Oprah’s Secret: New? Old? Good? Bad?

Oprah Winfrey’s latest spiritual sensation is The Secret. Her talk show has featured it prominently, her website presents a lot of material on it, and she directs us to those who are now marketing The Secret through webcasts, DVDs, and other media that more than coincidentally recall The Da Vinci Code.

The Secret promises a better life for everyone. Testimonies abound from those who have found business success, romance, marital happiness, emotional and physical healing, and weight loss (not to be despised) through applying The Secret. So should we, as the advertisements proclaim, prepare for “a new era for mankind”?

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.”

In some cultures, yes, this sort of teaching was kept secret–literally, “esoteric.” Only initiates could find out that the world was not, in fact, the material stuff we all naturally think it is, but is in fact essentially spirit or–in a term more acceptable to those in the age of quantum mechanics–”energy.” Seeing the spiritual essence of things was the great knowledge–in Greek, the gnosis–that let one free oneself from material encumbrances to enjoy a higher life. Thus The Secret is simply the newest packaging for gnosticism, a religious impulse that courses through a variety of religions around the world and that has been making a comeback in our own time.

To be sure, this particular form of gnosticism is particularly suited to our age in that it does not call us away from the material world to a better, spiritual one, but instead tells us that there is just one cosmos of energy that we can then manipulate by force of will. So you can have all the spiritual rewards you want plus all the material rewards you want as well–just by choosing to have them.

Proponents of The Secret don’t put it quite that way, to be sure. They speak instead of good attitudes, good beliefs, good intentions, and good actions. All of those, however, emerge from choices we make. The Secret therefore simply is that we can have everything we want and be whomever we want to be by force of will.

Some viewers are recorded on Oprah’s website as raising questions about the compatibility of this view with Christianity–as well they might. The soothing answer, however, is what you would expect if you know Oprah’s general take on things: There is nothing in this teaching to contradict the essence of any of the world’s great religions. For those who believe in a God who orders the universe, The Secret is just a description of the way God does so. For those who don’t believe in such a God, The Secret is just a description of the way things are.

Indeed, for those who wonder about heaven and hell in this view, the advice comes back that we should concentrate on the here and now, escaping the hells our negative thoughts have created for us and achieving the heavens on earth we desire.

This way of viewing things has a long history in America. Indeed, Yale professor Harold Bloom calls gnosticism the quintessential American religion. We can master the world by dint of positive thinking and applied effort. Nothing finally will stand in our way. Ralph Waldo Emerson was openly atheistic about it. Mary Baker Eddy gave us “Christian Science.” Norman Vincent Peale domesticated it for Christian consumption as “positive thinking.” And Robert Schuller repackaged it as “possibility thinking” in our own day.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Oprah Winfrey touts it, because her background in American churches exposed her to the “health-and-wealth” teaching–the “name it and claim it” challenge to “have faith” and you can have everything else–that prevails in much contemporary Protestantism both here and, especially in Pentecostal and charismatic circles, around the world.

What makes The Secret so troubling, from my point of view, is that it is a stew of the good and the bad, such that the good is genuinely nourishing, while the bad is genuinely toxic.

There are several positive things, in fact, one can say about The Secret. For one, it is standard psychological wisdom that certain kinds of negative thought habits really do cause one to fail in life, and certain kinds of positive thought habits help one succeed. Cognitive therapy–particularly in the useful popular form of Dr. David Burns’s Feeling Good Handbook–is all about forming good thoughts to replace bad ones.

For another, we can see the intertwining of religion and social consequences in lots of spheres, whether the economic and social improvement experienced by millions of poor people in Latin America who embrace Christian ethics regarding alcohol, responsible work, and family loyalty (as seen in David Martin’s scholarship); or in the long-observed paradox of monastic and Mennonite wealth: self-denial, thrift, and hard work often lead to riches.

Anxiety and anger have been linked numerous times now to heart disease, high blood pressure (no kidding), digestive disorders (ditto), and other terrible physical consequences. Presumably, then, dealing well with anxiety and anger would lead to greater physical health.

So I’m all for proper positive thinking.

What is spiritual lethal in this concoction, however, is actually several poisons, and–ironically–they all have to do with choice.

The first is the religious relativism that denies all the distinctives of the world’s religions and affirms instead a generic spiritual “essence”–which they really don’t have. This teaching, which purports to respect all faiths, in fact insults most of them, because it shears off any particular teaching they might have about, say, the unique inspiration of the Qur’an, or the special covenant God made with the Jews, or the efficacy of the Noble Eightfold Path, or the atonement of Jesus on the Cross. “All that stuff doesn’t matter,” according to The Secret. “What matters is the essential spirituality of all things, and your ability to direct it to what you want.” And that is not what Islam, or Judaism, or Buddhism, or Christianity actually teaches. Nowhere close.

So you have to choose. The Secret is a particular religious option among many, not the Lowest Common Denominator of all religions.

The second is the poison of self-will. It’s all about me and it’s all up to me.

Um, no. From a Christian perspective, it’s about God, and the world, and me, and it’s up to God, and the world, and me. I am a dependent and interdependent being, and I need to call on God to help me, and draw on the world’s resources in gratitude and faith, or I will perish. I don’t have that much power.

The third is the poison of blaming the victim. Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for empowerment, for self-respect, for teaching about responsibility and opportunity that helps people free themselves from traps of perpetual servitude–economic, political, sexual, or psychological.

But this teaching basically says that your problems are your fault as the flip side to its message of hope. And that teaching is just disgusting when one considers the cases of so many people who have been damaged and oppressed and who still are–and can do little about it. How do you preach The Secret to young, addicted prostitutes in East Vancouver or Bangkok? How do you preach it to widows and orphans in Darfur refugee camps?

The fourth also has to do with choice, and it is the refusal to admit that we in fact have to choose and in particular that we have to make trade-offs in life. We can’t have it all, do it all, or be it all. Christianity in particular puts it starkly: You have to die in order to live. You have to be willing to sacrifice your money, your health, your family, your dreams, your beauty, and even your life itself if required by discipleship to Jesus. Yes, the reward for such sacrifice is greatly worthwhile. But it is indeed a sacrifice–of everything–to his service.

The Secret, therefore, is wishful thinking that does not correspond to the way things are. Some of it does, yes, which is why people can honestly testify to good things resulting from it. But some of it does not, and down that blithe spiritual path lies disastrous confrontation with a world that will not simply conform to our preferences.

The last point I want to make, though, is not critical of The Secret. It is critical of us Christians. By God’s grace to us, we know better, we know Christ and his gospel of new life, and yet often we have failed to speak to the spiritual realities so skillfully addressed by proponents of The Secret.

There is a lot of pain out there, and a lot of pain in here, too, and a lot of frustration with techniques and habits and outlooks and ideas that aren’t working. People don’t embrace something new unless what they currently have is inadequate. I take it for granted that the gospel is not inadequate. So it must be our preaching, and our worship, and our churches, and our families, and our books, and our youth groups, and our marriage seminars that are failing to offer people the light they need.

To be sure, some people embrace The Secret because they really don’t want to worship Jesus as Lord, don’t want a Saviour, don’t want to be conformed to a tradition, don’t want to depend on others. They want to be in control and run their lives and be “spiritual” strictly on their own terms. Okay.

But lots of people embrace The Secret, I daresay, because they want hope, and power for living, and freedom from the past, and forgiveness–and where else can they get that? Where else, indeed?

UPDATE: Check out this powerful presentation of the danger and immorality of advocating “positive thinking.”

 

0 Responses to “Oprah’s Secret: New? Old? Good? Bad?”

  1. Josef

    The following passage from Ralph C. Woods “Rapidly Rises the Morning Tide: An Essay on P. D. James’s The Children of Men”, comes to mind:

    ”Far more successful is a God-huckster from Alabama named Rosie McClure. She thrives as a televangelist because, as Faron cynically puts it, salvation is “a commodity which is always in demand and which costs [her] nothing to supply.” The Reverend Ms. McClure preaches a crossless, Christless, evil-denying gospel whose theme tune is the Beatles’ song, “All You Need Is Love.” Her congregations sing “cheerful choruses”; they also “laugh, cry, [and] fling their arms like demented marionettes.” Rosie the gospeller does not proclaim one Lord and one faith and one baptism, but rather one Love. “No one need feel deprived of a love object,” she announces. “It needn’t be a human being; it can be an animal-a cat, a dog; it can be a garden; it can be a flower; it can be a tree. The whole natural world is one, linked by love, upheld by love, redeemed by love.” To this litany of all-sufficient love, the unbelieving Faron makes his withering response: “One would suppose that Rosie had never seen a cat with a mouse.” (http://theologytoday.ptsem.edu/jul1994/v51-2-criticscorner2.htm)

  2. Steve Bedard

    As you say, this is just one popular example of a trend that has been around for a long time. In many ways, I am less concerned about this which does not claim ties with Christianity than “christian” groups that have developed another gospel based on getting what you want. It is an issue that the Christian church must face.

  3. Ryan

    I wonder if there might be one more “poison” of Oprah’s “secret” worth mentioning. From what you’ve said here, the whole endeavor seems to presuppose that human beings are the sort of creatures who know how or where to properly direct our wills. There seems to be an unwillingness in Oprah’s “secret” to acknowledge that there is an inherent problem in the human will as well. Learning how to manipulate the energy of the cosmos for our purposes isn’t worth a whole lot if our purposes are part of the problem.

  4. Krista

    I wonder if this will turn into another fad religion of sorts. It seems that a “good idea” comes along and one celebrity or another jumps on board, but a few months later, it is old news and there is a new wave to ride. Thank you for pointing out that it doesn’t only contridict what Christianity teaches, but what all the other religions teach as well.

  5. Brieian

    1 Timothy 6:3-10, 6:17-21

    After reading this article, I realised that I had to go back to the Bible and see what it said. Yes, the secret can be disruptive to Christian Beliefs since it does not warn against greed and putting your hope on wealth. In reading or watching The Secret, we should also read the passages I’ve suggested above. On Oprah, they do stress gratitude first, then concentrate on getting what you want, but in watching the DVD, I did not hear this stressed except for once. Getting monetary wealth was heavily emphasized and “People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” 1 Timothy 6:9-10

  6. Bill

    Thanks, Mr Stackhouse. After my wife watched an Oprah segment on “The Secret” and was intrigued by it, I decided to buy her the video for her birthday. We just finished watching the video together and both of us were very surprised – like, is this it? Do we have to buy something else to learn this secret to life? And did we just get taken for a ride?
    Your article seemed very balanced and fair. And your comments about following Jesus and the Gospel message (where the real secret to life is found) helped us put Oprah’s latest fad “secret” in perspective.

  7. Tom Morris

    Dr. John! Well said! After hearing people in all sorts of settings exude over the DVD and the book of The Secret, and especially a number of young people in their 20s, I was curious, and got the book. While reading the firm assurances from all the contributors that we can literally get anything we want just by having a strong intention, a firm desire, and a vivid dream, through merely affirming to ourselves the thing we want in present tense language, as if we already have it, and that this power to command the universe to give us all our wishes can go so far as to cure any disease and reverse aging, I happened to turn to the back of the book and see photos of all the contributors. I was just amazed that so many of them would have desired receding hairlines, baldness, and the obvious other signs of that unnecessary and easily avoidable, though common, phenomenon of aging! Incredible.

    I’d write more in appreciation of your well done and sensible posting, but I have to go look into the garage again to see if my firmly desired red Ferrari has yet manifested.

  8. Wayne Pitura

    Seems Jesus was pretty new-age for his time too, and look where it got him.

    I draw your attention to MARK CHAPTER 11:23-24

    23 Amen, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it shall be done for him.

    24 Therefore I tell you, all that you ask for in prayer, believe that you will receive it and it shall be your

    Obfuscation should be considered a “dirty word”.

  9. Darlene

    Thank you for the analysis. I am in the awkward position of being told to read “The Secret” for work, and judging by the book reviews and the rah-rah on Oprah, it seemed to have just enough truth in it to make it seem like a good idea. I’ve managed to avoid reading it so far, and have no intention of doing so after reading this blog.

  10. Steve

    At least Oprah puts her money where her mouth is. She’s a hero, if not a demigod, to tens of millions of Americans. She really makes people’s dreams come true.

  11. peter vajda

    Great post and much food for thought.

    For me, the Secret is the Napoleon Hill, “Think and Grow Rich” of 2006-7. Ive seen the Secret and view it as a prime example of “spiritual materialism” which is behavior that is purely ego-driven. Some thoughts:

    When there is a conflict between a positive thought and a negative emotion, the emotion will always win. So, when one decides to “think positive” but is doing so because, emotionally, they are frustrated, angry, envious, jealous, or fearful, etc., there’s a pretty good chance the thought will not manifest – which is one reason why many folks’ attempts at living the Secret (“positive thinking”, visualizing positive manifesting, and prayer, for that matter) end up in not “getting what I want.” Too, when the effort, and for many it is efforting (which goes against the Yin and Yang of Universal flow) comes from one’s ego, there’s a good chance that one will not get what one wants or one will get what one doesn’t want (i.e., the Soul’s response to the ego’s demand). Trust is sorely lacking here.

    Too, in our Western culture, we are basically averse to pain on every level. This week I saw an interview with Jennifer Hudson, the young singer who was voted off of American Idol and stole the show in the movie, Dreamgirls. Jennifer was asked how she responded to being eliminated from Idol when most people thought she would win. She admitted that it was painful and that she cried a lot, but that eventually she returned to her faith. “I chose to trust that God had a bigger plan for me than I could see at the time,” she explained. Trust…surrender…allow…probably not a lot of hand-wringing, mental gymnastics, “mind control”, positive thinking (better go see the Secret!!!)…..just allowing and trust.

    The Secret, in my mind, is supposed to be the antidote to experiencing life’s disappointments, or, for that matter, eliminating life’s disappointments. For me, Jennifer’s story is a powerful reminder of how life’s disappointments may in fact be preparation for something even more significant in our lives. And, this belief has the best chance of coming true when one makes a demonstrated (read “conscious”) commitment to learn and grow from one’s present day circumstances NOT by evading, avoiding, denying and “thinking” one’s way away from them.

    So, for example, what am I learning about me, my work, my business, or how I am in relationship.. what’s really at cause when it comes to a dearth of clients, or clients I would like to have, or a painful breakup of a relationship, or… The pain and suffering are teachers pointing to what we need to learn about “me” – about who I am and how I am in life. The pain forces one to grow, to mature emotionally and spiritually, to face fears and frustrations…the pain is a call to action, a call to learn, an opportunity to grow…and since many folks refuse to be self-responsible for working on their own “stuff”, well, now we have the latest quick-fix, The Secret, that says, “OH, no biggie, just think positive and all will be well.” Hmmm.

    Just be positive…hmmm…my take is there are many, many silently angry, fearful, frustrated folks out there…folks who have 20, 30, 40, 50 years of anger, fear, frustration, etc. inhabiting their cells and have never dealt with their emotional awareness or maturity. These are some of the 98% of the folks who will find it challenging, well-neigh impossible, to sustain positive attitudes, positive outlooks, positive reactions to the vicissitudes of life…on whom the secret of The Secret will be lost. “Waddya mean, I thought positive six times yesterday and nothing happened!?” Six times in the midst of a day replete with negative judgments of others, bullying, gossiping, being sarcastic, angry, mean-spirited and disrespectful, not trusting anything or anyone, lying, cheating.

    For the 2% who really, really get it, the Secret is no secret – living life from the inside out, trusting without needing to control, experiencing life’s pain as a teacher, surrendering their ego, seeing that life is larger than getting that parking space or Starbucks…that’s it’s not about spiritual materialism. When a pickpocket meets a Holy man, all he sees is the pockets. IMHO, The Secret, for many (over and above the 2%), is all about the pockets.

  12. tracie

    The issue that I had while watching The Secret on Oprah is that the principle of laying your life down for others was never addressed. This egocentric day that we live in teaches us that everything is about how we feel or what we want. I agree that out of the abundance of our hearts our mouths speak and also that a heart at peace gives life to the body but envy rots the bones, yet I couldn’t help but wish that more to the secret was about how to better your life with a purpose of loving and serving others.

    Also, it is very easy to speak about a secret to positive thinking and how to get the life you want when you live like a king/queen.

  13. Monika

    I believe that “The Secret”, gives a positive spin on life, I believe that it gives people hope, that thier is something more, then just existing. I applied it to my life and I own my own buisness, which was not doing so well, my finances were in a mess, but now I have a new attitude, I’m greatful for what I have, I notice the little things around me and am able to smile, and as for my buisness I am turning it all around. I was scared to compete with large companies as we are only a small family operation, and now I don’t bother thinking of that, as long as I can see the end result the inbetween will work its self out and guess what it is! The secret teaches you to have faith in yourself. People are begining to sit up and take notice, because I don’t give up and I don’t take “No” for an answer. Prior to watching the secret, I did one of two things, I did not try, because although I saw an opportunity I also knew realistically it was out of my reach, or I accepted rejection, believing I did deserve to be rejected, now nothing stands in my way.
    “The Secret” does not impose on any religiouse beliefs, it encouriges you not to settle but to believe. To push the boundries of your reality. Einstien once said “That imagination is everything”, and he was right.
    “The Secret” explores and gives you the basic keys to life which is to “Live” and to “Appreciate” all that is around you.
    In todays day and age, where we litrelley are slaves to our companies, the Banks, and our obligations, it gives hope that thier is a light at the end of the tunnel and that if you believe you can, thiers no reason you can’t.

  14. J

    I’m Christian, and went to a bible study tonight at a church my friend attends. This film was shown. It really disturbed me. I was sadly, the only one that found issue with this film. That bothers me too. I called it a “poinson pill”. There are general truths, but there was a lto more suggested. A speaker on having a positive attitude would have been a billion times better. Why was I the only one with issue? I was perceived as “negative” and I was told to be positive because the film just got through talking about being positive! Isn’t this ciruclar reasoning? Assuming the accuracy of the film before examining it critically? I was not encouraged to speak this view – despite my cite of Jude 1:3 that we should contend for the faith.

    The movie was remenicent of the film “What the Bleep Do We Know” (or very similar tutle). It even had two or three of the same speakers in the film. And we know that film was a NEw Age sponsiored film. The style was similar and even the inclusion of the similar style of humour. This is a serious watermark of sorts to me.. becasue it tells me this idea is being pushed hard.

    Viewer.. beware. Christians do not allow this in your church.

    J

  15. Mark from Bloglyne.com

    Howdy all -

    I am a Christian as well.

    There are, without a doubt, serious issues with Christianity and The Secret if you do not temper it with the tenets of our Faith.

    Again, I am still in process on this one – but where it really crosses the line is when one of the “Teachers”, Lisa Nichols, says that you are “God manifested in human form.”

    According to my Christian belief, Jesus was the only one who was truly God manifested in human form.

    So, I am not okay with that statement from The Secret, but what I am okay with is modifying the statement to realize and remind myself that I am a creation by God in His image.

    Make no mistake, just like many philosophies put out there by humans, there are real problems with some of what the Secret says, but, I do not think The Secret was made by Christians, so why should we use that measuring stick?

    Now, if we choose to apply anything out of The Secret, we must be careful to remember the basics of our Faith and use our Faith to judge anything we choose to apply. But, remember, that can be said for anything we apply and use in our lives as Christians.

    I do not see why these two things, “The Law of Attraction” and Christianity must be exclusive to one another. In fact, I believe that the Universe is part of God’s creation, and when God set it into motion he did so with certain laws in place for it to operate under.

    Everything humans have made (I did not say created, because, this is also where The Secret misses it – we are NOT Creators of the energy discussed in the movie. God is the Prime Mover and Creator of everything. God does allow us to shape it though.) Everything we have made, we have made with the building blocks of the universe God created for us to exist in.

    So, why should our Faith and The Law of Attraction be exclusive? The Law of Attraction is one of the laws that the universe operates under. Another way to think about this, as I have applied the lesson to my life is that the universe hates a void, and if you create a void by declaring a need – the universe will rush in to fill it. Good, bad, or indifferent – so we must be careful what we declare.

    The universe and God are two separate things, of course. I do not thank the universe, it is a thing created by God. I thank God. I ask God, that if something is his will, that I would have it, regardless of what it would be. For example, I ask that if it is in His will that he would give me patience, love, kindness, the ability to forgive, I ask him for my daily bread, and by that, I mean, money, food, shelter, clothing, more than enough to meet not only my needs, but the needs of my family, along with the needs of others. It is scary! It is a scary thing to put yourself into the hands of the living God. Although, we would do well to remember that there is nothing to be scared about – God is not the evil step father waiting to punish us. He is the anxious father waiting for us to turn to him through Christ so he can sweep us off our feet.

    I believe it is our tendency to take something like The Secret and dismiss it as a whole because there are things in it that make us uncomfortable, and we do not trust ourselves to discern the good and right things from the bad things in it and rightly so. Because if you still trust yourself for anything, you are heading into dangerous territory – we can all be fooled, every last one of us.

    But, if you trust God to peel the scales away from your eyes, and allow that if anything is right and good and just and within His will that He will allow His discernment to guide you. You can trust that He will guide you and that you will be alright.

  16. Allison

    Some very interesting perspectives given here. Generally let me say that I agree with Stackhouse: there are some serious problems with the Law of Attraction (The Secret) and there are also some real benefits of it. My concern is that we as Christians, or the Church, would throw out the redeemable aspects of The Secret because of fear. “Do not let this in your church!”, someone writes. This seems to me to be a fear-based reaction so common of Christians today. Who here remembers that for centuries Christians were the ones leading the way in science, philosophy, culture? Today we have all but given up our role as serious contributors to the discourse of modern thought. Why? Because of fear. New age people use the word energy in ways we don’t agree so we remove the word from our vocabulary. Sex? Gone! Self-focus? Nope, too overindulgent. Gone!

    What we really need to do is reclaim the words taken over by our culture and renew them with Christian meaning! As long as we are submitting ourselves and our ideas to God we do not need to be afraid except with a healthy fear of the Lord! We do not need to fear The Secret because, as the Bible tells us, we have the mind of Christ and so we can – and indeed should – engage with the modern discourse with intelligent, thoughtful, open-minded Christian thinking as Stackhouse has illustrated.

    The reality is that we are made up of energy (and yes, spirit) and the Bible tells us that our emotional state (made up of our thoughts, feelings and beliefs) does have the power to affect our reality, as Stackhouse mentioned, particularly our physical health. Clearly our thoughts and feelings do have a significant impact on our reality but not wholly as The Secret purports. Can we control our angry boss with the power of our mind? No. But we can control our thoughts and feelings and we can choose to think positively and dramatically alter our experience with angry boss man/lady. Likewise if we are convinced that we will never get that job promotion/dream job/perfect mate, the chances are, we won’t. Conversely, if we truly believe we can have [fill in the blank], our chances of success soar.

    Did Oprah get to where she is today with a mind full of self-doubt and fear? No, she got there because of a strong faith in God, a desire that he would use her for a purpose greater than herself and the courage to dream bigger than most anyone else. Did she have an exact vision of where she is today when she first started out, or even 10 years ago? No! This is what The Secret tells us to do. Envision exactly where you want to be, feel that you are already there and then you will be! And yes, this is basically what the Christian Positive Thinkers attest to as well. How devastating for those in dispairing situations to try and will positive thoughts to change their circumstance and then look around a week, a month, a year later and discover that nothing has changed! Just as bad is the opposite, but also common, Christian view that we don’t have a choice in anything and we must endure our hardship until God comes and delivers us out of it.

    Neither view is biblical, I think. God doesn’t tell us to just think good thoughts and good things will happen. In fact he warns us that bad things will happen to good people (who presumably are thinking good thoughts!). Neither did God pick up the Israelites from the torture of Pharoah and “beam them up” to the Promised Land. He told them to pick themselves up and get the heck out of there…with his help! Christians today need to take responsibility for their choices and throw out the phrase, “God told me to do it.” I’ve had three unsuccessful marriage proposals given to me with that line and I think it would be much better for us all if we could accept that God leads us but in most cases we ultimately are the ones making the choice to follow that lead or not. So hooray to The Secret for wakening us up to take responsibility for our own lives, our own reality! And let us Christians celebrate with joy the goodness of our God (which gives us reason to think positively), focusing our energy on participating in the inbreaking of the Kingdom which is happening NOW in our homes, our workplaces, our movie theatres, politics and yes, even the church.

  17. John Stackhouse

    I appreciate these comments: positive, negative, or mixed. My post itself is “mixed,” but I understand how people could feel strongly one way or the other.

    We all have to keep our wits about us. There are lots of “spiritual entrepreneurs” out there who seek our allegiance and perhaps especially our money. Some of them are sincere, some aren’t, but ultimately what matters is whether they are telling us the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about reality.

    As for Ms. Winfrey herself, I just wish she had theological knowledge and insight to go with her quite amazing talents in other dimensions. I know she has done a lot of good, and I also think she has helped spread considerable spiritual fog.

    My prayer is that she comes to a more informed and more substantial Christian view of things and can convey that–albeit through the limits of her chosen media. (There’s only so much orthodox doctrine and ethics one can expect to convey via a popular talk show, magazine, and so on.)

    In the meanwhile, I hope she continues to bless many with her valid insights and concerns, and that her many fans will also consider her limitations and seek spiritual guidance of a more definite and (from my point of view, yes) correct sort.

  18. Leila

    This was very well said. I couldn’t agree with you more!

  19. Jamey

    It seems many people are concerned with the “greed” factor The Secret seems to encourage. This concerned me also, but when I followed the paradigm of The Secret to its conclusion the issue of greed seemed to melt away.

    Afterall, The Secret describes a world of abundance. If it is true that ANYONE can have ANYTHING they want, the socially hurtful effects of greed vanish. In this model, just because I have more would not translate into everyone else having less.

    It seems to me the only salient question that can be raised regarding The Secret is “To what extent does it work?” If this “Law of Attraction” really is a force in our universe would it be hazardous to a Christian to learn to use it any more than it would be hazardous for a Christian to use electricity or penicillan? If (and I really mean IF–I have no idea to what extent this Secret works) there really is a powerful but misunderstood tool at our disposal shouldn’t Christians be the first to learn about its mechanics so they can guide the rest of the population in its proper use?

    In addition it seems the Bible is not silent on this issue. “Ask and you shall receive,” and “If you have faith as Small as a Mustard Seed…Anything is Possible,” spring to mind immediately.

    My thoughts.

  20. Jeremy

    I’m feeling a lot of you guys on the criticism of the movie. When I first watched it, I loved it; I cried, I got shivers all around my body on multiple occasions, I was really thankful for it, and it has had a huge, positive influence on my life. I’ve seen it numerous times, and have got a good grasp on the teachings. There are just a few of those statements throughout the movie that do hit me in confusion, since they are not lined up with Christian doctorine, such as what Mark said on comment #17 about Lisa Nichols.

    I think people might feel a better connection with this movie rather than a bible study because it is aurally and visually enticing, so people might feel more ‘realness’ from it. There really are so many beneficial things from this film, but it could be harmful for those who use such a tool wihtout assesment, such as for greed. Christians may simply jump on the new-age bus without a thought about their own salvation at stake. I think anyone can become easily self-absorb in their pursuit of their dreams and not even be aware of that they left thier family or faith behind. People just need to use that ol’ “college thinking cap” and be critical thinkers once again, because their choices do greatly effect the unseen, and before you know it, they have a trophy wife with a mansion and a boat, feeling great, but no personal relationship with Jesus.

    As for me, I keep myself absorbed in the Scriptures, and see so many bloody relationships to this movie and God’s living word that it’s not even funny. I also see the same with Think and Grow Rich, How to Win Friends and Influence People, and all the great teachers — I’m speaking of the secular ones — that have graced this Earth with their wisdom … we can learn from them, because they have good points to speak, but if we don’t reassess their comments with the Gospels, then we can easily be living a not-so-Godly life … I believe the same goes for The Secret; We can’t be fearful of a flawed message and throw it away, such as Allison from comment #21 says, because we all can benefit so much from it, as long as we are responsible Christians with the information at hand.

    I still watch the movie every once in a while for a reminder of the power of gratitude, etc. but I don’t live my life by it; I live my life by God, and try my best to live by him alone.

  21. Robert Lewis

    Hello all, Happy Easter.
    I was at my daughter’s for lunch and the Secret came up in conversation.She had the book and had almost completed it.
    She is a phycologist and she could see the value in the messgein the book.
    I got home and the Secret is all over the e mail.
    I have lived by these principals most of my life, I am now 61. I read Think and Grow Rich probably 35 years ago and didn’d really get it, however I did read other positive thinking books, and my life has been proof positive that believing you can achieve is the most important ingredient for success.
    I have far out performend the potential I showed at school, I have been a successful business person and investor with out the formal education that is generally expected.
    I am a firm believer in what you can concieve and believe you can achieve (I know someone famous said that), however you need the one other ingredient that is essential and that is start doing something about it now, it is the only time you have.
    Think successfully and suround yourself with successful people and learn from them.
    Give before you expect to get, this dosent mean money, you can give a kind word, or encouragement,your time to listen to others.
    More power to The Secret If it helps one person it has been a success.

  22. Keith wells

    I am a Pastor in Halifax and had been kind of kvetching at God about the Christians I knew who were unfullfilled, depressed and without any definable joy or expectancy in their faith. I asked God to speak to me about how I could respond to this issue. Two days later someone at my work asked if I would like to watch The Secret. I didn’t even know what it was, but said yes thinking it was a movie. As I watched it, I grew more and more charged with a renewal of a truth I think I let slide in my years as a Christian. That is, we are co-creators of the life we life with Christ. We do have a say in what happens to us and what comes into our life. To what degree, only God knows, but certainly to some degree.

    I realize The Secret is full of crap that is needed to market it to the consumer crazed westerner…but it also has valid truth that we as Christians need to remember. I have started to teach a Christian version of the secret to my church and the place has exploded with enthusiasm and a faith level we’ve not had in a long time. I have taken out the blatantly theologically incorrect parts of it that allow us to be our own gods and have instead, simply elevated the scriptural truths that have been pirated by these people and re-introduced them to the congregation, with HUGE results.

    The Secret, like Oprah is a secular force used to get the attention of a church that refuses to listen anymore. Like the Jews being made jealous by the gentile blessing,the church is being spoken to by the success of the world using its truths and principles with more faith than the church itself. The fact is, the secret does work and it does provide some great things in the material and non-material world…but it does not provide SALVATION. And what good is it if a man gains the whole world but looses his eternal soul. Thankfully our eternity has been taken care of by Christ…but there are some things that WE need to take care of while we are here on earth. The Secret reminds us of a few tools that God has built into HIS universe that helps us create along with him while we are here on earth.

    I am VERY thankful for the reminder that The Secret is.

  23. roger

    Dr. Stackhouse,
    It occurs to me as I read the variety of responses, how difficult it is to say something without offending. Believing a book/DVD, or, person has contributed something positive, must not stop us from simultaneously acknowledging that same mouth can impart both wonder and wickedness. However this is not the central issue of what I heard you say. And here I wish to offer some general observations to those interested.

    This discussion could easily degenerate into a collection of opinions on whether or not the claims of The Promise work or don’t. Granted this is fodder for much discussion, but John’s entry said much more than this. The problem with The Secret, and so many other human-centered principles, is that they miss the real miracle of the humble, vulnerable, central act of God in ‘resurrection’.

    Resurrection is the Bible’s version of what “can” be. The Bible’s version of this event, not just of Jesus, but of Lazarus, and all other sorts of resurrections including those of faith, of love, and hope etc. have such authentic, and life-giving nature is because they presuppose human-frailty, and dependence. When Jesus called Lazarus from the tomb no one stood at the doorway to flog him with do good-isms, nor did Lazarus need to prove his worth, or contribution to the world at that time by ‘doing,’ or ‘believing,’ or ‘saying’ anything. He did not need to ‘do’, he just needed to ‘be’. Perhaps we have missed the true wonder of life, namely that it is about us only secondarily. What Jesus did with Lazarus was not about Lazarus but Jesus. There are few ideas as counter-cultural to the West as just ‘being.’

    Having said this, biblical Christianity does make it a point to picture the disciples as ‘better’ men in the end than in the beginning. Each would make a wonderful testimony for Oprah’s book if that were the source of their transformed lives. But none were transformed by an idea, or collection of ideas, they were finally transformed when the Holy Spirit of God took residence in their lives. After emerging from their spiritual tombs changes began to manifest.

    But these men had to die before they could live, and now they could live in a way that showed something foreign was compelling them toward a new outlook. Now God lived, “in’ them, and wonderful events occurred at their hands. The gospel version of the secret of a changed life can be an antidote to the unhelpful selfish gains earned for “doing” good things for others, not to mention the strange world ours would become if everyone got what they wanted. For good reason, God set the qualifier, “… according to the Father’s will…”

    The disciples realized just like Lazarus, how little they factored in the grand scheme of things, superimposing the significance of Christ. It is helpful to talk about how much our actions matter. We should not esteem passivity, nor support the fatalism of determinism. Our choices are essential to the final picture, and much fruitful discussion revolves around setting our minds to things, checking unhelpful self-talk and living lives empowered by ‘setting our minds’. In this, The Secret seems a wonderful, goose-bump (earlier comment) method. The biblical testimony in contrast, is no secret. It is not for the privileged few who can marshal right thoughts and emotions; the gospel is public, simple, accessible, and inviting. But, and this is where The Secret is so much better,  the gospel cannot make you powerful in your own right. The biblical method is wholly inadequate to invest you with final power; it removes so much of you as to culminate in a Christ-centered picture.

  24. Monique

    Why are people so stupid, I ask? If we are so innately powerful, why is it, that we each are powerless to keep ourselves from meeting our own fateful death? Why can’t we be lucid, and consider this atleast for just one moment, before we decide to leave God out of the equation?

    ‘The Secret’ is just another ‘tower of babel’, wishful thinking and musings of how we can be like gods; which is one of many that will never stand the test of time. Jesus existence marked an epoch in the world’s dating system, an era from which the corridors of history is defined, whereupon the present hinges itself, and where the future is no longer uncertain but navigable. With such a monumental tribute to our God, everything else seems so trivial that it isn’t really worth comparing.

  25. Jerome Williams

    Why do Christians always cry foul when something does not line up with their theological thinking? Why do we search for things to argue about instead of turning it into a tool to minister the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Turning the obvious false doctrine into an evangelizing tool.

    The Bible says in Romans 8:28:

    And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.

    In order for the enemy to confuse people and get them to believe his lies must first get your attention. The Bible says he wants to kill, steal and destroy us and that is always his intent. He must rely on deception to do that and get us to trust whatever method he is using.

    The enemy knows the Word of God and he will use it against us. He used this very method against Jesus when he was tempted.

    Matthew 4:6:

    If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:” ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.

    If the enemy will try to use the Word of God on the Lord Jesus Christ what methods do you think he will use against us?

    Many Christians are going through some serious spiritual battles. We are very battle weary and are having difficulty finding a place to turn to. Often the church itself has failed the children of Jesus Christ and the enemy seizes that failure and use it to his advantage. That is why the Secret was created. The enemy is pouncing.

    Instead of running from it and constantly crying it is heretic and should be banned. Why don’t we take what is in there and use the Bible to apply it’s teachings. We can use this to remind everyone that Jesus has never left us nor forsake us by using the Word of God which according to the bible is our Sword against the enemy.

    For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.

  26. Angela

    I’m getting into this game very late, but I feel compelled to reply nonetheless.

    I finally watched the DVD over the weekend and afterwards did a feverish internet search to try to see what the big deal was about (which is how I came upon your site). I am a Christian, educated in the church AND one of the best seminaries in the southeast portion of the U.S. One thing that I do understand regarding just about everything out in the world is that we must take what we will from something and what we don’t want, we leave in its place. The Secret, in all of its “mysticism” has some good points, yes, even for the Christian. A mature Christian would know that God through Jesus Christ is our focus. The general stuff of the DVD isn’t anything that we already know. I believe that anything that seeks to improve your life is a gift from God. Those of us who love God know this without a doubt. So who cares if SOME people in The Secret have used this law of attraction for personal (i.e., selfish) satisfaction? Let God work that out within that person. Some of use will use this “secret” to further advance the kingdom of God. If I focus on gaining wealth for myself, but intend to use it to feed God’s people, am I wrong? Of course not. Isn’t that what Oprah has done all of her life – give, give, give and when she’s done with that, has found a way to give more? Yes, I agree, Oprah leans and bows with the blowing of the wind. Again, let God work that out with her. She will settle some place because you cannot continue like that without your soul eventually begging for rest. But this “secret” is not all bad nor entirely good. Separate the wheat from the tare and move on.

    Blessings.

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