are the result of one's own negative thinking. It is as if some moronic clown with excessively bad taste stuck yellow happy face stickers on millions of persons' foreheads and hypnotized them to inappropriately smile at death like a hebephrenic schizophrenic, out of touch with reality. The reigning mentality is that even mentioning something negative will bring it about. Shockingly, devotees of the religious side of the movement simply can not understand that some persons' unhappiness is through no fault or choice of their own. The fact that the vast majority of the world's population live in abject poverty due to political and economic oppression is a concept unfathomable to the New Thought mind. Some children are so horribly abused by their parents, sexually, physically and verbally, they find it impossible to attain happiness for the rest of their lives. Yet, this tragic fact of life simply does not enter into the irrational theology of New Thought devotees.

For those who catch the disease, like the pathetic victims of Heaven's Gate, they begin to understand that the "happiness" which is promised by the "teachers" of the movement is attained in a rather narrowly prescribed manner. That is, one must follow the strict rules of mind science, otherwise one will never attain it. The rules are quite simple:

  1. Conform and compromise at all costs. Above all, never doubt the manipulative mind science of the leaders, especially the ones who use mass hypnosis.
  2. Stop thinking, questioning and critiquing. This is where negativity comes from. Eradicate it immediately. Why ask why? Your mind is only a part of your flesh, which must be quashed to allow your higher self (or your older member, according to Heaven's Gate) to be revealed.
  3. Deny that there is evil, disease or death in the world. These only cloud your vision of happiness. Besides, these are the most negative of all thoughts. Such thoughts, above all others, must be eliminated forever.
  4. Deny that you or anybody else lives in the real world. If you really want to reveal your higher self, your divinity, you must lighten the load by denying you have a real body. One way of doing this, of course, is through castration.
  5. Think positively at all times, and pretend that you don't live in the same world as the vast majority of suffering humanity. Let the poor and oppressed pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. Charity only gets in the way of your own progress.
  6. If you ever happen to become a victim of oppression, prejudice, political famine, ethnic cleansing, genocide, abuse, or sickness, realize that its your own fault, and that all problems can be corrected by positive thinking.
  7. To reinforce this state of happiness, surround yourself with others of like mind who subscribe to the exact same mindset. Ostracize any negative thinkers who remind you that there's such a thing as shit in the world.

Like the hundredth monkey principle, the philosophy of New Thought in America happened to manifest itself on the European continent at exactly the same time. But, since American and European sensibilities are an ocean apart, so also did the philosophy manifest itself differently on each continent.

Actually, the roots of the movement go back further than Ernest Holmes, Myrtle Fillmore, Phineas P. Quimby and Mary Baker Eddy. For several hundred years throughout the middle ages people were used to being told how worthless they were by the church. When the Renaissance came along, a ray of new hope sprung upon Western consciousness. From there, the Enlightenment gave certain individuals a long-forgotten confidence in human power. In succeeding generations various philosophies arose to champion the newly liberated human mind and will.

Even though Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) was quite the pessimist, his philosophy of the will gave power to a growing strain of thought which further empowered the will or mind of humanity. His philosophy of human power sprung into existence at exactly the same time that the concept of human mental power was born in American New Thought.

Following Schopenhauer, Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) gave far more power to the will, developing the idea of the overman, or superman, a superhuman mental creature with the power to dethrone God.

Simultaneous to Nietzsche's superman theory, the idea of Mind Cure in the states was gaining wide popularity and practical application.

While these German philosophers can be greatly admired, their ideas were exaggerated and grossly perverted by Adolph Hitler (1889-1945). By the time he came into power, he had already (in his paranoid and naive fashion) developed his own perverse philosophy of the overman, pushing the doctrine of the power of the will into an extreme and dangerous position.

The perversions of the supermind, which culminated in national German fascism, was actually the European and political version of the same spiritual philosophy which was brewing simultaneously on the American continent. But since Americans are far more prone to faddish spirituality and materialistic consumerism, the philosophy naturally expressed itself in an all-too-American flavor in the states. Being that Europe has traditionally been far more interested in the eternal conflict of states, the interest in the supermind there, predictably evolved into a rabid and morbid political ideology bent on massive death and destruction.

While Schopenhauer influenced the European continent with the world as will, Phineas P. Quimby (1802-1866) popularized the power of mesmerism in America. While Friedrich Nietzsche extended the power of the will to further reaches in Europe, Mary Baker Eddy (1821-1910) and Charles and Myrtle Fillmore created wealthy New Thought empires in America. On both continents the ideology grew in influence and popularity. Shortly after Hitler became chancellor of Germany in 1933, Dale Carnegie published How to Win Friends and Influence People in 1936, and Napoleon Hill published Think and Grow Rich in 1937.

These two philosophical cousins, American Mind Science and German Mind Power, evolved side by side at the same time, each expressing its own style, but each possessing the same basic tenets, which is that one's powerful will is the primary element of life, and all else is subject to it. Additionally, when one stretches the concept of the will to its logical (or more appropriately) illogical conclusion, the profound traits of denial, selfishness (and depending on whether one is a follower or leader) the urge to conform to the groupmind are inevitable. The malicious ghost of the superman takes over at this point and the true believer denies the entire physical world, often to extremely dangerous degrees.

In Hitler's case, looking back on his massive campaign of destruction, one might conclude he didn't think much of the world, as he exerted the most authentic belief in the philosophy of denial. The selfishness which was expressed in consumeristic terms in the American school of thought, manifested itself in a far more overtly destructive fashion in Hitler's campaign of racial genocide. The closest that an official New Thought aficionada came to Hitler's fascism was Ayn Rand, a proponent of overt New Thought social selfishness. While the American religion of selfish denial evolved into a massive disease of materialistic consumption, its German counterpart also evolved into a massive disease of materialist consumption; except, the consumption there was through the all-consuming fire of war and genocide.

In reality, Adolph Hitler was the world's most perfect believer of Religious Science. He, above all persons, believed in the power of positive thinking (with himself of course at the helm of the world's selfish, destructive destiny). He above all people believed in the power of the selfish mind (tragically at the expense of millions of others). He above all people refused to allow negative thoughts to cramp his style (even executing generals of whom he felt threatened). He above all people denied the real world around him (even so much as destroying whatever he denied). And ultimately, like his philosophical cousins in Heaven's Gate and Jonestown, he denied his own flesh in contrast to the New Jerusalem, wherein he faithfully killed himself as a final testament to his "undying" faith in Militant Mind Science.

Nazism is in actuality, the perfect epitome of Mind Science, carrying its central doctrines to its ultimate, horrific and most authentic destiny. Similarly, Mind Science is the perfect American version of militant, national socialism, or fascism. It is the grand, consumeristic expression of the self in total denial of reality. Positive thinking is the superman doctrine turned into American spiritual naïveté addicted to television commercials and shopping malls. Tony Robbins is a smiling Adolph Hitler in Ralph Lauren suits. Adolph Hitler was Mary Baker Eddy with an executioner's hard-on for Jews, Gypsies and intellectuals. What New Thought consumes in materialism, fascism consumes in militarism. While Nazism denies human rights, Mind Science denies the mind, in irony.

American New Thought is dressed to kill for success, while its German cousin was also dressed to kill (in a more literal fashion). The ghoulish charm of Tony Robbins is in actuality, part of the delusional symptom of the mass disease of destruction. And here lies a typical American malady. Whatever is most charming, most promising of success, most popular, and most in denial of poverty and oppression is to be emulated with grand, American kitsch and relish. While the Nazi machine of destruction overtly slashed and burned their surrounding world in war, the American disease of consumerism slashes and burns the environment in its voracious lust for wealth, food and material goods. The American government, receiving its marching orders from our corporate overman, sends its death-squad vanguard, the CIA, to prepare the way for our ultimate economic victory over human and environmental dissent. One way or the other, the pathology of New Thought tragically prevails.

Besides the parallel with fascism, New Thought is also related to other common maladies of destruction. Since the lust for power, prestige and wealth are so profoundly exerted in our American, New Thought influenced mentality, it has infiltrated every strata of society. The entire culture is bombarded with its consumeristic message through massive doses of corporate propaganda. The reality, however, is that only a small percentage of the populace actually attains the wealth and power promised by the ideology; because as long as the disease of selfishness is exalted to such religious proportions, only those with the most power (meaning money) usually win. For those who feel squeezed out of the promise, for the unfortunates at the bottom of the ladder of success, that is, the poor and disenfranchised, they often resort to physical violence and other crimes to get their share of the selfish American dream. Predictably, the more we hold to the pernicious doctrine of materialistic consumerism, the greater will be our crime problem, both at the white collar and street levels. Contrarily, in societies where selfish attitudes have not been revered, as in the traditional Australian aborigine culture, there was a significant relative absence of crime for thousands of years, until it was invaded by conquering Western consciousness.

It doesn't take a social analyst to figure out the connection. When greed is sacralized through a religion, when it becomes popularized to the masses through the motivational industry, and through corporate advertising, the entire society is then infected with the destructive lust for more. It is not surprising then, that Ivan Boesky, who spent time in prison for corporate fraud, announced in a commencement speech at Stanford University, "Greed is good!" And it is not surprising that the majority of American black boys and men between fifteen and twenty five have had serious problems with the law. The message of one of the most destructive religions to ever be loosed on earth has been loud and clear: Greed is good. It would be more honest, and more faithful to orthodox doctrine to say Greed is God!

Greed, power, denial of the flesh, denial of the rights and dignity of others, these are the marching orders of an entire army of millions of naive victimized warriors of the mass, morbid disease of social fascism. Wherever you find the mentality, there is a path of destruction in its tracks. In the gangster world, it is found in a gang leader inwardly afraid of his own demise, yet pathetically boasting of his invincibility, and ending up either gunned down, or gunning others down. In the political world, it is a megalomaniacal madman convincing millions of his overcompensated divinity, which results in the death of millions. In the world of cults, it is the paranoid rantings of a sickly, little boy who never grew up, convincing his followers to kill themselves because they are, after all, creating their own destiny in their positive mind, which is supposed to surpass all temporal illusions such as self-castration and mass suicide.

We don't need more mental pathology posing as Mind Cure. We don't need more destruction of humanity and the environment. We need a mind cure for Mind Cure. The delusions of the paranoid madman, of the castrated comet followers, and of the disciples of New Thought differ only in degree. The only difference between believers in New Thought and the disciples of Heaven's Gate and Jonestown is the severity of commitment to the delusion. And all it usually takes to cross the line into ultimate destruction is for a charismatic, paranoid, control-freak leader to make more severe the doctrines which the believers already follow.

Heaven, happiness, motivation, success, positive thinking; these are the watchwords of the movement. What the literal adherents do not realize is that the religion proper, that is, the non-secularized side of the faith, is actually a religion of relatively comfortable, naive, white Westerners, and mostly Americans at that. The delusional religion, however, doesn't fly with a girl who has been molested and beaten all her life by her father. Would it be fair to tell her that her damage and pain are the result of her own negative thinking? Or try selling the religion to a famine stricken mother with dry, chapped nipples, trying to suckle her skeletonized, pot-bellied child. Try selling the religion to a highly perceptive artist who is too advanced for her society and who suffers from ostracism and misunderstanding as a result of her acute social perception. Try selling the religion to a legitimate thinker, one who has dedicated his life to analyzing human consciousness with critical thought. His perceptions in the midst of a crowd of true believers are considered foul, crazy, negative and morbid.

Contrarily, Robert Schuller, one of the most successful propagandists of the movement, shockingly, without the slightest bit of apology or self-awareness, announced on Larry King Live that the only thing the haves owe the have-nots is hope. My contention is, it is precisely many of these haves who have impoverished the have-nots in the first place. His prescription is like telling a slave that he can find salvation in his master. And it was precisely this same fraudulent, manipulative trick which was used on the victims of Germany's death camps. (One would think Larry King, as a Jew, would be perceptive enough to see through the deception.) Over the gates of Hitler's camps of human degradation read the words - "Work will make you free", the Orwellian, positive thinking deception typical of the euphemistic slogans of New Thought.

The more we subscribe to the religion of mass, selfish, pathological denial, either in its religious or secular form, the more it will ironically cause the problems it is supposed to cure; because just like the pattern of all cults, the promised road to redemption is the road toward death.

The exact same euphemisms and delusions of Mind Cure can be found in many destructive areas of life - in racial purity doctrines in the political world, in violent criminal acts in gang warfare, in the delusional empowerment of drug addiction, and in total allegiance to group delusions of mind-control cults. All of these delusional states of mind have the exact same traits in common: blind obedience to the delusion, irrational denial of the real world, a fraudulent sense of power and a rabid rejection of rational thinking.

That's why I say the religious disease of selfishness and denial is one of the most destructive and pernicious of all maladies, because its greatest symptom is the inherent sense of delusion built within. We usually never see the destruction to which it leads, however, because that is precisely how all delusions operate.

Presently, the mentality (not just the specific theology believed by church members, but the gross, mass mentality of its secular believers) is in the process of destroying the very earth from which we get our sustenance. We are so horribly gripped by the disease we just might be too blind to do anything about the destruction of the human soul and the earth before it's too late.

Most persons see the crazy suicides of cult members as just something on the lunatic fringe of society. But if that's all they see, its because they're not strong enough nor perceptive enough to look beyond their own delusions. For those who have not sold their soul to the group mind, however, for those who can still think for themselves, they see such crazy events as mass suicides, not merely as pathetic dramas on the lunatic fringe, but rather, they see them for what they are: symptoms of the body social.

If the notion of the oneness of all things has any merit, then a rash of mass cultic suicides, which we have definitely seen in the last twenty years, means far more than mere strange quirks of society. Just as a symptom on the body physical has significance for the entire body, likewise, a symptom in the body social, especially when it is so extreme, should have meaning for the rest of the body social, meaning you and I. If it doesn't, that means you and I are far more closely related to the destruction than we realize. The lesson in such dramas of destruction is that it is a picture of the future, unless we wake up and get the obvious message. The truth is that the majority of us are so conformed and compromised with mass delusions we can not see clearly enough to spot the fraud, to call foul, and to resist the alluring power of the disease.

The greatest irony is that while New Thought purports to be the deification of the self, it actually desecrates the self through its inherent delusion; for the more the believers deny reality, the less reality they see, and the less need there is to think. And the less one thinks, questions and critiques, the greater the acceptance of the delusion.

There is another disturbing commercial by Budweiser. An ugly, Cro Magnon looking caveman sees a beautiful, sexy woman approaching. With Budweiser bottle in hand held as a club, he looks at his ugly wife, tempted to knock her over the head. Instead, he knocks himself over the head, knocking himself out. Here, the secular, commercial philosophy of New Thought is profoundly honest and revealing of itself. The caveman's religious opiate is used not just to dull the mind, but to obliterate it.

And here, the irony of the faith is most profoundly revealed. What all mind power cults promise is evolution from our primitive roots to a higher state. This is done supposedly by denying the body and our lower, more primeval natures. If one castrates himself, this is supposed to eliminate the primordial instinct of raw, animal lust, freeing one's mind for higher power. Ironically, in the act of denying the physical world, the intellect is included in the deletion; and one has less power instead of more. Thus, a castration, a literal depowering of one's sexual energy, is ordered by a mentally depowered mind. The cave-man knocking himself over the head with a liquid, corporate opiate is a perfect picture of a New Thoughter knocking himself over the head with his mental, religious opiate. But whether the depowerment is in the head or the groin, it is castration, nonetheless. As the mystics have always said, "As above, so below". A depowerment in one area effects all other areas. The higher self, or god, or mind, is depowered when one's balls are cut off. Likewise, one's balls (or strength) disappear when one's head is depowered. Head or balls, god or gonads, as long as one subscribes to the delusion, one is invariably castrated in both mind and balls. Just as Samson lost his psychic and sexual powers when his hair was cut off his head, so also is the disciple of New Thought castrated when he submits to the inevitable emasculation of the faith. The members of New Thought, whether of the religious or secular variety, while deluding themselves that they have more power, are actually castrated automatons, having lost the power of thought, and having lost the strength of will to resist the dehumanizing and crippling disease of their faith. The fact that they invariably support the group mind in opposition to intelligent dissent is proof of their life without mind and balls.

To rectify the problem, we don't need to throw out legitimate positive thinking in the truest sense of the word. Persons with authentic positive thought are actually considered negative by true believers, because their brand of positive thinking pierces right through the delusions of the majority. Authentic positive thought acknowledges the injustice and indignity of a world gone mad, then it works toward recreating the world toward its true dignified potentiality; for the key to authentic enlightenment is not selfishness, nor ironic mental castration, but dignity for one and all, as well as dignity for the environment.

Ultimately, the more one authenticates himself, the more one will think and see. The more one sees, the more one will be castigated by the deluded majority, and ultimately, if one persists in such rare and precious sight, one might end up like some classic seers of history: Socrates, Jesus, the witches of the Inquisition, Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., all of whom were murdered for seeing too much. But deep down inside the majority, this is precisely what they fear. They are not willing to pay the price of living without delusions, because the price is simply far more than they are willing to pay, and their castrating, religious opiate is giving them too much alleged temporal "happiness" on their path toward an illusional paradise.

GEOFFREY HILL is a social philosopher, a radio commentator, a novelist, a playwright, a spoken word performance artist, a lecturer, a film analyst, and a psychotherapist living in Lake Arrowhead, California. For more of his cultural critiques, order his tapes and books.