The Positive Thinking Theory
Authored By Gary Jones
The power of positive thinking is one of the most popular of the self-help fixes to cure bad attitudes and wandering motivations, and it is offered in many abundant forms in today’s market. Since the first humans desired something that they did not have, such as the infamous bite of the forbidden fruit, positive thinking has been in existence. The concept of wanting the un-experienced pleasures is the motivation behind the derivation of erroneous theory of “positive thinking,” which is closely coupling with its antithesis, the avoidance of the unpleasant, or lethargy. This desire and avoidance combination is the essence of our innate discontentment. It is the same thing when we try to ignore the unpleasant by thinking of something we consider pleasant. We humans naturally want to maximize pleasure and minimize pain. The admission of this natural tendency finds its origin in recorded philosophy back in the early third century and called Neoplatonism. This system of philosophy and religion is composed of elements of Platonism, Aristotelianism, and oriental mysticism. The teaching was that there existed an ineffable and transcendent One, from which emanates the rest of the universe, and because of the natural connection humans have with this mystical “One,” a state of perfection and happiness is possible.
In addition, this theory claims evil does not exist in reality, it is likened to darkness; evil is only the absence of the light. Positive thinking is a development out of this Neoplatonism in the secular world promoted by such people as Dale Carnegie in business applications, Carl Gustav Jung in psychoanalysis, and William James in philosophy. This system more recently began mixing with Christianity in the preaching and literature coming from various religious leaders like Mary Baker Eddy, Norman Vincent Peale, Fulton J. Sheen, Rick Warren, and Joel Osteen.
Perception and Reality
The positive thinking theory rests on the assumption that the mind is the source of reality and all thought represents a product of this reality. “I think therefore I am,” a phrase coined by René Descartes. This is the Cartesian philosophy going back to Socrates and has dominated western thought ever since, which claims that a man-centered universe bounds reality. This theory accommodates a relative perception of everything. Any absolute concept is not consistent with positive thinking because someone else might disagree, and any disagreement infringes upon the other party’s reality, which has an equal “right” to exist. It is maintained in this theory that all religions are worthy of merit. Above all, it is the “thought” that matters as it is expressed by the personal spirit, which is not defined. Through this thought process, humankind can evolve into a perfect and enlighten being when everyone agrees.
In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson: "We will walk on our own feet; we will work with our own hands; we will speak our own minds...A nation of men will for the first time exist, because each believes himself inspired by the Divine Soul which also inspires all men."
From the perception of a positive thinker, religious differences are unimportant because the interpretation of the doctrine is relative to a personal belief and every individual is drawing from the same transcendental and mystical origin. Individual perception plays a major role in religious thought, according to these theorists. Often the positive thinker approaches controversies with the attitude that the difference of opinion is just another “disputable matter” created by a different but permissible interpretation. Peace between all parties becomes the primary objective. In the age of future enlightenment, all will see that these differences really do not matter, according to this line of reasoning.
Embedded in the positive thinking philosophy is the notion that this pure essence is felt in the ability to perceive, sometimes known as God, guides human lives, but never controls anyone. This god figure is far off somewhere and is watching us humans progressively grow towards our rightful, peaceful, and happy purpose as we become aware of our power of personal choice.
The idea behind this positive thinking is the claim that the power of God is inherently inside of each individual and it is releasable by merely taking control of the thought process and choosing the “right” alternative. This individual mind control is sometimes called “faith,” which makes each individual into “little gods.” This kind of “faith,” explicitly or implicitly, advocates that, “With man all things are possible.” This is the subscription to the humanistic psychological belief that the human potential is infinite.
Darkness and Light
There are warning signs that can tell us about the errors found in the positive thinking theology. On identification, these errors become as obvious as the difference between darkness and light. Looking for the use of specific phrases is one way of identification, such as an emphasis on personal pronouns like, “I,” “you,” “my,” and “we.” These pronouns can couple with verbs like, “want,” “need,” “can,” and “will.” When these pronouns are combining with these verbs, the listener should beware! When there are any references to “self-control” or “tapping your inner power,” “my rights,” “my responsibility” alarm bells should ring loudly. A subtler indicator of this false teaching is found in the promotion of some search for your “life’s purpose” or finding “your gift.”
These types of appeal tactics are popular ways to manipulate and gain control of the listener’s attention and obviate the truth. The most difficult danger signal to detect, and the most dangerous, is relating to the exploitation of the Scriptures by these false teachers. The teacher nearly always misrepresents the Scriptures, the quoted passage, the context, or some combination, in a way to make a point about justifying self-determination. These are generally very cleverly constructed premises that are difficult to notice without a careful study of the passage. Two of the most amazing observable things about these false teachers are their adroit skill in making a sales presentation and their demonstrated ignorance of the Scriptures.
Wants and Needs
These two qualifiers, wants and needs, are frequently easy to confuse and difficult to define. In such a quandary, we are open to influences coming from our desires and the appeal of the smooth-talking salespersons.
Any good salesperson will capitalize on our confusion and try to convince us that our “wants” are really our “needs.” Once this question is answered to our satisfaction then a “signing agreement” is forthcoming. The positive thinking minister uses this tactic of defining the implied need to manipulate the listeners. The offered advantage proposed by the minister, who is selling positive thinking, is an opportunity to gain wealth and happiness, and these benefits they call God’s blessings.
They also make the implied argument that you will lose God’s intended blessing if we fail in a satisfactory acceptance of the offer. In the presentation, typically the phrase, “God wants you to be blessed” implies an inducement and, directly or indirectly, indicating that the listener has the responsibility to take some necessary action before God will grants His blessing.
We need to heed the scriptural warnings about being seduced by any of the pervasive clever salesperson’s presentations and “Get Help” authors who offer any shot-cut method in finding God’s peace. We must remember who is in control, see the “God is Sovereign,” article on this web page. The Bible says,
“3For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths” [2 Timothy 4:3, 4].