Thursday, January 21, 2010

Joel Goldsmith

Joel Goldsmith is an enigmatic figure in the history of self-help. While never a real superstar of the movement, his books always had a cult following, and many of them remain in print to this day. His great classic was a slender book called The Infinite Way, which layed out his basic philosophy. Its brevity does not denote ease of reading, however, because it's a dense little volume. After its publication groups emerged all over the US and the world (up until the late 1990s there were still groups meeting here in Sydney) devoted to the study of the book and Goldsmith's philosophy.
He is often characterised as the great modern reformer of Christian Science, and he seemed to have attracted many followers from that camp. My favourite Christian Scientist, Doris Day, was a fan of Goldsmith's work, and claimed to go to sleep every night listening to his tapes.
Certainly Goldsmith's books present a more overtly religious - and by that I mean Christian - aspect than most of the other modern New Thought books. I suspect this is what stopped him from becoming a genuinely popular literary figure. The Jesus talk was simply too unpalatable for the general reader.
That said, once you begin to examine the books' underlying theology you quickly realise that we are not in the realm of mainstream Christianity here. Beside the fact that he was a great advocate of meditation, Goldsmith's own religious life was quite fascinating. he was born into an Orthodox Jewish family, and was educated in a Hebrew School. Quite when he began healing in the name of Jesus no-one knows, but Goldsmith described his emergence as a spiritual leader as a slow process, something that happened in stages until one day he realised that no-one came to see him any longer for business purposes - 100% of his days had been taken up by healing work. Taking this as a sign from God, he allowed his business to go broke and instead set himself up as a fulltime Christian Science practitioner. Later, of course, he was to reject the dogmas of that church, as so many had before him, and instead he established his own school based on similar principles, but allowing its students more intellectual and spiritual freedom.
Much of The Infinite Way seems to be pretty standard Christian Science minus the dogma and the insistence on exclusive truth. Goldsmith was at heart a Universalist, and recognised the name of Jesus as a concept and spiritual symbol more than a defining point of religious difference. He said that we need to develop an exclusively spiritual mindset, and once we did that the world will fall in line with the perfection that is the law of spirit.
To my mind Goldsmith's most readable book was Practising the Presence. Indeed, it is quite beautifully written, an extended meditation on the necessity to be always at prayer, always "showing forth the health, harmony, and wealth, which are our spiritual birthright..." (55).
There is a fascinating (and quite rare) biography written by one of his closest assistants which describes Goldsmith as a "Modern Mystic," and he certainly is entitled to that description.
As an example of mid-20th century self-help, The Infinite Way stands out as being among the most overtly religious in its vocabulary and concepts, but it was a religious view so unorthodox that it separates Goldsmith from those other great populist clergymen Norman Vincent Peale and Fulton J. Sheen.


mkierson said...

Walter, I doubt that you meant to diminish Goldsmith, but calling him a "populist clergyman" does not do him justice. A "populist" denotes someone who writes for the masses, and maybe to please the masses. Goldsmith is not that. His work is steeped in divine wisdom - that is, he is of a consciousness that knows "truth", and he writes for those who have ears to hear.

studio girl said...

Haven't heard the name Joel Goldsmith in a long time. I was first introduced to his writings, especially THE INFINITE WAY during the time I was personal secretary to Doris Day. She had several of his tapes and also read IW over and over. Doris would listen to his tapes often. His writings were very inspirational and because of Doris's interest in Joel, I learned many things. We need more POSITIVE thoughts like his - and yes, he writes for those who have ears to hear as Mkierson wrote above. I thank Doris for introducing me to Joel's writings. She was a very religious person without attending any organized church and I learned much from her over the years.

Rhoberta Shaler, PhD said...

Joel S. Goldsmith has been a favorite teacher of mine for many years. You suggest that his writings are Christian. After reading all of his books more than once, I know that Joel clearly says that he was not a Christian. So, it is interesting to read your perception of his works as Christian.

Walter Mason said...

Hi Rhoberta,Your comment has caused me to devote some thought to the matter - please see my new post here:

Would be happy to hear more from you, and where I might be wrong or mislead.

Many blessings!

Unknown said...

LoGoldsmith has quickly become my favorite mystic lol. I think Roberta is being a little hard on the author for calling him a Christian. He is certainly not confined to that arena, but it is very clear that his scripture of choice is the New Testament. I don't think calling him a Christian is much of a stretch at all .

Add to that the fact that he begin healing work with Christian Science. I will add also that I feel his main distinction from that group is the fact that they seem to base their teaching around the power of the mind, while Joel sides more with the Eastern philosophies and New Age meditators who feel that true power comes from beyond thought, from spirit if you will.

I think the bottom line here is that people should start focusing less on labels and realize that the Buddha, Jesus Christ,Lau Tzu......etc. Are all pointing to the same universal truth .