Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Ancient Cults and The Secret

In ancient cults, gods were primarily conceived as impersonal forces that are unconcerned with people at a personal level but would condescend to bestow material abundance upon those who perform the correct ritual acts (and surely bestow ills upon those who do not). Judaism introduced the idea that there is just one God (or at least only one really powerful god), but more importantly, that God actually cared about humans. Still, though, there was the idea that the human covenant with God was an exchange of loyalty and service for material abundance. One of the core themes of Christianity that I identify with is the denial of this sort of relationship. We do not serve God so that we can get money and riches but because we voluntarily believe it is the best and right way to realize value.*  God calls us to enter into His being, and we can choose to do so or not to do so.

* With the denial that God acts by bestowing riches or punishments in the material world, some Christians took to the idea that the rewards and punishments must come in the next world: Heaven and Hell. These are even more egregious theological mistakes, but I do not take them to be core notions in Christianity but rather a corruption.

Rhonda Byrne sets religious thinking back three thousand years with The Secret. The universe is here conceived as an energetic force that physically manifests whatever you think about. This is the law of attraction: think good thoughts, and you will attract good things. Think bad thoughts, and you will attract bad things.
There are probably hundreds of self-help books that emphasize positive thinking, and I believe that there is more power to intention and mind than is usually given heed. The big problem with The Secret is that it goes far beyond the typical bromides of positive thinking and presents thought creation as the fundamental metaphysical law of the universe. Apparently we can do away with all other physical, biological, and economic categories of explanation because we now have the law of attraction! Why do rich people have lots of money? Because they think thoughts of wealth, of course. Why are fat people fat? Because they think fat thoughts, of course. Why were six million Jews murdered in Nazi Germany? Well, uh, because their thoughts were on the wrong frequency.

I am not making this up:

Often [people] recall events in history where masses of lives were lost, and they find it incomprehensible that so many people could have attracted themselves to the event. By the law of attraction, they had to be on the same frequency as the event. It doesn’t necessarily mean they thought of that exact event, but the frequency of their thoughts matched the frequency of the event. If people believe they can be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and they have no control over outside circumstances, those thoughts of fear, separation, and powerlessness, if persistent, can attract them to being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

In the ancient cults, the fundamental attribution error occurred by explaining circumstances away by how pleased the gods were with someone. Why did the Smiths get a good harvest? Why, they must have pleased the gods well, unlike those Joneses down the street living in squalor. They must be the type of people that don’t please the gods well.

The Secret encourages you to perform the same type of error by explaining away all circumstances by attributing them to the thoughts of people. The universe manifests all that you think so that you can have all you want, and whatever happens in your life is brought about by your own thoughts. Byrne encourages you to use the law of attraction to get rich (there is a huge emphasis in the book on manifesting lots of money) and maintain your body exactly as you want it (apparently we only “age” because we think it has to happen). If good things happen to you; congratulations, you are using The Secret well! If bad things happen to you; well, you’ve got to try a little harder to avoid negative thoughts and just have positive thoughts.

Occasionally, I found a few sentences in The Secret that if lifted out and taken out of context might be agreeable. However, I found the total context of The Secret to be deeply offensive on philosophical, religious, scientific, moral, and common-sense grounds.

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