What Is the Secret? Law of Attraction and Osteenification


Hank Hanegraaff

Article ID:



Apr 1, 2024


May 9, 2022

This article first appeared in the in the Ask Hank column of the Christian Research Journal, volume 45, number 1 (2022).

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Everyone wants to know the secret — the secret to health; the secret to wealth; the secret to successful relationships; the secret to making a fortune on Wall Street; the secret to maintaining your perfect weight. The list is endless. Thus, when Rhonda Byrne informed the world she had discovered “the Secret to life” — a secret harnessed by “the greatest people in history: Plato, Shakespeare, Newton, Hugo, Beethoven, Lincoln, Emerson, Edison, Einstein”1 — the world took notice. Within weeks, The Secret topped bestseller lists and morphed into a cultural phenomenon. Oprah dubbed The Secret “life changing.” According to Oprah, “The thoughts and the feelings that you put out into the world, both good and bad, are exactly what is always coming back to you, so you have the life that you have created. I’ve been talking about this for years on my show. I just never called it The Secret” (emphasis added).2

Law of Attraction. What is the secret? It is the “law of attraction.” Says Byrne, “The greatest teachers who have ever lived have told us that the law of attraction is the most powerful law in the Universe.”3 As Byrne goes on to explain, “The law of attraction is the law of creation. Quantum physicists tell us that the entire Universe emerged from thought! You create your life through your thoughts and the law of attraction, and every single person does the same. It doesn’t just work if you know about it. It has always been working in your life and every other person’s life throughout history.”4

While the science of quantum physics is complex, it is allegedly simple to apply. Says Byrne, “The Creative Process used in The Secret, which was taken from the New Testament in the Bible, is an easy guideline for you to create what you want in three simple steps”5: Ask, Believe, and Receive.6 Byrne points to herself as a prime example. To transform herself from fat to thin, she thought thin thoughts and did not so much as look at fat people: “If you see people who are overweight, do not observe them, but immediately switch your mind to the picture of you in your perfect body and feel it” (emphasis in original).7 As a result she says, “I now maintain my perfect weight of 116 pounds and I can eat whatever I want.”8 According to The Secret, the error is to think that food is responsible for weight gain:

The most common thought that people hold, and I held it too, is that food was responsible for my weight gain. That is a belief that does not serve you, and in my mind now it is complete balderdash! Food is not responsible for putting on weight. It is your thought that food is responsible for putting on weight that actually has food put on weight. Remember, thoughts are primary cause of everything, and the rest is effects from those thoughts. Think perfect thoughts and the result must be perfect weight.9 (emphasis in original)

While at first blush Byrne’s rhetoric may seem merely silly, there is a clear and present danger in her reasoning. Just as her followers must avoid fat people for fear of becoming fat, so, too, they must avoid cancer victims for fear of contracting cancer. Or poor people for fear of becoming poor. In other words, you should avoid the very people Jesus exhorts us to care for — do not so much as look at them!

Thoughts Cause Everything. Byrne and her contributors are remarkably open with respect to the many dangerous hues of “the Secret’s” dark underbelly. As such, she points out events in history “where masses of lives were lost.” While some might find it incomprehensible that multitudes could have attracted the same massacre, Byrne does not. “If people believe they can be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and they have no control over outside circumstances, those thoughts of fear, separation, and powerlessness, if persistent, can attract them to being in the wrong place at the wrong time.” Says Byrne: “Nothing can come into your experience unless you summon it through persistent thoughts” (emphasis added).10

Indeed, as contributing authors of The Secret have made plain, victims of suffering and tragedy attracted those circumstances to their lives. When asked whether Jessica Lunsford, a nine-year-old Florida girl who was brutally raped and murdered, attracted this horror to herself, contributing author Joe Vitale responded, “We are attracting everything to ourselves and there is no exception” (emphasis added).11

In short, thoughts are the primary cause of everything — whether good or bad. On one hand, thin thoughts produce thin bodies; on the other, six million Jews brought the horrors of the Holocaust upon themselves. As The Secret makes clear, “The law of attraction never slips up….There are no exclusions to the law of attraction. If something came to you, you drew it, with prolonged thought.”12 Says Byrne, “You are the Master of the Universe, and the Genie is there to serve you.”13

Osteenification. For Byrne, the Genie is the law of attraction. For Joel Osteen, another cultural icon, it is the Word of Faith. As such, he is committed to the notion that faith is a force, that words are the containers of the force, and that through the force of faith, one can create their own reality. As he explains in his mega bestseller Your Best Life Now, “You have to begin speaking words of faith over your life. Your words have enormous creative power. The moment you speak something out, you give birth to it. This is a spiritual principle, and it works whether what you are saying is good or bad, positive or negative.”14

According to Osteen — who influences the lives of “tens of millions of people in more than a hundred nations worldwide…through his weekly television broadcasts, his New York Times bestselling books, his sold-out international speaking tours, and his weekly top-ten podcasts”15 — “It’s not enough to merely think positively: You need to speak positively about yourself. You need to hear it over and over again.”16

While Osteen and Byrne have noteworthy differences, they are united in the belief that the force of faith is so powerful that even God (however you define Him) is bound by its irrevocable reality. In evidence, Osteen cites the birth of John the Baptist. Zechariah doubted that his wife could give birth to a son, thus God rendered him speechless during the entirety of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. “Why did God take away his speech?” asks Osteen. “It’s because God knew that Zechariah’s negative words would cancel out His plan….See, God knows the power of our words. He knows we prophesy our future. And He knew Zechariah’s own negative words would stop His plan.”17

Osteen is so convinced that words create reality that he transforms an unfortunate paralytic from a hero to a heel. In Osteen’s twist of the text, Jesus encounters a man by the pool of Bethesda just “lying around feeling sorry” for himself. In response to Jesus’ “simple, straightforward question,” the paralytic begins “listing all of his excuses. ‘I’m all alone. I don’t have anyone to help me. Other people have let me down. Other people always seem to get ahead of me. I don’t have a chance in life.’” With nary a hint of mercy, Osteen continues: “Is it any wonder that he remained in that condition for thirty-eight years?”18 In sharp contrast, Osteen says his sister, Lisa, arose from the ashes of a painful divorce and remarried. Unlike the paralytic, she “wasn’t going to sit around by the pool for thirty-eight years feeling sorry for herself.”19

“Positively or negatively,” reiterates Osteen, “creative power resides in your words.”20 In making his point, Osteen cites the story of Abraham and Sarah. The moment God told Sarah she was going to have a child, Sarah — who “saw herself as an older, barren woman” — began making negative confessions. Indeed, says Osteen, “God had to change the image Abraham and Sarah had of themselves before they could ever have that child. How did God do that? He changed their names; He changed the words they were hearing. He changed Sarai to Sarah, which means ‘princess.’ … [Thus] every time somebody said, ‘Hello, Sarah,’ they were saying, ‘Hello, princess.’ Over time, that changed her self-image. Now, she no longer saw herself as an older, barren woman; she began to see herself as a princess.” As a result, writes Osteen, “she gave birth to a child.”21

For Osteen, words are downright magical. “In the physical realm, you have to see it to believe it, but God says you have to believe it, and then you’ll see it.”22 “Think about it,” exhorts Osteen. “Your words go out of your mouth, and they come right back into your own ears. If you hear those comments long enough, they will drop down into your spirit, and those words will produce exactly what you’re saying.”23 As proof, Osteen invokes the Bible: “The Scripture tells us that we are to ‘call the things that are not as if they already were’” (emphasis added).24

Not only does Osteen rashly reason that God’s purpose in changing Sarai to Sarah was to affect her self-image and alter her negative confessions, but he makes a morally reckless application to the present. He tells the story of a friend named Joe whose wife had five miscarriages before “something clicked inside of him.” He realized that his given name was Joseph, meaning “God will add.” Joe then required everyone to call him Joseph, believing that in doing so “they were speaking faith into his life” and as a result God would add to him a son. Writes Osteen: “Several months after Joseph began believing his name, his wife became pregnant again. And for the first time in ten years, she carried the child to full term, and gave birth to a healthy baby boy.” The moral of the story, concludes Osteen, is that “with our words, we can prophesy our own future.”25

The implication is hard to miss. Had Joe listened to “God speaking to him”26 ten years earlier, the lives of five children would have been saved, and he and his wife would have been spared a world of hurt. Not only so, but with millions of Osteen books in print, one can only imagine the numbers of people who must even now be superstitiously fretting over the spiritual implications of their names.

Stories and Legends. Osteen’s methods are remarkably like those used by Byrne. In pulpit and in print, he communicates an endless string of undocumented anecdotes and urban legends. Sometimes the stories seem singularly silly. In seeking to buttress his belief in generational curses, Osteen chronicles “an interesting study done in 1993 by the United States military. They were curious about what traits get passed down from one generation to the next.” As Osteen tells the story:

The researchers extracted some white blood cells from a volunteer, and they carefully placed them in a test tube. They then put a probe from a lie-detector machine down in that test tube, to measure the person’s emotional response. Next, they instructed this same volunteer to go a couple of doors down and watch some violent scenes from an old war movie on television. When this man watched the scenes, even though the blood that was being tested was in another room, when he got all uptight and tense, that lie detector test shot off the page. It was detecting his emotional response even though the blood was no longer in his body.27

Osteen adds that this was not an isolated experiment. The United States “experimenters did this with person after person with the same results. They concluded that the blood cells seem to ‘remember’ where they came from.”28 While this tale is obviously bizarre on many different levels, Osteen employs it to convince his devotees that the problems they encounter in the present can be pawned off on proclivities of parents and grandparents in the past.

Scriptorture. Where Byrne primarily abuses science in sanitizing her stories, Osteen principally abuses Scripture. While his misinterpretations might be rationalized on the basis of limited theological acumen, his misquotations cannot. Again and again, he alters the text to conform to Word/Faith proclivities. As noted, to buttress the belief that words create reality, Osteen writes, “The Scripture tells us that we are to ‘call the things that are not as if they already were.’” As Osteen surely knows, Scripture says nothing of the sort. Indeed, the very passage Osteen references (Rom. 4:17) clearly communicates that it is “the God who gives life” — not we — who “calls things that are not as though they were” (NIV 1984).

If occult sources such as those referenced in The Secret pose the greatest threat to the body of Christ from without, the deadly doctrines disseminated by these prosperity preachers pose the greatest threat to Christianity from within.29 Indeed, that is why I was so very pleased that Anne Kennedy has weighed in on this deadly phenomenon in this issue of the JOURNAL.

In an engaging and thoughtful article titled, “Trusting Jesus in a Universe That Doesn’t Have Your back: A Christian Looks at Manifesting” (pp. 22–27), Kennedy does a superior service by not only alerting us to the spread of what is now popularly referred to as “manifesting” (attracting) but also by providing a clarifying Christian response. So, if you have not done so already, read her article; and if you have already read it, read it again. In doing so, you will be equipped to contrast truth and error and prepared to build a lighthouse in the midst of a gathering storm. —Hank Hanegraaff

Hank Hanegraaff is president of the Christian Research Institute, host of the Bible Answer Man broadcast and the Hank Unplugged podcast, and author of more than twenty books, including Christianity in Crisis — 21st Century (Thomas Nelson).


  1. Rhonda Byrne, The Secret (New York: Atria Books/Beyond Words, 2006), ix.
  2. Oprah Winfrey, “One Week Later: The Huge Reaction to The Secret,” The Oprah Winfrey Show, February 16, 2007.
  3. Byrne, The Secret, 4.
  4. Byrne, The Secret, 15.
  5. Byrne, The Secret, 47.
  6. Byrne, The Secret, 47ff. Though Byrne claims that the “Creative Process used in The Secret” is taken from the New Testament, she does not actually cite a biblical passage.
  7. Byrne, The Secret, 61.
  8. Byrne, The Secret, 62.
  9. Byrne, The Secret, 59.
  10. Byrne, The Secret, 28.
  11. Joe Vitale in an interview with Larry King on Larry King Live, CNN, March 8, 2007.
  12. Byrne, The Secret, 36.
  13. Byrne, The Secret, 46.
  14. Joel Osteen, Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential (New York: Warner Faith, 2004), 129.
  15. Joel Osteen, Become a Better You: 7 Keys to Improving Your Life Every Day (New York: Free Press, 2007), inside back cover.
  16. Osteen, Become a Better You, 115.
  17. Joel Osteen, Discover the Champion in You, Trinity Broadcasting Network, May 3, 2004.
  18. Osteen, Your Best Life Now, 148–49.
  19. Osteen, Your Best Life Now, 151.
  20. Osteen, Become a Better You, 111.
  21. Osteen, Become a Better You, 113.
  22. Osteen, Become a Better You, 112.
  23. Osteen, Become a Better You, 111.
  24. Osteen, Become a Better You, 112.
  25. Osteen, Become a Better You, 114.
  26. Osteen, Become a Better You, 114.
  27. Osteen, Become a Better You, 60.
  28. Osteen, Become a Better You, 61.
  29. The preceding is adapted from Hank Hanegraaff, Christianity in Crisis — 21st Century (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009), xii–xvii.
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