Is There Anything to Learn from "The Secret"?October 2, 2007
The old adage says, “Nothing is all bad. Even a clock that stops is correct twice a day”. I agree; nothing is all bad. We can learn from just about anything, even disasters that make us wince and wretch can show us patterns that teach. This is also true of this book, “The Secret”. I have laid out how I feel this book is both logically and theologically full of nonsense. I have also made clear that this is not a new teaching, nor is it helpful.
But it has sold millions of copies. And there has to be a reason for that beyond the snake-oil-buying-natural-gullibility of the general public. In fact, there are four reasons this book tops many best-seller lists.
1. We all want to believe that we have a hand in our destiny. What the Secret really appeals to is a yearning in all of us to manipulate the seemingly out-of-control forces arrayed against us. All people want to believe that on some level they can tell the future to fall in line with our desires and expectations. And even though The Secret’s methods of controlling fate seem slippery and almost impossible (for instance, who can hold onto a positive thought indefinitely without wavering), the idea that there is a way to be in charge of your own life is comforting to most people.
2. We all want more power and authority than we really have. This is the grand appeal of such things as American Idol voting, ordering a car from the factory and Starbucks: They all offer a chance at being in charge of something. The Secret lays out a scheme to take charge of a lot of things, least of which is our finances and health. In the larger picture, The Secret hints that all of life could change because of something one person might believe. No one wants to go through life believing they are insignificant or irrelevant. If Christianity did a better job at calling people to Intercessory Prayer, Mercy Ministries and Community Involvement opportunities, The Secret would fall well behind what God could offer. God wants us to make our Maximum Impact for God (MIFG), but we often relegate each other to a passive observer role. The Secret lets everyone be in charge of how much or how little we want to change this world.
3. We are all selfish and it is much easier to place that selfishness in a more positive light than to feel bad about it. This is why people like Susan Block and her Ethical Hedonism are also so popular. If you redefine sin as something positive, people won’t feel so guilty trying it. Of course The Secret is popular: It legitimizes self-absorption and calls it blessed.
4. We want to believe again. Believing means we don’t have everything figured out and are willing to suspend disbelief for a season. Faith is not irrational as it is hyperrational. We see that this complex world is beyond understanding (for more on this, see the teachings of Complexity Theory), and therefore no one can map out the future with any clarity. When Alvin Toffler wrote Future Shock in the 7os, everyone thought he was a genius for the short-term vision he had. But his next book, “The Third Wave” completely counts computers as irrelevant for the future. People are tired of figuring everything out. They want to believe in something, even if that something is as nebulous as “The Universe”. When asked what he was looking for in his journeys around the galaxy, Arthur Dent (hero of the “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”) says “You know. What we all want. The answer”. The answer to what? “You know, the answer to Life, the Universe, Everything”. The Secret lays that out for us. It’s weakness is that it does such a poor job.