Friday, December 30, 2011

Thea Stanley Hughes

A name that is largely forgotten now in the annals of Australian literature is Thea Stanley Hughes.
Hughes was an innovator, a feminist, a dancer, a prolific author and proponent of self-help philosophies.
She came to Australia as a teacher of dance, establishing the Women's League of Health, an organisation that taught a style of dance-exercise that was, in many ways, the equivalent of aerobics in 1930s Australia. She was an advocate of the hygienics movement, a popular fad that endorsed clean living, healthful diet (mostly based around vegetarianism) and plenty of exercise and outdoors experience.
She remained an exercise and dance teacher for many years, but slowly she became an author as well. Developing some of the ideas of hygienics, Hughes began to write about the great and the self-reliant who she saw embodied in the explorers of early Australia. She used their biographies as guides to self-help and moral development.

This style of writing had a great pedigree, of course, having been perhaps most successfully done by the original self-help writer Samuel Smiles.
Thea Stanley Hughes moved on to more didactic material that was modelled closely on the conventional self-help books coming out in Australia in the 1970s.
Significantly, Hughes was an Anthroposophist, and most of her writings reflect the philosophy of Rudolf Steiner, to a greater or lesser extent. Towards the end of her life she became a quasi-mystical figure and developed something of a cult following. She was involved with the Christian Community, an Anthroposophical offshoot that sought to explore Christianity more deeply.
I am discussing Hughes' work in the current chapter of my thesis, which explores the New Age and the significance of minority religiuous traditions in Australian writing, most notably Theosophy, Swedenborgianism, Spiritualism and, as embodied in Huges, Anthroposophy.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Daily Word for the Spirit

I have blogged before about the Daily Word, the bi-monthly magazine of affirmations produced by the Unity Church. It is one of the longest-lived New Thought periodicals, and is a charming remnant of really pure New Thought ideas.
The enormous amount of inspirational content produced by the magazine is being used, these days, in a series of spin-off books. Each book is developed around a theme (in this case the rather nebulous "For the Spirit" - I also own the much more solidly focused Daily Word for Weight Loss) and provides a "best-of" selection of stories and affirmations from the mag.

I have just finished Daily Word for the Spirit, which was also a Unity FM book club choice on the Hooked on Classics show, so I had the opportunity to read it closely and hear it explained by the editor and some of the people whose stories are featured, week by week. I really enjoy this process, and am a solid fan of Hooked on Classics - though I'm always running months behind.
This particular book was interesting because it contaned a chapter from Iyanla Vanzant, herself a bestselling self-help writer and once Oprah Winfrey's favoured spiritual teacher. Vanzant's chapter falls toward the end of the book, and in it she details some of the struggles she has faced in her life. She talks about the power of generosity and of supporting others, and here she says something really interesting:

"I talked to them about...the strength derived from loving yourself and other people - giving and serving not because of the rewards, but because you love it and it feels good."

Friday, December 9, 2011

New Books - The Last Batch?

This might be it. My dissertation is due on February 9, and I have reached the point where I really just have to write up all teh research I have already done - there is no time to embark on some new tangent.
So here is the last hurrah (hopefully) - the last few books I have purchased for my own research.
From the top:

How I Would Help the World by Helen Keller - I think this is just her book My Religion re-titled and re-packaged for a more secular 21st century audience. In it she expounds her understanding of Swedenborg's theology and how it impacted her life and made her the person she was.

Tiffany's Swedenborgian Angels by Mary Lou Bertucci and Joanna Hill - A beautiful book which discusses the symbolism of the exquisite stained-glass angel images Tiffany created for a Swedenborgian church in the USA.

Flow-dreaming by Summer McStravick

Hegel's Political Philosophy ed by Walter Kaufmann

Goethe's Poems

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Joel Goldsmith's Christianity

It's interesting as a blogger to see what gets commented on most.
And for me it is my posts about Joel Goldsmith.

There are obviously many dedicated readers and students of Goldsmith's work out there.
One of the comments I got on the blog yesterday prompted me to do this post, as it addressed a question I have myself been considering for many years: Can Joel Goldsmith be called a Christian?
Rhoberta, the commenter, mentioned that Goldsmith himself rejected the label. This doesn't surprise me, as almost all of the New Thought teachers saw themselves as universalists who drew on all the world's religious traditions and whose teachings were in turn accessible across the board. And while this sentiment was admirable, in practise the written work and the rhetoric of Goldsmith, Fillmore and others was so rooted in Christianity and in Biblical reflection that it makes their work very difficult for the non-Christian to negotiate.
I worked for many years in a New Age bookshop, and Goldsmith was always shelved there in the "Christianity" section. I had not read him at this stage, but was fascinated by his books because they were among the only ones that ever sold from that section. I remember asking customers on several occasions what Goldsmith was all about and they suddenly grew very mysterious, and so I was left none the wiser. I read at some stage a passing reference to him in another book as a "Christian Sience writer" and this made him even more mysterious, as Christian Science was by that stage (in mid-90s Australia) an almost entirely forgotten tradition, and I was intrigued as to why we sold so many copies of The Infinite Way.
I'd actually be really interested to see some specific references to Goldsmith's denial of his Christianity, as I have been unable to find any in the books in my collection. I would suggest that his teaching is entirely grounded in the Christian tradition, via the heterodox theology of Mary Baker Eddy. Like his predecessor Charles Fillmore (who had also emerged out of Christian Science), he invoked the Christ ideal in his writing. Australian journalist Tess Van Sommers, in her quaint 1966 overview of Religions in Australia, sums up this theology perfectly, writing "Jesus Christ is not a Divine personage. He is looked on as the man who developed the power of divinity within himself to the fullest possible extent. Christ is regarded as the power of God within Jesus, and potentially within all humans, which can enable them to demonstrate their oneness with God."
Goldsmith writes frequently about this idea of an inner Christ, of "the Christ in each one" (Gift of Love, 1975). While it is far from orthodox Christian theology, it is nonetheless an idea entirely focused on the Christian ideal, employing Christian language, and it is rarely expressed in any other way (unlike, for example, in the work of Ernest Holmes, which occasionally makes reference to Buddha-nature and other Eastern spiritual concepts).
Goldsmith describes Christ, or the Christ-ideal, as the ultimate in spiritual attainment, the summit of spiritual perfection, writing in Practising the Presence:

"I was led ultimately to that grandest experience of all, in which the great Master, Christ Jesus, reveals that if we abide in the Word and let the Word abide in us, we shall bear fruit richly..."

Finally, I wanted to make the point firmly that Goldsmith was for many years a conventional Christian Science practitioner, as described so interestingly by Lorraine Sinkler in The Spiritual Journey of Joel Goldsmith, Modern Mystic. One of my other readers, Jean F., rightly castigated me for previously dismissing Goldsmith's Christian Science period as a brief blip in his spiritual development.
So yes, I would suggest that, in all outward forms and for all basic purposes, Goldsmith was a Christian. Certainly, if you pressed one of his books into the hands of an average 21st century secular reader they would be incapable of distinguishing his writing from that of the devotional tracts of more conventional Protestant clergymen - which is why you will normally find his books mouldering away in the "Christianity" section of second-hand bookstores. But I absolutely accept that, on a a more careful analysis, he was a deeply heterodox religious thinker who, perhaps, saw himself as a universalist and whose personal theology was so removed from conventional Christian thinking as to be rejected by most mainstream-Christians as entirely heretical and outside the fold.