The Secret – still going strong

You can gain anything you want in life–wealth, health, the perfect mate, the perfect weight, business success, respect from others–literally anything.  That is the proposition and the promise of one of the best-selling books in the past few years, and the documentary film (DVD) on which it is based.  Every major magazine has reported on the phenomenon.  Every interview program on TV has had a feature on it.  The book and the film are called The Secret.  And it is still going strong.

Its cover looks like an ancient parchment document with faded writing, and a red wax seal under the large “S” of “Secret.”  Intriguing.  The editor of the book, Rhonda Byrne, explains that The Secret has been known for millennia and is to be found in everything from ancient Babylonian religion to Buddhism to Albert Einstein.  Plato, Isaac Newton, Andrew Carnegie, Beethoven, Shakespeare, have all utilized the Secret. The simple title, The Secret, piques the curiosity.  People want to know what this thing is that is claimed to be the key to all of life.

We should get a bit suspicious when we learn that Byrne, an Australian television talk-show producer, discovered the life-transforming secret just a little more than two years ago, and that the contributors/teachers in the material are described on the official website of The Secret as: “philosopher, lecturer, author and creator of true wealth, prosperity, and human potential programs,” (James Arthur Ray), “moneymaking and business-building expert” (John Assaraf), “philosopher, chiropractor, healer and personal transformation specialist” (John DeMartini), “metaphysician and one of the top marketing specialists in the world” (Joe Vitali), “a nonaligned, trans-religious progressive” (Michael Beckwith).

So, what is “The Secret”? Don’t you want to know? Don’t we always want to know what someone else is whispering about? (That is, until the whisper becomes a global video event, a clever cross-promotional marketing plan, and a book touted by one of the most influential people in America, Oprah Winfrey.)

“The Secret,” according to the book is “the law of attraction.” And, defined clearly and simply, this “law,” (as certain as the law of gravity) is that our thoughts always attract what they are about and bring them to reality. Think about wealth, and you will become wealthy. Think about that new car you’ve always wanted, and it will come to you. Think about getting a good parking spot on the lot, and one will open up for you. Think about your ideal weight (really, dwell on that number, write it on your scale), and you will attract that reality to yourself. (All of these are real examples in the book.) Byrne is glad to report that since deciding her “perfect weight” is 116 pounds, she has moved to that mark, and nothing moves her from it, no matter what she does or eats.

Now here is how “the law of attraction” actually works, according to The Secret:

“Thoughts are magnetic; and thoughts have a frequency. As you think, those thoughts are sent out into the universe and they magnetically attract all like things that are on the same frequency. Everything sent out returns to the source. And that source is you.”

Now here’s the bad news: whatever happens in your life is the result of what your thoughts have attracted–the good and the bad. Appendicitis? An auto accident? Poverty? You have brought it on yourself.

And Bible verses are quoted. Lisa Nichols, motivational speaker and one of the contributors, notes that: “in Proverbs it talks about “so a man thinketh, he is.” In Matthew, it says “if you ask and you believe in your prayers, then you will receive it.”

And then there is James Arthur Ray, author of The Science of Success: How to Attract Prosperity and Create Harmonic Wealth Through Proven Principles, who says, “Here’s the question I want you to consider–do you treat yourself the way that you want other people to treat you?”

Does that sound familiar? It is a twist, a pretty severe twist, on one of the most universal principles of life called the Golden Rule, which Jesus described as “do to others as you would have them do to you.” So this tried and true selfless principle of life (“do to others…”) becomes the ultimate form of self-centeredness (“treat yourself…”). Oh, and by the way, you can attend James Arthur Ray’s seminar, his “harmonic wealth weekend,” for a seminar fee of a mere $997. Somebody has figured out how to attract wealth to himself.

And in this we find the confusion of The Secret. It is all about the self, for the self, obsessed with the self. Even Newsweek magazine offers this ethical critique: “On an ethical level, The Secret appears deplorable. It concerns itself almost entirely with a narrow range of middle class concerns — houses, cars, vacations, followed by health and relationships, with the rest of humanity a very distant sixth.”

Professor Robert Thompson of Syracuse University says: “The Secret promises this heaven on Earth in one fell swoop by simply desiring something, by simply wanting it. It’s amazing how we really are a nation of, at best, great optimists, at worst, real suckers.”

What The Secret does reveal is that so many people are so desperately unhappy that they will snatch up anything offering hope–or, simply offers quick and easy wealth. My question is, who will be there to pick up the pieces when they discover that they bought into a lie? And who will help the people who believe that they brought every misfortune on themselves because they sent negative thoughts and feelings out into the universe like a human radio transmitter?

The Secret would lead you to believe that you are entitled to whatever you want, and you have the power within yourself to gain it. The book says: “Begin right now to shout to the universe: life is so easy. Life is so good. All good things come to me.” And “You deserve all good things life has to offer.” “You are the creator of you, and the law of attraction is your magnificent tool to create whatever you want in your life. Welcome to the magic of life and the magnificence of you.”

Very different from the message of Jesus: the first will be last and the last will be first; lose your life and you will find it.

A couple of days ago, I interviewed a young British man in his thirties named Pete Greig who has just come out with a new book entitled: God on Mute: Engaging the Silence of Unanswered Prayer. (You can catch the interview on The Brook .) Pete and his wife Samie were energetic leaders of a prayer movement called 24-7 which began in England and has expanded to dozens of countries around the world. It would seem as though if anyone had the ability to move divine power, it would be the leader of a prayer movement. And then, one morning a few years ago, Pete’s wife Samie awoke and felt like her extremities were asleep, and then, Pete watched, helpless, as Samie’s body began to contort and convulse.

Testing at the hospital revealed a brain tumor the size of an orange. Surgery followed. Successful surgery. But not complete healing. Ever since the surgery six years ago, Pete’s wife has had debilitating epilepsy. Somewhat controlled by medication. But Pete still deals with finding his wife convulsing on the ground in the schoolyard where their two young boys go to school.

Pete told me that on two occasions he prayed during a seizure and watched a miracle happen as the seizure seemed to subside. But he also said this. Two times out of hundreds of seizures.

Pete and his wife have learned about the kind of faith where we throw ourselves on the mercy of God–and he talks about the last days of Jesus–the prayer of agony in the garden on Maundy Thursday. Jesus’ prayer from the cross on Good Friday. The silence of Saturday, when no voice is heard. And then the final act of God on Easter–resurrection day.

Here is the false gospel of The Secret: “You can… proclaim: This is a magnificent universe. The universe is bringing all good things to me. The universe is conspiring for me in all things. The universe is supporting me in everything I do. The universe meets all my needs immediately.” It is hard to believe anybody would believe that. But they are. Or they are saying, “I may not buy into everything the book says, but if just a portion of it is true…” But why take a book whose central thesis is about brain magnetism and making open parking spaces materialize and dig around for the true parts? That’s like eating a piece of rancid beef because you believe there must be some good parts to it.

The editor of The Secret has said that stories of miracles and even people coming back from death are being reported around the world. Nothing new about that. Moses contended with deceptive miracle-workers, as did the apostles in the book of Acts. But I found this most disturbing, when the editor said she was most gratified to hear the stories of children who were discovering The Secret. I met one person whose friends are in a group studying The Secret together and are making sure their children view the DVD. Having raised two kids, I’ve always thought that one of the most important lessons of life for them to gain is that they are NOT God. When we believe that there is a God above us, apart from us, beneath us, and for us–then we find help and we find hope.

The Secret offers a cryptic knowledge that is both esoteric and as easy as one-stop-shopping at the mall. It invites people to believe that we are God, and that a bite from the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil is better than the tree of life. In 2 Thessalonians 2, the Apostle Paul says that we should not be unsettled by or alarmed by some prophecy that says that the day of the Lord has already come. He says: “the secret power of lawlessness [that is, human beings being a law onto themselves] is already at work.”

Ephesians 1:9 offers this real hope: “God’s secret plan has been revealed to us; it is a plan centered on Christ, designed long ago according to his good pleasure.”

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