If you're interested in my thoughts on The Secret (11 minutes), listen to the podcast.
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One spring day towards the end of 2004, Australian Rhonda Byrne discovered a secret - the secret laws and principles of the universe. Almost immediately her life was transformed, as she began to put into practice what she had learned. And in that moment her greatest wish, and mission, were to share this knowledge with the world.
In The Secret, a book and video and website, Rhonda Byrne offers us a better way of life. If we can envision what we want, truly believing it will happen and willing to act on our dream, then it will happen. We'll get what we desire. We can see debts disappear. We can lose weight. We can become millionaires. (No wonder it's so popular!) It was also made into a pretty nice feel-good movie (despite some questionable philosophy).
"You are God in a physical body. You are spirit in the flesh. You are Eternal Life expressing itself as you. You are a cosmic being. You are all power. You are all wisdom. You are all intelligence. You are perfection. You are magnificence. You are the creator, and you are creating the creation of You on this planet." (The Secret, p.164. New York: Atria Books, 2006).
Guests on Oprah, backing up Byrne's claims, share rags-to-riches stories. If you want to be like them, you will want to know "The Secret." Byrne promises things will go our way -- the universe will work for us -- when we learn the secret.
As I tuned in to Oprah, I heard the following words from guests on her show:
"We have an absolutely unlimited power within us... We are all just energy... Thought and feeling control the flow of energy."
"We all have our own magnetic power... The thoughts we think -- our feelings -- send out a wave into the universe, and anything that's vibrating in a similar level gets attracted into our life."
Thus "we create our own reality, attracting into our lives the things we want, which means that our thoughts are the most powerful things about our lives."
This is because of a fundamental law in the universe: "What you focus on expands... Our thoughts, feelings, actions all have to be firing at the same time..." There are "no coincidences – everything happens by principles and laws in our universe... This is "a time when spiritual traditions and science are in total agreement." Those who discovered the path before us include Einstein, Newton, Edison, Plato, Carnegie, Churchill, and the Buddha!
This is "so exciting – now the secret has reached mass appeal!"
As I see it, yes, mass appeal will result whenever you offer people whatever they want. Now I'm aware that Oprah is an amazing woman who has accomplished some pretty amazing things. She has given hope to millions, and has become a highly respected voice and source of inspiration. And yet in my opinion, and to speak bluntly, The Secret, promoted on her show, is taking millions for a ride. After all, you can't change reality just by thinking.
One of my website readers wrote in, "Having been a young adult in the '70s and not yet a Christian, I was into the metaphysical movement now known as the New Age movement. It is all the same self-focus, greedy, mind over matter mumbo jumbo, and to top it all off, The Secret is really old news. There is a book called Three Magic Words (written about 30 years ago) that is full of all the same ideas, and in the end the three magic words are: ''I am God.'' This book gives you the notion that you have the same power that God has, so why would you need him anymore."
What makes it so sad that professing Christians are buying into this is that what is being proclaimed on the talk shows is essentially the same as that being peddled by preachers of prosperity theology. (They are those who chant, "Name it and claim it.") This is also called the word-faith movement. Mark 11:24 says that if, when we pray, we believe we have already received, it will be ours. But Jesus is speaking in hyperbole (deliberate overstatement for effect). He also said that if we pray with faith we can move mountains. (Again, an instance of hyperbole -- no mountains have ever literally been moved.) For more on the interpretation of Mark 11:24, click here.
This kind of thinking actually has more in common with oriental "mind-over-matter" and New Age thinking than it does with the gospel. Bible readers should be able to see through this, especially since it closely resembles the false doctrine 1 - 2 John, 1 Timothy, and Colossians were written to combat: Gnosticism. For more on what the Bible says about personal vision and the possibility of altering the future by vision, click here.
According to recent surveys, 95% of pentecostal/charismatic churches proclaim prosperity theology. That is, they too teach that if you are spiritual enough, you'll get what you want. Why would churches teach this? Maybe because churches tend to reflect the values of the societies in which they live (what the Bible calls the world -- 1 John 2:15-17), and most Americans have been sucked in to this erroneous thinking. This is wrong because it creates a class of Christians who are tempted to appreciate Christ for what he does for us. This is contrary to the spirit of Luke 17:7-10.
Where is God in all of this? Where is the Cross? Where is self-denial? Jesus said, in Luke 9:23, that when we follow him we are going to have to carry our cross -- to suffer. To be even more blunt than I have been so far, I would call "The Secret" nothing but the gospel of "Self and Wealth." No doubt its promoters will become richer and richer, falsely holding out the unreachable hope of riches for the millions who buy their books and videos.
There's a secret, all right. The secret is that the prophets of "the secret" are destined to become rich (the very thing they proffer), while those who help them realize their dreams are never likely to realize their own. I mentioned Byrne's concept to one of our teenagers. Her response: "That doesn't make sense! If you're God, then why wouldn't you always get what you want?" I replied that the answer would be "Because you are failing to realize who you are: that you are God" (!).
Claims Byrne, "The Secret is the culmination of centuries of great thinkers, scientists, artists and philosophers. Here we take an exciting look behind the scenes of The Secret’s life-transforming power." I hope that we are able to smell a rat -- the logical impossibility of such a "secret." And also to resist all perversions of the gospel. (And avoid being quickly parted from our hard-earned money.)
- Michael Shermer shares his views on Rhonda Byrne's The Secret. Click here to read his article in Scientific American.
- Click to visit Byrne's own website, The Secret.
- Christianity Today also features an article on this popular book/DVD. Click here for Mel Lawrenz's critique.
- You might also want to listen to my book review of The Alchemist (in this series).