The Real Secret of the Universe
As soon as it became clear that The Secret was being read by millions, Christianity Today was inundated with email queries. Writers were pacing nervously, hoping for the chance to pen the first scathing review.
As with many books in the spirituality/self-help genre, it's not hard to spot theological flaws. They jump up and down, crying to be spanked. But the book's flaws interest me less than our reactions to it. What I seein myself, at least is disdain and fear.
Disdain starts with Oprah: If Oprah-of-the-Fuzzy-Spirituality likes it, it can't be good. Add to that the picture of millions reading this book, imbibing its positive-thinking, self-absorbed principleswell, we can't help but think of them as naïve, poor slobs who have fallen for the pitch and potions of a traveling medicine man.
We struggle to conceive of the book being liked by anyone of intelligence, certainly not a card-carrying evangelical like one of my friends, a devout Christian and faithful church member, well-read in evangelical literaturethe very one who told me how much she liked the message of The Secret.
This brings us to fear. With its sweeping promises of wealth and happiness ("As you learn The Secret, you will come to know how you can have, be, or do anything you want"), The Secret will surely seduce people, perhaps even faithful disciples of Jesus, away from the faith once delivered to the saints.
The Secret says suffering, as the product of bad thinking, is not redemptive but a huge waste of psychic energy. If this book's author has her way, what would happen to the theology of the Cross? Suffering is essential to salvation and spiritual growth, isn't it? I mean Christ died for our sins; we are to crucify the flesh. And what about all the sacrifices I've made for Jesus? And how I've endured in the midst of trials!
We can start to sound like the elder brother in parable of the Prodigal Son: "I have served you all these years, and you never told me about positive thinking!"
Of course, the fear could be deeper. Maybe I'm avoiding God's call on my life in some area because I'm afraid, and this book is telling me that all my rationalizations are just that. Maybe this book's message rattles me with a Jesus-imperative: "Do not fear; only believe!"
So what's with this friend of mine, whose judgment I trust? Why in the world does she like the message of The Secret?
"I like the emphasis on positive thinking," she says simply.
For example, she's been wanting to take a swimming class for some time, but she's been afraid. The Secret helped her shift her thoughts from fearful to positive images. She's now in a swimming class and really enjoying it.
The fact that millions are buying this book suggests that many people may be dealing with fears that prevent them from enjoying such simple, divine gifts as swimming.
A quick read suggests other attractions, like, "Know that this is a friendly Universe." Some of us will surely see God in, with, and under this "friendly Universe" and recall the old and good news: God is love! But think how this euphemism sounds to one who struggles with belief in God, someone educated in a society that assumes an impersonal universe that brutally rewards only the fittest, and then only if they don't arbitrarily get wiped out by a natural catastrophe or some madman with a gun. Such a person might very well find metaphysical relief in The Secret!
In other words, I am trying to recognize the deeper human longings that such a book addresses. Instead of disdain, I might praise what is goodon the way to offering a better message that addresses human longings in a way that will not disappoint.
In "SoulWork," Mark Galli brings news, Christian theology, and spiritual direction together to explore what it means to be formed spiritually in the image of Jesus Christ.
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