The [Dirty Little] Secret: 4 Theological Problems with the Law of Attraction

The Secret: Dare to Dream (2020) https://www.imdb.com/title/tt4411584/mediaviewer/rm2288626689/

“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle; the other is as if everything is.”

These wise words open the 2020 movie, “The Secret: Dare to Dream,” the latest marketing iteration of “The Secret,” a brand which Australian Rhonda Byrne launched with a 2006 documentary, followed by five books. The brand immediately captured public attention, spending over 200 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller list. The following year, Byrnes appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show, was recognized in “The TIME 100: The People Who Shape Our World,” and in Forbes’ “The Celebrity 100” list.

And why not? The Secret is everyone’s dream come true. A clever repackaging of “the law of attraction,” a term first published by the New York Times in 1879, The Secret is an age-old ruse that you can have anything you want by simply focusing on it and asking the universe for it. According to TheLawofAttraction.com, Buddha first taught that what you give out to the world, be it good, bad or indifferent, ultimately returns to your own life. The law of attraction, a close cousin to karma, is certainly enduring and perennially popular, but is it true? 

So as not to put words into the mouth of anyone who subscribes to the law of attraction, I would like to look at six central tenets in “The Secret: Dare to Dream” that protagonist Bray Johnson articulates, alongside biblical texts that seem to support these statements.

6 ways the law of attraction sounds like the bible

Bray: “Anything is possible if you really want it.” 

The Bible: “With God, all things are possible,” Matthew 19:26, and “All things are possible to him that believes” Mark 9:23.

Bray: “We get what we expect.”

The Bible: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” Matthew 7:7-8.

Bray: “Whatever happens—even the bad stuff—can lead to better things.” 

The Bible: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him” Romans 8:28.

Bray: “When the time is right, you’ll know what to do.”

The Bible: “…for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say,” Luke 12:12, and, “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it’” Isaiah 30:21.

Brays: “You get what you give.”

The Bible: “For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Luke 6:38; and “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously,” 2 Corinthians 9:6.

Bray: “If you don’t know what you want, how can you ask for it?”

The Bible: “But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.” James 1:6-7

Side by side, it looks like The Secret is lifted right from the pages of Scripture. So, is The Secret biblical? It seems one could make the argument that it is, in much the same way that Satan made compelling arguments based on scripture when he tempted Christ in the desert.

Let’s look at this in action in the account in Luke 4: 5-12. 

5 Then the devil led Jesus up to a high place. In an instant, he showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world. 6 He said to Jesus, “I will give you all their authority and glory. It has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. 7 If you worship me, it will all be yours.”

Jesus answered, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God. He is the only one you should serve.’”  Then the devil led Jesus to Jerusalem. He had Jesus stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. 10 It is written,

‘The Lord will command his angels to take good care of you.

11 They will lift you up in their hands.

    Then you won’t trip over a stone.’ (Psalm 91:11,12)

12 Jesus answered, “Scripture says, ‘Do not test the Lord your God.’” (Deuteronomy 6:16)

Note that Jesus does not dispute the devil’s claim that he can give authority and glory of the kingdoms to whoever he pleases. Is this true? (If so, it explains a lot!) Rather, Jesus answers with a truth from scripture. Satan then counters with a truth from scripture for the next temptation. Even though what he has said is undeniably true, in this context, it conflicts with another scriptural truth, which in this context is preeminent.

Something similar is happening in the parallels of The Secret and the Bible. The Secret uses biblical truth out of context, and unlike Jesus, we can become confused by seeing what we know to be true used in a novel way, or more precisely, abused.  In fact, “name it and claim it” gospel is just a deified version of the law of attraction. 

4 Ways Holy Scriptures Differs from the Law of Attraction

To be sure, there are some key differences in the central tenets of law of attraction and the Bible. Here are four.  

1. The Secret is asking the wrong guy! 

The law of attraction purports that we can ask the universe for what we want, and it will set in motion the fulfillment of our wishes. “Ask and you shall receive.” The problem here is that we are appealing to the creation rather than the Creator. 

The Bible draws a clear distinction between the created universe and the God who made it. Psalm 33:6 says, “By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth.” Praying to or asking the universe (with or without an uppercase “u”) for what you want is kind of like asking a rock, just on a much larger scale. The universe is made up of the same elements as soil, feces, sea water and our own flesh. Believing the universe has divine power is simply this generation’s idol worship. We may be too savvy to worship a carved statue, but we’re still worshiping the creation over the Creator. 

For the sake of argument, let’s say the universe is some sort of living entity like a person. It’s not unbiblical to ask a person for something you want. When you were a child, you asked your parents for the desires of your heart all the time. So, potentially, if there is some life to the universe that we’re not aware of, maybe the universe can be helpful in giving us what we want. 

Even so, why would we ask the universe for a new job when we can ask the omnipotent God who created the universe? The Bible is clear: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights,” James 1:17, not from the heavenly lights themselves.

2. The Secret has its priorities all screwed up. 

“Anything is possible if you really want it,” and that’s all well and good if we have our priorities aligned with what God wants for us as believers. Many people are using the law of attraction to attempt to bring into their lives love, wealth, physical and mental health and success—all good, but thinking them into existence is not the biblical formula for attaining all these things. Jesus said we are to seek first God’s kingdom and right relationship with God then all these things will be added to us. First God, God’s work, God’s ways. You won’t find that as first priority in any of The Secret’s propaganda. 

3. Winners and losers don’t deserve all the credit, or the blame.

The Secret says you get what you expect, which sounds a lot like “you reap what you sow,” but the key difference is who gets the credit. According to TheLawofAttraction.com, “We are acting as human magnets sending out our thoughts and emotions and attracting back more of what we have put out.” 

That means you are responsible for bringing good to your life by controlling your thoughts, focusing, praying, meditating. These actions performed in the benevolent universe will produce your heart’s desires. Except when they don’t, which is most of the time for most of the people. 

There are two sides to this wooden nickel. The first problem is who gets the credit when things go right, the other is who gets the blame when things go wrong. 

According to The Secret, you brought the good to yourself. Your thoughts, etc., attracted it. So when things go well, you take the credit, or maybe you share it a little with the universe. But who does not get the credit? God. 

The Bible says it is in God that we live and move and have our being. “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” Rev. 4:11. Read your Bible, people. God does not appreciate it when we misappropriate credit (glory, honor) that belongs to God. “To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever” 1 Peter 4:11.

On the flip side, who is to blame when you don’t get what you want? You again. TheLawofAttraction.com explains: “The most challenging part of acknowledging and accepting the truth of what the Law of Attraction has to offer is coming to the realization that every single one of your decisions in life, good and bad, have been shaped by you alone. For many, this can be a bitter pill to swallow, especially if you feel that you or your loved ones have been dealt some particularly hard blows in life.”

So the loving mother of a young child who has an inoperable brain tumor? She just didn’t focus enough? And the child slaves harvesting cacao in the Ivory Coast for your Halloween and Valentine’s Day candy—if they would expect differently, they could get a real job? How about the woman who is a victim of sex trafficking—if only she would expect something different, she wouldn’t be living that life? How convenient for us—completely exonerated of any responsibility for social ills!

The hard truth is that “time and chance happen to them all,” (Eccl. 9:11) and God “makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” Matt. 5:44.

Yes, we make decisions that bring about good and bad consequences, but that doesn’t account for everything that happens in our lives. And yes, God is working all things for good for those who are called according to His purpose, but maybe more often than not, it is our ultimate, eternal good that God is working on, and not so much on buying me a Mercedes Benz. 

4. You can’t imagine what you’re missing with The Secret.

You get what you give, you get what you expect, you get what you can imagine. Not a bad deal if you can harness your thoughts and actions. But it’s not the best deal either, because it’s a limited offer—limited by your imagination. When you seek first the Kingdom of God and you serve the Living God, you get what He has planned for you—what He is thinking about for you, and His thoughts are so much more elevated than our thoughts. “‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts,’ says the Lord” (Isaiah 55:9). 

Ephesians 3:20 says God “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.” If you believe in God, is it so hard to also believe that He has plans and purposes for you that are beyond your imagination? 

Circular Logic of The Secret

There is such a thing as a half-truth, or in this case, maybe even a three-quarters truth. Why do you think witnesses in court have to swear to tell the whole truth? The Secret bears witness to some truth, but not “the whole truth,” and anything but the whole truth is nothing short of a lie. 

The devil used half-truths to get the woman to eat the forbidden fruit, and the Father of Lies is still up to his old tricks. The Secret has been an effective strategy to confuse seekers because it closely mimics some biblical truths. 

Moreover, it’s a logical conundrum in that it’s impossible to prove wrong. If bad things are happening to you, they can eventually lead to good things, they just haven’t yet. Keep believing. If you don’t have what you want yet, it’s because you haven’t wanted it badly enough. Focus harder. When something good happens, it “proves” The Secret works and no one can convince you otherwise because the vast number of casual factors precludes any serious analysis. In short, the law of attraction is useful in physical science, but in life, it’s nothing more than flawed, circular logic. 

So, why does it seem to work for some people, notably some A-list celebrity evangelists such as Oprah Winfrey, Jim Carry and Denzel Washington?  

It makes perfect sense that if you set goals, focus on them, plan for them, and make decisions consistent with those goals, you drastically increase your chances of reaching those goals. That’s biblical too: “The plans of the diligent lead to profit…” Proverbs 21:5. Quite probably, almost anyone who practices The Secret lifestyle is going to fare better than that same person without those disciplines, and better than the masses who are not even aware that it’s possible to control your thought life. 

But in God’s universe, He rules, not us. It is entirely possible to fail despite a flawless execution of a plan, just as it is possible to succeed despite a poorly executed plan, or no plan at all. Proverbs 16:9 says we can plan [ponder, meditate, pray for and attract] all we want, but God is the one who directs our steps. 

If you have been tempted to achieve your goals by using the law of attraction, know that God, the creator of the universe you have been speaking to, does answer prayer. In His living Word, He invites us to throw all our worries on Him, and He assures us that the prayers of a person in right standing with God are effective and powerful. Be confident in this: The One who began this good work in you will bring it to completion, in His way, in His time (Phil 1: 6).

“To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy—to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen” Jude 1:24-25.

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