A friend had been pestering me about this motivational fad called The Secret. It started out as a video in 2006, and then the producer of the video wrote a book that came out in 2007. It immediately became a hit, earning endorsements from famous TV personalities like Oprah Winfrey.
The Secret has been used in network marketing seminars and other programs related to “getting rich quick.” A friend invited me to a network marketing business, and this is one of the things taught in the seminar (although my friend already believed in The Secret beforehand). Believers will claim that it is true (as my friend does) and that it helps them do better in life, most especially by giving them wealth. All thanks to the Law of Attraction, which is the core of the belief system.
But after watching the video and reading more on the topic, I saw lots of problems.
What’s with The Secret?
The Secret has been associated with a spiritual movement called New Thought. It holds that humans have control over reality. The Secret posits that humans generate thought waves that alter the reality of the world around them. Governing this is the Law of Attraction, wherein whatever one thinks, that is what he will attract. For example, if a person thinks that his boss will give him a raise or promotion the next day, that will become true. If a person fears being robbed or murdered, then these will happen. One guest speaker in the video itself even claims that all he did was visualize checks coming in the mail, and he claims that it happened – with no explanation on where the checks came from (the speaker was David Schirmer – more on this later). The program claims it had been kept a secret from humanity, and thus many people suffered in life because they didn’t know it. So now, the Secret is revealed to you, and all you need to think of something and it will become reality.
The problem is, there is little proof that it actually works.
There is a lot of criticism against The Secret, saying that it is nothing but a feel-good show created to make money for the author (so, on second thought, it is a path to riches, but only for Byrne). Adherents claim that it is consistent with orthodox Biblical doctrine, but close study reveals that it is not. Even the Christian Research Institute, an organization known for exposing frauds in the Christian world, thumbed it down as unsound and based on false doctrine. Clearly all orthodox Christian entities who stick to sound doctrine reject it.
Perhaps this is the worst problem with The Secret: if your mind can control reality, it means you are god (yes, the book actually says this). This is obviously is what the Serpent told Adam and Eve, and thus, the so-called Law of Attraction is against orthodox Christian doctrine. It attributes a power to humans that they certainly do not have, and only caters to their narcissism and arrogance. It causes people to refuse to accept that there are things they can never control.
I can use a personal example to demonstrate that this so-called law isn’t a law. Back in 2009, I entered a model airplane in my scale modeling group’s annual nationals contest, without expecting it to win. I just let it sit there for a week and picked it up at the end, satisfied that people looked at my work. Later on I was told that I actually won 3rd prize for its category! All the time, my mindset was that I would not win, but it turned out that I did. I came home with a trophy, because my model plane was a quality build. Proof that what you think does not always become reality, which is actually a good thing.
A Whip for Flogging others
The danger with The Secret is how it is used to vilify and manipulate other people. For example, a Secret believer has a friend who says “even if I visualize, I still didn’t get what I wanted.” The Secret believer might go ballistic and say, “You fool! You don’t believe enough! There’s something wrong with you, you’re the one with the problem! You’re stupid, you’re negative!” In other words, the believe tries to guilt trip the non-believer and paints them as the “bad guy.” This is similar to the prosperity gospel, which is also taught in network marketing groups. If someone is poor, it means they are sinful; if they are rich, it means they are holy, because God promised physical riches. Again, this goes against sound Christian doctrine. So The Secret and other “self-help” ideas may actually be tools for manipulating people.
Critic Barbara Ehrenreich also quoted a serious victim-blaming message from The Secret. Rhonda Byrne is thought to have implied in the book that those killed in the 2004 Asian tsunami sent out waves that attracted the tsunami to them. Thus, Byrne says victims of disasters are the cause of their own deaths! Certainly no one can prove that tsunamis are caused by human thought, and this belief encourages cruelty rather than positivity.
Barbara Ehrenreich’s Smile or Die:
Ehrenreich also says The Secret and various “positive thinking” messages were used to silence the people who warned about the subprime mortgage crisis before it hit in 2008. Thus, it implies that The Secret can be a tool for quelling dissent. Byrne wrote in the book, “if you are criticizing, you are not being grateful. If you are blaming, you are not being grateful. If you are complaining, you are not being grateful.” Some might see this as positive, but I would disagree. The first one, criticizing is necessary when pointing out the errors of someone who is actually in the wrong. So if Byrne is against criticizing, then she may be for shutting up people.
Many writers say The Secret only rehashes old ideas about getting rich with new twists. It drew from The Science of Getting Rich by Wallace Wattles, Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill, The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale, and more. Most of these books draw on the idea that thoughts can change reality, although The Secret makes its own explanation on how it works.
A commenter pointed out that The Secret may have derived the idea of visualization from a book by Maxwell Maltz, Psycho-Cybernetics. Maltz is a plastic surgeon who tried a motivational approach with his patients. Maltz claims to have tested three basketball teams doing free throws: before the actual session, one practices free throws, the second team does nothing and the third team does not practice but visualizes themselves doing free throws. He claims the third team did the best. However, I find this questionable.
Cracks in the Wall
The Secret seems to be showing cracks in the wall through people who participated in the video. This may be proof that it isn’t really what it’s flouted to be.
Rhonda Byrne later had a fallout with one of the film’s major contributors, Esther Hicks, leader of The Abraham Movement. Byrne then had Hicks edited out of subsequent versions of The Secret. Hicks later uploaded a Youtube video explaining her side, though she admitted that she’ll have no more to do with The Secret, despite Byrne’s earlier admission that Hicks provided the initial inspiration for it. That’s why on the Internet, one will find an original version and an edited version – which doesn’t make sense if The Secret is supposed to be good and all its believers are good people, right? Next, Byrne got into a legal tussle with Secret director Drew Heriot and Internet consultant Dan Hollings over royalties. Now, if you really believe in The Secret, you wouldn’t go to court with people you worked with on it, would you?
Here’s something uncomfortable: one of the guest speakers on The Secret video, David Schirmer, a self-proclaimed financial guru, was exposed to have owed money to several former students and investors. Despite claims that he earns millions of dollars, he is unable to pay his debts to them! Watch this if you love something cringeworthy, where a person becomes confronted all of a sudden with the fraud he committed:
And it doesn’t stop here. Bob Proctor is said to be defrauding money from many people as well, and Joe Vitale and Michael Beckwith are not really “doctors” as they claim to be. I’d not be surprised if everyone else who figured in The Secret video is having similar problems.
The problem with The Secret is that it takes questionable mysticism and puts it into a motivational formula that panders to people’s narcissism and sense of entitlement. It’s mere feel good content that, when put into practice, flounders. The Secret claims that the Law of Attraction always works. However, the truth is more likely that it does not, and never has it been proven that human thoughts can change reality. Humans can change reality with action, and such action does not always guarantee 100% success. That’s why you try and try again until you succeed… or find something better to do.
But the biggest problem with The Secret is saying humans are god. No, they are not and can never be.
Here’s in short my conclusion on The Secret or the Law of Attraction:
It is not a secret.
It is not a law.
Humans can control their thoughts, but they cannot control reality with their thoughts.
I do agree with some basic tenets of positive thinking, that people should control themselves, get rid of bitterness, hatred and other negative emotions, and be calm and positive. This is actually very basic, and one doesn’t need The Secret to know these common sense ideas. The Secret adds too many other beliefs to this that are questionable and may even cause harm.
And The Secret for me can never be positive thinking. Real positive thinking for me is coined in the Serenity Prayer:
Accepting the things one cannot change;
courage to change the things one can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Stick to sound principles, and stop thinking of get-rich-quick schemes.