Within a few blocks of my office is Midtown are at least three temples related to the New Thought movement. New Thought has been variously interpreted, but generally it is considered a religious movement, challenging, as it does, the very perceptions of reality itself. New Thought is usually traced back to Phineas Parkhurst Quimby, a nineteenth century American philosopher and inventor. A watchmaker by trade, Quimby came to believe that mind had ultimate reality and New Thought opined that the divine is true human selfhood, and what we call God is ubiquitous. One of the corollaries of this outlook is that the mind is capable of healing the body. A woman who was a patient of Quimby took his ideas and developed them further. Mary Baker Eddy would eventually found the Christian Science movement. Although the Mother Church of Christian Science is in Boston (and is a somewhat imposing building), over on East 43rd Street in New York stands the First Church of Christ, Scientist.
New Thought was noteworthy in that many of the leaders of the movement were women. Unburdened from traditional Judeo-Christi-Islamic ideas of paternal divinity, New Thought had no use for male-centeredness. One of the early leaders of the movement was Emma Curtis Hopkins. Originally a disciple of Mary Baker Eddy, Hopkins split off from Christian Science and began to organize the New Thought movement. One of her followers was Ernest Holmes, the founder of Religious Science. While based in Los Angeles, Religious Science had roots in New York where Holmes spent some of his younger years. Holmes would eventually write The Science of Mind and his followers would become recognized as another New Thought “church.” While on a lunchtime errand I came across the Religious Science center on East 58th Street, just a few blocks from its kin down by Grand Central.
Theosophy is probably better classified as an esoteric religion rather than New Thought. What ties them together is their beginnings in the late nineteenth century in the Northeast. Helena Blavatsky and Henry Steel Olcott began meeting in New York City and the movement grew out of their mutual interest in the religions of antiquity and the far east. The Theosophical Society moved its headquarters to India with a main US office in Wheaton, Illinois. Nestled between the Church of Christ, Scientist and Religious Science, an office of The Theosophical Society sits quietly on East 53rd Street.
One brief lunch hour will take you past all three. These New Religious Movements attest to the vitality of religious thought. Some of them continue to try to combine science with the world of the mysterious, spiritual universe in which we find ourselves. The obituary for religion was written long ago, but a stroll through Midtown on lunch hour will show it was certainly premature.