The Secret Is Total Bunk

November 28, 2007

I’ve been intending to write about The Secret for a while and Rev. Fred Small‘s recent UU World article Psst: ‘The Secret’ isn’t total bunk,”(adapted form a sermon) inspired me to sit down and get to it. (The Secret has also recently been mentioned at Philocrities and over at Surviving the Workday).

The problems with the book, the DVD companion to the book, and the general philosophy/science outlined therein are so numerous that I have no intention of trying to outline them all. You can read the wikipedia article, which outlines a good number of the problematic aspects and claims. The question for me, as it is was for Rev. Small, is if there is something redeemable about The Secret. Should we throw the baby out with the bathwater?

In the end, for Rev. Small, there was something redeemable about The Secret. After pointing out some of the problems with the book, he writes:

The Secret reminded me that to dwell constantly in the negative is its own kind of hell—a hell of my own choosing. I don’t want to deny or flee the negative, but I need not build my house on its sinkhole. How effective an activist for change can I be when my thinking and speaking are infused with hopelessness? How much time and energy in all areas of my life do I devote to criticizing what is, rather than creating what could be?

“There is no greater power in the Universe than the power of love,” says The Secret. “The feeling of love is the highest frequency you can emit. If you could wrap every thought in love, if you could love everything and everyone, your life would be transformed.” That’s a view I wholeheartedly endorse.

Yet, for me, while I understand that some good thoughts and ideas can come from The Secret – especially the sense that positive thinking is important, focusing on the negative is not often helpful, that we should “emit” love our lives, I think it is total bunk. Just because some parts of a book or a way of thinking can be isolated and might be helpful, I don’t think that we can, or should, separate out the acceptable parts of thinking such as that espoused in The Secret given what the overall “package” implies – an overall package that people are buying into by the thousands.

What does the overall package imply, you ask? That your thoughts are responsible for what happens in your life – if you think positive things, positive things will happen. And if you think negative things, negative things will happen. There is no gray area here.

“Everything that’s coming into your life, you are attracting into your life. And it’s attracted to you by virtue of the images you’re holding in your mind,” Bob Proctor of The Secret DVD tells us.

As Rev. Small reminds us in the UU World article:

The Secret demands three simple steps: 1) Ask. 2) Believe. 3) Receive.

“It’s like having the Universe as your catalog,” explains [Dr. Vitale, Metaphysician]. “You flip through it and say, ‘I’d like to have that product and I’d like to have a person like that.’ It is You placing your order with the Universe. It’s really that easy.”

The insurmountable problem I have with this is that the logical conclusion these sort of theological/scientific claims require: if things aren’t going well for you, it is because you are doing something wrong. Not only is this just reprehensible to me in general (thinking of those I know who have suffered and succumbed to cancer despite hopeful, joyful honest asking and believing), but this is also a quite racist, classist and sexist claim as well: those who are doing well are doing so because they have asked and believed – because they have done what they need to do, attracting good to themselves. Those who are not doing well have not asked and have not believed – according to The Secret‘s law of attraction, they have not attracted good things to them because their thoughts and energies are not good enough. So, women, if you get raped: you could have prevented that with different thoughts. To the millions suffering from the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa: you could have prevented this by thinking different thoughts. Did your wife get laid off from her job?: that also could have prevented by thinking different thoughts. If you go to a highly segregated school that is vastly underfunded and get an inadequate education: you simply did not open that catalog of the universe and pick out what you wanted – you could have prevented this by maybe taking a little action, but mostly by thinking different thoughts, emitting different energy. It’s really that easy.

Rhonda Byrne speaks to this in a Newsweek article:

“The law of attraction is that each one of us is determining the frequency that we’re on by what we’re thinking and feeling,” Byrne said in a telephone interview, in response to a question about the massacre in Rwanda. “If we are in fear, if we’re feeling in our lives that we’re victims and feeling powerless, then we are on a frequency of attracting those things to us … totally unconsciously, totally innocently, totally all of those words that are so important.” (Jerry Adler. “Decoding ‘The Secret'” Newsweek, March 2007)

Right. So apparently the Rwandans might who were massacred (or those killed during the Holocaust or, say, Matthew Shepard or other people who have been brutally killed) might have been having totally unconscious, totally innocent frequencies which, in the end, resulted in their deaths. What a woefully inadequate answer to questions about longing, hoping, and suffering in our world. Shame on you Rhonda Byrne.

Positive thinking is great. Emitting love frequencies is great. But this is not what The Secret is about. The Secret is making claims about how the universe works. If you think about what you want, believe it will come to you, it will. If it doesn’t, you aren’t doing things right. This sounds to me too much like blaming those who suffer from injustice, oppression, and simply those who suffer. It feels like such a slap in the face to all of the people who I have known throughout my life – and really, those throughout the world – who have believed, and yet suffered and struggled and not received. And, it is a slap in the face to those who, for whatever reason, have not been able to believe.

Our Unitarian Universalist faith does not offer easy answers to why there is suffering in the world. We do not have answers as to why we do not always get what we want, or why justice and goodness and health so often fail to manifest in our lives. This is because there are not easy answers to these questions. These are important places for reflection, exploration, struggle, and grappling with hard theological and scientific questions. Why did the cancer treatment not work? Why did our dad lose his job? Why does violence like that which we see in Darfur continue? The Secret, and any embrace of it, dismisses these questions and this grappling that is so central to our faith with easy, simplistic answers.

Let’s call this what it is. The Secret is bad pseudo-science and has nothing to do with what Unitarian Universalism is about. We can embrace love and positive thinking and hope without contaminating our faith or our lives with the absurd theological and scientific claims of The Secret.

Addendum: I just want to clarify, after reflecting on this post, that my frustration with The Secret is primarily about The Secret and its theology, not about Rev. Small’s attempt to glean something useful from it. I understand where Rev. Small was going with trying to take some good out of a book/theology/world-view that he takes pains to point out has great problems. I just respectfully disagree with that approach. I don’t know Rev. Small, but imagine, like so many of our ministers, is a thoughtful, kind, and very wise person. Just thought it was important to clarify this.

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What’s up with down there? Tyra Banks talks about vaginas.

November 2, 2007

So Tyra Banks has her own talk show, which I didn’t really know, and apparently there is going to be a whole show on vaginas (or, as they say in the advertisement “down there”). As some of you may remember, Harvard Divinity School put on The Vagina Monologues a few years ago, which is where my passion for talking about and feeling comfortable with the idea and the word and the actual vagina was nurtured. (Side note: I am shocked that I didn’t post about it on my blog, but apparently, I didn’t. Luckily Philocrites did and you can read about it here (and on the HDS website). Our slogan was “God Loves Vaginas” which I still think is brilliant. We even had t-shirts made. Very fun. But I digress.) Anyway, my point is that I was excited to hear that a mainstream TV show was going to talk about vaginas. I first read about it here at People magazine where they use the word vagina in the article.

But, in preparing this posting, I went to the Tyra Banks show website here and watched a clip that made me wonder if this was something to be excited about. The clip from the show seems so dramatic and exactly the opposite of what I would want. Based on this little clip, it seems more like “Ohmygod we’re totally going to talk about down there. Dum da dum dum dum,” rather than “Let’s talk about sexuality and sexual health and our bodies” in a way that acknowledges that this is a difficult issue, has baggage, but also celebrates and tries to demystify our vagina and our sexuality. Clearly you can see why I am not a talk show host. Not exciting. Not dramatic.

Is it better to talk about “it” some even in a weird talk-show sort of way, or not at all? I guess I would fall on the side of better to talk about it some, even in a talk-show sort of way. Although I would have to see the whole show to really say. If any one watches it, let us know. Maybe it is a step in the right direction. I wonder if you can actually say vagina on network TV? They certainly made sure not to say it in the clip on the website.


Safer Cosmetics and “beauty” products? Organic, Natural, and Methylchloroisothiazolinone

November 1, 2007

There is an article in the Times this morning informing us that “There is no evidence to conclude that natural or organic cosmetics produce extra healthy skin.” Really? Because I wasn’t using organic stuff because it would make my skin or hair be “extra healthy.” I was thinking more about my brain, since, for instance, Campaign for Safe Cosmetics recently found that “a significant proportion of lipstick manufactured in the United States and used by millions of American women contains surprisingly high levels of lead” (via CNN).

I just thought that the Times article was a little bit off, or rather a little bit too reflective of what the beauty industry would want them to say. For instance, they write that “representatives for the government and the beauty industry, as well as some environmental activists, acknowledge that there is no published scientific proof to support the notion that plant-based cosmetics are safer, healthier or more effective for people.” I mean, just because there are no studies on something, should we assume that it is probably safe? Should we take the risk and go with the “hard-to-pronounce, multisyllabic industrial cosmetic ingredients like the preservative methylchloroisothiazolinone” and just assume it is probably okay because there are not studies the prove otherwise, or go with, say, olive oil and aloe extract? I’m going to go with the precautionary principle here.

As the article points out, the FDA “requires manufacturers to ensure that cosmetics are safe for their intended use. But the agency leaves it up to manufacturers to decide which safety and efficacy tests to perform on ingredients and finished products.” Yeah, and I am totally sure that the make-up companies like Proctor & Gamble are very vigilant about the tests they perform. Um, like the ones for lead in lipstick.

It seems like the main thrust of the article is “hey just because it says organic or natural doesn’t mean it is better.” Which I agree is a good point. Just throwing a “natural” or “organic” label on something does not make it better. That said, I would have appreciated a little bit of an acknowledgment on the part of the Times that companies like L’Oreal and Cover Girl might use too many chemicals and other stuff that isn’t great for our bodies or the earth. And, of course no one mentioned that a lot of the organic/naturalish sort of companies don’t smear lipstick in rabbits’ eyes to test for safety and other things like that. Which I think is important. Always look for the symbol and statement that the product wasn’t tested on animals, or, heaven forbid, doesn’t have animals stuff in them. Gross (at least to me). (Here you can see a list of companies that do not test on animals and the ones with a star don’t use animal ingredients.)

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If you go here to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics here you can find “companies that have pledged to not use chemicals that are known or strongly suspected of causing cancer, mutation or birth defects in their products and to implement substitution plans that replace hazardous materials with safer alternatives in every market they serve. Several major cosmetics companies, including OPI, Avon, Estee Lauder, L’Oreal, Revlon, Proctor & Gamble and Unilever have thus far refused to sign the Compact for Safe Cosmetics.” I like how they call them “safer” not “safe.” Which is true. They may not be perfect, but I like the idea that they at least try to avoid products that are known or strongly suspected of causing cancer, mutation, or birth defects.