Positive Thinking and Calvinism: American Twins

"If one of the best things you can say about positive thinking is that it articulated an alternative to Calvinism, one of the worst is that it ended up preserving some of Calvinism's more toxic features — a harsh judgementalism, echoing the old religions's condemnation of sin, and an insistence on the constant interior labor of self-examination. The American alternative to Calvinism was not to be hedonism or even just an emphasis on emotional spontaneity. To the positive thinker, emotions remain suspect and one's innner life must be subjected to relentless monitoring."

"In many important ways, Christian Science itself never fully broke with Calvinism at all. Its twentieth-century adherents were overwhelmingly white, middle-class people of outstandingly temperate, even self-denying habits. The British writer V.S. Pritchett, whose father was a "Scientist," wrote that they "gave up drinhk, tobacco, tea, coffee — dangerous drugs — they gave up sex, and wrecked their mariages on this account…it was notoriously a menopause religion."


"But the most striking continuity between the old religion and the new positive thinking lies in their common insistence on work — the constant internal work of self-monitoring. The Calvinist monitored his or her thoughts and feelings for signs of laxness, sin and self-indulgence, while the positive thinker is ever on the lookout for "negative thoughts" charged with anxiety or doubt. As sociologist Micki McGee writes of the positive-thinking self-help literature, using language that harks back to its religious antecedents, "continuous and never-ending work on the self is offered not only as a road to success but also to a kind of secular salvation." The self becomes an antagonist with which one wrestles endlessly the Calvinist attacking it for sinful inclinations, the positive thinker for "negativity.'" 

From Barbara Ehrenrecih's bold new book Bright Sided

This blogger is often criticized for painting a dark picture of our future, never because the facts don't justify such a picture, but because it's "depressing." 

Seems odd to me. I would like to point the finger at the ideology of "positive thinking," but I'm not sure that's fair. But I never thought I would come across a John Calvin bobble-head doll, either…

Calvinist bobble-head

Published by Kit Stolz

I'm a freelance reporter and writer based in Ventura County.

3 thoughts on “Positive Thinking and Calvinism: American Twins

  1. Hi,

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