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Chicken Soup for the Soul Reviewed
Understanding the Spirituality of Jack Canfield
Serving Chicken Soup for the Soul at Work
Chicken Soup for the Soul Reviewed
Charisma magazine recently ran a short news story, "Christians are Buying Book that Critics Claim has New Age Flavor" (November 1995, p. 25). The book referred to in the article was Chicken Soup for the Soul, by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen.
Unfortunately, Spring Arbor, a major Christian book distributor, sold 35,000 copies of it in one year. As of November 26, 1996, it has been in the top four of the "self-help" bestsellers in the New York Times' bestseller list for 113 weeks. Its newer companion volume, A 2nd Helping of Chicken Soup for the Soul, has also made the list.
These books have been enormously popular. The success has generated additional offerings - A 3rd Serving of Chicken Soup for the Soul, Chicken Soup for the Surviving Soul, Chicken Soup for the Soul Cookbook, Chicken Soup for the Soul of Women, and Chicken Soup for the Soul of the Workplace. All are published by the New Age oriented Health Communications, Inc.
So why are some Christians critical of these books? If there is something so un-Christian about them, why are so many Christians reading and enjoying them? These are good questions that deserve answers.
Jack Canfield has long been a New Age self-esteem guru. He formerly directed the Institute for Wholistic (New Age) Education, was past president of the Association for Humanistic Education, chairman of the board for the Foundation for Self-esteem, board member for the National Council for Self-esteem, and president of "Self-esteem Seminars," which has currently evolved into The Canfield Training Group. His current training seminars in "self-esteem" include the use of meditation (guided imagery and visualization), the New Age, highly questionable Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), and affirmations.
Canfield has been a prominent leader in transpersonal or New Age education for over 20 years. He describes his beliefs and approaches to enhance self-esteem, "In a growing number of classrooms throughout the world, education is beginning to move into a new dimension. More and more teachers are exposing children to ways of contacting their inner wisdom and higher selves.... New age education has arrived. A new note has been sounded and our children are ready" (New Age, February 1978, p. 27).
Canfield promotes meditation, centering, Arica psychology, mandalas (psychic pictures), yoga, and spirit guides. The promotion of those beliefs are blatant examples of Canfield's New Age world view, but his focus on "self-esteem" is more subtle and, therefore, more insidious.
Canfield has a long history of mingling his New Age philosophy with humanistic psychology. This approach is termed "transpersonal psychology" or "fourth force" psychology. It was launched by Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow, whose goals are for the individual to reach an optimal state of "self-actualization" or "self-transcendence."
The assumptions are that man is not only basically good, but intrinsically very good, even perfect. Therefore, if one appeals to or satisfies their emotional (affective) side and reinforces their abilities to be self-sufficient (omnipotence), then they will become whole and happy. The direction this usually takes is toward self-absorption, narcissism, subjectivism, and experiential truth.
One of the most misleading aspects of Canfield's view of self-esteem and performance is that if we can first inspire people to feel good about themselves, then their behavior will automatically change positively.
Christians recognize that encouragement is very helpful, but they also believe a true (biblical) self-image rather than self-esteem should be man's goal. God demonstrates His unconditional, unfathomable love in that "while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Yes, man is made in the image of God, is "fearfully and wonderfully made," and has wonderful potential and value. But the way to experience that fulfillment is to surrender to Him, become His servant, learn His truth and obey. The New Ager reverses this and seeks the image of God rather than God Himself. [See Self Esteem]
The way to build a proper self-image is by giving someone 1) founding, guiding principles that are true (biblical), 2) realistic objectives, 3) corrective discipline, and 4) much encouragement along the way. When one's thinking is biblical, and one accomplishes biblical goals or tasks, a healthy self-image results (Romans 12:1; Ephesians 4:17).
The Chicken Soup series is full of material from Canfield's and Hansen's self-esteem colleagues. If one checks the descriptions found in the contributors section, many of these professional self-esteem speakers are found. Many of them are also New Agers.
In fact, the original Chicken Soup volume contains at least 25 New Age attributions or contributors, at least one Mormon contributor, and at least 7 other self-esteem gurus. The term "at least" is used because some of the authors' short biographical sketches don't indicate their perspective one way or the other.
However, many are very well known to New Age and cult researchers. Names like Wally (Famous) Amos, Kahil Gibran, Eric Butterworth, Virginia Satir, Michael Murphy, Gloria Steinem, Tony Robbins, Tielhard de Chardin, Carl Rogers, Wayne Dyer, Lao Tzu, and Richard Bach are prominent. The volume even advertises the New Age oriented magazine, Changes.
Some of the stories are overtly New Age. For example, in Canfield's "The Golden Buddha" 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."
He goes on to say that after two years old we begin to cover up "our golden essence, our natural self" with the dirt (p. 71). This reflects the New Age belief that we are born pure and perfect, with natural omniscience and omnipotence.
Another example is Mark Victor Hansen's story titled "Amy Graham." In it Hansen recounts the time he conducted one of his seminars (which he promotes at the end of his book) at the Mile High Church in Denver. Mile High Church is a part of the Church of Religious Science, an overtly New Age group.
Hansen asked the one thousand plus attendees if they wanted to learn how to "grow and become more fully human." He then proceeded to teach them a "healing technique." He instructed them to "vigorously rub their hands together, [and] separate them by two inches and feel the healing energy" (p. 41). Incredible! It seems the regression to the Dark Ages has been faster than imagined.
Other New Age/self empowerment stories in Chicken Soup are "Two Monks," "The Dolphin's Gift," "Sachi," "My Declaration of Self-Esteem," "Rules for Being Human," and "All I Can Remember."
In A 2nd Helping of Chicken Soup for the Soul can be found at least 38 New Age or Mormon contributors or attributions, including M. Scott Peck, Steve Andreas, Sai Baba, Martin Buber, Gandhi, William James, Joseph Campbell, Leo Buscaglia, Napoleon Hill, Norman Vincent Peale, Benjamin Hoff, Ken Blanchard (Please See Update), Canfield, Hansen, and T.M. promoter Harold Bloomfield.
In A 3rd Helping of Chicken Soup for the Soul are at least 23 New Age or Mormon contributors or attributions. And in Chicken Soup for the Surviving Soul, there are at least 20 New Age contributors, with several of them having multiple stories (as in all the books in the series).
Some of the authors or references in these last two volumes are Dr. Bernie Siegel (six times), Peter McWilliams, Norman Cousins, Jonas Salk, Joan Borysenko, Marianne Williamson, Fr. John Groff, Alan Cohen, Les Brown, and two Mormon contributors - Art Berg and Hal Manwaring.
And finally (for now), in Chicken Soup for the Woman's Soul, at least 27 New Age and Mormon authors or attributions are found, including a "psychic", two Transcendental Meditation trainers, a Unity minister, and a shaman.
Chicken Soup for the Working Soul has at least 42 New Age and Mormon contributors and attributions, including Joseph Campbell, Jean Houston, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Gerald Janpolski, Meister Eckhart, Buddha, and Ernest Holmes. [For information on Jean Houston see Part Two of THIS Article]
Issues of Concern
1. New Age with subtle mixtures of humanistic approaches to "open the heart and rekindle the spirit."
The messages are fairly consistent. People can be inspired by others in order to realize their own potential. Tune in to your own intuitive and latent powers and go after what you feel is right.
The stories have the popular Norman Vincent Peale appeal. But, as the opening lines of his famous book, Power of Positive Thinking state, "Believe in yourself, have faith in yourself," this New Age and self-help blending is the wrong message. [For those who want a packet exposing the mind-science teachings of Norman Vincent Peale, contact your Watchman office and request it.]
The teaching and stories of these books blur any distinctions between a holy, transcendent, righteous and personal God, and their view of "god," which is a universal consciousness or power resident in all, for the use of all.
2. Promotes and gives credibility to Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen.
As mentioned earlier, the temporal success of these books gives a platform and provides an acceptance for their authors' other books and seminars.
Canfield is featured as a spokesman along with other New Agers in a popular New Age magazine, Body, Mind, Spirit (June/July 1996, p. 43). He is a featured speaker in the recent "Sacred Living Conferences" along with Dr. Bernie Siegel, Wayne Dyer, Ram Dass and Dannion Brinkley, Dan Millman, and Barbara DeAngelis. He is also featured as a speaker at the summer 1996 Omega Institute for Holistic Studies alongside Deepak Chopra, Jon Kabat-Zinn, and John Gray (New Age Journal, May/June 1996, p. 61).
Canfield and Hansen's Chicken Soup tape and book series is featured in the flagrant New Age Nightengale-Conant business catalogue along with many other prominent New Agers listed earlier (p. 34). Along with the popularity and wide spread exposure, the bibliography/advertisements of the various contributors will undoubtedly garner many bookings for their training seminars in the business community.
Canfield and Hansen have written another book, The Aladdin Factor, which more directly reflects their ideas. It is filled with quotes from New Age leaders. In it they write that the way to achieve personal happiness, creative fulfillment, personal success, freedom from fear and a new joy is to rid oneself of all negative programming derived from one's parents, school, church, doctors, by learning to go into oneself for answers and strength, especially by using affirmations and meditation visualizations (back cover, pp. 10-14). Yes, it is like Christian Science or Unity, which are neither Christian, science, nor unifying.
"I was at a ten day meditation retreat and after seven days they conducted private interviews with everyone to make sure we were staying sane." (Ibid., p. 21; emphasis added). Everything was done in silence, without even eye contact allowed.
When asked how he was doing, Canfield said, "I think I am flipping out. Everything I ever believed in doesn't make sense anymore. Everything I thought was reality...." His instructor answered, "That is good. You must empty yourself of all your preconceived notions so that you can become acutely aware of what is really there...dissolving into a state of pure awareness." (p. 21). [See What Eastern Gurus Say About Occult Practices]
3. Reflects a postmodern view of our church and culture.
The success of these books is troublesome, especially to discover Christians feeding on their contents and passing the books on to others. It reflects a culture that is shaping the church rather than vice-versa. It reflects a time when people are looking for the quick and easy, feel good, pick-me-up, the instant answers, the microwave, fast-food solution.
Postmodernism, the state of Western culture at large, assumes that there is no objective truth, that moral values are relative, subjective, experiential, and "truth" is that which seems relevant to each person. It is a self-absorbed, narcissistic world view.
This has given rise to the popularity and flood of self-help books and pop (often New Age) psychology. Postmodern culture is syncretistic, exploring and drawing from any or all forms of spirituality, and piecing together various elements that Ainspire," motivate, and give an emotional or sensual lift. Even the church is reflecting a lack of sound doctrine, a lack of the importance of systematic theology, and a reversal of the correct order of theology and experience. The correct paradigm is that if one has the right teaching, one will truly experience God. The new paradigm is that if one has some subjective experience of God, he must have the right teaching. [See Section on Postmodernism]
This is illustrated by the Gallup and Barna Research groups which found that 53% of professed evangelical Christians believe that there are no absolutes compared with 66% of America as a whole. [See Religious Pluralism]
The latest marketing strategy has been negotiated between Mark Victor Hansen, Jack Canfield, their publisher, Health Communications, Inc., and the American Red Cross. A deal was struck with acting Red Cross president Gene Dyson while Liddy Dole was away campaigning with her husband, whereby the Red Cross would promote the Chicken Soup series.
The terms included publishing over one million condensed version booklets containing selections from A 3rd Serving of Chicken Soup, with the inscription "Special Sampler Recognizing the American Red Cross Blood Donors for their Caring and Concern."
The deal also makes the Red Cross the authors' "charity of choice." The booklets have a coupon for one dollar off purchases of 3rd Serving, and a commitment of fifty cents per book purchased, to be donated back to the Red Cross. These "special samplers" are distributed to all blood donors. How ingenious! Who will dare criticize them now?
Christians must! Recently, a large church in Birmingham, Alabama, which conducts large and successful blood drives for the Red Cross, informed the Red Cross that they will not do it through them if they bring the Chicken Soup booklet, and told them why. Similar action should be taken by others, through whatever channels of influence they have. Write to Liddy Dole, and to Gene Dyson, and express your consternation and loss of respect for the organization. The address is:
The American Red Cross
430 17th Street N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20006.
Canfield and Hansen claim that their "Chicken Soup" is good for the soul, but the Scripture says, "There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death" (Proverbs 14:12). The Mormon and New Age philosophies stirred into Canfield's and Hansen's Chicken Soup make it a deadly brew for the soul. "What is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" (Matthew 16:26). Chicken Soup purports to contain the elixir for inner peace. But it is not the peace of Him who said, "Peace I leave with you, My peace I give you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you" (John 14:27). Jesus and Paul warn us that many are going to be deceived by Satan's craftiness, warning us that Satan disguises himself as an angel of light (Matthew 24:24; 2 Corinthians 11:13). The Trojan horse of the Chicken Soup series is an example of just such deception.
As quoted in Serving Chicken Soup for the Soul at Work by Jason Barker [Below]
"Aloha should not be seen as just a frivolous tourist greeting. Alo means the bosom or center of the universe, and ha, the breath of God, so to say this word is to appreciate another person's divinity." [Jack Canfield and Jacqueline Miller, Heart at Work p. 165]
"we do not have to die to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. In fact we have to be fully alive. when we are truly alive, we can see that the tree is part of Heaven, and we are also part of Heaven. The whole universe is conspiring to reveal this to us." [Heart at Work. p. 54].
Particularly egregious is the quotation from Matthew 6:34, "Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof." 
While this quotation was appropriately placed in a section on reducing stress, removing it from its context eradicates its full meaning, which is stated in the preceding verse, "But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you." Jesus Christ was not simply telling the people on the Mount of Olives to avoid stress, but instead to focus on the things of God rather than exclusively on temporal concerns.
Understanding the Spirituality of Jack Canfield
(Chicken Soup for the Soul)
http://www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com. February 28, 2007
Every religion I've looked at has some technology ... I've studied all of them and found what works for me and I've tried to make it available to others. What works for me is a combination of disciplines: I do yoga, tai chi which is a Chinese martial art and three kinds of meditation-vipasana, transcendental and mantra (sound) meditation. If you have to pick a yoga for me, I lean towards bhakii in the sense of devotion, adoration, singing, feeling love and joy exist in my heart." [Jack Canfield, author of Chicken Soup for the Soul, from "Choosing to Be Happy"]
Jack Canfield, one of the top promoters of The Secret, is known by many people as the creator of The Chicken Soup for the Soul series. Millions of books have been sold, and even many Christians have bought the books. That's easy to tell just by looking at some of the titles in the series:
Chicken Soup for the Christian Soul
Chicken Soup for the Gospel Soul (Songs)
Chicken Soup for the Christian Teenage Soul
Chicken Soup for the Christian Soul II
Chicken Soup for the Christian Women's Soul
Chicken Soup for the Christian Family Soul
And of course, there are countless books in many different categories from Chicken Soup for the Dieter's Soul to Chicken Soup for the Dog Lovers Soul. But while the Christian is obviously represented by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen in their series, can the Christian Chicken Soup books be trusted? It is fair to say that would depend on the spirituality of Canfield and Hansen, which Ray Yungen explains:
In recent years, a series of high profile, immensely successful books have impacted the lives of many Christians. They are the Chicken Soup for the Soul books by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen. Although these books are filled with seemingly charming and uplifting stories, Canfield's New Age spirituality is quite disturbing from a Christian viewpoint. In understanding the foundational views of these two authors, one must ask, "Can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit" (Luke 6:43)?
In 1981, in the Science of Mind magazine, an interview revealed Canfield was no less than a teacher of the highly occultic "psychosynthesis" method developed by a direct disciple of Alice Bailey. In some of his most recent writings, Canfield openly reveals he had his "spiritual awakening" in a yoga class in college where he felt God "flowing" through all things (Dare to Win, p. 195). Hence, Canfield also promotes many occult writers.
[Read More About Alice Bailey and The Lucis Trust HERE]
In order to draw a conclusion on the spiritual persuasions of the Chicken Soup for the Soul authors take a look at one particular book they both enthusiastically endorse. The book is called Hot Chocolate for the Mystical Soul, compiled by Arielle Ford. Its format is identical to that of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series--101 stories by different authors on a particular theme.
Ford's book permeates with Eastern and New Age metaphysical content. A panoply of psychics, mediums, astrologers, channelers, and especially Hindu mystics present a wide array of stories. One such story is about a psychic who writes of her abilities (pp 244-247). Another story in the book is about a Hindu holy man who manifests "holy ash" out of thin air( pp. 36-39). [See The Influence of Eastern Mysticism] Yet another involves a man who claims to be the reincarnation of the apostle Paul and writes that the message of Jesus is "God dwells within each one of us [all humanity]"(p. 15). Co-author of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, Mark Victor Hansen, agreed with Ford's book so wholeheartedly that he wrote the foreword. Listen to a few excerpts from this foreword, which reveal Hansen's view:
[E]nlightening stories will inspire you. They will expand your awareness, ... you will think in new exciting and different ways ... You will be renewed through the tools, techniques and strategies contained herein ... May your mystical soul be united with the mystical magical tour you've been wanting and waiting for" (pp. xiii- xiv).
Jack Canfield echoes this praise on the back cover by stating, "They [the stories in the book] will change your beliefs, stretch your mind, open your heart and expand your consciousness." [See What Eastern Gurus Say About Occult Practices]
In March 2005, Canfield came out with his book, The Success Principles. As can be expected, one of these success principles is about meditation. Canfield relates, "I attended a meditation retreat that permanently changed my entire life" (p. 316). Canfield does a superb job of integrating metaphysics with the needs of business creativity. He emphasizes:
As you meditate and become more spiritually attuned, you can better discern and recognize the sound of your higher self or the voice of God speaking to you through words, images, and sensations. (p. 317)
These books are selling like hotcakes in some evangelical bookstores because they are positive. (from A Time of Departing, chapter 5)
As The Secret continues to climb in popularity in such a short period of time, perhaps Christians need to take a look at their bookshelves at home and in their churches and ask themselves, "Do I really want those I love to read a Chicken Soup for the Soul book?" It is probably safe to say that most homes in America have at least one of them. After all over 80 million have sold. And now with The Secret, Canfield's spirituality will permeate Western society at even greater measures, and that includes Christendom at large.
Ken Blanchard, so called ‘Christian’ speaker and author will be one of the speakers at a one day seminar in San Diego called titled "The Secret to Having Your Best Year Ever." [http://www.yourbestyearever.org/]
Among other goals this seminar is touted as being able to “in a single afternoon”
Get healthy & stay healthy forever
Double or triple your income
Infuse your life with positive spirituality.
Serving Chicken Soup for the Soul at Work
By Jason Barker
The Chicken Soup for the Soul series of books is one of the success stories of the 1990s. The original book of homespun wisdom sold millions of copies, inspiring a series oriented toward specific life situations. One of the more recent editions, Chicken Soup for the Soul at Work (as well as Heart at Work, a similar book from series editor Jack Canfield) explicitly try to bring alternative spiritualities into the workplace, aiming at "mak[ing] your spirits soar and broaden[ing] your perspective of what it means to be fully human." 
Heart at Work is by far the more explicitly religious of the two books. The focus of the book is to recognize the divinity in each person, as is evidenced by a quote from a Hawaiian Kupuna, "Aloha.should not be seen as just a frivolous tourist greeting. Alo means the bosom or center of the universe, and ha, the breath of God, so to say this word is to appreciate another person's divinity."  Another example is a poem by Kahlil Gibran, a mystic who proclaimed "the Mighty Unnameable Power,"  who uses quasi-biblical metaphors (e.g., harvesting joy and singing with the tongue of angels) to teach that "work is love made visible" (this quote also appears in Chicken Soup for the Soul at Work). 
More obvious is an excerpt from Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hahn that "we do not have to die to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. In fact we have to be fully alive.when we are truly alive, we can see that the tree is part of Heaven, and we are also part of Heaven. The whole universe is conspiring to reveal this to us."  This religious principle is called pantheism: the belief that all is God (or, in this case, Heaven), and that God is all. The principle is foundational to Buddhism and Hinduism, and is highly prevalent in the New Age movement. Heart at Work contains many such New Age teachings to enhance people's self-esteem by convincing them that they have the power of divinity.
Chicken Soup for the Soul at Work is much less overt in its presentation of religious ideologies. The book's stories revolve around such themes as "on caring," "the power of acknowledgment," "service: setting new standards," and "overcoming obstacles." Nonetheless, the inspirational quotes that precede each story give a strong taste of the pluralistic, New Age emphasis that underlies the book. For example, the Buddha is quoted as saying,
"Your work is to discover your work, and then with all your heart to give yourself to it." 
This sentiment, while on the surface quite noble, does not fully explain the Buddha's meaning: disengagement from self, and immersion in the present moment of work, is the path to the obliteration of self and the achievement of Nirvana. While the quote seems compatible with Christianity, its meaning is ultimately far different. [See Buddhism]
Similar to this is a quote from psychic Jean Houston:
The quote seems to say merely that all people have the potential to succeed at work. However, Houston, who adheres to the pantheistic tenet that all is one, is saying that all people are divine and simply have to manifest their divinity. Again, the inspirational quote has a meaning that is foreign to Christianity.
Particularly egregious is the quotation from Matthew 6:34, "Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof."  While this quotation was appropriately placed in a section on reducing stress, removing it from its context eradicates its full meaning, which is stated in the preceding verse,
"But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you."
Jesus Christ was not simply telling the people on the Mount of Olives to avoid stress, but instead to focus on the things of God rather than exclusively on temporal concerns.
See The Message of The Bible
All too many people picking out a random phrase or two, think 'love' was Jesus' core message. Unfortunately, they are terribly wrong... In fact, Jesus never stopped talking about the "kingdom of God", which phrase is used over 50 times in the four Gospels alone. He even said that the proclamation of the Kingdom was the reason He was sent to earth (Luke 4:43). But what and where is this kingdom? Here is what is really paradoxical ... the Bible's description of this kingdom of God, also called heaven is no pie in the sky ethereal place 'somewhere out there', but matches, in every respect, the world most men and women would choose to live in. a place of peace and safety, where there is no crime, hunger and disease, war and above all... no death. Far from being outdated, out of touch, and largely irrelevant to modern society, Christianity promises exactly the utopian world most men and women can only dream of. Unless, of course, your idea of paradise is "an ineffable transcendental state" (whatever that means).
As is the case with many books dealing with infusing spirituality into the workplace, the books of Jack Canfield contain a great deal of common-sense. Nonetheless, Christians should be aware that the books also are steeped in a spirituality that is opposed to biblical Christianity.
1 Jack Canfield and Jacqueline Miller, back cover, Heart at Work (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1996).
2 Quoted in ibid., p. 165.
3 Quoted in G. Richard Fisher, "The Defective Prophet," Personal Freedom Outreach, 7.4 (1987), p. 1.
4 Canfield and Miller, p. 36.
5 Ibid., p. 54.
6 Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, et al, Chicken Soup for the Soul at Work (Deerfield Beach, Fl: Health Communications, Inc., 1996), p. 143.
7 Ibid., p. 181. Ellipses in original.
8 Ibid., p. 286.