Birthday: May 31, 1898
Died At Age: 95
Sun Sign: Gemini
Also Known As: Norman Vincent Peale
Born in: Bowersville, Ohio, United States
Famous as: Pastor, Self-Help Writer
Spouse/Ex-: Ruth Stafford Peale
father: Charles, Charles Clifford Peale
mother: Anna DeLaney Peale, Anna Peale
children: Elizabeth Ruth Allen, John Stafford Peale, Margaret Ann Everett
Died on: December 24, 1993
place of death: Pawling
Cause of Death: Stroke
U.S. State: Ohio
education: Boston University, Ohio Wesleyan University, Bellefontaine High School
Who was Dr. Norman Vincent Peale?
Norman Vincent Peale was an American pastor and writer who garnered fame for his advocacy of the controversial concept of positive thinking, particularly through his best-selling book ‘The Power of Positive Thinking’. He was the minister of Marble Collegiate Church, New York, between 1932 and 1984, guiding a Reformed Church in America congregation. Originally from Ohio, Peale grew up a Methodist and became a Methodist preacher in 1922. A decade later, he converted to the Reformed Church in America and started his 52-year-long tenure as the pastor of Marble Collegiate Church. Peale set up a religio-psychiatric outpatient clinic beside his church along with psychoanalyst Smiley Blanton. In 1940, they put out the book ‘Faith Is the Answer: A Psychiatrist and a Pastor Discuss Your Problems’. In time, the centre grew exponentially and became the American Foundation of Religion and Psychiatry. He also hosted religious TV and radio programs. Former US President Richard Nixon was a good friend of Peale. Current President Donald Trump was raised as part of Peale’s church and had his first wedding there. Peale’s views are highly criticised, by both church figures and people from the psychiatric profession.
Childhood & Early Life
Born on May 31, 1898, in Bowersville, Ohio, USA, Norman Vincent Peale was the eldest of three sons of Charles and Anna (née Delaney) Peale.
He obtained his high-school diploma from Bellefontaine High School, Bellefontaine, Ohio. He then studied at Ohio Wesleyan University and Boston University School of Theology. At OWU, he became part of the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity.
His parents brought him up as a Methodist, and he was appointed a Methodist pastor in 1922. Ten years later, in 1932, he embraced the teachings of the Reformed Church in America.
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Career & Later Life
Norman Vincent Peale and psychoanalyst Smiley Blanton founded a religio-psychiatric outpatient clinic beside his church. They also collaborated in authoring several books, including ‘Faith Is the Answer: A Psychiatrist and a Pastor Discuss Your Problems’ (1940). It was composed in alternating chapters, with Peale writing one chapter and Blanton writing the next.
Blanton did not advocate for any religious views in his chapters. In 1951, this clinic was turned into the American Foundation of Religion and Psychiatry, with Peale performing the duties of president and Blanton those of executive director.
Blanton dealt with complicated psychiatric cases, and Peale, who never acquired any mental health credentials, managed religious issues.
After Peale drew massive criticism for his 1952 book, ‘The Power of Positive Thinking’, Blanton did not want to have any professional or personal relationship with him and declined the offer to promote the book. He refused to let Peale put his name in ‘The Power of Positive Thinking’ and stated that he had no intention of defending Peale.
In 1935, Peale began hosting a radio program, ‘The Art of Living’, which aired for the ensuing 54 years. After the advent of television as the newest medium of entertainment and information, he became involved in it as well.
When the Great Depression happened, Peale collaborated with James Cash Penney, founder of J.C. Penney & Co.; Arthur Godfrey, the radio and TV personality; and Thomas J. Watson, President and Founder of IBM, to serve as the first board of 40Plus, which was an organisation that provides support to unemployed managers and executives.
In 1945, Norman Vincent Peale together with his wife Ruth Stafford Peale and businessman Raymond Thornburg launched the magazine ‘Guideposts.’ At some point, he started serving as the editor for the magazine. He also began writing books and sent out his sermons every month via mail.
In 1947, Peale and educator Kenneth Beebe established The Horatio Alger Association. This non-profit organization seeks to acknowledge and appreciate Americans who have achieved success despite their tough circumstances.
He also set up the Peale Center, the Positive Thinking Foundation, and Guideposts Publications to name a few. All of these organisations seek to endorse Peale's ideas on positive thinking.
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A prolific writer, Norman Vincent Peale released numerous books throughout his career. His best known work is ‘The Power of Positive Thinking’. After its initial publication in 1952, the book held its spot on the New York Times bestseller list for 186 consecutive weeks.
Its publisher, Simon and Schuster, revealed that five million copies of it have been sold. The publisher also stated that it has been translated into 15 languages. Both of these statements directly refute the exaggerated claim that over 20 million copies of the book have been sold in 42 languages.
On March 26, 1984, Norman Vincent Peale received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from the then-US President Ronald Reagan, for his accomplishments in the field of theology.
Controversial Ideas & Criticism
Norman Vincent Peale has been criticised by a number of health experts for the views he expressed in ‘The Power of Positive Thinking’. One of these experts even called Peale a con man and a fraud.
One of the major arguments against the book is that it contains numerous anecdotes which are not easy to substantiate. Peale uses several quotes throughout the book that he either attributes to an expert or it is part of a testimonial. Either way, the sources of these quotes are unnamed and unknown.
Another significant allegation against him is that he tried to hide the fact that the techniques he utilized to bring absolute self-confidence and freedom from suffering is a popular form of hypnosis and that he tries to convince his readers to adopt his beliefs through a blend of false evidence and self-hypnosis (autosuggestion), hidden by the use of language which may sound more ordinary and non-threatening from the reader's perspective.
The third primary accusation against him is that his philosophy is founded on overstating the fears of his readers and followers and that this heightened-up fear inevitably results in aggression and the dismantling of those regarded as “negative”.
Some theologians have criticised his views as heresy. According to theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, professor of applied Christianity at the Union Theological Seminary, positive thinking is a dangerous cult because it corrupts the gospel, hurting Christianity. He added that it was also harmful to people as it makes them feel good while they avoid the real problems of their lives.
In September 1960, during a meeting of evangelical religious leaders in Washington, Peale declared John F. Kennedy as unfit to be the president of the United States of America because he was Roman Catholic. He received widespread condemnation for this, including from leaders of the Protestant churches and former President Harry Truman. In the ensuing nation-wide furore, Nixon and other Republicans attempted to distance themselves from the comment.
Family & Personal Life
Norman Vincent Peale was married to the writer, editor, and speaker Ruth Stafford. A native of Iowa, she was the daughter of Methodist clergyman Frank B. Stafford. Stafford had no plans of marrying a minister, but after she met Peale in Syracuse, New York, a relationship developed between the two. The couple exchanged wedding vows on June 20, 1930. They had three children together: daughters Elizabeth and Margaret, and son John.
The 1964 film ‘One Man’s Way’ revolves around Peale’s life. He had become a close friend of Richard Nixon and conducted the wedding of Julie Nixon and David Eisenhower in 1968. Even during the Watergate Crisis, he maintained contact with the Nixon family, stating that “Christ didn't shy away from people in trouble”.
On December 24, 1993, Norman Vincent Peale passed away in Pawling, New York, after suffering a stroke. He was 95 years old at the time. He is interred in Quaker Hill Cemetery in Pawling.