The Law of Attraction

Probably one of the most vilified tenets of self-help philosophy is the concept of The Law of Attraction. This "Law" has achieved a significant amount of cultural currency in recent years due to The Secret - basically, the Law of Attraction WAS The Secret (sorry if that's a bit of a plot spoiler!), and many millions of people encountered the idea for the first time there.
But it is a mistake to think it is a recent invention. Rhonda Byrne herself freely admits that she came across the idea of LOA while reading the works of Wallace Wattles, books published around the turn of the 20th century. The idea in its recognisable form can probably be dated back to Charles and Myrtle Fillmore and the Unity School of Christianity in the closing decades of the nineteenth century.
What is the Law of Attraction? Simply put, it is the idea that whatever you think about, you attract. As the Buddha used to say in the opening credits of Monkey, "With our thoughts, we create the world."
This idea goes well beyond the pioneers of New Thought, of course. This kind of "mind only" philosophy has a long history in Buddhism and, before that, Advaita Vedanta schools of Hinduism. I think the real difference between these Eastern and Western forms is where the emphasis lies. For the most part, this realisation in Hinduism and Buddhism is meant to lead the seeker to try and transcend this world, realising that ultimately nothing is real, and all is meaningless, a creation of our desire. Law of Attraction as it has manifested in popular American thought has been directed in a thoroughly more worldly manner: since we're creating our world, how about we create a really nice one.
Nothing wrong with that, of course. Indeed, many of the spiritual practices of Mahayana Buddhism involve just this process, visualising the jewelled Buddha lands and the extraordinary treasures of various divine realms. The Law of Attraction enthusiasts are, if anything, a shade more honest than most of their consumerist counterparts, by recognising that they want nice things in their world, and seeking to create these things at a metaphysical level. Whether or not you believe this is possible is a whole other question, and one with which I do not engage.
What I do find interesting is the vehemence with which such beliefs are denounced by those who don't share them. As religious beliefs go, I consider the Law of Attraction a pretty benign one. It certainly beats a whole lot of other religious and secular worldviews, including those of most who pour such scorn on the LOA scene.
At its simplest I really just see LOA as a Western re-casting of the same ideas of karma and rebirth that are subscribed to by pretty much most of the Hindu and Buddhist world. As such, it attracts many of the same criticisms and is subject to all the same shaky logical and philosophical premises. It's just that, being an idea seen (incorrectly) as the product of modern consumer culture, it is subjected to the kind of paternalistic scorn that people would never dare direct toward a Hindu or a Buddhist.
The fact that it is always mentioned as a "Law" is also significant. The new religious movements that emerged in America at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries were all, to some extent, responding to modernity. One of the ways they did that was by casting their new ideas not as religious revelations, but as much more scientific-sounding "Laws", "Principles" and "Sciences."
Apart from The Secret, the great proponents these days of the Law of Attraction are a cuddly pair of middle-American trance channelers called Esther and Jerry Hicks. Esther channels the voice of a disembodied entity called "Abraham" and this material sells wildly throughout the world, making the Law of Attraction more and more one of the strongest contemporary popular religious beliefs. Those from a more orthodox religious background may pooh-pooh it, but its longevity, resonance and, apparently, relevance cannot be denied.


Anonymous said…
I can't beleive how this is being received as "new knowledge" by so many people as i always thought that the concept of willing reality into shape through deliberate and accidental thinking was as old as time.

Simply, isn't it summed up by the idea of "hope"?

And, it runs through centuries of art and lit in various forms and across all kinds of literature but usually finds most vivid form in children's fiction as a triple-repetition meditation, such as Tinkerbell advising the children in Peter Pan to close their eyes and clap three times, or the Witch of the East telling Dorothy that she can return to Oz any time she wants by closing her eyes and clicking the heels of her Ruby Slippers together three times.

Yet millions of Americans and thousands of Austrlaians receive this as a bolt of new lightning? Beats me.
Walter Mason said…
You make interesting pints about children's literature, Anon - I had never made the connection, but now it seems obvious. Certainly "The Wizard of Oz" stands out as a New Thought text for many reasons, but I have never read "Peter Pan" in that light.
Agnes Benham, probably Australia's earliest New Thought writer, saw "Little Lord Fauntleroy" as an example of New Thought ideas, and then, of course, there's "Pollyanna." I think that transformation through hope and thought are central to children's literature, and now I'll be thinking about this all day!

Re. the "discovery" of LOA, I think that it is pretty standard for new generations to re-discover - and then re-invent - old ideas. I think that something like "The Secret" had to come along to strip New Thought of most of its overtly Christian language and symbolism. That kind of language had simply become unpalatable (if not incomprehensible) to a whole generation (or more) of spiritual seekers.
Anonymous said…
i guess i just don't understand the sense of discovery around something that is so old, and really, to me, always seemed like a given or a moot point. The projective power of thought is acknowledged even by medicine with many doctors recommending comedy films and positive thinking as part of extending the life and quality of life of terminal patients in palliative care, and the success of these forms of "thought treatements" has been measured.

Maybe it's the result of the Howard Era, but so many people aged under 35 that I meet these days seem to arrive at basic spirituality or any form of knowledge outside the stockmarket or the mortgage market with a real sense of delighted surprise, and I think that's very saddening.
The Power in Me said…
Rhonda Byrne has been writing a new book called The Power, a follow up of The Secret.

“The knowledge contained in The Power can and will change lives instantly. And the profound revelations are amplified by the book’s breathtaking illustrations – the book’s beauty is truly astounding.”

The Power is the book Rhonda Byrne was inspired to write after answering several thousands of letters from readers of The Secret.
I am reading it right now. It is good......I'll get back when I am done reading it:)

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