No big secret

A friend of mine has been promoting The Secret, by Rhonda Byrne. Oprah gave it a lot of airplay. But to me it sounds like self-help treacle. Apparently a lot of people in the blogosphere have been dumping on the bandwagon as well.

According to Prof. John Stackhouse, The Secret is nothing new:

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.

The UK based The Times heaps on more scorn in What’s the big secret? Apparently, The Secret to losing weight, for instance, is to visualize slimness, and never look at fat people. This brings blaming the victim to a whole new level.

“If you see people who are overweight,” instructs Rhonda Byrne, author of The Secret, “do not observe them, but immediately switch your mind to the picture of you in your perfect body and feel it.” Byrne herself — once porky, miserable and broke — is now very slim and very rich, thanks to following her own precepts and persuading several million Americans to follow them by buying her book. She, too, once thought that eating made her fat but realised: “Food is not responsible for putting on weight. It is your thought that food is responsible . . . that has food put on weight.” Of course! Silly, silly us: it’s not wine and pizza that piles on the pounds but wrong thinking.

Psychologist Oliver James:

The Secret is a toxic stew of psychobabble leftovers served up with lavish quotations from 29 “gurus” from psychology, religion, mysticism and marketing. There is a heavy reliance on quick-fix, already simplistic methods from self-help manuals, made even easier for the simple-minded or deluded. Wisdom vies with cleverness, banal truth runs alongside barefaced delusion; a pottage of self-contradictory homilies for the credulous and childish.
As a book and marketing exercise, The Secret is self-reflexive: write a book quoting other people who have written books about how, if you write a book or advise others about becoming rich, you will do so. It’s like pyramid selling, hocuspocus.

Therapist Phillip Hodson:

“People are hungry for the illusion of control in a world which seems out of control, plagued with threats of bird flu and terrorism and stockmarket crashes. But self-help omnipotence is a false god: if you think everything is an act of will then you are in the firing line — there are very few opt-outs.”