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Do We Have to Choose Between Spirituality and Prosperity?

A few years ago, I gave a Sunday talk titled "The Psychology of Prosperity." Although it was well attended and well received, I learned afterward that a number of people had stayed away because they believed that it was not spiritual to prosper. Unfortunately, they are not alone in that belief. A recent book by Beryl Satter, Each Mind a Kingdom, documents the battle that was waged in the late nineteenth century both inside and outside of New Thought between those who believed that woman’s "pure," passive thought power was spiritually superior to man’s power, and those who believed that masculine desire manifesting itself in economic progress should dominate the world. However valuable the purity movement may have been in helping women to free themselves from a number of unfair restrictions, it foundered when even its proponents came to realize that if everyone sought passive purity, society would be unable to support itself!

New Thought writers have always embraced prosperity teachings, albeit with some ambiguity until the turn of the century, owing to this ongoing feminine purity-masculine desire conflict. The New Thought founders knew their Bible, and they were familiar with passages such as Deuteronomy 8:18, "Thou shalt remember the Lord thy God, for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth;" or the words of Jesus in John 10:10; "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly." Myrtle Fillmore described the first chapter of Joshua as "a splendid prosperity lesson;" it twice uses the word success.

New Thought began with attention on healing and the power of the God-centered mind to heal. The father of New Thought, Phineas Parkhurst Quimby, realized that false and toxic beliefs from medicine or religion were making people sick and preventing them from healing. His work consisted of disputing these false beliefs like a lawyer arguing a case in court, overwhelming the damaging beliefs of the patient in a process he referred to as "minds mingling." As his techniques spread after his death by means of several of his students, and people began to understand the power of the God-centered mind, the transition from health to wealth was inevitable. As Emma Curtis Hopkins put it, "If the man one thousand miles off from you gets well when you tell him his pains are gone, why should not the poor man over there in the place 500 miles away from you get hold of some money to meet his obligations when you tell him that he has not lost his prosperity, and that he is supplied bountifully?"

In the middle of the twentieth century, during a recession, Catherine Ponder launched her first prosperity class, in which everyone prospered so much that she wrote a book about it and launched what became a worldwide ministry. She quoted Charles Fillmore’s statement that poverty is a sin, a missing of the mark; and she stated that the shocking truth about prosperity is that it is shockingly right for us to prosper, as long as we put God and God’s guidance first in our plans for prosperity.

Now we’re into the twenty-first century, and sadly, too many people still feel that it is not spiritual to prosper. Some political leaders encourage people to see themselves as victims instead of developing a prosperity consciousness that will enable them to take responsibility for improving their lives by saying yes to God’s perfect possibilities for them. It’s high time we renew and review these time-tested New Thought principles and get them working for everybody.

The key to all New Thought work is consciousness centered on God. This requires strength of character. All too often, people lacking in good character have attempted to use New Thought principles, or have written about them in materialistic terms that ignored the spiritual nature of the principles involved. But Myrtle Fillmore wrote, "Prosperity is not an accumulation of money or other so-called wealth, as we have sometimes thought . . .[P]rosperity is progress, accomplishment of that which one has an urge to do, gain in spiritual, mental, physical, or financial matters, attainment of that which is good and needful." She repeatedly emphasized that there was nothing wrong with material possessions, but as Jesus taught, we must first seek "the kingdom of God," or a consciousness centered on God as the source of all.

Another basic New Thought teaching is that this is an abundant universe. Life is not a zero-sum game in which for you to win, I must lose. A loving, rich Father—which is how Jesus taught us to relate to God—knows how to give abundantly to his children; and even a casual study of nature reveals a profligacy of abundance (think of seeds, or raindrops, or spring blossoms, or grains of sand on the beach). Most importantly, the ultimate resource in the world is the human mind with its abundance of ideas clever enough to replace scarce resources with others that are in plentiful supply through the use of new technology or better distribution. Our loving Father supplies an endless stream of possibilities for prospering ourselves and others with the fruits of our physical, intellectual, or spiritual labor. But in order to say yes to God’s possibilities for us, we must have an abundance consciousness, a prosperous mental state, not one that sees only lack and limitation.

Even in an abundant universe, where there is free will, there is an abundant opportunity to mess up! Children develop poverty ideas through poor examples or poor experiences, and schools fail to teach what author Robert Kiyosaki calls financial literacy, which is vital for survival and success in our monetary economy. Financial literacy can enable us to become financially independent, at which point, free of the need to earn a living, we can turn our attention to making abundant contributions to the world in whatever way we see fit. If we are not financially literate, we do not know how to create wealth for ourselves and others. Being stuck in a job you hate, just for the money, or being unemployed or underemployed, does not glorify God or help mankind very much. No matter what our race, gender, nationality, or present socioeconomic status, we need financial literacy so that we may take advantage of our God-given talents to serve others. But a poverty consciousness prevents us from being willing to learn or from realizing that we will have more to contribute to society if we are rich than if we are poor.

With a good God and an abundant universe, the third great New Thought principle is that we co-create our world with our thoughts. We are co-creating with God moment by moment. The more we build up a prosperous pattern of past moments, moment by moment, the easier it is for us to prosper in the next moment. Each prosperous thought or positive action, each denial of old, inaccurate ideas about wealth or our own worthiness to prosper, builds our prosperity consciousness; and a God-directed prosperity consciousness is spiritual.