There are two books I have disliked and distrusted since they first burst onto the scene: The Prayer of Jabez and The Secret. Both of them play far too much into the “prosperity gospel” for me–and I see them as feeding the “me-first” mentality that causes too many of us to be less-than-wise stewards.
I recently watched a program on ABC’s Nightline about one of those individuals who is a passionate advocate of The Secret – James Arthur Ray. Not only do I think that what he preaches is spiritually dangerous, it is also physically dangerous.
Part of the philosophy of The Secret that I can agree with. If we carry a positive attitude, we are more likely to attract positive people–and find the positives in situations. That does have an impact on how we interact with others and makes it possible that we will succeed in our goals more than those whose attitudes are always negative. But to focus on living in ways to attract what we want to the exclusion of caring about others–and paying thousands of dollars to constantly chase that goal–is unhealthy…and dangerous.
The Nightline show discussed a workshop that went horribly wrong last year, one I remember hearing about in the news where three people died in a “sweat lodge” experience. They interviewed several people who had attended the workshop as well as a former employee and a woman who had volunteered to help with the sweat lodge. That event–the culminating one of the six-day workshop in which the attendees would be pushed to (and past) their limits–sounded like a challenging but safe experience, but it was not. By that time, the attendees had already been pushed beyond what was healthy, and the way this event was run was incredibly dangerous even to people who were in good shape.
Several of the things that were shared just sounded almost too bizarre to be believable. And yet…while one of the people who had attended the event said she would never attend another event held by Ray, she was still willing to follow another self-help guru. Another individual, even while acknowledging that things went horribly wrong at that event, was very willing to go to another of Ray’s events. Why? Because he personally found value in them.
Is focusing so much on trying to find ways to get what I want worth the creation of events that are so physically dangerous? Is the me-first mentality worth ignoring our connections with each other? Because that’s what seems to be happening.
I am in full support of retreats and receiving guidance / help from individuals who have something to offer. I believe spirituality is an important component of who we are. I also think it’s important that we reconsider the messages of the prosperity gospel–and remember Jesus’ challenge to each of us in terms of our relationships with each other (Matthew 25:34-45):
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:
I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.’
“Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’
“Then he will turn to the ‘goats,’ the ones on his left, and say, ‘Get out, worthless goats! You’re good for nothing but the fires of hell. And why? Because—
I was hungry and you gave me no meal,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
I was homeless and you gave me no bed,
I was shivering and you gave me no clothes,
Sick and in prison, and you never visited.’
“Then those ‘goats’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or homeless or shivering or sick or in prison and didn’t help?’
“He will answer them, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me—you failed to do it to me.’
What do we want to attract? “Me-first”? Or our connectedness with each other?