Tuesday, October 05, 2010
The Secret by Rhonda Byrne
The Secret by Rhonda Byrne is a reiteration of New Thought, popularized in the 19th century and repackaged in a dvd and pretty book. The way the book begins should set off alarms to any reader because whenever anyone says others “know this to be true” and then name names odds are that later in the book you will not come across any actual quotes from these “others” who are named or, if you do, they will not be cited in such a way that you can read for yourself the context within which the quotes are made. So when Byrne immediately mentions Shakespeare and Einstein and Plato and Beethoven as “believers” my red flags were immediately raised.
But to be honest, anyone who knows me knows I am not a fan of New Thought. I learned too early in my spiritual life about “magical thinking” and dismissed such books as this one off-hand without actually reading them for myself. I had, actually, watched the dvd which I thought was silly and poorly organized. It certainly didn’t make an argument that I thought was defendable and, in a healthy debate, anyone with any intelligence would rip massive holes through the concepts presented.
Unfortunately, I am the type to not be too easy on my self and chose to read this book because it seemed unfair for me to roll my eyes at teachings I had not actually explored myself. Rather like my reading the qur’an knowing I had no interest in converting to Islam. I could still read the text and find beauty therein.
I guess I found beauty but really what I found was superficial beauty. What I read sounded like watered down truths taught by Buddhism, Christianity, etc. I was reminded of St Paul’s statement about feeding the Corinthians on milk rather than meat because they were not ready for solid foods (I Corinthians 3:2–see? That is called a citation so you can go look it up and make sure the contextual relevance of this statement is true both here and there and that I am not taking something out of context and twisting it to my own purpose.)
The thing is, perhaps this is what some people need. Spiritually, some people may need to believe that the only sure sign of being truly connected with God is affluence and prosperity, in fulfilling relationships and healthy bodies. I can honor that and I have the conviction that those who truly need these things to grow will receive them.
However, Paul did not continue feeding the Corinthians milk and spiritually we are to grow so when Byrne presumes to say that Jesus and Moses were millionaires, I was tempted to throw the book across the room. Are you serious? What’s worse, are readers taking this seriously?
Don’t get me wrong, I realize that Moses was very wealthy when he was a Prince of Egypt but the real beauty in his story lies in his forsaking all of this in favor of living as a slave. When he led the Israelites out of Egypt, they took with them a lot of things–including gold enough to make an idol–but these did not belong to Moses. In fact, and let’s be honest here, the idea of possessions among this community of wanderers was probably more like a socialistic state than one with a clear leader.
But this book is not about politics. It’s about New Thought spirituality.
To suggest that Jesus was a millionaire is anathema not only to his life but his teachings. If it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a wealthy man to enter heaven, then how does this align itself with Byrne’s insistence that everyone should be wealthy? (Matthew 19:24; Mark 10:25—oooh . . . two citations this time!) That Jesus was welcomed into people’s homes where he was fed and often lavished upon is not a sign of his personal wealth nor even of his spiritual power but of a community that was told to welcome strangers and even had stories in their history suggesting that angels walk among us. (Genesis 18 et al. Read the Old Testament for more examples and also for the many teachings on how travelers should be treated.)
(In fact, it is still considered a great mitzva to be generous to the poor but I digress again.)
Then again, how many people really read or have read the Bible. So can I blame Byrne’s readers for their ignorance? Of course, not. I put the blame where it belongs: on her shoulders. Nevertheless, she is not the first to be guilty of misleading others with teachings taken out of context.
She goes on to talk about how sacrifice is unspiritual (118) suggesting that you cannot feel good if you are sacrificing yourself. Really? Tell that to Gandhi, to Mother Teresa, to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, to a myriad of other men and women whose spirituality deeply grew through self-sacrifice and who felt very good about their choices.
And therein lies the problem. As I said before, the book takes deep spiritual truths and waters them down until they aren’t even milky but plain as water. Is the implication then that we, as a society, have become so superficial that we cannot even tolerate milk but need something wishy-washy to feed our souls?
Here is my hope: I hope that anyone who has been blessed by reading this book and found their lives prospering as a result will continue to prosper. I hope those who experienced a blessing before but have since experienced some suffering or change in their circumstances will open themselves to the lessons possible and not assume that they are at fault, vibrating on some lower emotional level and inviting these things into their lives.
For those who, like me, find this book does not align with their personal experience, I hope you will find those texts and experiences that will feed your soul. I hope that, after reading this book, you will not close yourself to the ideas of giving from poverty or showing compassion in your suffering, because my experience, and the experience of every spiritual master and mystic I have read, affirms that prosperity is not limited to money or relationships or things but can be experienced in all situations.
Unfortunately, Byrne takes a shallow spiritual path and makes it seem very pretty. Superficial things often are and it is not until you go beneath the surface that relevance really emerges.
I hope for everyone that they define their own lives by their own practice and find fulfillment where they are now.
I would very much like to know the source for this quote Byrne credits as being made by Carl Jung: What you resist persists.
Edit (made 26 May 2012)
Here is a link to a video that reflects how my feelings regarding this teaching has evolved since I read this book: http://youtu.be/u5um8QWWRvo?t=5m23s