I recently read One Simple Idea, How Positive Thinking Reshaped Modern Life, by Mitch Horowitz, which charts the history of the positive thinking movement from Quimby and Eddy, to modern day prosperity-gospel televangelists.
I’m sure any Christian Scientist would shudder to think of Ms. Eddy lumped in with Creflo Dollar — fear not, I linked to the wikipedia page, not his website which requests “Love Gift Offers,” but here they are, neatly packaged in the same book with 42 pages of notes on sources in the back.
Horowitz discusses, at length, the Quimby-Eddy-Dresser triangle over who wrote what and when. Quimby published “almost nothing during his life.” Quimby’s writings were held by the Dresser family after his death, and his “edited notebooks did not begin to see publication until 1921.”
During all this, Eddy is busily consolidating her movement. She builds a publishing house, appoints a Board of Directors (with herself in charge), writes The Manual, and over 100 years later, you’ve likely heard of her (even if you confuse Christian Science and Scientology). This book is not about Eddy or Christian Science, but her former students get a lot of coverage in the early chapters.
After Quimby and Eddy, it all gets rather complicated. Eddy largely disappears from the scene (she’s busy with her Church), however there are plenty of disaffected students of Eddy being praised by Dresser for properly crediting Quimby (Warren Felt Evans), starting their own schools (Emma Curtis Hopkins). A few others pop up here and there as The New Thought Movement becomes somewhat splintered, with none really taking the hold (or cult of personality) that Eddy did. The focus shifts, and becomes less on physical healing and more on prosperity — God wants you to be prosperous!
The rest of the New Thought/New Age/Positive Thinking/Prosperity Gospel figures drift in and out, which some being more popular than others, but their end message is similar: you have the power to create your own reality. From the secular message of Dale Carnegie (How to Win Friends and Influence People) to the decidedly religious undertones of Norman Vincent Peale (The Power of Positive Thinking), to the “send me your money because God wants you” to of Pat Robinson.
I felt things got a bit repetitive: over the last 100+ years, the same ideas were being repackaged, admittedly by new people, and sold to new audiences. Horowitz does an excellent job compiling the highlights, and the last chapter, Does it Work? left me curious about the science behind the mind/body connection, but given my experiences growing up with Christian Science, I’m deeply skeptical.