What if I promised you that you could make anything happen — anything! — just by wanting it to happen?

You would think I was crazy, and you would be right. So why is a book based on this premise selling so fast that bookstores cannot keep it on the shelves?

Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret has been on the New York Times bestseller list for months, and a DVD version is also selling out everywhere. Byrne is selling the tempting message that anything you want is possible and easy to get.

This isn’t just about keeping an optimistic attitude to improve your life — it goes far beyond that. Byrne says a force called the Law of Attraction guarantees that if you think positive thoughts about what you want, you will get it. “The Universe” will bend over backwards to hand you whatever you wish for: money, a better job, a spouse, anything.

Byrne’s claims are absurd on their face. She swears repeatedly that the Law of Attraction never fails, that it’s as reliable as the law of gravity. So what happens if two people both use “the secret” to make opposite things happen — for instance, if one wanted a sunny day and the other wanted rain?

Somehow, Byrne forgets to address this topic.

But that’s not the worst part. Among all the positive rhetoric are some very ugly concepts. While you are rearranging the universe to suit your own wishes, Byrne claims, you must avoid people who might inspire negative thoughts. So you should never look at overweight people or let sick people tell you about their illness.

Furthermore, if some people are poor, it “is because they are blocking money from coming to them with their thoughts.” (Jesus Christ, she announces, was actually a millionaire). And people involved in tragedies and disasters brought it on themselves. They did not want enough not to “be in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Friends, I am not exaggerating. It’s all in there.

Tim Watkin reports in the Washington Post, “I watched Bob Proctor... one of the ‘gurus’ Byrne quotes most often, being asked on ‘Nightline’ whether the starving children of Darfur had ‘manifested’ — that is, visualized — their own misery. In utter seriousness, he replied, ‘I think the country probably has.’”

 

But Byrne is not saying you should not care about other people. You should care about them — because it is good for you: “If you think thoughts of love, guess who receives the benefits — you!”

Unfortunately, people are really swallowing this stuff. And it is dangerous. The book contains examples of people who supposedly cured themselves of cancer without treatment, and people who bought expensive things because they just knew the money was coming in — I saw many of those in bankruptcy court when I was a practicing attorney. Karin Klein reports in the Los Angeles Times, “Therapists tell me they’re starting to see patients who are headed for real trouble, immersing themselves in a dream world in which good things just come.”

Byrne has scammed millions of people by appealing to their pride and greed, and she is making a fortune. But I will tell you this for free: Byrne’s hot new trend is simply a repetition of the oldest lie there is — “You shall be like God.”

That’s the secret, not of success, but of misery.

For further reading

Tim Watkin, “Self-Help’s Slimy ‘Secret’,” Washington Post, 8 April 2007, B01.

Karin Klein, “Self-Help Gone Nutty,” Los Angeles Times, 13 February 2007.

Lynn Yaeger, “Shopping with The Secret,” Village Voice, 20 March 2007.

Douglas Todd, “Here’s a Secret: It’s All Your Fault After All,” Vancouver Sun, 28 April 2007.

Victoria Moore, “It’s Become the Fastest-Selling Self-Help Book Ever, But Is The Secret Doing More Harm than Good?Daily Mail (London), 26 April 2007.

Anita Wadhwani, “‘Secret’ Book Attracts Christian Fire,” Tennessean, 20 April 2007.

Jennifer E. Jones, “What Lies beneath ‘The Secret’,” CBN.com.

Froma Harrop, “The Sickness behind ‘The Secret’,” Detroit News, 21 April 2007.

Martha Anderson, “Spirituality—American Style,” The Point, 16 February 2007.

Kristine Steakley, “Think about It,” The Point, 23 March 2007.

Lori Smith, “‘Faith, Trust, and Pixie Dust’,” BreakPoint Online, 24 April 2006.

BreakPoint Commentary No. 930422, “Prosperity Preachers: Which Gospel Are They Preaching?

BreakPoint Commentary No. 040302, “Miserable in the Midst of Plenty: The Progress Paradox.”

BreakPoint Commentary No. 060824, “Vanity of Vanities: The Source of Happiness.”

Mark Earley, former State Senator (1988-1998) and Attorney General of Virginia (1998-2001), became president of Prison Fellowship on February 1, 2002. As President and CEO of Prison Fellowship USA, Earley oversees the national ministry founded by Charles Colson in 1976, which has since spread to 108 countries in addition to the United States. Prison Fellowship’s core commitments are Fellowshipping with Jesus, Visiting Prisoners, and Welcoming Their Children. Earley is a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, where he received a B.A. in Religion.  He earned a juris doctor degree from Marshall-Wythe School of Law.  He resides in Lansdowne, Virginia, with his wife, the former Cynthia Breithaupt, and their six children.

© 2004-2006 Prison Fellowship. Used with permission.