Norman Vincent Peale
(1898-1993)

Champion of Positive Thinking


Born in Bowersville, Ohio, USA, on May 31 1898, Norman Vincent Peale grew up helping support his family by delivering newspapers, working in a grocery store, and selling pots and pans door to door, but later was to become one of the most influential clergymen in the United States during the 20th-century.

He was educated at Ohio Wesleyan University and Boston University. He was a reporter on the Findlay, Ohio, Morning Republic prior to entering the ministry and went on to author some 40 books. Ordained in the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1922, Peale served as pastor at a succession of churches that included Berkeley, Rhode Island (1922–24), Brooklyn, New York (1924–27), and Syracuse, New York (1927–32) before changing his affiliation to the Dutch Reformed Church so that he could become pastor of the Marble Collegiate Church in New York City (1932–84). There he gained fame for his sermons on a positive approach to modern living, which were regularly broadcast, first on radio and later on television. The church had 600 members when he arrived to pastor in 1932; it had over 5,000 by the time he retired in 1984. In 1969 and 1970 he was president of the Reformed Church in America.

Peale confessed that as a youth he had "the worst inferiority complex of all," and developed his positive thinking/positive confession philosophy just to help himself. In 1937, Peale established a clinic with Freudian psychiatrist Dr. Smiley Blanton in the basement of the Marble Collegiate Church. (Blanton brought with him the "extensive experience" of having undergone psychoanalysis by Freud himself in Vienna in 1929, 1935, 1936, and 1937.) The clinic was described as having "a theoretical base that was Jungian, with a strong evidence of neo- and post-Freudianism" (Carol V.R. George, God's Salesman: Norman Vincent Peale and the Power of Positive Thinking , p. 90). It subsequently grew to an operation with more than 20 psychiatric doctors and psychologically- trained "ministers," and in 1951 became known as the American Foundation for Religion and Psychiatry. In 1972, it merged with the Academy of Religion and Mental Health to form the Institutes of Religion and Health (IRH). To his death, Peale remained affiliated with the IRH as president of the board and chief fund raiser. Indeed, Peale pioneered the merger of theology and psychology which became known as Christian Psychology.

Peale applied Christianity to everyday problems and is the person who is most responsible for bringing psychology into the professing Church, blending its principles into a message of "positive thinking." Peale said, "through prayer you ... make use of the great factor within yourself, the deep subconscious mind ... [which Jesus called] the kingdom of God within you ... Positive thinking is just another term for faith." He also wrote, "Your unconscious mind ... [has a] power that turns wishes into realities when the wishes are strong enough."

His simple, optimistic, and dynamic sermons brought increasing numbers of parishioners and increasing fame to Peale. For 54 years Peale's weekly radio program, "The Art of Living," was broadcast on NBC. His sermons were mailed to 750,000 people a month. His life was subject of a 1964 movie entitled One Man's Way.

With his wife, Ruth, Peale founded the Foundation for Christian Living in 1945. He died on December 24, 1993

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