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New Thought Beliefs and the Bible
Have you ever been so confused and bewildered by a new field that you resorted to reading one of the numerous books for Dummies or Idiots? Probably most of us have, because such books represent good teaching. It’s a great way to get started because it gives us the basics: an overview of the territory to be covered and the range of choices to be offered. Without such an orientation to give us our bearings, we tend to wander around lost, taking a long time to master the material and possibly growing to dislike it or reject it as too difficult. Once we know the ropes, we can roam farther afield and even argue with the experts or strike out on our own.
The same thing is true in the development of our spirituality. The more fortunate of us grow up with parents who have a strong set of beliefs in a healthy religion, and they teach those basic beliefs to us, inculcating them in us by weaving them into the lessons of day-to-day living. Perhaps they encourage us to investigate the beliefs and practices of other religions and compare them with our own, but only after our core beliefs are well established and understood. Even adults, dissatisfied with the beliefs they learned as children and seeking new and better beliefs, need to become familiar with a simple, consistent explanation of the basics of the new belief system before they attempt to change or depart from it. This need for simple consistency in the early stages of learning is universal. Then, since God is not limited to any one religion or set of beliefs, every college student should take a course in world religions and in metaphysics (in the traditional philosophical sense) in order to understand what our range of choices is.
Some spiritual seekers may go to the conceptual cafeteria and end up with a dash of Christianity, a pinch of Judaism, a liberal dollop of Hinduism, crowned by some Zen for zest. In some cases, this mulligan stew may be tasty and even healthful, but in other cases, it can result in doctrinal indigestion. This syncretizing—a good ten-dollar word that means "to attempt to unite and harmonize . . . without critical examination or logical unity"—fails to supply a clear set of boundaries and definitions; and without establishing boundaries for yourself, you don’t know who you are or where you are.
And Westerners are foolish not to make use of the great Western spiritual treasure that we are best equipped by our cultural background to understand and profit from. The Dalai Lama states, in his book, The Good Heart: A Buddhist Perspective on the Teachings of Jesus:
In general, I am in favor of people continuing to follow the religion of their own culture and inheritance . . . it is better to experience the value of one’s own religious tradition . . . If you are Christian, it is better to develop spirituality within your religion and be a genuine, good Christian. If you are a Buddhist, be a genuine Buddhist. Not something half-and-half! This may cause only confusion in your mind.
For most of us in New Thought, that is likely to mean beginning with the great book of wisdom most honored in the West: the Bible. This should come naturally to most of us. All of New Thought’s early founders came from Christian backgrounds, and in the early days of New Thought, they could count on their students’ being reasonably familiar with the Bible and the teachings of Jesus, from which New Thought teachings most directly spring. New Thought can be described as God-centered applied psychology, and Jesus was—among other things—the greatest psychologist who ever lived. The New Thought founders did not accept all of the traditional Christian teachings about Jesus, and they made great use of symbolic interpretation of the Bible, a tradition that has been lost from mainstream Christianity. New Thought, therefore, had a very fresh approach to the Bible in general and the teachings of Jesus in particular. New Thought authors such as Catherine Ponder, Emmet Fox, Ernest Holmes, and of course, Charles Fillmore in his Metaphysical Bible Dictionary offer wonderful illustrations of symbolic Bible interpretation.
Emmet Fox, one great exponent of symbolic or "metaphysical" interpretation, explains,
The Bible is the most precious possession of the human race. It contains the key to life. It shows us how to live so that we may have health, freedom, and prosperity. It meets everyone on his own level and brings him to God. It has a solution for every problem. . . . Our common version (King James) contains the greatest and finest English ever written. Nevertheless, the real value of the Bible lies in the spiritual interpretation. Wonderful as the "outer" Bible is, it is far less than one percent of the "inner" Bible—the Bible that is hidden behind the symbols. If you have been reading the Bible without the spiritual interpretation, you have not found the real message of the Bible, for that lies below the surface.
There is enough spiritual richness in the Bible for us to spend all the rest of our lives working to absorb it. Catherine Ponder has referred to the Bible as "the greatest textbook on prosperity ever written." As New Thoughters, we are free to adopt it as our principal textbook, accompanied by the other writings that help us understand and appreciate it. We are never limited to any one book or line of thought, but having a good diving board from which to leap into other explorations is helpful. And if a belief is sound, it has nothing to fear from any amount of testing in either theory or practice.
Many spiritual seekers lack the self-discipline to stick with a practice long enough to experience a benefit from it. They fail to build the strength or character that is required for true spiritual development. It takes persistent contact over time to develop a loving relationship with another human being, and similarly, it takes persistent meditation and the silence on a regular basis to develop a meaningful relationship with God and a faith that can sustain us in difficult times. It takes courage to use affirmations and denials that initially do not seem to match reality, and to work to build new, better habits for dealing with ourselves and others. Qualities such as courage and persistence go to make up good character. Good character involves absolute moral standards, principles such as the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule, which appears in some form in every major religion. As author Stephen Covey puts it, they are True North on our moral compass. Whether we begin our spiritual journey in the West or the East, we need to stay with our own traditions long enough and consistently enough to find True North. True North principles work because they come from God, by whatever name we know God.
Old-time navigators, with simple pre-electronic instruments and a few needed publications, were careful to determine their positions by observing familiar landmarks as they were leaving port. From then on, they could calculate their new locations with all the accuracy that they needed. With the Bible as our handbook, we can navigate the deepest seas of spiritual exploration.