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Book Review – The Power

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Let’s start with a trick question. If I were to ask you what connects Lance Armstrong to Arnold Schwarzenegger, how would you respond? If you mumbled something witty about steroids,” I’m afraid you’d be wrong. According to Rhonda Byrne, what connects these two men is that they both harnessed the law of attraction in order to bring about their wildest dreams. They wanted money and fame and success, and wanted it so much that the universe delivered it to them (and not in the shape of a syringe, apparently).

In June of 2007 I wrote a review of Byrne’s The Secret and posted it at this blog. Three years later it remains one of the most-viewed pages, still racking up thousands of page views per month. The book has sold millions of copies and has been translated into 46 languages. It is a worldwide bestseller and one that has spawned many imitators.

The Secret is an introduction to the law of attraction. The law of attraction, which Byrne says is the most powerful law in the universe, states that people experience the logical manifestations of their predominant thoughts, feelings, and words. The law says that your thoughts become things so that your thoughts shape the world around you. You shape your own life and destiny through the power of your mind. The positive things in your life appear through your positive thoughts and feelings and the negative things in your life appear through your negative thoughts and feelings.

The Power is the just-released 2010 follow-up and one that immediately raced to the top of the New York Times list of bestsellers. The problems with the book are too many to catalog in a short review. It is almost mind-boggling how much unsubstantiated and blatantly contradictory nonsense Byrne manages to pack into just 250 pages, many of which contain little more than pictures and out-of-context quotes (from people as diverse as Gandhi and Jesus, Albert Einstein and Dietrich Bonhoeffer).

The book apparently began with a great discovery. Byrne’s great discovery was that in order to receive everything you want, you need to feel love for it. Hence love is the theme of this book. The power behind the law of attraction, it seems, is love. The logic here is a little bit opaque but I think Byrne means to say that the law of attraction is the most powerful law in the universe and love is the most powerful force since it is the force that motivates attraction. When you love something, you draw it to yourself through a kind of universal magnetism. Hence she can say, “Everything you want to be, do, or have comes from love … The positive force of love can create anything good, increase the good things, and change anything negative in your life.”

Did you catch that, young Skywalker? It’s pretty simple–we are all magnets and we draw to ourselves whatever matches our thoughts and feelings. The things we love most are irresistibly drawn to us through a universal law of attraction. It may sound fishy, but it’s been championed by the likes of Oprah Winfrey and Ellen DeGeneres before their audiences of millions. And people are lapping this stuff up.

So how does this law and the power of love manifest itself in a life? The challenge of a good life is to get yourself to the point where 51% of your feelings are good and are marked by love. At this point things will cascade and all the good that must come your way will soon overwhelm the negative. So “to change your life, all you have to do is tip the scales by giving 51 percent love through your good thoughts and good feelings. Once you reach the tipping point of giving more love than negativity, the love that comes back to you then multiplies itself.” Want some examples of how this works out? Well, if you help someone who dropped an object in the street, you may then find a parking spot right outside the supermarket door (page 51) or you may do a favor for a friend and then find that your boss gives you complimentary tickets to a sports game (page 51).

Much of the book is dedicated to giving instruction on how you can have everything you’ve ever wanted (which we all know is crucial to true joy and fulfillment, right?). The key is to imagine, to feel and then to receive. First you imagine what it is you want. Whatever it is–a new life, a new wife, never-ending perfect health, an awesome bowler hat–you need to first imagine having it, doing something great with it. Then you are to feel the love for what you’re imagining. “You must imagine and feel being with your desire,” doing things with it, having it, owning it. At this point the force of love will work through the law of attraction and bring it to you. It has to! Your job is just to receive it as it comes to you. “Whatever you desire you must want it with all your heart. Desire is love, and unless you have a burning desire in your heart, you will not have enough power to harness the force of love.”

Awesome, eh? Want it, love it, get it. It couldn’t be easier. And she provides lots of stories (and not a shred of evidence) to prove her case.

Not surprisingly, Byrne spends a good bit of the book discussing the three things people want most: money, love and health. In every case, you can have it all as long as you believe it and love it enough.”The only difference between the wealthy people and everyone else is that the wealthy people give more good feelings about money than they do bad feelings. It’s as simple as that.” Uh huh. Tell that to the child born into poverty or to the person whose wealth was annihilated in a bank failure. “You just don’t love money enough. It’s your fault, don’t you know? The love of money is the root of all sorts of joy and peace.”

There is a large sense in which all of this talk about love and attraction is inherently materialistic, in which it is inherently envious. If I can set my eye upon something and love it, Byrne promises that I will receive it. The universe has decreed that it will be so. And so my task in life becomes looking at all the world has to offer and setting my mind upon those things that I want. I cannot just want it one time, but I must dedicate myself to wanting it until I want it so much that the universe responds. I must live much of my life focusing on those things I feel that I need in order to be happy, those things I feel I must have in order to find significance. Some life.

Of course feeling is not enough; I need to actually begin to live like what I want is already mine. So if I want to find myself a new wife (which I don’t, by the way), Byrne counsels me to live as if she is already mine. I need to sleep on one side of the bed, not in the middle, I need to leave half the dresser empty so there is room for her clothes, I need to set the table for two (Truly! She actually says this.). Because as I live like it is true, it will come to me. And who cares if I look like the utter fool I am for doing it? She even says that a good way of looking for a job may be to not look at all–just act like you’ve already got one and one will come your way. I dare you to try that at the unemployment office. “Yeah, I stopped looking and started acting like I have one. Rhonda says it’s better this way.”

The section on health is downright comical. Or is it tragic? Is there such thing as a tragicomedy? “Do you have more good feelings about health than you have negative feelings about disease? Do you believe in lifelong health more than you believe in the inevitability of disease? If you believe that your body will deteriorate with age and that disease is inevitable, you are giving out that belief, and the law of attraction must return it to you clothed as the circumstances and state of your body and health.” Did you know that you can live forever if only you can generate enough love, if only you convince yourself that you’re not getting older? She honestly says this. I couldn’t make this stuff up. It’s that vapid, that stupid. I couldn’t even parody it; it’s a parody of itself.

This whole book is premised on complete selfishness. According to Byrne I am to go through life constantly generating good feelings about myself so that I can have everything I ever wanted. Whatever makes me happy can be mine if only I feel good about it. How does that leave me living on behalf of others? “When I see a person who seems to have a particular need, someone who can’t afford to buy something they want, for instance, I send them thoughts of abundance of money.” Isn’t that kind? “Here, have some good feelings about being full; that should help ease your hunger. And good luck with all of your hopes and dreams.” Didn’t Jesus have something to say about that kind of a person?

Where the law of attraction is most sickening is how it plays out in times of grief. What happens when bad things come? We have nowhere to go but introspection; no one to blame but ourselves. We have to look inward and find negativity there. I read recently of the systemic rape in an African nation–thousands of women raped, many of them repeatedly, as soldiers march through their land, are chased out, and return again. It’s horrifying and nauseating. And the law of attraction can explain it only by saying that these women brought about their own rape by thinking negative thoughts. They were afraid of rape and therefore they were raped. When the armies of drugged-out, terrorized young boys came marching through their land, these women felt fear and negativity and brought rape upon themselves. Do you really want to believe this? Unbelievably, Byrne even quotes the book of Job as she goes. Job! Didn’t she read to the end? How on earth could an honest reading of Job do anything but convince people of the folly of her brand of reasoning.

Needless to say, The Power is a bad book. A really bad book. It’s so utterly stupid, so unbelievably vapid, that it boggles my mind that anyone could read it and believe it. If you could package foolishness, if you could slap stupidity between two covers, you’d end up with The Power. Read it if you must, but as you do it, you’d better generate some good feelings toward brain cells; you’ll need to attract a few to yourself if you’re replace all the ones that are sure to die as you give hours of your life to all of this drivel.

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