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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

“New Age ‘philosophy’ dangerous, deadly”

What would any reasonable person think of a motivational speaker described as “”a peer of Deepak Chopra and Tony Robbins,”” known for a best-selling self help book and an appearance on the Oprah Winfrey Show?

Presumably, that the man is a paradigm-case asshat.

But the world is full of stupid people. Not to speak ill of the dead but James Shore, Kirby Brown and Liz Neuman probably were among them.

These three unfortunates were casualties of James Arthur Ray’s New-Age “”sweat lodge”” ceremony, in which participants spent two hours in the Angel Valley Resort near Sedona, Ariz., confined in a tent composed of blankets and plastic tarps, heated by steam from red-hot rocks in the tent’s center. Eighteen others were hospitalized.

The sweat lodge ceremony was part of Ray’s “”Spiritual Warrior”” program during which, for the reasonable price of $9,695, Ray subjected his students to a variety of stultifying New-Age malarkey, from which death must have been sweet respite.

Ray’s website describes his corporation — named after himself, naturally — as “”dedicated to mentoring individuals to create wealth in all areas of their lives: financially, relationally, mentally, physically and spiritually.”” He has certainly mastered the first aspect: James Ray International turned a profit of $9.4 million in 2008, according to a New York Times article. For a taste of this spiritual guru’s standard practice: during the “”vision quest,”” a 36-hour fast in the Sedona desert, which preceded the sweat lodge ceremony, Peruvian ponchos were made available to the seekers — for a trifling $250.

Such is the cost of pseudoscience (I’m talking about untimely death again, not the overpriced ponchos, but – come on! – $250 for an alpaca Snuggie? That alone merits this article). Ray is a proponent of a New-Age concept known as the Law of Attraction, which purports that a person’s thoughts, positive or negative, will influence his or her life in either way respectively. This thesis is justified through various appeals to shamanism, self help principles and even a remarkably poor understanding of quantum physics. Steve Salerno, skeptic and author of “”SHAM: How the Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless,”” is quoted in an article in The Arizona Republic on Ray describing his ideas as “”psychological bouillabaisse.”” Bouillabaisse, indeed – less delicious, no doubt, but just as fishy!

In his book “”Harmonic Wealth,”” Ray writes: “”I’m 8 years old, sitting in the front pew in my father’s church. I hear the words that would play in the background of my life like annoying elevator music for years to come: ‘It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.’ That cannot be true, I thought.”” Despicable, indeed, but surprising — in that one might expect that elevator music to be this smarmy huckster’s jam.

To the yuppies who plague Sedona, James Arthur Ray offered a valuable service: to provide some spiritual amelioration, to return to them the souls they had rashly sold, for a fee they could comprehend. Not through asceticism, for Ray himself embraces things material, nor serious spiritual study, no, enlightenment can apparently be attained at a two day workshop – all Ray wanted was money, that world-renowned panacea, and his victims had become so emotionally desperate that they believed spiritual satisfaction could be bought. This in itself is a death of the soul, perhaps as tragic as the deaths of Shore, Brown and Neuman; lost sheep preyed upon by a wolf in savior’s clothing.

James Arthur Ray was arrested Wednesday on three counts of manslaughter. I’m hoping my power of positive thinking — and perhaps yours, dear reader! — will convince the judge to punish this charlatan to the fullest extent of the law.

­— Ben Harper is a philosophy senior who, while researching this article, undid years of dental work grinding his teeth every time he saw New-Age thought referred to as a “”philosophy.”” He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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