Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Mass will be held in the sweat lodge on Sunday at 9.

Yesterday I received a republication request from the Catholic Education Resource Center, better known (to those who know anything at all about Catholic publications, that is) simply as CERC. CERC wants to reprint my Journal article on the increasingly embattled James Ray. This is actually the second time they've picked up one of my pieces, the first time also being a Journal essay, in that case on happiness.

I'm a little thrown by this new request, however. I gave my OK, of course
you can see the piece here if you care tobut I'm puzzled as to why they'd want to run it to begin with, since I'd think the parallels between (a) the New Age and (b) religious dogmatism of the sort long identified with the Catholic hierarchy might be uncomfortably close for some CERC readers. Blind, unreasoned faith, after all, is blind, unreasoned faith, regardless of the venue, the size of the room, or how many neat hats and robes the people up front are wearing. Also, clearly, the folks at CERC haven't spent much time on SHAMblog, or they would have run across that rant from just a few days ago about my early indoctrination in Catholicism and related unpleasantries.

I have a feeling that the editors at CERC, probably not unlike the leadership of the Church itself, are afflicted with that peculiar myopia that allows people in certain walks of life to be judgmental of people in other walks of life, even when they're doing much the same thing as the people they're judging. I'd imagine that in the aftermath of the Ray debacle, priests are looking at the New Age and its gurus, tsking and thinking, "Now isn't that ridiculous. And so unnecessary! Who could've put their trust in something like that?" I dare say there were probably hundreds of homilies on the topic this past Sunday across America, along with the usual prayers offered up for victims of tragedy.

Kinda like George Bush laughing at someone else's stupidity, or ol' Charlie Manson shaking his head and saying, "Man, that Ted Bundy is batshit crazy, ain't he?"*


This is an amazing story, and one of the more stop-you-in-your-tracks visuals I've seen in a long time. I don't know that it signifies what we, in our relentless anthropomorphism, would like it to signify. Or maybe I'm just too full of human hubris to appreciate the moment for what it is.'s quite something.


Finally, today, can anyone tell me why Reese Witherspoon has a fragrace? Seriously. Reese Witherspoon? Was there a need for this? Do women actually wake up thinking, "Gee, I wish I smelled more like Reese Witherspoon. Then life would ge good"? What's next? Will Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter get a scent of his own? ... Oh, wait a minute....

* OK, OK, no angry ripostes required here. I know I'm overstating. But you see my point, no?


RevRon's Rants said...

Steve, perhaps your confusion as to why a religious group would cast aspersions on others who behave in a fashion similar to their own can be best answered by the old adage about opinions being like... well, you know. Everyone else's stinks, and all that.

As to Reese's fragrance, I think it's just smart marketing. I'd be willing to bet that there are a hell of a lot of women who would love to look like Reese (and a hell of a lot of men who wish the woman in their lives looked like her). The marketing hook is the implication that by wearing her fragrance, a woman might share the spokesperson's beauty, charisma, or even her lifestyle. Why else would anyone be inclined to buy furniture branded & pitched by Cindy Craw2ford?

Now, I think you've overlooked something where Dubya is concerned. Stupid? Nah. Just completely insulated. He's managed to live his whole life under the wing of very powerful people, without suffering any real consequences for his recklessness and incompetence. I'd imagine that there will be plenty of people willing to pay for his appearance at events, even though it's obvious he has little to say beyond his usual platitudes and rationalizations for his actions.

The only real "consequence" he's likely to face will be the judgment of history, and he'll be long gone before a truly objective assessment is made, so he won't feel any pain, even then. A dog's life if ever there was one.

Cosmic Connie said...

I think the answer is pretty obvious: the Catholic Church (and, no doubt, most of the other major and minor Christian churches) are jumping on this incident as an excellent opportunity to bring spiritual seekers "back to Christ." Or *to* Christ, for the first time. The End Timers will probably be having a field day, saying Ray is just the tip of the iceberg of "false prophets" (and real profits) that will supposedly flood the cultural landscape in the Last Days. Fundie Christians have been hollering about the dangers of the New Age for decades, and before it was the New Age it was astrology, fortune telling, witchcraft, etc. So this is an excellent marketing op for all of them, including, of course, the One True Church.

Even so, I'm glad for the reprint of your article, Steve; almost certainly it will lead more people to your work, and who knows...might get 'em thinking.

Verification word: scismact
[I am not kidding...OK, so Google bot had a bit of a spelling challenge with the word "schism," but still...]

renee said...

Steve - I'm a little thrown by you allowing CERC to publish the piece.

If, as you believe, there are clear parallels between Ray and the Catholic Church - or any faith based organization - aren't you being just a little disingenuous here?

By allowing CERC to publish the piece, aren't you giving the Church at least tacit endorsement of their "we're nothing like those whackos out there" view?

The truth is, you believe there is no difference. If I understand you, philosophically at least, you could sub "Catholic Clergy" for "J.A. Ray" in a piece like this and still make your case:
"Blind, unreasoned faith, after all, is blind, unreasoned faith, regardless of the venue, the size of the room, or how many neat hats and robes the people up front are wearing."

Steve Salerno said...

Renee, I'm a little thrown by your being thrown. What do I care who publishes the piece? I'd let James Ray himself reprint it if he wanted to; I'm not getting paid a dime, after all. Words and thoughts are just words and thoughts, and media are just media. In fact, I'm a little concerned by your question, as it suggests that only "the right" type of news/commentary should be featured in certain types of media. That's exactly the problem with FOX and MSNBC--they have a "house politick" that colors almost everything they present.

Steve Salerno said...

By the way: I have mentioned that I believe in God, right?

Steve Salerno said...

And that I also know I'm almost certainly wrong in that belief...?

Stever Robbins said...

Regarding the idea that animals feel emotion... I'm puzzled as to why this is considered controversial or even under debate. Last time I reviewed my brain neuroanatomy, our emotions are pretty much based in the OLDEST parts of our brain, not the newer ones. To me, that implies we should expect to find emotions as the rule, rather than the exception.

Where I think the anthropomorphizing comes in is when we interpret animal actions as having a cognitive motivation similar to ours. For example, deciding that chimpanzees are being quiet to show respect, or that magpies bring grass to memorialize their dead friend.

I'm most guilty of anthropomorphizing when considering the motives of politicians and financiers. I keep trying to understand their actions in human terms and I come up short. The best descriptions to describe them seem to be in terms of hive behavior or other knee-jerk, automatic responses that don't involve thought, reason, compassion, or any of the normal human emotions or motivations. Kidding!! ... or am I?

renee said...

Wow. "Words and thoughts are just words and thoughts." Yes. Except when people end up dead as a result of them. I don't remember reading anywhere that Ray brandished weapons to keep people from abandoning their cleansing. Just used words, I think.

I know you're not getting paid but that's not the point.

It just seems odd (to me) that you would agree to having a different version of the same problem (Church vs. Ray) publish your piece. I agree with you - and Connie and Ron - that they're using the piece and the circumstances in Sedona to elevate their own beliefs. And that's okay?

Would you give reprint rights to Dr. Phil's newsletter? To Dr. Laura? To any number of other people or groups you believe are engaged in exactly the kind of fraud Ray is perpetrating?

I'm not trying to be difficult here. I'm just not seeing it.

Steve Salerno said...

Renee: I know what you're getting at too, but as soon as we invest our own words with cosmic truth--"my words are good, Ray's words are bad"--then we have the Al Qaeda problem. You and I happen to believe that Ray is cosmically wrong in what he's doing. That doesn't mean we're right and he's wrong. I am able to try to fervently sell my beliefs (i.e. the belief that self-help does great damage) while at the same time keeping hold of the humility that tells me that James Ray is as entitled to keep doing what he's doing (in the larger, universal sense, even though I personally don't believe it) as I'm entitled to try to defeat him.

Does that makes any sense? It's like my many columns about the war on terror. I think Al Qaeda is wrong to try to kill us. But I just think that way because I'm part of the "us" that they're trying to kill. That doesn't make me right and them wrong. It just makes

Anonymous said...

'Wow. "Words and thoughts are just words and thoughts." Yes. Except when people end up dead as a result of them.'

Words and thoughts have not caused the death of a single soul. The misinterpretation of others words and thoughts and the subsequent translation of that misinterpretation into action or a lack of action is the cause of the deaths.

Not intended as an apology for the nefarious James Death Ray--who clearly understands that his words will be misunderstood to fuel his listeners' fantasies and inflate his own bottom line--but we are all responsible for what we make of the words and thoughts of others.

The Nuremberg defence was soundly repudiated in 1945.

renee said...

Got it.

Tricky, this SHAM stuff.

Anonymous said...

Renee: I'm glad you "got it" because he lost me about three comments ago.

renee said...

Well, Roger, I had a longer response composed and abandoned it. I do understand Steve's point, though.

It does occur to me, however, that in an effort to be understanding and inclusive and humble and self-aware enough to realize that we are not always right; that our views are relative to our own belief system, backgrounds and situations; that perhaps even someone as misguided as JAR seems to be to anyone who has not written him a check; collectively, we don't seem to have the wherewithal to do what someone once did in a fable and go out on limb far enough to exclaim, with all the passion and confidence we can muster: The emperor has no clothes.

Steve, I would suggest that SHAM was the ultimate 'emperor has no clothes' treatise. As I read it (there's that qualifier!), the book took a position and expounded on it: self-help is harmful and useless. I could be wrong (there's another one!!), but your message feels diluted somehow by exchanges like this one.

Anonymous said...

Hmm CERC wants your article but not CAIR?

I guess the Muslim organizations will ask for reprinting permission next week...

Anonymous said...

I'm confused now, too, Steve. I haven't noticed the Catholic Church killing off its own followers lately; I suspect they'd grasp that it would be hugely counterproductive. As far as I'm aware, they haven't even suggested killing off anybody else's followers since Reformation times. So what's the connection? Ray's telling people how to get rich, the Church tells people how to worship God and not worldly riches. And please, I can't find your pots about your own experience with the Church, but would very much like to read it; can you add a link to this post? Thanks!

Steve Salerno said...

Anon 9:42: It appears the myopia may be contagious. :)

First off, my rant appears midway down in this post:

OK, back to the Church. So the Church doesn't kill people? The greatest irony of its ban on contraception/abortion may be that its stance has forced millions of innocent children (the same children it claims to want to "save" in all those smarmy ads from Catholic Charities, etc.) into a world (often the Third World) that cannot care for them. They live brief, miserable lives and then die of diseases that were eradicated from more progressive nations 50 years ago. One could argue that on that score alone, the Church must be implicated in millions of gruesome deaths. Also, I think I can say with some authority, as a journalist who once wrote a very controversial cover story on the Church and its finances, that the Catholic hierarchy is rather selective in its policies regarding greed and "worldly riches." Look at the Vatican alone! How many more poor souls could be fed if Vatican City were dismantled and the Pope and his minions worldwide lived in the Christ-like austerity that they espouse for others?

But the bigger point, again, is blind faith, more than the deaths, per se. That was really the analogy I'm making. The New Age takes a tyrannical posture towards critics and nonbelievers--just as the Church does. The New Age uses a variety of methods and especially guilt trips to ensure a cultish loyalty on the part of its followers--just as the Church does.

Anonymous said...

Renee is asking questions that I have been asking for the last five years, since parting ways with selfish help, as Cosmic Connie calls it, and which I love! I find this discussion very interesting.

Anonymous said...

It's been so many years since I was involved with the Catholic church (I did 10 years of Catholic school so I've "done my time" so to speak)

Having recovered from Catholicism and being safely far far from it's grips, there are many things I now think fondly of. I like the message of forgiveness, infinite love, compassion and self sacrifice. These messages can be taken too far (and I did take them too far) However they are also still a big part of my being.

I saw something wonderful when I worked in a homeless outreach program. The religious volunteers were actually much more deeply involved and in fact completely refrained from proselytizing in ANY way. Which surprised me. The government program was so entrenched in following the laws within itself and imposed by it's government grants, that it in fact had less power to truly help.

I would like for more community groups that are not religiously based to offer this kind of passionate support of the poor and suffering. I would certainly be involved if I knew of them.

I knew some Catholics who actually took the message as mythology and used it to help them became more deeply compassionate and connected to a spiritual path.

I like to hope that perhaps some of the community who reads this excellent article by Steve, may in fact be ready to see both the harm in self help gurus like James Ray and the harm that happens when blindly following a religion.

Even if one believes in God, God did give humans a brain, and critical thinking abilities. I believe that if there is a God, (unknown to me, I'm agnostic but hopeful) he expects us to use those abilities, and to recognize that any leader is human and therefore should be carefully scrutinized before following in any way.