New Thought Editorials > New Thought vs. New Age vs. El Niño


Spring 2016

New Thought vs. New Age vs. El Niño

In the Northern Hemisphere, in an El Niño year, we have somehow managed to survive halfway through winter. In Florida, here, we don’t get much sympathy: what are our sufferings compared to yours? Besides, many of you manage to spend some portion of the winter down here with us, where we are ever so happy to have your tourist dollars, even if you do clog up our roadways and extend our commute times. And most of the time down here, you can run around in your lighter sweaters and jackets, so we are still a vacation paradise.

But comparisons are odorous, as Mrs. Malaprop once remarked. I won’t be any less miserable if I sit around comparing my sufferings to yours. I don’t know who discovered El Niños, and I don’t really care to meet him or her. They do eventually seem to go away by themselves, so the best approach is probably to ignore them. One basic New Thought teaching—backed up by a ton of research in psychology—is that what you give your attention to, grows. So let’s give our attention to anything more desirable or constructive than El Niño! I have a strong suspicion that it results from planetary negative thinking on the part of the human race. It wasn’t around when I was growing up, so at least a large number of us must have grown more negative over time.

For a century and a quarter or so, New Thought has helped a lot of people get through challenges of all sorts, as well as to attract wonderful prosperity of all sorts. The present New Thought movement includes individuals and groups gathering together since 1914 under the umbrella organization known as INTA. New Thought’s origins are directly traced to the work of Phineas Parkhurst Quimby, a sincere Christian layperson who through investigations into the science of the day, discovered his powers as a healer and taught his methods of thinking and healing to others, including Mary Baker Eddy. Some who started with her and later broke away founded numerous groups. Foremost of these breakaways was Emma Curtis Hopkins, “teacher of teachers”, whom sociologists credit with the formation of New Thought as a movement.

Quimby was a Universalist. Universalism and the Unitarianism of Ralph Waldo Emerson and others were strong influences on early New Thought, along with more traditional forms of Christianity. Although there is much room for individual interpretation, Christianity is the taproot of New Thought. Many people who practice New Thought teachings have remained within traditional Christian churches. New Thought has also welcomed individuals from other faiths. I once defined New Thought as “habitual God-aligned mental self-discipline”. Based on that definition, people put themselves into or out of New Thought.

If New Thought is a very loosely structured, laid-back religion that does not require that one swear allegiance to any creed, New Age is far more so. Marilyn Ferguson, one of its leading experts, once stated, “Defining the New Age is a hopeless case.” It is not a religion, but a huge cluster of assorted pursuits and practices, some spiritual, many not. Some of the roots of New Age can be traced to New Thought, but the two are regularly confounded, even by supposed experts. New Age got going in the 1960s with the stage play Hair, in which actors took their clothes off onstage. New Thought is a century older. My household Philosopher, C. Alan Anderson, and I devoted an entire chapter to similarities and differences between New Age and New Thought in our jointly authored book, New Thought: A Practical American Spirituality (rev. ed. 2003, available through Amazon). Portions of that chapter are online at

Spirituality is the raw material from which one forms one’s own religion, or the religion one adapts from another. Today’s materialist culture largely seeks to discredit not only religion, but also anything not directly involved with the physical senses, such as spirituality. As process philosopher Charles Hartshorne put it, “Materialism is the denial that the most pervasive processes of nature involve any such psychical functions as sensing, feeling, remembering, desiring, or thinking....” In other words, philosophical materialism denies the things we humans hold most dear. Remember that atheism is a religion.

Many say that New Thought could only have come into existence in the United States of America, which is founded on freedom of speech and religion by people who first and foremost wanted to worship as they wished. As New Thought magazine illustrates, we have spread all over the world. As practitioners of God-aligned mind power, we need to be careful guardians of what we allow to come into our consciousness and remain there. We don’t have to be ostriches, but we do need to be constantly realigning our thoughts coming in as feedback from the outside world with the goals or reference perceptions in our head. Unless you are a meteorologist, don’t give any attention to El Niño!