Christian vs. New Age “Thought Control”

Did you ever notice how many New Age self-help books and seminars are based on changing the way we think? They accomplish this through all kinds of mind control techniques such as guided imagery, visualization, blanking the mind, etc.

For instance, one program, A Course in Miracles, actually involves a subtle form of brainwashing by instructing a person to repeat over and over again phrases such as “I don’t see this book as it is now. I don’t see this sofa as it is now. I don’t see this light fixture as it is now.”

The purpose of this and similar exercises is to re-train the mind to form a different perception of everything in the world.

It should come as no surprise that the Course and a myriad of other New Age books/seminars such as The Secret and Landmark, not only want to change the way we think, but also the way we perceive the world. They’re designed to steer us away from a biblical worldview and teach us how to think like New Agers who believe we’re all “gods” who have no need for a savior.

These courses have become a multi-million dollar industry in the U.S. because most of us, including Christians, suffer from destructive thought patterns to some extent or another. We could all use some help in this area, but the New Age isn’t the only game in town when it comes to helping ourselves to develop a healthier outlook on life.

In fact, our faith “wrote the book” on how to control the mind!

But before I get into that, it’s important to understand the concept of “self-talk” which psychologists say is the way we address ourselves internally. If our “inner talk” is negative, it can do all kinds of damage to our self-image.

Take the example of a person who walks up to a group of people after Mass one day. They start to chat and the person notices that one member of the group doesn’t speak to him. A person with healthy “self talk” tells himself, “perhaps he has a lot on his mind” while a person with unhealthy “self talk” thinks, “I wonder why he didn’t speak to me? Maybe he doesn’t like me.”

It’s easy to see how this kind of positive or negative “self-talk” can affect our self-image.

As Dr. Kevin Leman explains in his book, What Your Childhood Memories Say About You, our “self talk” can also be very misleading. For some, “that voice lets them get away with all sorts of behavior. ‘I know I’m on a diet, but what difference is one more bowl of ice cream really going to make? I give myself so few rewards anyway.’”

The question we need to answer is “What is your self-talk saying?” Dr. Leman asks. “Is that little voice helping you, graciously pointing out the truth where you need to change and encouraging you on? Or is it discouraging you and tearing you down?”

More importantly, we need to understand that we’re not the only ones to blame for negative “self-talk”. Remember, the mind is a spiritual battleground where Satan does some of his finest work. He loves to inspire us with thoughts of despair, discouragement, fear, anxiety, impurity. This is his method of choice when it comes to tormenting the faithful – and is also why New Age programs can never completely work because most of them don’t believe in Satan and therefore do nothing to counter these assaults.

When it comes to controlling the mind and the way we think, Jesus Christ is the only way. He has the power to heal us of our negative self-image, to counter satanic oppression, and to learn how to “put on the mind of Christ.”

In his booklet, Thought Control: Architect of Character,  Fr. John H. Hampsch, CMF, tells us that “before our feelings and thoughts (hearts and minds) can be guarded, they must be taken captive. We must ‘take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ’ (2 Cor 10:5).”

As Scripture teaches, if we want to change the way we think, we need to fundamentally change our minds. “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things.” (Phil. 4:8)

We have a choice about what we let into our minds. “Erroneous input into a computer results in erroneous output. So it is with our minds,” Fr. Hampsch writes. “If we fill them with the garbage of sleazy literature or questionable television programs or films, with worldly conversation or thoughts of envy, jealousy, avarice, pride, morbid fear, resentment, etc. then we leave little or no room for God to work in us.”

The first thing we need to do is become vigilant over our minds and learn how to instantly drop unwanted thoughts. Negative thoughts – what some describe as “rogue” thoughts – must be dismissed the minute we notice them, without stopping to acknowledge them or consider them in any way, which only serves to reinforce them. This includes fearful, discouraging, anxious, hateful, angry or impure thoughts. All must be stopped by dropping them immediately as one would drop a hot potato.

Persistent thoughts of this nature, especially those that surface “out of the blue,” could be inspired by Satan, against which we can wield the weapons of prayer, Scripture and the Sacraments.

Fr. Jeffrey Steffon, writing in his book, Spiritual Warfare for Catholics, suggested a simple prayer to a man who very much loved his wife but was being dogged by persistent thoughts of adultery. Whenever he had a thought about wanting to cheat on his wife, Fr. Steffon taught him to pray, “Jesus, I take authority over this thought and make it captive to you.” Within weeks, the thoughts had disappeared! 

This is why Fr. Hampsch says the surest way to change our minds is to turn to Christ for help.

“To open ourselves to this transformation, we must make Jesus our constant companion. Even five minutes a day in a heart-to-heart encounter with Him will change our entire day; it will make our thoughts and feelings different, and enable us to do things for Him that we would never have attempted otherwise.”

“We can choose to free ourselves from worry, resentment, brooding, fear, self-pity or dark desires. But it can only happen if you yield yourself totally to the Lord to be made whole by Him, ‘in body, mind, and spirit.’(1 Thess. 5:23).”

After all, he writes, “The mind is a terrible thing to waste.”
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