Hi and welcome back! Lately, we’ve been talking about how the cult of positive thinking invaded and remade Christianity. And well, we couldn’t possibly explore the topic of positive thinking without also covering the pseudoscience snoozefest that is The Secret. Later tonight, I’ll be posting a review of this 2006 documentary. But first, as is our custom, I’m posting this pre-review warmup so we can chat in the comments! If you’re watching the doco with me, feel free to comment with your hot takes. And if you’re not, then enjoy our suffering vicariously!
What Even Is This?
The documentary inspired Byrne’s bestselling book of the same name, which was published the same year. And from those sources flowed a vast number of related stuff: guided journals, derivative self-help books, and who even knows what else. Publishers quickly translated the book into many different languages, as well.
Many millions of people have bought into this whole thing. They try hard to live their lives according to Byrne’s suggestions.
The ideology of The Secret centers around what Byrne called the law of attraction. That’s just a rewording of the power of positive thinking that Norman Vincent Peale popularized. It tells people that if they simply think very hard about what they want, then the universe itself will bend the laws of physics and ignore its usual karmic laws to get that thing for them.
Christians and the Law of Attraction.
The first thing to say about The Secret is that it isn’t new, and it isn’t a secret. The Secret is simply the latest version of “mind over matter.”
Stackhouse links it to gnosticism, but that’s a really high-falutin’ version. His main issue with it seems to revolve around its “relativism.” That’s hilarious to me. Christianity itself is the most relativistic thing in the world. However, Christians so rarely understand that point. We’ll be talking more about this guy’s post in this series, so I’ll just leave it here for now:
Stackhouse and many other Christian leaders dismissed The Secret. However, many millions of fundagelicals didn’t care. They had already practiced its ideas for years in their own Low Christianity style.
Fundagelicals call their version of the ideology Word of Faith and/or prosperity gospel. They simply assign their god the job of bringing them the toys they’re thinking very hard about as rewards, rather than considering the universe as that agent. Accordingly, they recast the thinking-hard part as prayer.
Otherwise, this version functions nearly identically to Byrne’s conceptualization.
Sourcing The Secret.
Just as we saw in The Toronto Blessing (TTB), a big muddle of influences came together to create an audience for Rhonda Byrne’s wackadoodle ideas.
I don’t think The Secret could even exist without those earlier Christian movements. Those movements likely derived from the New Thought movement that began in the early 19th century. And New Thought itself probably derives from an 18th-century Christian group called New Church.
All those earlier trends and fads and movements created a huge audience of people who already bought into the general framework involved.
Not only Christians bought into it, either. Christians’ cultural influence and the age of the concepts themselves ensured that a lot of non-Christians stood ready to receive Rhonda Byrne’s message.
Everyone, Meet Rhonda Byrne.
Born in 1945 in Australia (1951 according to another source), Rhonda Byrne seems at first glance to be the usual wackadoodle in desperate search of the right audience — and the riches that come from selling nonsense to a properly-gullible audience.
She claims that her father’s death in 2004 drove her to discover this “Law of Attraction.” His death spiraled her into a deep depression. Her daughter, she tells us, advised she read The Science of Getting Rich. Yes, because obviously that’s what any loving daughter would suggest to a deeply-depressed mother dealing with the death of her own father.
That book was published originally in 1910; its writer is a New Thought leader named Wallace D. Wattles. It centers on the idea that becoming fantastically wealthy involves changing one’s mindset. See, Wattles taught the Law of Attraction, which he called “the Certain Way.” He insisted that this Certain Way mindset creates wealth attraction. As Rhonda Byrne told Oprah Winfrey, an ardent proponent of The Secret,
“Something inside of me had me turn the pages one by one, and I can still remember my tears hitting the pages as I was reading it. […] It gave me a glimpse of The Secret. It was like a flame inside of my heart. And with every day since, it’s just become a raging fire of wanting to share all of this with the world.”
And the Reality.
This gal didn’t come out of the clear blue sky. Neither did her ideas. I can tell she was gearing up to something like this, aching for this kind of success her entire life. But she couldn’t come up with an idea of her own to get her there. She tried all sorts of different routes to that fame and power she craved, but nothing struck gold until The Secret.
The sheer and absolute-unit level of nonsense involved tells me that her previous life wasn’t going too well for her. With The Secret, she went big to avoid going home.
The reality of The Secret appears quite different from the official story. Over on IMDB.com, we see that Byrne amassed a few TV and movie credits to her name before finally hitting upon success with The Secret. Most revolved around psychic fluff and UFOs. None appear to have performed particularly well. Most didn’t even garner enough viewer interest to rate an official synopsis from the site or its users. Her career involved television production, which ensured that the documentary came before the book.
I do believe that Byrne got her hands on Wattles’ book. Her ideas sound extremely similar at first glance. And she probably got her hands on it around the time she says she did. Had she encountered it earlier, she’d have created The Secret much sooner. She recognized its potential with lightning speed, and so she took advantage of it immediately. That much is clear.
It probably smelled like a successful idea to her, which is why I also believe that her story about reading Wattles’ book and then diving deeply into similar trends and schools of thought. She’d have known perfectly well that for her new bid for attention to be successful, she had to translate those trends and schools into a more modern paradigm.
My expectations, therefore, remain quite low for the documentary. I’m expecting a lot of pseudoscience, but also a lot of shoehorning-in of New Thought wackadoodlery. I’ll be watching as well for similarities between The Secret and prosperity gospel.
That’s about it.
Knowing that Rhonda Byrne is deeply involved with the 2020 movie coming out just makes me dislike her, and this documentary, all the more.
The Secret: Dare to Dream.
Eventually, we’re reviewing this new movie as well. We almost have to, really, don’t we? After learning exactly how New Thought came from New Church and then influenced Word of Faith, I now come full circle to the Law of Attraction finally reaching apotheosis as a full-frontal and explicitly-stated fundagelical belief.
It’s like someone finally got around to telling Rhonda Byrne that fundagelicals exist and already do exactly what her nonsense preaches, so she decided to improvise, adapt, and overcome. It’s The Secret, just this time with movie stars pretending to be TRUE CHRISTIANS™!
Originally, I wanted to drink Godiva chocolate liqueur tonight. However, coronavirus fears have basically shut down my city. My state isn’t handling this disease very well at all, so I don’t want to venture out simply to buy a bottle of booze. Maybe next movie! (I’ve volunteered to review an Easter-themed movie next month, and what could be better, thematically, than a chocolate liqueur for that?)
So today, we will be imbibing the gorgeous bright notes of homemade limoncello in iced orange San Pellegrino. I’ve loved this combo for a bit now — and I want to be drinking something that tastes absolutely delicious so I come out of this review with at least one happy memory of the time spent!
The glass, such as it is, is my 1991 Texas Renaissance Festival mug. I’ve got mugs from pretty much ALL the years I was in Texas. It’s not my all-time favorite — I think that honor belongs to one from the late 80s — but it’s close. It’s big and it has a handle, so I’m taking it out of the china cabinet for a spin!
I’m starting the documentary at 5:30pm Pacific Time — please join me! In comments below, feel free to add your own hot takes or any other comments you like. It’s only an hour and a half long, so consider this post an Off-Topic Wonderland as well!
NEXT UP: Later tonight, look for the official movie review. I’ll clean up the worst of my typos, unless they’re funny, and get it up before I pass out.
See you in the comments!