Wayne Dyer: A Critique

Back in the 1980s, I recall often seeing Wayne Dyer's smiling face beaming from the covers of the "Popular Books" shelf at the public library. The self-help genre seemed of little use to me, so I never picked one up unless it was as part of my job to put one back on the shelf.

Some time ago a reader has asked us to take a look at what Dyer has to offer, in part because he makes use of the Bible in his teachings. We have chosen to look at a recent work of his titled 10 Secrets for Success and Inner Peace. Our general reactions to this work can be categorized as follows:

  • "Well, that's good advice, but who wouldn't recommend that?" (20%)
  • "I do the opposite of this and I have plenty of inner peace." (40%)
  • "?????" (40%)

    One of Dyer's premier forms of advice amounts to: "Just ignore or redefine the problem such that as far as you are concerned, it no longer exists." To show this, let's take a look at some points out of Dyer's 10 points. Note that this critique is not meant to be exhaustive -- it merely reflects what struck me most, and as also most relevant to our mission here.

    We now also add some observations gleaned from his earlier work Manifest Your Destiny: The Nine Spiritual Principles for Getting Everything You Want, which seems to make by its title the 10 Secrets superfluous, since if you used the Nine Principles to get all you wanted, you should have already "gotten" the success and inner peace promised in the 10 secrets, unless for some odd reason when you read 9 Principles you actually didn't "want" success OR inner peace at the time you read it.

    1. "Have a Mind that is Open to Everything and Attached to Nothing".

      This is just a version of that most famous of self-contradictory pieces of advice in the same family as, "There are no absolutes." ("Are you absolutely sure?") Dyer does not make the contradiction apparent -- he does not come out and say that there is no objective truth -- he rather encourages the reader to "open your mind to all possibilities, to resist any efforts to be pigeonholed, and to refuse to allow pessimism into your consciosuness." [5]

      Dyer's reason for this advice, though, is not because of any sort of epistemic issues, but because he believes that it is the only way to achieve a peaceful world. Indeed? "Open your mind to all possibilities" -- including tyranny, racism, and bigotry? It is doubtful that Dyer wants to get that far, but once he closes the door on one system, the cat is out of the bag.

      Resist any efforts to be pigeonholed" -- all right; there is some value in others not classifying you, though we wonder if Dyer would appreciate it if, in public libraries, his book were not put into the catalog or on the shelf with similar books, but just thrown anywhere on the floor, or down an elevator shaft, or onto the roof.

      "Refuse to allow pessimism into your consciousness" -- But didn't Dyer just say to remain open in mind to ALL possibilities? And isn't pessimism one of these?

      The rub of this is that the average reader will probably never see this open contradiction, and Dyer probably does not either.

      Dyer also appeals to lack of human knowledge in a huge universe as a reason to remain open-minded [9-10], but I am sure he would have little patience with a Klansman who demanded that we should wait a bit to see if aliens from Weebo come and reveal to us that non-white races really are inferior.

      Or would he? He tells us in a section farther on that "everything" in his statement "means just what it says. No exceptions" -- and it is presented as a case of someone presenting that to you which conflicts with your "conditioning".

      Indeed. So the next time a motorcycle gang stops by and suggests a rumble at the nursing home, shall I fight my "conditioning" to respect the elderly and ask for a 10 foot chain?

      Dyer does here offer specifics: "If someone suggests that crystals can cure hemorrhoids, that natural herbs can lower cholesterol, that people will eventually be able to breate underwater, or that levitation is possible -- listen, and be curious." It is never made clear what Dyer thinks of clinical trials, testing, or research, but the fact that he quotes (more than once) as authoritative the channeled Course in Miracles lends us a hint that if it came down to a choice between a cardiologist with serious tests who recommended surgery, and a channeled spirit being who said to just go home and relax, Dyer would tell the cardiologist he was wrong.

      At the very least, Dyer does not say not to do this, which is at least the height of irresponsibility. One wonders if someone who tried crystals for hemorrhoids, and failed, would have any case against Dyer in court.

      It is in this section that Dyer also first misuses the Scriptures, quoting Matt. 19:26b, "With God all things are possible." Note that "with" is presented as the beginning; what's missing?

      19:26a, to start: "With men this is impossible" -- though Dyer adds more by claiming that we must have a sense of ourself as "Godlike". Second, that Jewish background (Link 1 below) understanding that presupposes that God's will is all that permits "all things".

    2. "Don't Die with your Music Still in You."

      After offering either pantheism or panentheism [21], Dyer offers some decent advice about taking risks and chances for success. Any businessman would tell you this, but it is hard to decide just how much risk Dyer is suggesting, and whether it is as far as promoting irresponsibility.

      There is some value in realistic assessments of self; it accords with a Biblical understanding of humility (Link 2 below). But Dyer goes on to insist that, "Failure is a judgment. It's just an opinion." He also implies that if you love what you do, there can be no failure. And in Manifest [53] we are told that it is best to "look out on the word and not condemn it, to have absolutely no judgment or interpretation but to just allow it to be."

      Once again we wonder if Dyer could be sued in a court of law by someone who followed this advice, and ended up, say, with boxes of spoiled salsa and bills out the door because they didn't consider themselves a failure when everyone returned their nasty-tasting salsa for a refund, even after he invested all he had in a salsa-making business.

      Is Dyer genuine here? Or does he perhaps realize that he is safe giving advice that few will follow, and that those who do follow it will simply evade their failures by redefining what a "failure" is in context? "I am not a failure! I am very good at making bad salsa!"

      And then again, isn't the self-help genre itself an implicit "judgment" on the world implying that it needs to hear what Dyer has to say?

    3. "You Can't Give Away What You Don't Have"

      More common sense here, but more. We learn that Dyer believes in "energies" that the universe responds to; if you are a demanding person, the universe responds with "demanding energies" and will petulantly send demanding people your way to teach you a lesson.

      We're wondering when Dyer is going to put some of these "energies" into a test tube for us, whether he'll provide a systematic study showing that demanding people as a whole get demanding people put on them all the time, and finally whether this isn't just something ad hoc or at best, based on anecdotes.

      On the other hand, Dyer's advice to be less self-concerned has been the advocacy of Christianity, to say nothing of the collectivists of the ancient and modern thousands of times longer than his books have been on the shelf.

    4. "Embrace Silence"

      I can relate here. Dyer pleads for us to escape the noise of the city and get into the sounds of nature; to moderate stimulus is again just good common sense. Dyer recommends the usual mantra sounds like "ahhhh" and "ommmm": for the first we are assured, it is in "virtually all names of the divine" and he lists Krishna, Yahweh, Allah, Jehovah (apparently not aware this is a version of the second), Ra, and Ptah [56].

      I'm still looking for that sound in Visnhu, Thor, Odin, Loki, Isis, Osiris, Horus, Zoroaster, Attis, or Zeus, though. In Manifest he has a similar list [116-7] that includes many more names, including several that are NOT creators, like Buddha and Shiva [a destroyer].)

      Also, if you were wondering why the fellow ahead of you didn't move at the green light, Dyer helpfully tells us it was him meditating [57].

      Finally we have another Bible quote: "That which is seen, hath not come from that which doth appear." It is used to tell us not to divulge the "private insights" of what we intend to create. The real context Heb. 11:3, says "Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear" -- a statement that has of course to do with the creation process of Genesis.

    5. "Give Up Your Personal History"

      Good advice to let go of the past. Ironically Dyer is here telling us to be more like the ancients, who were very present-oriented. However, they also valued the past more than the future.

    6. "You Can't Solve a Problem with the Same Mind That Created It"

      Dyer's advice is often to redefine problems out of existence: "In the world of Spirit, or God, problems simply don't exist and aren't real." [86] "If you change your mind, you will solve your problem." In Manifest Dyer writes of dropping all his "ego needs" and his worries that he would be received well [5]; after this, he claims his speaking improved, though what data is offered for a comparison is not specified.

      But then, in direct contradiction to the advice to remain open to "all" possibilities in point 1, we are told to "bring truth" to problems to resolve them. Then again we are told, "By actually rewriting your agreement with reality, you can change your mind and send away any perceived problem." [88] That apparently includes the problem of open self-contradiction.

      What Dyer offers is a "mystical consciousness" -- perhaps what he is striving for is the answer, "All things work for good for those who love God." In that respect, one can see problems not as "unreal" but as something real which a greater reality will subsume.

    7. "There are no Justified Resentments"

      Good advice to become someone who can't be offended -- assuming that this does not mean, getting rid of your sense of justice. Dyer is never quite clear on this, though the examples he gives of things not to be offended by (a sneeze, someone cursing) seem mostly trivial. Most of the section though speaks of those unverified "energies" Dyer sees in the universe. We do have this for him: "Love your enemies" was already said -- though what Dyer calls "love" is not what the Bible calls it (Link 3 below), and it is not, as in Manifest [93], "an experience of the harmony of life" either.

    8. "Treat Yourself As If You Already Are What You'd Like to Be"

      In certain places, this advice is called egotism. You can imagine what the media would have said, had George W. treated himself like President before he was elected and started demanding Secret Service protection (or hired lookalikes), showing up at international conferences next to Bill Clinton, and submitted a budget to Capitol Hill.

      But Dyer does not quite encourage that; for example, while he tells you that if you have a dream car, you should paste pictures of it on your fridge, visit a showroom and sit in it and walk all around it and even feel it, take it for a test drive, and visualize your entitlement to it, he doesn't advocate, thank heavens, just taking it. He says, do all this, talk about it a lot, leave a picture of it on your computer, etc.

      In certain places, isn't this advice otherwise called obsession?

      In the end, Dyer subscribes to the "you create reality" paradigm -- and he claims it "works for virtually everything." Note that qualifier. Before he speaks to an audience, he sees them as "loving, supportive, and having a terrific experience." Notice: He already has a plan for in case you get unhappy and throw tomatoes (he did say, "virtually" everything); and how does one decide whether the audience was supportive because (after all) Dyer's message is so unoffensive and ear-tickling, and whether it was supportive because Dyer did his visualization first (where they would all have thrown tomatoes, had he not done this)?

    9. "Treasure Your Divinity"

      "When you dip your glass into the ocean, what you have is a glass of God. It's not as big or as strong, but it's still God." I wonder if Dyer affirms, "When you use the toilet..."

      Anyway, Dyer here teaches his apparent panentheism as something to remind yourself of to keep yourself happy. Personally I find it a little insulting to suppose that I am God and so is what my poodle did outside this morning. For Dyer, however, it is the substitute for the pursuit of the infinite that monotheism finds in God, and also allows us to make choices with confidence (Manifest, 23) belirving that the divinity within us will keep us on the right track.

      Of course, this raises the question: If Dyer errs, up, will he simply redefine the "problem" so that it isn't one, or claim that his error is "right" because the divine would not mislead him?

      Either option manifests little but epistemic disaster. Dyer rejects what he calls the view of God as an "authoritarian and benevolent tyrant" [31] but all he has done is replace that with his own authority and the benevolent tyranny of putting up with people like him who think they are gods on earth. It is this kind of benevolent tyranny that makes Dyer unable to be consistent with himself, on the one hand objecting to the destruction of the environment [39] while on the other hand being an author of best-selling books that cause hundreds of thousands of trees to be felled, send toxic ink into the environment, and do it especially wastefully inasmuch as the two books we have looked at here at least are highly repetitive.

      Being "goddy" leads Dyer in Manifest to begin by saying, "You have the power within you to attract to yourself all that you could ever want." [xi] Presumably the exercise with the car above is the result of that; but the oddity is that if you follow Dyer's other advice of redefining problems so they no longer worry you, then when you don't get the car, you will simply redefine the problem so that you never actually wanted it or were going to get it. There is nothing quite like a failsafe self-help manual.

      Dyer also tells us that he was assured one "Shri Guruji" that the practice of "manifesting" has been around for thousands of years and "has continued in much secrecy for centuries." Perhaps that explains why the majority of the Eastern countries where this sort of thing comes from remain in dire poverty: Those in the know have been keeping it all a secret.

      Nor is it likely you will hear of anyone else's failures using Dyer's methods, since he explains in Manifest [62] that it is essential to keep your manifesting "private" (while presumably NOT going to the car dealer as specified later). And conveniently, this offers Dyer another contrived way to explain failures, since the ability of people to keep their desires secret is hardly a universal ability.

      Just in case, Dyer also counsels "infinite patience" and being "unconcerned about the details" [134] in case you have a hard time "manifesting" what you want. Note that this advice is given to people who say they don't want to wait for "pie in the sky" as required for being a Christian.

      In Manifest [27] Dyer also misuses the Biblical comment, "The kingdom of God is within you" as support for his views. Naturally this is a thoroughly decontexualized interpretation of what the Kingdom of God is (Link 4 below). Not surprisingly, Dyer also take "I have said ye are gods" in Ps. 82/John 10 out of its context, mimicking Mormon exegesis of that passage.

    10. "Wisdom is Avoiding All Thoughts That Weaken You"

      This is the same advice as has been given all through the book, which amounts to, "Redefine everything so that you can be happy." Dyer says that shame and guilt are the thoughts that most weaken you, which will come as amazing news to the 70% of the world that is still "honor and shame" in orientation, so that in essence Dyer has insulted over 70% of the world today, and 99.9% of the world throughout history, by saying that it is/has been weakening itself physically and emotionally in the worst way, and are all weak people for using shame to reform others [149].

      Likewise in Manifest [xiv, ff] Dyer discourages participation in "group consciousness" and again insults that same part of humanity that is/remains collectivist (including those in the East who came up with the "manifesting" principles he so endorses).

    So what to say, in conclusion? Dyer is not as wise as he seems to be -- and certainly not very well informed in matters of Biblical exegesis.

    -JPH

    Links

    1. here
    2. here
    3. here
    4. here