Norman Vincent Peale (May 31, 1898 – December 24, 1993) was an American Protestant clergyman,[1] and an author best known for popularizing the concept of positive thinking, especially through his best-selling book The Power of Positive Thinking (1952). He served as the pastor of Marble Collegiate Church, New York, from 1932, leading this Reformed Church in America congregation for more than a half century until his retirement in 1984. Alongside his pulpit ministry, he had an extensive career of writing and editing, and radio and television presentations. Despite arguing at times against involvement of clergy in politics, he nevertheless had some controversial affiliations with politically active organizations in the late 1930s, and engaged with national political candidates and their campaigns, having influence on some, including a personal friendship with President Richard Nixon.

Norman Vincent Peale
Peale in 1966
Peale in 1966
Born(1898-05-31)May 31, 1898
Bowersville, Ohio
DiedDecember 24, 1993(1993-12-24) (aged 95)
Pawling, New York
OccupationAuthor, speaker,
Reformed Church in America minister
SubjectPositive thinking
(m. 1930)

Peale led a group opposing the election of John F. Kennedy for president, saying, "Faced with the election of a Catholic, our culture is at stake."[2] Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr responded that Peale was motivated by "blind prejudice,"[2] and facing intense public criticism, Peale retracted his statement. He also opposed Adlai Stevenson's candidacy for president because he was divorced, which led Stevenson to famously quip, "I find Saint Paul appealing and Saint Peale appalling."[3]

Following the publication of Peale's 1952 best seller, his ideas became the focus of criticism from several psychiatric professionals, church theologians and leaders. Peale was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States, on March 26, 1984, by President Ronald Reagan. He died at age 95, following a stroke, on December 24, 1993, in Pawling, New York. He was survived by Ruth Stafford, his wife of 63 years, who had influenced him with regard to the publication of The Power in 1952, and with whom he had founded Guideposts in 1945; Ruth died on February 6, 2008, at the age of 101.

Early life and education

Peale's World War I draft card

Peale was born in Bowersville, Ohio on May 31, 1898,[1][4] the eldest of three sons of Charles and Anna (née Delaney) Peale.[citation needed] Charles was a physician-turned-Methodist minister in southern Ohio,[4] and as such, his three sons were raised as Methodists.[citation needed]

Peale graduated from Bellefontaine High School, Bellefontaine, Ohio in 1916.[5] He attended and earned a degree at Ohio Wesleyan University,[4][1] where he became a brother at the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity.[citation needed] He also began to attend Boston University School of Theology.[4]





Serving as a pulpit replacement in a subsequent summer break (for an Ohio church pastor that had fallen ill), the Boston theology trainee was persuaded by his father to abandon the formal preaching style of his training for one of simplicity, which led Peale to talk about "Jesus Christ... relat[ing him] to the simplicities of human lives," and which led, he would later recollect, to a "good reception" and "look[s] of gratitude and goodness" on the faces of congregants.[4] Leaving school thereafter to earn needed funds, Peale would work in journalism at The Detroit Journal, after a year of reporting in Findlay, Ohio at The Morning Republican.[4] Leaving journalism, Peale returned his focus to ministry, and in 1922[4] was ordained a pastor in the Methodist Episcopal Church.[4][1] After a first assignment in Rhode Island, at an unknown church in Berkeley,[4] he accepted a call to Brooklyn,[4][1] where, in 1924, his work from the pulpit, and in general, boosted its membership more than twenty-fold within a year, leading the small congregation to build a new church.[4]

He received a call to Syracuse, New York[4][1] and in 1927 took the pulpit at the University Methodist Church;[4] it was also while there that he became one of the first American clergymen to bring his sermons to the emerging commercial technology of radio,[4][citation needed] a media decision that added to his general popularity, and that he would later extend in the same way to television.[1] During the Depression, Peale teamed up with J.C. Penney & Co. founder James Cash Penney, radio personality Arthur Godfrey, and IBM founder and President Thomas J. Watson, forming (and sitting the first board of) 40Plus, an organization aimed at helping unemployed managers and executives.[citation needed] On June 20, 1930, Peale married Loretta Ruth Stafford.[who?][where?][4]

In 1932 or 1933 he was called to the Marble Collegiate Church in New York City,[4][1] a call which required that he "switch his denomination"[4]—for a clergyman, transfer his ordination[citation needed]—to the Reformed Church in America, "a transfer made... with no apparent problem for him".[4] His tenure at Marble Collegiate Church, which dated to 1628 and was "said to be the oldest continuous Protestant congregation in the country",[4] began with an attendance at service of 200, but which would grow to thousands, as a result of his "spirited sermons".[4] Peale would remain at Marble until his retirement from pastoral work,[1] in 1984.[6]

His theology was controversial, and prominent theologians such as Ronald Niebuhr and William Miller spoke out publicly against it. They contended that Peale's theology falsely represented Christianity and that Peale's writings and sermons were factually false as well. Niebuhr said "This new cult is dangerous. Anything which corrupts the Gospel hurts Christianity. And it hurts people too."[7] William Miller Wrote that Peale's theology is "hard on the truth," full of undocumented claims, and after reviewing Peale's entire library of books, said "the later ones are worse."[citation needed]

Early association with psychiatry


Following the 1929 market crash, and being presented with congregants with "complex problems" (as Peale would later recount), his wife, Ruth Stafford Peale, counseled him to "fin[d] a psychiatrist who could help parish members," which he did through consultation with his physician, Clarence W. Lieb.[4] Peale was introduced to a Freudian who had trained in psychiatry in Vienna, Smiley Blanton, who Peale later recalled as saying, "I've been praying for years that some minister would see that psychiatry and religion... should work together" (in response to being asked about his believing in the "power of prayer").[citation needed]

The two men wrote books together, notably Faith Is the Answer: A Psychiatrist and a Pastor Discuss Your Problems (1940). The book was written in alternating chapters, with Blanton writing one chapter, then Peale. Blanton espoused no particular religious point of view in his chapters. In 1951 this clinic of psychotherapy and religion grew into the American Foundation of Religion and Psychiatry, with Peale serving as president and Blanton as executive director.[8] Blanton handled difficult psychiatric cases and Peale, who had no mental health credentials, handled religious issues.[9]

When Peale came under heavy criticism from the mental health community for his book The Power of Positive Thinking (1952), Blanton distanced himself from Peale and refused to publicly endorse the book. Blanton did not allow Peale to use his name in The Power of Positive Thinking and declined to defend Peale publicly when he came under criticism. As scholar Donald Meyer describes it: "Peale evidently imagined that he marched with Blanton in their joint labors in the Religio-psychiatric Institute. This was not exactly so.":[9] 266  Meyer notes that Blanton's own book, Love or Perish (1956), "contrasted so distinctly at so many points with the Peale evangel" of "positive thinking" that these works had virtually nothing in common.:[9] 273

Radio and publishing


In the same period, Peale returned to the radio work that he began in Syracuse, as a means to deal with what he termed a personal obsession, "reach[ing] as many people as I could with the message of Jesus Christ."[4] His first programs in New York City began in 1935, an effort which led to the National Council of Churches sponsoring a program on the NBC Radio Network entitled The Art of Living, which would grow to reach millions.[4]

This title then became the same as first of his books from New York City, in 1937, from Abingdon Press, which spoke of a power that individuals had within themselves that they could "tap" through "applied Christianity".[4] With the advent of war in 1939, his second book appeared from Abingdon, "You Can Win, which spoke of the tensions of life, the possibility of self-mastery, and ones being one unconquerable with God.[4] Despite a clear and apparent philosophy and message, the books did not "advis[e] people how to apply [the ideas] to their lives," and they did not sell well.[4] (Some of his other works include The Tough-Minded Optimist,[when?] and Inspiring Messages for Daily Living.[when?][citation needed]) By the end of World War II in 1945, Peale, his wife Ruth, and Raymond Thornburg (a businessman from Pawling, New York), had founded Guideposts magazine, a non-denominational forum that presented inspirational stories.[citation needed]

With the end of the war—which was marked, in the words of George Vecsey, writing in The New York Times, by Americans having "some leeway to question what they believed and how they should live"—Peale achieved his first best seller, published with Prentice-Hall in 1948, a self-help book entitled A Guide for Confident Living that brought religion to bear on personal problems.[4] This was followed soon thereafter by the book for which he is most widely known, The Power of Positive Thinking; as Vecsey describes it, it arose from a draft book that Ruth Peale "sent to [an] editor without her husband's knowledge", and this usurpation led to a book that would remain on best seller lists for more than three years, which "rank[ed] it... behind the Bible... as one of the highest-selling spiritual books in history".[4]

Vecsey was careful to categorize Peale's book as a best seller in the narrow "spiritual books" category rather than comparing it to the much larger sales figures of the non-fiction or self-help categories. First published in 1952, it stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for 186[10] consecutive weeks, and according to the publisher, Simon and Schuster, the book has sold around 5 million copies. The fact that the book has sold 5 million copies is printed on the cover of the current edition in both paperback and hard cover, and directly contradicts exaggerated claims that the book has sold more than 20 million copies[11][12] in 42 languages.[11] The publisher also contradicts the translation claim, saying the book has been translated into only 15 languages.[13] Nearly half of the sales of the book (2.1 mil.) occurred before 1958,[14] and by 1963, the book had still only sold 2 million copies according to Peale.[15] Since then, the book has sold less than 3 million copies over the past 60 years. Some of his other popular works include The Art of Living, A Guide to Confident Living, The Tough-Minded Optimist, and Inspiring Messages for Daily Living.[citation needed]

The Peale radio program, The Art of Living, was ongoing, and would continue for 54 years, and under the continued and evolving sponsorship of the National Council of Churches, he moved into television when the new medium arrived.[citation needed] In the meantime he continued to write books and to edit Guideposts magazine. As well, his sermons went out monthly to an extensive mailing list.[16]



In 1947 Peale and educator Kenneth Beebe co-founded The Horatio Alger Association, an organisation that aimed to recognize and honor Americans successful in spite of difficult circumstances.[citation needed] Other organizations founded by Peale include the Peale Center, the Positive Thinking Foundation, and Guideposts Publications, all of which aim to promote Peale's theories about positive thinking.[citation needed]

Personal life


Peale was close to President Richard Nixon's family, and officiated at the 1968 wedding of Julie Nixon and David Eisenhower.[citation needed] He continued calling at the White House throughout the Watergate crisis,[citation needed] and was quoted as saying "Christ didn't shy away from people in trouble."[This quote needs a citation]

Peale was a 33-degree Freemason of the Scottish Rite.[17]

Later life


President Ronald Reagan awarded Peale the Presidential Medal of Freedom (the highest civilian honor in the United States) on March 26, 1984, for his contributions to the field of theology.[18][verification needed]

Peale died at age 95 following a stroke, on December 24, 1993, in Pawling, New York[4][1] He was survived by his wife of 63 years, Ruth Stafford Peale, who had influenced him with regard to the publication of The Power in 1952, and with regard to his early interactions with psychiatry, and with whom he had founded Guideposts (of which she was chairman emeritus, and which had an annual readership of 8 million in 2008); she died on February 6, 2008, at the age of 101.[19]

Criticism and controversies


General and psychological critique


Peale's works were criticized by several mental health experts who denounced his writings as bad for mental health, and concluded that Peale was a "con man and a fraud,"[20] and a "Confidence Man."[21] These critics appeared in the early 1950s after the publication of The Power of Positive Thinking.

One critique of The Power of Positive Thinking noted that the book contained anecdotes that are hard to substantiate. Critics noted many of the testimonials that Peale quoted as supporting his philosophy were unnamed, unknown and unsourced. Examples included a "famous psychologist,"[22]: 52   a two-page letter from a "practicing physician",[22]: 150   another "famous psychologist",[22]: 169  a "prominent citizen of New York City",[22]: 88  and dozens, if not hundreds, more unverifiable quotations. Similar scientific studies of questionable validity are also cited. As psychiatrist R.C. Murphy wrote, "All this advertising is vindicated as it were, by a strict cleaving to the side of part truth," and referred to the work and the quoted material as "implausible and woodenly pious".[23] Peale's works were criticized by several mental health experts who declared his writings were actually bad for mental health, concluding that Peale was a "con man and a fraud,"[24] with his being referred to as a confidence man in the popular press in 1955.[21]

Agreeing with Murphy is William Lee Miller, a professor at the University of Virginia, who wrote an extensive article called “Some Negative Thinking About Norman Vincent Peale.” After reviewing the entire Peale library, Miller concluded that the books “are hard on the truth,” and that “the later books are worse” than the earlier ones. Miller challenged the plausibility and truthfulness of Peale's testimonials with “Great Men” in his books, almost all of whom were unnamed, unknown and unverifiable.

“In Dr. Peale’s books these men turn out to talk just like Dr. Peale…. There is a continuing recurring episode in his books that goes like this: Peale meets Great Man; Peale humbly asks Great Man for his secret (his formula, technique); Great Man tells Peale his strikingly Peale-like secret (formula, technique)….”

Miller also mocks the success formulas these “great men” reveal, such as the unnamed newspaper editor who credits repeating a single phrase [a technique in auto-hypnosis] as the reason for his success. The unnamed editor's “secret is card in wallet with words to the effect that successful man is successful.” Miller explains, “There is never the suggestion that hard work might be involved in achievement. There are no demands on the reader.” Miller wrote “All this is hard on the truth, but it is good for the preacher’s popularity. It enables him to say exactly what his hearers want to hear.” Miller further mocks Peale's claims that his methods of “religion” are scientifically proven. Miller quotes Peale: “The laws are so precise and have been so often demonstrated… that religion may be said to form an exact science.” Peale provides no scientific evidence in his books to support this claim. He provides no evidence that his methods and “techniques” have been scientifically tested or proven to work. Miller goes on to note that there are no scientific references supporting Peale, no footnotes, no index, no bibliography, no recommendations for further readings, almost no evidence of any kind presented in the Peale books. Miller concluded that the Peale claims were untruthful and unsupported by evidence. Miller wrote that in order to gain followers “He [Peale] is willing to use without flinching the most blatant appeals and to promise without stint.”[25][full citation needed]

A second critique of Peale was that he attempted to conceal that his techniques for giving the reader absolute self-confidence and deliverance from suffering are a well known form of hypnosis, and that he persuaded his readers to follow his beliefs through a combination of false evidence and self-hypnosis (autosuggestion), disguised by the use of terms which may sound more benign from the reader's point of view ("techniques", "formulas", "methods", "prayers", and "prescriptions").[26][27] One author called Peale's book "The Bible of American autohypnotism".[9]: 264  While his techniques have been debated by psychologists, Peale said his theological practice and strategy was directed more at self-analysis, forgiveness, character development, and growth[28][full citation needed] which has been suggested by some[who?] to be much like the teachings of the Jesuits of the Catholic Church.[29][full citation needed][original research?]

Psychiatrist R. C. Murphy wrote "Self knowledge, in Mr. Peale's understanding is unequivocally bad: self hypnosis is good." Murphy added that repeated hypnosis defeats an individual's self-motivation, self-knowledge, unique sense of self, sense of reality, and ability to think critically. Murphy describes Peale's understanding of the mind as inaccurate, "without depth", and his description of the workings of the mind and the unconscious as deceptively simplistic and false: "It is the very shallowness of his concept of 'person' that makes his rules appear easy ... If the unconscious of man ... can be conceptualized as a container for a small number of psychic fragments, then ideas like 'mind-drainage' follow. So does the reliance on self-hypnosis, which is the cornerstone of Mr. Peale's philosophy.'"[23]

Psychologist Albert Ellis,[30] founder of the branch of psychology known as cognitive psychology, compared the Peale techniques with those of French psychologist, hypnotherapist and pharmacist Émile Coué, and Ellis said that the repeated use of these hypnotic techniques could lead to significant mental health problems. Ellis, ranked by the American Psychological Association as the second most influential psychologist of the 20th century (behind Carl Rogers, but ahead of Sigmund Freud),[31] documented in several of his books the many individuals he has treated who suffered mental breakdowns from following Peale's teachings. Ellis described one of his case studies:

"One of my 50-year-old clients, Sidney, read everything that Norman Vincent Peale ever wrote, went to many of his sermons at Marble Collegiate Church, and turned many of his friends onto trusting completely in God and in the Reverend Peale to cure them of all their ills. When some of these friends, in spite of their vigorous positive thinking, wound up in the mental hospital, and when Sidney had to turn to massive doses of tranquilizers to keep himself going, he became disillusioned..."

Fortunately, Ellis' client began attending therapy and workshop groups at his clinic (The Albert Ellis Institute), and through cognitive behavioral therapy (at that time, known as Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy, or REBT), he was able to improve his mental health and reduce his medications.[32] Ellis' writings repeatedly warn the public not to follow the Peale message. Ellis contends the Peale approach is dangerous, distorted, unrealistic. He compares the black or white view of life that Peale teaches to a psychological disorder (borderline personality disorder), perhaps implying that dangerous mental habits which he sees in the disorder may be brought on by following the teaching. "In the long run [Peale's teachings] lead to failure and disillusionment, and not only boomerang back against people, but often prejudice them against effective therapy."[33]

A third critique was that Peale's philosophy was based on exaggerating the fears of his readers and followers, and that this exaggerated fear inevitably leads to aggression and the destruction of those considered "negative". Peale's views were critically reviewed in a 1955 article by psychiatrist R. C. Murphy, published in The Nation, titled "Think Right: Reverend Peale's Panacea".

With saccharine terrorism, Mr. Peale refuses to allow his followers to hear, speak or see any evil. For him real human suffering does not exist; there is no such thing as murderous rage, suicidal despair, cruelty, lust, greed, mass poverty, or illiteracy. All these things he would dismiss as trivial mental processes which will evaporate if thoughts are simply turned into more cheerful channels. This attitude is so unpleasant it bears some search for its real meaning. It is clearly not a genuine denial of evil but rather a horror of it. A person turns his eyes away from human bestiality and the suffering it evokes only if he cannot stand to look at it. By doing so he affirms the evil to be absolute, he looks away only when he feels that nothing can be done about it ... The belief in pure evil, an area of experience beyond the possibility of help or redemption, is automatically a summons to action: 'evil' means 'that which must be attacked ... ' Between races for instance, this belief leads to prejudice. In child-rearing it drives parents into trying to obliterate rather than trying to nurture one or another area of the child's emerging personality ... In international relationships it leads to war. As soon as a religious authority endorses our capacity for hatred, either by refusing to recognize unpleasantness in the style of Mr Peale or in the more classical style of setting up a nice comfortable Satan to hate, it lulls our struggles for growth to a standstill ... Thus Mr Peale's book is not only inadequate for our needs but even undertakes to drown out the fragile inner voice which is the spur to inner growth.[23]

Donald B. Meyer seemed to agree with this assessment, presenting similar warnings of a religious nature. In his article "Confidence Man", Meyer wrote, "In more classic literature, this sort of pretension to mastery has often been thought to indicate an alliance with a Lower rather than a Higher power."[34] The mastery Peale speaks of is not the mastery of skills or tasks, but the mastery of fleeing and avoiding one's own "negative thoughts". Meyer wrote, exaggerated fear inevitably leads to aggression: "Battle it is; Peale, in sublime betrayal of the aggression within his philosophy of peace, talks of 'shooting' prayers at people."[21]

Psychologist Martin Seligman, former APA president and the founder of the branch of psychology known as Positive Psychology, differentiated Peale's positive thinking from his own positive psychology, while acknowledging their common roots.

It is important to see the difference: Is Positive Psychology just positive thinking warmed over?

Positive Psychology has a philosophical connection to positive thinking, but not an empirical one. The Arminian Heresy (discussed at length in the notes for Chapter 5) is at the foundations of Methodism, and Norman Vincent Peale's positive thinking grows out of it. Positive Psychology is also tied at its foundations to the individual freely choosing, and in this sense both endeavors have common roots.

But Positive Psychology is also different in significant ways from positive thinking, in that Positive Psychology is based on scientific accuracy while positive thinking is not, and that positive thinking could even be fatal in the wrong circumstances.

First, positive thinking is an armchair activity. Positive Psychology, on the other hand, is tied to a program of empirical and replicable scientific activity. Second, Positive Psychology does not hold a brief for positivity. There is a balance sheet, and in spite of the many advantages of positive thinking, there are times when negative thinking is to be preferred. Although there are many studies that correlate positivity with later health, longevity, sociability, and success, the balance of the evidence suggests that in some situations negative thinking leads to more accuracy. Where accuracy is tied to potentially catastrophic outcomes (for example, when an airplane pilot is deciding whether to de-ice the wings of her airplane), we should all be pessimists. With these benefits in mind, Positive Psychology aims for the optimal balance between positive and negative thinking. Third, many leaders in the Positive Psychology movement have spent decades working on the "negative" side of things. Positive Psychology is a supplement to negative psychology, not a substitute.[35]

Seligman went on to say "Positive thinking often involves trying to believe upbeat statements such as 'Every day, in every way, I am getting better and better,' in the absence of evidence or even in the face of contrary evidence. ... Learned optimism, in contrast, is about accuracy".[36]

Another difference experts noted was that though Seligman describes his positive psychology as a self-empowering program completely within the ability of the individual to achieve on his or her own, experts described positive thinking as disempowering to the individual and a religion of weakness, where individuals are told by Peale they cannot overcome their negative circumstances without his autosuggestive "techniques," which he claims will give them the power of God. As Meyer quotes Peale as saying, "No man, however resourceful or pugnacious, is a match for so great an adversary as a hostile world. He is at best a puny and impotent creature quite at the mercy of the cosmic and social forces in the midst of which he dwells." Meyer noted that Peale always "reacted to the image of harshness with flight rather than competitive fight",[37] and the only solution Peale offers out of this state of helplessness are his autosuggestive "techniques", which he claims will give people the power of God. Meyer adds that the proof that positive thinking cannot work is that according to Peale, even with God's power on one's side, one still cannot face negative reality, which is always stronger.

Meyer, like Seligman, noted that such unrealistic thinking by a positive thinker could easily be fatal.

Faith that you could defeat an opponent who could run faster than you would be contemptible since it could only mean you expected God to lend you power He refused to lend your opponent or that you hoped your opponent lacked self-knowledge, lacked faith, and hence failed to use his real powers. Such faith could be fatal if it led you into competitions it would be fatal to lose. As for those competitions where luck or accident or providence might decide, certainly the faith which looked to luck or accident or providence would be contemptible, and also possibly fatal.[38]

Theological critique


Episcopal Church theologian and future bishop, John M. Krumm, criticized Peale and the "heretical character" of his teaching on positive thinking. Krumm cites "the emphasis upon techniques such as the repetition of confident phrases... or the manipulation of certain mechanical devices", which he says "gives the impression of a thoroughly depersonalized religion. Very little is said about the sovereign mind and purpose of God; much is made of the things men can say to themselves and can do to bring about their ambitions and purposes." Krumm cautions that "The predominant use of impersonal symbols for God is a serious and dangerous invitation to regard man as the center of reality and the Divine Reality as an impersonal power, the use and purpose of which is determined by the man who takes hold of it and employs it as he thinks best."[39]

Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, professor of applied Christianity at the Union Theological Seminary, reported similar concerns about positive thinking. "This new cult is dangerous. Anything which corrupts the gospel hurts Christianity. And it hurts people too. It helps them to feel good while they are evading the real issues of life."[7]

Liston Pope, Dean of Yale Divinity School, agreed with Neibuhr. "There is nothing humble or pious in the view this cult takes of God. God becomes sort of a master psychiatrist who will help you get out of your difficulties. The formulas and the constant reiteration of such themes as "You and God can do anything" are very nearly blasphemous."[40]

G. Bromley Oxnam, a Methodist bishop in Washington D.C., also weighed in with his concerns. "When you are told that if you follow seven easy rules you will become president of your company, you are being kidded. There just aren't that many openings. This kind of preaching is making Christianity a cult of success."[41]

A. Powell Davies, pastor of All Souls' Unitarian Church, Washington D.C., added his view:

It has sort of a drug effect on people to be told they need not worry. They keep coming back for more. It keeps their minds on a superficial level and encourages emotional dependency. It is an escape from reality. People under stress do one of two things; seek shelter or respond to harsh reality by a deeper recognition of what they are up against. The people who flock to the 'peace of mind' preachers are seeking shelter. They don't want to face reality.[42]

William Lee Miller, professor in religious studies at the University of Virginia, expressed similar concerns: "The absolute power that Dr. Peale's followers insist on granting to their Positive Thinking may betray, however, a note of desperation. The optimism is no longer the healthy-minded kind, looking at life whole and seeing it good, but an optimism arranged by a very careful and very anxious selection of the particular bits and pieces of reality one is willing to acknowledge. It is not the response of an expanding epoch when failure, loneliness, death, war, taxes, and the limitations and fragmentariness of all human striving are naturally far from consciousness, but of an anxious time when they are all too present in consciousness and must be thrust aside with slogans and "formulas," assaulted with clenched fists and gritted teeth, and battered down with the insistence on the power of Positive Thinking. The success striving is different, too. The Horatio Alger type seems to have had a simple, clear confidence in getting ahead by mastering a craft, by inventing something out in the barn, or by doing an outstanding job as office boy. The Peale fan has no such confidence and trusts less in such solid realities as ability and work and talent than in the ritual repetition of spirit lifters and thought conditioners written on cards and on the determined refusal to think gloomy thoughts.[43]

In spite of the attacks, Peale did not resign from his church, though he threatened that he would repeatedly. He also never challenged or rebutted his critics directly. Meanwhile, his book The Power of Positive Thinking had stopped selling by 1958.[44] As Donald Meyer noted,

It was evident that Peale had managed to tap wide audiences formed by prolonged changes in the tone and morale of American society, for whom the coherence of Protestantism even as late as the early twentieth century was not enough. His attackers did not fall short of declaring his Protestantism non-existent. Peale survived. As he himself recounted it, he found himself stunned by the attacks. Troubled, even considering the virtues of resigning his post, he entered his season of withdrawal. There he found his answer. His father assured him he must go on. Was he not, after all, helping millions? Besides, it was unheard of in a democratic society for a man to believe his lonely critics when millions had approved. And so he returned. How to Stay Alive Your Whole Life, Peale entitled his next book; what else was George Beard's neurasthenia but a form of half-living? Finally, in consistent exemplification of the logic of the new religion, Peale proved he was right as well by publishing the testimonies of those declaring that for them positive thinking had indeed worked. There was no particular reason to doubt them.[45]

Religious scholars, however, warned the public not to believe Peale just because he was a minister. They said the Peale message was not only false factually but also misrepresented Christianity. Reinhold Niebuhr told the public the Peale message was "a partial picture of Christianity, a sort of half-truth", and added "The basic sin of this cult is its egocentricity. It puts 'self' instead of the cross at the center of the picture".[7] Edmund Fuller, novelist, book critic, and book review editor of the Episcopal Churchnews took it a step further. "The Peale products and their like are equated blatantly with Christian teaching and preaching. They are represented as a revival or response in Christianity with which they have no valid connection. They influence, mislead and often disillusion sick, maladjusted, unhappy or ill-constructed people, obscuring for them the Christian realities. They offer easy comforts, easy solutions to problems and mysteries that sometimes perhaps, have no comforts or solutions at all, in glib, worldly terms. They offer a cheap 'happiness' in lieu of the joy Christianity can offer, sometimes in the midst of suffering. The panacea of positive thinking has been called by qualified people a positive hazard to the delicate marginal areas of mental health".[44]

Meyer noted Peale's influence over his followers began when "Peale had 'discovered' the power of suggestion over the human mind, and therewith, had caught up with Henry Wood, Charles Fillmore, and Emmett Fox, sixty forty and twenty years before him. He was teaching Mental Photography all over again. Thoughts were things".[46] Meyer described Peale's religion: "Peale's aim in preaching positive thinking was not that of inducing contemplative states of Oneness nor of advancing self-insight nor of strengthening conscious will, let alone sensitizing people to their world. The clue lay here in Peale's reiterated concern that the operation of his positive thoughts and thought conditioners become 'automatic', that the individual truly become 'conditioned ...' But was the automated power of positive thinking liberty or just one more form of mind-cure hypnotism? Was this new power really health or simply further weakness disguised?"[47] After considering all points of view, Meyer answered his own questions, and concluded positive thinking was a religion of "weakness". "Peale's phenomenal popularity represented a culture in impasse. The psychology for which the cult was also religion culminated the treatment of weakness by weakness".[48]

Political controversies


Peale and rightist/anti-semitic claims


For a time,[when?] Peale was acting chairman and Secretary of the National Committee to Uphold Constitutional Government (NCUCG),[49][verification needed] a pressure group opposed to Franklin Roosevelt's policies.[citation needed] In 1938, he was summoned by a Senate Committee Investigating Lobbying Activities, to answer questions concerning the NCUCG's activities.[50][verification needed]

Also. late in 1938, Peale appeared with Elizabeth Dilling, the Reverend Edward Lodge Curran, Francisco Franco, and other figures at a "Mass Meeting and Pro-American Rally" (on October 30),[51] at the Commodore Hotel in New York; this event was later described by Arthur Derounian (John Roy Carlson) in his 1943 book Under Cover.[citation needed] Rev. Curran was a known supporter of Franco and other right-wing causes,[52] as well as being "an anti‐communist and... an advocate of the, 'social justice' credo of Father [Charles] Coughlin, who was eventually ordered, off the air by his superiors" (and who Peale had earlier called out and harshly criticized for his "bizarre demogogy" in 1935).[53] Peale claimed to have been distressed by Derounian's book, that he had been badgered into giving the convocation (a pre-meeting prayer) by a parishioner, and that he had no idea of the nature of the rally.[citation needed] He further claimed to be particularly distressed at the association with Dilling.[citation needed] He considered but as was advised against filing a defamation case against the publisher, Putnam's, as it was not feasible given the fact that he had in fact delivered the convocation as described.[54][verification needed]

In 1943, after the U.S. entry into World War II, Peale preached a sermon denouncing antisemitism and demanding that the government and church take steps to "stamp it out."[55] As late as 1944, Peale was still described as the Chairman of the Committee for Constitutional Government, and had his signature appended to its publications.[citation needed]

Peale and Adlai Stevenson


Peale is also remembered in politics because of the Adlai Stevenson quote: "I find Saint Paul appealing and Saint Peale appalling." The origin of the quote can be traced back to the 1952 election, when Stevenson was informed by a reporter that Peale was accusing him of being unfit for the presidency because he was divorced. Later during his 1956 campaign for president against Dwight Eisenhower, Stevenson was introduced at a speech with: "Gov. Stevenson, we want to make it clear you are here as a courtesy because Dr. Norman Vincent Peale has instructed us to vote for your opponent." Stevenson stepped to the podium and quipped, "Speaking as a Christian, I find the Apostle Paul appealing and the Apostle Peale appalling."[3] In 1960, a reporter asked Stevenson about a comment in which he denounced Peale for accusing John F. Kennedy of being unfit for the presidency because he was Catholic, to which Stevenson responded: "Yes, you can say that I find Paul appealing and Peale appalling."

Stevenson continued to lampoon Peale on the campaign trail in speeches for Kennedy. Though Richard Nixon and other Republicans tried to distance themselves from the furor which was caused by Peale's anti-Catholic stance, Democrats did not let voters forget it. President Harry Truman, for one, accused Nixon of tacitly approving Peale's anti-Catholic sentiment, and it remained a hot issue on the campaign trail.[2] Regarding Peale's intrusion into Republican politics, Stevenson said in this transcript of a speech given in San Francisco: "Richard Nixon has tried to step aside in favor of Norman Vincent Peale (APPLAUSE, LAUGHTER) ... We can only surmise that Mr. Nixon has been reading 'The Power of Positive Thinking.' (APPLAUSE). America was not built by wishful thinking. It was built by realists, and it will not be saved by guess work and self-deception. It will only be saved by hard work and facing the facts."[56]

At a later date, according to one report, Stevenson and Peale met, and Stevenson apologized to Peale for any personal pain which his comments might have caused Peale, though Stevenson never publicly recanted the substance of his statements. There is no record of Peale apologizing to Stevenson for his attacks on Stevenson.[57] Historians of the 1950s Millwe and Nowak argued that even Peale's "positive thinking" message was by implication politically conservative: "The underlying assumption of Peale's teaching was that nearly all basic problems were personal."[58]

Peale and John F. Kennedy


Peale was invited to attend a strategy conference of about 30 Evangelicals in Montreux, Switzerland, by its host, the well-known evangelist Billy Graham, in mid-August 1960. There they agreed to kick off a group called The National Conference of Citizens for Religious Freedom in Washington the following month. On September 7, Peale served as its chairman and spoke for 150 Protestant clergymen, opposing the election of John F. Kennedy as president.[59] "Faced with the election of a Catholic," Peale declared, "our culture is at stake."[2]

In a written manifesto, Peale and his group also declared that Kennedy would serve the interests of the Catholic Church before he would serve the interests of the United States: "It is inconceivable that a Roman Catholic president would not be under extreme pressure by the hierarchy of his church to accede to its policies with respect to foreign interests," and the election of a Catholic might even end free speech in America.[2]

Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr responded, "Dr. Peale and his associates ... show blind prejudice."[2] Protestant Episcopal Bishop James Pike echoed Niebuhr: "Any argument which would rule out a Roman Catholic just because he is Roman Catholic is both bigotry and a violation of the constitutional guarantee of no religious test for public office."[60] Peale's statement was also condemned by former President Harry Truman, the Board of Rabbis, and other leading Protestants such as Paul Tillich and John C. Bennett.[60] Peale recanted his statements and he was later fired by his own committee. As conservative William F. Buckley described the fallout: "When ... The Norman Vincent Peale Committee was organized, on the program that a vote for Kennedy was a vote to repeal the First Amendment to the Constitution, the Jesuits fired their Big Bertha, and Dr. Peale fled from the field, mortally wounded."[61] Peale subsequently went into hiding and threatened to resign from his church.[62] The fallout continued as Peale was condemned in a statement by one hundred religious leaders and dropped as a syndicated columnist by a dozen newspapers.[62]



Five U.S., presidents (Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and George H. W. Bush) spoke well of Peale in the documentary about his life, Positive Thinking: The Norman Vincent Peale Story.[63][full citation needed]

The Reverend Billy Graham said at the National Council of Churches on June 12, 1966, that "I don't know of anyone who had done more for the kingdom of God than Norman and Ruth Peale or have meant any more in my life for the encouragement they have given me."[64][unreliable source?] Mary L. Trump in Too Much and Never Enough wrote that Donald Trump's father, Fred Trump, was heavily influenced by Peale, and that the Trump family regularly attended Peale's sermons during the 1950s.

As a child, Donald Trump attended Marble Collegiate Church with his parents, Fred and Mary. Both he and his two sisters, Maryanne and Elizabeth, were married there. Trump has repeatedly praised Peale and cited him as a formative influence.[65][66]

Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert, says Peale's writing influenced him to achieve success.[67]

At the invitation of Robert R. Spitzer, former under-secretary in the Ford administration, Peale, accompanied by his wife, Ruth, spoke several times to the student leaders at MSOE University prior to passing in 1993, influencing engineers, technical writers, managers, and architects for decades who today serve as executives in companies like GE, Nvidia, and many others.

Cultural references


Dated entries


Undated entries


Selected works

  • The Positive Power of Jesus Christ (1980) ISBN 0-8423-4875-1
  • Stay Alive All Your Life (1957)
  • Why Some Positive Thinkers Get Powerful Results (1987). ISBN 0-449-21359-5
  • The Power of Positive Thinking, Ballantine Books; Reissue edition (August 1, 1996). ISBN 0-449-91147-0
  • Guide to Confident Living, Ballantine Books; Reissue edition (September 1, 1996). ISBN 0-449-91192-6
  • Six Attitudes for Winners, Tyndale House Publishers; (May 1, 1990). ISBN 0-8423-5906-0
  • Positive Thinking Every Day : An Inspiration for Each Day of the Year, Fireside Books; (December 6, 1993). ISBN 0-671-86891-8
  • Positive Imaging, Ballantine Books; Reissue edition (September 1, 1996). ISBN 0-449-91164-0
  • You Can If You Think You Can, Fireside Books; (August 26, 1987). ISBN 0-671-76591-4
  • Thought Conditioners, Foundation for Christian; Reprint edition (December 1, 1989). ISBN 99910-38-92-2
  • In God We Trust: A Positive Faith for Troubled Times, Thomas Nelson Inc; Reprint edition (November 1, 1995). ISBN 0-7852-7675-0
  • Norman Vincent Peale's Treasury of Courage and Confidence, Doubleday; (June 1970). ISBN 0-385-07062-4
  • My Favorite Hymns and the Stories Behind Them, HarperCollins; 1st ed edition (September 1, 1994). ISBN 0-06-066463-0
  • The Power of Positive Thinking for Young People, Random House Children's Books (A Division of Random House Group); (December 31, 1955). ISBN 0-437-95110-3
  • The Amazing Results of Positive Thinking, Fireside; Fireside edition (March 12, 2003). ISBN 0-7432-3483-9
  • Stay Alive All Your Life, Fawcett Books; Reissue edition (August 1, 1996). ISBN 0-449-91204-3
  • You Can Have God's Help with Daily Problems, FCL Copyright 1956–1980 LOC card #7957646
  • Faith Is the Answer: A Psychiatrist and a Pastor Discuss Your Problems, Smiley Blanton and Norman Vincent Peale, Kessinger Publishing (March 28, 2007), ISBN 1-4325-7000-5 (10), ISBN 978-1-4325-7000-2 (13)
  • Power of the Plus Factor, A Fawcett Crest Book, Published by Ballantine Books, 1987, ISBN 0-449-21600-4
  • This Incredible Century, Peale Center for Christian Living, 1991, ISBN 0-8423-4615-5
  • Sin, Sex and Self-Control, 1977, ISBN 0-449-23583-1, ISBN 978-0-449-23583-6, Fawcett (December 12, 1977)


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Eds. Encycl. Brit. (2008). "Norman Vincent Peale". Britannica Concise Encyclopedia. Chicago, Ill.: Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc. p. 1462. ISBN 9781593394929. Retrieved January 26, 2022.
  2. ^ a b c d e f "The Religious Issue: Hot and Getting Hotter". Newsweek. September 19, 1960.
  3. ^ a b Hoekstra, Dave (September 28, 1986). "A former president's gag order; Ford's symposium examines humor in the Oval Office". Chicago Sun-Times. p. 22.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac Vecsey, George (December 26, 1993). "Norman Vincent Peale, Preacher of Gospel Optimism, Dies at 95". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved August 10, 2017.
  5. ^ Wolgamott, Jackie (January 6, 2022). "Peale had Highland Co. Ties". The Times-Gazette. Retrieved December 8, 2023.
  6. ^ "History - Welcome - Marble Collegiate Church". Archived from the original on October 25, 2019. Retrieved October 25, 2019.
  7. ^ a b c Peters, William (September 1955). "The Case against Easy Religion". Redbook. pp. 22–23, 92–94.
  8. ^ Archived January 19, 2012, at the Wayback Machine, from Britannica Concise Encyclopedia
  9. ^ a b c d Meyer, Donald (1965). The Positive Thinkers. New York City: Pantheon Books. ISBN 978-0394738994.
  10. ^ Alexander, Ron (May 31, 1994). "Chronicle". The New York Times. Retrieved May 20, 2010.
  11. ^ a b from the Des Moines Register website in an article dated October 8, 2008
  12. ^ "Pastor's wife co-founded Guideposts". Los Angeles Times. February 8, 2008.
  13. ^ publisher's statement on describing several TPOPT books, tapes and other media
  14. ^ Fuller, Edmund (March 19, 1957). "Pitchman in the Pulpit". Saturday Review. pp. 28–30.
  15. ^ The Power of Positive Thinking, Fawcett Crest, 1963, pp. vii.
  16. ^ Norman Vincent Peale: Turning America On To Positive Thinking
  17. ^ Staff of The Supreme Council, 33° (November 30, 2016). "Temple Architects Hall of Honor". Washington, D.C.: The Supreme Council, 33°, A. & A.S.R. of Freemasonry, S.J., U.S.A. Archived from the original on December 1, 2016. Retrieved November 30, 2016.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  18. ^ Tobias, Ted (1999). In tribute: eulogies of famous people. Scarecrow Press. p. 141. ISBN 0-8108-3537-1.
  19. ^ "Obituary: Pastor's Wife Co-Founded Guideposts". February 8, 2008. Retrieved January 26, 2022.
  20. ^ Park, "Superstition"
  21. ^ a b c Donald Meyer, "Confidence Man", New Republic, July 11, 1955, pp 8-10
  22. ^ a b c d Power of Positive Thinking
  23. ^ a b c Murphy, R.C. (May 7, 1955). "Think Right: Reverend Peale's Panacea". The Nation. pp. 398–400.
  24. ^ Park, Robert L. (2009). Superstition: Belief in the Age of Science. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. p. 127. ISBN 978-0-691-13355-3. Peale's self-hypnosis technique was heavily criticized by mental health experts, who warned that it was dangerous. Critics denounced him as a con man and a fraud. As a minister, however, Peale was spared from any requirement to prove his assertions.
  25. ^ Miller, William Lee (January 13, 1955). "Some Negative Thinking About Norman Vincent Peale". The Reporter: 19–24.[full citation needed]
  26. ^ Murphy, "Think Right"
  27. ^ Miller, "Some Negative"
  28. ^ Peale, Norman Vincent (1976). The Positive Principle Today: How to Renew and Sustain the Power of Positive. p. 183.[full citation needed]
  29. ^ Gill, Henry Vincent (1935). Jesuit Spirituality: Leading Ideas of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. Dublin, Ireland: M.H. Gill & Sons. ASIN B0006ANI58.[page needed]
  30. ^ Burkeman, Oliver (August 10, 2007). "Albert Ellis". The Guardian.
  31. ^ ibid
  32. ^ How to Make Yourself Happy and Remarkably Less Disturbable, Impact Publishers, Copyright by the Albert Ellis Institute, 1999, p. 89.
  33. ^ Ellis, Albert (1985). Overcoming Resistance: Rational Emotive Therapy With Difficult Clients. New York City: Springer Publishing. p. 147. ISBN 978-0826149107.
  34. ^ Meyer, Donald B. (1955). "The Confidence Man". New Republic. Vol. 133, no. 11. pp. 8–10.
  35. ^ Seligman, Martin (2002). Authentic Happiness. New York City: Free Press. p. 288. ISBN 9780743222976.
  36. ^ Ibid, page 98
  37. ^ Meyer, 1965, 261
  38. ^ Ibid, p. 284
  39. ^ Krumm, John M. (1961). Modern Heresies. San Francisco, California: Seabury Press. p. 35. ASIN B009NNUHOY.
  40. ^ Ibid
  41. ^ Ibid
  42. ^ Ibid, p. 94
  43. ^ Miller, "Some Negative Thinking About Norman Vincent Peale."
  44. ^ a b Fuller, Edmund (March 19, 1957). "Pitchmen in the Pulpit". Saturday Review. pp. 28–30.
  45. ^ Meyer, 1965, p. 265
  46. ^ Ibid. p. 264
  47. ^ Ibid. p. 268
  48. ^ Ibid., p. 258
  49. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on December 5, 2020. Retrieved July 19, 2020.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  50. ^ Beito, D., & Witcher, M. (2016). ""New Deal Witch Hunt": The Buchanan Committee Investigation of the Committee for Constitutional Government". The Independent Review. 21 (1): 47–71. JSTOR 43999676. Retrieved July 19, 2020.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  51. ^ "Events Today" (PDF). The New York Times.
  52. ^ "Obituary: Edward Curran, Right-Wing Priest". The New York Times. February 16, 1974. Retrieved January 26, 2022.
  53. ^ "Dr. Peal Attacks Father Coughlin". The New York Times. May 13, 1935. Retrieved January 26, 2022.
  54. ^ George, Carol V. R. (1993). God's Salesman: Norman Vincent Peale and the Power of Positive Thinking. New York, New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 170f. ISBN 9780195074635. Retrieved January 26, 2022.
  55. ^ Peale Urges Action To End Anti-Semitism, New York Times November 8, 1943.
  56. ^ "Transcript of Adlai Stevenson speech in San Francisco, 1960" (PDF). Pacific Radio Archives. Archived from the original (PDF) on November 27, 2010.
  57. ^ Buursma, Bruce (October 27, 1984). "Religion: Peale's still a positive power". Chicago Tribune. p. 8. ProQuest 176106898.
  58. ^ Miller, Douglas T.; Nowak, Marion (1977). The Fifties: The Way We Really Were. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company Inc. p. 95.
  59. ^ Ingle, H. Larry (July 7, 2015). Nixon's First Cover-up: The Religious Life of a Quaker President. Columbia, Missouri: University of Missouri Press. pp. 101–06. ISBN 9780826273352.
  60. ^ a b "The Power Of Negative Thinking". Time. September 19, 1960.
  61. ^ Buckley, William F. (January 28, 1961). "We Hold These Truths". National Review.
  62. ^ a b "Beliefs". The New York Times. October 31, 1992.
  63. ^ "Positive Thinking: The Norman Vincent Peale Story". Crouse Entertainment Group.[full citation needed]
  64. ^ Hayes Minnick, BFT Report No. 565 p. 28
  65. ^ Blair, Gwenda (October 6, 2015). "How Norman Vincent Peale Taught Donald Trump to Worship Himself". Politico. Arlington, Virginia: Capitol News Company.
  66. ^ "Presidential Candidate Donald Trump at the Family Leadership Summit". C-SPAN. July 18, 2015. Retrieved November 27, 2023.
  67. ^ Adams, Scott (2017). Win Bigly: Persuasion in a World Where Facts Don't Matter. New York City: Penguin Books. ISBN 9780735219724.
  68. ^ Thompson, Howard (March 12, 1964). "One Man's Way'". New York Times. Retrieved September 19, 2022.
  69. ^ Klein, Karin (February 13, 2007). "Wish for a cake -- and eat it too". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved January 13, 2007.

Further reading