It’s Norman Vincent Peale’s America

"When Oprah Winfrey touts the message of the bestselling book and video series 'The Secret' — with its core message, 'thoughts become things' — she is echoing Peale. When Donald Trump denies facts and prefers bluster, he is echoing the man who called Trump 'his greatest student of all time.'" - RNS

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Ed Vasicek's picture

Quite an interesting article.

I think there is some truth in the article, but there were others who contributed toward the Norman Vincent Peale ethic.  Dale Carenegie, in "How to Win Friends and Influence People" comes to mind, and so does Robert Schuller, who was buddy buddy with Peale. And the whole birth of the self-help psychology movement.

Many consider Schuller the father of the Seeker Sensitive Movement, which, it seems, also tends to display elements of Peale's philosophy,  The prosperity gospel fits nicely into all this.

In fairness, the Alexis de Tocqueville quotation ( “It is often difficult to ascertain from their discourse whether the principal object of religion is to procure eternal felicity in the other-world or prosperity in this") is unfairly treated as suggesting a precursor to Peale's teachings. De Tocqueville was from France and his rubric was the Catholic Church.  The evangelical church puts most of its efforts into teaching and applying the Word, while Catholics are trying to attain heaven.  When evangelicals preach the whole counsel of God (seeking to glorify God by leading believers to please Him in ALL things), they are often dealing with this life.  Books like Proverbs, for example, are very much about earthly prosperity and wise decisions about material or relational things.  So I will cry "foul" on that one.

"The Midrash Detective"

GregH's picture

The article linked to in this article is good too:

Question: is there a serious philosopher that has ever really ascribed to the "your attitude is more important than facts" idea? I am unaware of any at least through the mid 20th century but on the flip side, I am not sure there are not similarities between that idea and the metaphysics theories that you hear in many famous philosophers dating back to Plato and before.

It is always fascinating to track how philosophies grow out of each other. One of the questions I ponder is whether any new philosophy can really just start on its own. I suppose Descartes is the closest example we have of that.

Aaron Blumer's picture


I can't place it precisely but somewhere in the development of Western philosophy we had the idealists... who decided that mind is all that real. I think I'm remembering references to them in Francis Schaeffer, but I'm not sure. Whoever I was reading was contrasting materialists/naturalislts vs. idealists and finding them both ultimately empty, but he characterized idealists as one of the many philosophies that insist on one truth while living another. These "idealists" held that nothing physical is real.  ...I'm sure it's way more complicated than that, but whenever philosophy is made accessible and summarized, its gets a bit distorted because philosophers tend to love complexity. But the popularizers try to capture the gist.

This helps a bit, if you want to dig into it:

GregH's picture

Yes, that is what I was thinking. You could make the case that the "power of positive thinking" is really a metaphysics issues. In other words, what is really real: your circumstances or your view of the circumstances?

I had a conversation with an intelligent, New-Age-oriented couple a year ago where they were telling me emphatically that physical disease was just a state of mind that could be cured by the mind. At the time, I discounted them as just crazy in regards to that concept. But now, I tend to see their thinking as just an extension of the philosophy you mention: idealism and its offshoots which may include modern New Age thinking.

It actually also does help those of us that are more rationally oriented understand why much of the world can somewhat blindly follow politicians whose winning strategy is to boldly tell lies, even lies that can be easily refuted.

G. N. Barkman's picture

There you go again, castigating supporters of Obama and Clinton.  (tee hee hee)

G. N. Barkman

GregH's picture

G. N. Barkman wrote:

There you go again, castigating supporters of Obama and Clinton.  (tee hee hee)

I am pretty sure that the tendency to either blindly believe or pragmatically excuse the lies of politicians is not limited to democrats Smile