The Love Child Of Phineas Quimby And Mary Baker Eddy
A Course In Miracles (ACIM) is oft referred to as The New Age Bible; and frankly, that sums it up so adequately that I fear I’ll only stir the waters in this review, clouding what is already a perfect description.
Yet, nobody wants to read a 4-word blog. Further, the term “New Age” very well may carry more baggage than the Bible – well maybe not that much but you’re picking up what I’m putting down – perhaps an elaboration of terms is necessary.
So What Is New Age? Let Us Saunter To This Story’s Humble Beginnings: Animal Magnetism
Let’s hop in the time machine and revisit the historical roots of Vitalism. Though wrestled with since Ancient Greece and Ancient Egypt – those Pyramid junkies had their hands in everything – it became the hot fad in underground biologists nightclubs in the 18th and 19th centuries – if those did indeed exist; I pray they did.
The theory so states that animate organisms are governed by different principle then inanimate things. That life, as opposed to nonlife, is more than a mere mechanistic process but a life-force of sorts, a nonbiological life-energy, or what is traditionally referred to as “the soul.”
Though this distinction is similarly found in many of world’s great religions, and philosophically, Plato and Aristotle posited an interaction albeit incompatible divide between mind and body, it wasn’t seriously investigated scientifically until a man by the name of René Descartes brought it into the limelight. Enter stage left:
His famous phrase sparked the beginning of a new era, he boldly declared, “cogito ergo sum,” or “I reflect, therefore I am.”
The Mind became the be all and the end all. A hyperized rationalism. A person came to be understood in terms of “mind” in a supernatural sense, and not solely in terms of the “physical” that is, a natural, biological sense. So, reality is in the mind, and the body is supplemental, transient, and wanting.
Further, Descartes defined the duality as such that it no longer needed “religion” as the explanation, it could stand alone.
As you can imagine, this opened the floodgates for a proliferation of ideas and doctrines about what this force is and what it’s capable of, and the purpose it serves. Behold! The church of vitalism! Sorta…
Franz Mesmer (1734 – 1815)
Vitalism had many theories under its umbrella, one of which was called Mesmerism AKA animal magnetism, proposed by Franz Mesmer.
He believed the life-force was in everything with the “breath” of life – He chose the word animal because it’s a derivative of the Latin “animus” meaning “breath,” apparently this included vegetables, which do not have breath…way to be consistent Franz…
Anyway, the life-force, per Mesmer, is an invisible magnetic fluid that animates and sustains all life, also including nonlife but that’s a different magnetic force – kind of confusing. In a manner of speaking, the inner magnetic field had to be in balance with the outer magnetic field of the heavenlies (stars, moon, plants, etc). Basically, a magnetized homeostasis was necessary for optimal health and functioning.
“He surmised that the body must have two poles, like a magnet, and must, like a magnet, be emitting an invisible magnetic “fluid.” According to Mesmer, disease was due to some interruption or maladjustment in the flow of this “fluid,” and it, therefore, be cured by correcting the flow (Anton-Mesmer.org).”
Consequently, this fluid can be manipulated and its effects can be felt on the physical plane. This assertion is what led Mesmer to posit the miraculous healing powers of animal magnetism.
Once magnetized, individuals would flail, moan, convulse, fall into a trance, speak in tongues, etc., this was called the “crisis stage” And was said to be the healing manifesting. He even had crisis rooms.
All this is eerily similar to the contemporary Pentecostal Church. The only major difference being Mesmer frequently magnetized objects and/or made the individuals drink magnetized water (which just meant it was enriched with iron filings and mind-energy-magnetic juice)…yup, very strange.
Nonetheless, putting aside the weird metal-shaving smoothie, the impact was momentous. That the mind-force could alter one’s biology and influence healing was animal magnetism’s ultimate contribution to the discussion at hand.
Phineas Quimby (1802-1866)
By the time it landed in America, it became better known as a pre-scientific hypnosis begotten by the power of suggestion. Puységur, a magnetizer who carried on a varied form of the mesmerism, without the overtly mystically magnetic overtones, wrote:
I believe in the existence within myself of a power.
From this belief derives my will to exert it.
The entire doctrine of Animal Magnetism is contained in the two words: Believe and Want.
I believe that I have the power to set into action the vital principle of my fellow-men;
I want to make use of it; this is all my science and all my means.
Believe and want, Sirs, and you will do as much as I.
Therefore, we arrive back at Descartes, with the mysterious nature of the mind and, subsequently, a young Phineas Quimby prepared to capitalize on it.
Quimby, under the tutelage of Puységur, quickly mastered the craft of animal magnetism – hypnotizing those susceptible and supposedly healing that which doctors could not.
Phineas made animal magnetism more practical in my mind’s eye. Rather than a mystery magnetic fluid, or just simply the power of persuasion and suggestion, he became a psychologist of sorts, claiming that the problem centered in the mind.
He claimed that a flawed belief system is what causes disease. If the mind had the power to heal the body then it most definitely had the power to sicken it; thus, disease was a product of erroneous beliefs out of sync with truth. Leaves us wondering…what is truth?
The Flowering Of A New Structured Belief System
Quimby ultimately took the foundation of Descartes, the practical application of Mesmer, and the pragmatic doctrine of Puységur, and forged a brand new school thought – The New Thought Movement.
Though not opposed to variations, if anything the diversity is celebrated and claimed to preserve truth. However, in general, each adherent to New Thought subscribes to these five tenets:
- Infinite Intelligence or God is omnipotent and omnipresent.
- Spirit is the ultimate reality.
- True human self-hood is divine.
- Divinely attuned thought is a positive force for good.
- All disease is mental in origin.
Right thinking has a healing effect.
Free from orthodox theologies, Quimby ultimately taught a very loose systematic theology which was largely experiential and closer to a spiritualized-psychology, wherein mental states were equated with spiritual ones and truth was perceptual, not propositional. Indeed, nothing is more evident of this than the moniker his movement was given: the “mind-cure movement.”
William James, Please Do Me The Good Honor Of Explaining Precisely What Phineas Quimby Spearheaded
…for the sake of having a brief designation, I will give the title of the “Mind-cure movement.” There are various sects of this “New Thought,” to use another of the names by which it calls itself; but their agreements are so profound that their differences may be neglected for my present purpose, and I will treat the movement, without apology, as if it were a simple thing.
It is an optimistic scheme of life, with both a speculative and a practical side. In its gradual development during the last quarter of a century, it has taken up into itself a number of contributory elements, and it must now be reckoned with as a genuine religious power. It has reached the stage, for example, when the demand for its literature is great enough for insincere stuff, mechanically produced for the market, to be to a certain extent supplied by publishers – a phenomenon never observed, I imagine, until a religion has got well past its earliest insecure beginnings.
One of the doctrinal sources of Mind-cure is the four Gospels; another is Emersonianism or New England transcendentalism; another is Berkeleyan idealism; another is spiritism, with its messages of “law” and “progress” and “development”; another the optimistic popular science evolutionism of which I have recently spoken; and, finally, Hinduism has contributed a strain. But the most characteristic feature of the mind-cure movement is an inspiration much more direct. The leaders in this faith have had an intuitive belief in the all-saving power of healthy-minded attitudes as such, in the conquering efficacy of courage, hope, and trust, and a correlative contempt for doubt, fear, worry, and all nervously precautionary states of mind. Their belief has in a general way been corroborated by the practical experience of their disciples; and this experience forms to-day a mass imposing in amount.
**Fun fact: This is the book Bill W., co-founder of A.A., read while he was in Towns Hospital and had his ‘awakening.’ coincidence? I think not.**
Yet, humankind tenaciously clings to its cultural roots and one of Phineas’s disciples simply could not agree with his appalling lack of respect for tradition…so she Christianized it.
Hello, Mrs. Mary Baker Eddy (1821 – 1910)
Mrs. Eddy forged a theology which was New Thought, Gnosticism, and Idealism, dogmatized with Christian terms and concepts. Thus, maintaining the religion of her childhood but reconciling it with what she perceived to be the Truth. She dubbed this “primitive Christianity,” as it authentically was in Christ’s time, per Eddy and formally referred to the system as Christian Science.
In like manner, she developed doctrines very similar to Quimby.
- God is All-in all.
- God is good.
- God is Mind, and God is infinite; hence all is Mind and, consequently, all is good. Thus, evil is a mere illusion.
This third point is instrumental in the doctrinal formation of The Course In Miracles.
If God is good and God is Spirit, than that which is not spirit i.e. matter, is not good. This can be traced to Platonism, wherein Plato hypothesized that the perfect world is the World Of Forms (or ideas) and that this world that we see is an imperfect expression of those ideas.
Predating Descartes rationalism over a thousand years, the dealings of idealism have been floating around for quite some time; and as time went on, this world of “matter, time, and space” became identified with inferiority and, ultimately, evil.
Thus, in due time, one could argue that sickness was a reality only in the imperfect world of matter and decay. Eddy – leveraging this philosophical viewpoint – posited that this world is an illusion, a perceptual dysfunction, and what she believed was the historical concept of sin (that which is not God and consequently, as not God, could not be real since God is All).
Therefore, similar to Quimby she proposed the key was in the Mind (idealism i.e. the world of forms). Remember, to Eddy the Mind was God and the body, which was matter, was evil and ultimately not real. Ergo, physically healing what aligning one’s mind with The Mind, or Truth (as Quimby put it), and this was done by the Holy Spirit through prayer.
Understand, prayer was not a rote recitation, instead, it was that which corrects the faulty perception, bringing the perception in alignment with the Divine Mind.
Well, What In God’s Name Does This Look Like??
Like Jesus of course! The correct perception i.e. in tune with the Divine, was demonstrated perfectly in the life of Christ (remember the tradition remained!) and evidenced in all His healings, signs, wonders, and miracles – thus the Bible is used generously in Christian Science, because the claim is that He was the first authentic Christian Science practitioner.
In sum, her focus was the same as Mesmer and Quimby, healing of the body occurs when one’s mind is in accord with the Truth…and this is necessarily so because the body is only as healthy as the mind it’s housing.
The Context Is Set And We Are Ready For Launch!
Though rife with limitations, I pray this brief lesson in history will pave the road of comprehension for your reading of the concepts within The Course.
Though subjective, as any historical analysis is, I do believe these were are the main philosophical influences to what would become A Course In Miracles.
Next, we will arrive in New York City circa 1960’s…
Timmy G (2018)