Best-seller combines spiritual movements and a little pop psychology

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Did you know?

You can change anything in your life.

Your life is in your hands.

The universe will rearrange itself to give you whatever you want.

If this sounds like magic, you haven’t read or seen “The Secret,” the best-selling book and DVD by Australian TV producer Rhonda Byrne that promises to reveal the “Great Secret” that “has been passed down through the ages, highly coveted, hidden, lost, stolen and bought for vast sums of money.”

More than 5 million copies of the book are in print.

The Secret

“There is a downside. If we attract good things, then we can also attract the negative. So this means that if you are robbed, assaulted, or if your car is stolen, etc., then you attracted that to yourself. This has hideous implications if you apply this theory to horrific events like the Holocaust and 9/11.” – Marcy Montenegro


“The Secret” is the law of attraction, Byrne says:

“The law of attraction says like attracts like. … The law of attraction is giving you what you are thinking about – period!”

The secret potion is a mixture of several spiritual movements, including a large dose of New Thought, a healthy part of Positive Thinking and a generous sprinkling of Prosperity Gospel. And with a few additives from psychology, philosophy and science – shazam! – you have “The Secret”!

New Thought, which early was known as mental science, says thought is an energy of the mind that can create tangible results in the world, said Robert Fuller, religious studies professor at Bradley University in Peoria, Ill.

New Thought has many fathers, mothers and forerunners, including author Ralph Waldo Emerson; mental healer Phineas P. Quimby; Mary Baker Eddy, founder of Christian Science; and Charles and Myrtle Fillmore, founders of Unity.

Charles Fillmore described it as “a mental system that holds man as being one with God (good) through the power of constructive thinking.”

Orison Swett Marden, a prolific writer of self-help books in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, stated, “Our thoughts and imagination are the only real limits to our possibilities.”

His books “all talked about how to get what you want,” Fuller said. “It is magical thinking to believe that our thought alone is really a force that goes out. It implies that you are responsible for everything in your life.”

Wallace Wattles, whose 1910 book “The Science of Getting Rich” sparked Byrne’s quest, also is out of the New Thought movement.

“What they share in common are techniques thought to reveal the secrets of the mind, ways to unlock the depths of the human mind that is believed to be connected with powerful, spiritual energies,” said Fuller, who has spent years studying these movements.

Mental healing had convinced members of the movement that invisible energy can obtain physical benefits, Fuller said.

“The energy was believed to come from God, and it was further believed that our thoughts controlled the direction of this energy,” Fuller said. “`The Secret’ picks this up.”

“The Secret” also picks up a basic principle of Unity called the law of mind-action.

“We believe that people can attract positive or negative experiences into their lives by what they think about,” said Paula Coppel, vice president of communications for Unity. “How we view things and how we choose to respond to them shape our lives.

“So if you are a positive person, you will see more good around you and attract more good into your life, and the opposite is true.”

But there is a key difference between Unity and “The Secret,” Coppel said: “Unity is positive, practical Christianity. Our focus is not on manifesting and attracting material things but on aligning ourselves with God.

“We say, `Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and all other things will be added unto you.'”

New Thought ideas flowed into mainstream Protestantism, developing into Positive Thinking.

Its most well-known advocate was Norman Vincent Peale, who in 1952 wrote the wildly popular “Power of Positive Thinking.”

“Peale took the New Thought ideas and tied them to liberal Protestantism, keeping what was recognizably Christian,” said J. Gordon Melton, founder and director of the Institute for the Study of American Religion.

“The message changed the Gospel a little bit,” he said. “For instance, there’s not a great virtue in humility. But there was still a lot of room for most Christian virtues like being loving and kind and honesty and still believing in salvation in Christ.”

Peale wrote: “Through prayer you … make use of the great factor within yourself, the deep subconscious mind … (which Jesus called) the kingdom of God within you. … Positive thinking is just another term for faith.”

He also wrote, “Your unconscious mind … (has a) power that turns wishes into realities when the wishes are strong enough.”

Robert H. Schuller, who built the Crystal Cathedral in California and a multimillion-dollar television ministry, drew from Peale’s positive thinking to develop “possibility thinking.” These similar ideas are evident in “The Secret.”

Among Schuller’s many books are “Self-Love,” “You Can Be the Person You Want to Be” and “Living Positively One Day at a Time.”

He has said, “The only place where your dream becomes impossible is in your own thinking.”

Many of “The Secret’s” teachers are motivational speakers. One is Jack Canfield of “Chicken Soup for the Soul” fame, who says:

“Since I learned `The Secret’ and started applying it to my life, my life has truly become magical.” And: “Decide what you want. Believe you can have it. Believe you deserve it, and believe it’s possible for you.”

Another one, James Ray, who speaks on wealth, success and human potential, says: “If you think about Aladdin and his lamp, Aladdin picks up the lamp, dusts it off and out pops the Genie. The Genie always says one thing: `Your wish is my command.'”

He then says that the Genie is the universe; traditions have called the universe many things, “and you choose the one that works best for you, but every tradition has told us there’s something bigger than us. ”

Fuller from Bradley University said the positive thinkers gave a new vocabulary for understanding the covenant between humans and God.

“The Western world has tried to understand `how do I align myself with God in the universe?'” he said. “Positive thinkers help us to understand the terms of that covenant and how to put it to work.

“The terms of the covenant are simple. If you can control your thinking, you can align with the most potent powers of the universe. How appealing because I can control my own thinking, so I have a formula that I can apply to my life.”

The appeal, like “The Secret,” is broad because it can be seen in a secular or religious context, he said.

The power of one’s thinking and the pursuit of material happiness, evident in “The Secret,” can be found in the Prosperity Gospel or Word of Faith movement among Pentecostals.

This includes teachings from people like Oral Roberts, Kenneth Hagin, Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyer, T.D. Jakes, Kenneth Copeland, Fred Price, Creflo Dollar and Joel Osteen.

“In the final analysis, `The Secret’ is nothing more than Name It-Claim It, Positive Confession, Prosperity Theology – without God and the Bible – built on a foundation of New Age self-deification,” wrote Donald S. Whitney, biblical spirituality professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Ky., in a review on the Web site

“In other words, the book is just another version of what some TV preachers have taught for decades, namely, if you will sustain the right thoughts, words and feelings, you will receive whatever you want,” he wrote. “But `The Secret’ adds this important twist: Your thoughts can bring anything into your life because you are god.”

This movement teaches that through faith one can obtain good health and prosperity and that it is important to speak words of faith. The belief is that words have power and what you say in faith is what you get.

Kenneth Hagin, founder of the RHEMA Bible Training Center in Tulsa, Okla., is considered the father of the modern Word of Faith movement.

Jay Howard in a Religious Research Project article said Hagin taught there are four parts to getting from God what you desire: confessing what you want, believing that you have what you want, receiving what you want and telling others you have what you want.

The most recent face of the Prosperity Movement is Joel Osteen, pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, whose weekly average attendance is more than 30,000. A Christian Sentinel article called him “The Prosperity Gospel’s Coverboy.”

In a sermon, “Increasing in Favor,” he says: “Your words have creative power. And one of the primary ways we release our faith is through our words.”

Whitney said in an interview that those in the Word of Faith movement attempt to base their teachings on biblical passages that deal with faith.

“They would say if you have enough faith, Jesus will heal you, and God will make you prosperous,” he said. “God will do it.

“`The Secret’ people are saying you need to think the right thoughts, and the universe will give it to you because you are god.”

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Religion News Blog posted this on Friday June 8, 2007.
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