The answer to this question can be as short as an elevator answer, meaning about as long as one might be in an elevator and asked the question, or a far more in depth answer that is the stuff books are made of. The elevator answer might be a simple statement that “New Thought is an ever evolving understanding that all of life happens through us, never to us. It uses the term or word consciousness to further explain the process, often quoting Emmet Fox’s statement, ‘Life is consciousness,’ that leads one to the ever unfolding idea that in order to affect a change in our life, the realm of mind called consciousness must first change.”
There is some variance in the story of where New Thought got its name, but the most agreed upon was reported in The Christian Commonwealth, June 17, 1914. An unnamed reporter wrote, “It is the outsider who has given this name to the teaching. For when hearing about the use to which this knowledge has been put, and the new interpretation which is given to old truths, conditions and experiences, the commonest remark of the listener has been, ‘Why, that is a new thought!’ And, afterwards, when wishing to refer to it, he has described it as ‘that new thought of yours’.”
What is the teaching of New Thought? William James, in The Varieties of Religious Experience uses this as a definition: “…for the sake of having a brief designation, I will give the title of the “Mind-cure movement…” Who might comprise this New Thought mind-cure movement of today? Certainly Religious Science/Science of Mind, Divine Science, Unity, and even Christian Science would be found within the umbrella term “New Thought,” yet all would espouse different ways of articulating beliefs that are probably foundational to the entire New Thought movement.
Who are the trailblazers of this movement? Many would agree that Phinaes Parkhurst Quimby was the earliest proponent of what today is called New Thought. Certainly some would say that the writings of Emerson belong here as well. Others would say that New Thought is more accurately traced back to Jesus who in every way gave a new interpretation to old truths, conditions and experiences. Along the way in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s we find Emma Curtis Hopkins, Malinda Cramer and Nona Brooks (Divine Science), Mary Baker Eddy (Christian Science), Warren Evans, Emmet Fox, Joel Goldsmith, Ernest Holmes (Religious Science), Horatio Dresser, Annie Rix Militz (Home of Truth) and Charles and Myrtle Fillmore (Unity). There are others who deserve to be recognized, yet for this short writing this must suffice.
What do New Thought’ers believe within what has been defined as a mind-cure movement? Generally, the belief in God as the one and only presence and power whose essence is absolute goodness, abundant supply, infinite knowing and unfathomed joy. Then, further stating that because man and woman are interconnected to this God-Source-Energy…even contiguous extensions thereof…these attributes of God are also for each to internalize and demonstrate in mind, body and affairs. We would also find the understanding that this Energy always moves through man and woman, never to them…hence a refined belief that because thought (mind) is the tool for either alignment with or opposition to this omnipresent Essence, we each are the creators of our own reality. In New Thought one might hear, “If you don’t like your world, change your thought and your world will follow suite.” Also one might hear, “Ours is not to make the world right, but to see the world right.”
Today the heritage of all who have gone before is carried forward through the various New Thought churches, study groups and organizations. Its message is continually a work in process as new interpretations are constantly being applied to old truths, conditions and experiences.