Wednesday, April 25, 2007

"The Secret" Book Review (Part I)

I have wanted to review this book from the first time I heard about it simply because of its' popularity. I have finally gotten the chance to do just that having received it on loan from someone very dear to me. My assumptions from the outset of what "The Secret" was going to be was basically a New Age version of a health wealth and prosperity gospel that makes so many televangelists popular. I found it to be just that and in many tragic ways much worse.

Aesthetics:

Firstly, I think that it is important to comment on the mere appearance and package that this message comes in. The Book cover, as well as the inside pages are decorated with what looks like an ancient text on aged parchment with unintelligible sentences in cursive all over. The "S" in the word secret on the cover is inside an ancient appearing wax seal giving the book a look of old wisdom. When you hold the book itself you will notice that it is a bit heavier than most books its size, when you open it up you will see why. The pages are a very thick glossy paper also decorated with an aged browning look with cursive and various mystical/technical looking drawings on many pages.

It is also full of colorful images and pictures of the many co-authors in the back. To be short it is a very slick package. The text itself if put into the right format and made simpler (less drawings and giant font headings) probably could have been reduced to 75 pages and still be very readable. It took me probably an hour and a half to read all 184 pages and I am a very slow reader so that should give you an idea of how easy of a read this is.

So What IS "The Secret"

The central theme of the message these writers want to give us is dubbed "The Secret". If you watch the video (Link here I strongly encourage any reader to watch the first few minutes to see what I am talking about) you will see that this idea is treated as if it is hidden knowledge that has been sought after hidden, handed down, and kept out of the hands of the common folk by the powerful who knew it. Now it is here for you...so what is it?

"The Secret is the law of attraction!" (p.4 Bob Proctor)

So what is the "law of attraction"?

"The law began at the beginning of time. It has always been and will always be." (p.5)

Well if it began then it hasn't always been...moving on though.

"It is the law that determines the complete order in the Universe, every moment of your life, and every single thing you experience in your life. It doesn't matter who you are or where you are...You are the one who calls the law of attraction into action, and you do it through your thoughts." (p.5)

So that is it in a nutshell, the rest of the book is for the most part just application of what was just said. There is this law of the Universe (note the capital "U" I will come back to that later) that basically is attraction. Like things attract like things. So if you are thinking certain thoughts you are attracting what you think about. You get what you are thinking about.

"The law of attraction is a law of nature. It is impersonal and it does not see good things or bad things. It is receiving your thoughts and reflecting back to you those thoughts as your life experience. The law of attraction simply gives you what you are thinking about." (p.13)

That is really it, this sort of technique of thinking about the right things or what you want rather than what you don't want will cause the Universe to give you what you want. This will apply to wealth and the material things, the kind of mate you get, your personal health, and even more globally in peace programs. There are later chapters applying this "right mode of thinking" in all these areas.

So simply put, you can have the life you want. You are the master of your own destiny, the sculptor of yourself. You are the sovereign over all of your life. You determine whether or not you will be rich, have a smoking hot spouse, ever get a disease etc. You can see how this is so appealing in a society that is ripe with hedonistic materialism and self worship.

This really brings me to what I will call the "Dark Side of 'The Secret'".

The Dark Side of "The Secret"

As I will more fully show "The Secret" is not just a technique, it is a worldview. It has things to say about who you are as a human being, who/what God is, and it deals with philosophical problems of suffering. How does this worldview which says that you really are in control of EVERYTHING that comes your way deal with suffering? Well very very coldly and harshly:

"Everything that surrounds you right now in your life, including the things you're complaining about, you've attracted. Now I know at first blush that's going to be something you hate to hear. You're going to immediately say, 'I didn't attract the car accident. I didn't attract this particular client who gives me a hard time. I didn't particularly attract the debt.' And I am here to be a little bit in your face and say, yes you did attract it. This is one of the hardest concepts to get, but once you've accepted it, it's life transforming." (p.27-28 Dr. Joe Vitale)

I was honestly a bit shocked at this. I know that when you embrace these ideas that this is where they lead, however I rarely find New Agers who are basically biting the bullet on this. It is just so cold. Honestly think of what this man is saying here. A women who was savagely beaten and raped really attracted that to herself through the thoughts she projected into the Universe. A person who has cancer eating their body away, really attracted that disease through the thoughts they projected to the Universe. Fill in any suffering afflicting an individual and if you embrace this idea of the law of attraction you must logically say what this man said.

But there is more, in case what this man said isn't clear enough the main author makes it abundantly clear as she writes:

"Often when people first hear this part of the Secret they recall events in history where masses of lives were lost, and the find it incomprehensible that so many people could have attracted themselves to the event. By the law of attraction, they had to be on the same frequency as the event. It doesn't necessarily mean they thought of that exact event, but the frequency of their thoughts matched the frequency of the event. If people believe they can be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and they have no control over outside circumstances, those thoughts of fear, separation, and powerlessness, if persistent, can attract them to being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

You have a choice right now. Do you believe that it's just the luck of the draw and bad things can happen to you at any time? Do you want to believe that you can be in the wrong place at the wrong time? That you have no control over circumstances?

Or do you want to believe and know that your life experience is in your hands and that only all good can come into your life because that is the way you think? You have a choice, and whatever you choose to think will become your life experience.

Nothing can come into your experience unless you summon it through persistent thoughts."
(p.28)

The embracing of that last line comes at a price. Sure you are now in "control" to call down wealth and health, however, it also entails that every pain you experience is really your fault. What does that do to say Hurricane Katrina? Or the Virginia Tech massacre? These cease to be tragedies, it was just the impersonal and pitiless Universe dealing out what people attracted to themselves. That is the logical conclusion if you want to really embrace this.

Again I am surprised that they would be this upfront about these issues in this book. I was honestly expecting nothing but a bunch of watered down New Age and Positive Thinking techniques and for the most part that's what you have in the book. However, every so often there is a barbaric honesty as to what this worldview all entails. It seems to indicate to me that these people really believe this stuff, it is more then just a magic tonic to cure what ails ya. This is a worldview, a pantheistic New Age one as we are about to see.

So What about God?

As I read the book there were many times it seemed as if the author was talking to somebody and engaging some sort of deity as part of "The Secret". Take for example this quote:

"Every morning, I do not get out of bed until I have the feelings of gratitude for this brand new day and all I am grateful for in my life. Then as I get out of bed, when one foot touches the ground I say, "Thank," and "you" as my second foot touches the ground. With each step I take on my way to the bathroom I say "Thank you." I continue to say and feel "Thank you" as I am showering and getting ready. By the time I am ready for the day, I have said "Thank you" hundreds of times." (p.75-76)

Now as I read this I was a bit perplexed and I blurted out "Pssh! Who are you saying 'Thank you' to?!" because the author has not even used the word "God" one time yet. As I finished the book the picture became very clear. I also found it was very interesting that these very strong statements about who we are and who God is come in the last two chapters of the book. This is all AFTER they teach you the positive thinking technique to get rich, stay healthy and attract hot babes on the beach.

"So whichever way you look at it the result is still the same. We are One. We are all connected, and we are all part of the One Energy Field, or the Supreme Mind, or the One Consciousness, or the One Creative Source. Call it whatever you want, but we are all One." (p.162)

Note that "One" is with a capital "O" this is a very popular New Age rendering of pantheism, in short everything is God. Remember the Beatles song, "I am you and you are me and we're all in this together..."? Well Koo Koo Ka Choo that's exactly what is being described here. This is Pantheism everything is God, that explains the "Universe" references. The above quote not clear enough? Well here's another one that is not at all ambiguous:

"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)

Again, I was a bit shocked that this was in here. Not that it is at all new to me but I just figured this book was a watered down New Age technique. There is nothing watered down about the above quote. The author is saying in no ambiguous language that we are all God. Now again I don't think the author would say this if this was just a scam in her mind, she really believes this stuff.

Again I think that it is interesting that these very in you face Pantheistic pronouncements come AFTER they have taught you the techniques of how to get rich and score with the beach babes. I think that is strategic considering the ideas in this book have been touted as "Christian". Also I don't think most Americans would read very far if on page 1 the book read "The Secret is that you are God..."

So now you have a better picture of who is being "Thanked" in the morning as the author gets out of bed. As well as why the "U" is always capitalized when they refer to the Universe giving to you. They are teaching Pantheism. This is worship of self amplified to the greatest heights.

The Deity and Worship of Self:

"It is not people who are giving you the things you desire. If you hold that false belief, you will experience lack, because you are looking at the outside world and people as the supply. The true supply is the invisible field, whether you call that the Universe, the Supreme Mind, God, Infinite Intelligence, or whatever else." (p.163)

In short you have one person to be thankful to in all of your success...YOU.

That said I think this explains the success of the book. Our culture is full of self centered autonomous notions of self reliance, freedom, rights, and over all an idolatry of self pervades our culture. I honestly think this is the greatest idol of American culture we as Christians need to challenge in our day, the idol of self.

Think of nearly all the hot button moral controversies in our day and what do we find at the center? My rights, my freedoms, my life etc. So we hear of a woman's "right to choose" whether or not the time is "right" for her to have a baby. People have the right to choose when we will die with "dignity" because it is MY life and I will decide how, when and on what terms it will end. Or even it is my right to marry who I want to marry, even if that person is of the same sex, it is MY life and it is MY choice, you have no right to deny me this.

In all of these issue SELF and MY personal choice are at the center. We want complete authority to govern the type of life we will have, we view it our "rights" to decide these things for ourselves. Well in this sort of cultural setting where self is at the center of life, a philosophy in a book like "The Secret" fits quite well. This book in effect puts you at the very center of the Universe. I mean you can't be anymore self centered then to view yourself as God in flesh.

In effect it says what the secular culture says and spiritualizes it: "You can have the life you want, you are in complete control of every aspect of your life." How do people who embrace this right to choose the type of life we want act? Well their actions manifest in hedonism. I want money, girls, cars, health, etc. The TBN preachers have thriving off of these desires for decades now. The Secret is cashing in on a very lucrative market, and they have Oprah Winfrey giving them air time to boot.

In the next post I will explain how thoroughly un-Christian all of this really is. You don't have to be a heavy duty Bible student to see what was described has nothing to do with Christianity. The Secret is in no way compatible with Biblical Christianity as has been so often stated, it is antithetical to Biblical Christianity.

2 comments:

Ubersehen said...

Don't you think you're jumping the gun on this, Bob? Have you actually tried The Secret to see if it works? Do you honestly think it's intellectually responsible to write a process like this off so completely without seeing if it's correct? A bit dogmatic, maybe?

...hope you weren't taking me seriously on that one. I should say straight up that while I disagree with some of the elements of your approach (as I will, naturally), I also believe that the book is a steaming heap of opportunism. Ever have one of those moments where you smell something you don't immediately recognize, and you're a little unsure as to whether it smells delicious or nauseating? The authors and producers of "The Secret" have found a way to perpetuate this stench in literary form, insisting all along that it's delicious, when it's really emanating from a rotting cow-chip that's been shaped into a likeness of the Virgin Mary and is being touted as a cure for leprosy. I just came up with that analogy, but I kind of like it.

Did you ever catch the film What The Bleep Do We Know?. I'm curious as to whether or not the makers of these productions know one another. They smack of the same kind of facts-to-the-wind-just-think-about -it-hard-enough-and-you'll-believe salesmanship. They both give you experts who aren't really experts to sell you a philosophy that is based on smoke, mirrors, and a whole lot of bullshit. I haven't done much research on The Secret yet, but I suspect that it's as full of holes as What the Bleep. Certainly, most of the fantastic claims made in What the Bleep are easily refuted and/or the results of deeply flawed methods. But they've got talking heads endorsing them, and that's what matters. Unless you wait until the end and find out that the majority of their "experts" are actually not experts at all... or that the producers of the documentary are part of a religious organization that promotes the worship of "Ramtha", a 40,000 year old Atlantean warrior who is being channeled through a heavily made-up housewife. This same housewife also happens to be the most prominently interviewed figure in the documentary, and does the most expounding of their particular philosophy. Imagine that. Praise Ramtha. Really, if you haven't seen the documentary, don't. The message is trite, the acting is poor, and once you know it's B.S., the experience is wholly unsatisfying.

But on to the review.

One of the first criticisms of the book you make concerns the "cold, pitiless universe" and how The Secret explains the reasons for the tragedies of the world in terms of negative people attracting negative things to themselves. I agree that it sounds cold and heartless, but above that, I think that the authors ultimately don't want their readers extrapolating that far. You mention the conclusions one must reach by following the philosophy to its logical end, but do you believe that they expect their readers to do any of that? I suspect that what they want their readers to think about is how, when Judy, the stay-at-home mom who loves Oprah and thinks of herself as "spiritual but not religious" stomped around the house in a bad mood last Friday, she wound up stubbing her toe and dropping her favourite teacup. "Crap!" she'd exclaim, and then, drawing on her newly acquired "Secret", "I've been in a bad mood all afternoon, it's no wonder I've attracted all these negative things to myself." And Judy, in her newly-acquired but not-so-well-researched wisdom, would then go and drop $40 for the book and then $500 for a three week feel-good seminar with Michael Beckwith, or whatever follow-up material will inevitably be on sale from the success of this trash.

Bored middle-class Oprah's Book Club Readers everywhere won't be thinking past their fights with their spouses, their trips to the dentist, or their stock options when they wonder about drawing bad stuff to themselves. The creators of "The Secret" want it this way, because anyone who does follow the philosophy to its logical end will simply find it absurd. I think that they include some sort of token mention of horrific tragedies so that the reader can feel as though the authors have covered all the bases. Once they're convinced of the authors' reliability, they're free to ignore the hilariously and poorly reasoned reality of the actual conclusions.

To be honest, I don't know that the "The Secret", on its own, is any danger to society. If it stood alone in its tactics and message, it would be easy to laugh it off as another ridiculous (albeit brilliantly marketed) get-rich-quick scam. But, unfortunately, it's not on its own. I mentioned What The Bleep Do We Know? as just one example of what I believe is an emerging trend of utilitarian-hedonistic spirituality. Many North Americans, disenfranchised or just plain unconvinced by strict Christianity but equally unwilling to expend the energy to explore what that means, are easily swayed by new, slick, and heavily produced "answers".

We'll see more "Secrets" in the future, I predict.

Bob said...

"Don't you think you're jumping the gun on this, Bob? Have you actually tried The Secret to see if it works? Do you honestly think it's intellectually responsible to write a process like this off so completely without seeing if it's correct? A bit dogmatic, maybe?"

LOL, yeah I suppose I should "try" it eh? I was going to get to that line actually because I think that would be the main reply to any criticism to the theory. But I think the theory is safe. No matter what the results it will be confirmation of the theory because it is so subjective, so by simply "trying" it you really embrace it.

"Ever have one of those moments where you smell something you don't immediately recognize, and you're a little unsure as to whether it smells delicious or nauseating? The authors and producers of "The Secret" have found a way to perpetuate this stench in literary form, insisting all along that it's delicious, when it's really emanating from a rotting cow-chip that's been shaped into a likeness of the Virgin Mary and is being touted as a cure for leprosy. I just came up with that analogy, but I kind of like it."

Oh man this is too much, that is hilarious Uber, soda all over the key board!

"Did you ever catch the film What The Bleep Do We Know?. I'm curious as to whether or not the makers of these productions know one another. They smack of the same kind of facts-to-the-wind-just-think-about -it-hard-enough-and-you'll-believe salesmanship.

They both give you experts who aren't really experts to sell you a philosophy that is based on smoke, mirrors, and a whole lot of bullshit. I haven't done much research on The Secret yet, but I suspect that it's as full of holes as What the Bleep. Certainly, most of the fantastic claims made in What the Bleep are easily refuted and/or the results of deeply flawed methods. But they've got talking heads endorsing them, and that's what matters."


No I haven't seen it but my philosphy prof recommended it, we did talk about it a good bit though. I think you are right though with the secret, no matter what there is an ad hoc rescue even if you test it...the theory/method is perfectly safe. Also with the "air of expertise" and the numerous appeals to authority througout the book it really is rediculous if you read it. I wavered between just laughing and gasping for breath as I realized these people were serious. I mean they honestly want to throw Einstein in there and say he was a master of the secret.

"One of the first criticisms of the book you make concerns the "cold, pitiless universe" and how The Secret explains the reasons for the tragedies of the world in terms of negative people attracting negative things to themselves. I agree that it sounds cold and heartless, but above that, I think that the authors ultimately don't want their readers extrapolating that far."

You're are right, most of the people reading the book are just in it for a get rich quick scheme, it is not the authors intention to get them to think too deeply about what embracing the secret will really entail as far as a worldview. As I said they really lay that one on the reader later when they say "You are God".

"You mention the conclusions one must reach by following the philosophy to its logical end, but do you believe that they expect their readers to do any of that?"

That's a great question. I assumed from the outset that these folks writing this stuff were just a bunch of charlatans trying to bilk folks of their money and were using Oprah (the most powerful woman in the world) to do just that. But as I said in the post they make these very strong statements throughout the book like how ALL suffering is a result of negative thoughts, things like this lead me to think that these folks are very serious and want their readers to take their message seriously as a worldview.

"Bored middle-class Oprah's Book Club Readers everywhere won't be thinking past their fights with their spouses, their trips to the dentist, or their stock options when they wonder about drawing bad stuff to themselves. The creators of "The Secret" want it this way, because anyone who does follow the philosophy to its logical end will simply find it absurd."

You are probably right, I think for the most part people will embrace it superficially and not really understand what it all entails and just try to get babes and cash. However, I think there are those who will take this very seriously. I have know many hippy types who practice "the Secret" long before it was called "the Secret" in order to score drugs, concert tickets, rides, and girls. They were quite alright with declaring that they were "god" and could manifest anything. Of course they did not carry this to it's logical end, however they were dead serious when they spoke like this and would get angry when I would start pointing out the obvious flaws in their worldview.

"I think that they include some sort of token mention of horrific tragedies so that the reader can feel as though the authors have covered all the bases. Once they're convinced of the authors' reliability, they're free to ignore the hilariously and poorly reasoned reality of the actual conclusions."

Maybe. I just think that the main author at least really belives this stuff, she is wrestling with the outcomes of her worldview. But after all people being destroyed by cancer is a very minor point of the book the main portion is focused on self aggrandization and the pursuit of material pleasures. I really did in the post quote ALL they had to say about suffering. It was a very minute point (in their eyes), something they don't want you to give too much thought to.

"To be honest, I don't know that the "The Secret", on its own, is any danger to society."

I agree, it is only playing on what is already the prevail-ent mood of the society, a sort of hedonism and self worship.

I mentioned What The Bleep Do We Know? as just one example of what I believe is an emerging trend of utilitarian-hedonistic spirituality.

I really think this is on the money. That is an excellent assesment of what is going on with these new spiritualities. This is why we hear so much talk of "my truth" and "this is what works for me", it is indeed utilitarian and hedonistic.