Blog Post

The Dark Side of Those Warm and Fuzzy "Chicken Soup for the Soul" Books

Photo by Nguyen Thu Hoai on Unsplash

Many of our blogs come about as a result of readers who give us "tips" about a fad or personality that warrant more research. This is what happened with the popular books, Chicken Soup for the Soul. Thanks to that reader's tip, we unearthed a goldmine of vital information about these "warm and fuzzy" books that we all need to know about!

As hard as it may be to believe, there's a dark side to that vast collection of feel-good stories known as Chicken Soup for the Soul books.  Who would have guessed that co-author Jack Canfield, has long been a practicing New Age guru which is why many of the contributors of those warm-and-fuzzy stories are also steeped in questionable spiritual practices.

First, let's take a look at Canfield first. He's a Harvard graduate with an M.Ed. from the University of Massachusetts and has received three honorary doctorates in psychology and public service. At one time, he worked as a high-school history teacher and was a follower of "the secret" and "law of attraction" worldview.

According to a bio appearing on the Law of Attraction website, in 1976 Canfield experimented with a visualization tool known as the Chinese Abundance Check Technique. At the time, he was making $8,000 a year and he visualized making $100,000 a year by writing himself a check for that amount which he then stuck on the ceiling above his bed so that it would be the first and last thing he would see every day. Supposedly, after a series of "coincidental" events, Chicken Soup for the Soul was published and Canfield's income shot up to $93,000.

Of course, he tried it again with a $1 million check and - you guessed it - he received a million dollar check from his publisher which he naturally attributed to this "visualization" technique and the thoroughly New Age concept that "you can be what you will to be."

These beliefs actually stem from the New Thought movement of the 1800's which taught that we can create our own reality by our thought processes so "what the mind can conceive, the body can conceive." New Thought eventually morphed into the New Age Human Potential Movement of the mid-20th century and underlies popular books of the time such as Norman Vincent Peale's Power of Positive Thinking, L. Ron Hubbard's Dianetics and Steven Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People to name a few.

The problem with this way of thinking was rather bluntly pointed out by the Pontifical Councils for Culture and Interreligious Dialogue in their seminal document on the New Age, Jesus Christ, the Bearer of the Water of Life. “The Human Potential Movement is the clearest example of the conviction that humans are divine, or contain a divine spark within themselves.”

If we can just use our minds to get anything we want, who needs God, right?

Canfield's work is shrouded in stories that are genuinely heartwarming and seemingly innocent, but when you check out some of the authors of these tales, a whole different picture emerges.

For instance, the original Chicken Soup volume contains at least 25 New Age attributions or contributors, such as the late Wayne Dyer, Eric Butterworth (popular New Age spiritual leader), and Richard Bach (of Jonathon Livingston Seagull fame who believes our apparent physical limits and mortality are merely appearance), Tielhard de Chardin (his writings were condemned by the Church), Carl Rogers (one of the founders of the very New Age humanistic approach to psychology) to name a few. This volume also advertises the New Age oriented magazine called Changes.

Some of the stories are clearly New Age, such as Canfield's "The Golden Buddha" story in which he writes: "We are all like the clay Buddha covered with a shell of hardness created out of fear, and yet each of us is a Golden Buddha,' a golden Christ,' or a golden essence,' which is our real self."

Another volume contains stories written by 38 New Age or Mormon contributors such as Sai Baba (Indian guru who thought he was a reincarnated saint) and the noted transcendental meditation promoter Harold Bloomfield.

Then there is the volume containing 23 New Age or Mormon contributors. Chicken Soup for the Surviving Soul contains 20 New Age contributors. Some of these authors include Marianne Williamson (who promotes the occult-based A Course in Miracles), Joan Borysenko (mind/body healer), Norman Cousins (another mind-over-matter guru) and Alan Cohen (self-help guru who founded a university dedicated to "higher learning for the higher self").

Chicken Soup for the Woman's Soul is even worse and contains at least 27 New Age and Mormon authors or attributions including a "psychic," two Transcendental Meditation trainers, a Unity minister, and a shaman.

Unfortunately, there are now hundreds of titles in this series and millions of copies in print in over 40 languages. That's getting a lot of mileage for the "be your own god" crowd.

Perhaps most disturbing of all (to me anyway) is that Canfield embraced the work of Roberto Assagioli who served as a personal emissary to theosophist Alice Ann Bailey.  A New Age magazine article dating back to 1981 revealed that Canfield was a teacher of Bailey's highly occultic "psychosynthesis" which Assagioli once described as  the “formation or reconstruction of a new personality—the transpersonal or ‘spiritual Self.’”

But Canfield's occult beliefs don't stop there. He once remarked that the most interesting thing about the use of guided imagery was that it evokes "the wisdom that lies deep within us" and teaches his students how to contact their spirit guides so they can serve as "wisdom counselors."

I could go on and on but I think you the idea. Chicken Soup for the Soul is a wolf in sheep's clothing if I ever saw one.

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