"You hold in your hands a Great Secret," reads the dust jacket for the bestselling book The Secret (Simon & Schuster—Atria Books/Beyond Words, 2006). The intriguing text continues, "This centuries old Secret has been understood by some of the most prominent people in history … Now The Secret is being revealed to the world." Within its pages author Rhonda Byrne reveals her ambitious purpose: "My intention in creating The Secret was—and still is—that it will bring joy to billions around the world" (xi).
Although Byrne still has a lot of ground to cover before reaching billions, record-breaking sales of The Secret, spurred by promotion by Oprah Winfrey and via other media venues, have resulted in the latest self-help phenomenon. A companion to the popular direct-to-DVD film of the same title, The Secret features more than two dozen individuals including New Age authors Jack Canfield and Neale Donald Walsch. The book makes some amazing claims, touching upon finances, relationships, health, and more.
But what is The Secret all about? A closer look reveals answers that are anything but new or secret. At its core, The Secret emphasizes the "law of attraction," a principle it claims is supported throughout the centuries by such luminaries as Buddha, Plato, Jesus, Beethoven, Charles Fillmore (the founder of Unity, a mind science religion), Einstein, and many other "great avatars and master teachers from the past," (xiv) as well as various religions including Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity (4). Simply put, the "law of attraction" is the secret to health, wealth, and happiness. Our thoughts, claims Byrne, create reality. We need simply master the "law of attraction" to draw whatever we want into our lives.
In addition to the concept that human beings create their own reality with their thoughts, The Secret clearly presents monistic pantheism (all is one, all is divine). This is, in fact, an underlying theme of the book. Since, according to The Secret, all is one and all is energy, Byrne comes to the typical pantheistic conclusion: "You are God in a physical body… You are a cosmic being… You are the creator…" (164; see also 155, 156, 159, 160 and 162). Earlier Byrne writes, "We are all connected, and we are all part of the One Energy Field, or the One Supreme Mind, or the One Consciousness, or the One Creative Source…we are all One" (162).
Monistic pantheism is a seriously flawed worldview that leaves no room for personality, can supply no viable distinctions between good and evil, and excludes the transcendent, personal God of Christian theism. If all is one, then there are no longer distinctions between good and evil. As a result, pantheism can offer no secure framework for universal moral values. In addition, The Secret claims the law of attraction is merely an impersonal force of the universe. If all is one, one is all, and all is energy, there is no room for personality within the belief system of The Secret. The concept of the law of attraction results in the conclusion that everything that happens in one's life is the result of our thoughts creating reality. According to the principles of The Secret, this means that those who are, for instance, raped, molested, beaten, or brutally murdered—whether adults or children—have brought all these things on themselves through their own thoughts. This is hardly a satisfactory answer to the problem of human suffering.
Although some of the concepts presented in The Secret are admirable, such as the emphasis on expressing gratitude (74ff.), the core concepts of the law of attraction, that everything is energy, and that all is one are inadequate explanations of reality. For instance, while The Secret repeatedly emphasizes the value and importance of love and feelings in general (30-33), these are concepts that make no sense within a pantheistic worldview. According to The Secret, the law of attraction is "impartial and impersonal" (27). Despite the impersonal underpinnings of the worldview of The Secret, Byrne wants it both ways—an impersonal universe that is somehow also personal. Communication requires personality. If our thoughts really do transmit on certain frequencies, as The Secret repeatedly claims, and these thoughts directly communicate with the universe, then something must be personal. However, the worldview of The Secret cannot support personality, much less personal interactions, without inherently contradicting its views that all is energy and the law of attraction is impersonal.
Christianity, claims Byrne, also knows "the secret." The Secret even quotes the King James Version of Mark 11:24 as an example of how to use the law of attraction (47ff., 54). This biblical passage reads, "Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them." By quoting these words of Jesus, Byrne is suggesting that Jesus knew "the secret." But did he? Hardly. Byrne is committing not only an error in interpretation of the biblical text, but also a worldview error. Jesus was a Jew and, consequently, a theist. The passage must be interpreted in context, realizing that first century Jews believed in a personal, loving, transcendent God who created the universe. This is diametrically opposed to the worldview of The Secret which claims that "god" is all, impersonal, and part of the universe. Moreover, the passage cited from Mark is about prayer to a personal, loving God. It is not a law of attraction or formula to get what we want. Rather, prayer is personal and must be within God's will in order to be answered.
Christ did not teach that we are all divine energy beings capable of mastering the law of attraction. Instead, he taught that we are all sinners in need of radical redemption that involves humbling ourselves before the one awesome, transcendent, and holy God. Far from promising perfect health and wealth, Jesus called his followers to deny themselves, take up their cross and follow him (Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23). His followers did not promote "the secret." Instead, they were martyred for their belief that Christ was God in the flesh who came, died, and was resurrected so that we might have eternal life. Jesus and his followers did not teach hidden truths or secrets. Jesus himself said, "I have spoken openly to the world…I always taught in synagogues or at the temple, where all the Jews come together. I said nothing in secret" (John 18:20 NIV).
In Matthew 16:26, Jesus said, "What does it benefit a person if he gains the whole world but forfeits his life?" (NET). The Secret is all about acquiring health and wealth—feeling good, being joyful in life, and manipulating "the law of attraction" in order to get what we want. But as Christ pointed out, life is not about gaining "the whole world." What is at stake is our eternal destiny. The pantheism of The Secret and Christian theism cannot both be true. Since pantheism is an inconsistent, deficient worldview, it falls far short of being a robust belief system. Christianity, on the other hand, makes sense of reality in a way that is both emotionally satisfying and intellectually rigorous. The true "secret" is no secret at all, but is revealed openly in the pages of the Bible. God came to us in human form, died for our sins, and was bodily resurrected so that we would humble ourselves before him and receive his gift of salvation. That gift is not mere temporal health and wealth, but eternal life in a relationship with the Creator of the universe.
Robert Velarde is the author of The Lion, the Witch, and the Bible (NavPress).