On Feb. 8, 2007, the topic of a book and newly released DVD called The Secret debuted on Oprah Winfrey’s television show.1 Due to the immense response, a follow-up show aired on Feb. 16. The Secret, written by Rhonda Byrne, claims to teach us how we can create our own reality via certain attitudes, beliefs, and actions. It is not the goal of this article to share these steps, so they are referred to here only to the degree needed for this evaluation. In my past, I learned about and believed these teachings before they were called The Secret, so they are quite familiar to me.
The Secret and its Downside
The Secret is explained as a spiritual law based on the “law of attraction.” According to this “law,” we are energy and our thoughts are energy, so whatever we “put out” draws the same kind of energy back to us. If we think or believe a negative thing, such as “I will never get a good job,” then we have just “placed an order” (as one panelist on the Oprah show put it) to the universe, as one would do in a restaurant, and that is what will happen. However, if we believe, feel, and act on a something good that we desire, then that is what will come to pass. We are supposed to believe and act as if that which we desire has already come about.
Some good points were made: we should be grateful for what we have, and we should be forgiving. These attitudes are beneficial for everyone, and most likely enable us to fare better in life. However, rather than appreciating these purely for their moral value, they are taught as part of techniques that allow us to be open to receiving what we want when we learn to create our own reality.
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.
But I can tell you that this is how people who believe you create your own reality really think. People who have suffered must have attracted it into their lives. This is the kind of callous thinking that inevitably results from the belief in the “law of attraction.” So if you get cancer, break an arm, are raped, are robbed, etc., then you have brought this on yourself.
What if you practice the Secret and don’t get the result? We can only conclude that you must not have done the technique correctly, or perhaps you did not have enough belief in yourself, or you did not believe that what you wanted has already come about. Maybe you had doubts, or you were just hoping for the result rather than believing it was happening. So it’s all your fault.
Masses of Energy
“We are all just energy” – so say the self-help gurus of the Secret, and therefore we can attract positive energy if we are positive. But if we and the universe are just energy, how do we have individuality? If we exist as mere energy, how are we little more than swirling clumps with no distinction from the surrounding swirling mass of atoms and electrons and other material in the universe?
Ironically, the exalted status humanity supposedly gains due to being energy and to the ability to create reality actually reduces man to a mere part of a whole, the same as any other organic matter in the universe. But this is the necessary result of pantheism – all is God and God is all. Such a belief reduces God and humanity to a single essence with no distinctions between God, man, ants, twigs, sugar cubes, rocks, rats, mud, tomatoes, and alligators.
And if this energy is spiritual but is subject to mechanistic “laws” that can be manipulated, what kind of spiritual energy is that? It is not really spiritual but mechanical, resulting in a universe (or a God) that acts like a machine when a coin is inserted into the slot. And since we are to align with these spiritual laws through our thinking and actions, then we are mechanistic as well, merely a cog in some cosmic spiritual machine. Spirituality becomes a formula: Think, feel and do this, and you get this result.
Not only that, but if all is just energy and we are all one and the same, then there are no distinctions for anything – including good and evil. Yet the proponents of the Secret talk about positive and negative, so they are making distinctions. How are these distinctions made clear if everything is part of one energy? No matter how you slice it, the “we are all one energy” idea raises more questions than it answers, and the reasonable conclusions of this philosophy only debase both God and man.
New Thought, Old Thought
So what is secret or new about the Secret? Absolutely nothing! These are the exact same views I read and learned about for many years starting in the mid 1970’s. They derive most recently from a movement called New Thought, which has roots back to Emmanuel Swedenborg in the 18th century. Swedenborg and his successors like Anton Mesmer and Phineas Quimby taught that Jesus was a way-shower, not the Way; that illness is a result of incorrect thinking; that heaven and hell are states of mind, that throughout history there has been a Christ spirit that descends on various individuals, and that there is an energy we can “manipulate” to heal like Jesus did.
These ideas eventually became the basis for the Church of Christ Scientist (Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of this church, studied Quimby), the Church of Religious Science, and the Unity School of Christianity.2 Although the names of two of these churches contain the word “Christian,” these churches depart from the historic faith and from the Bible in proposing that man is not in sin, that God does not have wrath on sin, and that man does not need redemption. According to New Thought, man needs liberation from his illusions and incorrect thinking. Of course, if our perceptions are incorrect, wouldn’t the perception that our perceptions are erroneous be incorrect as well?
These notions, however, go back to something even older than New Thought. Believing that a technique using inner powers of the mind or will can bring about a change in the material world is also the basis of sorcery, known today in Western culture as magick.3 To materialize non-matter into matter, and to effect causal change through the power of thought is a hallmark of sorcery/magick. In essence, this is an attempt to be one’s own god, deciding for one’s self what is best and what is needed, and then endeavoring to create that desired reality.
Jesus The Christ
One of the panelists on Oprah’s show was Michael Beckwith, founder of the Agape International Spiritual Center in 1986, and described on his site as a “visionary and spiritual leader.” (Another panelist many will recognize was Jack Canfield, co-editor of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series). Beckwith and another panelist referred to Jesus as “Jesus the Christ.” This phrase reflects the view that Jesus was just one of many who had the Christ spirit, or that Jesus is one who attained a Christ consciousness, something we all can do. Jesus is not accepted as the unique Son of God and the one and only Messiah (both “Messiah” and “Christ” mean the “anointed one”) who fulfilled over 300 prophecies of the Hebrew Scriptures.
A Christian woman who raised some concerns on the Feb. 16 show was told that the Secret is utilizing a spiritual law that Jesus spoke of when he said, “Ask and believing, you shall receive” (no scriptural reference was given). She was also told that since Jesus said, “The Kingdom is within you,” heaven and hell are within us, and they do not have external existence. Oprah said that she was raised Christian and “I am a Christian,” and wondered about this as well.
The Abraham Teachings
Rhonda Byrne, author of The Secret, is a disciple of Jerry and Esther Hicks. The Hicks claim they learned this technique, which they call the Science of Deliberate Creation, from Abraham. Not Abraham as in the Bible patriarch, but Abraham as “a group of obviously evolved teachers” who “speak their broader Non-physical perspective through the physical body of Esther.”4 Basically, Esther Hicks is receiving or channeling these teachings from spirits.5
Here are the principles of the Abraham teachings from the Hicks website:
– You are a Physical Extension of that which is Non-physical.
-You are here in this body because you chose to be here.
-The basis of your life is Freedom; the purpose of your life is Joy.
-You are a creator; you create with your every thought.
-Anything that you can imagine is yours to be or do or have.
-You are choosing your creations as you are choosing your thoughts.
-The Universe adores you; for it knows your broadest intentions.
-Relax into your natural Well-being. All is well. (Really it is!)
-You are a creator of thoughtways on your unique path of joy.
-Actions to be taken and money to be exchanged are by-products of your focus on joy.
-You may appropriately depart your body without illness or pain.
-You cannot die; you are Everlasting Life.
The above points are all about you. There is no glorification of God, no exaltation of Christ, no accountability to God, but rather, man is made into a god, ruling over his own life through his own desires.
One, Two, Three: Ask, Believe, and You have it?
When Beckwith referred to the words of Jesus about asking and believing, he did not cite a reference. Undoubtedly, he was referring to Matthew 21:22: “And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive” or to Mark 11.24: “”Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you.” But we can’t leave out what Jesus first says two verses earlier in verse 22 when he says to “have faith in God.”
These passages raise two questions: What is one believing in when it says to believe? And what is prayer? The Bible is not a book of sayings from which we extract a sentence or two here and there to support a teaching totally at odds with the context of those sentences. We learn what we should believe in and what prayer is from this passage and other passages. We look at the immediate context and the whole context of scripture. To do otherwise is to abuse the text.
Prayer is submission to God’s will; prayer keeps us humble and dependent on God. It is not a technique. Faith in who Jesus is is the central point, not that we can get what we want if we just believe it. Believing that we get something is not what Jesus was teaching, but rather believing in Him. Jesus is the object of our faith.
Jesus also modeled prayer while on earth, clearly showing that prayer is petitioning God and submitting to His will (Matt 6.8-10, 26:39, 42, 44; Lk 6.28, 18.13, 21.36, 22.40; Jn 17). Prayer as Jesus demonstrated it is to align one’s will with God’s will, so that our desires are His. Jesus was echoing what is taught in the Hebrew scriptures: “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Ps 37.4). The key here is to “delight yourself in the Lord.” How? The rest of this Psalm directs us to trust in God (verses 3 and 5) and to “commit your way to the Lord” (v. 5). This Psalm informs us that a good person “delights” in God’s way (v. 23), and urges us to reject evil and do good (v. 27). Prayer changes us; it is not a method to control our universe, but rather a petition before the one true God who created the universe.
Looking at context and other similar passages, we see that belief is believing and trusting in God, and believing in Christ; and prayer is seeking and aligning with God’s will. It is clear that Jesus never taught that we can manipulate secret spiritual “laws” through prayer or belief.
The Kingdom of God is within You
“The Kingdom of God is within you” was an oft-repeated refrain when I was on my spiritual journey, and it seemed to justify the belief that we are all a part of God and He is part of everyone ? and that heaven is a spiritual state you attain on earth. Actually, this verse from Luke 17.20, 21, is more correctly translated “The Kingdom of God is among you” or “in your midst,” and this is how it appears in the modern translations. This statement from Jesus follows the account of Jesus healing the ten lepers, one of whom returns to give thanks to Christ and to glorify God.
Immediately after this account, Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees in verses 20 and 21: “Now having been questioned by the Pharisees as to when the kingdom of God was coming, He answered them and said, ?The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or, ‘There it is!’ For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst.'”
Jesus was rebuking the Pharisees in this passage, telling them that they were missing the message of the Kingdom right in their midst because they were not hearing what Jesus was saying to them. Their blindness is in contrast to the faith of the healed leper in the preceding passage.
We can see from reading the context that Luke 17 is not saying that everyone has “the kingdom of God” within them. On the contrary, the Pharisees are missing the Kingdom because they refuse to recognize Jesus as the Messiah.
The Secret and Christianity
If you are a Christian, should you attempt to use this manipulation of “spiritual laws?” Some points to seriously consider are:
- This belief reduces the power of Jesus to a mere mechanical manipulation of “spiritual laws,” denying Jesus’ miraculous acts as the supernatural powers they were (Mk 6.2; Jn 2.11, 20.30), including his miraculous healings.
- The Secret puts man in the place of God, so that we are in charge of deciding what we want and when we want it, rather than petitioning God in prayer, and submitting to Him and to the principles of Scripture, realizing our life now belongs to Christ in order to glorify Him (Prov 3.5,6; 1 Cor 6.12; 2 Cor 10.5; Gal 2.20, 3.27; Eph 2.10).
- The Secret contradicts Jesus’ words that we should first seek the Kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matt 6.33), and the teachings that we are to make Christ our priority (Rom 7:4; 2 Cor 10.5; 2 Cor 11.3; Phil 3.8; Col 3.1,3).
- The Secret ignores or denies what prayer is as Jesus taught and demonstrated it ? an attitude of humility and submission to God’s will.
- The Secret contradicts the Biblical teaching that the Lord allows Christians to suffer, and that suffering can bring growth in Christ, because in our weakness, we glorify the Lord (Matt 5.12; Rom 5.3; 2 Cor 6.4-10, 12.9, 10; 2 Tim 1:8, 3.12; James 1.2; 1 Pet 1.7, 3.17, 4:11-13).
- Faith in the New Testament is about faith in Christ, not in self, not in a formula or spiritual law, and not in one’s ability to create reality.
- Any teaching that claims to reveal “secret” or hidden laws not discoverable through normal knowledge and understanding is the hallmark of esoteric occultism and, indeed, the principles of The Secret are a form of magick. Proponents of the Secret are ignoring these words of Jesus: “I have spoken openly to the world,” Jesus replied. “I always taught in synagogues or at the temple, where all the Jews come together. I said nothing in secret” (John 18.20).
- Jesus was neither a teacher of secret laws nor a manipulator of them. Jesus displayed miraculous powers when on earth to signify and confirm that he was the prophesied Messiah, to fulfill prophecies of healing, and because He had compassion (Matt. 4.23; 8.7, 13, 16; 9.35, 36; 11.2-5; 14.14; 15.28, 30; 20.34; Mk 1.34, 41; 6.2; Lk 4.40; 5.15; 6.17-19; 19.37; 24.26-28, 44; John 2.11, 23-24; 6.2; 14.1; Acts 2.22).
Jesus and the Secret
Jesus taught in a way that even children could understand Him. The beauty of the true Jesus is that he gave a simple proclamation, to believe in him. There is no complex philosophy, esoteric message, or secret technique involved. Jesus is the antithesis of what The Secret advocates.
Jesus told his disciples he came to die and would be resurrected on the third day (Matt 16.21, 17.9-12, 20.17-19, 28; Mk 10.32; Lk 9.22, 17.25, 24.46). He suffered a terrible death to atone for sins so that we can have eternal life by God’s grace through faith in Christ (Rom 3.25, 8.1; Heb. 2.17, 9.11-15, 26; 10.10, 12-14; 1 Jn 4.10). Jesus offers eternal life with God through faith (Jn 3.15-19, 36; 5.24, 46; 6.28-30; 11.25-26; 40 8.24, 14.6; Acts 4.12).
Jesus said to her, ” I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” John 11.25-26
1 Contributors to the DVD version include Neale Donald Walsch (who wrote Conversations with God and other books), Jack Canfield (Chicken Soup for the Soul series), John Gray (Men Are from Mars, Women Are From Venus), and Michael Beckwith of the Agape International Spiritual Center, among others.
2 The Unitarian Church and the Unity Church are not the same church. The Unitarian Church was started officially by Michael Servetus, in the 16th century, as a rejection of the Trinitarian God.
3 “Magick” is a spelling preferred by some occultists. From the site of a ritual magician: “Books on positive thinking have made bestseller lists for years, and the latest of these is The Secret by Rhonda Byrne. …The essential idea of this book and others has been around for a long time. It proposes that according to the ?Law of Attraction’ our thoughts tend to become our realities, so in order to create good conditions in our lives we should visualize the conditions that we want to experience so that they can manifest. So is this magick? As I pointed out in my story on Operant Affirmations, of course it is. Ritual magick is predicated on many of the same ideas. . . [ . . . ] ritual magick is a collection of techniques that allow thought to create reality in especially efficient and effective ways. A ritual procedure is a way of tuning the mind to a specific idea and that idea alone, in order to focus all of the energy of thought upon a single point. Engaging the bioenergetic centers of the nervous system empowers this single-pointed thought, transforming it into single-pointed will.” Ananael Qaa, “Ritual Magick vs. Positive Thinking,” http://www.augoeides.net/story/2007/2/8/15177/50661
4 See the Hicks’ website at http://www.abraham-hicks.com/about_us.php
5 God strongly denounces and forbids spirit contact: Lev 19.31, 20.6; Deut 18.9, 11; 2 Kings 21.6; 1 Chron 10.13; Is 8.19. The only spirits who exist are angels, and good angels do not respond to communication initiated by humans. See CANA article on this topic at http://cana.userworld.com/cana_spiritcontact1.html