BOOK REVIEW: Metaphysical Movements in America

In The History and Philosophy of the Metaphysical Movements in America (1967), J. Stillson Judah explores the connections between the various 19th and 20th century movements he refers to as “metaphysical,” such as New Thought, Theosophy, and Christian Science. Judah’s consideration of both the principles and the histories of these movements, while painting portraits of their often enigmatically charismatic founders, serves as an enlightening investigation of the roots of what is now often referred to as the New Age movement. One wonders whether the Self of Love Organization (SOLO) can be viewed as a great, great, great … grandchild of the metaphysical movements, and what would that mean?

– G. Lee Young, PhD

In a very helpful introduction, Judah lists fifteen common characteristics of these metaphysical movements (reproduced verbatim):

1. As allies of the transcendentalists, these “metaphysicians” revolted against the creedal authority of organized Protestant churches to find their solace in a new freedom of individualism exemplified by Emersonian self-reliance, and as a result each person sought his own salvation without needing the Christian church.

2. Nearly all became united in the central belief that the inner, or real, self of man is divine.

3. Although speaking of God in a personal way, as such terms as Divine Mind or Universal Mind might indicate, they have not generally wanted to be considered as theists.

4. Most groups have conceived of God as being related to man and the world in a quasi-gnostic or dualistic manner. More commonly, however, this apparent dualism gives way to a monistic doctrine of God, who is all and in-all.

5. Some metaphysical groups consider themselves to be Christian, while others do not, but all make place for some of the moral teachings of Jesus. Jesus, the man, however, is usually separated in their thought from the Christ or Christ Principle, which is one with God and is every man’s inner nature.

6. These movements revolted against a traditional Christian view that man is a sinner, standing under God’s judgment and in need of repentance and forgiveness.

7. As God is regarded as being all, in-all, and all good, so evil, including sickness, is often considered to be unreal or the absence of good.

8. All metaphysical philosophies are pragmatic. One is asked less to believe than to test the principles to be demonstrated in his experience. Since the methods often seem to produce results, they strengthen the belief in the validity of their underlying philosophy.

9. By equating salvation with the discovery of a higher reality and utilization of its laws, the metaphysical leaders tend to place their emphasis upon self-realization, knowledge, or spiritual science instead of upon faith or works.

10. All these movements try to demonstrate the scientific validity of different kinds of religious experience as proof of their philosophy which gives meaning to life. In some cases it may be through spiritualistic phenomena or the development of hidden powers. In others it is the amelioration of health or material conditions.

11. Like Yoga and Zen Buddhism, most metaphysical sects offer a psychological approach to reality [which is to say that reality is viewed as psychologically structured].

12. The metaphysical movements are highly optimistic. They stress the love of God without making explicit his judgment, and man’s goodness instead of his propensity to sin. Besides their emphasis upon practical benefits awaiting man in this life, they have a strong belief in immediate personal immortality after death. Eventual salvation is the lot of all through continual progression in the heaven worlds or through reincarnation and its law of karma.

13. Particularly among groups associated with New Thought the acquisition of pleasant things under the guise of prosperity has become important. 

14. Most metaphysical groups have a belief in an inner meaning of words beyond their dictionary definition – a meaning that cannot be discovered empirically from the standpoint of usage or etymology, but that is revealed intuitively.

15. All these movements make healing through the mind or spirit a part of their mission.

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