The prosperity cult is not limited to any one faith. It is probably quite old too. The golden calf of the ancient Israelites seems salient here, as are the plethora of fecundity and wealth cults throughout human history. One modern manifestation of the prosperity cult can be seen in New Thought from America. Phineas P. Quimby and Mary Baker Eddy are two key pioneering figures in New Thought.
The Law of Attraction, a core teaching in New Thought, became popularised through writings by the likes of Napoleon Hill, Norman Vincent Peale, and Louise Hay. Books like Think and Grow Rich (1937), The Power of Positive Thinking (1952), and You Can Heal Your Life (1984) are famous examples of Law of Attraction in action. Most recently, Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret (2006) and its spin-offs are the latest iterations of an old idea.
Central to the Law of Attraction are quasi-spiritual ideas with roots in Hinduism. But more specifically, it is better described in my view as a form of “prosperity pseudo/neo-tantrism” that borrows and perverts concepts and practices from the Hindu Tantric paradigm (with its underlying advaita or non-dualist metaphysics) to promote narcissistic gratification of desirous attachments to wealth, health, beauty, success, fame, romantic relationships, sexual satisfaction, even seeming social charity and spiritual growth. Outward displays of charity and spirituality do not always reflect what is truly valued in the secret heart.
Prosperity pseudo/neo-tantrism is not Tantra. To understand this, we need to discern what Tantra is. Controversial and unfairly maligned, Tantra is a paradigm of spiritual and social transformation that embraces rather than excludes the total catastrophe of life. Some claim it is very ancient (7000 years old or more). Others, through historical and scholarly study, claim it is less ancient, and in fact is more classical than not (c. 500 CE onwards).
Be that as it may, the prevailing ethos of Tantra is systematic refinement of body and mind towards spiritual awakening founded upon ethical discipline, coupled with embrace of all experiences of life from sacred sexuality to artistic and cultural renaissance and to social and ecological justice. As in all religious movements, Tantra has its fair share of charlatans and crooks, but we have to be mindful not to discard the baby with the bathwater. Wisdom is needed here.
In contrast, prosperity pseudo/neo-tantrism mis-appropriates selected elements of Tantric philosophy and meditation to concoct a pseudo-spiritual endeavour that panders to one’s insatiable wants and fantasies, pertaining to what we might call the American Dream, or at least a variant of it.
With regards to disciplined psychospiritual transformation, prosperity pseudo/neo-tantrism butchers the rigorous systematic practices of yoga and meditation to offer an insipid shallow package of self-hypnosis and self pep-talk for selfish consumption. The highly mindful process of Tantric sexual yoga is plagiarised and mutated into postmodern orgiastic experimentations more akin to watered-down Kama-sutra than to genuine Tantra.
On the social front, prosperity pseudo/neo-tantrism fails miserably. Rather than confronting and challenging oppressive social structures like the caste system or rampant predatory neoliberal capitalism, prosperity pseudo/neo-tantrism is an indelible part of the problem—enmeshed in a multi-billion dollar industry of “wellness” and “happiness” where you can get to be all you want to be, using the ubiquitous Law of Attraction!
From Oprah Winfrey to Tony Robbins, the spate of New Age gurus and quacks fill our TV screens and bookstores with relentless reiterations of the same self-indulgent message of “I am” and “I can be anything I want” by the power of attraction and manifestation. It is no wonder then that Oprah and Osteen go well together. They are cut from the same cloth of New Thought, even though one might be of the prosperity pseudo/neo-tantrism kind and the other of the prosperity pseudo-gospel kind (with roots in the Word of Faith cult of E. W. Kenyon and Kenneth E. Hagin, in turn linked to New Thought). To me, they both ultimately worship the same god—the serpentine mammon.
This critique is necessarily brief and much more can be analysed, especially in relation to the history of Tantra and authentic meditation. But for now, let us be sober and clear—stay far away from New Thought in its various iterations. And when it comes to God and His gospel, make sure we discern rightly and come to the true Jesus of the Bible, not the fake genie of prosperity pseudo-gospel. Our present existence and eternal destiny are at stake.