Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search

'The Secret,' a phenomenon, is no mystery to many

By Jane LampmanStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / March 28, 2007

The book is small, like a diary or personal journal, with a cover that evokes parchment and a brilliant red seal. Just the kind of thing that might hold secrets or treasured thoughts.

Skip to next paragraph

In this case, though, it's not just someone's secrets, but something presented as "the" secret – "passed down through the ages ... stolen and bought for vast sums of money ... understood by some of the most prominent people in history." The book jacket proclaims: "Now The Secret is being revealed to the world."

Bookstores have sold out of it, and customers must wait for the next mammoth printing – or buy the DVD on the Internet instead. (Some 3.75 million copies of the book are now in print; 2 million DVDs have been sold.)

"They're marketing it the way 'The Celestine Prophecy' was marketed a decade ago – all of a sudden, someone's found this great 'secret,' " says Douglas Cowan, assistant professor of religion at Canada's University of Waterloo. "It's just the next coming of the same old New Age cavalry."

The publishing world has another phenomenon on its hands, helped along by Ellen DeGeneres and Oprah, who recently touted "The Secret" on their television shows. This time, the phenomenon is not fiction but a prescription for how to live one's life. It is presented as the key to unlimited happiness, health, money, relationships – whatever you most want.

Yet along with the spiraling sales has come significant criticism for what some say is simply a cleverly repackaged message – and one that is misleading in its claims.

The creation of Rhonda Byrne, an Australian TV producer, the book (and the DVD, which came first, a year ago) promises to deliver ancient wisdom known only to historical elites, along with the knowledge of modern "living masters" who have used it in their lives. Some two dozen "visionaries" (entrepreneurs, authors, human-potential speakers, pastors, and corporate trainers) unravel the secret during the 90-minute DVD (

Ms. Byrne's life had collapsed around her in 2004, she says, but has been transformed since her discovery. And since the DVD appeared on the Internet in 2006, she writes, thousands have responded with "stories of miracles," from healing of chronic pain to finding homes or transformed businesses. (The book is a companion to the DVD.)

The essence of Byrne's message: People create their own reality, and thoughts are things. The secret is "the law of attraction, which is always operating" – you attract what you think about most. If you think positive thoughts, you will attract positive experiences; if you think negatively, you will bring negatives into your life.

The presentation is highly materialistic at times. ("We can have whatever it is that we choose. I don't care how big it is," one teacher says on the DVD.)

One section in the book and DVD focuses on how to get as much money as you want. Jack Canfield, initial author and now CEO of the "Chicken Soup for the Soul" enterprises, explains how, when he had only a small income, he visualized a $100,000-a-year lifestyle, and it came about.

Byrne had her initial awakening when her daughter gave her a 1910 book by Wallace Wattles called "The Science of Getting Rich." Wattles, a writer in the New Thought movement, believed that everyone could become wealthy because of the abundance of the universe.

Wattles's approach went deeper than the usual "get rich" tome, including his insistence that one couldn't achieve true wealth through competition. (

Indeed, the teachings in "The Secret" "stand in a long tradition of American religious history since the mid- to late 19th century," says Sean McCloud, who teaches religion and modern culture at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. "It can be compared to the New Thought movements and to Norman Vincent Peale's 'The Power of Positive Thinking.' All share the idea that, in some sense, people create their own realities by their thoughts."

Turning thoughts into things