'The Secret' combines spiritual movements, pop psychology

The book and DVD state that your dreams can come true if you unlock the power of your mind.

McClatchy Newspapers/June 6, 2007
By Helen T. Gray

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" 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 on 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 Garden Grove 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."

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