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Who Is "The Universe" And Why Does It Care What I Think? | Mary Beth Bonacci | Ignatius Insight

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"The Secret" is about a lot more than just positive thinking.

So Oprah knows "The Secret."

Of course, nothing remains a secret for long once it's been discussed on Oprah, what with her 80 jillion daily viewers and all. And so it is with The Secret, a million-selling movie and book about The Universe and its "law of attraction" that will grant us whatever our hearts desire, provided we think positive thoughts and believe that they will come to pass. The Universe hears our thoughts and delivers. According to the movie, "It works every time, with every person."

The Secret is very, very popular. Oprah helped make it so, having devoted several shows to discussing its various manifestations. I saw one of those shows recently. The discussion was about relationships and The Secret Apparently The Universe is a matchmaker. If we just imagine the perfect mate and focus our thoughts on him or her, we'll soon be planning a wedding. It works every time, for every person.

Except when it doesn't.

It was obviously impossible for Oprah and friends to ignore the 1000 lb. elephant on the set – the fact that despite all of that imagining and positive thinking, plenty of single people in the world spend their date nights with Ben and Jerry.

So why isn't it working every time? Oprah and her friends were struggling mightily to explain the seemingly inexplicable. The discussion ran along the lines of "Maybe they don't believe strongly enough. You have to really believe it." Or "You have to write it down, put it away and forget about it." Or maybe it's something about clicking your heels together three times while throwing salt over your right shoulder.

Why are so many positively-thinking people partner-less? Hmmm. Maybe in addition to all of that positive thinking, they need to put on some mascara and show up at a party every once in a while. Maybe they have personal issues they need to work on. Maybe God has a different plan for them that all of their positive thinking shouldn't override.

I doubt that any book or movie could become this popular unless is contained some truth that resonates with people. In this case, the valid element has to do with positive thinking. Personally, I'm a big fan of positive thinking. It's important. It's helpful. It makes a difference. If I think positively and optimistically about something I'm about to undertake, I believe that increases the odds that I will be successful. But that doesn't happen because some sentient "Universe" heard my thoughts and processed my order for success. My thoughts don't change The Universe, they change me. They change my attitude. They change the energy that I bring to the task. They may even change others, to the extent that they come in contact with me and are impacted by my ideas and my enthusiasm.

There are, however, limits to positive thinking. I believe my positive thoughts and attitudes can make a difference (notice I said "can", not "automatically will") in situations where I have some direct control over the outcome. If I'm playing a game, my optimism and enthusiasm can give me an added advantage. They might combine with my skills and abilities powerfully enough to help me to win. But if I'm watching a game on television, all of my most positive thoughts aren't going to move Jay Cutler's passes even an inch closer to his intended receiver. Jay's attitude might help. Mine, not so much.

I also draw the line when "positive" thinking becomes "dishonest" thinking. God created the mind to grasp and comprehend truth. Positive thinking with no basis in reality is just lying to ourselves. A five-foot-two grandmother is never going to be a six-foot-eight NBA player, no matter how fervently she believes it may be so. End stage cancer patients who gasp "I'm going to beat this" through their ventilator tubes are thinking delusionally, not positively.

I think part of the attraction of The Secret is that it seems to give us unlimited control. Control is nice. Lack of control can be very, very scary. And when it comes right down to it, we have a very limited amount of control over the world around us. We can't ultimately control other people. We can influence them to a certain extend by our example and our attitude. Legitimate legal, corporate or parental authority gives certain people limited control over the actions of others. We can try, through manipulation or intimidation, to exercise further control over those around us. Those efforts usually meet with limited "success", because they are inherently disrespectful of human free will.

We can, to a significant extent, control ourselves. We can control our actions, our attitudes and our beliefs. We have some control over our immediate environment. We can control our health, to a certain extent, by eating well and exercising.

But no matter how scrupulously we attempt to control our lives and our health, we're all gonna die some day. And that's the ultimate loss of control.

Who holds all of the control? Whose thoughts control the universe? God. His thoughts control the universe. Not my thoughts. Not your thoughts. God's thoughts.

We are not God. God is God. But our primary temptation in this life is to try to de-throne Him – to somehow usurp the power and the control that is His, and assign it to ourselves. What did the Serpent say when tempting Adam and Eve in the Garden? "Ye shall be like gods." (Gen 3:5)

That is the heresy of The Secret It's the oldest lie in the world, the very first lie ever told in human history. We shall be God. Our thoughts – not His -- shall control the Universe.

The Serenity Prayer says "Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."

That's the real Secret.

This column originally appeared on RealLove.net on May 10, 2008.

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Putting Things In Order | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J., on Eighty Years of Living, Thinking, and Believing
Exploring the Catholic Faith! | An Interview with Diane Eriksen
Understanding The Hierarchy of Truths | Douglas Bushman, S.T.L.
What Do Mother Teresa and Patrick Swayze Have In Common? | Mary Beth Bonacci
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Mary Beth Bonacci is internationally known for her talks and writings about love, chastity, and sexuality. Since 1986 she has spoken to tens of thousands of young people, including 75,000 people in 1993 at World Youth Day in Denver, Colorado. She appears frequently on radio and television programs, including several appearances on MTV.

Mary Beth has written two books, We're on a Mission from God and Real Love, and also writes a regular, syndicated column for various publications. She has developed numerous videos, including her brand-newest video series, also entitled Real Love. Her video Sex and Love: What's a Teenager to Do? was awarded the 1996 Crown Award for Best Youth Curriculum.

Mary Beth holds a bachelor's degree in Organizational Communication from the University of San Francisco, and a master's degree in Theology of Marriage and Family from the John Paul II Institute at Lateran University. She was also awarded an honorary doctorate in Communications from the Franciscan University of Steubenville, and is listed in Outstanding Young Women of America for 1997. Her apostolate, Real Love Incorporated is dedicated to presenting the truth about the Church's teaching about sexuality, chastity, and marriage.

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