The Not-So-Secret

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Book Review

Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret, published over a year ago, still holds a spot on Barnes & Noble’s bestseller racks, and ranks second in book sales at Amazon.com. I finally read it yesterday. I’m getting ready to preview Henry Cloud’s soon-to-be-released DVD, The Secret Things of God, which he prepared in response to this book. (Dr. Cloud’s book of that same title is already available.) I’ll be viewing his DVD soon after I write this, and at some time soon I’ll post a review, but I can’t help jumping in with some of my own reactions first.

The Secret says we can all have a better life: better relationships, better health, better finances, better success, better everything. All it takes is better, more positive thinking, for “The Law of Attraction” guarantees we will attract whatever we think. If we expect bad things, we’ll attract them; if we count on good things coming our way, they assuredly will.

This is but one of eight spiritual guidance/self-help books currently in Amazon’s top 25. There’s a reason they sell so well: we all want better lives. We want more joy and success, less pain and loss. We (many of us) want more spiritual lives.

So I greet books like these with a sense of familiar recognition, a kind of appreciation for the desire that drives them. I wrote once before of one author’s view that materialism–the philosophy that denies any genuine spiritual reality behind the physical world–may be reaching its “expiration date.” Do you yearn for something spiritual to improve your life? I have the same longing, and I lament the loss of spirituality in our modern age.

So I wish Rhonda Byrne had really told us the true Secret for spirituality and joy, but sadly, she has not.

Like other New Agers at least as far back as Fritjof Capra, she tries to bridge the world of spirit and science through quantum mechanics (pp. 156-157):

“Let me explain how you are the most powerful transmission tower in the Universe. In simple terms, all energy vibrates at a frequency. Being energy, you also vibrate at a frequency, and what determines your frequency at any time is whatever you are thinking and feeling. All the things you want are made of energy, and they are vibrating too….

“Here is the ‘wow’ factor. When you think about what you want, and you emit that frequency, you cause the energy of what you want to vibrate at that frequency and you bring it to You! As you focus on what you want, you are changing the vibration of the atoms of that thing, and you are causing it to vibrate to You….

“When you think about and feel those good things that you want, you have immediately tuned yourself to that frequency, which then causes the energy of all those things to vibrate to you, and they appear in your life. The law of attraction says that like attracts like. You are an energy magnet, so you electrically energize everything to you and electrically energize yourself to everything you want.”

Her bridge won’t bear that weight. Clearly she wants to explain how the law of attraction works. There is no prayer-answering God in her worldview, so there has to be some other causal link between our minds and the things that happen to us. Her law of attraction does not say that if we are responsible, optimistic, and hard-working, we’ll see good things as the fruit of our good labors. Her law of attraction says that good things will come our way just by our expecting them, just by having a positive hope regarding what we want. There’s a great example of this right before that last quoted passage:

“I never studied science or physics at school, and yet when I read complex books on quantum physics I understood them perfectly because I wanted to understand them.”

You need not understand quantum mechanics as well as she thinks she does to know that the mysterious “frequency” of which she speaks must have (literally) unbelievable information-carrying capacity, as well as amazingly high power. It can read our thoughts to bring us a Mercedes instead of a lawn mower. Its power radiates outward to the drunk drivers of the world and lets their befuddled minds know to stay far from us–or maybe instead (she doesn’t quite say) it works on their cars to prevent them coming our way.

It’s a muddled mess, actually. Again, I can appreciate the desire to bring science and spirituality together into one happy household. We Christians know about seeking scientific evidences for God. We do not, however, try to make science actually do the spiritual work of our worldview. This seeking for support in quantum mechanics seems a desperate maneuver for legitimacy.

There is little warrant for this worldview, yet it attracts an awful of people. Maybe it’s because it lets us think so highly of ourselves:

“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” (p. 164).

“The earth turns on its orbit for You, The oceans ebb and flow for You. The sun rises and sets for You. The stars come out for You. Every beautiful thing you see, every wondrous thing you experience, is all there, for You. Take a look around. None of it can exist, without You. No matter who you thought you were, now you know the Truth of Who You Really Are. You are the master of the Universe. You are the heir to the kingdom. You are the perfection of life. And now you know The Secret” (p. 183, the closing words of the book).

There’s plenty of feel-good power there. I can appreciate the need for it: in a messed-up world of failures and loss, sometimes all we want is to feel better about ourselves, and to have things go our way a bit more than they do. But we are not God in a physical body. We are not all power. We are not all wisdom. We are not perfection. The oceans do not ebb and flow for us, and the world could exist without us, as it did for long eons before we were born.

There has to be a more honest, more realistic, and better way to find what we’re looking for in life. And there is. It is the open secret, the true mystery revealed, the genuine way to living the life we were designed to live. It’s not based on false science but on spiritual reality. Its good outcomes are not delivered through some concocted electrical frequency, but through a personal relationship with an all-powerful Person who loves us. There is hope, and there is reason to be optimistic and positive, and there is a God who really answers prayers. Pain, loss, and death are unavoidable, but there is also resurrection. There is abundant life and genuine spiritual beauty in the true God, revealed in His Son, Jesus Christ.

The Secret, by Rhonda Byrne. 2006:Atria Books/Beyond Words; 216 pages.

17 Responses

  1. As a fan of Francis Schaeffer I’d mention “True Spirituality” as a good Christian counterpoint to the New Age books you mention.

  2. The Secret is the latest and by far the worst example of a HIGHLY profitable trend where self-help gurus with fabricated new age titles and little relevant education, credentials or legitimate expertise brainwash us into believing that they know what is best for us, our marriages and our families.

    Often their only contribution to society is introducing some exotic sounding, new age philosophy. However, they often cleverly form an incestuous group of like-minded “experts” who cross-promote each other by swearing their success is due to following the beliefs of another member of their “cult!” All the while, they ply the airwaves jockeying for an ever-larger audience by appearing in the national media to garner third-party endorsements.

    The Self-Help Movement has become the Self-Destruct Movement by diminishing or destroying our critical thinking skills to choose and evolve on our own. We have given up the freedom to build healthy lives, marriages and families based on our unique history and life experience. Instead many victims, blinded to the value of their own life experiences, are attracted to the latest secret in self-help, in an attempt to find out what they should think, feel and how they should act… this is the definition of a cult.

    The solution is a return to our (common) senses! The best way out of this learned “self-helplessness” is to go cold turkey. Stop following ALL self-help gurus now. Begin, instead, to reclaim your natural, God-given ability to think for yourself. The common sense that was once readily available to all of us is still there free of charge and waiting to be applied to just about any challenge we might face in life… all you have to do is use it.

    Please, let’s all work together to stop the flock of “sheepeople” who blindly move from one UNPROVEN concept to the next, looking for the answers to life’s challenges that you already possess and that is the OBVIOUS!

  3. Tom Gilson says:

    John,

    There is a lot of commercialization in this and money being made on this stuff, for sure. Since writing this post, I’ve stumbled across a trailer for a video on this book on the publisher’s website. It’s very slick and has a real emotional pull. It says “The Secret” has been banned and suppressed down the centuries. If that’s the case, the book is amazingly silent about it. (I didn’t pay to see the whole video to see if it would support those claims.)

    All it really has going for it is emotional pull and (based on the book) nothing more than vaporous promises and no evidence for historical suppression whatsoever. Really now, if this secret is so powerful, how could it have been so successfully held down through all these centuries? It’s almost comical.

    In actual fact, this “secret” seems terribly familiar. I’ve read it often before: “You are God, and your thoughts determine your reality.” It’s not new, and it’s not newly freed from under any ban.

    Still my heart goes out to the readers of stuff like this. They’re searching for something, and the search is for something real. Sure, they may jump far too readily to easy-yet-false answers like these. They may be trying to shortcut the hard reality that there is a real God who is really holy; and that there are genuine principles for success in life that include honesty and working hard at what you want.

    Rather than sitting in judgment on them, though, I only want them to know that the answers they want can really be found. In some ways they are much harder, and in some ways much simpler than the so-called “Secret.” The real answer calls for humbling ourselves before God, recognizing our need for Him, letting Him rule our lives. Yet it also tells us we’re not alone in the universe, we don’t have to fake ourselves into thinking we’re God, there is One who loves us, and He gives us life by His free grace through Christ.

    So, though I firmly disagree with “The Secret,” I can appreciate its readers’ search for something more than meets the eye. They need to look for more than a more comfortable, wealthier and easier life, though; and they need to do their seeking in a better place.

  4. Jarick says:

    I picked up “The Secret” in a bookstore a few times, and every time I look at it, it just seems to be the concept of positive thinking. Nothing secret about it. But thinking alone doesn’t change anything.

    I think you’re right, that many people are reaching the end of the rope in materialism. I, for one, walked down that road through college, and found it was a dead end.

    Although I wouldn’t call myself a practicing Christian, I’d appreciate any recommended books (obviously in addition to the Bible) that help my understanding. I’ll check out the book mentioned above.

  5. Charlie says:

    Hi Jarick,
    I lost this comment in an earlier attempt, so if I duplicate the idea please forgive me.
    I might as well be the first to recommend anything by C.S. Lewis, especially, of course, Mere Christianity.
    I also can’t recommend Dallas Willard’s Divine Conspiracy enough. It looks a little voluminous, but give it a try. It’s very readable and enlightening. I’ve lent it out now and am thinking of buying several copies for friends and family. It’s that good.
    I also recommend several books by Philip Yancey, especially What’s So Amazing About Grace?, The Jesus I Never Knew and Finding God In Unexpected Places.
    And although I’m not Catholic I found Peter Kreeft’s essays in The Fundamentals Of The Faith to be fantastic. He started as a Dutch Reformer and is obviously hugely influenced by Lewis. The essays each stand on their own and Kreeft is a great writer with a no nonsense approach so they read very quickly.

    My Dad has been very influenced by new age gurus like Wayne Dyer and David Hawkins for the past decade. In a way I am grateful for this as it has given us the common ground of believing in God, Jesus (although they present Him as one of many great teachers) and the immaterial. Of course these self-helpers draw from any source they think sounds profound, so my Dad has had serious helpings of new age mysticism, eastern religions, gnosticism, pantheism and pseudo science – along with a skepticism of western and traditional thought, and a hostility toward religion and especially Catholicism.
    But God is still working through his search.
    This summer I loaned or gave him several books, to be read in this order:
    Howard Storm’s My Descent Into Hell-an account of an atheist’s near-death experience and his becoming a Christian. I am highly skeptical but I knew that the ND aspect would appeal to my Dad and there were aspects of the message I wanted him to hear.
    C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce– a parable about Hell and our free-will choices. I was very surprised and disappointed that he didn’t like this. I had planned it as the next natural step but he found Lewis’ British phrases confusing and off-putting. I personally loved the book (might as well slip in a plug for The Weight Of Glory and Miracles now as well).
    Joseph Girzone’s Joshua– Girzone is an ex-priest. The parable portrayal of Jesus as a kind and loving man, along with (loving) criticisms of organized religion and especially the Catholic Church I knew would appeal to my Dad – while exposing him to Jesus as more than just a wise man.
    Gary Wills’ What Jesus Meant-I’m not a fan of his but Wills is a scholar and he brings a little more meat to the table while still emphasizing God as loving and compassionate.
    C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity– the pièce de résistance. I was overjoyed to find my Dad loved this. In fact he was highly moved by both this and Joshua.
    He now calls Lewis “our guy”.

    Over the Christmas holidays we had our usual hours-long discussions about the world, God and religion. But for the first time the conversations were between two men who consider and call themselves Christians.
    He also watched the video The Perfect Stranger several times over the holiday and was very touched by it (there are a couple of errors in it, so it damps my recommendation).
    I left him with the Yancey books I mentioned above and later sent him the sequel to that video. He thought it was great as well.
    I should mention that he also goes a few times a year to church with my brother’s family for special events and thinks that the church and its people are terrific. This has made him much more open to exploring the truth of Jesus.

    I hope you find something worthwhile in that.

  6. Charlie says:

    Oh yeah,
    How’d I forget Kingdom Triangle by J.P Moreland and Evil And The Justice Of God by N.T. Wright? This is actually the only book I’ve read of Wright’s but the more I find out the more I believe I ought to be reading much more of him. But there’re just so many hours …

  7. SteveK says:

    I listened to a couple of N.T. Wright’s talks (Moreland and others too) at Veritas and really enjoyed them. Check ’em out.

  8. Charlie says:

    Thanks for the link, Steve.
    A new bookmark for me.

  9. Jarick says:

    Charlie,

    Thanks for the list. The Kreeft book especially looks like a good read.

    As somewhat of a “heady” person, I’ve picked up and read through a good bit of Mere Christianity, and it’s a good book. Appeals to me on a logical side. I suppose I should finish it before moving on in my search.

    I guess what I’m seeking is something that has the kind of life-changing impact that I’ve heard from my friends who are born again. I don’t really get that charge out of reading the Bible itself, more like I can see how one should live their life but not why.

    I’ll take down the rest of that list and browse them next time I’m at the book store.

  10. SteveK says:

    I guess what I’m seeking is something that has the kind of life-changing impact that I’ve heard from my friends who are born again. I don’t really get that charge out of reading the Bible itself, more like I can see how one should live their life but not why.

    Take heart, Jarik, I’ve never experienced what most would call a life-changing impact either. Most associate this sort of thing with a feeling, or a “high”. Christianity is life-changing though. To me, the changes come from all the “Ah ha!” moments.

    (Ah ha!) So this is why I can’t fix myself or become “good enough”.
    (Ah ha!) So this is why God came to restore the broken relationship.
    (Ah ha!) So this is how God can use me.
    (Ah ha!) So this is why I’m here.
    (Ah ha!) So this is why humility is so important.
    etc.
    etc.

  11. Charlie says:

    Hi Jarick,
    That’s a tall order.
    I can say that Divine Conspiracy has been life-changing for me, but that is as a Christian of 30+ years and the change, I admit, has to be very superficial and small to an observer.
    Along that line, Augustine’s Confessions actually changed how I view being a Christian as well.

    Unfortunately, being a complete non-expert, I would tell you exactly what you’ve asked us not to: that is, read the Bible.
    Specifically, I’ve heard many times the recommendation that one seclude themselves for a few days and read thoroughly, with cross-referencing, the Gospel of John. I’ve heard many testimonials where people who have done this finish and then say, “now what do I do about this? How do I properly respond to this message?”.
    In fact, this is advice from The Divine Conspiracy, as well as probably several other books I’ve mentioned.

    I might also add that if you haven’t an intellectual acceptance of the historicity of Jesus and His claims to divinity then you could also start with Lee Strobel’s books, The Case For Christ, The Case For Faith, The Case For The Real Jesus, etc.

    But back to your main thought about a life-changing experience, I can only suggest prayer and the Bible. The Bible makes it explicit not only how you should live, but why you must shed the old man, die to your old ways, and be born again in the body of Christ. The fact that you want to change your life means you are already experiencing that change.

    I apologize if I’ve come off as preachy or authoritative, as I have the qualifications to be neither.

  12. Change comes from holding on to a changed perspective.

    If you see everything through the Gospel at every moment than your life will change.

    The Bible isn’t something you read, learn and put down.

    It has truth that you receive and hold onto in each moment.

    It requires effort to force yourself to look at each situation and moment in life through Jesus’s perspective.

    No intellectual knowledge will change your life unless it changes your perspective and you carry that change with you throughout the day.

  13. Charlie says:

    Hi Steve,
    Your “ah ha!”s appeal to me.

    Jarick’s response to Mere Christianity, my Dad’s to The Great Divorce and a friend’s to The Weight Of Glory demonstrate the danger of book recommendations when expectations are high. As one atheist said after reading Mere Christianity, if this was the book that everyone said would change his mind, and it didn’t, then there was nothing that could.
    Every bit of information will be taken in by different people in different ways, and is even dependent upon when they receive it and what their background is. Surprised By Joy was a slow read for me and left me quite flat, although I did kind of get the point about Joy pointing to God. But I needed the background of that book to have a huge “Ah Ha!” moment when I read The Weight Of Glory. Ah ha! So that’s what my nostalgia and longing are about. That’s why we gape at nature and wish somehow to freeze the picture and possess it, to become part of it, and to be accepted into and become one with it.
    Lewis’ presentation of Joy as a foretaste of Heaven has become a theme in my life. Beauty, love, longing, etc. are all pointers. They show us to Heaven, back toward our intended state and our promised destiny. As fallen men we have all but forgotten our real purpose, but there are still reminders, and there is a way back.

  14. Wow! Another comment by John Curtis up at the top here….

    He visited my popular site (www.MindfulSource.com) and left the EXACT same comment. Quite original, eh? At first, I thought this guy was well meaning and all, but it seems he’s something of a spammer. (Or at least he’s a mass commenter.) In either case, John Curtis is not really contributing much to these conversations.

    Just a heads up to webmasters and bloggers…

    -Jason

  15. Bereket Teka says:

    Beyond and Above the “Secret”

    I have read the Secret and also watched the movie. The principle presented, the law of attraction (LOA), is a true masterpiece of the universe. God has from the very beginning created all that is essentially required in his creation pertaining to His desire and purpose. The Bible says that, if one believes (has Faith, belief in action) to receive anything of God one shall have that he asked for. Basically, LOA states the same principle but in a slightly twisted manner.

    LOA is just like the Arabian Caravan story. See, in old days people used to hold caravan markets with traders from various places will happen to be in a place with their goods to sell. Buyers knew the timings of these caravans and will prepare themselves for trade. The caravans sold goods and items that are not found in the vicinity the market is being hold, and for these reason they were popular. Well, God created man after making sure all that man needs is created and in place. God still continues to make sure that we are provided with all that we need continually. It works like this, God starts a caravan trail filled with all the things that we need on one’s birth. This caravan follows the person, encircling him throughout his earthly life journey. Guess what, whenever one needs for something all he has to do is ask for it and stretch forth his hands to pick from the caravan trail. However, to enjoy the loads of the caravan, one has to be with in the timing and placing of the caravan, i.e. one has to be within and in the presence of his source – GOD.

    LOA gives man a true position in the universal existence of all creation. However it forgets to place the “Universe”, and puts it as a humble and always loyal servant of man. This is far from the truth. Man is a thinking being, brought forth (or created) from a higher and supreme thinking being (God). As man can think and create his own reality, so can the “Universe” – which I prefer to claim it to be God, in his Omniscient presence in the universe. So, yes one can think and create his own reality – a reality that is governed by the highest thinking being and in accordance to the will and purpose of God.

    Studying the LOA will awaken some deep sense with in you that you are truly and wonderfully created. You should not however fool yourself that you hold all the cards and that you can work your life just feeling and thinking good. LOA will best work for you if you are a citizen of the Universe of Goodness, and it will be perfected in your life if you have aligned your thought process and mechanics in accordance to the will and purpose of God, by abiding in His word.

    ~With Blessings
    Bereket Teka

  16. Tom Gilson says:

    Bereket, I hope to write an extended answer to this at some point soon. For now I would like to leave just a note here to call attention to the fact that there is no particular reason given here to believe that most of this is true, or that the caravan analogy bears any relation to reality. I sympathize and agree with your emphasis that there is a spiritual reality with which we must be in touch, but it’s crucial that this be a reality.

    Your last advice is very good: to be abiding in God’s word. Faithfully followed, however, that advice will lead in a much different direction than what you lay out here.

  17. Tom Gilson says:

    Bereket, here’s another way to ask what I asked in my last comment: You expressed what seems to be a personal belief or opinion. Other than your belief or opinion, is there any reason to believe that what you wrote here is actually true? Is there any good evidence for it?