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New Thought and AA | AA Beyond Belief

The obvious connecting hyperlink between Alcoholics Anonymous and the New Thought movement comes by means of William James who “had found answers to his own depression and doubts about his self-worth from… New Thought teachings, which he termed ‘mind-cure’… While New Thought organizations never became very large, their ideas have wide acceptance in general society and also influenced early AA…. The principal benefit… was much like the program of the Oxford Group and the claims of William James in his seminal book. It transformed religious beliefs into a plan of action that individuals could follow for their own benefit in solving problems here and now.”
(New Wine – The Religious Roots of the Twelve Step Miracle, Mel B., p. 105)

The powers of the universe will instantly respond to your individual appeals and needs.


“Mind-cure” is discussed at size within the Varieties lectures. James sees roots of New Thought ideas in the four Gospels, Emersonian transcendentalism, Berkeleyian idealism, spiritism, evolutionism, and Hinduism. Others see an origin that dates back to Plato’s cave, where “ideas” had larger actuality than matter. The New Thought philosophy also appears to have been influenced by the works of Emmanuel Swedenborg who held the view that the fabric realm is among the effects whose causes are religious, and whose objective is divine.

Lois Wilson’s family, the Burnhams, have been staunchly ensconced in this faction – her grandfather was a Swedenborgian minister.

What Is “New Thought”?

”New Thought is a religious motion, typically classed as a Christian denomination, which developed in america in the 19th Century, following the teachings of Phineas Quimby. It’s a thoughts healing motion… based mostly on spiritual and metaphysical presuppositions.”  (Encyclopaedia Britannica)  New Thought is “an umbrella term for diverse beliefs that emphasize experiencing God’s presence for practical purposes, such as healing or success.” (

Or getting sober, perhaps.

(a) We have been alcoholic and couldn’t manage our personal lives.
(b)  That in all probability no human power might have relieved our alcoholism.
(c)  That God might and would if He have been sought. (BB, p. 60)

“The New Thought person was to be free from the principles of a declared belief, instead being in touch with the omnipresent Indwelling Presence of God.” (The Street To Fellowship, Richard Dubiel, p. three) In contrast to most spiritual societies, there isn’t a sacred textual content, or immutable canon. “Truth is viewed as a matter of continuing revelation, and no one leader or institution can declare with finality what is the nature of truth.” (

This is not so in contrast to “Our book is meant to be suggestive only. We realize we know only a little. God will constantly disclose more to you and to us.” (BB, p. 164) AA is just not frozen in 1939.

In concept, no less than.

For a comparatively small group, New Thought has experienced a lot fragmentation. Beliefs are assorted, and thus, troublesome to summarize. The three main factions as we speak are: 1. Spiritual Science; 2. Unity Church; three. Church of Divine Science. Bill Wilson’s close good friend, Marty Mann, was a longtime member of the Church of Spiritual Science.

The majority of the remaining sects have unified beneath the banner of the International New Thought Alliance (INTA).


In 1914, numerous New Thought splinter groups shaped an affiliation, and in 1916, put out a “mission statement”.

“To teach the Infinitude of the Supreme One, the Divinity of Man and his Infinite Possibilities through the creative power of constructive thinking and obedience to the voice of the indwelling Presence which is our source of Inspiration, Power, Health and Prosperity.” (

The 1917 “Declaration of Principles”, modified in 1919, “emphasized the immanence of God, the divine nature of man, the immediate availability of God’s power to man, the spiritual character of the universe, and the fact that sin, and human disorders are basically matters of incorrect thinking”. (Britannica)

The fashionable INTA web site lists New Ideas “affirmations” which embrace:

We affirm the facility of prayer and the capability of every individual to have mystical experience with God, and to enjoy the grace of God.

  1. We affirm the manifestation of the dominion of heaven right here and now.
  2. We affirm…loving one another unconditionally… (and) ministering to at least one one other.


Phineas Quimby

Phineas QuimbyPhineas Quimby (1806-1866) “a self-educated clockmaker from Portland, Maine, is generally acknowledged as the founder of New Thought”. (New Wine, p. 104) Quimby “practiced mesmerism and developed his concepts of mental and spiritual healing, and health based on the view that illness is a matter of the mind”. (Britannica)

Anton Mesmer (1734-1815), a physician who practiced hypnotism, and other types of psychic healing, attributed his successes to a natural energetic transference that he referred to as “animal magnetism”. A Royal Fee investigating the “cures” wrought by one in every of Mesmer’s disciples concluded the trigger to be “imagination”.

The previous clockmaker thought that his healings weren’t from animal magnetism. He thought he was duplicating the works of Christ, and other prophets. The Skeptic’s Dictionary agrees, seeing a sameness within the biblical and Quimby phenomena. “The power of suggestion, the optimism of the healer, the strong motivation of the sick to be rid of their various ailments (many of them psychological), the faith of the patient in the cure of the healer, the rituals and theater of the healing all combine to produce what we now loosely call the placebo effect.” (Skeptic’s Dictionary)

A few years earlier, the feedback of Mark Twain have been more succinct. He proclaimed that “all the various forms of New Thought, as well as Christian Science, were cut from the same cloth… they all do their miracles with the same old powerful instrument–the patient’s imagination”. (Dubiel, p. 3)

Although she denied it, Quimby could be seen to have influenced Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science, a movement which was explosively common at the turn of the 20th century. Eddy had been a “patient” of Quimby’s.

“Did Christian Science teachings have anything to do with the forming of AA and the evolution of the Twelve Steps? Bill Wilson, months before he met up with the Oxford Group, had read and reread Mary Baker Eddy’s Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures in the hope of overcoming his drinking by strengthening his willpower.” (New Wine, p. 104)

Hearth and Brimstone

New Thought was, in some ways, a response to the prevailing intellectual and spiritual climates of the period. It may be “traced to the dissatisfaction on the part of many persons with scientific empiricism and their reaction to religious skepticism in the 17th and 18th centuries”. (Britannica) As properly, the “fire and brimstone” that constituted the Christian reign of terror being foisted on nearly all of People, left a gap for something extra constructive.

“Man… is reared in fear; all his life is passed in bondage to fear of death and disease; and thus his whole mentality becomes cramped, limited, and depressed, and his body follows its shrunken pattern and specification… a perpetual nightmare… an ocean of morbidity.” (Best Suggestion by means of Psychological Images, p. 54)

And then, Hell awaits.

New Thought counters with an unflinchingly constructive and optimistic view of life and its consequence. By… resigning the care of your destiny to greater powers… the believer provides the little personal convulsive self a relaxation.” (Language of the Heart, Trysh Travis, p. 77)

William James and Eldwood Worcester

“James disaggregated spirituality from specific theologies… and thus made it available for use by anti-authoritarian alcoholics.” (Travis, p. 78) Further, “James characterized New Thought’s highest aim as an undoing of the modern norms of vigilance and aggression, the cultivation of ‘passivity, not activity; relaxation, not intentness’”. These ideas invite comparability to the relief methods employed by lay therapists Courtenay Baylor and Richard Peabody of the Emmanuel Movement, which was influenced by Christian Science and New Thought concepts.

Elwood Worcester was an Episcopal minister with a PhD in psychology. His Emmanuel Movement was, at the least partially, a response to Christian Science and New Thought, each claiming to heal numerous illnesses by Christian strategies. These are “’harmonial religions’ …in which spiritual composure, physical health, and even economic well-being are understood to flow from a personal rapport with the cosmos”. (Dubiel, p. 2) The Emmanuels tried to reconcile psychotherapy and Christianity. Their efforts in bringing “free religious psychotherapy” led to conflicts with the medical authorities, but not before they have been brought into contact with many alcoholics among the populations of tuberculosis, and neurasthenia sufferers they targeted to help.

And we now have ceased preventing something or anyone – even alcohol. For by this time sanity may have returned. We’ll seldom be thinking about liquor. If tempted, we recoil from it as from a scorching flame. We react sanely and usually, and we’ll find that this has happened mechanically. We’ll see that our new angle toward liquor has been given us with none thought or effort on our part. It simply comes! That’s the miracle of it. We aren’t preventing it, neither are we avoiding temptation. We really feel as though we had been positioned able of neutrality – protected and protected. We’ve not even sworn off. As an alternative, the problem has been eliminated. It doesn’t exist for us. We are neither cocky nor are we afraid. (BB, pp. 84-85)

The well-known 10th step guarantees are dripping with passivity!

Early AA

Early AA members have been inspired to learn New Thought literature resembling Emmet Fox’s The Sermon on the Mount and Thomas Troward’s Edinburgh Lectures on Mental Science. Some went to the Ministry of Excessive Watch retreat, based mostly on the educating of Eddy disciple, Emma Hopkins. Excessive Watch was “one of the first treatment communities to address alcoholism solely through spiritual means”. (Travis, p. 79)

Richmond Walker, an AA member who acquired sober in Boston in 1942, penned a every day meditation ebook, Twenty-Four Hours A Day, in 1948, after shifting to Daytona Seashore. This guide was immediately fashionable, and it has been conjectured that there might have been a time when extra AA members owned Walker’s quantity that owned the fairly expensive Massive Guide. Based on historian Glenn Chesnut, “there are flashes of the Emmanuel Movement’s New Thought mysticism scattered throughout the text”. (

“It is certain… that the early AA movement acquired a few ideas from the Christian Science and New Thought teachings… Did Christian Science teachings have anything to do with the forming of AA and the evolution of the Twelve Steps? Bill Wilson, months before he met up with the Oxford Group, had read and reread Mary Baker Eddy’s Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures in the hope of overcoming his drinking by strengthening his willpower.” (New Wine, pp. 103-104)

Letting Go

A elementary and essential AA technique includes “letting go”. “Some of us have tried to hold onto our old ideas and the result was nil until we let go absolutely.” (BB, p. 58) Change by means of religion sprouts from comparable seeds. “The individual becomes willing to give up the old self or the old ways… and the answers come. James called this ‘surrender’ the ‘way of success.’” (New Wine, p. 104)

“It’s not hard to see that this same idea was transferred to AA.” (New Wine, p. 104) A Second Version story, The Professor and the Paradox, lists 4 paradoxes of how AA works. Quantity One is “We Surrender to Win”. Though Invoice Wilson judiciously prevented utilizing the precise time period “surrender” in writing the Huge E-book, the concept is there.

AA, in its ebook, expresses disdain for the “self-propulsion” and “self-will run riot” of their former lives, these ambitions going hand in hand with compulsive consuming. “Influenced by both the evangelical Oxford Group… and New Thought religions, AA’s created a sense of self and of community loosely premised on what (sociologist) Max Weber has called a ‘religious rejection of the world.’” (Travis, p. 62)

“Alcoholics Anonymous… is premised on a ‘rejection of the world’ …AA’s versions of asceticism and mysticism derive from… the active and evangelical Protestantism of Frank Buchman’s Oxford Group and the passive, idealist, harmonial optimism of New Thought religions… By vigorously embracing the ascetic ‘surrendered life’, AA’s became able to pursue a deliberately diffuse, non-creedal, and sometimes mystical spirituality.” (Travis, p. 70)

“To the New Thought idealist, it is the world’s false definitions of health, wealth, and happiness that weigh down and sicken the soul. Devotional practice – affirmations, prayers, meditations – works to loosen the hold of those false definitions on the spirit and thus restore its ‘natural’ health and prosperity.” (Travis, p. 77)

New Thought within the Trendy World

The 21st Century incarnations of the New Thought Movement are largely business. The constructive considering that was believed capable of religious regeneration, or even of physical healing by those within the Eddy camp, now seems in the self-help world as the “golden ticket” to all that the avaricious coronary heart might want.

Phineas Quimby may flinch at The Secret, or probably bemoan his lack of foresight in not himself venturing down the yellow brick street of gold ingots. The notion that constructive thoughts have an all-encompassing energy over future results, supplies more than ample fodder for critics. Even more so, perhaps, does the corollary that unfavorable considering is on the root of each tribulation.

The number of healed amputees, in fact, stays at zero.

Can anybody consider that in the event you occur to have the misfortune of being born, say, in a squalid Indian village governed by a caste system, that each one it’s a must to do is consider your method out?

In a harshly essential 2010 evaluate, The New York Occasions states: “‘The Power’ and ‘The Secret’ are larded with references to magnets, energy and quantum mechanics. This last is a dead giveaway: whenever you hear someone appeal to impenetrable physics to explain the workings of the mind, run away – we already have disciplines called “psychology” and “neuroscience” to cope with these questions. Byrne’s onslaught of pseudoscientific jargon serves principally to determine an “illusion of knowledge”, as social scientists name our tendency to consider we perceive something a lot better than we actually do”.

The “Law of Attraction” is about as a lot a regulation as AA “statistics” are statistics.

Rhonda’s Byrne’s enormously successful ebook has spawned many imitators, whereas itself being an imitation of the “positive thinking” efforts of generations ago. Napoleon Hill and Norman Vincent Peale grew out of the essential New Thought mentality. The torch of the movement’s  “spiritually-focused” facet is Oprah Winfrey, who can also be no opponent of monetary windfall, but don’t go dissing Oprah! Oprah is God!

Alcoholics Anonymous

AA’s ideas of taking the whole drink drawback and turning it over to God, is solely suitable with core New Thought considering. When one reads the Huge E-book on the lookout for constructive affirmations, there are numerous to be found. Journeying via the philosophy and writings of William James, and additionally the Emmanuel Movement, New Thought’s rules have arrived in AA.

Phineas Quimby in all probability didn’t foresee that.

Concerning the Writer

Bob Okay. lives within the Metropolitan Toronto area, and has been a sober member of Alcoholics Nameless since 1991, and an out-of-the-closet atheist for that whole time. He has been a daily contributor to the AA Agnostica website for nearly 5 years, and in January, 2015, revealed Key Players in AA History In 2013, he co-founded the Whitby Freethinkers assembly.

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