New Thought Editorials > New Thought Theology: Who Cares?

 

Autumn 2007

New Thought Theology: Who Cares?

Recently, we have been reading Stephen Prothero’s Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know—And Doesn’t, after Alan coaxed the local library into purchasing it (it’s a New York Times best seller). Prothero’s main point is that "religious illiteracy is at least as pervasive as cultural illiteracy, and at least as dangerous. . . . You need religious literacy in order to be an effective citizen." The facts blew me away: early American colonists of assorted religious backgrounds were heavily into their religions, especially the theology. Earlier than I would have imagined, efforts were then begun to homogenize beliefs: first all-Protestant, then all-Christian, then Judeo-Christian, then "religions of the book" to include Islam. The result, oddly, was that people were more devout than ever but knew less and less about the teachings of their respective faiths. Theology went out of fashion, replaced by morality and piety; but—first in the home, then in the school—none of these were taught. Ironically, Europeans, who are mostly uninterested in religion, know more of the facts about different religious than do Americans, who are overwhelmingly involved in religion. Says Prothero, "Politicians and pundits continue to root public policy arguments in religious rhetoric whose meanings are missed—or misinterpreted—by the vast majority of Americans".

We have, Prothero continues, "a major civic problem on our hands". To remedy it, we need to make religion once again the fourth r in our schools, as it once was. Neither the Religious Right nor the Liberal Left is fully to blame, nor is either in the saddle today, despite appearances. We can and should teach about religion, not advocating any one in particular, but revealing that this country and its system of governance cannot be understood and appreciated apart from the Christian principles on which it was founded. Tolerance, says Prothero, "drove us to jettison theology for morality", but we need "to see for ourselves what the Bible says about family values, homosexuality, war, and capital punishment. . . ."

Why is this of interest to New Thoughters? Don’t most of us see various religions as different paths up the same mountain? But religions that hold respectively that there is one god, many gods, or no god won’t meet each other at the top. Prothero notes, "Even introductory religious studies courses typically recognize the fact that the world’s religions, which address very different problems through different techniques and to different ends, aren’t even climbing the same mountain." Theology means reasoning about God, which one can only begin after one has decided, usually based on some sort of revelation, which god or gods to study. We must first choose a faith, then study its ideas about God to determine whether or not we resonate to them, whether such a God is a help to us in our lives. Prothero mentions New Thought not at all and Christian Science only once in passing. What sort of God do we recognize in New Thought? It is important to know, even if we have some individual variances.

New Thought minister Emmet Fox is perhaps best known for his pamphlet, "The Golden Key". It was his attempt to provide as simply as possible a way out of any difficulty. That way is to stop thinking about the problem and think about God instead, to rehearse what you know about God. This only works if you have done some thinking about God in advance; in other words, if you have delved a bit into theology. Fox supplies, "It is God who works, and not you". "I am the child of God, filled and surrounded by the perfect peace of God", "God is Love", "God is guiding me now", and "God is with me". The beliefs on which these affirmations rest are very different from those of believers in a punishing or distant God. Our God is all-sufficient, and we are punished by our sins rather than for them. In God we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). To understand New Thought theology, we must certainly become familiar with the Bible and possibly with other scriptures as well. No matter what set of beliefs, attitudes, and actions concerning ultimate reality that we finally put together for ourselves, they need to be consistent with each other. "If you stand for nothing, you’ll fall for anything." Know what you stand for.