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"Abraham" (Esther and Jerry Hicks)
"We have a word for animals that never feel distress, anxiety, fear, and pain. That word is dinner."--Daniel Gilbert
"We need ... to recover from the mass delusion of positive thinking." --Barbara Ehrenreich
"You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of." --Albert Camus
"It's all good." --Bob Dylan
"Abraham" is the name given by Esther Hicks to a group of spirits ("non-physical entities") Esther claims to channel. (The Hickses claim that in 1985 they began dialogs with Abraham, which is a "name chosen by a group of nonphysical teachers, who deliver an inspirational message of joy and well-being."*) Abraham's message is straight out of the 19th century New Thought tradition: believing makes it so. New Thought was described by William James as "a deliberately optimistic scheme of life." Esther Hicks has written at least nine books with her husband Jerry that promote a variety of optimistic messages. They advise people to be joyful because "the Universe adores you" and "you cannot die." You can take these little messages of joy home with you, as the Hickses have many books, DVDs, CDs, MP3s, card decks, calendars, etc. for sale. You might want to purchase some of these items to take with you on one of their inspirational workshops or cruises. You can also subscribe to one of their many journals for a fee and enjoy constant updates on joy, happiness, wealth, and good health.
In 2006, their book called The Law Of Attraction made The New York Times bestseller list. They achieved similar success in 2008 with a book they called Money and the Law of Attraction: Learning to Attract Health, Wealth & Happiness.
The Hickses claim Abraham gave them the "law of attraction." If "they" did, "they" stole it from Napoleon Hill's (1883-1970) Think and Grow Rich or William Walker Atkinson's (1862-1932) Thought Vibration or the Law of Attraction in the Thought World (1906). Atkinson attributed his recovery from various physical, psychological, and financial disasters to the power of belief. Like the Hickses, he wrote a number of popular books about how believing makes things come about.
Belief in the power of belief has been an attractive message for millions of people for hundreds of years, even though the evidence to support the notion that believing something can make it so is a bit misleading. Most of the supportive evidence is anecdotal, but a minimal acquaintance with genetics should arouse a healthy skepticism about the power of controlling emotions, mood, and disposition by will power. The evidence from science supports a limited influence from the placebo effect and nocebo effect. Proper scientific tests of the power of belief to cure serious illnesses, however, have been universally negative. Those who claim that some tests have shown a positive healing effect from prayer, visualization, or positive thinking are motivated more by desire to believe than by the actual evidence. The same is true for scientific tests of the ability of people to affect something physical using only thought.* (See, in particular, my entries for the work done by Robert Jahn at Princeton and the work by Roger Nelson.) The research regarding being joyful and creativity, however, seems not to support the Hickses' claims.
Bad moods and negative attitudes have gotten a bad rap at work. For years, negativity has been considered an unavoidable — and unfortunate — part of organizational life; something that should be minimized, criticized, even stamped out. But if you want creativity that leads to innovation in your workplace, those naturally occurring bad moods can play a fruitful role; in fact, they’re necessary to make things better. It happens when you have the right kind of supervisory support, according to Jing Zhou, associate professor of management at Rice University’s Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Management.
Negative moods should not be viewed as detrimental. They should be understood and treated as a necessary part of the creative process....bad moods occur naturally, and when they do, managers should use these opportunities to encourage employees to identify potential problems and think of ways to improve things.
With the right support, a bad mood alerts us to shortfalls and motivates us to work really hard to identify and correct problems. A sense of dissatisfaction with the status quo, with the way things are right now, can push people to develop ideas and find creative solutions. That happens in the workplace if the environment allows it.*
Another study found that workers in a "negative mood" worked harder and longer than their optimistic, cheery co-workers when the goal was to do as much work as they could.* And, if you're a gambler, it's better to be a pessimist than an optimist. Optimists tend to keep gambling when they're losing. On the other hand, optimists do better when confronted with negative health reports.* Also, some people find it beneficial to "examine in detail the worst-case scenario and come to terms with it."*
The idea that people create their own reality is sometimes called manifesting and despite the lack of good evidence in support of it, the Hickses have been able to tap into the persistent attractiveness of the optimistic message of such things as The Secret. When The Secret was first released as a DVD, Esther narrated it and was allegedly paid $500,000 for her contribution. Some sort of legal disagreement arose and The Secret was released in a new version without Esther.*
In addition to promoting delusions about the ability of people to cure others and themselves of horrible diseases by the power of thought, the New Thought movement encourages delusions in other areas of life. Outside of the healing arena, New Thought beliefs contribute to what might be called the empowerment delusion: the false belief that feeling empowered, or believing you are empowered, is the same as being empowered. The Hickses are in the business of empowering people with the empowerment delusion.
The empowerment delusion leads people to believe that they can create health or wealth or anything material by willing it or asking a god (or the Universe) to will it. A corollary is the delusion that poverty or sickness is their own fault: their bad thoughts, stinkin' thinkin', negative ideas, lack of faith, and the like cause all misery. The Hickses are not alone in preaching prosperity by being joyful and having positive thoughts. Prosperity preachers like the Reverend Ike or Joel Osteen are a religious version of the Hickses' New Age approach. The billion-dollar self-help industry is largely driven by the empowerment delusion.
The Hickses claim that Abraham taught them such things as "Anything That You Can Imagine is Yours to Be or Do or Have." This idea probably won't have much influence in most corners of the world. More than one-third of the people on our planet don't even have access to a flush toilet.* Will the Hickses advise 2.5 billion people to just believe in hygiene and it will come? Can anyone believe that if you happen to have the misfortune of being born, say, in a squalid Indian village governed by a caste system, that all you have to do is believe your way out? An ignorant person might blame karma or some god's will for such a situation, but nobody in his right mind believes anyone born into those conditions lives that way because of their own thoughts or beliefs that could be changed by an act of will.
On the other hand, it cannot be denied that many people attribute their health or success to positive thinking. There are some obvious truths that can get muddled in the optimistic metaphysical jargon of New Age inspirationalists like the Hickses. Nobody ever accomplished anything without a positive attitude and belief in his or her own ability to succeed at achieving a goal. Thoughts lead to actions and actions bring about results. No thought, no action—unless you're a robot. On the other hand, nobody ever cured cancer by thinking about it or having happy thoughts. Nobody every became a CEO by just believing it would happen. No kid ever had a bicycle materialize before his eyes just because he daydreamed about it happening.
Suggestion, self-hypnosis, the power of positive thinking—call it what you will—clearly benefits people. Likewise, suggestion, self-hypnosis, and negative thinking can harm people. This much is obvious. The bulk of the optimistic messages from Abraham-Hicks, however, is little more than metaphysical rubbish. Instead of helping us overcome the superstitions and magical thinking of our ancestors, the Hickses encourage us to delude ourselves and remain tied to ideas that are attractive but ultimately will send us from one peddler of fine-sounding mantras to another. If you really want to create your own reality and be rich and joyful, the best and easiest way would be to model yourself after the Hickses and start preaching the joy of joy. They've created a number of YouTube videos to guide you.
On the other hand, if you're feeling really adventurous and want a complete change in your life, you might want to read my essay on "Creating Your Own Pseudoscience." I can guarantee you joy and success, as long as you don't mind taking advantage of troubled souls.
See also est, Celestine Prophecy, Course in Miracles, est, firewalking, Jean Houston and the Mystery School, hypnosis, Large Group Awareness Training, Landmark Forum, manifesting, neuro-linguistic programming, New Thought, prayer, psychoanalysis, Ramtha, therapeutic touch, and my essays "Healing Prayer and Distant Healing," "A Short History of Psi Research," and "Energy Healing: Looking in All the Wrong Places."
books and articles
Gardner, Martin. 1993. "New Thought, Unity, and Ella Wheeler Wilcox," in Healing Revelations of Mary Baker Eddy. Prometheus. Republished in When You Were a Tadpole and I Was a Fish: And Other Speculations About This and That. 2009. Hill and Wang, ch. 7.
Gollwitzer, Peter M. 2009. When Intentions Go Public: Does Social Reality Widen the Intention-Behavior Gap? Association for Psychological Science. It is commonly assumed that whenever people make their intentions public, the behavioral impact of these intentions is enhanced....When other people take notice of one’s identity-relevant behavioral intentions, one’s performance of the intended behaviors is compromised.
Harrington, Anne. (2008). The Cure Within: A History of Mind-Body Medicine. W. W. Norton and Company. My review of this excellent book.
Salerno, Steve. 2010. "Ignorance of Bliss," Skeptic, vol. 16, no. 1. This is an excellent article on what Ed Diener called a "society that has become obsessed in its pursuit of the positive." Salerno is unhappy with the happiness industry, especially as it relates to the business world. All of the quotes at the top of this entry, except for the Bob Dylan quote, come from this article.
Wilson, Eric. 2009. Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.