06 September 2022

Prayer, and the law of attraction.

The “law of attraction” is a popular pagan belief. Basically it’s that when you put positivity out into the universe, it attracts positivity. Whereas if you put negativity out into the universe, it attracts negativity. You know—the exact opposite of how magnets work.

It’s karmic thinking. It’s exactly how people imagine a fair and just universe should work. I put out all these good vibes, so I deserve to get some goodness back, right? Whereas that barista earlier today was such a dick to me, safes and pianos and anvils and air conditioners oughta fall on him. My goodness should be rewarded; his evil should be punished.

And one of the interesting things about this “law”—the part we read about in Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret and dozens of other self-help books jumping on this bandwagon—is that we can use it to get whatever we want. All you gotta do is be a positive person, then declare your intentions and plans to the universe. And the universe will grant you these wishes.

This idea is so common and popular, Christians have regularly attempted to Christianize it, and claim they can actually find it in bible. No they can’t. Not without pulling various verses out of context, and really stretching their meaning. But they don’t mind bending the bible to fit the idea, then naming and claiming all the stuff they covet, in the hopes the universe (although Christians usually say “God”) will give ’em what they desire. ’Cause didn’t he say he’ll give us whatever we desire?

Mark 11.23-24 KJV
23 For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith. 24 Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.

Like Jesus said: Believe! Don’t doubt. What things soever ye desire. Verily!

Hence you’ll find a lot of Christians who insist the “law of attraction” is a perfectly legitimate practice. They claim God built it into the universe; it’s a “law” just like Isaac Newton’s laws of motion, or John Locke’s laws of nature, or Adam Smith’s laws of economics. That’s why they do it: They’re just tapping a perfectly legitimate power of the universe. Why should only pagans get to do so?

Asking on merit.

Here’s the deal with the “law of attraction”—and how we know it doesn’t jibe with anything Jesus actually teaches us. The “law of attraction” is entirely based on merit. The universe supposedly grants our requests because we deserve them—because we went to all the trouble of putting positive energy out there. And we put gobs of positive energy out there. Buttloads of positive energy! Blasting it every which way. (Well, except towards that one barista. When’s a truck gonna finally hit him?)

’Cause just as all the “law of attraction” writers keep saying, if you don’t crank out that positive energy, positivity’s not gonna come back in the form of success and wealth and happiness and health. And it can’t be just any ol’ positive energy; you gotta live in harmony with everyone and everything around you, and be kind and keep doing right by other people, and be grateful and appreciative for every little thing in your life, and do it constantly. Unstoppingly. Unwaveringly. Because you really want what you’re asking the universe to give you, right? So show that universe you mean it.

You gotta be righteous, and constantly and consistently righteous. Only then will the “law of attraction” kick in, and good stuff will happen to you.

Contrast that with Christianity, which teaches us pretty definitively:

  • Life is suffering, and meaningless.
  • God is good, and gracious.

Our righteousness isn’t attained by goodness, but by trusting God. And we don’t get things from God because we earn them, but because he’s generous and loves to give good things to his kids. As for the universe—well, it’s random and chaotic, and frequently gives good things to people who totally don’t merit them. Like that barista who totally blew his nose into your latte when you weren’t looking: He just won the lottery, so he’s buying a Tesla, and unlike most Teslas he unexpectedly won’t get a lemon; it’ll run forever. No it’s not fair. But when did the universe suddenly become fair? It’s not. God is.

So when Jesus tells his followers, “Believe that ye receive, and ye shall have,” he’s not at all talking about the “law of attraction.” He’s talking about trusting God. He’s talking about having the faith of Abraham—of knowing God has our back, and will grant us good and perfect gifts when we trust him. Trusting our own ability to crank out nothing but good vibes? Please. All it takes is one rude barista and most of us will crack.

So why do so many pagans insist the “law of attraction” totally works? Attentional bias. They want it to work so bad, they totally ignore any evidence which shows it doesn’t really. They didn’t get good things because they wished really hard, stayed really positive, and the universe paid out like a really loose slot machine: They did stuff to make their dreams come true. They sought more fulfilling jobs, and eventually found and got one. They sought wealth and success, and eventually found and got it. And of course not being a jerk really helps us interact with people effectively, and makes ’em more disposed to help us find stuff—which is just commonsense and human psychology, not some law of the universe. (’Cause notice all the exceptions—people who don’t care how kind you are, ’cause they’re equal-opportunity jerks.)

But if you want God to move some mountain from here to there, Mk 11.22 it’s not gonna be the product of good vibes. It’s gonna only be because God is good. Our storehouse of merit has nothing to do with it.