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'Spiritual Warrior' James A. Ray Charged With 3 Counts of ManslaughterRoger Butow Salem-News.com's 'Odd Man Out'
How The hopes and expectations Of Spiritual Materialism are shaping many lives.
(LAGUNA BEACH) - "Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, "If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." John 8:31-32
Many Americans are shaking their heads and “Tsk-tsking” about the avoidable deaths of three people who attended self-help guru James A. Ray’s retreat in Sedona, Arizona last October. Who knows where the grand jury manslaughter indictment of Mr. Ray will lead, but one thing is for sure: He’s got enough in the bank to fend off the accusations, funds provided by his incensed supportive entourage. And the "if it bleeds it leads, film at 11" media will go into a feeding frenzy mode.
With about 50 people total in that makeshift sweat lodge, another 18 were treated for burns, dehydration, respiratory arrest or kidney failure, look for them to seek their own trials and punitive damages. This will become a veritable cottage industry for Gloria Allred and other celebrity ambulance chasers that will also become rich off the publicity and legal fees. Look for phony populist Nancy Grace to cry, dab her make-up with her hanky, milk it dry on her show.
It may sound harsh, but what exactly did these New Age sycophants who willingly participated in this brainwashing seminar and ceremonies, intended to toughen them up, believe they signed on for? How was this supposed to help them gain strength in any form? They forked over $9,695 (marked down from $10,000) per person for a 5 day assemblage to assist them in achieving the life they felt they deserved: A life of not just spiritual but fiscal wealth and advantage too.
Were they duped by seeing this man promoted, glorified on OPRAH, “Larry King Live”, the Today Show? Or his appearance in the grossly simplistic and really stupid 2006 film “The Secret?”
I know that I’m supposed to feel sorry for the dead and injured, be compassionate towards their families, but these were for the most part middle age adults who if they could afford that much for a metaphysical nudge should have read the label on what they gullibly bought: Promises and hope, two things they could “purchase” anywhere really.
These types of events, wrapped in quasi-spiritual trappings like ersatz Native American and Asian philosophies, are not really new. Get rich quick schemes have always fascinated many in Western cultures, and in a shallow-minded, materialistic, capitalistic culture like ours facilitators like James Ray are like Gordon Gekko in the 1987 movie “Wall Street.” There’s never been a shortage of suckers, people who like the quick fix and cut corners to get where they’re going, as PT Barnum noted. Cheap and fast, that’s how we like things, intrinsic or extrinsic.
Go back to the whacky film 10 years before that, when in 1977 “Semi-Tough” was released. A thinly-veiled send-up of Werner Erhard and EST, locking people voluntarily in a room until they “Get it,” some urinating on themselves due to being prohibited from even a bathroom break, audiences laughed at the absurdity.
Inexplicably, that lesson didn’t sink in, for many who watched it howling are now subsequently paid customers for successors like Rajneesh, Mahara Ji, L. Ron Hubbard, Dr. Phil, Wayne Dyer, one might even add the Dalai Lama and Eckhart Tolle, the list goes on and on. Buy their books and tapes, attend their lectures, become the futuristic Nietzschean ideal, the “übermensch.”
Greed is not only good, it’s as American as Mom and apple pie. Add into the mix the simple fact that we like things instantaneously. Whether it’s a take-out window at a Taco Bell or our microwave TV dinners, as Jim Morrison said “We want the world and we want it now. NOW!”
Being a relatively young country, basically in our juvenile stage of development is no excuse for demanding immediate gratification, but Americans seem to believe that whether it’s wars, the economy, or spiritual growth, instant-everything is our subtext, it’s come to be an expected entitlement.
“Enlightenment Light” is what these self-acclaimed masters peddle, less calories in this case means with less effort, just put your soul (and Master Card/VISA) into their hands for a few days and VOILA! Experience both the Oneness of Nirvana and the bank account numbers of Donald Trump, step right up!
This flies in the face of our most precious religious and philosophical traditions. The wisdom of the Essenes, of Jesus Christ, of The Talmud, of Lao-Tzu (Patriarch of Taoism), of Siddhartha Gotama (Shakyamuni Buddha) or Socrates, Zoroasterians, you name it, all come from long term commitments and sweat, yes sweat. These traditions don’t claim to be easy and effortless, their core values simple to achieve, and definitely the wisest people among them arguably never charged a crass penny for their thoughts, now did they?
This is simply a variation on a theme, reflect ye righteous ones upon mega-church Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California. He implored his congregation in the last 72 hours of 2009 to hit the financial panic button, make up a $900,000 church budget deficit. He declared donations fulfilling that overhead deficit would constitute a miracle.
He received almost $2.5 million, but few took him to task for the obvious: Miracles are for sale, being peddled in ways that Jesus himself would probably question or object to. Apparently, Rick Warren doesn’t believe that rich men can’t go to Heaven, but then again neither does Jimmy Swaggart, Robert Schuller, Joel Osteen, Jerry Falwell and the rest of the unprincipled pack.
Yet Americans hold tight to the concept that wealth and spiritual awareness are not mutually exclusive events. They see enlightenment and big bucks as synergistic, can’t they have their minor satori AND eat it too? The pyramid as a metaphor, as a visual aide regarding capitalism, keeps most of the people at the bottom, only a few in the rarified air of the apex. And so too these gurus sit at the top of their own MLM heap. No wonder they smile a lot!
Governmental oversight and accountability being called for by organizations like Americans Against Self-Help Fraud, actually don’t address the real causal factors. You have on one hand self-help gurus who really just want to help themselves to people’s money and amenable suckers, lining up to hopefully get into the grift, stuff their own pockets.
Like Mr. Ray, their MO is to allege they achieved enlightenment as a result of being directly given mystical, esoteric knowledge and secret teachings from a poor naked sage in the (a) Andes, (b) Himalayas, or (c) Sierra Madre of Mexico, etc. etc. So their snake oil is based upon your participation in some kind of ennobling, cosmic, metaphysical conga line.
These Western culture zeitgeist entrepreneurs are popping up like weeds in the spring, and in economically tough times they proliferate. These fools who are ready, willing and financially able to have their enlightenment served on a silver platter are paying dearly for that platter and don’t seem to mind that it’s really a golden parachute for the bogus masters they fawn over. Attend their lectures, buy their books, it’s really cool and hip to be part of the movement.
Peruse the web and you’ll see oodles of these endeavors, and growing up in Southern California I’ve seen them all. They usually have supporting staffs composed of a yoga teacher, a nutritionist, a financial counselor, etc., all with fancy-schmancy titles or names they’ve given themselves, degrees from obscure, virtual (online) universities. They look and act the picture perfect of health and prosperity---Which is what they’re selling you, the hope, the waking dream that you’ll get these things too if you just follow their recipe---Oh, and give them lots of your money at subsequent mandatory, equally expensive “tune-ups,” did they mention that?
No amount of government regulation can save people from themselves. If potential devotees analyzed the warning label on these people like they now do the ingredients in their food things might change. Caveat Emptor is the first mantra that should be heeded.
By relying upon these self-help gurus we've become spiritually lazy to match our couch potato physical sloth.
Turns out that the truth might set you free, but it’s going to cost you a bundle, maybe even your own life.
To learn more about James Ray:
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'Odd Man Out'Launched in 2010, Odd Man Out is the creation of Roger von Bütow, a professional environmental consultant. Written exclusively for the Salem-News, it's intended as the next evolutionary step on the path of an eco-warrior.
Roger is a Southern California native who spent his formative years as a racial minority: A blonde-haired, blue-eyed surfer on the mean streets of the LA Harbor area. Running from gangs eventually trained him for his high school and collegiate track and cross-country career. Going to college part-time, disqualified for a student deferment, when his draft notice arrived in a fit of machisimo he joined the USMC in 1965, eventually attached to the 3rd Marine Air Wing.
Once honorably discharged, he resumed his college studies, majoring in philosophy. He dropped out in early 1972 when an opportunity to travel in Europe inexpensively for 6 months was too good to pass up. Upon returning, he and his former wife ended up in Laguna Beach, and though the marriage didn’t last his love of the place is in its 38th year.
Disgusted by chronic sewage spills and toxic urban runoff pollution that triggered constant beach closures in his area, he formed “Clean Water Now!” in 1998. Local surfers, skimmers and divers were pissed off, but there wasn’t a cohesive, unified and aggressive group response, zero leadership or activism facilitated by the Surfrider Foundation or Sierra Club regarding water quality impairment issues. You can write to Roger at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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