Saturday, March 14, 2009
I went to the only Unity church left in Sydney now, the Unity Centre of Positive Living in Crows Nest. There were only 4 of us in attendance, but it was a lovely morning spent in prayer and uplifting quotes, affirmations, readings and music. Like all small churches in Australia, this one struggles just to keep its doors open these days, but they remain steadfastly positive (as their theology demands they do). I agreed with the Centre's wonderful minister, the Rev. Mary-Elizabeth Jacobs, when she said that it is important for such institutions to remain open and available. They provide a living link to the past and a place of refuge if people ever decide to go back to old-fashioned communal worship.
In terms of the history of self-help, Unity is very important. The church was started by Charles and Myrtle Fillmore, who based their eccentric metaphysical readings of the bible and their belief in the transformative power of the spoken word on the writings of Phineas Parkhurst Quimby. Quimby had also inspired Ernest Holmes (founder of the Church of Religious Science, which was where Louise Hay did her training) and Mary Baker Eddy, his most controversial pupil. Quimby himself was more of a mental healer, and most people seem to say that he was an atheist. Bizarre how his ideas spawned so many churches!
Unity is one of the most influential of the New Thought schools of philosophy, and Unity churches in the US have become something of a locus for the latest trends in self-help and motivation, regularly hosting speaker such as Wayne Dyer and Cheryl Richardson.
Unity Churches posit themselves as Liberal Christian, but their exceedingly metaphysical interpretations of the Bible as a symbolic text puts them well outside any orthodox reformed church tradition. Their liberalism extends to an embrace of other religions and schools of thought, as well as an emphasis on personal growth, a new-agey concept of peace and harmony and a belief in the power of affirmations and positive thought.
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
I've been reading Paul Hanna's book You Can Do It quite closely, because he will form the basis of one of my chapters. I really want to write something about the migrant experience and self-help authors, but Hanna doesn't mention it, at all. Frustrating for me. I shall have to read all of his other books very closely to see if I can make a case! It's interesting because throughout the book he refers to himself and his experiences regularly (which is characteristic of the genre as a whole), but he is normally only positing himself as teacher or catalyst for another person's realisation. An interesting way to cast oneself, and it's something I will be exploring further.
It's actually quite a good book - simple but effective. In real life (I've attended one of his seminars) Hanna is quite a charming man, and this unpretentious charm comes across in the book.
It has helped me make a case for the place of the ""Struggle" autobiography always present in Self-Help books. In this one Hanna details how he reached a low-point in his life when he didn't even have a car in which to drive to his cousin's wedding in Sydney's Western suburbs. This was his Scarlett O'Hara moment, and he vowed to himself that he'd never be car-less again.
This kind of scenario appears again and again in self-help literature, frequently framed around a struggle with serious illness (Hanna does this, too, in his seminars).
Hanna is big on attitude adjustment, goal setting and the power of affirmations - all standard ingredients of any self-respecting self-help book.
Ultimately the book is about enthusiasm and approaching one's life with passion - emotions more easily fired up in a seminar than a book, but Hanna does his level best to achieve it here.
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
The fabulous Doreen Virtue has had a varied career, and she has just about covered the gamut of topics when it comes to spirituality and self-help. At present I am perusing one of her mid-career works I'd Change My Life if I had More Time. Basically a book on goal setting and time management, by the final chapters Doreen has broached the subject of angels and spirit guides, giving us a foretaste of the fabulously successful and totally New Age Doreen we'd come to know and love. Before this Doreen had written books on compulsive eating and vegetarianism, and after this she was to move firmly into the realms of angels and fairies and unicorns and mermaids for which she is justly famous.
Doreen really is one of the mega-sellers of the New Age world, and is obviously driven and possessed of the special talent of knowing exactly what people want. Her relationship with Louise Hay and her publishing company Hay House has, I imagine, been mutually beneficial.
To top it all off, I have had the pleasure of working with Ms. Virtue on a couple of occasions, and she has always been pleasant, cheery and unfailingly polite to everyone she encounters. And call me old-fashioned, but I think that's a good sign.
And even the most hard-hearted metaphysician wouldn't be able to resist her gold-embossed Ascended Masters Cards, which are my constant companions...