by John Heath
Let’s get this right out in the open—with all the hoopla surrounding The Secret, one of us had to read it. Lisa is still a bit annoyed that she had to read so many New Age books for Why We Read What We Read, so there was no real way I could get out of it when she asked me to take a closer look at the book.
Payback is a bitch.
The Secret may be the fluffiest thing I have read in three years, and that’s saying something, considering I made it through the first 50 pages of Embraced by the Light (I couldn’t finish—I made Lisa read that one too) and read Life’s Little Instruction Book cover to cover. It takes one basic, reasonable premise—that a positive attitude can make a difference in how one experiences life—and drives it to unfathomable depths of silliness. Actually, only the cosmological improbability and materialistic self-indulgence can fairly be called silly. There’s also a more insidious side, a moral repugnancy of The Law of Attraction that has been well discussed by many reviewers, as well as ruthlessly parodied on YouTube, Saturday Night Live, and even in entire books. To believe that everything—and this means everything—that happens in this world is the direct result of the universe responding to your thoughts is not just demonstrably false, but the height of narcissism, ethical obtuseness, and spiritual desperation. It’s enough to make one pine for the relatively harmless inanity of The Celestine Prophecy.
At some point, an honest reviewer has to throw his or her hands up in the air and concede that certain New Age and Christian fundamentalist self-help guides are beyond critique, at least as far as trying to keep an open mind about the people who are buying them. This book lives in that ether that can be reached neither by reason nor common sense. Either you are a believer or you aren’t.
So why have so many people chosen to believe (or at least buy) this book? Where’s the proof that thinking good thoughts about wealth and health, for example, will make you rich and strong? (Or, on the necessary flip side, that thinking negative thoughts will result in such obviously self-induced traumas as slavery, rape, inner-city poverty, the Holocaust, Katrina, and Darfur?) Well, this proof is entirely in the anecdotes provided by the author and contributors, who comprise nothing short of a pantheon of New Age Gurus, folks who believe (if we can believe them) that because they envisioned getting checks instead of bills, they got rich. (Cynically, it’s easier to believe that they got rich by getting people to write them real checks by convincing them they could get rich by envisioning checks in the mail.) Rhonda Byrne herself is the one who pulls it all together, the best-selling peddler of the Secret who links the masters’ words with interludes like this:
“Food is not responsible for putting on weight. It is your thought that food is responsible for putting on weight that actually has food put on weight. Remember, thoughts are the primary cause of everything, and the rest is effects from those thoughts. Think perfect thoughts and the result must be perfect weight.” (p.59)
It simply MUST be! Fat people aren’t just fat—they’re dumb, so dumb they think it’s the calories that put on weight.
Here’s something I waver about. Do these people really believe what they say? Have they convinced themselves they are telling the truth? Could they pass a lie-detector test? Does Rhonda Byrne really think weight gain or loss has nothing to do with food? I honestly can’t tell.
In the end, I guess it just boils down to your willingness to believe something incredible because someone tells you it’s true (and it would be so cool if it were true). Are you like that? I have a test. Here’s a list of the credentials of the contributors to The Secret:
- Founder of the Agape International Spiritual Center and originator of the Life Visioning Process
- Founder and CEO of Empowered Wealth, and founder of the Quadrant Living Experience, LLC, “a boutique firm that licenses and trains an international network of Quadrant Living Advisors.”
- Chiropractor of the Year
- Internationally known Feng Shui master
- Co-founder of Totally Unique Thoughts (TUT), who sold over 1 million t-shirts and then transformed TUT into a web-based inspirational and philosophical Adventurers Club
- Creator and Facilitator of the Wealth Beyond Reason program
- John Grey (see our section on Mars/Venus in Why We Read What We Read)
- Creator of Holosync
- Founder of Live Out Loud
- Founder and CEO of Motivating the Masses (and Motivating the Teen Spirit)
- Developer of The Science of Success and Harmonic Wealth
- Neale Donald Walsch (another best-selling author we discuss in our book)
- And a guy who holds a doctorate degree in Metaphysical Science (?), who also is a certified hypnotist, metaphysical practitioner, ordained minister, and Chi Kung healer
I think it boils down to this. The world is divided into two camps: those who look at this list and laugh or shake their heads, and those who read it and wonder where they can sign up.