When ‘positive spirituality’ becomes weaponized

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Often people discover the New Thought movement through the writings of various New Age motivational teachers or through books on “law of attraction” and “prosperity mindset.” As New Thought churches rely rather heavily on them for outreach and congregational growth, for too long they have overlooked the glaring errors and misunderstandings in those popular talks, books, and movies.

Among others, one of the most widespread errors is that one could free themselves from all limitations by merely getting rid of a “victim mentality.” This is a popular trope often spoken by motivational speakers, personal coaches, and pseudo-spiritual folks, perhaps with a genuinely good intention, but it is nevertheless a dangerous error rooted in a fundamental misunderstanding of the New Thought theo/thealogy.

The world would be a far better place if simply everyone could deny a “victim mentality” and fool themselves into thinking that there is no such thing as a victim.

But in reality, victims do indeed exist in this imperfect world. Positive thinking does not eradicate systemic violence in our society, nor does it destroy social, economic, and political oppressions overnight. The only thing it does is to help change individual attitudes in spite of victimization. But you cannot force that on others, and it’s immoral and cruel to tell them to just forget “victim mentality” and move on.

To say that there are no victims implies two things:

  1. It is wrong for people who suffer from violence and oppression (and other people’s misdeeds) to even acknowledge suffering. This logically leads to victim-blaming and gaslighting.
  2. It is okay for someone to look after their own selfish interests and screw others because nobody can be victimized. Often those who are not members of Unity or CSL, who lack the basic understandings of the New Thought teachings, misappropriate and abuse the New Thought beliefs to exalt their own self and self-centered desires. By saying that there is no such thing as a victim, they can morally and ethically justify their selfishness as a virtue, in a way very similar to Ayn Rand and her cultists. It disturbs me very much when many well-intentioned people, who also tend to be politically left-of-center, buy into this erroneous belief.

In one of the New Thought classics, The Doors of Everything, Ruby Nelson writes of “sub-creations.” The sub-creations are products of collective human behaviors which lead to sufferings — and for which humans are solely responsible.

“For mind and heart have always worked together to form a powerful force. When thought combines with feeling, activity is set in motion, things are brought about. The more intense the feeling, the greater is its active force. It is for this one reason, simple though it may sound, that many kinds of troubles with plague the world have been brought into existence… It is because of this misuse of thought and feeling that… planet earth has been perverted… This superimposed web of destructive forces is merely the sub-creation of the surface mind, the strictly-human side of mind which evolved away from the [Divine] consciousness… To call the web of human sub-creation ‘appearances’ is not to say that it is imaginary. Actually, it is real, painfully — sometimes inhumanly — real and active.”

New Thought did not start out as a religion of the rich and powerful to justify their greed and worship of self. For example, Unity was started by a former salesman Charles Fillmore who failed in business and his wife Myrtle Fillmore who suffered a series of devastating illnesses. Ernest Holmes, the founder of what is today known as the Centers for Spiritual Living (CSL), was a poor student from an economically impoverished background who had to work retail jobs to pay his way through a ministry school. In the early history of the New Thought movement, most of its teachers and authors were women, who did not enjoy the level of equality and economic power that we now take for granted.

In recent years, both Unity and CSL — two of the major New Thought denominations — are refocusing their teachings to help their members evolve beyond “prosperity” and self-actualization, toward social justice and “spiritual activism.” Indeed, the slogan of CSL today is “for a world that works for everyone.”

Weaponizing a spiritual or religious language — regardless of whichever the path you may be following — to demean others is wrong. Even the best of wisdom and truth can be abused and misused that way.