A Critique of the Power of Positive Thinking
and the "Supreme Secret" of Napolean Hill


A Christian Critique of the Power Of Positive Thinking and the "Supreme Secret" of
Napolean Hill, Norman Vincent Peale, Earl Nightingale, and others

     adapted from a book by Allan Turner ( http://www.allanturner.com/ )

"Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, the mind can achieve." -- Napoleon Hill

According to Norman Vincent Peale, author of popular books expounding the philosophy of "Positive Thinking" and "Positive Imaging," which, according to Peale, is "Positive Thinking" taken one step further:

There is a powerful and mysterious force in human nature...a kind of mental engineering....a powerful new-old idea....The concept is a form of mental activity called imaging....

It consists of vividly picturing, in your conscious mind, a desired goal or objective, and holding that image until it sinks into your unconscious mind, where it releases great untapped energies....

When the imaging concept is applied steadily and systematically, it solves problems, strengthens personalities, improves health, and greatly enhances the chances for success in any kind of endeavor.

The idea of imaging has been around for a long time and it has been implicit in all the speaking and writing I have done in the past. [1]

What Peale called a "powerful and mysterious force," Napolean Hill, the granddaddy of PMA (Positive Mental Attitude), called the "Supreme Secret" (i.e. "Anything the human mind can believe, the human mind can achieve"). [2] As a matter of fact, in another book he co-authored with W. Clement Stone, Hill said:

This is a universal law....that we translate into physical reality the thoughts and attitudes we hold in our minds, no matter what they are. [3]

Of course, if Napolean Hill is correct about us achieving anything we can conceive (and I don't for a moment think he is), then we must, indeed, be Gods (cf. Genesis 3:5).

Furthermore, what Peale referred to as "imaging," others, such as consciousness teacher and author Shakti Gawain calls "Creative Visualization." This technique, sometimes called "guided imagery," is closely associated with PMA and is nothing less than ancient sorcery. "Sorcery" is defined by Dave Hunt / T.A. McMahon in The Seduction of Christianity as "any attempt to manipulate reality (internal, external, past, present, or future) by various mind-over-matter techniques that run the gamut from alchemy and astrology to positive/possibility thinking." A standard dictionary definition is: "Use of supernatural power over others through the assistance of spirits; witchcraft." (Middle English sorcerie, from Old French, sorcier, sorcerer).

As we use the terms "creative visualization," "imaging," "guided imagery," etc, we will not be referring to the non-magical uses of the imagination. In other words, and this is very important for one to understand, I am not being critical of seeing mental images of something being described in a book. I am not being critical of designing, planning, making goals or rehearsing something in one's mind. I am not being critical of recalling or remembering a place or event. Such mental processes are absolutely normal aids to everyday activities and do not involve an attempt to create or control reality through "mind-powers."

The visualization I will be discussing with you has been used by the practitioners of ancient witchcraft for thousands of years. It is a technique that is an obvious thread that links ancient sorcery and the dark occultic arts with some practices of modern psychology and holistic medicine, and is rapidly growing in acceptance in today's secular society. As it does so, it is having a powerful influence on the Christian church. It does so because it masquerades as a neutral, scientific, non-religious method for self-improvement and has become prevalent in medicine, business, psychology, and education. As a result, more than a few Christians are now totally infected with that which in times past has always been identified as an "abomination" to the Lord (cf. Deuteronomy 18:9-14).

My task, as I see it, is to demonstrate that the techniques of PMA and creative visualization are really nothing other than the "syncretization" of pseudoscience, the occult, and "sorcery" ("divination" or witchcraft).

But, what say the experts? Manly P. Hall, an occultist and one of the world's leading occult authorities and historians, had this to say:

...there is abundant evidence that in many forms of modern thought -- especially the so-called "prosperity" psychology, "will-power building" metaphysics and systems of "high-pressure" salesmanship -- black magic has merely passed through a metamorphosis, and although its name may be changed, its nature remains the same. [4]

According to E. Fuller Torrey, one of the world's top research psychiatrists:

The techniques used by Western psychiatrists are, with few exceptions, on exactly the same scientific plane as the techniques used by witchdoctors. [5]

Anthropologist Michael Harner of the New York Academy of Science has identified visualization as being at the top of the list of now-popular psycho-spiritual techniques which he says represents a revival of shamanism. [6] Shamanism, according to Harner, is sorcery and witchcraft. [7] Elaborating on the central role visualization plays in shamanism, Harner says:

A shaman is a man or woman who enters an altered state of consciousness -- at will -- to contact and utilize an ordinarily hidden reality in order to acquire knowledge, power and to help other persons... It is in the SSC (Shamanic State of Consciousness) that one "sees" shamanically. This may be called "visualizing," "imaging," or as expressed by Australian aborigines, using "the strong eye." ... As the distinguished Australian anthropologist A. P. Elkins observes, the vision of an aborigine shaman 'is no mere hallucination, it is a mental formation visualized and externalized, which may even exist for a time independent of its creator...' [8]

Having considered the testimony of experts, it is now time to give some consideration to a few examples.

I think it would be shocking for most Christians to learn that a member of the Lord's Body reportedly has been required by her Christian employer to engage in the practice of visualizing clients into the office. When she asked her employer why she was to use such a technique, she was told her visualizing would have an influence on the clients' decisions about coming into the office. In other words, this Christian was taught the ancient mind-over-matter conjuring technique of the sorcerer. [9]

Furthermore, during a recent lectureship conducted by a church of Christ, one of the speakers taught a series of lessons entitled "The Power of Positive Christianity." In his introduction the speaker said:

A - In recent years I have made an in-depth study of the areas of motivation, sales techniques, etc.

B - Waded through Zeigler, Schuller, Mandino, Peale, Ross, Nightingale, Linkletter, Maltz, and others.

C - Realized that the principles that they are teaching are actually Bible principles.

D - However, must issue a warning. They generally use these principles to equate success with financial prosperity. [10]

It is unfortunate that the only thing this brother thinks you have to be careful of concerning the writings of these PMA authors is their emphasis on getting rich. Although I am aware that the pursuit of riches is certainly dangerous spiritually (cf. 1 Timothy 6:10), even more dangerous, I believe, is the ready use of the techniques of sorcery (PMA techniques) by New Testament Christians.

Generally, what these PMA and Human Potential Movement people teach about the mind is much more dangerous than their emphasis on wealth. Hopefully, when you are through with this study, you, too, will agree.

Another example was discovered in a magazine article that appeared in one of the prominent religious journals among us. In an article entitled "Positive Mental Attitude And The Gospel," a gospel preacher wrote:

I have been a student of PMA since 1966, having read well over a hundred books and magazines on the subject, while studying as many cassette tapes, and having held numerous seminars all over the North American Continent, teaching people its principles. PMA is not a passing hobby, I know it to be vital to the success of my business and is important to living a Christian life.

The expression "Positive Mental Attitude" is no where found in the gospel, but many of the principles that comprise the concept are found there. The expression itself consists of three main thoughts: (1) one must be a "believing" person; (2) the mental process as the key to behavior is a matter of choice; and (3) "attitude" is formulated in the mental process which determines one's personality and approach to life. [11]

He goes on to define an "attitude" as:

...the way a person thinks, feels and acts toward people, things, places and ideas in any situation in his total environment. [12]

He then mentions the "Sub-conscious mind." Concerning this "Sub-conscious mind," he writes:

It forms the attitudes that find expression outwardly, and all below the awareness of the individual. [13]

He then informs us that our personality is really controlled by the "Sub-conscious." According to our author, the personality is "the person that cannot hide himself." [14] In other words, what we really are (how we think, feel, and act) is all decided below the awareness of the individual by the "Sub-conscious."

Of course, most of the PMA books, articles, and tapes I have listened to in researching this topic indicate that it is the "Sub-conscious," "Superego," "Un-conscious," or "Id" that is really "in charge." As a matter of fact, the "New Age Thinking" seminar offered by The Pacific Institute of Seattle, Washington, "a corporation dedicated to human fulfillment," teaches that the "Sub-conscious" is the "auto-pilot" of the human organism. If we can get the "auto-pilot" properly programmed for success, we are told, then we will ultimately be successful. And how do we program the "auto-pilot"? You guessed it, through creative visualization, verbal and written affirmations, and an altered state of consciousness (self-hypnosis).

The Pacific Institute's video curriculum has been used by the IRS, CIA, U.S. Customs, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force, NASA, General Motors, American Telephone and Telegraph, Rockwell International, Bank of America, Hughes Aircraft, and Weyerhauser, to name but a few of the big corporations involved. [15]

Let us return now to the previously mentioned article, "Positive Mental Attitude And The Gospel." In it, the author tells us that humans have either positive or negative personalities (sorry, there is no in-between). There are, he says, certain "Laws of the Universe" which reflect the fact that "negativism repels and destroys," while "positivism attracts and builds." Of course, this brings up a few questions. For instance, how were these "Laws of the Universe" discovered, and who devised this "system of men," as this preacher describes it?

Napolean Hill, of course!

I have already identified Napolean Hill as the granddaddy of the PMA movement. Earl Nightingale, one of today's most popular and influential success/motivation leaders, in a Success Motivation Institute (SMI) tape, had some very interesting things to say about Napolean Hill's book Think and Grow Rich. After calling it "one of the most amazing books ever written," Mr. Nightingale said:

Without question, this single book has had a greater influence on the lives, accomplishments and fortunes of more individuals than any other work of its kind.

All over the free world there are literally thousands of successful men in all lines of work who are where they are today because they once....bought a copy of Think and Grow Rich, and they'll be quick to tell you so....

I've sat in richly-paneled, carpeted executive offices and listened to world-famous business leaders, some of them old enough to be my father, tell me that everything worked out fine after they had read Think and Grow Rich....

Why has this book out of all the thousands of self-help books remained the one towering giant?....When the last page of Think and Grow Rich was read, the hand which put the book down on the table was a different hand. The man who then stood and walked out into the world was a different, a changed man....The man was now the possessor of the unique, unseen talent for turning dreams into reality, thoughts into things....he who had been the passenger was now suddenly the captain. [16]

According to Og Mandino, a super-salesman and top motivational speaker whose books have sold more than 7 million copies, Think and Grow Rich is one of the twelve greatest self-help books of all time. [17]

In Making the Most of Your Mind, co-authors Stephen B. Douglass and Lee Roddy, both of whom claim to be Bible believers, had this to say about Napolean Hill:

In recent years, a number of secular books have related success to the power of the mind....

Napolean Hill was one such secular writer....After 20 years of research he wrote an eight-volume omnibus called The Law of Success, parts of which are condensed in his best-selling book, Think and Grow Rich.... [He] probably did the most useful research in history.... [18]

Be this as it may, there are still a few things I have not told you about Mr. Hill. Although Hill is credited with discovering the "Laws of the Universe" concerning PMA, it is extremely enlightening to discover how Hill claims to have come upon this "knowledge." In his book Grow Rich With Peace of Mind, Hill wrote:

Now and again I have had evidence that unseen friends hover about me, unknowable to the ordinary senses. In my studies I discovered there is a group of strange beings who maintain a school of wisdom....

The School has Masters who can disembody themselves and travel instantly to any place they choose....to give knowledge directly, by voice....

Now I knew that one of these Masters had come across thousands of miles, through the night, into my study....

I shall not set down every word he said....much of what he said already has been presented to you in the chapters of this book and will follow in other chapters.

"You have earned the right to reveal a Supreme Secret to others," said the vibrant voice. "You have been under the guidance of the Great School....Now you must give the world a blueprint...." [19]

As I pointed out earlier, this "Supreme Secret" is "Anything the human mind can believe, the human mind can achieve." According to Hill, this "secret of the ages" is also called "The Magic Power of Belief." [20]

In one of Hill's books, co-authored with W. Clement Stone, one is supposedly taught how, through PMA, to tap into "the great universal storehouse of Infinite Intelligence, wherein is stored all knowledge and all facts, and which may be contacted through the subconscious...." [21]

It all starts sounding alike after awhile. Whether it's ancient sorcery, occultism, the human potential movement, or PMA, they all bear the footprints of the Serpent ("you shall be as Gods" cf. Genesis 3:5). In truth, there is a real battle going on, albeit of a spiritual nature (Ephesians 6:10-18). But just because those we fight against are spiritual beings does not mean they are not real. There are "doctrines of demons" (1 Timothy 4:1-2) and we are to test the spirits whether they are of God (1 John 4:1-6).

About Napolean Hill

First published in 1937, Think and Grow Rich is the end product of two decades of research conducted by Napoleon Hill. His research started when Andrew Carnegie (the steel tycoon who was then the richest man on earth) gave him the assignment of organizing a Philosophy of Personal Achievement. Hill, who was a poor journalist, armed with just an introductory letter from Carnegie, set out to interview over five hundred successful people including Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, John D. Rockefeller, George Eastman, William Wrigley Jr. and Charles M. Schwab.

Hill then revealed the wisdom of his research in the form of the thirteen steps to success (in Think and Grow Rich) and the seventeen principles of success (in courses and lectures he conducted).

Napolean Hill Book Chronology

  • 1919-1920 The Golden Rule Magazine Napoleon Hill edited and published
  • 1928 Law of Success (Ralston Society, Publishers)
  • 1930 The Magic Ladder to Success
  • 1937 Think and Grow Rich
  • 1939 How to Sell Your Way Through Life
  • 1953 How to Raise Your Own Salary
  • 1960 Success Through a Positive Mental Attitude
  • 1970 You Can Work Your Own Miracles

see also

Audio

Earl Nightingale
   "The Strangest Secret in the World" from 1957 (MP3 16 kbps)

The John Ankerberg Show (Dave Hunt and others critique Positive Thinking, Napolean Hill, etc)
   "The New Age in the Church" from 1988 (MP3 16 kbps)

Notes

[1] Norman Vincent Peale, Positive Imaging, 1982, Introduction, page 1.
[2] Napoleon Hill, Grow Rich With Peace of Mind, 1967, page 176.
[3] Napolean Hill and W. Clement Stone, Success Through A Positive Mental Attitude, 1977, page 78.
[4] Manly P. Hall, Masonic, Hermetic, Qabbalistic and Rosicrucian Symbolical Philosophy, 1969, pages CI, CII.
[5] E. Fuller Torrey, The Mind Games: Witchdoctors and Psychiatrists, 1972, page 8.
[6] Michael Harner, The Way of the Shaman, 1980, page 136.
[7] Harner, page 20.
[8] Harner, pages 20, 50.
[9] Based upon personal interview of the employee.
[10] An outline of this lecture is in my files.
[11] Dusty Owens, "Positive Mental Attitude And The Gospel," Guardian of Truth magazine, Vol. XXVIII, No. 9, May 2, 1985, page 3.
[12] ibid.
[13] Owens, page 6.
[14] ibid.
[15] Caryl Matrisciana, Gods of the New Age, 1985, pages 176-177.
[16] Success Motivation Cassette Tapes (Waco, Texas) "Think and Grow Rich," Side 1, in Dave Hunt and T. A. McMahon, The Seduction of Christianity, 1985, page 17.
[17] Og Mandino, The Greatest Secret in the World, page 276.
[18] Stephen B. Douglass and Lee Roddy, Making the Most of Your Mind, 1983, pages 18-19.
[19] Napolean Hill, Grow Rich With Peace of Mind, 1967, pages 158-160.
[20] ibid, page 176.
[21] Napolean Hill and W. Clement Stone, page 72.


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