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Some background on a popular manifestation of a very old lie…

Think on These Things Articles

The Secret Critiqued – Part 1

(July 2007 – Volume 13, Issue 7)

Have you heard The Secret? It is all the rage throughout our society and has even infiltrated the church. From day-time talk shows to the business world, The Secret (detailed in both book and DVD forms) is making an impact. The inspiration behind The Secret came in 2004 when an old book called The Science of Getting Rich was placed in the hands of a woman named Rhonda Byrne. Byrne was going through a difficult period in her life and the message in this book rejuvenated her imagination. Over the course of the next two months Byrne read hundreds of books and studied the lives of great leaders in history. She discovered, she claims, that many greats from the past (e.g. Churchill, Einstein, Emerson), as well as the present (e.g. Jack Canfield, author and co-creator of the bestselling Chicken Soup for the Soul series), were aware of the information found in The Secret. In the past, those in the know kept this information to themselves. Byrne, however, wanted to disseminate what she had learned to the masses. Thus began her new mission in life — to spread the knowledge she had discovered to the ends of the earth. And so began the journey of The Secret.

The Secret, written by Ms. Byrne, is one of the fastest selling books in history. As of May 8, 2007, it had sold 5.3 million copies and its publisher, Simon & Schuster, says that it is selling 150,000 per week. In addition there is a web-based, video-on-demand version (also available on DVD). The series premiered in March 2006 and the DVD has sold 1.5 million copies. (You can watch the first 24 minutes of the DVD online for free at You Tube). Of course, it did not hurt Byrne’s cause when Oprah dedicated a two hour show to the project, and announced that she had been using The Secret all of her life and just didn’t know it.

What is it?

At the heart of The Secret is the “law of attraction” which is, simply stated, that our thoughts control the universe. Through the law of attraction we get our desires. When we know what we want, believe it will happen and see ourselves in abundance, we will attract it. “It works every time, with every person.”[1]

The “experts” in the DVD and book assure us that “the law of attraction is really obedient.” As a matter of fact it is “like having the universe as your catalogue and you flip through it and go, ‘Well I’d like to have this experience and I’d like to have that product and I’d like to have a person like that’… It is you just placing your order with the universe. It’s really that easy.”

How does the law of attraction work? It all goes back to your mind. “What you think about you bring about. Your life is a physical manifestation of the thoughts that go on in your head.” The theory is that like attracts like, therefore everything in your life is what you attract, good or bad.

Since we have thousands of thoughts every day (up to 60,000 we are told), how do we know what we are attracting? After all, it is impossible to attract every single thing that passes through our minds. The key lies not just in our minds but our feelings. It is our feelings which let us know what we are attracting to our lives. “If you are feeling good your future is on track with what you are desiring. When you are feeling bad you are creating a future which is off track with your desires.”

It is highly important, then, to be in touch with your feelings because “whatever you’re thinking and feeling today is creating your future. And you are getting exactly what you are feeling about, not so much what you are thinking about.”

This would be a good point to distinguish between general optimism and positive thinking from the message of The Secret. Most people would agree that our outlook on life will have a profound impact on how we live. Those who are enthusiastic about life, highly motivated and excited about the prospects in front of them will most likely accomplish much more, and do so with much more joy, than those who simply endure or even dread their existence. I think it could be generally agreed that our thought lives can have real affects on our health. While the jury is still out, some studies have concluded that tension, dread, grief, depression and anxiety are major factors in certain illnesses. But that is not the same as saying that our thoughts “create” the future. Our thoughts will, to a large extent, contribute to how we feel and together may affect the future but they do not produce “exactly” what we think and feel.

Scripture also places huge importance on the mind – how we think and what we think about is crucial. As Christians we know it is through the “renewing of our minds” that our lives are transformed (Romans 12:2). We are told to take “every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5), meaning that every philosophy and belief which runs counter to the truth of God’s Word must be challenged and defeated lest it conform our thinking and lives to that of the world’s. It is for these reasons that Paul admonishes us to think or dwell on the things which are true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good repute, are excellent and worthy of praise (Philippians 4:8). This is not a call to “positive thinking” but to biblical thinking. So Scripture does not deny the role of the mind in shaping our lives – it elevates the mind’s role. But it also limits it. Our thoughts have power but not all power. They affect but they do not create or determine. Ultimate power, creation, destiny lie in the hands of God not in the minds of people. Positive thinking has blurred these lines for years, but The Secret erases the lines and with them all doubt. With The Secret we are the final arbitrator, judge and determiner. Our futures are in our hands – God is eliminated altogether

How to use it

The Secret offers a three-step plan to mastering the universe.

Step #1 – Ask. Make a command of the universe… The universe responds to your thoughts. “It is just like placing your order with the universe. It is really that easy.”

Step #2 – Believe. Believe that it is already yours, “And the universe will start rearranging itself to make it happen for you.”

Step #3 – Receive. “Begin to feel wonderful about it, feel the way you will feel once it arrives; feel it now.”

The problem with implementing these simple steps, Byrne informs us, is that we have not thought this way in the past. So how do we change our thinking so that we can begin to attract the things we want? There are two important components. First we are to be “grateful.” When you are grateful you will start to attract more of the good things you want. Without question gratefulness is a characteristic that is right and biblical. However, gratefulness in The Secret’s system is merely a manipulative tool to pressure the universe into giving us more – more of what we want.

The second component is to visualize, “When you visualize you materialize.” In the DVD an example is given of visualizing a brand new car. You are to see yourself already seated in the car, enjoying the ride, thrilling to the experience. It is this power of visualizing that results in materializing the car.

How does this happen? It is not our job to worry about how it happens; it is our job to turn our desires over to the universe for “the hows are the domain of the universe; it always knows the shortest, quickest, fastest, most harmonious way between you and your dream.” “If you turn it over to the universe you will be surprised and dazzled by what is delivered to you. This is where magic and miracles happen.” It is at this point in The Secret that we find the impersonal universe taking on personal (and God-like) qualities. “The universe knows, it delivers, it produces magic and miracles. It is for us to ask, believe, receive and visualize; it is for the universe to bring our desires to us.”

But beware. If you see and envision negative things you will receive them as well. As a matter of fact you must be careful to not even use negative words such as “don’t, no or not.” For example, “if you are thinking debt, even if you are thinking of getting out of debt, you are attracting debt.” Byrne goes so far as to state, “Imperfect thoughts are the cause of all humanity’s ills, including disease, poverty, and unhappiness.” As a matter of fact “anything we focus on we do create, so if we are really angry at a war that is going on or strife or suffering, we are adding energy to it… and all of that only adds resistance.” Therefore, the anti-war movements create more war. The anti-drug movement creates more drugs, because we are focusing on what we don’t want.

In addition, Byrne advises that we should shun those who are in these conditions lest we be infected by their negative thoughts.

The spiritual teachings of The Secret

While The Secret lays little claim of being a religion, it certainly has religious overtones. As a matter of fact The Secret is clearly pantheistic as is evident from the following quotes:

“Everything in the universe is energy” [and] “everything in the universe is connected; it is just one energy field, and energy is God; it is the same description just different terminology.”

“[Our physical being] just holds our spirit, and your spirit is so big, it fills the room; you are eternal life, you’re source energy, you are God manifested in human form, made to perfection.”

“Scripturally, we could say that we are the image and likeness of God. We could say that we are another way the universe is becoming conscious of itself.”

Note the equation: everything in the universe is energy; energy is God; you are God; you are the universe. This is pure pantheism (God is everything) and monism (everything is one) theology. Such theology fits in well with Eastern religions (such as Buddhism and Hinduism) and its Western counterpart in what used to be called the New Age Movement. But this view of God and the universe is not Christian and certainly not biblical.

Drawing straight from its pantheistic roots The Secret gives to people the very attributes of God. While Scripture tells us that God is the creator, The Secret says that we have equal voice: “You have God potential and power to create your world, and you are.” “We are creators of our universe, and every wish of what we want to create will pass into our lives.”

And we are omnipotent: “You are the designer of your destiny; you are the author; you write the story; the pen is in your hands, and the outcome is whatever you choose.” “Are there any limits to this? Absolutely not; we are unlimited beings, we have no ceiling, the capabilities and the talents and the gifts, the power which is in every single individual on this planet is unlimited.” One contributor to the DVD even makes the obscure claim that “you have enough power in your body to illuminate a whole city for nearly a week.”

Additionally we are our own final judge: “Your purpose is what you say it is; your mission is the mission you give yourself; your life will be what you create it as and no one will stand in judgment, now or ever.”

The attributes that God claims for Himself in Scripture are ascribed to humans in The Secret, therefore God is unneeded and unwanted in the system. Who needs a God when we are God? Who needs an all-powerful, all-wise, righteous, creator God when we, through the law of attraction, have all power, can tap into an all-wise universe to create our own world and no one can stand in judgment on what we do.

The Secret’s links with other religions.

While The Secret is clearly antithetical to Christianity it has many commonalities with other religions. Below are some quick references.

Paganism

A number of years ago many talked about the New Age Movement. You don’t hear much about that today because the New Age Movement has become mainstream; that is, its ideas have infiltrated our society. The New Age Movement was basically paganism being introduced into the Western world. It was a belief in the spiritual world as pagans have always believed. Today we hear that the Western world is more spiritual than at any time in recent memory, but this spirituality is largely a pagan understanding of connection with the spirits.

We can see what paganism is by looking at its raw form in the world today. An excellent example is African traditional religions African evangelical scholar Yusufu Turaki informs us.[2]

1) African religions are pragmatic. People want a religion that they can use to meet their needs and provide for their wishes.[3]

2) African religions are not cognitively oriented systems with esoteric doctrines and strict rules or regulations. Rather they are existential and experiential – more felt than understood.[4]

3) There are five fundamental beliefs of African religions. A belief in:[5]

  • Impersonal mystical powers.[6]
  • Spirit beings.[7]
  • Many divinities (this is why Africans can believe in Jesus without rejecting their other gods).
  • A supreme being (God).
  • A hierarchy of spiritual beings and powers.

4) Africans desire a religion of power.[8]

5) Even when Africans do become Christians, there is a tendency for Christianity to be seen as only a first step to greater mysteries and power.[9]

6) In African religions God is manipulated, in Christianity He is praised.[10]

7) Africans believe that words have innate power.[11]

8) Africans use magic to manipulate the world and spirits around them.[12]

From this brief outline of modern day pagan beliefs it is easy to recognize that The Secret has many overlapping features.

Hinduism

The law of attraction has similar beliefs as Hinduism, especially as related to karma. Karma teaches that we ultimately receive what we deserve, what we attract – good or bad. When awful or great things happen, according to karma, they happen because our past actions warrant them. We ultimately get exactly what we deserve or attract.

While karma is more concerned with morality, eventually we all attract exactly what we deserve although it may take many lifetimes (reincarnations). With the law of attraction we attract not so much what we deserve as what we want (The Secret has virtually nothing to do with right and wrong) and we do so in our lifetimes…It turns out to be a handy system for Westerners who want everything yesterday and are enamored with Eastern thought and practice.

Wicca

Like The Secret, Wicca sees God as an impersonal force. Wicca is an animistic religion which teaches that everything is imbued with a life force or energy. To Wicca practitioners magic is essentially the idea that forces or spirits can be manipulated to accomplish personal objectives. Magic is “the art or science of causing change to occur in conformity with will.”[13] The similarity to The Secret is obvious.

Many believe that adherents to Wicca are Satan worshippers, but such is not the case. They actually deny the reality of Satan for much the same reason The Secret spurns the negative: “We believe that to give evil a name is to give evil power.” [14]

Gnosticism

Ancient Gnosticism, as well as its modern counterpart, Neo-Gnosticism, thrives on secrets and mysteries. Gnosticism was a counterfeit version of Christianity beginning in the second century which was full of esoteric secrets available only to an elite group of leaders who were in the know. The Secret fosters just such an atmosphere complete with secrets known to a few. The few however are willing to share what they know – for a price.

We will discuss The Secret’s links with Christianity in our next paper.

 


[1] Unless otherwise stated, all quotations are taken from The Secret DVD.

[2]Yusufu Turaki, Foundations of African Traditional Religion and Worldview ( Nairobi, Kenya : WorldAlive Publishers Limited, 2006).

[3] Ibid., pp. 15,107,117.

[4] Ibid., pp 19,33.

[5] Ibid., pp. 23-29.

[6] Ibid., p. 24.

[7] Ibid., pp. 68-70; 81-87.

[8] Ibid., pp. 35-36; 47-48; 56-57; 89-96.

[9] Ibid., p. 96.

[10] Ibid., p. 78.

[11] Ibid., pp. 97-98.

[12] Ibid., pp. 99-104.

[13] Areopagus Journal; July-August 2006, p. 24.

[14] Ibid, p. 23

Reprinted with kind permission from Pastor Gilley.