I have a confession to make. I cringe when I see anyone new spending a disproportionate amount of time preaching positive thinking. It isn’t that positive thinking is a bad thing. Real positive thinking contributes much to health and vitality. If ever anyone needs to think positively, a transperson does. After all, transition involves genuine risk, especially in locales acutely unaccepting of transpeople. But the people who spend too much time harping on positive thinking often turn out to be unbalanced, even dangerous people to keep as friends. Worse yet, this comes into play on corporate and governmental levels as well.
The gospel of positive thinking came at a time when Americans needed it. Dr. Norman Vincent Peale authored The Power of Positive Thinking in 1952 to help Americans regain their moral footing with respect to faith and hope.1
America had come out of World War II as global policemen, wasting resources on a military “police action” in Korea. As Peale’s book circulated Americans took on an even larger gamble on Vietnam. Americans fostered suspicions of one another in the McCarthy era of the 1950’s, then saw national hopes dashed in the 1960’s with the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King, and Senator Robert Kennedy. Civil rights protests erupted into violence nationwide on national television, culminating in death in places like Watts and Kent State. The social fabric of the nation ripped apart. Americans felt at the time that the very reason to be a nation had disintegrated and that America might not continue at all.
Americans had too often lost hope. Dr. Peale offered an insprational means to restore hope in people. Other writers followed this approach in the late 1960’s like the transactional analysis of superego-ego-id in I’m OK You’re OK by Dr. Thomas Harris2 and in numerous sermons and writings by Dr. Robert Schuller on “Possibility Thinking” in his broadcast series Hour of Power.3
The gospel of positive thinking spread through the nation like wildfire. Not only did churches teach it, salespeople embraced the message as well. By the end of the 1970’s virtually every sales office displayed some memento reminding its hardworking salespeople to think positively. That’s where trouble began.
The trouble most particularly manifested in the mid-section of the United States where sales activity increasingly relied upon the tenets of the growing Prosperity Gospel of the Evangelicals. The Prosperity Gospel held that God wants His people to be prosperous and if this idea was held in faith and prayer, prosperity would follow.4 Every tithe, every offering however small became an investment in prosperity. This idea became popular because after the Energy Crisis of the 1970’s in which tight money lending policies had taken hold. The Prosperity Gospel gave an impetus for new church-centered commerce, loosening the purse strings for the diligent and filling church coffers. The Prosperity Gospel also worked to “sanctify” businesses in the Evangelical mind, turning many businesses into ostensibly Christian institutions, all encouraging exercise of “positive thinking” in order to have faith to get rich.
Non-Evangelicals also paid attention. The hardscrabble 1970’s became an age of business ascendency in the Reagan era, marked by excess, greed, and (in some businesses) popularized religiosity. Virtually every business during that era preached positive thinking, but not in the manner Dr. Peale did. In fact by then, the typical worker had become disconnected from Dr. Norman Vincent Peale and often couldn’t name the book that started the whole movement.
Something pernicious arose, rooted in the Evangelical mass evangelistic efforts of the 1970’s. If one spoke of the return of Christ as “the blessed hope” then other Christians began to look upon that person with suspicion. Believers stopped permitting others to hope in salvation. Salvation needed to be a certainty, a point from the New Testament driven into converts by groups like Campus Crusade for Christ:
“He that hath the Son hath life and he who hath not the Son of God hath not life. These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God, that ye may know that ye have eternal life that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.”5
If an Evangelical asked a Christian, “are you saved?” and he responded, “I hope so,” the former might offer this passage to the latter if indeed the Evangelical had become genuinely savvy through his own Bible study. But more often the former simply condemned the latter as a “negative thinker” and censured him. Hope became a dirty word, a healing message subverted to the rabidness that has too often characterized the Evangelical.
That meant a new era for a faith that had enshrined hope over the centuries. The Christian philosopher Thomas Aquinas numbered hope with the theological virtues along with love and faith.6 By the end of the 1980’s many Evangelical virtually eliminated the word “hope” from their daily working vocabularies for fear of being stigmatized as “negative”… and most of us with experience with Evangelicals know too well that there’s plenty of social stigma fueling their “communions”.
What replaced hope was a form of “positive thinking” that demanded affirmation according to whatever power structure prevails, especially if that power structure involves a hierarchy. This was especially true in corporations whether built around Evangelicals or not. But these hierarchies, stripped of their traditional ethics and often devoid of their religious associations, reflected the Shaeffer Principle, named after Dr. Francis Shaeffer who proposed it in 1976 in his film series, How Shall We Then Live?:
“If there are no absolutes by which to judge society, then society is absolute.”7
Shaeffer’s “absolutes” were determined by the Bible as understood by theocratic teachers. These absolutes are socially popular truisms taught as moral dictums. Popular teaching, fueled by centuries of debate, had led to a serious problem manifest in the Reformation, where differing philosophies and interpretations of the Bible led to numerous divisions. Many of these divisions came together in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s in an Evangelical Alliance joined by certain Roman Catholic and Messianic Jewish organizations, setting aside differences while emphasizing new truisms as absolutes including a corporate version of “positive thinking.” While the Shaeffer Principle fails to address any resolution to these original divisions in Christianity, it’s useful to probe further into human nature regarding how it treats proposed “absolutes”.
With that I offer these corollaries to the Shaeffer Principle:
- “If the ‘absolutes’ proposed by society have been rejected by a subset of that society, then that subset is absolute.”
- “If such a subset of society follows a hierarchy, then the hierarchical rule is absolute,”
- “If that hierarchy is ruled by one, then that one is absolute.”
This offers much leeway for Egoist versions of morality in which a sovereign individual determines his own morality on the basis of facts he understands and accepts while excluding others. It’s a subjective approach that often recognizes no other authority than one’s self whether religious, civil, or educational. That approach renders positive thinking a mechanism of self-affirmation with the attitude, “My mind is made up. Don’t confuse me with facts.”
The tyranny of such an approach soon manifests in characteristics typical of the pseudopositivist:
- A pseudopositivist typically smiles, giving as much an impression of welcome as he thinks he can, at least initially.
- A pseudopositivist typically pours on compliments to the point of flattery and will exact the same in return.
- A pseudopositivist will lash out at rejections of flattery as untrue, quickly declaring the one objects as a “negative person,” and this “negativity” makes that person a bad person.
- A pseudopositivist will give unequal attention to negativity in phraseology.
- A pseudopositivist will lash out at anything he personally resents, however true and regardless of whether the matter resented has been presented in a good spirit, still attributing that which he represents as further evidence of the “negative thinking” of a bad person.
- A pseudopositivist will dismiss his diatribes as “justified” and “positive” and will ignore any level of anger or viciousness on his part, and may even pretend that such never happened at all.
- A pseudopositivist will often taunt another person with hurtful speech, then complain if the victim defends himself, calling his victim “temperamental,” thereby projecting his own pathological behavior onto his victim.
- The apology of a pseudopositivist is never heartfelt, cursory and for the purpose of gaining a perceived advantage, and if a victim sees through the pretense and won’t accept it as an apology then the victim will be judged a bad person.
- A pseudopositivist does not reset relationships. He may claim to do so, but will lay up an account of claimed negativity against his victim.
- A pseudopositivist will eventually declare his victim to be a dangerous person and will make every attempt to push his victim out of his life.
- A pseudopositivist rarely maintains long-term friendships, often leaving a string of ruined relationships resulting from his own taunts and damnations.
- A pseudopositivist often displays sociopathic behavior, revealing by action that he lacks any conscience or may manifest such a level of delusion attributable to a psychopath.
- A pseudopositivist typically asserts that truth is relative as defined by himself and that truth is malleable according to his will.
What follows, if one must submit to a pseudopositivist is a toxic relationship in which one relinquishes his own sovereignty as an individual to become a “yes-person,” ever afraid to disagree with the counterfeit of positive thinking by the ruling pseudopositivist. Far from the hope offered in positive thinking by Dr. Peale, the pseudopositivist offers a legacy of hope destroyed by the pseudopositivist’s narcissism and replaced with the dictates of the pseudopositivist.
Psuedopositivism, because of its ready adoption as a philosophy in sociopathic behavior can extend itself into psycho-social pathology, growing beyond the individual to organizations and other societies through hierarchies by which that pseudopositivism becomes enforced in ways one would expect from a corporate cult.
This endangers any transperson in 2 ways:
- When a transperson seeks to establish associations with others such may find trusts betrayed by pseudopositivists and institutions ruled by the same.
- If a transperson is a pseudopositivist such may also manifest sociopathic behavior.
It’s easy to see pseudopositivism at work in the often contradictory and generally nasty presidential campaign of 2016. One of the definers of the Donald Trump campaign was the treatment of protesters by expulsion with violence encouraged by Trump himself who called a protester “a bad person.”8 He made similar comments about people in the press including the Washington Post9 and Megan Kelly, though he gave an appearance of mending fences with Megan Kelly.10 But his free-swinging judgment of individuals he disagreed with as “bad” is typical of the pseudopositivist. One might from his own memory and experience of the 2016 campaign find other examples as well.
The President Elect’s “narcissism” and obsession with “greatness”11 as reported by psychoanalyst Dan P. McAdams would be expected of one who has been at the top of the corporate ladder for most of his life. The corporate version of positive thinking manifest in the Prosperity Gospel finds its way here, but without the full evangelical fervor that embodied it in the 1970’s. After all, candidate Trump met up with laughs and snickers at Liberty University when he spoke to them and quoted from “Two Corinthians” instead of the vernacular “Second Corinthians.” It’s what one would expect from a man not in touch with mainstream Christianity, quoting what he happened to find useful to him and without any consideration of the context in which his passage had been written.12
Corporate pseudopositivism is now in position to be enforced at the governmental level and that in the garb of pretended religiosity. The President Elect’s campaign manager Kellyanne Conway warned others in the press to be careful how they criticize the President Elect, a man known for his litigiousness.13 It reads like a standing threat in which anyone who opposes the President will be sued into submission, a threat which may render this post short lived.
Yet people must be permitted to criticize for a democracy to function as a constitutional republic. Take that away while theocrats gain ascendancy and the United States becomes something far different: a theocratic republic ruled by the Evangelical Alliance not essentially different in its intentions from its Muslim counterpart: the Islamic Republic of Iran. It becomes what many of those sects Evangelicals have branded as “cults” have warned for decades: that the United States would become a theocratic oppressor. These include people like Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh-Day Adventists whom other Christian denominations vehemently oppose, consigning its members to the fires of hell. Those organizations, facing their “time of Jacob’s trouble” will in their own way have to cut away the layers of pseudopositivism that have held those structures for decades and get to the reality they need to accept in which real positive thinking and faith avail.
Those of us who don’t take membership in these organizations have to get real as well whether one is a lowly individual like this writer or those in positions of governmental power. If hope can be enshrined again then real positive thinking has taken hold as Dr. Peale desired. If hope has been subverted such that it can’t even be talked about, beware. But the only safety available is one’s own cultivation of real positivity, a positivity that’s circumspect, opening those living springs of refreshment so others can be refreshed as well. It’s true for any individual. It’s life-or-death for the transperson.
- Peale, Norman Vincent. The Power of Positive Thinking (July 1952) Prentiss Hall, Publisher; ASIN: B00418O6W0 Web: com: https://www.amazon.com/Positive-Thinking-Amazing-Results-Hardcover/dp/B00418O6W0. Retrieved November 17, 2016.
- Family of Eric Berne. Harris, Thomas A., MD (2016) Web: http://www.drthomasharris.com/im-ok-youre-ok-book-thomas-harris/. Retrieved November 16, 2016.
- (n.a.) Hour of Power (n.d.) Web: http://www.hourofpower.org.hk/data/bookengindex.html. Retrieved November 16, 2016.
- Eskridge, Larry. The Prosperity Gospel is Surprisingly Mainstream (August 22, 2013) Web: Christianity Today: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2013/august-web-only/prosperity-gospel-is-surprisingly-mainstream.html. Retrieved November 16, 2016
- 1 John 5:13, KJV.
- Aquinas, St. Thomas. Treatise on Faith, Hope, and Charity. The Summa Theologica, Part II of II. From Shapcote, Father Laurence. Great Books of the Western World, Vol. 19. (2003) Encyclopaedia Britannica, Publisher.; ASIN: B000N8RGMY, p.165.
- Shaeffer, Francis. Shaeffer Sundays, Part IV (video) via Hatcher, Everette. The Daily Hatch (n.d.) Web: https://thedailyhatch.org/2011/08/28/francis-schaeffer-noted-%E2%80%9Cif-there-are-no-absolutes-by-which-to-judge-society-then-society-is-absolute-%E2%80%9D-schaeffer-sundays-part-4/. Retrieved November 16, 2016.
- Ferguson, Amber. Donald Trump Doesn’t Want Protesters To Get Hurt If Cameras Are Around (May 25, 2016) Web: Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/donald-trump-protesters-television-cameras_us_57460ddee4b0dacf7ad3d543. Retrieved November 16, 2016.
- Taylor, Jessica. Donald Trump Bans ‘Washington Post’ From Campaign Events (June 13, 2016) Web: National Public Radio: http://www.npr.org/2016/06/13/481923166/donald-trump-bans-washington-post-from-campaign-events. Retrieved November 16, 2013.
- Landsbaum, Claire. Megyn Kelly and Donald Trump Meet, Are Maybe Friends Now (April 14, 2016) Web: New York: http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2016/04/megyn-kelly-meets-with-donald-trump.html. Retrieved November 16, 2016
- McAdams, Dan P. The Mind of Donald Trump (June 2016) Web: The Atlantichttp://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/06/the-mind-of-donald-trump/480771/. Retrieved November 17, 2016.
- C-SPAN. Donald Trump: “Two Corinthians…” (January 18, 2016) Web: YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8EIgHsGZAmk. Retrieved November 17, 2016.
- Hunter. Kellyanne Conway to Trump critics: be careful what you say. (November 13, 2016) Web: The Daily Kos: http://www.dailykos.com/stories/2016/11/13/1598359/-Kellyanne-Conway-to-Trump-critics-Be-careful-what-you-say?detail=email&link_id=1&can_id=1f39890e285869be62dc02d3c7a6548c&source=email-kellyanne-conway-to-trump-critics-be-careful-what-you-say&email_referrer=kellyanne-conway-to-trump-critics-be-careful-what-you-say&email_subject=kellyanne-conway-to-trump-critics-be-careful-what-you-say. Retrieved November 17, 2016.