Monday, August 02, 2010

Be Scofield - When Positive Thinking Becomes Religion: How “The Secret” and Law of Attraction Poison Spirituality

Be Scofield takes on the magical thinking and spiritual materialism crowd in his recent article at Tikkun Daily. I'm sure he will get some serious flack for this, but it's a necessary article. I've already taken a stand against this crap over the years, so it's good to see it getting into the mainstream a little more.

When Positive Thinking Becomes Religion: How “The Secret” and Law of Attraction Poison Spirituality

by: Be Scofield on August 1st, 2010

Esther-Hicks channels magnetic entities which she calls "Abraham"

Rhonda Byrne, author of the best selling DVD/book "The Secret" is releasing a sequel in August called "The Power."

We must understand that the founder of a cult or new religion has no room for compromise: absolutes are necessary. True believers in mystical psychotherapy will not embrace a gospel with modest claims: it must be all or nothing. – Martin Larson

“He could go to school and daydream.” That was the advice given by positive thinking guru, law of attraction teacher and “channel” Esther Hicks aka “Abraham” to a black woman who asked how her son should approach learning about the difficult history of slavery in school. After telling the curious mother “none of that [slavery] has anything to do with him,” and that “he won’t have to deal with it” Abraham-Hicks proceeded to equate the teaching of African-American history with a family legacy of passing down “bad” feelings. But this is nothing compared to what she said about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. When the woman asked her about a way to interpret his life in an empowering way for her son Esther-Hicks launched into something that can be best described as an ignorant stream of psychobabble. She described his vision in the vaguest of terms and then said, “He lost sight of his dream momentarily…he began to push against. And when one pushes against in a very fast moving stream abrupt things happened…It’s trying to get others to agree with us about our dreams that causes backlash. But when we just dream them ourselves…the resources of the universe come into alignment with us.” Blaming Dr. King for his own death was paired with her instruction to the woman to not tell her son about the unjust things that Dr. King had to struggle against. Her point was that slavery, racism and segregation are all “negative” and so therefore we aren’t supposed to think about them. And if all of this wasn’t bad enough, when responding to a question on Oprah’s radio show about how the law of attraction would lead to a young girl attracting her own rape and murder, Esther-Hicks responded by saying parents don’t teach their children how to think properly and they are influenced by the negative thinking of the adults around them. She told Oprah, “if they are listening to the guidance within they could not comfortably ever settle on the thoughts that would lead them to attract something unwanted.”

Esther-Hicks is not a fringe teacher, nor an exception, but much more the rule amongst a chorus of spiritual teachers that ally themselves with the latest positive thinking fad known as the “law of attraction.” As the self-proclaimed original source of the modern craze for the law of attraction, Esther-Hicks was featured in the original version of Rhonda Byrne’s 2006 mega-bestselling hit The Secret. Reportedly paid $500,000 for her role she was removed from the second and current version once Byrne decided that no presenters would receive compensation. Esther-Hicks has also appeared on the Oprah radio show, has spoken to tens-of-thousands and has sold hundreds of thousands of books promoting this law which as I demonstrate below is anything but and nothing new. And like The Secret, Esther-Hicks gains credibility from other well known teachers. Dr. Wayne Dyer says Abraham are “great Masters of the Universe,” while Louise Hay says they are “some of the best teachers on the planet today” (apparently the channel Abraham are not just one magnetic energy but many and thus at times referred to in the plural). When speaking about Esther-Hicks’ book Ask and it is Given, Dyer even told his audience “Whether you believe in channeling or not, please open yourself to this information because it is the most valuable information you can hear.” Kathlyn and Gay Hendricks, law of attraction teachers themselves, support Esther’s teachings and state that Esther and Jerry Hicks are “two people of high integrity whom I admire very much.”

Cast members from "The Secret" being interviewed on the Oprah Winfrey Show

Despite the removal of Esther-Hicks, The Secret has done extraordinarily well, selling over four million copies with 19 million in print. Byrne’s skills as an infomercial and television producer paid off extremely well. The movie’s flashy graphics, creative storyline and Davinci Code-esque ink stamp logo with quill pen captured the imagination of spiritual America. Her gross misappropriation of such figures as Socrates and Emerson as Secret practitioners also helped convince her audience. And now she is set to release a new book called The Power. With a first printing of two million it’s almost guaranteed to be another blockbuster. But as I illustrate below The Secret is filled the same sort of ignorant, harmful and racist teachings that Esther-Hicks promotes and it is supported by media personalities and spiritual teachers. Will The Power be any different? Will Larry King and Oprah who have both featured the cast of The Secret on their shows multiple times continue to uncritically promote Byrne and law of attraction preachers? Oprah had a look of amazement on her face during The Secret show and concluded, “Watch it with your children. I think it would be amazing to start your children with this kind of thinking.” When will Michael Beckwith (one of only two black people in the movie) who continues to promote himself with The Secret take a stand against the racism of these new prophets of positive thinking? The Secret received a large amount of criticism in the press but where are the spiritual leaders taking a speak out against this new form of fundamentalism that hides behind the false layer of feel good, instant gratification, commercialized spirituality? And perhaps most importantly, what does a healthy and responsible spirituality grounded in the reality of structural inequality look like?

A Very Brief History of Positive Thinking

Exactly fifty years before Rhonda Byrne published The Secret the first positive thinking audio program was released on vinyl record. Named The Strangest Secret it was produced by Earl Nightengale in 1956 and its release was a breakthrough moment in the history of the audio self-help genre as it sold over one million copies. His LP also shares the same central message as The Secret, “we become what we think about,” and he appeals to the same sources of authority such as Emerson and Socrates. After his phenomenal success Nightengale went on to form Nightengale Content, one of the largest self-help audiobook publishers. Whether or not Byrne borrowed the title is something only she knows but what is certain is that the The Secret and law of attraction are nothing new. They draw from a variety of sources both religious and secular.

Byrne's inspiration behind "The Secret" states, "Do not talk about poverty; do not investigate it, or concern yourself with it...Get rich; that is the best way you can help the poor."

Nightengale’s LP was one of many secular teachings about positive thinking in the twentieth century. Two of the best selling depression era books were on the subject. Selling more than 30 million copies since it’s release in 1937 Napolean Hill’s Think and Grow Rich condensed the ideas of some of the most wealthy people of the era into 13 principles of personal achievement. The similarities to the modern day positive thinking movement are clear. The classic book states, “thoughts, like magnets, attract to us the forces, the people, the circumstances of life which harmonize with [them].” Thus the goal is to “magnetize our minds with intense desire for riches.” Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People also published in 1937 and another first amongst the positive thinking genre has sold over 15 million copies to date. The earliest source of positive affirmations comes from the french pharmacist Emile Coue who in the 1910’s began employing “auto-suggestion” by teaching his patients to repeat the affirmation “Everyday and in every way things are getting better and better.” The Science of Getting Rich published in 1910 by Wallace D. Wattles is the book that inspired Byrne to write The Secret. Because of the recent affiliation and promotion by Byrne it has achieved a renewed interest but it is filled with troublesome statements like this, “Do not talk about poverty; do not investigate it, or concern yourself with it…Get rich; that is the best way you can help the poor.” And in the 1950’s Norman Vincent Peale turned on America by merging Christianity with techniques for overcoming daily problems in The Power of Positive Thinking.

The religious origins of positive thinking and the law of attraction also known as New Thought are attributed to Phineas Parkhurst Quimby, a 19th century mesmerist and clockmaker. Rejecting the dominant Calvinism of his day, he recognized how this theology terrorized the hearts and minds of America by threatening them with God’s immanent and unpredictable judgment of hellfire and damnation. Quimby believed this was a primary cause of a predominant form of illness at the time labeled as “neurasthenia,” or invalidism. Its symptoms included weakness, insomnia, headaches, tiredness, digestive problems and aching backs. Thus one of his methods of healing was to simply explain to his patients that the harsh worldview of Calvinism wasn’t actually real and that the universe was fundamentally benevolent, loving and caring. As an alternative to the bleeding, purging and other rudimentary tactics used to cure this illness, the “mind-cure” method proved much more appealing. Prominent 19th century figures such as William James, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Jane Addams and Margaret Sanger all suffered with invalidism at some point in their lives. Mary Baker Eddy experienced this debilitating illness from a young age and it was only when meeting with Quimby in 1863 that she was healed. After Quimby passed away a few years later, Eddy stole his teachings, claimed them as her own and then branded them as Christian Science (Quimby used this label at least once in his writings.)

Mary Baker Eddy, founder of Christian Science

Decisively a Christian, Eddy and others believed they had discovered the same healing techniques of Jesus. An important point of clarification here is that this 19th century Christian root of New Thought (coined around 1895) is what distinguishes it from the later New Age movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s characterized by crystals, chakra healings, trance mediums and channeling. Based on the Bible, the various strains within the New Thought movement such as Christian Science, Unity, Divine Science and Religious Science appealed to disenchanted Christians who rejected the traditional forms of the faith. While not monolithic the movement drew from common sources of inspiration such as Emerson’s transcendentalism, the Gospels, Hinduism and the Swedenborgian influenced spiritism movement. Some of the general principles were that the kingdom of heaven is within us, God is universal love and wisdom and one with humans, mental states lead to sickness and health, and that humans can experience the infinite power of the divine through healing, creativity and beauty. There were numerous contributors and popularizers to this fast growing movement – too many to be named but among the most significant were; Emma Curtis Hopkins known as the “teachers of teachers” for the pivotal role she played teaching many New Thought leaders; Warren Felt Evans, author of six volumes of New Thought ideas; Horatio Dresser, editor of The Quimby Manuscripts and Ernest Holmes author of The Science of Mind and founder of Religious Science.

As one of the early contributors to the positive thinking and law of attraction movements Eddy, who was quite dogmatic laid the groundwork for the disturbing and irresponsible claims about the power of our minds to heal sickness. Look at how she spoke of the power of belief in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,

That the body can suffer from heat, cold or fatigue is only a false belief…The arm grows strong only because he believes that exercise will make it so…Man requires meat and bread only because of his delusions; when first created, man’s life was self-sustaining. Food neither helps nor harms. Eating never made a man live nor has abstention from it ever caused death…A boil cannot be painful, for it merely manifests by inflammation and swelling a belief which is called a boil…When a bone is broken or a head chopped off, the man remains unchanged.

It’s no wonder that many Christian Scientists to this day refuse medical treatment because of their magical beliefs in the power of the mind. But what is more striking is the similarity between Eddy’s early irrational claims about sickness and those of The Secret. Rhonda Byrne doesn’t get flu shots because, “if you’re feeling good, how can you attract any illness to you?” Bob Proctor states, “Disease cannot live in a body that’s in a healthy emotional state,” and Michael Beckwith claims because of The Secret “I’ve seen kidneys regenerated. I’ve seen cancer dissolved.” The Secret states, “if someone is overweight, it came from thinking fat thoughts.”

The Shadow of The Secret

You can have, be, or do anything you want, all you need to do is ask, believe and receive - The Secret

The Secret promises the power of God. Based on an absolutist version of the law of attraction it explains all phenomena, both positive and negative as the direct result of an individual’s thinking. The widely accepted principle that your thoughts affect your reality is taken to an extreme that can be best described as fundamentalism. The Secret states, “Likewise, there are no exclusions for the law of attraction. If something came to you, you drew it, with prolonged thought. The law of attraction is precise.” One of the contributors chiropractor Dr. Joe Vitale explains, “You’re going to immediately say, ‘I didn’t attract the car accident…I didn’t particularly attract the debt.’ And I’m here to be a little bit in your face and to say, yes you did attract it.” James Aurthur Ray told an audience, “The Law of Attraction says like attracts like…you lock into something…and BANG! You’ve got a Mercedes. And that’s how it works.” Joe Vitale states, “This is like having the universe as your catalogue and you flip through it and go, ‘Well I’d like to have this experience and I’d like to have that product and I’d like to have a person like that’ … It is you just placing your order with the universe. It’s really that easy.”The Secret describes example after example, cancer, huge bills and hardship are all results of people’s negative thoughts while checks arriving at the door, success and being cured from breast cancer are examples of the power of The Secret. Yes, the DVD advises you to visit their website, print out a copy of a blank check from the “Bank of the Universe,” fill in your dollar amount and wait for the money to start rolling in. To top this off the film shows a young boy in Africa being healed with a “gratitude” rock, advises abused women to write down all of the positive things about their abusive partners, a young boy manifesting a bike almost instantly and a woman visualizing an expensive piece of jewelry to have it appear moments later.

James Arthur Ray from "The Secret" said, "I know many people, for instance, of the Jewish faith and heritage, who don't necessarily believe that the Holocaust was bad."

The Secret employs a wide range of “authority” figures, all of whom are highly successful in their endeavors to provide the legitimacy for the principles being taught. 24 people (19 white men, one black man, one black woman and three white women) hold a variety of jobs including a business consultant, sales coach, investor, chiropractor, Feng Shui master, spiritual teacher, author, doctor, physicist, marketing specialist and personal coach among others. Although these titles aren’t always what they seem. James Aurthur Ray who is now facing three counts of manslaughter for deaths in his $10,000 per head sweat lodge ceremony claims to be a “philosopher.” However, he admitted in an interview that he is a few hours short of a B.A. in behavioral science. (ABC recently did a full length show on James Ray and his Sedona sweat lodge disaster.) And Joe Vitale is a doctor of chiropractic who now offers the “Rolls Royce Phantom Mastermind” experience. For a low price of $7,500 you can spend three hours riding in a Rolls Royce with Vitale while discussing your future riches. The movie also grossly missapropriates Socrates, Beethoven, Joseph Campbell, Buddha, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Emerson and Einstein to claim that they all used The Secret. When the Buddha said, “We are what we think” I’m doubtful that he meant as The Secret claims “Like Aladdin’s Genie, the law of attraction grants our every command.”

The Secret is overly obsessed with money and is filled with particularly disturbing claims in this respect. Bob Proctor states,

“Why do you think that 1 percent of the population earns around 96% of all of the money that’s being earned? Do you think that’s an accident? It’s designed that way. They understand something. They understand the Secret, and now you are being introduced to The Secret.”

Rhonda Byrne confirms this line of thought when speaking about those who have money,

“They focused on thoughts of wealth and the Universe moved people, circumstances, and events to deliver wealth to them. The wealth they have, you have also. The only difference between you and them is that they thought the thoughts to bring the wealth to them. Your wealth is waiting in the invisible, and to bring it into the visible, think wealth!…The only reason any person does not have enough money is because they are blocking money from coming to them with their thoughts.” [emphasis added]

Jack Canfield, author of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series describes the fruits of using the Secret while images of his Malibu mansion are shown in the background,

“Since I learned the Secret and started applying it to my life, my life has truly become magical…I live in a four-and-a-half million dollar mansion…I get to vacation in all the fabulous spots of the world. I’ve climbed mountains. I’ve explored. I’ve been on safaris. And all of this happened, and continues to happen, because of knowing how to apply The Secret.”

Read the whole article.


Anonymous said...

hey I really would see an artical about Michael Tsarion and or David Icky... a lot of people talk about those persons and I really don't know what to think about them....

Anonymous said...

There is only one author in history who has changed the way people thought about themselves in the modern era, and she is Rhonda Byrne. The Power of her thoughts cut across cultures, religions, and she continues to change the quality of life of numerous people across the world.

william harryman said...

it seems anon did not read or understand the article