My ministerial class is currently studying world religions and the latest class tackled Hinduism. In New Thought, we honor all religions. On the other hand, when I read about the complicated and abstract layers of Hindu beliefs, I am very happy to be a New Thought teacher.
A long time ago, a black writer named James Baldwin wrote that he only understood how American he was when he went to live for a while in Europe. In a way, studying other religions makes me understand my allegiance to Religious Science even more than before.
It is very good for New thought leaders to understand world religions and their origins. One reason is that we get people from every faith. We need to minister to people of different ages, social classes and ethnic and religious backgrounds. We New Thought leaders also come from many different heritages.
We also need to understand other people’s religious beliefs because they influence everything. The days when Westerners can trample on older cultures are long gone.
In New Thought, our relation to Oriental religions is unique. Not only are we willing to find goodness and truth in all teachings, but we do have an historic influence that makes us very different in a mostly-Christian country.
Our founder, Ernest Holmes, was influenced by earlier New Thought organizations such as Divine Science and Unity but since he was living in California in the 1920’s and 30’s, his studies brought him a wider understanding of worldwide religious teachings.
There is a big difference between Missouri in the 1880’s when the Fillmores founded Unity and Hollywood in the 1920’s when Holmes founded the original Institute in Los Angeles. In the 20’s & 30’s, Anna Mae Wong was a big movie star and the plots of old films often included séances, past lives, and Oriental mystery and magic.
I don’t mean to imply that Holmes based the Science of Mind Textbook on old movies or Oriental teaching, I am just saying that when he started up, there was a burgeoning interest in Oriental religions. He had a wider world view and he had teachers and lecturers from the Orient in his original Institute classes.
Even more important, one of the major influences of Ernest Holmes was a colonial judge named – Thomas Troward who had lived most of his life in India. Troward was also a religious scholar of Eastern and Western religions. His books, The Creative Process and Edinburg Lectures are classics in New Thought. Every Science of Mind minister and practitioner takes a class in Troward.
Times have changed since the 1920’s. The 1960’s brought a profound interest in Indian culture and religion. From Transcendental Meditation, to the Beatles’ trip to India, and the myriad hatha yoga classes, we know more than we used to about the Hindu belief system. Words like karma, and guru, are part of the English language.
Many people in NorthAmerica meditate daily because they are convinced there are physical and spiritual benefits. Meditation is an accepted activity before prayer for all but the most traditional Christians. We are much more in tune with the Orient than our earliest New Thought people could have imagined.
Since I just finished teaching an Emerson class, I am very aware of how American thought and attitudes are so firmly based on the ideas of self-reliance and trusting yourself. They are also based on an encompassing, non-dual description of God.
Our “American Thought” is quite distinct from the thoughts and beliefs of the early European founders. Our unique and historic waves of immigration have always made us more world wide and less ethno-centric than our North European founders. We speak English but we think American.
Ask around and you will discover that there is no place quite as committed to social mobility and equal opportunity for a diverse population as in this nation. Those are distinct American values that we need to preserve and protect. Turning back the clock politically is not only impossible, it is against our national ethos. While the United States has many influences, in many ways, we have invented ourselves.
Ralph Waldo Emerson is the cornerstone of that distinctly American way of thinking. He is often called the only American philosopher. He and his friends in the Transcendentalist Club were determined to loosen the hold of traditional European dependence. They called for a uniquely American voice in religion and in literature. That is their legacy if you study them in a college class.
In New Thought, we study Emerson primarily because he was an influence on New Thought leaders. His influence is distinct and we know about most of it. What most of us don’t know is that Emerson was definitely influenced by Hindu and Buddhist religious texts. When you study, you find that New Thought has a definite Oriental emphasis on the description of the One God as source of all. Everything!
In his day, Emerson was accused of being a pantheist rather than Christian because he located God in Nature – not just in heaven. Emerson’s OverSoul is as much like the Hindu Atman as anything. Emerson’s idea of God is a long way from the traditional concept of Michelangelo’s Old Man in the Sky.
The ideas that are so uniquely “American” have made the United States different in wonderful ways. I love that about our teaching. The class I taught yesterday was a fascinating class even though the religion is too complicated to cover in one session.
My students are younger and more open to the idea of complete acceptance of the Truth that is found everywhere. I loved it that one of my students had spent time in India and could share stories about how their religion impacted modern Indian lives.
I love the fact that the study of world religions is an integral part of our wonderful New Thought teaching. I love the fact that our ministers are alert, well-informed, and totally committed to the ideas of an all-encompassing and inclusive God who doesn’t have anything outside (like the Devil) to battle.
I love the fact that we know we make our own choices and create our own cause and effect strands (karma). I love the idea that some of us believe in reincarnation but not all of us accept that Hindu belief as our own.
I love being a New Thought teacher. Not a day goes by that I don’t bless this religion and its mandate to accept, include and speak for the highest and best in all of humankind.
What do I love about my country?
What do I love about New Thought?
What have I learned that’s new lately?
What is my personal religious heritage?
How have I integrated it into my present life?