Evaluating "The Secret" by Rhonda Byrne – Part 1September 7, 2007
After the death of one of her parents in 2004, Rhonda Byrne began to explore various religions and religious teachings. Somehow, her quest brought a book to her attention by Wallace Wattles called “The Science of Getting Rich”. Through this book, Ms. Byrne had an epiphany of sorts and began to discover that the Truth claims in Wattles book were not distinct with him alone. Doing some cursory searches of the Internet, Ms. Byrne found many other authors, Self-help teachers, religious teachers and groups that espoused the basic principles that Wattles teaches in this book.
The book itself, published in 1910 is not even the best of its breed, outstripped by far in the writings of Napoleon Hill, Charles Fillmore and Norman Vincent Peale. Byrne was convinced that she had discovered a huge secret of how to live a dynamic and successful life. So smitten was she that she assembled a film crew and interviewed more than twenty proponents of New Thought, Unity School and Religious Science teachers and made a movie called “The Secret”.
Because Oprah is a closet follower of New Thought doctrine, she invited Byrne onto her program a few times and showed clips of the movie. From that introduction, Byrne had doors open to her and from Oprah’s insistence published a book (also called “The Secret”) utilizing material from the DVD. Oprah had her back on the program after the book was published and it immediately became a runaway best-seller and has stayed in that position for more than a year.
I have had several people ask me what I think of the book. I had not bought it after it came out because a quick glance at both the names of the contributors and a few of the chapter titles told me all I needed to know. But I have had many Christians buy the book and profess that they like the conclusions it draws but feel strangely uneasy about the contents. Therefore, I am putting forward this three-part evaluation of “The Secret” in hopes that both Christians and non-Christians alike will see the book with more realistic viewpoints and get rid of the hype that so often follows the offerings of Oprah.
This first entry deals with the overall Truth Claims of “The Secret”. The next blog entry will focus primarily on how “The Secret” stacks up against the Bible’s truth claims. And the third entry (by far the shortest) will focus on what value the book has for any of us.
By way of introduction, let me state what I mean by a “Truth Claim”. This is a statement which claims to be true but offers no concrete evidence or logical summary. Truth claims are simply what they sound like: A claim to have the truth. The reader either accepts them or not. The Bible is actually a book of Truth Claims. It does not prove the existence of God, His hand in Creating the world, His role in miracles etc. It just states who God is and claims all that it says to be true.
In the Secret, most of the Truth claims are based upon a principle Byrne calls “The Law of Attraction”. The author tries to claim that the Law of Attraction is actually a standard law of Physics. She never does say that this law is actually Gravity, (i.e. The attraction of two physical objects to each other) and there is good reason that she doesn’t. If she called it Gravity then we would have no way of applying it to the realm of thought. She quotes Fred Alan Wolf, a physicist, a number of times claiming that the Universe holds together by the Law of Attraction. He does not call it Gravity either, because he must know that is not the only Law that holds the Universe together.
At the same time there is an attraction going on between bodies, there is also a repulsion going on. At the molecular level…inside an atom…we have both attraction and repulsion operating. That is first year college physics. If this were not true, the entire Universe would collapse into a black hole of unimaginably small size and unimaginably large mass. Every atom has a proton and a neutron with a number of electrons floating around. The electrons repel each other and therefore keep their distance. The neutron does not attract or repel. The proton holds the electrons, but the existence of other electrons keeps everything in balance.
Byrne claims that the Universe (capital U because the Universe is a living being to Byrne) operates on the principle of attraction. If you have a positive thought, positive results are attracted to you. If you have a negative thought, negative things are attracted to you. Many times in the book, the claim is made that all negative things that happen are a result of a negative thought. If you have a car accident, you must have had a thought that attracted that car accident. If you get a bill in the mail, it is because you expected a bill in the mail. Lisa Nichols (one of the participants) says that if you go to the mailbox and expect only checks, that is what you will get. Yet later on, Bob Proctor talks about taking his bills and whiting out the amounts whenever he gets them. This implies he gets bills. I guess Lisa attracts good things better than Bob.
Another truth claim is that our emotions are the only true measurement of what we’re thinking. If you have bad thoughts, you will have bad emotions. If you have good thoughts you will have good emotions. Therefore, it also works in reverse. If you work at having a good emotion, you will have a good thought. This, of course, has been proven to be absolutely false to the uttermost degree. You can have hormones at work, you can have illness, injury or external circumstances at work. You can be grieving over the loss of a loved ones and yet only have love for them. The author also never specifies what a bad emotion or a good one is. Good emotions, we are told are the ones that make you feel good. Cocaine can also do that for you, so I guess cocaine would be a great substance for use with the Secret.
The author also claims that if you believe you will have something completely it will be yours. The other contributors claim to have received cars, boats, airline tickets, stacks of money, fame and fortune. One writer claims that a painter friend of his acquaintance wanted more girlfriends, more sex partners. When asked how many, he responded “three a week would be good”. So he painted paintings and left them around the house showing himself with three women in each one. Since that time, he has been dating three women a week (we can assume these are different women each time) and loving the experience. Claims are also made about healing from disease, changes in relationships, and even the ability to get the parking space you want almost every time.
What they don’t address is the moral and ethical value of what you will be receiving. Two “for instances” should suffice, though you will immediately see how many more there could be. If a person who wants to have sex with a child thinks positive thoughts and can visualize having a child in their bed, according to these principles they will have what they want. If someone is positive that the world would be better off if we wiped out an entire people group, and approached that thought with joy and visualization and faith and determination, then that people group would be completely wiped off the earth. How completely mind-numbing that approach to living is. Yet, all through the book there is no claim to moral boundaries or ethical strictures. Anything you want is yours to have.
In addition, the book makes a claim that the more completely you believe something, the more the Universe has to give it to you. But it doesn’t deal with the logical absurdity of that. What if two people are asking for opposite things and they both want it equally as much. Such as two football fans both visualizing their team winning. Perhaps you’re thinking that the authors wouldn’t take it to that extreme. But they do. They claim that you can end a bad marriage with the Secret. You can attract hundreds of millions of dollars to yourself with this Secret. You can get the house you want without even seeing the house with this Secret. At least 20 times we are told you can have “anything” you want by applying the Law of Attraction.
At its very core, the book has a flaw of approach. It claims that religions all over the world have been teaching this for centuries. It claims that most of the world’s great thinkers agree with this. At one point, we are even told that Jesus himself was a millionaire, even though He Himself claimed to own nothing. But the only quotes that are used of some of the world’s most famous people (e.g. Albert Einstein, William Shakespeare, Francis Bacon to name a few) don’t actually quote them backing up the teachings of the book, but rather sprinkle quotes around which have some of the same wording but when found in context say something completely different. For instance, they quote Einstein as asking “The one thing we need to know is, is the Universe a friendly place?”. Byrne speculates that Einstein asks this question to get us to answer “yes”. For, if we answer “no”, the universe will be unfriendly to us. If we answer “yes” it will be friendly to us.
And, by the way, what is this Universe thing? Almost every page the Universe is referred to. It is seen at different points as the being that makes decisions about our life, but also a machine that we can control. It follows its own laws, but we can control it. It wants only good for us, but it is the source of evil. It is wealthy beyond measure but the wealth actually comes to us from other people. The Universe, as it is laid out in this book, is a logical impossibility.
One more logical inconsistency in the book. It claims that everyone can apply this and we can all be wealthy. But if everyone has a million dollars, that will make everyone’s money worth less. At any given time, there can only be so much wealth. To have more wealth created without there being more production is called Inflation. Inflation causes all possessions and money to be worth less.
Here is the real rule of economics: The more wealthy people there are, the more poverty will exist. That is the rule of the world since the beginning of time. You can’t just print money, or wish it into existence. That will increase the money supply and create inflation. When everyone is rich, paper will cost a fortune and food will be outrageously priced. It can’t work the way the book says it will. Life is a zero-sum game. That means if someone wins, then someone else loses. If someone makes money on the stock exchange, someone lost money. If one of the authors of the book, Jack Canfield (of the Chicken Soup books) makes a million dollars on a book, it means that 100,000 people are $10 poorer for buying the book.
Finally, the author claims that the Secret has been hidden away and is only now being brought forward (that’s why it is called “The Secret). That is a crock. This is basically just the teachings of philosopher Emmanuel Swedenborg, which morphed into Christian Science, Religious Science, Unity School, Ekankar, New Thought, and the Word of Faith Movement. There is not a single word in this book which did not derive from Swedenborg, Fillmore, Baker Eddy and Phineas Quimby.
Over the years, families have been destroyed by family members who tried to live out these truth claims only to find that they don’t often work. Let’s say a family has a small child with an infection. Instead of going to a doctor for antibiotics, they simply try and think positive thoughts. When the child gets sicker, they usually blame each other for not having enough positive thoughts. I have seen this pattern with so many New Thought, Christian Science and Unity school people. What I have never seen is more joy, more life, more vitality, or more money in these families. In fact, I have seen the opposite.
In the book, Bob Proctor claims that if you attract health to you, you will never get sick or injured. Since almost all death is the result of either injury or illness, no one in the history of the world has practiced this perfectly, if the standard is that we never have injuries or illness.
The underlying truth claims of the book are nonsense and don’t work. But this isn’t the greatest problem with the book. Next time, we will look at how the truth claims of the book stack up against the claims of the Bible.