CHICAGO - Want to know a secret? Thoughts of fear and powerlessness among the people who died in Hurricane Katrina and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks attracted them "to being in the wrong place at the wrong time."
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That's probably the most eye-popping claim associated with "The Secret," a book that tells us that the "law of attraction" - basically "like attracts like" - governs our universe.
"If people believe they can be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and they have no control over outside circumstances," the book says, "those thoughts of fear, separation and powerlessness, if persistent, can attract them to being in the wrong place at the wrong time."
"The Secret," is the work of Rhonda Byrne, an Australian television and film producer. The book, which advocates the power of positive thinking, has more than 5.2 million copies in print. A 90-minute DVD of the same name has sold 2 million copies.
A pop culture phenomenon, it's also attracted critics who are particularly bothered by what they see as a philosophy that could dissolve into a blame-the-victim mentality, and suggest it could be dangerous to those suffering from serious illness, who don't get any medical treatment.
Others find the movement embarrassingly materialistic or the latest example of an American propensity of wanting something for nothing.
Most of the book and DVD focuses on how people can improve their lives, health, relationships and financial situations. But it also says people can draw negative happenings toward them.
In the DVD, for example, a man so worried about his bicycle that he secures it to a pole with heavy chains returns to find his bike has indeed been stolen.
"The condition of being overweight," the book says, "was created through your thought to it. To put it in the most basic terms, if someone is overweight, it came from thinking 'fat thoughts,' whether that person was aware of it or not."
And during "events in history where masses of lives were lost," the book says, the "frequency of their thoughts matched the frequency of the event."
The positive spin the book places on that assertion is that believers will no longer be worried of being victims of the "luck of the draw." Instead, "whatever you choose to think will become your life experience."
Byrne expanded on the issue in a response to several e-mailed questions from The Associated Press.
"In a large-scale tragedy, like 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, etc. we see that the law of attraction responds to people being at the wrong place at the wrong time because their dominant thoughts were on the same frequency of such events," she said.
"Now, this doesn't mean that they thought of the same exact event, but if their dominant thoughts and feelings were in alignment with the energy of fear, separation, powerlessness and having no control over outside circumstances, then that is what they attracted," she said.
She said there is "no one to blame," in such cases and that besides the deaths, injuries and other losses, "there were also many miraculous stories of survival."
That whole concept is one of the most troubling assertions of "The Secret," according to John Norcross, a psychologist and professor at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania who conducts research on self-help books.
"So that would mean that if you're poor, you have somehow earned it by your thinking," Norcross said. "If you've been sexually abused, you'd be surprised to hear that someway, you're responsible for that."
The book's mantra of "ask, believe, receive," he said, easily transforms into a blame the victim mentality.
"Cancer victims. Sexual assault victims. Holocaust victims. They're responsible?" Norcross said. "The book is riddled with these destructive falsehoods."
Dr. Gail Saltz, an author and psychiatrist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, was especially upset about a woman in "The Secret" who claims her breast cancer was cured without radiation or chemotherapy; the woman watched funny movies and had faith that she had already been healed.
Saltz received hundreds of angry e-mails after she talked about her concerns on the "Today" show.
"Living is difficult. ... People want ... a solution and an answer. If it were an easy one, like 'think it' - that would be even better, right?" she said. "I understand. It's a wish fulfillment. I really do understand that."
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