Tuesday, November 20, 2007

More on "The Secret"

Update: If you're here because you read about this post in the "UU World," welcome! I'm happy you're here. But I'd also like to direct your attention to this post on The Secret by Elizabeth, which I personally think is fabulous!

I've gotten some comments on my original post, I've done more research, and I wanted to write an update on my thoughts about this phenomenon. I have a lot of questions about "The Secret," and a lot of misgivings about the way Rhonda Byrne grafts concepts together from various traditions - without trying to understand the concepts in context - and then uses those concepts to support a hypothesis, seemingly without real evidence.

I've continued to have conversations about this book. As a skeptic I've tried hard to have an open mind, but what I've read and heard is a pastiche of bits and pieces from other traditions that seem half-explained and half-understood. Coincidentally, there's an article about it by Fred Small in the online UU World.

One commenter wrote that he thought "The Secret" was like Karma. I'm no expert, but I think that Karma is more complex than "what you give is what you get returned," although I concur that this is the way most Western minds understand it. I also have no problem with the "positive thinking" aspects, which are straight out of Norman Vincent Peale & Andrew Carnegie. There's nothing wrong with giving oneself a pep talk or affirmation of worth - or offering the same to someone else. I start running into trouble with the idea of treating the universe like a gift catalog, and believing that positive thoughts can bring me whatever I want - more about that later.

I have real problems with some of the troubling ideas in this book. Fred Small points out some of these in the UU World article: the idea that one can lose weight by thinking thin thoughts (should we believe one can also avoid depression by thinking happy thoughts?); the idea that groups of people bring repression and death upon themselves (think Darfur, or Bosnia); the idea that people attract discrimination to themselves; or, the idea that one can cure oneself of dreaded diseases by belief alone. What if one doesn't get better? Is one then told one's belief wasn't strong enough? Smells like "blaming the victim" to me, and I do not believe it.

I'm very wary of relating theoretical physics to everyday life, knowing the little I know about it and living with a person who takes such ideas very seriously. I doubt that Ms. Byrne miraculously "understood" everything about string theory, multiple dimensions and dark matter - because many physicists don't understand all of it yet.

I also worry about the egocentrism inherent in all of this. Does it strike anyone else that all of it plays into an "it's all about ME" mentality? Why on earth should I believe I'm the center of the universe? Why should I support a philosophy that appears to promote greed? Just doesn't seem healthy or mature to me.

I still have way more questions than answers, but I gotta tell ya - the fact that I now know that many quotes from famous people in this book either were never spoken or are lifted out of context makes me very suspicious.

At YouTube you can find the first 20 minutes of the movie, "The Secret." I'll let you go find that yourself if you want, but here's a comedian's take on "The Secret," especially the universe as gift catalog bit.

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