Thursday, August 2, 2012

A New Religious Paradigm

In our last blog I quoted Arthur Findlay copiously. Findlay (1883-1954), you’ll recall, is spiritualism’s foremost scholar, historian, philosopher and writer. One of those quotations, the one that distanced spiritualism completely from Christianity, was probably no surprise to seasoned spiritualists but for newcomers it might have been a shocker. And for those outside the movement Findlay’s pronouncement of separation from the Western World’s predominant religion merely reinforces what evangelical Christians have been saying about us for more than 100 years.

It’s important to note that when modern spiritualism was born in the mid-nineteenth century it was not the first religious movement to raise doubts about Christianity. The role played by Deists in founding of the United States of America is well known and Deists openly denied many of the traditional doctrines of Christianity such as the trinity, virgin birth and so on ­– doctrines that conservative Christians insist must be believed if one is to avoid the wrath of God in the form of hellfire in the life hereafter.

Concurrent with Deism was the spread of Unitarianism and Universalism, Ralph Waldo Emerson being one of Unitarianism’s most outstanding spokespersons. Unitarians, as their name discloses, deny the trinity and a whole lot more. It’s safe to say that those in most Unitarian congregations nowadays never mention the atonement, salvation, heaven and hell, inspiration of the Bible or a host of other teachings that are bread and butter for traditional churches. Universalism, of course, teaches that all religions are valid, each being a separate path to God – something that is anathema to orthodox Christians. (In the United States the Unitarians and Universalists merged into one denomination in 1961.)

Unity Church, Spokane, Washington
Then about the same time spiritualism was getting its start came New Thought. While spiritualism shares many points in common with Unitarianism and Universalism, New Thought teachings seem to be omnipresent in spiritualism. (Note: to read a summary of New Thought teachings, refer to the documents on our sister website at I’ve met many spiritualists who, when they don’t have a spiritualist church nearby to attend, frequent a New Thought church regularly. The two largest New Thought denominations are Unity organized by Charles and Myrtle Fillmore and Religious Science started by Earnest Holmes. While most New Thought folks recognize Christian Science (formed by Mary Baker Eddy) as similar, they do not consider that denomination as part of the traditional New Thought movement.

Like Spiritualism, Unitarianism, Deism and Universalism, New Thought was an early break-away from orthodox Christianity.  New Thought does not officially endorse the findings of spiritualism although those in the movement do expect an afterlife similar to what is revealed by spiritualists. Reincarnation is also generally accepted as well and a great many New Thought folks would, I believe, espouse most of what spiritualism reveals if they only knew what it was. Over the years I’ve worked with Unity congregations, teaching classes and occasionally lecturing for Sunday services so I feel very comfortable with these churches.

William Walker Atkinson
Interestingly, one of New Thought’s early pioneers, William Walker Atkinson (1862-1932), was also quite familiar and comfortable with spiritualism. A prolific writer about New Thought, he also wrote and published (under various pseudonyms) some spiritualist and psychic titles that have remained in print for decades ­– most notably Genuine Mediumship under the pen name Swami Bhakta Vishita.  Atkinson also served as president of the International New Thought Alliance, an organization that is still very much alive. So those in New Thought cannot deny many similarities (and a similar history) between their movement and spiritualism.

All of the movements we’ve been looking at have been denounced over and over again by orthodox Christians, primarily because of what the groups refuse to accept as truth. Members of each of these groups have at times experienced acts of unkindness and in some instances actual persecution simply because they did not believe dogmas that the Christians thought essential. And each of these groups has repeatedly been denounced by clergy as being non-Christian.

So is it surprising that Findlay says what he does about spiritualism – “Spiritualism and Christianity have no connection whatever”? The other religious movements above can legitimately say the same thing.

My point in going through all this church history is to show that over the past couple hundred years there have been many who have discovered the same thing spiritualists did – that most of the core teachings of Christianity are, indeed, not worthy of acceptance. When one examines the earliest church history – the first through the third centuries – it becomes obvious that most of the earliest Christians knew nothing of the dogmas that are seen nowadays as core beliefs. (Findlay covered this early church history and the evolution of dogma in his book The Psychic Stream.)

In the next blog I will examine a famous modern-day clergyman who is leading a large pack of Christians in a new movement that also says it’s time to abandon superstitions of the past that have left their mark within the church in the form of doctrines that simply are not acceptable to a rational person. All this refutes, I believe, the assertion that spiritualists are unique in their approach to orthodox Christianity. Furthermore, many still within the churches are questioning deeply what they’ve been told. Findlay’s call for a new Reformation may well see fruition just around the corner!