New Age is a more general term and New Thought is a more specific
term. I don’t know when the term New Age was first used, but as its
used in contemporary culture it seems to mostly to apply to the pop
culture spirituality that was inspired by various earlier movements.
One of those earlier movements was New Thought, and New Thought is no
longer distinct from New Age. New Thought has become incorporated
into mainstream culture. Most people who are familiar with New Thought
views aren’t familiar with the New Thought tradition. New Thought has
in some ways become even more generalized than New Age because its
influence has been so wide and yet so below the radar.
I was raised in Unity and it attracted the New Age type of person. It
was normal practice to hug people at church and everything was fairly
politically correct. There was an extreme open-mindedness about it
even though it was Christian… by which I mean that no one cared if
you were saved or if you believed in any particular dogma. New
Thought Christianity is often referred to as Practical Christianity.
There are two basic elements to this.
First, personal experience is prioritized and so having a personal
relationship to Jesus/God is emphasized. The difference between this
and the personal relationship of other Christians is that its very
relaxed. Jesus is your friend and you can talk to him as you would a
friend. Jesus isn’t our Lord. Instead, this notion is replaced with
the idea of Jesus being the (or a) Wayshower, a wise and knowledgable
Second, the power of mind is related to the Power of God. We are
microcosms of God, and as such we are co-creators of our reality.
There is a difference here from some later adaptations in New Age.
This power is rooted in our personal relationship to Jesus/God.
Beyond simple positive thinking, its primarily about faith and the
ultimate goal is in deepening our faith experience.
New Thought influenced the New Age, but it has other influences.
Unity publishes a small magazine which if I remember correctly is
called The Daily Word. It used to (and may still) have a wide
readership outside of Unity. I met people from mainstream Christian
churches that said that their church distributed it. Unsurprisingly,
even though these people had seen Unity’s magazine, they didn’t know
of Unity or of New Thought. Also, recently, I’ve been noticing New
Thought creeping into the Evangelical movement (practically taking it
over in some cases).
New Thought has common origin in several other American movements. At
the time Unity was forming, Americans were seeking a new form of
religion. For instance, out of this same milieu, the Mormons arose.
New Thought has much in common with the UU church as Unity too is
Unitarian and Universalist in its theology. The Transcendentalists
also seem to have been a part of this quest for the new. There was an
influence from Eastern texts that were being translated, but there
also was a renewed interest in the long suppressed Gnostic strains of
the Western tradition. The inspired text A Course In Miracles has a
strong Gnostic flavor to it and it was an extremely popular book in
Unity. One of the more interesting influences of New Thought was
Mesmer who proposed the idea of animal magnetism, that there was a
power in the world that could be directed for the good of humans…
specifically in terms of healing. There is a strong emphasis on
healing in Unity and in Evangelism. Interestingly, Mesmer led to the
tradition of hypnotism which in course led to Neuro-linguistic
Programming (NLP). NLP, similar to New Thought, is interested in how
we influence reality through our perception of it.
Another interesting American phenomena is Landmark Forum which
originated from EST. Landmark is a more harsh (almost cult-like)
product of the New Age movement. Its positive thinking on steroids.
I’ve been to a Landmark Forum. It had some useful things to teach,
but I didn’t like its morally questionable techniques of influencing
participants. EST supposedly had even stronger methodologies. Sadly,
I’ve heard that Landmark is gaining a foothold in some Unity circles.
If Landmark used its stronghold tactics to inveigle its way into
Unity, then it could use it as a respectable front for its
prosyletizing activities. This is the darkside of the New Age.
All of this that I mentioned has influenced and in some cases been
incorporated into the almost anything goes theology of New Age.
Nonetheless, as I grew up in New Thought as a distinct tradition, I
still consider the two separate. I agree with some of Wilber’s
criticisms of New Age: the Mean Green Meme (MGM) and cultural
BTW my experience with New Age is pretty wide. I’ve read many of the
New Age classics growing up. I also attended a UU for a while. I
went to massage school where I learned about alternative health and
energy healing. Two of the psychotherapists I’ve been to were Reiki
healers and one of them was also a practicing Sufi. I went to a
shamanistic healer a couple of times. I’ve had my hug from the
hugging saint Amma. I’ve done all kinds of spiritual practices over
the years. I used to be a vegetarian. I have interests in various
New Age subjects: tarot, astrology, chakras, etc.
OTOH I was also raised by two fairly conservative parents who later
became very dissatisfied with Unity. I went to highschool in the
conservative South and lived in the heart of the Bible Belt for a
time. I’m fairly critical of much of New Age and New Thought. I’m
very intellectual and can be frustrated by anti-intellectual
ideologies. I’ve spent much of my life depressed and can be annoyed
by the manic cheeriness of some New Agers.
I have both an insiders and an outsiders view of New Thought and New
Age. I meet people online who have just discovered positive thinking
and I have to control myself from expressing my cynicism too strongly.
I’ve practiced New Thought off and on over the years and I still
believe in it, but I also know of its weaknesses and pitfalls. What
annoys me about the positive thinking is that many people who discover
it feel they must prosyletize it as if it can answer all of the
world’s problems. To me, the most important New Thought principle is
acceptance and not optimism. Plus, I distinguish between faith and
optimism… whereas, pop culture positive thinking downplays faith or
limits it to personal psychology.
Even though all of these ideas and experiences have made me who I am,
I don’t label myself as New Age or New Thought. I believe that there is
much truth in these traditions, but I don’t align myself with any
particular tradition… which I suppose is very New Age of me.
Whether or not I’m New Age, there is no doubt I’m a product of this
sub-culture. I joined Gaia because a part of me very clearly
resonates with this kind of positive thinking community. Generally
speaking, I like most New Agers as people. They’re my people and I
understand them. I’m an INFP which is one of the MBTI types that most
closely fits with a New Age worldview. I belong to an INFP forum and
I love the place, but the sweet kind pc friendliness would make some