Do you know The Secret?
No, nor do I. Nor, I suspect, does whoever was trying to sell me The Secret on the Net.
They don’t know it, not because they haven’t been told, but because there isn’t one.
The Secret is not even anything new; it’s a reworking of stuff that has been around since the 19th Century, but someone out there must buy it. Deep within the human psyche there seems to be the desire to believe that there is some secret answer to life and a desire to possess that answer. The Secret is not unique in appealing to that desire for esoteric knowledge (particularly knowledge that will grant the accumulation of material riches); a range of unlikely people, from Nigerian Pentecostalist preachers who tell you to decide how much money you want, to bizarre New Age groups who will connect you with the universe, are lining up to give you, or preferably sell you (at a special discounted price – an unrepeatable offer) that one critical piece of knowledge that will change your life.
There seems a compulsion to believe that there are principles and, sometimes, people at work who are controlling things and if you could gain access to their knowledge or be admitted to their circle, then you too could be powerful/rich/influential/attractive (delete as applicable).
The central character in Umbert Eco’s novel Foucault’s Pendulum faces death because he knows there to be no secret; the problem is that those pursuing him cannot believe this to be true; perhaps it is that they cannot allow this to be true, their whole world has no meaning without the secret. They believe that he must know, but that he will not tell.
In Christian history, from the First Century onwards, there were groups who believed they possessed special knowledge – the Gnostics (from ‘gnosis’ the Greek for knowledge) were judged to be heretics by the early church, but that has never stopped groups down through the centuries from believing that special knowledge was there to be found. From the writings of Joanna Southcott to the secrets of Fatima, there are supposed secrets of world-changing importance.
Not only are there secrets, but there are perceived to be possessors of secrets.
Last week I was asked if a group were some sort of “illuminati”, I was so stunned by the comment that I cannot now remember to which group the question referred (I wish I could, perhaps they know something that I don’t!). The Freemasons’ rebranding of themselves not as a secret society, but as a society with secrets suggests they have some esoteric knowledge. As a fraternal secret society they had some attraction to even the sceptic; as merely a society with secrets, they are in danger of appealing to only those susceptible to belief in the esoteric.
Belief in the esoteric, including some Pentecostalist and Catholic thinking, runs directly contrary to the preaching of Jesus. He talks about light and truth and openness; Jesus makes point quite clearly that the esoteric has no place in his teaching, “I have spoken openly to the world,” Jesus replied. “I always taught in synagogues or at the temple, where all the Jews come together. I said nothing in secret”, he declares in john’s Gospel.
“Nothing in secret” – it doesn’t have quite the attraction of the offer of special knowledge. It was those who believed they had the special knowledge; those who believed that knowledge gave them a right to power; those who believe that knowledge gave them authority over the people; those who perceived the open, accessible Jesus as threat, particularly the priests, who killed him.