I'm committed now to writing one chapter a month in order to have my thesis finished by February 2012, so there's no time for dilly-dallying.
This month's chapter is focused on the writing of Australian Presbyterian clergyman Gordon Powell. Largely forgotten now, Powell was one of the most prominent and progressive clergymen in Australia in teh 50s and 60s, and he modelled his ministry very closely on that of Norman Vincent Peale. Rising to fame as the minister in charge of the beautiful art-deco St. Stephen's church in Macquarie Street, Sydney, Powell finally moved on to Melbourne, where he spent most of the rest of his life at the Collins St Independent Church.
He was a forward-thinking man, and for many years his lunchtime services at St. Stephen's were broadcast on radio stations throughout Australia. This was, of course, the kind of thing that Peale had done before him in America. And also like Peale, he branched out into popular self-help writing, creating books that taught the Christian message in an accessible, non-nonsense manner focused on psychology, happiness and the art of living.
In this chapter I am comparing Powell's work with that of Peale's, and I am describing the way that mainstream religion absorbed the ideas of New Thought in an effort to modernise and popularise its image. Norman Vincent Peale was heavily influenced by the philosophy and life of New Thought legend Ernest Holmes, though as a conservative Christian he was very wary of admitting this influence.
The key ideas of this chapter are:
- The introduction of overt and orthod Christian ideas into self-help literature
- The repetition of Bibical verse and its use as affirmation
- The emphasis on the power of faith and communal worship
- The notion of positivity
- Christianising psychiatry
Powell, like Peale before him, was a lively writer, and the books are actually a pleasure to read. It fascinates me that these books were ever released by a mainstream publisher in Australia, because to a twenty-first century reader they seem so laden with religious talk and imagery, so much talk of prayer and miracles. They would never be released today.