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Nothing New About “The Secret”

May 23, 2007

Not bad for a get rich quick scheme: peddle some old myths, repackage and cleverly promote them, and get Oprah Winfrey to gush about it, and there you go: instant success, fame and fortune.

Pretty good for an Australian single mum in her 50s. The Secret has only been out since late last year, but has already sold around 3 million copies, along with another 2 million DVDs. In just a matter of months Rhonda Byrne has gone from financial difficulty to being worth over $40 million.

secret 3The former Melbourne television producer (who now resides in LA), has certainly struck a pot of gold in recycling old mental positivism beliefs. The gist of the book is just old fashioned mind-over matter mumbo jumbo. It is a bit of creative visualisation, and a bit of positive thinking and a bit of name it and claim it theology, all rolled into one.

The premise is that your thoughts and feelings can get you anything and everything you want. Thus if you want to be thin, focus on thinness. Do not look at fat people. She speaks of the “law of attraction,” the idea that thoughts, either good or bad, “attract” more of whatever they’re about. So the way to get thin?: “If you see people who are overweight, do not observe them, but immediately switch your mind to the picture of you in your perfect body and feel it.”

Indeed, it is all just mind over matter: “Food is not responsible for putting on weight. It is your thought that food is responsible for putting on weight that actually has food put on weight.”

She told Oprah that her book was inspired by a 1910 volume she came across called The Science of Getting Rich by Wallace D. Wattles. And that is what this book is all about: how to get rich, how to get that luxury yacht, how to get the new home, how to get that dream vacation, how to conquer cancer, how to snag the love of your life, etc. It is one big exercise in greed, selfishness and avarice. And as one critic put it, “It’s pseudoscientific, psychospiritual babble.”

Nothing new under the sun

Anyone who has studied the New Age movement and its predecessors, New Thought and the mind sciences, will immediately find plenty of family resemblances here. New Thought can be traced back to Theosophy (founded by Madame Blavatsky in 1875), and Anthroposophy (founded by Rudolf Steiner in 1912). The real founder is P. P. Quimby (1802-1866) who practiced Mesmerism and advanced the notion that sin, sickness, and disease exist solely in the mind. After his death, a number of Mind Science groups emerged and prospered in the early parts of the twentieth century, including Mary Baker Eddy’s Christian Science, the Unity School of Christianity, and Religious Science.

All these New Thought movements emphasised the importance of mind over matter in various ways, claiming human beings can experience health, success, and abundant life by using their thoughts to define and condition their lives. As Mary Baker Eddy put it, “The cause of all so-called disease is mental, a mortal fear, a mistaken belief or conviction of the necessity and power of ill-health”.

And the New Age Movement is full of this thought as well, especially in the form of creative visualisation (using mental concentration and direct mental imagery to achieve certain goals, be they material, psychological, vocational, or spiritual).

Shirley MacLaine is one New Age advocate who speaks much of creating your own reality, of scripting your destiny. In one of her books she tells of how she thwarted a mugger by willing a different reality: “I am learning to alter my perceptions and therefore change my ‘reality’. . . . I remember my flash reaction that I, by God, did not like playing the part of a victim. Instinctively I changed my ‘part’ and lunged back at him. . . . I changed the script. Jesus said, ‘Everything is possible for him who believes’.”

All this sort of thinking brings to mind an old limerick:

There was a faith-healer from Deal
Who said that though pain is not real,
When I sit on a pin
And it punctures my skin,
I dislike what I fancy I feel.

Or the story of a boy who went to a Christian Science practitioner and asked him to pray for his father, who was very ill. “Your father only thinks he is sick,” the man told the boy. “He must learn to counter those negative thoughts and realize he is actually healthy.” The next day the boy came back, and the minister asked how his father was doing. “Today he thinks he’s dead,” replied the boy.

And it is not just New Agers and occultists who have been into all this stuff. Some Christian groups have taught these things as well. Much of the positive confession movement, the health and wealth gospel, the name it and claim it theology, the word of faith movement, and the prosperity gospel teachings all nicely fit in here as well.

Consider a few representative quotes. Kenneth Hagin says, “You will never be a conqueror until you confess you are one. If you wait to become a conqueror first to believe you are one, you are mistaken. You have to confess it first to become one. Faith’s confessions create reality”.

C.S. Lovett puts it this way: “The ability to picture something which does not have existence is called IMAGINATION. Imagination is the most spiritual faculty of man. By means of imagination we can give reality to the unseen. We can picture things before they come into existence. . . . Man’s imagination allows him to create things in an endless stream. Anything he can conceive he can build.”

John Avanzini concurs: “Use your imagination to see things the way God intends them to be, instead of as they are. To do this, you will need a good, concise mental picture of God’s will for your future. If you are not enjoying good health, project pictures of yourself in the best of health on the screen of your imagination”.

Conclusion

No one denies that a good healthy attitude can be helpful in life. A positive outlook on life can have some helpful psychosomatic outcomes. But the world of the mind over matter camp is simply pagan superstition. Whether it is called mental training, self-talk, positive mental attitude, mind over matter, creative visualisation, possibility thinking, positive thinking or positive confession, it is all of limited value and certainly has little or no place in the biblical Christian worldview.

And any teaching or philosophy that puts all its emphasis on you, and what you can get out of life, is clearly at odds with the biblical message which says we are to deny ourselves, die to ourselves, and serve and love others.

The Secret has nothing to do with hidden truths now revealed, or freshly revealed wisdom. It is simply a con job to suck dupes into shelling out money to buy more self-help and motivational material they simply do not need.

[1185 words]

14 Responses to Nothing New About “The Secret”

  • Good on you Bill. You should join the Skeptics Association.

    Alan Simpson, Queensland

  • Thanks Alan
    I knew all the atheists and skeptics would come out of the woodwork on this one!
    But of course you are mistaken. Just as there is good science and there is bad science, so there is also good religion and bad religion. There are good worldviews and bad worldviews. Good philosophy and bad philosophy.
    I am not about to throw the baby out with the bath water on this one. The claims of Christ are a million light-years away from the claims of Byrne. Sorry, but I am afraid I won’t be signing up to your club.
    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Hi Bill,

    I don’t think you should assume that skeptics are atheists. The Australian Skeptics are mostly concerned with debunking pseudo-science and testable paranormal claims. They tend to steer clear of religion because most of its tenets are untestable. I’m not a member by the way, but I agree with their objectives.

    Alan Simpson, Queensland

  • Wow, that book is a load of rubbish.

    If thinking about being rich made you rich, I’d be swimming in gold right now.

    James Swanson

  • Thanks Alan
    While many religions may be largely untestable, the Christian religion is the most testable. Above, the reliability of the Gospels and the historicity of Jesus are all issues that can be closely examined and tested.
    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Hi Alan,
    there is a balance in all this. I agree it is good to test things, to find the truth and not be satisfied until you’ve found it. And also we must have faith, built upon an unshakeable belief system.

    We all have belief systems which are faulty in varying degrees – if one cannot accept that then one is not truly searching for truth but merely seeking to propose and propagate his own theories.

    We sit on a chair because we have faith in it holding us up – proven by physics, but mainly by our experience with chairs holding us up.

    I challenge you to examine the things that you have faith in, because everyone has faith in something. A self-made man has faith in himself (and usually worships his creator) until he is ruined and then he jumps out of a window.

    Here’s a challenge…
    Self-pity, which we all suffer from at some point or the other, is pure self-centredness. Next time you’re feeling sorry for yourself, ask yourself [on the basis there is a God] ask God to reveal what He is doing in your life. You’ll know it when the truth hits you.

    Garth Penglase

  • A good effort from a single mum looking to change her circumstances. I applaud her for that. Pity it’s all garbage. It proves that it is possible to make plenty of money out of re-hashing warm-fuzzy-feel-good self-help material.

    (see my post in the other article for further elaboration).

    Garth Penglase

  • oooh correction. The Secret must work!

    You know, I realised I’ve been thinking a lot about hair regrowth lately and I checked myself and sure enough it has! Now if I just focus on figuring out how to get it to grow on my head instead of just my ears and chest…

    I guess I’ll have to shell out for the The Secret companion practical guide addition. I’m sure I’ll find the steps there…

    Garth Penglase

  • I agree with you, there is nothing new in this book. Don’t waste your money! The only person who is getting richer by the minute is Rhonda Bryne. I have achieved a very comfortable position in life, but I didn’t achieve it by thinking positively, I made it by working very hard. And who says happiness is about being rich? I find that helping others and giving people love is what makes me happy.
    Alicia Bertschinger

  • Thank you for talking such sense. I tried to watch “The Secret” last night and found it intolerably awful. It was like an infommercial. I managed 40 minutes. And just what are the life goals that such a profound theory can be used to acheive? A huge house, flashy car and great holidays. Brilliant.
    Peregrine Andrews

  • I dont doubt mind over matter. I do believe it is a little more than the mind. We are children of a most powerful God and I do believe that he desires all gifts that he has to our benefit. All things are possible. I do not doubt the ideas in the Secret, or call them pagan, etc. It may be TRUE! and the law of attraction as called, will bring me whatever I wish.

    I really do not care for the book, and ideas in it for one simple reason: ME, ME, ME. The message of the Secret is simply selfishness. That is the problem. All these gifts, and powers over the universe will only damn ones soul if they are used to serve the self. There is nothing Godlike about the self. Christ teaches to love one another, if the book expressed success by using such gifts and laws to attract and bless others than I may buy into it, but as is.. I find it to be a story of false beliefs.

    Satan has power over man by manipulating the powers that God allows on earth. He manipulates that which is good for evil. Perhaps use the law of attraction to bless your neighbor first would be more appropriate, I would hate to see a world of selfish men bless their own lives while others suffer.

    Zac Carter

  • “I would hate to see a world of selfish men bless their own lives while others suffer” – Zac

    I think we live in that world already Zac thanks to the neocon corporate fascists that rule the western governments by proxy.

    The big ‘secret’ is analogous with the works of Anton Lavey in his ‘satanic bible’, a doctrine totally dependant on man’s inclination towards self-indulgance and greed.

    Danilo Rajkovic

  • Shirley MacLaine, we have something in common….I also thwarted a mugger, but I didn’t need to think about this ‘willing a different reality’ thing. An adrenalin rush and a bag of onions did the trick. Thanks to God.
    Annette Nestor, Perth

  • One more thing – If you are the skinniest girl in school (and btw, I didn’t like being that way) and your best friend was the fattest girl in school and you look at each other every day for a whole year and still stay the same years and years later…..well all I can say is….that blows that theory out of the water Rhonda Byrne!

    Annette Nestor, Perth

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