Mar 052007
 
Authors: Daniel GibsonReinemer

Jesus didn’t teach us how to get rich quick.

Neither did Abraham, Buddha or Mother Teresa, but each appears in Rhonda Byrnes book “The Secret” to convince readers they can receive unlimited amounts of money in the mail if only they think happy thoughts.

“The Secret” is a truly appalling piece of writing. In essence, Byrnes claims happy thoughts cure every disease and give people eternal youth and limitless material wealth.

The most appalling part of the book is not its false claims, but the support it has received from celebrities like Oprah and the general public. As of this weekend, it was competing with the last Harry Potter novel for the best selling book on Amazon.com.

When hordes of people are lured into buying a book with outrageous and unsupported claims, there’s reason for concern.

For instance, take Byrnes statement on disease: “You cannot ‘catch’ anything unless you think you can, and thinking you can is inviting it to you with your thought.”

All those dying of AIDS and cancer, then, must be to blame for their conditions; they invited it upon themselves. If they die, it is only because they thought they could.

Further, as Byrne writes, by thinking about bad things like a disease a person suffers from, we are only “adding to their illness. If you really want to help that person, change the conversation to good things, if you can, or be on your way.”

So not only are the victims of disease the cause of their illness, we must not think about their suffering lest we make it worse.

Of course, it’s the height of hypocrisy to advocate such a position and defend it by referring to Jesus, Mother Teresa and Buddha.

There is real danger when so many people buy Byrne’s book. While it may serve to make some people feel better about their lives, the head-in-the-sand approach to actually helping others is atrocious.

A great example of combating misery comes from former President Jimmy Carter’s work with the parasitic Guinea worm. As New York Times reporter Nicholas Kristof reported, Mr. Carter visited children victims of the parasite in Ghana who were, he said, “screaming uncontrollably with pain.” Those were the words of Mr. Carter, quoted by Nicholas Kristof.

Mr. Carter did not turn away from their agony. Instead, he was quoted in a Feb. 18 New York Times column of Kristof’s as saying, “I cried, along with them.”

By focusing on the suffering of those inflicted with Guinea worm and a host of other preventable or treatable diseases, Mr. Carter has helped to eliminate them in large swaths of the developing world and treat millions of people.

His concern and attention to their pain, combined with tangible and well-coordinated medical outreach, are responsible for their health – not the “vibrations” of thoughts described by Byrne.

I don’t know any highly marketable secrets, but I do know great happiness and fulfillment come from acknowledging pain and taking real action to stop it.

In fairness to Byrne, there are two worthwhile points in her book – positive thinking can have some effect on your health and how you feel, and people who desire to succeed usually do so more often than people with less desire to succeed. The rest is simply garbage.

The most dangerous, damaging ideas consist of an ounce of truth mixed with a ton of lies.

What happens when we’re more captivated by a book that tells us how to attract riches by thinking we’ll receive checks in the mail, courtesy of “the Universe,” than real charity and kindness?

The answer is no secret – we’ll make Byrne rich, ignore the sick and dying, and unlearn every virtue Jesus and Buddha taught.

Daniel Gibson-Reinemer is a fishery and wildlife biology masters student. His column appears every Tuesday in the Collegian. Replies and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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